Categories > Anime/Manga > Full Metal Alchemist > Balance of Power

Rubber Ducks Anonymous

by CrackbunnySyndrome 0 Reviews

"Game?" he growled as his momentary guilt flew off into the ether. "You people are playing... games? What about Al?" Ed waved a hand; gesturing to the outside. "He could be somewhere hurt... he cou...

Category: Full Metal Alchemist - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Alphonse Elric, Edward Elric, Maes Hughes - Warnings: [!!!] [V] - Published: 2006/03/26 - Updated: 2006/03/26 - 6382 words

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"Rubber Ducks Anonymous"
Arc One
"Balance of Power"


/Apr 24 2006, 3:14 AM/
/ /
/Heist wrote:/

Holy lightning craphell, Batman! There is some insane dungpile going on out there. Autobus de bajo freak-show strange, people! About four hours ago, we got hit hard with lightning outta nowhere and a tornado. There were no clouds. It knocked out the power for a few, took out some shingles. I'm just getting the wireless back. And we're in some kinda weirdass null-spot, all radios get static out the derriere and I swear to the ghods of air and water that the air is crinkling. But the neighbors didn't notice anything. It's just us. I checked out a couple of the baby-leylines, and they're sizzling out like old hookers in high August. It's like a crazy Highlander rerun out there!

Is this a local thing, or did that happen anywhere else? I know you have a convergence in your back yard, -Pandora-, get in touch and tell me if anything interesting happened. Like, Terminator or something landing in a mudhole or whatev. I dunno...

*
"Wit is educated insolence." ~Aristotle

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/Apr 24 2006, 7:26 AM/
/ /
/DeadSexKitten// wrote:/

pouts

nice of you to ask if anybody else is okay, but what the hell. OK got hammered w the stormage. hard. in the ass. no lube. lotsa crazy-clouds, tornadoes south of tulsa, area-wide power outs. lines were still down thru this mornin, but that's tornado ally in apr. for ya. business as the usual. you want i should make some calls? /

*
nice boots. wanna fuck?

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/Apr 24 2006, 8:11 AM/
/ /
/Heist wrote:/

Thanks. And nice siggie. Is it new?

*
"I'm living so far beyond my income that we almost may be said to be living apart." ~e.e. cummings

"Frellinghellspawnedfiggindigginlightningfriedcarbattery!" ~me

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/Apr 24 2006, 8:42 AM/
/ /
/DeadSexKitten// wrote:/

J i never kiss an tell...

*
nice boots. Wanna fuck?

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0o0o0
April 24, 2006 - 11:05am
Wichita, Kansas

"Heya, Tiger! Long time no see!"

Al sighed and sat up from his sort-of nap, not sure whether to be relieved that the monotony was being lifted, or annoyed that this was the second time in about two hours that his nurse had visited him. "Heya, Ray. To what do I owe this visit?" He gingerly rubbed his head, wincing at the pain it still caused him. "Heather didn't check on me this much, did she?"

The large nurse grinned and brought in a wheelchair. "Nope, she didn't. But I need to get you all cleaned up before you transfer to pediatrics."

Al looked at Ray like he'd lost his mind. "You're not saying..."

"Yup. Sorry, Tiger." Roy chuckled evilly. "I have to give you a bath."

Hazel eyes grew wide in horror. "You're not serious, are you?"

"What, does the kitten not like baths?" The nurse laughed kindly. "Sorry, kid. I need to change your bandages, and you haven't been cleaned up entirely since you got brought in." Smirking, Ray came over and lowered the side of Al's bed, offering him a hand. "Now, you can come down on your own power, or I can pick you up. Your choice."

"Not much of one," Al retorted, carefully sliding off the bed and onto slightly unsteady feet. His body complained quite bitterly, and his stomach churned uneasily; he was apparently more injured than he'd realized.

Ray brought the wheelchair for him. "Here you go, have a seat. Mind you don't pull your IVs, they'll hurt like a bitch if you do."

"Duly noted." Al gingerly took a seat, frowning at his hospital gown. "Man, you don't get any dignity here, do you?"

