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

You Ain't From Around Here, Are You?

by CrackbunnySyndrome 1 Reviews

A soft glowing light started flaring up from the circle and spread to the leather straps, making Ray's eyes widen as the other straps holding Tiger down melted from him, to reform at the sides of t...

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 - 6917 words

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"You Ain't From Around Here, Are You?"
Arc One
Balance of Power

May 6, 2006 - 12:34pm
Wichita, Kansas

Ray was officially "off duty", but he wasn't about to leave Tiger's side now. Not after all hell broke loose earlier. That explosion freaked out a lot of people, but it got to the kid in a way no one else had expected.

Except Ray, that is.

The boy lied well when he was awake, but he talked in his sleep. As far as the big nurse knew, he was the only one who'd heard some of the dreamed confessions, and as far as he was concerned, it was just as well. If what Tiger had mumbled in his restless sleep was anything close to reality, the boy had a valid reason for lying and Ray wasn't about to spill the beans to anyone else.

On the other hand, if he was going to help the kid out, he needed to know the truth. He just hoped that Tiger still trusted him after that tackle earlier.

He yawned and stretched his long legs out in front of him, then glanced at his watch. He'll be coming out of the sedative soon. He could tell the drugs were starting to wear off, because Tiger was beginning to move around. He wasn't going to move far, though. As much as Ray hated it, he had to keep Tiger strapped down. If he wasn't, he'd come flying off that bed as soon as he regained consciousness, and possibly hurt himself worse than he already was.

Right on time. Ray heard Tiger start to mumble in his sleep. The words coming from the boy's lips weren't the lost, frightened, and heartbroken musings he'd heard before, though.

"Transmute U-235 to U-238. Make water into heavier water. Take it down in stages or it'll blow. Transmute it to Radon-222..." Tiger said, the words as clear as if he were lucid. "I-I'm not lying. I don't remember how I got there."

Ray's brow furrowed as he leaned forward to listen. Transmute? And the kid's talking about Uranium. A chill swept over Ray, and he wondered if perhaps the Fed-boy wasn't on to something. But no, he thought. Tiger isn't a terrorist. He doesn't have it in him. Tiger's head moved back and forth, like he was studying an object in front of him, and Ray saw his hands working. He's reliving something. Dreaming something mixed in with that damned Fed-boy. I'll bet good money that bastard had something to do with the explosion. And I'd bet the farm that Tiger knows it, too.

"Take it down in stages or it'll blow. I'm not a terrorist, I don't know anything. Radon is a heavy noble gas," Tiger continued. His voice was calm, but tense. "It's settling at the bottom of the cylinder. Damnit, the transmutation cracked the case! What does he know? He acts like he knows who I am." Tiger started thrashing, and a sheen of sweat formed on his forehead. "Brother, we have to go! I can't tell him about you. What if he knows about the gate? It's gunna blow!" The boy's left hand twitched like he was grasping something, and his feet kicked.

/He's running for his goddamn life/, Ray realized.

"Leave them alone, they have nothing to do with this. I told you I don't remember. BROTHER!" The boy shouted as his eyes snapped open and he lurched against the straps.

Ray got to his feet and gently, but firmly grasped the boy's shoulders. "Easy, Tiger. You're safe now," he said just loud enough to be heard over the boy's terrified gasping.

After a long moment Tiger's eyes lost their terrified contraction and relaxed into lucidity. Then they focused on Ray and became accusing. "You tackled me," he complained.

Ray chuckled and settled back in the chair. "Well, you were running right into Fed-boy's clutches, kid. I had to do something quick." He rubbed at his shin, and smirked. "You're pretty damn fast, and you kick like a mule."

Tiger scowled and tried to raise his hands, then blinked in brief confusion when he couldn't. With a shocked expression, he glared down his body and saw he was strapped. "What the hell is this?"

"Can't very well have you bolting again, now can we?"

The boy swallowed and his lower lip trembled. He heaved a deep sigh, and turned his head away. "I have to get out of here," he whispered. "People are going to get hurt if I stay."

"Why?"

Tiger's voice could barely be heard. "I-I can't tell you. I'm sorry, Ray."

