"Can the Sheep Come, Too?"
Arc One; Chapter Thirteen
Balance of Power
May 27, 2006 - 9:41pm
By the time Tom reached the northern city limits of Tulsa, he'd already decided that he needed to have a serious talk with Reilly. When he reached Bartlesville thirty minutes later, he'd pretty much worked out the argument he was going to present. About the time he pulled into her drive, he'd screwed up the courage to deliver said argument in as gentle a manner as possible while being completely honest.
He turned off the ignition and sighed. He really didn't want to have this talk with her, but sometimes she needed to be reminded that she just couldn't fix the past; no matter how much she wanted to.
"You're doing it again," Tom said as he leaned on the garden gate.
Reilly was sitting on the bench with her knees up and her arms wrapped around them. He never knew how a woman with her build could fold her self up so tightly, but it was a clear sign of just how distressed she was. This doesn't make it any easier, he thought.
"Wearing our 'Father Knows Best' hat, I see."
With a frustrated groan, Tom entered the garden and settled on the far end of the bench from her. He shook a cigarette out of his pack and offered it to her. She took it, and he shook another out for himself. It was a long-standing ritual between them that he silently admitted he'd missed when she'd quit smoking for a year.
They smoked in silence for a bit, he leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and she with her feet up and her arms wrapped around hers. When he finally ground the butt out under his heel he decided it was time.
"What are you going to do when they're all together again and ready to move on without you?"
Great, she's not about to make this easy. I suppose I should've expected that. I don't want to do this, but...
"Reilly, do you think Maes is going to eventually come around and fall head over heels for you?"
She gave him a one-eyed glare at that.
"The man's been on this side of the gate for four years and he still wears his wedding ring." He held up his hand when she opened her mouth to protest. "Look, he's been alone and lonely, living under an assumed name and a phony persona. All of a sudden, someone he cares for shows back up in his life in the most improbable manner ever. He meets the protector of this person and is suddenly able to be himself. No pseudonyms, no lies. He can relax here. He's perfectly healthy and has needs that haven't been met. What the fuck did you think was going to happen?"
"I'm well aware that Hughes still thinks of himself as a married man, Tom."
"But do you understand he'll always think of himself that way? What happened the other night was a moment of weakness. Not attraction."
"Gee thanks," she sneered. "It's nice to know my best friend can be honest enough to remind me of just how unattractive I am."
Tom just looked at her blandly. "Nice try. Now you wanna hop down off your little pity-pot and listen for once?"
She looked away, but not before he saw the stubbornness settle in her eyes, and the tenseness of her jaw. "Okay. So I'll just prattle on and maybe something I say will sink into that brick wall you call a head."
"Hello pot, meet kettle."
"Yup, which is why I can ream your ass like this." He leaned further forward and carded his fingers through his hair. "Reilly, you're running at cross-purposes with yourself here and you're the one who'll end up being hurt. You can't just attach yourself to people like this."
"You and Ducky are helping them, too."
"We're treating them like new friends. You're treating them like family."
When he got no response from her on that for a long moment, he decided to try a different tactic. "Do you think Maes would have ever left his wife and daughter if he'd had a choice?"
"Of course not."
"That kind of devotion is very attractive, isn't it?" He could feel her tense next to him. He knew this was going to hurt, but he had to do it. "Add to that, he was a career military man. In Intelligence on top of that."
"How positively... Freudian of you."
Tom chuckled, but there was no mirth in the sound. "Oh, no. The only thing your father has in common with Maes Hughes is the military career in Intelligence. A devoted family man he was not."
"He did what he had to do."
"He did what he did because he was a fucking coward, Reilly."
Her head snapped up and he felt the heat from her glare. God, I hate doing this, he thought.
"I can't believe you're saying this about someone who was once your dearest friend," she whispered and he could hear the trembling in her voice.
"It's because Cecil was my best friend that I can say these things." He met her glare with his calm gaze. "He was one of the best intelligence officers in the Air Force, and one hell of a cop. But he failed miserably when it came to being responsible for his sick wife and only daughter."
Reilly snapped to her feet and strode as far as the koi pond. He could see the hurt she was feeling displayed eloquently in her back. "He had to take those overseas postings, Tom. You know that. The money was better. It paid for the nurse."
"Bullshit," Tom whispered and it sounded like a shout. "He took them because he couldn't deal with the responsibility."