"Not really." Switching Al's IV bags to the wheelchair's stand, Ray started to take him down the hall. "I'll be nice, though; I'll just help you with your hair, and you can take care of the rest."

"Why just my hair?"

"I can see the stitches in your head better than you, so I won't get soap in the wound and make it sting like hell."

Al made an affirmative noise, slightly distracted by his woozy stomach. "Mmkay... wait, I have stitches?" he asked, eyes widening.

"Yup. Ten of 'em, right along your hairline. You probably didn't feel 'em because of the bandage. I think you've got fifteen in other places; they had to pick shrapnel out of you too, yanno." Ray gave the kid a sympathetic grin. "Be careful you don't pull 'em, 'kay?"

"Will do."

Al settled back in the wheelchair, kind of enjoying being pushed around and out of his room. There were a lot of contraptions out here he didn't understand; people staring at what looked like glowing picture frames, medical equipment he thought he might have seen before but still didn't know the name of, and down the hall he swore he'd seen part of the wall move aside to let people inside a very small room.

He was distracted enough looking around that he almost missed it when Ray started speeding up, hurrying past what looked like a waiting room.

"Why'd you speed up?" Al asked while trying to look back at Ray without making his head hurt more.

"I saw that Fed-Boy; figured you'd want to be clean and maybe in some decent clothing before he got his chance to rip at you." Turning a corner, Ray managed to get both of them into one of the bathing rooms and get the door locked before anyone noticed. "I don't like that guy, Tiger, and I don't feel bad telling you that." Turning to the waiting bathtub, Ray put what looked like Epson salts in before starting up the water. "He makes my skin crawl. You didn't do anything to warrant attention from the feds, kid, but he almost seems like he wants to drag you off for testing. Lousy prick."

Oh hell, Al thought, the cussword barely registering as his stomach cramped in panic. Whoever he's talking about knows something's different about me. A hideous thought formed in his head, making him sweat. Does he know it was alchemy?

Ray was still talking, getting all the bathing supplies ready and ignoring Al's apparent panicking. "I mean, a friend of mine was on the scene when they got you, and he said lightning had struck really close by. You never know what can happen when lightning's involved, it's a freaking force of nature! He can't blame you for something nature did!" Catching himself, Ray sighed. "Sorry, the man's just a prick. People like him set my teeth on edge."

Al smiled nervously, aching mind going a mile a minute thinking of what Ray had said about the circumstances surrounding his accident. "It's all right. At least I know what to expect now."

"Eh, you didn't do anything, Tiger. You'll be fine." Testing the water, Ray smiled mischievously, handing Al what appeared to be a rubber duck. "Bath's ready, and here's your ducky. Want me to turn around?"

Al blinked at the duck, then stuck his tongue out at the man and chucked it at his head. "Are you always this obnoxious when helping patients?"

Dodging the duck, Ray grinned. "It's part of my charm."

"Yeah, whatever. Go ahead and turn around."

0o0o0

Bartlesville, Oklahoma


Ed needed a break.

Reilly had taken him by hand and gave him a quick run-down of what everything was around the house he didn't recognize, and then she gave him the theories on leylines and sacred places. Now he needed quiet to absorb it all.

At least the hard facts. Reilly's theories were impossible at the moment. He scowled and thought about that. Gut feelings. Great. May as well make sacrifices to that multi-armed Goddess she has in the garden and the bathroom, for all the good gut feelings are going to do me.

He sat on the vile pink bed, in the vile pink room; his back against the blessedly white headboard, with his arms wrapped around his knees and his chin resting on them. Thinking. Pondering. Digesting. He hadn't set like that in a few years. Not since he'd gone permanently through the gate; mind, body and soul intact. Not since his father commented how small and vulnerable he looked like that.

Right now, he felt small and vulnerable. He was in a strange world, vastly different from what he was familiar with; and he was without his brother. He never said it out loud, but it showed in his actions. Al was his anchor. He was lost without him. He'd been lost for two years before; drifting, treading water... waiting, and not sure of what he was waiting for. Now that he had his brother at his side again, he didn't want to lose him.