Ray let the words hang in the air for a long moment. The kid needed help, and damn him, he was going to give him what he could. /So much for professional distance/, he thought. He didn't know why Tiger was so special, but his gut told him this was no ordinary 14 year old. He saw it in the kid's eyes in unguarded moments; he'd seen far more than someone his age should have, and never lost his gentleness. The kid was a hell of a lot smarter than he let on, and far older mentally than his body looked.

"So who's Brother?" he asked finally.

He saw Tiger stiffen slightly, but he kept his face turned away from him. "Who?" he asked in feigned innocence.

"Come on, Tiger. People don't cry out for a brother in their sleep, unless they have a brother."

He watched as the boy attempted a shrug. "I wouldn't know."

"Funny," Ray said. "You were better at lying before this."

Tiger's head snapped around and he gave Ray a terrified look. The big nurse just leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. He held the upper hand as long as the boy was strapped in. He wasn't about to give it up just yet.

"I'm the white-hat here, remember?" he said. "And right now, you need to trust someone."

"I can't tell you. I'm sorry." A tear slid unnoticed out of the boy's eye. "It's dangerous; believe that, okay?"

Ray snorted. "Kid, I was a Marine. Special Forces. I spent damn near twenty years eating, sleeping, breathing, and shitting danger." He leaned forward. "I told you I don't like that Fed-boy. He's a spook that lurks in shadows and plays sneaky, underhanded games. Those cockroaches did more to fuck up our missions than the enemy did." He gave Tiger a wolfish grin. "It won't break my heart any to earn a few more scars if it means I can frag his little mission."

The boy swallowed, but started to relax a little. Satisfied, Ray sat back. "I understand need-to-know, Tiger. And right now, I need to know. If I'm going to help you stay away from that slime and find your brother, I gotta know everything."

Ray waited patiently, calmly watching the emotions play across Tiger's face as he considered his nurse's words. Sensing the hesitation, Ray continued. "/Quid pro quo/, Tiger. I'll give you something, but you need to give me something in return, 'kay?"

A small, weary smile crept onto Tiger's face. "Equivalent exchange, you mean."

Ray laughed quietly. "That's one way of putting it, I suppose." The large man stretched tiredly, yawning. "All right, first thing's first. The general rule of thumb is 'If you're lost, stay put.' I can keep it so that you stay here; no Social Services, no Fed-Boy, until your brother manages to find you. But I need to know what's going on, and why Fed-Boy wants you so bad, kid."

Tiger took several moments to digest this info, staring intently at Ray's face, until the nurse felt almost like a test subject himself. With a sigh of resignation, the boy looked away again. "Untie my hands."

Ray chuckled wryly, shifting to rest his weight on his elbows. "Not until you fill me in, Tiger. I don't want you to take off without-"

"It'd be easier to show you. Just undo my hands and... let me borrow your pen. Nothing else. I promise I won't run."

Giving Tiger a wary look, Ray undid the leather straps that held the boy's hands at his side then handed him his ballpoint. He raised an eyebrow as the kid drew a perfect circle with several triangles in it without even looking. Then he brought a hand down to rest on the leather strap across his stomach, at the edge of the circle. With a gentle sigh, Tiger closed his eyes and concentrated.

A soft glowing light started flaring up from the circle and spread to the leather straps, making Ray's eyes widen as the other straps holding Tiger down melted from him, to reform at the sides of the bed, undone and unharmed. The ex-Marine couldn't hold in the whistle of amazement. "What the hell do you call that, Tiger?"

Tiger sat up slowly, rolling his shoulder and stretching out sore muscles before answering. "Alchemy," he said as he handed the pen back to Ray.

Ray blinked, not sure if he'd heard right. "Come again?"

The kid sighed, settling on the bed cross-legged and looking at Ray. "It's alchemy, the science of transmutation. And that's why that Bond-guy wants me. He knows I can do it."

Whatever Ray thought he'd been expecting, it hadn't been that. It took him a moment to find his voice again. "Well, that explains why you couldn't tell anyone." Then the name registered in his brain. "Waaaaitaminnit... Fed-Boy's name is Bond?"

Tiger blinked, looking thoroughly confused. "Yeah, why? Is that important?"

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Ray couldn't help it. He snickered. "His first name wouldn't happen to be James, would it?"

Poor Tiger looked thoroughly confused by this line of questioning. "Uh, yeah. How'd you guess?"

The snickering upped itself to a full-blown chortle for a few moments, before Ray cleared his throat and tried to get serious again. But the façade cracked in about three seconds, and he was back to laughing.

