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

Insomnia

by CrackbunnySyndrome 0 Reviews

Al tried to keep the tears back, reaching in to stroke the small girl's hand once more. It felt cool and pliant, like the rubber that had once hidden the old prosthetics his brother had used in Ger...

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 - 6306 words

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"Insomnia"
Arc One
Balance of Power


/Apr 28 2006, 7:12 AM/
/ /
/Heist wrote:/

I heard through the grapevine that the Ghostbusters were getting together tonight. Any truth to that rumor?

And Tuckandroll, get in contact./ Soon. I'm having a few problems with my travel arrangements, and we need to power-powwow on the boards./

*
"Right in the middle of Prague, Wenceslaus Square, there's this guy throwing up. And then this other guy comes along, takes a look at him, shakes his head, and says, 'I know exactly what you mean.'" ~Milan Kundera

Life is the suck, man!

********
0o0o0

April 28, 2006 - 7:35pm
Wichita, Kansas

Al was literally beginning to fidget. A lead ball of anxiety settled in the pit of his stomach as he waited outside the neo-natal unit, listening the low, urgent voices as the staff fought to coax Alexis back to this side of life.

Four days so far. Four long, boring days in the hospital with nothing to do but worry about Ed and what his own fate was going to be. The constant monotony of mindless drivel on the TeeVee threatened to kill his brain-cells; the execrable drivel in the romance novels the nurses left for him to read threatened to rot his teeth; the other children on the floor were either too sick to leave their beds, or were too wrapped up in their own little worlds to offer any stimulation.

He was 'the quiet one' of the family. Al could remain still for long periods of time, even after getting his body back. A habit he never bothered to break from his years as a soul bound to armor. But his mind was never still. He was always working something out in his head.

Except for now. There really wasn't much he could do, but wait and heal.

Al's only reprieve from the slow-death by boredom was when Ray fetched him to visit the neo-natal unit. At least there he felt like he was accomplishing something. A couple of the babies he could hold and he'd sing his favorite lullabies to them. Softly, barely above a whisper. Squirming, crying infants desperately lost and alone... often in pain... would calm in his arms and fall asleep. In turn, they calmed him. Even to the point he dozed off a couple of times, himself.

Ray found him like that one time and teased him about what a good father he would be. Mentally, Al was exceptionally proud of the idea and took it as a compliment.

Alexis was his favorite though. The tiniest infant had the hardest road ahead of her, and she needed love the most, in Al's opinion. He spent the most of his far too short time with her, lightly stroking her through the box, and telling her stories, or singing lullabies. She was too small and too sick to be held; but Al made up for that as best he could.

The neo-natal nurses warned him against getting too attached to her. Chances were, she wouldn't thrive. But when she weakly clasped his finger in response to his light stroke, a thrill of hope shot through him and he just knew that this time, they would be wrong.

They had to be.

Even when Ray showed up unexpectedly with a wheelchair, a grim look on his face, and hurried him to the neo-natal unit, Al refused to consider that Alexis wasn't going to live. He wasn't one to ever think one baby deserved to live more than another, but it was just too cruel to think that the tiny infant would have been born, just to suffer, and die so soon after. With no one. Alone.

The sudden silence from the other side of the door scared him more than the urgent voices had before. And when Ray stepped into the hall, Al knew.

He swallowed and fought for control; but he felt like he would crumble with just a light touch.

"Do you want to say goodbye, Tiger?" Ray asked softly.

Al couldn't speak. If he did, he would start crying. He nodded silently.


0o0o0

Al tried to keep the tears back, reaching in to stroke the small girl's hand once more. It felt cool and pliant, like the rubber that had once hidden the old prosthetics his brother had used in Germany; before Winry gave him new automail. The lack of warmth caused tears to threaten to spill down his cheeks again.

"You can't bring back a dead human."

The words echoed dully in his head, as he remembered another hand, the life abruptly taken from it as well.

"We're humans. Tiny, insignificant humans, who couldn't even save a little girl..."

Al hadn't really, truly grasped that concept the way his brother had. Until now. And never had those words seemed as true as they did at this moment.

An insane thought flitted across his mind, and he vaguely wondered if he'd be able to do it. If he really could bring back this little person, who had barely gotten a chance at breathing, let alone life...

