The darkness and solitude only seemed to breed progressively darker thoughts and imaginings as the night wore on.
"Murphy was an Optimist"
Arc One: Chapter Nineteen
Balance of Power
WARNING: Post Series, Post Movie SPOILER HEAVY and slightly AU
June 2, 2006 - 11:43 pm
Gene wheeled out of his room, a man with a purpose and determined to get some answers. He wished he could be less... well... obvious that he was out past curfew to go visit Tiger -and visions of himself sneaking past guards to see his friend danced through his head, but he knew how likely those dreams were-- but the nurses seemed to understand. All they did was smile and make the comment of "Don't stay out much past midnight, Gene," before pointing him in the direction of Tiger's room. Naturally. He could just imagine them twittering behind their hands and talking about how wonderful it was that he finally found a friend.
Well, there's one obstacle I won't have to figure my way out of. Looks like being misanthropic is coming in handy.
His remote wheelchair whirred along as he found Tiger's room, reaching out to nudge the door open and slip inside. Not noiselessly, never noiselessly - his wheelchair hummed every time he moved the dumb joystick - but at least quietly enough that he shouldn't shock Tiger awake if he was sleeping. He gently nudged the wheelchair into the darkened room, along the rectangle of light from the open door. Once he was right next to the bed he saw Tiger shift under the covers and found it somewhat amusing that he was completely buried -not even a tuft of dark blonde hair stuck out. He reached out, intending to gently shake him awake and whispered, "Tiger?"
Gene hadn't been expecting an answer from behind/. "GAH!" he gasped, jerking his hand back and snapping his head around to see Tiger standing at his left shoulder. The other boy came around him, and that was when he noticed he was dressed in the darkest clothing he owned, tennis shoes double-knotted and his hair pulled into a short pony-tail. "Dammit, don't /do that! You scared me to death!"
Tiger attempted to muffle a snicker behind his hand. "Apparently not. You're still breathing."
"Smartass Captain Obvious," he groused. Then he slowly slid his eyes to the bed, and the still-squirming shape under the covers. "If you're here," he drawled and hesitantly pointed. "Then what is.../ that/? And please tell me you're not stealing babies from the nursery."
Tiger quickly lunged past Gene to make a grab for whatever it was. "Um, it's nothing. Forget about it."
"Like hell it's not," Gene said and gave the other boy an elbow check to the ribs that any hockey player would be proud of. There was a brief tangle of arms and slight scuffle as they both tried to get to the thing wriggling on the bed while at the same time blocking the other. At one point, Tiger lurched sideways and caused Gene to elbow the chair's joystick, which made the chair jump and roll across Tiger's foot. Gene gleefully took advantage of the brief distraction to snag the bundle from under the sheet when Tiger jumped back and yelped.
A teddy bear silently writhed in his hands --the same bear he'd given his friend that was soft, and stuffed, and was supposed to be inanimate. "What the heck is /this/?" he repeated as he squeezed around the body, not feeling anything hard, like a battery box or a geared skeleton.
Tiger giggled nervously, rubbing the back of his head. "A teddy bear?"
"I can see that/. The proper question would probably be '/why is the teddy bear /moving/?'" Gene turned it around, examining it from all sides and stopped when he spotted an eight-pointed star with what looked like a fish-hook in the center and a few small, unidentifiable marks around the outside of it glowing softly within the synthetic fur of the bear's butt. "What's this?"
Tiger coughed. "Aheh... that's sort of hard to explain..."
"It couldn't be any harder than explaining it to me the first time, could it?"
Gene nearly ran Tiger over again as he spun the chair around, then blinked at the sudden flood of light. He blew out a relieved breath in a gust when he saw Ray push the door closed with a soft click. How someone that big could possibly be absolutely silent and sneak up on them, Gene would never know. That didn't stop him from glaring at the large nurse, though. "And just what did he tell you the first time, huh? Why am I still out of the loop?"
Tiger frowned. "Do you think he can handle it, Ray?"
Ray crossed the room and settled on the bed. "Might as well tell him, Al. He already knows something's up. Besides, he puts up with your weirdness."
"Stop talking about me as though I'm not-Hey, waitaminit!" Gene spun on Tiger and gaped at him. "Al?" The other boy looked down and nodded. "So your real name's Al?" Gene grinned broadly. "I knew you were hiding something!"