Tiger looked put out. "I don't see what's so funny about his name being James Bond...."

Ray gasped for breath, then shook his head. "Gimme a sec, Tiger, and I'll show you." Snatching the remote off the bed, Ray aimed it at the TV, and quickly flipped it to a channel with the letters 'TBS' in the corner. "Oh, score, right at the best lines," he chuckled, watching as the TV warmed up to the scenes.

Tiger watched in amazement as the picture appeared, and he heard voices coming from the speakers.

"Do you expect me to talk?"

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

A look of incredulity crossed Tiger's face, watching the lasers advance on the James Bond on the screen, and Ray just kept giggling as the scene continued, enjoying the irony of the entire thing.

"I think you made your point. Thank you for the demonstration."

"Choose your next witticism carefully Mr. Bond, it may be your last."

Tiger continued to watch the scene, and gradually began to giggle. It was a few moments later that a pure laugh escaped the teenager, and he flopped back onto the pillow with a gasp. "Damn, that's hilarious!"

Ray gasped to get his laughter under control, and then turned the TV off again. "You know, kid, with a name like that, I kinda doubt the man's from around here. No parent would be so cruel to name their child James /Bond/."

Tiger coughed a bit, winced, and looked up, adjusting so he was settled back against the pillows more comfortably. "How about Alphonse Elric?"

Ray blinked. "No, that name's fine. Little odd, but fine." He looked at Tiger, understanding in his eyes. "That's your name, huh?"

Tiger-well, Alphonse, Ray mentally corrected-nodded once. "Yeah."

"Well then, Alphonse," the large nurse said, settling back. "Let's put our heads together, and figure out how we're going to keep you right here."

Alphonse nodded once. "Right."

0o0o0

Singer watched from the edges of the crowd, as the final clean up was under way and the mayhem had settled down to controlled chaos. When the last of the fire trucks rolled away, he looked up at one particular hospital room window. The far traveler with a wolf's spirit was going to be fine now. He had a protector.

Singer shouldered his duffle and headed off toward the southeast. There was another who needed him now.

0o0o0

Ed was grinding his teeth.

There were five people in the kitchen, supposedly making plans for getting his brother. Except he seemed to be the only one taking this seriously. Everyone else was chattering away, making nonsensical comments with references that only they seemed to get; Ed was completely out of the loop on most of them. Damnit, even Hughes was able to play along, it seemed.

"How damned hard could it be?" he'd railed earlier, and got a fatherly lecture from Tom about the size of the city, the number of hospitals, and the difficulty in breaking someone out with the electronics and computers and security systems. Ed could only wonder why on earth any hospital would need a security system that would rival Lab Five in its heyday. It didn't speak well of the way society had progressed in his opinion.

"Ed," Hughes said. "Think of how hard it would be to find Al in Central. Now multiply that by a factor of five."

That instantly took the wind out of his sails. Ed slumped with his back against the counter. He knew both Tom and Hughes were right, but that didn't make it any easier to just sit and wait. He was used to just going in and doing something. Now. Plans and the later consequences be damned. Of course, he didn't have the Bastard Colonel to pull his chestnuts out of the fire here, either. Damnit.

Ed took a sip of the coffee that Reilly had finally allowed him near and grimaced. She'd made it this morning and it was horrid. With a disgusted sigh, he set the cup on the counter and headed into the living room. /Let them make their plans/, he thought. He needed to get his mind off Al for awhile, or he'd go completely buggy.

He figured the best way to get his mind off worrying about his brother was to kill a few brain cells. He just couldn't decide if he wanted to watch something stupid on the TV, or to play a game. Either way it required the remote, and once more the couch seemed to have eaten it.

Ed half listened to the conversation coming from the kitchen, as he dug through the cushions and raised a brow at some of the stuff he heard.

"All right," Tom said. "So that's the preliminary plan. Any questions?"

"Yeah," Ducky said. "Can we get a cappuccino machine in here, 'cause I don't know what you call this."

Ed snorted. Even Ducky hates Reilly's coffee.

"I call it cruel and unusual," Hughes laughed.

"Hey, I made that coffee!" Reilly protested.

"Exactly," Hughes said.

"Watch it Hughes."

"Uh-oh," Ducky said. "She's getting that dangerous tone to her voice. You'd better duck."