A large hand descended onto Al's head, snapping him out of his dark thoughts. "She was in a lot of pain, you know," Ray whispered, stroking the portion of Al's hair that wasn't swathed in gauze. "There wasn't a whole lot we could do for her. But I think..." his voice drifted off, his gaze dropping down to Al. "...I think she knew someone cared about her, before she died."

Al sighed deeply, letting his hand fall from the child's. I'm sorry/, he thought quietly, swallowing back tears that threatened to choke him. /It wouldn't help you any, would it?

"How could anyone do that to a child, Ray?" he choked. Anger mingled with grief over the needless death. "How could anyone be so selfish that they'd screw up their child like that?"

"There are a lot of fucked up people in this world, Tiger. I wish I could figure them out, too; maybe then I could help them with what got them addicted in the first place." The large nurse knelt by Al, looking into the box as well. "They don't start the addiction just because, kid; they start because they need to forget how much their life sucks, or how much it's messed up, or to forget something that still haunts them. And they reach a point where they just can't quit, no matter who else it hurts." Ray sighed heavily, then straightened up. "I'm going to inform the maternity nurses that you're done, okay? Unless you want to visit some of the other babies?"

Al gazed at the still form in front of him, calmly wiping away the tears on his lashes with the back of his hand. His expression grew firmer, though the haunted look didn't quite leave him. They may die soon, Brother/, he thought, /but at least I'm going to let them know that someone cares if they do or not.

"I want to go see the others."

Ray smiled gently. "There's my Tiger. C'mon; we'll get you some clean scrubs."

A small smile worked its way onto Al's face. "Okay."

0o0o0

Reilly was in the garage trimming herbs to dry when Ed tromped in. He was scowling so hard she feared that his face would disappear in on itself if he wasn't careful. It was all she could do to keep from giggling at the sight. It was especially amusing to her, because the grow lights to her hydroponics cast sharp shadows and only managed to make the creases in the young man's face all the more pronounced.

Something had him tied up in knots; and Reilly suspected it had something to do with the noise of people arriving a moment ago. There was an investigation scheduled for tonight and she had a feeling that it was some of the team that had arrived.

"Let me guess," she said. "The Ghost Busters just showed up?"

Ed started to say something, stopped, waved a hand back at the door, gaped like a grounded fish, winced, screwed his eyes shut, and pinched the bridge of his nose. All the while Reilly watched, her amusement growing.

"Ed," she finally said. "Do you have fevers with those fits?"

He pointed back at the door and stammered, "That... that... woman..." Then he proceeded to turn beet red and go silent.

"Ah, I see you met Kitten," Reilly said with a chuckle.

"Do you know what she said to me?!"

"Nice boots, wanna fuck?"

It shouldn't have been possible for anyone to get that red without having an aneurysm, but Ed looked like he wasn't in any serious danger... except to his dignity.

"I... I'm not even wearing boots!" he squeaked and waved his arms, as though that was the whole point and not his extreme embarrassment over the blatant proposition.

Reilly snickered and stepped past him to go inside. "Relax, Ed. It's a standard Kitten greeting when she meets a cute guy. Or girl, for that matter. Take it as a compliment."

She stopped with her hand on the door and looked back. "You going to stay in here and sulk? Or would you like to join us tonight?"

Ed faced her with a mildly disgusted twist to his lips. "I don't believe in that shit, Reilly."

She smiled hugely. "I know, which is why you'd be perfect."

At the look of total confusion on his face, she added. "You could be a control."

His brows shot up and he was suddenly a lot more interested. Reilly nodded, and jerked her head toward the inside of the house. "C'mon. I'll give you a big stick to keep Kitten at bay."

0o0o0

8:32pm
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Ducky was driving through heavy Friday night traffic when his cellphone barked. He sighed and rolled his eyes, knowing who was calling. He really didn't want to talk to her right now, he had other things on his mind; but he knew if he didn't answer, his mother would keep calling until he did.

"Hey, Mom," he said as he fumbled the cell in one hand and jerked the wheel to the left to avoid a moron trying to nose his way into his lane.

He listened as his mother rattled on; rolling his eyes so much he wondered if they'd roll out of his head this time. He loved his mother dearly, but her timing always left something to be desired. He supposed it had more to do with the fact that the woman could never quite understand he was busier at night than he was during the day. That was just not normal in her opinion, and she didn't send him through college for five years just so he could use his degree as wall-art and not do anything with it. He needed to get a real job after all. His freelance work was not steady; and how was he going to support a wife and children if he couldn't count on that weekly paycheck with all the benefits a real job offered?