"He doted on Mom when he was home and he spoiled me rotten."
Tom got to his feet and came up behind her. "When he was home. How long was that? Two weeks? A month at a time? And when he was forced to retire... when your mother died? He worked /nights/. He was never really home when you were." He gently laid his hands on his shoulders and said, "Reilly, even if your mother had been perfectly healthy, he would have done everything the exact same way. He would've still been gone all the time."
He gently turned her to face him. "You can't fix the past. You can't turn Maes into an idealized version of your father, and you can't replace the mother you never had by being one for Ed."
"That's what my mother says, too. For years I thought that was my first name."
The gentle teasing didn't work this time. She jerked away from him and started for the garden gate. Tom was quicker though and intercepted her. "Uh-uh. Not this time you're not."
She pointed at the house and said, "They don't belong here, Tom. They're out of place and out of time. Is it so damned wrong to offer friendship to them? To give them someplace where they can be accepted as exactly who they are?"
Tom shook his head. "Nope. As long as that's all you're doing. But I know you better than that. You attach yourself to people you think are lost and wounded." He grasped her shoulders and looked hard at her. "Ed's mother is dead and gone, he doesn't want another one. Maes' family is on the other side of that gate and he doesn't need a replacement. Stop trying to fix people who aren't broken. And stop trying to fix your past through them."
She balled her fists stiffly at her sides and looked down. Her face was effectively hidden by the wild curls and the shadows cast from the torches, but Tom could see her shaking in fury. "Don't you think I know that? Don't you think I realize that my 'attachment' is what caused the shadows to attack Ed?" She choked and her voice became thicker. "Are you going to twist the knife even more, Tom?"
He sighed and rubbed his face. "Do you really think I'm saying this just to hurt you? Do you really think that after all these years I'd do that?"
He reached out and tilted her chin up. Tried to make her look him in the eyes, but she refused. "Whatever's looming on the horizon isn't your concern, Reilly. You need to back off a little before someone is really hurt," he said.
He saw the slight tensing of her jaw and the flare of her nostrils, and his little internal alarms started screaming for attention. There was something about the quality of her silence and the way she refused to meet his eyes...
How could I have missed it? he thought when realization hit him in the gut.
Two years ago, Reilly had a good job at a small private school teaching ancient history. Even after Cecil died and she discovered he'd made some canny investments, she continued to teach. She loved it and the kids seemed to love her. Paranormal research, leylines and the gates were a hobby. They didn't consume her.
Then she had a bad relationship that didn't just turn messy, it got positively ugly. Her reputation was destroyed, she lost her job and her credibility... and the worst part of all, the bastard had made her think of herself as a freak.
Unfortunately, it wasn't as simple as just moving on to another job. The private school community was a small one and filled with people for whom image was everything. Everyone knew everyone else and rumors flew. The harassment she received from the other teachers was bad enough, but it spread to the parents and the kids. It was horrific.
Tom had assumed that she'd moved out to the sticks to take some time and lick her wounds. He never realized that she came here to find a way to escape entirely.
Tom gripped her chin tight and jerked her head to make her look at him. "It's not just the shadows. You're counting on Ed to open a gate, aren't you?"
She looked down and he saw her blink away threatening tears.
"Which is it? Legitimizing your research?" He choked on the other possibility. "Or are you planning to follow them?"
She jerked away and turned her back to him. He watched as she wrapped her arms around herself in an effort to control her emotions. He felt like his heart had been twisted into a knot then drop-kicked into the next county.
"I never thought I'd see you run away from a fight, Mary Reilly," he said softly.
"You're reading too much into this, Tom. Legitimize my research, yes. In as far as I can without risking Ed." She glanced back at him over her shoulder and raised a brow. "But cross over with them?" She shrugged. "I wouldn't belong there any more than they belong here." She looked away from him again.
Tom stared at her back for a long moment. He knew she was lying, but if he pressed her she'd only shut him out, then do it just to show she could. There was nothing he could say that would make her change her mind, because Reilly on a stubborn streak was as difficult to crack as a bank vault on a timer. It wasn't impossible, he just had to use more finesse.
He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Okay. I'll take your word that you're not planning to cross over with them."
That's it, Tom, twist it a little more, because you know that Reilly giving her word on something is set in stone, and she'll damn near kill herself to keep it, he thought. Never mind that she didn't actually give her word; you're going to force it out of her.