Ed rolled his eyes and fished the remote from the hungry couch. He flopped down, propped his feet on the coffee table, and hit the power button. The volume was down low, so Ed couldn't hear; but he didn't need to while he was... what was it Reilly called it? Surfing? It seemed that whenever Ed actually turned the TV on that was all he did, anyway. He could never quite settle on just one channel for more that five or ten minutes most of the time. Every now and then, he caught something interesting, but not often. Usually it was on one of the educational entertainment channels.

He'd actually started getting interested in much of the History Channel at one point. Then they had some World War Two marathon. He watched about half of one show and had to shut it off. It had left him shaking and sweating just thinking about what he and Al had managed to avoid; and it made him physically ill when he considered the friends he'd left behind that had to experience that. People like Gracia and Hughes from this world. And... Noah. His heart ached at the very thought of her living through that, and he silently prayed that all of them found a way to get out of the country before that war started.

Ed was grateful he was alone that day as he hung over the toilet, shaking and crying, and praying to a God he didn't believe in that Noah didn't fall victim to that horror. He didn't watch that channel again. And he didn't want to confirm her fate, either. He was too afraid of what the answer would be. He would much rather go on thinking she made it out of there, and survived. It was easier than thinking that he'd abandoned her when she needed him most.

Uproarious laughter yanked him from his musings, and his ears perked up.

"I saved your ass again, Jack" Ducky laughed.

"Give me a break, Pops," Hughes said.

Ed groaned and buried his face in his flesh hand. From the tones, he could tell they were quoting some stupid movie again. He couldn't believe that Hughes was able to keep up, though.

/Although, being here alone for four years gives one a lot of time to do nothing but think about who you left behind, or zone out with mindless entertainment/, he thought. /Which Hell is worse? Thinking about people you'll never see again, or frying your brain and forgetting, even for a little while? /Ed didn't think he could answer that one.

"And it's such a nice ass," Reilly said.

Ed felt his face heat up and he coughed.

"And a lonely ass," Hughes said.

Ed choked.

Ducky laughed. "Careful there, Maes. Ed might not like giving up his Toy-Boy status."

Ed's jaw clenched and he saw red. He was just about to bellow something along the lines of not being Reilly's toy-boy, when something on the television caught his eye.

There was a lot of confusion as people were moving about, rolling wheelchairs, fire trucks, and police. There were people in uniforms, both doctors and nurses, and patients being transferred. But it was the crawl at the bottom of the screen that caught his eyes.

"HUGHES!" Ed yelled, as he launched himself off the couch and turned up the volume.

He stalked into the kitchen, and something in his face must have startled the man, because Hughes backed up with his hands raised, and a furious blush coloring his cheeks. "We were just joking around Ed."

"Huh?" The comments from a moment ago were completely forgotten.

Ed shook his head and turned on Ducky. The hacker flinched and did a fine imitation of a startled turtle.

Ed pointed at the TV and said, "What was the name of the city you said Al's in?"

"Wichita, Kansas. Why?"

Ed was suddenly breathless and couldn't make his voice work. Instead he grabbed Ducky by the front of his shirt and hauled him out of the kitchen chair.

"Hey, dude!" Ducky said. "I'm real flattered and all, but you're not exactly my type."

Ed just glared, and dragged Ducky into the living room. The news story was still running, and Ed pointed. "That!"

The rest of the group had followed, and they all watched as the reporter told about a bomb that had gone off at a hospital in Wichita. The materials used, and the circumstances surrounding the explosion were a mystery at the moment. She said that the Fire Marshall didn't even have a preliminary report as of yet.

"Holy shit," Tom drawled.

"Reilly," Ducky said, prying Ed's fist off the front of his shirt.

"Phone's on the desk," she answered.

"You think it's possible he's there?" Hughes asked.

"That's what Ducky's gunna find out," Tom said. "He's got some friends in the city who have some 'connections'."

Ed just stared at the TV, watching in horrified fascination. Part of him hoped that Al was there and they would be able to go in and get him. Another part prayed he wasn't.

Al/, he thought. /Don't you dare get yourself hurt, or I'm gunna kill you.

0o0o0

2:15pm
Wichita, Kansas

"Mr. Purdue!"