"Mom," he said when he could finally get a word in edge-wise. "Was there a point to all this?"

He flinched and yanked the phone from his ear. "Sorry, Mom. I'm just busy right now." He paused and let her continue on, then he decided it was time to interrupt her again, or she'd go off on a tangent. "No, Mom... I'm working... Yes, Mother, for Tom..." He slammed on the brakes as the car in front of him stopped suddenly for no discernable reason. "Yeah, I'm driving. No, I'm not trying to be rude; I'm just surrounded by idiots..." He scowled as he listened longer. "When? Next month? Damn... Sorry! Sorry! I'll watch my mouth, Mom. It just slipped out... Family reunion? Man, I can't make it. Not next month. No, Mom. My schedule's packed. No, Mom, I can't get out of any of it, I made commitments. Yeah, I know. Give them all my love. Especially Gramps. Love you too, Mom. Bye."

He shut off the phone and sighed. A little bit of guilt nagged at him over the little white lie. He couldn't stand those family reunions. Hell, he couldn't stand most of his family. But he did love his grandfather and he worried that he might not get to see him again before the old man died. The old fart had much the same attitude over those family reunions as he did. Hell the old man had the same opinion over most of the family. He considered most of them spoiled, whiney twits. Of course that tough old bastard had lived through hell, too. He'd even managed to escape Germany during the war.

/I need to take a road trip soon/, he thought.

0o0o0

April 29, 2006 - 1:07am
Wichita, Kansas


Ray knew he should really go home and get some sleep. He'd had a long day, his shift ending at eleven, and when he wasn't checking on patients he was helping with the myriad emergencies that had come through the sliding doors all day.

Yet here he was, at one in the morning, watching Tiger saw logs. A soft chuckle escaped his throat, and Ray leaned back. He's a nice kid, and sweet as hell to little kids, he thought, long legs stretching in front of him in an attempt to get comfortable.

It was Tiger making a noise that made him sit up. Ray was surprised; after Alexis dying and then spending several hours with the infants left alive, he'd expected the poor boy to hit the pillow and snore until breakfast. He got up and leaned over the bed, trying to catch what the boy was saying.

"Mom... I'm so sorry... sorry... no, mom... come back..."

Ray raised an eyebrow in surprise. So he does remember/, he thought, reaching out to smooth the stubborn cowlick the kid had. /I wonder what happened.

Tiger didn't react to Ray's hand; instead, he seemed to go deeper into the memory. "...you sure we should... no one's ever... done this right..."

The large nurse blinked, peering closer at the boy. What is he reliving? he wondered, growing more worried as the half-coherent mutterings.

"Brother... something's... going wrong..." Ray blinked. He has a brother? He thought. The thought wasn't allowed to continue for long, though, as Tiger began to sweat, his face contorting in pain as his hands clenched unconsciously. "Edward... Brother! Brother! Brother, please!"

The half-scream, half-cry that ripped from the boy's throat startled Ray, and he immediately tried to calm the boy down, shushing and patting the kid as he gasped and cried. "Shh, Tiger, it's okay, it's okay. Shh. You're fine," Ray murmured quietly to the boy, one hand gently stroking the hair not confined in the light bandage around his head. "I'm here, you're fine, nothing's wrong. Shhhh."

It took several moments, but the pain and anguish on the kid's face gradually subsided. "Mmkay.... brother..." he murmured, the frown-lines relaxing into a peaceful look. "Night Ed..."

Relieved that Tiger was going back to sleep, Ray settled back in the chair, hoping none of the other nurses had heard that outburst. Man, this just keeps getting weirder and weirder... Kid probably has a good reason for lying. I just hope he explains it to me sometime...

Outside the door, a hand lowered itself, and the woman standing at the door turned and left.

0o0o0

/Apr 29 2006, 3:39 AM/
/ /
/DeadSexKitten// wrote:/

awwwww/ man it was great! was shit awesome. we got a lot of great data from this one old place, and i got to meet M's houseguest. name is ed? he's the hottness. rargh. rub me down with warm oil and purr, soo yummy. a little twitchy though, got all hot and bothered when i cornered him. only problem is he's a little on the short side.... not that it's a prob, i just like my boys on the taller side's all./

and/ sorry to hear about the sick. that bad?/

*
nice/ boots. wanna fuck?/

********

/Apr 29 2006, 4:01 AM/
/ /
/Heist wrote:/

Yo, Kit, when I was trolling for info, I meant useful info. Exhibit A: the siggie.