Sometimes you can be a bastard.
May 28 2006, 1:20 a.m.
So. I'm back. And you people have been silent as the grave. THE GRAVE, I say! (Not that that's a bad thing, I prefer my graves silent. DON'T ask, bad experience.) Survived Mandar. Barely. I have some cool new info though, if anyone feels like coming back to life and asking for it.
...I got nothin'...
May 28 2006, 1:42 a.m.
The DuckLord wrote:
it's about time, girl. i missed you. but i missed chinese food too. i'm hallucinating szechuan chicken. but seriously, you, like, died. no net conn? i'm stranded in wichita still, but at least i gotta conn.
btw, hospital mainframe was totally assraped and i'm here longer than i wanna be. i am disliking you in a sigg way. i mean it H.
work n coffee OD
May 28 2006, 2:11 a.m.
I love you too, Tuckandroll.
Still nothing. Road trip redux!
May 28, 2006 - 6:59am
Hughes stumbled into the living room half-asleep and in search of that rich, black elixir of the Gods when he caught movement from a light-colored blur out of one eye. He stopped stumbling, stopped rubbing one eye and slipped his glasses on. "Ed?"
The diminutive blonde was struggling to stay upright on the couch and was twitching all over... literally. "Need up," he mumbled, still half-asleep himself, and jabbed his right hand out.
Hughes lurched back, then realized that Ed had returned the arm back to normal sometime in the night. "Maybe you should stay put," he said. "At least until you stop shaking so much."
Ed squeezed one eye shut in an effort to focus with the other one and scowled up at Hughes. "I don't think Reilly would appreciate it."
The older man's sleep-addled brain refused to process the cryptic comment right away. "Why would she care if you-" At that moment, certain bits of information went around his brain and started switching on the lights. "-Oooh!" He lunged forward and grabbed Ed's hand to pull him up.
After a precarious moment when it didn't appear that the left leg was going to play well with the right, Hughes finally managed to get Ed somewhat stabilized by wrapping his arm around the boy's waist.
Ed scowled at the man's collarbone, then fingered the front of his pajama top with the rise of a bemused brow and a smirk. "Hughes. Ducks?"
He batted Ed's hand away. "Don't knock the pajamas, kid. I happen to like ducks."
Ed just snorted and attempted to pull away from the other man's support. "You sure you don't want me to help you?" Hughes asked.
"I'm not a complete invalid, damnit," Ed grumbled.
Hughes reluctantly let go. He watched as Ed took a couple of wobbly steps with his arms out like he was walking a tightrope. The boy was shaking like a drunk with the DTs and Hughes was certain signals were going to get crossed and he'd be on the floor before he came anywhere near the bathroom. He also knew that the boy's stubbornness wouldn't allow him to ask for help beyond being pulled up off the couch. So he remained rooted to the spot waiting to swoop in if Ed collapsed whether he wanted him to or not.
It took him longer than it would have taken a 90 year old man to get to the entry of the hall, but he made it upright and even managed to cast an arrogant smirk back over his shoulder at Hughes. The older man crossed his arms and just waited. There were only about four more feet to go and Ed could lean on the wall if need be, but he hadn't reached the goal yet.
About a minute passed after Ed flopped around the corner, leaning heavily against the wall as he did, Hughes heard the thump, a slide and a muttered oath. In no real hurry, he sauntered up to the hall entry and leaned around the corner to look.
Ed was sitting on the floor, back against the wall, and trying to still an automail leg that was jumping around like it was being zapped all over again. "Ed-"
"No!" he said through gritted teeth. His eyes were squeezed shut and his face was stretched tight in a grimace. "I don't need help," he gasped. "It's... like when your foot falls asleep. Just all the way up." He took a couple more panting breaths as Hughes knelt down next to him. "Just give me a minute."
Suddenly, Ed's face colored and he gave Hughes a sheepish grin. "Er... maybe you'd better help me up, after all."
Hughes chuckled, helped Ed back to his feet and as far as the bathroom door. At that point neither man was willing to budge. Fortunately they agreed that even if Ed ended up crawling, he could handle the rest all on his own.
Ed flopped back down on the couch after what felt like a ten mile march through loose sand to get back there. The painful tingling and twitching was gradually going away and gross motor functions were retuning enough for him to stay on his feet, but the fine motor skills needed for brushing his teeth or hair were still mulishly refusing to obey his commands; which only meant that he was feeling another form of twitchiness altogether.