Ray resisted the urge to crunch the files he was currently going through. That infernal nosy bitch is back, he thought quietly as he plastered a smile onto his face. "Why, Ms. Goodson, what a pleasant surprise this is."

"I'm sure, Mr. Purdue." The woman looked down an overly long nose at Ray, and he had to stuff the urge to throttle the woman deep into the back of his mind. "Now, I wanted to speak to you about John."

Ray blinked in feigned confusion. "John? Ohhh, y'mean Tiger. What about him do you wanna know?"

Goodson pursed her lips together, and Ray wondered if she'd eaten a lemon before she'd come to speak with him. "I was wondering if any of the doctors here at the hospital had had a chance to re-examine the boy for evidence of previous injuries."

Ray struggled to keep the false innocence on his face. Fortunately, he wasn't lying about this. "He had X-rays when he came in, but there weren't any previous injuries present that we could see." Not that we could really tell, since he'd just been hit by a goddamn vehicle. Idiot. "Though if you'll pardon my saying so, I'm not supposed to discuss patients with you. You'll need to go through the regular process, Ms. Goodson. You understand, the HIPAA rules and all."

"I already have, and I've been given the runaround, Mr. Purdue." The woman frowned at the files in Ray's hand, and he had to resist the urge to snigger at her misfortune. "You do realize it's against the law to hide information from Social Services, don't you?"

Ray smirked, crossing his arms and looking down at the small woman. "You also realize that I can't say a damn word about a patient if the person asking isn't either his doctor or immediate family, right?" He leaned down and smirked in her face, barely able to contain his glee. "Unless I want to lose my job. You wouldn't want that to happen, now would you?"

"Maybe it would teach you some manners," she retorted, staring down at him over her glasses; quite a feat, considering Ray's height. "I know you're hiding something horrid about that boy. It's only a matter of time before I find out; then I'll get him into the proper foster home he needs to be in."

Ray resisted the urge to snort. "Whatever you say, ma'am. I need to be getting back to my duties, so I'll see you around." Waving as he left, Ray beat a hasty retreat.

We really aren't hiding anything much/, Ray thought as he went to visit his other patients. /Just the fact Tiger is from a different time and place. Thank God the kid really doesn't have any actual injuries, per se... It's just the absence of baby fat that might get Goodson's attention. It almost looks like he was malnourished for awhile, and his body is only now catching up to where it's supposed to be/. Ray frowned deeply. /I should really talk to Tiger about that; something about it doesn't sit right with me. He's leaving something out.

0o0o0

2:35pm

"So what should we do with him, Ray?"

Ray looked up from the disgusting coffee he'd been contemplating for the last several minutes and smiled briefly at his boss. "Hey, Heather."

Heather smiled and took a seat. "You look dead on your feet. Feeling all right?"

"Yeah." His gaze went back to the Styrofoam cup and he sighed. "I'm just worried about Tiger, is all."

The head nurse gave a curt nod, resting her chin on her hand to prop it up. "Did he wake up after you tranqed him?"

"Yeah, he did." Ray downed a gulp of the bitter liquid in front of him, winced, and shoved it away from him. The ideas Tiger had given him were making his head hurt, and the coffee did nothing to help the ache go away.

"And?"

Ray blinked. "And what?"

"Why are you worried about him, you dork?" Heather asked, giving his large hand a squeeze. "You don't worry over nothing, Ray. What's got you nervous?"

Ray sighed. If he was going to do this, he'd need her support. He'd just hoped to assimilate the information a bit more before coming to her with it. "I talked with the kid a bit, after he came to again. He... he was honestly scared about the bombing, Heather, but not for any reason we'd think."

"What reason do you think he was scared, then?"

Here goes. "I think he freaked out about the bombing, not because he had anything to do with it, but because he thinks that Fed-boy caused it." Ray sighed. "I overheard them talking, that first time the Fed came to talk with Tiger. It sounded like he was threatening the poor kiddo." He looked up slightly through pale bangs, the memories of his years in the Marines swimming in his mind as he spoke. "That kid wasn't afraid of the bomb. He was afraid that something else would happen, and he'd be the cause of it."

Heather digested the news quietly for a few moments, snagging Ray's coffee and trying it as she thought. "God, they expect us to survive with this crap?" she joked weakly, before setting it aside again. "I had a feeling there was something about him."

Ray's brows shot up. "Oh?"