Except he had no idea where Al was.

Ed kept choking down the thought that tried to raise an ugly head; that it was entirely possible that Al may not have even come through the gate with him. Or worse, came through in another time... another place. Unreachable.

He would much rather be burying his nose in a book. But the selection was far from anything he could even stomach at the moment. The room was overloaded with books; and not a single one of them would do him any good. He'd already scanned through any possibilities Reilly kept in this room. He knew he should go snooping through the other books she had crammed in nearly every free space available in the small farmhouse; but he was fairly certain he'd just come up with much of the same garbage as before.

He needed hard science, not superstition, flakey beliefs or archeology.

And anything to do with the gates was thin; based on superstition and myth. He had a feeling that what little Reilly had already told him was about the extent of what was available. There weren't even any books with theories, ridiculous or otherwise, about how the gates were opened. Reilly had mentioned notes from her research saved on her computer and on something she called a CD, but he couldn't get to that. Not yet, anyway.

/Even stories about the Philosopher's Stone were easier to find than this/, he thought with a disgusted sigh.

He wanted a bloody alchemy book, damnit!

He sighed, and ran his fingers through his bangs. Not on this side of the gate, he thought. People believed in ghosts, but thought alchemy was a joke. At least that was the impression he got from looking at the books Reilly had piled in the vile pink room. He groaned and buried his face in his arms.

He suddenly felt a wave of guilt at his behavior awhile ago. Here he was, in a stranger's house, being treated as a welcome guest and even a friend; and he was laughing at the woman's beliefs. They didn't know him; yet they were willing to help him search for Al. Does it matter how he's found/, Ed thought. /I should be grateful that they're willing to help.

He groaned and felt his skin heat up in shame the instant he realized that Reilly had every right to toss him out on his ear; but she hadn't said a word since he'd stormed out like a little kid throwing a tantrum. Great. I just showed myself to be a royal asshole. I can just hear Al now. 'Brother, you should be nicer to people who are just trying to help.'

Sharp, staccato sounds filtered through the closed door, along with good-natured jibes between Tom and Ducky; an occasional comment from Reilly interspersed with the rest of the general noises. Life was moving on and no one seemed any the worse for wear after his little display. Which only served to make him feel even shittier.

"I thought you were running a search," he heard Reilly say.

"I am," Ducky said. "What, you want me to stare at the computer while it searches?"

Ed leaned back and thumped his head against the headboard a few times in frustration. He gave up. There were too many things swarming through his mind, and too much noise to sort it all out. And his roaring guilt was getting the better of him. He got off the bed and wandered down the hall.

He leaned against the hall entry with his arms crossed, and watched the activity in the living room. Reilly was glancing up at her monitor (she'd explained that the picture frame on her desk was another computer; or rather the monitor for another computer), then jotting down stuff in her notebook. Tom and Ducky were on the couch enthusiastically slinging their hands about while they rapidly pressed buttons on small objects in them. On the TeeVee was some sort of fight competition, and the behavior of the two men seemed to be related to what was on the screen.

One of the fighters fell and Tom groaned loudly as he fell back on the couch. Ducky did a little victorious dance in his seat and chanted, "I am un-de-feated! HAR!"

Reilly glanced up and saw Ed watching. She smirked and glanced back over her shoulder. "Video game," she said. She turned back to Ed and rolled her eyes. "Men and boys," she said with an exasperated sigh.

"Game?" he growled as his momentary guilt flew off into the ether. "You people are playing... games? What about Al?" Ed waved a hand; gesturing to the outside. "He could be somewhere hurt... he could be-" he choked and felt an icy grip around his heart. "-dying."

"Ed," Tom said with extreme calm. When the boy glanced his way, the older man tossed the small object at him. Ed caught it, and stared down at it. "Your turn," he said as he got up and stretched.

Ed looked the item over and furrowed his brow in confusion. He held the object up. "What am I supposed to do with this?" he asked, hearing the edge of hysteria creeping into his voice.