And in answer to the question, it was a twenty-four hour bug, and everyone got it but me. That kinda thing happens when the fam goes new places. Vacations = the sadness.

...BTW, is this the Ed that kicked Tuckandroll's ass at Soul Calibur?

*
"If you have something important to say, for God's sake start at the end."/ ~Sarah Jeannette Duncan/

********

/Apr 29 2006, 4:58 AM/
/ /
/-Pandora- wrote:/

Long time no see girl. Thought I'd check in on the boards, and there you were all spazzing out. And apparently exposed to colossal sickness. Yikes!

Thought I'd set the record straight before I went to bed that yes, I have a new houseguest, and yes, he is the same Ed that killed Ducky in Soul Calibur. And he's only twitchy because Kitten was being herself. Poor kid... thought he'd keel over right there.

I'll have more for you later, but I'm too wiped out from tonight. And no, it's not what you're thinking, you dirty-minded psycho.

*
"May you live in interesting times?" I'd say these are pretty damned interesting...

********

/Apr 29 2006, 5:00 AM/
/ /
/Heist wrote:/

I have no idea what you're talking about... nefarious grin

*
"She had the Midas touch. Everything she touched turned into a muffler." ~Lisa Smerling

Gawd//, don't I wish...

********
0o0o0

5:02am
Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Ed's eyes snapped open and his heart raced. Something had startled him out of his sleep, but as he listened nothing set off any alarms. He was sleeping dreamless for once, so he knew that wasn't it.

No light came through the lace curtains; clouds had gathered in the night, then. Ed could hear the creaking of the trees nearest the house in the gusting winds. Other than the normal sounds of the house settling, Ed heard nothing out of the ordinary. Not even Reilly's constant music or the tapping of her keyboard. /So she's in bed too/, he thought. He didn't have a clock in the room, but he had a somewhat decent timesense and he figured it to be around five a.m. There was nothing overtly out of place or odd, but Ed couldn't shake the feeling that there was something wrong regardless.

He sighed, and rolled his eyes. Blame it on our little 'adventure', he thought. He had relented and joined Reilly and her crew of freaks in their little party at an old abandoned hotel. Most of the time, people were just wandering around with video cameras, tape recorders, and a slew of other instruments that Reilly hadn't bothered to explain to him. Two of the people on the team were supposedly 'sensitives', and would talk about the 'feelings' they'd get from each room. The rest of them would rattle off numbers and codes, and write in little notebooks.

Ed just spent most of his time there either bored senseless, or trying to avoid Kitten's advances.

After they'd called it a night at about two am, he sarcastically asked Reilly if they'd found anything. She only shrugged and said she wouldn't know until later, when they'd had a chance to analyze the data. Ed only snorted.

His feeling of disquiet started to grow as he tried to decipher the shadows in the corners of the room. Even with dark-adapted eyes, it seemed that those corners were just a little darker than normal. And it looked like those shadows /writhed/.

Listened to too many 'ghost' stories tonight, /he thought. /I'm letting it get to me.

He laughed off his night-time imaginings and mentally scolded himself for even pondering the monsters under the bed. You're not a little kid anymore, he chided, as he attempted to roll over and put his back to the darkness. A sudden feeling of weakness swept over him and he felt himself falling rapidly back into the oblivion of sleep. His whole body felt heavy, and his eyes tried to close.

It was then he had the creeping sense that he was being watched and saw spilled-ink blackness crawl out of the corners and across the ceiling toward him. What the hell? He fought to keep his eyes open and to move, but his body refused to obey. Feels like I've been drugged. The malevolence of the living shadow was a palpable thing that Ed could almost touch and it sickened him. Like nothing but pure hate and anger made manifest.

He gritted his teeth, and kept trying to move, but the heaviness of his own body held him in place as his fear grew. Fuck, what is this? Why can't I move? He was so weakened he couldn't call out. He panted with effort and filled his lungs to shout, but all that came out was a weak moan.

And the shadow rolled-writhed-tumbled closer. Across the ceiling, slowly... so slowly... Tendrils like matted hair, reached down... Searching... Sensing...