Heather smiled slightly. "The night Alexis died. I was outside the door when he was crying in his sleep. The kid's carrying one hell of a GuiltZilla, isn't he?"

"Something like that, yeah."

"So... what do you want to do about this, Ray?"

Ray blinked. "You think we can do anything?"

Heather grinned at her subordinate. "You're a former marine, right? I'd hope you'd catch undertones and veiled threats if you were eavesdropping. And I trust your judgment. So," she reiterated, "What do you want to do about this?"

The large nurse breathed a sigh of relief, a heavy weight coming off his shoulders just enough to let him breathe. "Keep him away from Fed-Boy, for sure. He only gets worse with that damn agent nosing around."

"And you suggest doing that, how? We can't keep him around the hospital anymore; not the main hospital, anyway."

Ray thought, then sighed. "My only suggestion is to put him in the psychiatric ward here in the hospital, and make a note that he's only to have nurses he's got a rapport with, which are you and me. As for Fed-Boy... make a note in his file that he's been transferred to another hospital? Somewhere out of state?"

Heather laughed. "Not that he should be able to get the info, anyway. Hooray for HIPAA."

"'Bout time that damn law worked in our favor," Ray commented, grinning. "But he's a Fed, so I'll bet he'll try to use that to get the info. So we leave the info altered for a few days, until we know he's out of the state, then correct it."

His boss frowned, taking another sip of Ray's coffee despite the suckitude of the drink. "It'll take calling in quite a few favors, and we need to get a doctor to sign off on this. He's not a danger to anyone else, right?" she asked, slightly curious.

Ray snorted. "He wouldn't hurt a fly if it came up and bit him. Have you seen that kid with the drug babies in neo-natal? Kid's a goddamn blessing to that unit."

"So you want him to keep visiting there, huh?"

"Yeah. Kid'd be heartbroken if he couldn't hold the little tykes."

"Maybe we can put a note in his file saying that it calms him; they'd probably let him go more often, once he'd been there under supervision a few times." Heather smiled. "Shall I go get this plan rolling, Ray? I can probably bribe Dr. Kaupt with a date to get him to sign this off."

Ray smiled. "You'd do that for Tiger? I thought you hated Kaupt."

Heather smirked, and Ray was reminded just why so many of the hospital staff feared Heather Breach. "You'll owe me a decent dinner one of these times, all right? And maybe intelligent conversation that doesn't consist of either hospital jargon or sports."

Ray offered his hand, smirking. "You got yourself a deal, Breach."

0o0o0

3:06pm

Sidney was just on his way down to the commissary for another disappointing cup of tea when the hall was filled with a tinny electronic version of the Bond theme. He had half a second to wonder where the obnoxious music was coming from when his cell phone began to vibrate in time to it. He stopped where he stood to find his phone, and found that the more frantic his need became to find it and shut off the infernal racket, the louder it became. Finally, he produced the phone and flipped it open.

"Bond here." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a nurse cover her mouth to snicker, and he turned his gaze skyward, as if to pray for strength from some deity or other. It was too bad he was an atheist, because he wouldn't have minded praying for divine intervention when the perky female voice sounded over the line.

"How did you- never mind, I don't want to know." He waited a few moments, and decided the pathetic selection of hospital teas was not going to soothe his temper after this conversation. "No, I did not appreciate the 'ring tone.' I don't think it's appropriate... NO. I told you, stop talking for five seconds..." He held the phone away from his ear for a moment as the woman's volume increased and pinched the bridge of his nose. With a sigh, he let himself be pulled back into the conversation.

"Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should," he told her. For instance, just because he could turn her into a bright, primary-colored smear on the floor the next time he saw her, and even though he really wanted to at the moment, didn't mean that he would. Sidney felt he was exercising great restraint, but he didn't feel like telling her that. "You- what? Mexican hat ad- No I would not appreciate that more!"

The hospital doors loomed ahead, and Sidney stopped walking long enough to fish out his sunglasses before stepping out into the bright May sunshine. If there was one thing he didn't miss about Amestris it was the summer weather, but Middle America was a close second on his list of Places Best Not Visited Again. Given the choice, he would've avoided the place entirely, but his contact had been rather vehement when she gave him the kid's location. He supposed she was useful for that much, but she was so damned annoying! He was halfway to the coffeehouse across the street when she finally got down to business.