"Stress relief," Tom said. "And to discover the definition of true humiliation,"

"Why would I want to do something like that?"

Reilly chuckled. "The challenge. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. The fact that most men are ruled by testosterone."

"Look," Tom said. "We won't find your brother by running around like chickens with our heads chopped off. We need to get certain information first; so we know where to start. That's one of the nice things about being in the information age. The computers are running the preliminary searches. All we can do right now is wait for the results."

Ed sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. It looked like they weren't doing a damned thing; but he knew Tom was right about running around with no clear direction. Not that it made much of a difference in his mood.

"Take a seat, Ed," Tom said mildly. "Go medieval on a pixelated ass and you'll feel better."

Ed cocked a brow, and took the spot on the couch that Tom had vacated. Ducky gave him a shark's grin, then gave him a quick and dirty lesson on the functions of each button. Then he explained the game, gave him a little demonstration, and threw Ed into the mix.

0o0o0

Despite the embarrassment suffered, a bath seemed to be exactly what Al had needed to feel at least mostly human again. Supplied with some flannel pajamas, Al carefully dressed as he took stock of his injuries. Ray had redressed his wounds and head once the bath was done, and Al was surprised at how many he actually had. In addition to the one carving a line across his scalp, there was one just above his left elbow that appeared to have been caused by sharp rocks, several scrapes which took up whole patches of his skin, a rather nasty slash that ran down his right side, and three parallel cuts on his right forearm which appeared to have been caused by the grille of whatever had hit him.

I think I lucked out when it came to injuries, Al thought as he buttoned the blue shirt which was a vast improvement over the hospital gown. These aren't too bad, considering what they could have been. "I'm done, Ray."

The large nurse was waiting for him as he carefully emerged from the changing area. "Take a seat, Tiger; you look really worn out now."

"Yeah, my head hurts again," he sighed as he sat down.

"Along with everything else, I'll bet." Pushing the wheelchair, Ray started for Pediatrics. "Let's hope that Heather chased off Fed-boy so you can get settled. Nothing sucks more than answering questions while in a lot of pain."

"Speaking from experience?" Al asked, enjoying getting pushed along for a bit.

"Yup." The nurse smiled, making small talk as they traversed the halls of the hospital. "I got hit by a semi in high school; was in a halo for six months. Pain in the neck, and they didn't even wait two days before questioning me as to what happened." His laugh seemed more self-derogatory than anything. "I feel for you, Tiger; they need to give you more of a break before launching into questions. You don't look more than fourteen; I was at least eighteen when they did that to me."

Al winced. "A halo? What's that?"

"Big metal thing they literally screw into your skull to keep your head still; I'd broken a vertebra, so they were making sure it healed and didn't paralyze me." He took the turn into Pediatrics, humming a little. "Hey, Fed-boy ain't here now. Awesome."

The next half hour or so went by pretty quickly; a bit of paperwork later, and Al was settling into a bed that was decidedly cheerier than his last one, in a room that didn't seem quite so sterile and cold. Heather had stopped by to say hello, and Ray had had to go tend other patients, leaving Al to relax a bit while pain meds soothed his aches and rest started to soothe his nerves and stomach. Now maybe I can get back to my nap, Al thought, yawning and settling into the soft pillow under his head.

0o0o0

The first few rounds, Ed was most definitely humiliated in defeat. But his mind never stopped working. With each mistake he made, he filed it away and didn't make it again. Before long, he was working out moves with complex combinations of button pushes and making Ducky work for his victories.

Each round would last longer and longer before Ed was defeated; and as Ducky worked harder, he concentrated more and made fewer jokes. It made the cramping that was growing in Ed's left hand a small price to pay.

He barely noticed that the activity around him had come to a halt, as Tom and Reilly watched. He was more intent on the game; and, he realized suddenly, he was enjoying every minute of it. There was a rush of adrenaline when he made the character on the screen move with grace and deadly accuracy, and a feeling of glee whenever he'd hear Ducky grumble at a painful blow.