He could hear Hughes rattling around in the kitchen and the rich aroma of fresh coffee tickled his nostrils. "Bring me a cup of that when it's ready," he called.
All of a sudden, he started to lose his balance and clawed desperately at the arm of the couch to keep from tumbling off. Once he was certain he wasn't going to be eating hardwood floor again, he turned and glared at the cause of his near-toppling.
Reilly was perched on the other end of the couch, her legs folded up and crossed, and she had a huge grin. "Oops?"
"Oops my ass. You tryin' to kill me?"
Reilly smirked and nudged Ed in the shoulder, which nearly toppled him over again and earned her a withering look. "How're you feeling?" she asked, unfazed at the look.
Ed managed to stabilize in an upright position. "Other than my entire body tingling, not being able to move worth a shit, and an old hag who's determined to make my life miserable... just peachy."
"Great," she said. "Can you turn around?"
He gave her a wary look and she held up a brush. He started to protest, but he caught something in her eyes that changed his mind. His prickly mood disappeared when he realized she was carrying the guilt for his accident last night.
"This wasn't your fault," he said softly.
She gave him a sad smile and said, "Just turn around."
After a couple of false starts, Ed managed to get settled sideways on the couch and held on to the back of it like his life depended on it. Reilly gently untangled the hair-tie and he felt the brush against his scalp. He'd never come right out an admit it, but having his hair brushed was soothing. Before long, he felt the mental twitchiness begin to fade and not long after, the physical twitchiness followed.
"Hey Reilly," he said from somewhere off in the blanket of pure sensual pleasure that was wrapping around him.
"Sorry about your computer."
He felt the bush stop moving and he almost whimpered at the loss. "It's just a thing, Ed. It can be replaced. Friends can't."
He smiled then, partly because Reilly had started brushing his hair again and partly because of what she said. It wasn't long before he just stopped thinking anything and simply enjoyed the attention.
The aroma of fresh coffee mingled with the perfumed air of an early spring morning that rode on the breezes through the open windows. Hughes was still shuffling around in the kitchen and the sound was a soothing accompaniment to the songbirds right outside. Al was located and safe. For this one moment, everything was right with Edward Elric's world. His eyes slid shut and a slow smile spread across his face.
"Ed?" he heard Hughes say, but he barely registered the voice. "Are you... /purring/?"
Ed opened one eye and rolled it toward where the voice came from. He almost snarled at having his lovely meditative state ruined, but then he saw the extra cup of coffee in the man's hand. He started to lunge for it, but was hampered by a strong pull at the back of his head. "Ow!"
"Hold still," Reilly said. "I'm almost done. There."
He felt his hair fall against the back of his neck as the pulling ended. He squirmed back into the right position on the couch and reached out for the cup of coffee.
"How're your hands?" Hughes asked.
Ed held them out and showed him there was very little twitching anymore. Satisfied, Hughes gave him the cup and Ed thought he might be in heaven as he breathed in the scent of the second most important thing in the universe... at least at this time of day.
"Hughes," Reilly said as he handed her the other cup. "Ducks?"
Ed nearly snorted hot coffee up his nose in an effort to suppress the snicker.
"Reilly!" Ed's plaintive voice called from the living room for probably the hundredth time in the past thirty minutes.
She and Hughes were sitting at the table, drinking coffee and discussing what to do if she and Ed needed to run. Contact numbers were passed back and forth, along with possible meeting places. At the same time, she was sitting with her laptop open in front of her, absently surfing the net and checking Ed's new gmail account every few minutes.
That had been an adventure in itself. Reilly set up the account and every address Ed had wanted at first was already used. There was a moment of trepidation when he got this -Reilly couldn't think of another word to describe it--/evil/ gleam in his eye and said, "Useless when wet."
Hughes nearly fell over with laughter.
Reilly didn't get the joke, but firstname.lastname@example.org with the username Glorified Lighter with Gloves was created. This was something else that sent Hughes into paroxysms of laughter and for which Reilly despaired of understanding.
Instead, she watched as Hughes took dictation and argued with Ed about what information to put in the email and just how to phrase it. Ed wanted to fill it up with commentary on the food, soymilk (which got a stunned look from Hughes), and a million little bits of trivia. Hughes however, was balking at that idea. "You'll be seeing him in a few days, Ed. You can tell him all this then. All you need to do is let him know you got his message and that you're safe."