"What have you got?" She rambled for a few minutes, but there were a few useful facts sprinkled in the drivel. "In plain English, please," he growled when she went off on some scientific tangent about geometric configurations and "concentric ripple effect," and she finally rattled off a few interesting points for him. The tired-looking barista in the coffeehouse glared at him for not shutting off his cell, but he ignored her and ordered a "grande chai tea latte," whatever the hell that was.

The woman on the other end launched into a monologue on the good qualities of chai as a stimulant, but Sidney ignored her. "Get back to the point! I don't have time for... What the hell are you doing in New Mexico?" When she had to take a deep breath before going into her explanation, he cut her off. "Is this relevant? Road trip, I see... I don't care if it's the 'greatest research project ever,' I'd want some results!"

She gave him a time frame, and he huffed into his miserable chai. "I may not have that long, my investigation is cooling down. No, my other sources..." He took a sip of the scalding tea, and choked at her next comment. "NO, I do not need to get l- I do not appreciate your insinuations on my personal life!" Nevermind that she was right, it was still something he didn't intend to discuss over a phone, or at all.

"Is there anything else?" he finally asked. She made another obscure comment, and he pulled the phone from his ear to stare, bewildered at the device. "What? What the fuck is a Mulderandscully?" He massaged his temple as an eerie melody played over the phone, and gave up trying to understand her. "I'm hanging up," Sidney said. "Don't call me unless you have something useful."

"But the truth is out there, man!" trailed enthusiastically out of the phone before he disconnected the call, and he took another sip of the chai. Gone cold. He dumped it into a nearby waste receptacle and turned the phone off.

It was time to try the kid again.

0o0o0

3:20pm

"Hey there, good-looking. I thought you were working the evening shifts now?"

Heather glared at the tabletop in front of her, her cup of coffee suddenly looking like a very nice projectile. She'd been hoping she wouldn't have to deal with this, but apparently the young doctor was more persistent than she thought. "Hello, Kaupt."

"Why so formal?" The young-ish doctor grinned, taking a seat next to Heather. "I have a first name, you know. Tate? Ring a bell?"

"I'd rather it didn't, honestly."

"Oooo, harsh." Leaning against the table, Kaupt grinned. "C'mon, Heather. You're the one who wanted to meet with me. Now spill it; what is it you wanted to talk about, hmm?"

"Well..." /Here goes nothing/, she thought as she sat up straight and looked at him. "I wanted to ask you a favor."

"Oooo, a favor, huh?" Kaupt grinned wider, resting his chin in his hand. "And what can I do for the lovely Heather Breach, hmmm?"

"Umm..." Heather didn't quite know what she was stalling for, but she just didn't want to come out with it.

"'ello, Heather!"

Saved by the Scot. "Oh, hey, Alden!"

An average-looking redhead leaned against the doorway to the cafeteria, smiling softly. "Am I interrupting something?" he asked, his soft voice flavored by just a hint of a Scottish accent.

"No, actually I need to talk to you." Heather smirked, getting up and leaving her coffee. "Sorry, Kaupt, I really don't need to ask you anything. See you later!"

"What uh -- hey! That's not fair, Heather!"

Alden chuckled wryly as he turned towards the hallway, ignoring the blustering man at the table. "Boyfriend troubles?" he asked, a laugh in his eyes.

Heather snorted. "He wishes," she retorted. "But it's nice to see you again. Did you get called in?"

"Aye." Hands in his doctor's jacket, Alden sighed. "Some lady came in with an abdominal wound who was allergic to normal antibiotics, so they had me come over."

"Ooo, the specialist aspect, huh?" Heather nodded sympathetically. "Ummm... while you're here, Alden, would you mind checking on one of my patients?"

Alden raised an eyebrow. "If y'need me to, aye, I can. May I ask why I need to look in on him?"

Heather sighed. "It's a long story."

"Mmmphm." Alden frowned lightly, then shrugged. "I'll see what I can do."

Heather's eyes lit up, and she breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Wonderful. It's more than my ass on the line in this case, and I doubt I could've counted on Kaupt to keep his mouth shut."

"Not without having to promise more'n one date, I'll reckon," Alden replied, chuckling to himself. "Now then, lass. Tell me what you can, and I'll do what I must."