The final round seemed to have lasted forever; an impasse almost. But gradually, Ed was gaining ground and hit points on Ducky. Both men were intent, sweating and gritting their teeth, rapidly punching buttons on the controls. Their world had narrowed down to just the two figures on the screen as blow upon blow piled up, and "life" slowly drained from the characters.

They were both close to the end. All it would take would be one well-placed hit or kick and the other would collapse in defeat. The scientist in Ed made rapid calculations several moves ahead, and knew what he had to do. A huge, wicked grin spread across his face, and he tapped out the right combination of buttons, hitting the last one with much enthusiasm and a subtle crack that went unnoticed. "Ha!" He shouted as his opponent died on the screen.

Ducky gave a wordless cry of agony, and fell back in the couch. "Nooooooo!" he whined. "My perfect record! Thrashed!"

"Congratulations, Ed," Reilly said. "No one has ever defeated Ducky in Soul Calibur."

Ed grinned and handed the controller over to Ducky. As it passed from his -automail-hand to Ducky's, it fell apart. The other man stared down at it like Ed had just squished a puppy to death and choked. "My controller! You broke it!"

Ed felt his face heat up and he gave Ducky a sheepish grin. "Uh... sorry about that."

"But... but... it was the magic that made the game work!" Ducky wailed. "I'll never be able to play again!"

"Whu--?"

"Oh, get over yourself, Ducky!" Reilly chided. "I can get you another one for 35 bucks at Wal-mart."

Ed looked from Reilly back to Ducky, and scowled. "You're nuts, you know that?"

"Thank ye!" Ducky said with a grin.

0o0o0

"So, you're the kid who's been causing me so much trouble."

The low voice from the door startled Al awake, making the boy hiss a little as his left arm tried to jerk into a defensive stance. That voice gave a low chuckle, stepping into the main room. "No need to get uptight, kid; I just have a few questions I want to ask you."

"Oh." Al took a deep breath, and used his free arm to rub the sleep and pain from his eyes. "Okay. You're that... agent-person, right?"

A small smile graced the man's face, eyes hidden behind dark glasses. "Yeah. The name's James Bond." Agent Bond took a seat in one of the chairs near Al's bed and scooted it closer. "I'd like to ask you about what happened."

"Bond, huh," Al murmured, trying to get his thoughts in order as his stomach churned uneasily. "What about what happened?"

The man frowned slightly, before a larger grin graced his features. "What do you remember about what happened last night?"

Al blinked, confused. "Last night?"

"When you were hit, son."

"Oh." /Here we go/, he thought before plunging in. "All I remember is waking up in the rain, seeing a bright light, and waking up in the rain and hurting. Nothing else, until I was brought to the hospital."

The agent raised an eyebrow, as though he didn't buy that explanation. "And how did you come to be stranded on the side of the road, boy?"

Al pretended to think for a little bit, then sighed. "I... I don't remember."

Bond allowed a small smirk to escape his lips, a look which really creeped Al out. "Now, I think you're lying when you say that, son. Care to try again, with the truth this time?"

The boy swallowed quietly, the nausea gaining strength as he grew more nervous. "I-I'm not lying. I don't remember how I got there."

"Are you sure? Or are you just afraid to admit that you know more than you should?"

Al's eyes widened. Does he know??

"I'll let you in on a little secret, boy; the damage done to that road is nothing anyone has ever seen in nature. Lightning can't melt asphalt like that; makes me wonder just what sort of weapon you had, to pull that off."

/Aw hell, I think he does/, was the only thought going through Al's mind, the rational part of his brain trying desperately to come up with a counter for all the accusations.

The man crossed his legs casually, leaning back in his chair as he watched Al. "It could be a new terrorist tactic, for all I know. Something to sabotage us in our own backyard. I couldn't leave a supposed terrorist in a civilian hospital, and with your suspicious actions, I should just haul you in for a more detailed questioning."

All the blood slowly drained from Al's face, leaving his head throbbing and a sense of numbness in his face. Licking dry lips, Al glared. "I told you, I don't know anything. And I seriously doubt your commanding officer would let you drag off an injured kid for questioning without anything more than a hunch."