"He won't believe it was from me, if I do that."
So they compromised. Sort of.
I'm so glad you're safe. If you'd gotten hurt badly I'd have to kill you myself, you know. I'm with a good group of people; Ducky, that computer guy, got this address to me, so I guess he's good for something. Reilly is the one who found me when I came through the Gate, and she's letting me use her computer right now. And you're not going to believe who's typing this e-mail for me.
Remember when we found out that Hughes died?
That info was wrong.
"Are you sure it's a good idea to tell Al that I'm alive this way?" Hughes asked.
"Hell yes! Then he'll be ready for you and your hug-attack. Jeeze, you're as bad as Armstrong now."
Hughes gave the boy a cagy grin. "Would you rather I be like Roy and tease you about your height?"
Ed glared but the expected explosion never surfaced. Reilly wondered if it was only because movement for Ed was still a bit tricky and thought Hughes might need to watch his back later.
That's just a heads-up since I know he's going to absolutely crush you with hugs once we get you back. I'll explain how he got here once we have more time, and I don't have to dictate this thing.
We're going to plan a rescue mission as soon as Ducky gets back. Lay low until then and act normal, and inform the Walking Wall that we'll be coming soon.
We'll see each other soon, Al. I know it.
"No," she said. "You don't have an answer yet."
Ed growled in frustration and Hughes just chuckled. Reilly pointed in the general direction of the living room and asked, "How has he managed to avoid a stroke so far?"
Al blinked to clear his vision, almost certain he hadn't seen that correctly.
The little link was still there, mocking him.
It had been quite awhile since Eugene had set him up with an e-mail address, and he faithfully checked it every day when he and Gene got their computer time. He'd never really gotten anything interesting, but Eugene had e-mailed him a few times to get him to smile, or to send him a link or picture. There was one picture of a fuzzy cat that Al wished he could cuddle saved in one e-mail and Al had only to open that e-mail to be able to grin like a loon. Even Ray had gotten into the act, e-mailing cute little stories or pictures to his patient from home.
But now there was an e-mail sitting in his inbox, with a name he had to blink at a few more times.
Glorified Lighter with Gloves.
Al couldn't help it; a giggle started traveling up his throat and he had to cough to cover it as Gene gave him a weird look. "Did Ray send you another joke?" he asked, making as if to lean over.
Al hurriedly covered the screen with his hand. "No, no, it's nothing."
Gene gave Al a weird look, then rolled his eyes and went to typing on his blog again. Breathing a sigh of relief, Al turned back to his screen and clicked the link.
It wasn't very long, and it certainly wasn't in the style he was used to seeing from his brother's reports and journals, but it was unmistakably Ed. Al could practically hear his voice as he read the words.
Then he stopped breathing for several seconds when he came across the news of Hughes still being alive. He let those incredible words stew in his head for several moments, then an almost-manic grin spread across his face and he unconsciously began to bounce in his seat with excitement as he went back to the e-mail.
Al read it one more time. He told himself it was to make sure he was reading it right, but that wasn't entirely true. It was as close to his brother as he'd gotten since his arrival and now he knew that Ed was going to make everything all right. He grinned and clicked the reply button just as Gene had taught him. Extending his good hand over the keyboard, he painstakingly began a one-handed reply.
I can't believe you finally found me! And you'd better explain why Hughes is here when you come get me, or I may have to kick your ass... again.
I'll be sure to inform Ray of the plans, but since I kind of have a broken arm right now, this is hard to type. I'll be sure to e-mail you tomorrow, though.
Love you, Brother. Take care of yourself; I'm not there to do it, after all. See you soon.
His cursor hovered over the 'send' button, hesitating. Something was missing. Something that would tell his brother that yes, the email was most definitely from him. He grinned even wider and added one last thing.
PS- If those people are taking care of you, try not to be a jerk to them.
Al sent the message and leaned back, grinning like an absolute idiot. He almost didn't hear Ray knock on the door. "Hello, my loyal geeky minions! It's time to log off for the day!"
Al only vaguely noticed as Gene stuck his tongue out at the nurse. "I'm not your minion. But I've got a question for you."
Al happily began logging out, humming to himself.
"Shoot," Ray said.