Ed continued to fight against the overwhelming desire to close his eyes. Something deep within him, some instinct told him if he let his eyes close, that living shadow would have him. Reilly/, he screamed in his mind, and desperately wanted to scream aloud. /Reilly! Goddamnit! What is this thing coming after me? Get your ass in here, you old hag and get it out of here!

The tendrils slowly came together, like they'd finished their search, and found their target... And the target was Ed. They blended together and became one large, angry, malevolent tendril that hung in the air right over Ed as though it were waiting for something.

Then in the space of a heartbeat it pulled back, hesitated, then launched itself right at him.

Ed screamed.

In the same instant, his door banged open and bright light painfully flooded his dark-adapted eyes as Reilly flipped the switch. "If you're not here in the name of light, then in the name of light begone!" she shouted as she threw an odious-smelling powder around the room.

Some of the powder was snorted when Ed inhaled and he flailed as he covered his face and tried to dodge any more flying about the room. His weakness was instantly gone and he was now wide awake; sitting up and crab-crawling until his back slammed up against the headboard. He gulped, but couldn't seem to get enough air to breathe as he waved a hand and pointed at the center of the room where Reilly was now standing. "Wh- what in the holy hell was that?!"

Reilly seemed intent on studying the corner the shadow had emerged from, and answered distractedly. "Not really sure, to be honest. I just call them 'Shadows'."

Ed's breathing started to come under gradual control and the absurdity of the situation grew clear. "Sh... shadows?"

Reilly quirked a brow at him and smirked. "You got a better name?" She gave him an appraising once-over with a glance, then nodded. "Looks like it didn't touch you."

She sighed and suddenly looked tired. She sunk down at the foot of Ed's bed and ran her fingers through the tangle of curls. "Sorry about that." She cast an embarrassed look at him, then away again. "I guess we all have our dirty little secrets. You just met one of mine."

She finally met his eyes again. Hers were dark and haunted. "We're in trouble, Ed."

He mulled it over in his mind a long moment. Trouble was an understatement if he was going to have to deal with those shadows anymore, but he didn't think that was what she was talking about. "What do you mean?" he asked, when it looked like she wasn't going to elaborate.

She shrugged, staring off into nothingness. "The shadows don't manifest unless something is going to happen." She focused on him for a long, silent moment; studying him. He met her gaze, calmly.

About the time he started feeling like a bug under a magnifying glass, she spoke again. "This is the first time they've gone after someone other than me, too."

Ed swallowed nervously. Two years ago, if Reilly had been telling him this, he'd laugh... but that was before he knew Noah. "Do you know what's going to happen?"

She shook her head. "Sorry, Ed. All I know is that the strength of the shadows is a barometer of just how bad the situation is going to be."

Ed sneezed and winced. "Ugh! And what the hell was that stuff you threw around?"

She held up a small vial that was still half-full of reddish powder, and said, "This? Not entirely certain what's in it. Ducky puts it together for me. It smells like ass, but it does what I want."

He rubbed at his nose and grimaced. "Ass is right. I don't think I'm ever going to get rid of that-" He sneezed again, then sniffled. "-smell."

0o0o0

The nightmares were worse than they had been in a very long time. Memories blended with imagery and morphed into horrors. His mother, the funeral, his heartbreak and tears. Smoke clearing to reveal something that wasn't human and mewling like a sick, weak infant.

And blood... so much blood.

So many times, he felt the comforting weight of a tiny infant in his arms -a moment of calm and peace in the maelstrom of pain and fear- only to hear it begin to shriek in terror as an arm and a leg would be ripped from it by tiny incorporeal hands and cover him in blood; and the feeling of complete helplessness as the infant died in his arms.

Al fought with the nightmares... fought to wake up; but each time he thought he had broken the surface of oblivion and gulped the sweet breath of reality, he would sink right back down into hell. The lines between consciousness and nightmares became blurred. He thought he'd seen Ray next to him once; felt a warm hand on his forehead comforting him. He thought Ed had come to save him from the horrors once or twice, even.

Peace finally came as the sky grayed toward morning, riding a gentle wave of the sound of a flute. Another brief moment when he thought he might be awake revealed a tall, sandy-haired man squatting in the darkest corner, playing the flute.

The music... so soothing and peaceful... stopped; and Al mourned the loss.

The stranger studied him a moment, then nodded. "Wakhan Thánka níci un," he said softly, then started to play again. Al drifted back to sleep without fear this time. He knew the nightmares were through for the night.