Bond let loose a soft chuckle. "Touché, but I wouldn't count on that. My superiors are paranoid; they'd allow me, if I had enough of a hunch." The man continued, very calmly looking at his watch. "You know, it's not a wise idea to lie to people like me. People are bound to get hurt. People who have nothing to do with this." The smirk widened. "Care to expound upon your tale now, son?"

"No!" Al sat straight up, cursing the various injuries and machines attached to him. "You wouldn't!"

A slight chuckle escaped the man's mouth. "Are you certain?"

Al felt cold sweat break out along his palms. "I-I told you! I honestly don't remember anything else!" He swallowed again, more audibly. "You leave everyone else alone!"

"Surely you don't expect me to believe you? Not acting like that."

Al could feel his heart trying to claw its way out of his chest, hysteria close on its heels. He clutched at his head, the concussion and stress conspiring to give him the headache from hell, and his stomach feeling like a tsunami was in its depths. Damnitdamnitdamnit//, what the hell do I do?? "I--"

He couldn't say anything else as his lunch came bubbling up from his stomach... and landed right on Bond's nicely-ironed black suit.

The door abruptly opened. "Hey, Agent-guy!"

Al had never been so relieved to see another person in his entire life, but his stomach wasn't cooperating. He placed a hand over his mouth, trying to will his stomach to calm down.

Bond didn't look away from Al, who still looked about ready to spew chunks despite the appearance of his nurse. His glare was more intense than before, and made almost ludicrous by the vomit on his shirt. "Do you mind? I'm busy."

"Yeah I mind. You're making my patient worse." Arms crossed imposingly across his chest, Ray gave Bond a gimlet stare. "I'm afraid you'll have to leave. Now."

Raising an almost bored eyebrow, Bond got up. "Don't forget what I told you, little boy." Letting that hang in the air, he nodded his bald head at Ray, and calmly strode out the door.

Ray watched the man go, not relaxing until the agent's footsteps could no longer be heard. "Well, that went over like a lead balloon." He came over to Al's bed, setting what looked like a bedpan in front of him. "Go ahead if you need to, kid. Holding it will make it worse."

Al soon finished with his heaving once he had a receptacle nearby, his stomach eventually calming down enough to speak again. "You were listening?"

"Duh." Ray grinned. "How else was I supposed to know if he was pushing you too hard? Which he did; you look like shit, and vomiting is a big sign that you've been pushing it."

"I didn't look all that well to begin with," Al grumbled, sagging back into his bed and wiping at his mouth.

"Touché." Ray nudged the wheelchair back into the room. "Feel like going somewhere to forget about it, and do me a favor at the same time?"

Al blinked. "Favor?"

"Yeah. Trust me; I think you'll like it." Taking down the guard on Al's bed, he helped the boy back into the wheelchair. "And I think you could do with something adorable to look at, once we get you cleaned up."

0o0o0

After changing into a new pair of pajamas and cleaning up some, Al held his breath, eyes gone wide in awe at the little miracle lying in the box before him. "She's so small," he whispered; face nearly pressed against the warm, clear material before him.

Ray's voice drifted over his head, much quieter than his usual joking tone. "Yeah, I know. Her mom gave birth after only six months, and she's a crack baby, so it didn't help her growth much."

"Crack baby?" Al asked, smiling as the girl's tiny fist rose up.

His nurse sighed, reaching in one of the side holes to gently stroke the girl's other hand. "Her mother was addicted to cocaine. Gave birth and ran off as soon as we weren't looking."

Thinking of anyone willingly doing anything damaging to their unborn child made Al feel slightly ill again. "That's horrible," he whispered. Now that Ray had mentioned something was wrong with her, he could see the slight deformities in the girl's skull, how she would occasionally shake for no reason. It made him want to cry for her.

"Yeah, I know. There are about four babies like this here; ones whose mothers were crack heads, or just didn't want them and abandoned them." Ray smiled down at Al, and patted his head gently. "We get volunteers sometimes, to come and touch or hold them, but they don't come often enough."