0o0o0

4:05pm
Wichita, Kansas

Al was really getting tired of being strapped down to a bed. At least before his attempt to run, he could do something like, say, scratch his nose. Now he had to lay there and stare at the ceiling, until Ray or Heather got some doctor to declare him unfit for release and taken to another wing of the hospital.

In Al's opinion, they were taking too damn long.

He was tired of being strapped down like he was a flight risk. Not that he couldn't understand why they had pinned him to his bed, but dammit, he was starting to get cramps, and it wasn't doing anything for his mood at the moment.

Just when he was going to give it up for lost and try to draw a transmutation circle on the leather so he could get out, he heard a sharp knock on the door before it opened, to reveal Heather, a nervous-looking Ray, and a redheaded doctor Al had never seen before. Al blinked, letting his head settle back on the pillow with a faint crinkle. "Ummm... hello?"

The redhead nodded once, reading the file in front of him before speaking, in a very mild tone. "So, you're the John Doe, right?"

Not sure what to make of this man, Al nodded. "Uhh, yeah. That's me."

The man smiled neutrally, handing the file to Heather and pulling out a notebook. "I'm Dr. Branch. I'm going to see if it's really worth keeping you here, all right, lad?"

Al nodded again, feeling slightly unsure. "Yeah, all right." He tugged at the straps slightly. "Can I be untied for this?"

"We'll see in a little bit," Dr. Branch mumbled absently, writing something down in his small notebook. "How are you feeling, son?"

Al frowned. "Fidgety. I don't like being tied down like this."

"It's for your own good, or so I'm told," the doctor replied absently, still writing. "How have you been feeling lately? With your injuries and all?"

The boy gnawed at his lips. "All right, I guess. It's just my arm that hurts anymore, and my head sometimes."

The pen wrote something in the notebook again. "Really." The young-looking doctor glanced up, giving Al a smile that didn't quite meet the sharp green eyes. "Mind telling me why you tried to run earlier?"

Al's eyes widened, and he dearly wished he could squirm away from the man. "I... I got scared. That bomb really frightened me."

"What were you afraid of, laddie?" Scratch, scratch went the pen. "The police had it under control."

Al swallowed. "I j-just was."

"There was no reason to be afraid, boy. Everything was under control, you wouldn't have been hurt."

/I wouldn't, but other people could have been/, Al thought, his nerves making his stomach clench. "I... I just was scared, all right? It... it reminded me of... things."

"Really." The only evidence that this surprised the man at all was the raising of an eyebrow, and a quick doodle in the book. "May I ask what sort of things?"

Al's thoughts flashed by quickly, as one particular incident involving a psychopath named Kimblee and a citywide transmutation circle was burned once again into his mind. He became very, very nervous, and he squirmed, looking at Ray and Heather for help.

"I need you to answer me, laddie," the doctor said, eyes narrowing at Al as though threatening him.

Al panicked, and started to shake his head violently. "No, no I can't, please just let me go, please," he said all at once, trying to bury his face into the pillow beneath him, halted by the straps that kept him in place.

Ray came forward, putting a large, calming hand on the boy's head, and Al could feel his own trembling against the heavy weight. "I think that's enough, sir," the large nurse said, leaning over to hush Al quietly.

The man grew thoughtful, chewing lightly on his pen, before making a final note. "Very well. I'll have my report to you by the end of the day, Nurse Breach," he replied. "And feel free to release the boy, Nurse Purdue," he continued, looking at his watch. "He is no threat to anyone but himself. Just be sure to keep him under watch for now."

Giving both nurses a curt nod before heading out the door, the doctor left, leaving Al a nervous wreck as Ray undid his restraints.

Heather glanced at her own watch, nodding at Ray. "I'll take over your other patients for now, Ray. You stay with Tiger, and I'll get things sorted out. Don't let anyone else in, okay?"

"Right-o, Nurse-lady," Ray murmured, and Al breathed a heavy sigh of relief as he sat up and rubbed at his arm where the restraints had chafed. "Well, Tiger," Ray continued as Heather left and locked the door, "I say we forget about that stuff and watch something mindless. You up for a Terminator marathon?"

Al blinked. "Terminator?"

Ray smirked, turning on the small TV in the room. "Trust me; I think you'll appreciate the irony."

Unsure after that little shake-up, Al shrugged, letting Ray numb his brain from trauma for a few hours.
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