"Did you slip happy drugs into Tiger's cereal this morning? He's acting higher than a kite."
Al gawked at Gene, then grinned widely at Ray. "Ducky."
Ray blinked at the name, then smirked. "Awesome."
Al felt bad as Gene stared at them both for several moments, then went back to logging off with a huff. "You're both weird."
"Reilly?" Ed said... /again/. The tingling and twitchiness had faded enough that Ed could move without fear of intimate relations with the floor, which only meant that he was now nagging at Reilly to check his email every twenty seconds from right next to her at the table.
She groaned and covered her face. She also privately cursed Hughes for finding this all very amusing. "No answer, Ed."
"You didn't even look."
Ed just rested his chin on his arms on the table and gave her a wonderful imitation of a begging puppy.
Ed's brows climbed up and he smiled sweetly.
Ed tilted his head to the side and somehow managed to make the 'cute puppy' look even harder to resist.
Reilly sighed and closed her eyes in defeat. "I hate you with a passion, Edward Elric," she said as she opened her eyes and checked his email again.
She heard two wicked snickers as she refreshed the page and saw a new email come in. "I hate you too, Hughes."
"Hey, I'm just relieved he isn't using that on me. I'm impressed you could resist as long as you did."
She just gave him a dirty look and spun the laptop toward Ed. The blond let out an excited squeak and practically pounced on the computer to get at the message.
He scanned it quickly and shouted, "YES!" And instant later his grin disappeared and a scowl replaced it. "His arm's broken!"
"He was hit by a car, Ed," Hughes said.
"Yeah but... Damnit, if he's hurt worse than that, I'm gonna kill him."
Reilly looked from Hughes to Ed and back. "The logic of that just escapes me completely."
"PS, don't be a jerk?" Ed said. "Forget what I just said. I'm killing him anyway."
Hughes snickered into his coffee. "Ahhh, brotherly love."
"Makes me glad I was an only child," Reilly said.
Ducky leaned back in his chair and pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. He was a computer jockey of the highest caliber, but not even he could stare at a screen full of tangled codes for hours at a time without a break. He let his arms drop to hang over the sides of his chair, and his mind drifted for a while as the music selection changed over from Rammstein to the more melodic VNV Nation. It was the closest thing he'd had to a break all day, and he was well on his way to stealing a fantastic catnap when his nose picked up the faintest hint of Chinese food in the main office. More specifically, Canton and Szechuan, if his sense of smell hadn't betrayed him.
Without opening his eyes, he turned the volume down on his headphones. "I will give thirty dollars to whoever has the Chinese if I can buy your Chernobyl chicken."
"If you insist..." a voice beyond his headphones said in an extremely familiar, but rather unlikely voice.
The hell? Ducky opened his eyes and jerked away from the face that hovered mere inches above his. Unfortunately, the motion overbalanced his precarious position and sent him sprawling to the floor.
"Holy /hell/fuck, Heist! You almost killed me!"
She only crossed her arms and gave him a manic grin-in short, the usual for Heist. Ducky watched her from the floor as she casually strolled around his tangled limbs and settled into his newly vacated chair; same worn out combat boots, nondescript jeans and t-shirt, and chunky glasses over hazel eyes. And on top of that...
"H," he said slowly, "your hair is blue."
She shrugged. "I got tired of the purple. It didn't go with anything, except..." she got a thoughtful look on her face, "possibly, that affront to the eyes you call a shirt." It was an insult, but the wicked smile remained.
"It's good to see you, Hellspawn."
"Likewise, Tuckandroll." She helped pull him off the floor and started to dust him off, then held up a glorious smelling brown paper bag. "You up for a lunch break?"
Ducky shrugged and tried to act nonchalant, but the aroma coming out of the bag was beginning to overpower his better sense. "Depends on what the boss-man says. I wanna say it's a definite maybe."
Heist blinked, and turned in the direction of the project director. "Brian!" she bellowed. "I'm kidnapping Ducky for lunch!"
The man jolted from his seat, winced in her direction and shrugged. "Whatever, Hel-"
"Finish that name and I will make sure you never reproduce again."
"Bring him back in two hours."
Ducky gaped at her as she smiled like a smug, self-satisfied cat. "Remind me never to piss you off. You are evil."
"Nope! I just like getting what I want in as quick and efficient a manner as possible."