The thought of getting to hold little babies, especially ones who needed comfort as much as he did, brought a smile back to his face. "Can I volunteer? Would they let me?"

Ray smirked. "Why do you think I brought you? It'd be good for them, and it'd keep you from being bored off your butt." He motioned towards the holes in the box. "Go ahead and touch her if you want; it's why I had you wash your hands thoroughly before we came. Be gentle though."

Al gingerly reached into the box and stroked the girl's shin; she squirmed and kicked, miniscule lips smacking together. Al flashed back to the birth of another girl, and couldn't help but grin like a maniac. I can feel this one, Brother. You were right; they are soft at this age.

Ray laughed quietly at the look on the boy's face. "I'll list you as a daily patient volunteer, 'kay, Tiger?" When the boy didn't respond, Ray chuckled and left the room to take care of it, letting the kid stay with little Alexis for the time being.

0o0o0

Her name is Alexis/, Al thought. /She has a name and she has a soul, but she's all alone. He thought about how scared he was when his mother died and he at least had his brother. The very idea of being this small, and this alone... with no one, chilled him and broke his heart.

I won't let you be alone/, he thought to the tiny infant. /I'll be here as much as I can.

Al couldn't stop staring at the small person resting in front of him, one of his fingers gently stroking an impossibly tiny hand. /She's so small/, he thought for the hundredth time. /I could hold her in the palm of my hand/.

"Mmkay, Tiger," came Ray's voice from the door. "It's time for dinner, and you should really get some more rest, so it's time to go." He chuckled wryly. "Though after the spewing chunks incident, I think you're on liquids for a bit."

It took a moment for Al to register Ray's voice. "Oh... okay. Can I come back later?"

The nurse grinned, gently ruffling the tuft of Al's hair that wasn't pinned down by the gauze around his head. "Maybe tomorrow. You really need to get some rest. You've had an interesting day."

"All right." Al gently stroked the little girl's hand one more time, then settled back into the wheelchair. "Since you're my chauffer...."

"Right, right. 'Home, James' and all that rot." Ray grinned cheerily and started pushing the chair. "Let's go get some grub."

0o0o0

5:05pm
Bartlesville, Oklahoma

To anyone who was looking, he would have seemed to be just another transient taking a short-cut through the properties that abutted each other. There was nothing impressive about him, really. He was tall, with long sandy hair pulled back in a ponytail, and he wore glasses. The goatee and mustache looked to be in need of a trim, but it was to be expected with someone like Singer.

Most people who had land in the area didn't worry too much about transients, as long as they didn't cause any trouble and just kept moving. Not even the faded fatigues and worn army boots would have garnered a second look. The olive-drab duffle with the inked in symbols and fetishes might have raised an eyebrow, but not because of what they were (It was Oklahoma, after all; Native Americans proudly showing off their heritage was hardly unusual), but because of the person who was carrying it. Singer hardly looked like he was a part of any tribe.

Had anyone been watching when he vaulted gracefully over a barbed-wire fence and sit cross-legged on the ground a few yards away, they might've given him some sound advice and told him to keep moving.

Had they seen what happened next, they would have grabbed the 20-gauge.

Singer pulled a small buckskin pouch from the duffle. The drawstring was decorated with an elk fetish and an eagle feather. He'd been harassed about the feather on more than one occasion over the past few years; possessing one was illegal... except for a tiny minority of people. He was one of them.

Within that pouch were several reed flutes of varying lengths and widths; all of them hand-made by him. He selected one, cleared his mind of all thought, and began to play. The tune was haunting; punctuated by breaths and trills, and not patterned in any school of music. This was playing to Father Sky and Mother Earth. A sound that came from the soul and asked to be shown the answer.

Moments passed, and the air around him became taught with anticipation. Soon that air in front of him began to waver, like heat monkeys hovering over asphalt in August. The tone of the flute changed; another question asked, and a butterfly lit gracefully on the end of the flute. Singer knew it wasn't native to the area. He wondered if it was native to the US at all. It had velvet black wings tipped in white on the bottom, with vivid red patches on the upper wings. It was a glorious creature that held no fear for the man with the flute.