"I'm hiding a lot more than that." Al sighed, took the bear from Gene and sat down next to Ray. "Gene... are you ready to enter my world?"
Gene rolled his eyes and moved closer to Al. "Only if you stop speaking in bad movie clichÃ©s and just tell me the truth. Jeez, I'm not gonna break."
"I'll hold you to that, then." Tiger -/No, Al/, Gene reminded himself-stared down at the bear as it slowly stopped moving and finally became still. He could see that Al was working through what he wanted to say, so he waited even though what he really wanted to do was shake his friend and scream at him to get to it already. Of all his daydreams of intrigue, nothing had ever come close to what he was experiencing right now. It was exciting and just a little scary at the same time.
After a bit, Al set the bear aside and looked Gene straight in the eye. "You know that Matrix movie we watched the other night? The one that says our reality isn't necessarily an actual reality?"
"Yeah, with all the Plato analogies and stuff." He chuckled. "What, are you gonna tell me you're an Agent and I'm gonna die now?"
"Hardly. It's just... pretty accurate at explaining just where I come from."
Al hesitated, then his words came out in a rush. "My real name is Alphonse Elric, and I was born in a town named Risembool, in a country called Amestris. I have a brother named Edward, and both of us are alchemists." Al jerked a thumb at the teddy bear. "That was alchemy."
Gene made a disbelieving noise even though he wasn't quite so certain anymore in what he believed. "So, there's a Caledonia where you live? About the same shape as our Scotland?"
"And your England, too. The Rising went differently, I think, and Scotland won. It's called the Caledonian Empire, where I'm from."
"I see," he said slowly as he cast an apprehensive glance at the bear. "What kind of alchemy can animate a stuffed teddy bear? I thought it was used to turn base metals into gold."
Gene noticed that Ray kept a wary eye on the bear, himself. "Yeah, eh, that alchemy's different from what you showed me the first time..."
"Alchemy is the science of understanding the composition of something, breaking it down, and rebuilding it as something else. This is soul-based alchemy, though I think I'm the only one who can do it." Al took a deep breath and picked the bear back up. He laid it across his lap, then clapped his hands and touched the stuffed toy. Gene watched as lines and swirls appeared all through the fake fur, glowing a soft red and then quickly fading. They reminded him of the tribal tattoos he'd seen on a few people, and it made him wonder if those symbols might've been alchemy at one time. The bear became animated once more and Al set it on the floor to let it walk around.
Ray rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he watched the bear. "Wait. I thought you had to draw some kind of circle." He looked back at Al. "At least you did when you showed me the first time."
"Well... Brother and I seem to be able to do personal alchemy without needing to draw an array." Al brought his hands together again, but didn't clap. "When we clap, it activates the array within our bodies."
"P-personal alchemy," Gene said.
Al faced him and nodded. "My soul detaches easily, and I can use it to control inanimate objects."
/That /made Gene snort, though he wasn't sure if it was from nerves or just the ludicrousness of the idea. "Souls don't exist."
Al's normally soft hazel eyes went hard just before he looked down. Gene watched his friend's hands clench tightly on top of his thighs. When he spoke again, it was so soft Gene almost missed it. "If that's the case, then I wouldn't be here, because that is all I was for five years."
Gene and Ray stared at each other for a moment, then they looked over at Al. "Come again?" they said simultaneously.
Al continued to stare down, his fists clenching and unclenching. "There was... an accident." He took a deep shuddering breath then finally looked back up at Gene. The darkness in his friend's eyes spoke of nightmares, and Gene wasn't certain this was all so exciting anymore.
"No, not an accident," Al said. "A... a mistake. We dared to tread where mortals are forbidden."
"Hubris," Gene said softly.
"Everything has a price," Ray said.
Al nodded. "The first law of alchemy is Equivalent Exchange. You cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. Because of our... /hubris/, Brother lost his left leg and I was sucked into the Gate." He swallowed and looked back down. "Brother gave up his right arm in order to save me, but all he could do was attach my soul to a suit of armor." He shivered and hugged himself. "My body remained inside the Gate for five years. I couldn't feel anything. I didn't sleep or eat. I couldn't smell or taste or touch. I didn't feel fear or sadness or joy."
Gene shivered in sympathy and at the haunted look in Al's eyes. As bad as it sounded, he knew it was much, much worse.
"Almost total sensory deprivation," Ray whispered. "My God, how did you survive without going completely insane?"