As it turned out, "as quick and efficient a manner as possible" turned into her dragging Ducky out of the hospital and across the street to a park with tables, benches, and conveniently placed shade trees. Heist broke out the Chinese food, and for an hour, all was right in Ducky's universe.
"You didn't have to do all this, H. You coulda called and I would've met you halfway," Ducky said as he speared a piece of kung pao chicken.
Heist stopped rummaging through her lo mein with her chopsticks and stared at him. "Call you? You want to rethink that statement, Tuckandroll?"
Ducky winced. Heist's phone skills were less than stellar. "If you'd slow down for half a minute so I could understand you..."
"And I keep telling you, I don't like phones. I like to minimize my pain, thank you very much. I mean, gah!" She threw her arms over her head, and Ducky watched as her chopsticks flew off into the wild blue yonder.
"Roadtrip less than fun, H?" he snickered.
"Mandar was on the phone with her boyfriend or whatever the entire time we were on the road. 'Jamie, I miss you.' 'Jamie, I'm doing a research project and I want to talk about it for half an hour.' 'Jamie, will you be the Scully to my Mulder?' Stupid shit like that. It was phone agony by proxy!"
Ducky couldn't help himself from laughing. He was aware of Mandar from Heist's many stories of her college roommate before she was kicked out, and he'd managed to avoid ever meeting the girl. It didn't sound like a good idea at all.
"Shove it, Tuckandroll," Heist pouted, and threw a fortune cookie at him. "It's not like anything less annoying happened to you. You looked like you were moments away from hitting your expiration date in there."
"Hey!" Ducky protested. "It hasn't been completely boring. Last night I found the Terminator's kid brother, Al." He expected that to break Heist's ranting streak, hopefully with a "WTF, mate?"-style double take. She had only just started on it, but she could go for hours. He'd timed her before.
Heist wasn't fazed. "Terminator? Isn't that that one kid who-"
"Ed?" Ducky interrupted. He was not going to dwell on the loss of his Gamer Godliness if he had anything to say about it. "He's not much of a kid, H. He's the same age as you are. You'd probably get along rather well, you both give grief to everyone you know."
"Sounds like fun. You got a name, number, address and SS number I can investigate?"
Ducky laughed again. "The day you can find Edward Elric in the system is the day I declare you the supreme goddess of the universe and beg you to marry me."
Heist rolled her eyes. "So, in short, the day hell freezes over, gravity ceases to exist and the natural order is turned inside out. I love you Ducks, but you're like /family/."
Ducky sighed melodramatically. "But just think of how happy our mothers would be..."
"Whatever, you maniac." Heist reached over and tugged on his hair. "What's your fortune say?"
He shrugged and began to slowly, painstakingly open the wrapper. He was certain the wait would drive Heist insane, but it wasn't ten seconds before she snatched it from his grip, cracked it open and pulled out the slip of paper. Amused, Ducky leaned back as she cleared her throat and tried to look dignified.
"Ahem. Prepare yourself for great wisdom!" she intoned, and collapsed into giggles. When Ducky held out his hand for the fortune, she waved him away. "Wait a min, I can do this. Okay, your fortune is..." Her eyes widened behind her glasses, and a look of extreme puzzlement crossed her face. "'Your fortune is coming!' What kind of fucked up fortune is that?"
"Maybe I'll finally be given the salary I deserve," Ducky mused.
"And if by deserve you mean a buck an hour and a can of botulism beans, I'm all for it." She hopped off the table-bench and took a bow. "Well Tuckandroll, I've got to go. Mom wants me back in time to help with dinner. The neighbors are coming over."
"Which neighbors? The ones with the son who goes to MIT?" Ducky asked with an evil grin. "Or the ones who have to pray in your presence?"
Heist took on a stricken look and made a sign of the cross. "'Saints preserve me!'" she cried in an exaggerated voice. "'Anna Palacek, that daughter of yours will be the death of me!' You were right in two. It's the Magnificent Haddens, deigning to dine with our poor unfortunate souls."
Ducky hissed in sympathy. "Where's your car? I'll walk you there, commiserate about the Ã¼ber-devout banes of our existence. You've met Mrs. Buttinski, right...?"
They made it to the parking space without incident, though Ducky had to take a moment to stand back and survey the mess Heist called a car. "H? This heap doesn't still run, does it?"