Singer stopped playing and regarded the butterfly in silence. In turn, the butterfly regarded him. As he allowed himself to be examined by the insect he pondered the wisdom of the butterfly. The power of the whirlwind, reincarnation, transformation, transmutation, and magic. The soul who crossed this gate is guided by the creature in front of me. This creature is not from here, but from across a vast distance.

A breeze ruffled Singer's hair and rattled the beads holding the eagle feather against the fetish on the leather bag. He did not cross alone, either.

When he learned all he needed to learn here, the butterfly rose from the end of his flute and then faded in a wisp of smoke.

Singer packed away his flute and shouldered the duffle as he got to his feet. His journey was not over yet. In fact, it was just beginning.

0o0o0

/Apr 24 2006, 9:54 PM/
/ /
/Heist wrote:/

Okay, officially panicking. Ducks and Ms. Reilly Hellhag (-Pandora-) NEVER stay offline this long. I mean, the HELL?

.....IS YOU BREATHING?

*
"Do not try to live forever. You will not succeed." ~George Bernard Shaw

********

/Apr 24 2006, 11:26 PM/
/ /
/The DuckLord wrote:/

we is breathing!

sorry H. had a bit of a snafu, lost championship title: gamer god. fun times. and don't worry. all okay, M included. we have company. ask later.

and looking for somebody. keep an eye out for weird shit. really weird.

*
ass pwnzed in soulcalibur. shame!

********

/Apr 24 2006, 11:45 PM/
/ /
/Heist wrote:/

Tuckandroll//, you unmitigated asshead!

You guys scared the ubercrap outta me! I thought died or something equally horrific, like getting mauled by deer. (I read this thing last year about horny deer and I swear I'm NEVER going outside again.) Anyway, what happened? You guys get hit by the Terminator or something? I was right, wasn't I? WASN'T I??

Anyway, now that you aren't killing me dead with panic attacks like the literary Mrs. Bennet, you wanna pass along to M that something's up with the leylines? They're... rippling, I think, really big ripples on an earth-energy pond that hit each other and bounce back and ripple all over the place. I'm going on a roadtrip next week to do some triangulation, and I'll be swinging down through Arkansas around Monday so I can pick up Mandar. (She's doing some kinda project with Geog. and her GIS courses. shrugs) You wanna meet up somewhere, swap trade secrets and stuff before I die by X-Files junkie?

Get back to me any time. I'll be on all night. And I caught your search protocol earlier. What the hell is up with that?

*
"A CURSE: May your soul be forever tormented by fire and your bones be dug up by dogs and dragged through the streets of Minneapolis." ~Garrison Keillor

********

/Apr 25 2006, 2:01 AM/
/ /
/The DuckLord wrote:/

ummmmmmmm//.... yeah, actually, we do have the terminator. freakin sweet man. he's a lot shorter than you'd think. comps ph34r him!

just ignore the search. it's quiet, i don't want it getting too far out, no big attention or anything. and H. arkansas? for shame.

*
espresso machine within my needy grasp!

********

/Apr 25 2006, 12:52 PM/
/ /
/Heist wrote:/

Shut up, Tuckandroll. You're still an asshead. And you are showing up if I have to call your mother to make you do it. I still have her phone number, Ducks. Do you want that kind of tragedy on your hands? I submit that you do not.

I expect the terms of your unconditional surrender no later than midnight tonight.

P.S. I'd love to meet whoever killed you at Soul Calibur. He (or she, please tell me it's a she) is a god among mortals.

*
"Defeat is worse than death because you have to live with defeat." ~Bill Musselman

********

/Apr 25 2006, 4:10 PM/
/ /
/The DuckLord wrote:/

fine. you win. arkansas. tho I'd rather be roasted over mulder and scully's ashes by mandar. see you monday.

p.s. that threat sucks. you call my mother and i call yours. equivalent exchange, beeyotch!

p.s.s//. it's a he. his name's ed.

*
heist is the devil.

********






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