0o0o0

Ed stared down into his coffee watching the images of people he's known, and would never see again, drift across the surface of the dark liquid. Mustang, Havoc, Auntie Pinako, Winry... Noah. Neither Reilly, nor himself were going to be able to go back to sleep after the shadows attacked.

They'd talked. Really talked.

Ed had spent nearly a week in this house with this stranger, practically being ignored as he was left to figure out this world on his own ("Just keep your hands off the computers until we can figure out what to do about that metal hand of yours," she insisted). During the day, he was left entirely alone while she went to work; and he had choices of books he had no desire to read, or shows on the TV that threatened to melt his brain with inanity. At least the books were entertaining, if for no other reason than he could poke fun at the theories.

He didn't just take up space, though. He gave something back in return for the trust she was offering by allowing him to be alone in her house. Of course, part of that was just self-preservation after nearly breaking his right foot yet again on the haphazard piles scattered through the living room. It was a slow and tedious process, but there was something that remotely resembled organization in the living room at this point. The books were even categorized in a way that even the librarians at the First Branch would be proud of.

And while his cooking skills wouldn't be considered gourmet, they were good enough. At least Reilly didn't complain. And it wasn't like his options in that department were severely limited. He still couldn't get over the amount of food she kept around. He was used to stopping by the market on a daily basis. Here, Reilly bought food to last awhile, and froze some of it. He understood the logic behind it, but freezing, or storing in the refrigerator for several days seemed to take away some of the flavor, in his opinion.

There just wasn't much in the way of talking between them when they were together. There was banter, sarcasm, teasing and a couple of shouting matches; but nothing that had any meat to it. More often than not, it was over her superstitions and his logic; or just Reilly looking for ways to push his buttons, and Ed returning the favor.

One subject that never seemed to come up again was the leylines and sacred places theory she had. Not after the first one, when he'd shown her just how skeptical he really was. He wondered if perhaps he'd pissed her off, and felt chagrined about his behavior; but she didn't act like she was upset. In fact the atmosphere was comfortable between them even when it seemed like they were trying to get under each other's skin. It was more like she'd been waiting for him to be ready to talk.

Or perhaps ready to listen.

She explained to him how she had known he'd come through the gate, and some of her other little 'talents'. Her empathy bordering on telepathy with people she was emotionally close to, her affinity for the Gates, the shadows. None of these things were consistent or predictable for her. They occurred spontaneously. Sporadically. In exchange, he told her about crossing the gate, the Thule Organization, and Noah and her abilities; and how he thought of it as nothing but superstition until...

"She told me something about myself that no one else knew," he said softly. "No one could possibly know, because it was another time. Another place."

"The other world you came from originally?" Reilly asked.

Ed looked up from the coffee, and nodded. "The Thule Organization called it Shambala. But it's not any different from this world. People are the same there as they are here."

Reilly poured herself another cup of coffee, and leaned back against the counter. She was silent a long moment; thoughtful. She didn't look up from her cup when she finally spoke again. "They opened a gate, didn't they?"

Ed should have been more surprised than he was, but he was beyond that at this point. Reilly was able to accept the strangeness of the gates, the possibility of ghosts, and unexplainable mental abilities. He briefly wondered what her reaction would be to alchemy. But no/, he thought. /That might be pushing it.

"Their method isn't one I'd recommend," he said wryly and decided to leave it at that. He was silently grateful that she respected that desire and didn't press for more information.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," she said.

"Eh?"

Reilly chuckled, and joined Ed at the table. "Hamlet," she said. "One of my favorite plays by Shakespeare. Hamlet said that after seeing the ghost of his father."

Ed rolled his eyes. "You and your ghosts."

She snorted and sipped at her coffee. "Yeah, yeah. And you don't believe a bit of it."

She stared down into her cup for a long moment, like she was searching for the best words to use. Ed waited patiently, willing to set his skepticism aside for once.

"There are things we cannot explain with the science we have available," she finally said. She looked up at Ed. "Ethereal, incorporeal. They don't have a smell or taste. They're not solid; you can't touch them. But they exist. Perhaps they exist because of belief. Faith, if you will."

Ed stared at her with a cynical twist to his lips, and she chuckled. "I said faith, Ed. Not religion. The power of our minds and the strength of our faith in something might be what make it real."

"Like your shadows?"

She nodded. "And the gates. I had nothing quantifiable by any science we have today. But I knew they existed. I had faith that they existed."