She nodded and looked pained. "Don Carlos moves when he feels like it, and only when I ask nicely. You want to help me hotwire him? I just got him back from the mechanics and they put in some different wires. I can't make heads or tails of it."
Ducky reluctantly agreed, and inside of five minutes the engine came sputtering to life. "That doesn't sound healthy," he said under the hood. "You have this sick puppy on life support as it is. You're gunna need to find a new ride soon, because this is on its happy way to a /Break Down/."
Inside the car, Heist grimaced. "I know. He up and died in New Mexico, thirty miles outside of Roswell. Sucked!"
Ducky closed the hood. "I don't wanna know, H. I have enough to worry about without worrying about your sorry ass."
"I love you too, Tuckandroll."
"See you around, Hellspawn."
Heist pulled out of the parking lot, and Ducky was halfway back to the hospital when he heard the squeal of tires rapidly approaching. He turned and dove out of the way just as Heist's car backed up and came to a shuddering halt.
"Nice form, Tuckandroll! It's always a pleasure to see you live up to your name!"
Ducky dusted his shirt off and leaned into her window. "Heist..."
"I forgot! I've got the info from my road trip, and I thought Reilly might like to see it. It's all the leyline data I picked up. You want to pass it along?" She tossed a CD case in his direction, shifted gears and stepped on the gas.
"Later, Ducks!" she called out the window.
Ducky watched her car until it disappeared from view, and looked down at the disk in his hands. "So long, Heist."
This was the third time this week for paperwork from Social Services and Heather Breach was just about sick of it.
Goodson had yet to let go of the fact Tiger wasn't 'well' enough to be put in a foster home. She was facing yet another inquiry into his state of mind and it was really getting on her nerves. It especially annoyed here that she was forced to work on it while on her breaks. God, does red tape breed? she wondered. These stupid forms and inquiries seem to be getting longer each time they're sent to us.
Heather looked up from the mysteriously multiplying forms when she heard footsteps approaching, and sighed as she spotted Ray. "Just so you know, Social Services can be really evil sometimes." She waved the report at him. "They want to know how Tiger's doing. Again."
She blinked as Ray gave her a sharp, almost predatory grin. "Then you'll be glad to hear what I found out this morning."
That caught her attention. "Something about Tiger?"
Ray nodded and took a quick glance around the break room. Nothing had changed since he'd strolled in ten seconds ago. They were still the only two people in there at the moment. Something she was grateful for considering how suspicious Ray was acting.
He leaned in to whisper into Heather's ear. "His brother's on the way."
Heather felt the frown on her face mutate into a smirk. "Score. Do you know when?"
She scooted over to let Ray sit at the table. "Not yet, but his brother's going to e-mail him the specs. All we have to do is be sure they can pull it off."
Heather nodded. "Know what that means, right?"
"Long shift for me, whee."
"For both of us."
"Yeah, true." Ray ruffled Heather's hair, making her glare at the man.
"Knock it off, or I'll tell Kaupt you've got the hots for him."
"That's an empty threat and one I can toss right back." The large nurse smiled. "Anyway, I just wanted to let you know. It's almost time for Tiger and Gene to get out of therapy."
Heather smiled. "They're really starting to become friends, aren't they?"
"Yeah, it's bringing Gene out of his shell, which is awesome." Ray grinned. "Tiger's doing a lot of good in neo-natal, too. The nurses up there think he's the sole reason little Brian got to the point he could be adopted, with all the time he spends holding those babies."
Her eyebrow raised. "Really? He's really that good with them, huh?"
"Absolutely." Ray waved and turned for physical therapy. "Catch you later, Breach."
Smiling again, Heather turned back to her paperwork. Almost home free.
Kansas City, Missouri
Dinner had been horrifying. Mrs. Hadden had done nothing but mutter prayers every time Heist entered the room, and her parents had done nothing but humor her. Typical. She would never understand why her mother liked the evil old woman, and it hadn't been a moment too soon when she was able to retreat to the safety of her room.
Her cell had finally finished charging, and she glared at it. Important call or not, she still didn't like the idea. Finally, she gave up her standoff with the phone and dialed the number. While she waited for the other end to pick up, she got a fantastic idea.
Author's Note: While the three authors writing this do not own Fullmetal Alchemist, we do own the original characters, as well as the two emails email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org Neither address belong to Ed or Al; we just didn't want to spam some poor helpless FMA fan with our geeky e-mails.
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