"Well, it's pretty obvious that they're real," Ed said. "I'm here, after all."

"True. But here's the rub. Do I have faith in the existence of those gates because they already are? Or do the gates exist because my faith in them made them?"

"You mean, which came first? The chicken or the egg?" Ed asked, with a smirk.

"That question has been answered," Reilly said with a snicker. "Birds evolved from dinosaurs. Hence, a strange mutation caused a chicken to hatch from the egg of something that wasn't a chicken."

"I was being philosophical," Ed growled.

"Schrödinger's cat* would probably be a better argument, then."

"Pardon?"

Reilly reached across the table and tilted Ed's cup. "Better get more coffee. You'll need it," she said with a snicker.

Ed gave her a wary look, but did as she suggested. After he sat back down, she explained the theory to him. He had been able to follow along and was pleasantly surprised to discover a sharp mind underneath all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo she seemed to believe in. She suddenly went from being a protector, to a colleague of a sort. Someone who might actually be able to argue real scientific theory with him, and hold her own in the debate. Maybe even give him a real challenge.

At the end, she asked him, "So, is the cat alive? Or is it dead?"

He gave her a fierce grin. "Theoretically, until that box is opened, it's both. But what the hell does that have to do with faith?"

"Not a goddamned thing if taken as it was originally intended; a thinking exercise in quantum mechanics." She shrugged. "But if used as a philosophical thinking exercise, the possibility of 'if' comes into play. If the cat is both alive and dead before the box is opened, how much influence does faith have on the result?"

Ed shook his head. "Does everyone around here talk in circles?"

Reilly grinned. "Every chance we get." She got up from the table, and set her cup in the sink. "And you'll want to dig up something you're willing to wear in public." She glanced over and gave him an appraising look. "You need clothes that fit you."

Ed blinked at that. Clothes?/ Admittedly, the clothes Tom had loaned him didn't exactly fit and they certainly weren't his style, but they covered him and he was more than grateful for them. Now Reilly was going to take him out and /buy him some that fit?

"Why are you doing this?"

She smiled and gave him a small shrug. "It's the right thing to do, Ed."

He knew that she wasn't going to elaborate any further, so he got up and headed out of the kitchen. At the doorway, he hesitated. There was something he needed to say, and now was as good a time as any. He glanced back at the back of the woman as she was running water into the sink. "Reilly?"

She glanced up, questioningly.

"I... I'm sorry about the other day," he said softly. "I was an ass."

For some reason Ed couldn't fathom, she seemed to find this mildly humorous. "Thank you," he said, refusing to allow her look to get to him this time. "For everything."

"You're welcome," she said gently. "And Ed?"

He stopped and faced her again; and now he was confused that her smile was even broader.

"I'd rather you were an ass, than a wimp. I don't take too kindly to people who think they have to cow down to me. It makes me suspicious."

Now it was Ed's turn to grin, and he let a little fang show. "I'll try to remember that."

0o0o0

/Apr 29 2006, 8:46 AM/
/ /
/The DuckLord wrote:/

what/ she isn't telling you is that every night just after dinner, she takes her new toy-boy out to the shed and plays time-traveling scifi dominatrix. real kinky stuff./

*
coffee/ is life./

********

/Apr 29 2006, 9:11 AM/
/ /
/-Pandora- wrote:/

Ha ha, Ducky. Very funny. Someday, when I've had a less difficult night, I will get you back. You will not see it coming. Your ass will be mine, and you will not like it. There will be pain!

It is going to be a LONG day.

*
"May you live in interesting times?" I'd say these are pretty damned interesting...

********


A/N /Schrödinger's cat/*/ : A cat is placed in a sealed box. Attached to the box is an apparatus containing a radioactive nucleus and a canister of poison gas. This apparatus is separated from the cat in such a way that the cat can in no way interfere with it. The experiment is set up so that there is exactly a 50% chance of the nucleus decaying in one hour. If the nucleus decays, it will emit a particle that triggers the apparatus, which opens the canister and kills the cat. If the nucleus does not decay, then the cat remains alive. According to quantum mechanics, the unobserved nucleus is described as a superposition (meaning it exists partly as each simultaneously) of "decayed nucleus" and "undecayed nucleus". However, when the box is opened the experimenter sees only a "decayed nucleus/dead cat" or an "undecayed nucleus/living cat."/

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