Al looked at Ray as though insanity had never been an option. "I had to. Brother needed me to help him find the Philosopher's Stone. So we could return our bodies back to normal." He looked down at his hand and flexed the fingers. "Except, I got my body back and Ed is still missing his limbs."
Gene was dumbstruck and more than a little afraid, because he was being forced to reconsider everything that he believed. He believed in logic and science and technology. He didn't believe in the soul, or magic, or even miracles. That was delusion in his opinion --insanity. But he had no reason to think this strange kid who had befriended him was anything but completely sane and telling the truth. That creepily animated teddy bear was evidence enough. It was confusing and difficult for him to wrap his brain around right then, but he knew he wasn't going to be doing much in the way of sleeping for a very long time, which meant he was going to have plenty of opportunity to come to terms with it all.
Ray, on the other hand, seemed to be taking it a little better, and even looked like he'd had an epiphany. "Is that why your body has no baby fat? But how could you have survived for five years? Has Micky D's infiltrated /that/, too?"
Al gave Ray a befuddled look. "Who?" He shook his head, then said, "Brother was hooked into my mind and body. He ate and slept for two, although it was barely enough to keep my body alive. His automail used a lot of energy, too-"
Gene's brain decided at that moment to short-circuit and absolutely refused to try to process another thing. He was surprised that the sound of grey-matter slamming on its brakes and screeching to a halt couldn't be heard by the others in the room. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Stop the exposition, I wanna get off!" He looked at Al and Ray. "Start from the beginning, please? And explain what automail is and the Gate and whatever else needs explaining."
Al winced. "That could take awhile... and Brother's supposed to come get me tonight. Besides, Gene; we're not supposed to be out of our rooms past midnight."
Ray chuckled, and whipped out a deck of cards. "Don't worry, boys; I have the perfect solution."
Tom held on for dear life from the passenger seat of the Ninjavan as Ducky zipped around a sports car that had the nerve to actually do the speed limit, and wondered -not for the first time since he'd climbed into young hacker's van and immediately buckled up-just what possessed him to agree to ride along with him to Reilly's tonight.
Well, it seemed logical at the time, he thought. We both live in Tulsa, and we were both going to the same place.
Ducky laughed maniacally as he zipped back into the other lane, threading the narrow space between the back of a semi in the left lane and the front of the sports car in the right. Yup, that's what they're putting on my epitaph, 'It seemed logical at the time'. "Hey Ducks, think you could... I don't know... follow some of the traffic laws around here?"
"Traffic laws? You mean there're /traffic laws/?"
Tom groaned and started to cover his eyes but thought better of it. If he was going to die at the hands of a madman, he wanted to see it coming. This way, he thought, I can explain to Saint Peter how I ended up there. Not that even he would believe it.
They reached the outskirts of Bartlesville and the speed limit dropped to 50mph, which meant that Ducky slowed down to 70. He yammered on excitedly about their intriguing little excursion tonight as they made their way to the other side of town. Tom barely heard him; he was too wrapped up in trying to remember if he'd updated his will in the past year or so, re-running the plans they'd made for 'Operation: Rescue Terminator Jr.', thinking he was really too old for this kind of thing, and concern about Reilly. Especially concern about Reilly. He hadn't heard a word from her all day, and considering the circumstances, that wasn't a good sign. He didn't voice the nagging presentiment that something had gone horribly wrong, though. Tom told himself that in the end, everything would be fine and he would have fretted over nothing, so there was no point in making the Duckster worry too.
Then two words filtered in through the agitated babble running circles in his head that made all the internal noise suddenly go silent --/smoke bombs/ and rope.
"What do you-" Tom started, but was halted when Ducky slammed on the brakes for a red light. Had it not been for the shoulder harness, the older man would have become far more intimate with the dash than he had any desire to. When inertia released its hold on him, he settled back into the seat and rubbed at his right shoulder. "What the hell do you think you'll need rope and smoke bombs for?" he growled, partially because he knew he was going to end up with a bruise on his shoulder from the snapping of the seatbelt, and partially because he did not like having changes made to his carefully laid plans without notice. "There was nothing in our playbook about rope and smoke bombs, Ducks."
Ducky hit the gas when the light turned green and sped down the highway that led to Reilly's. He turned and grinned broadly at his passenger, the muted light from the dash casting an eerie glow on the younger man's face that made him look all the more insane because of it . "You always need rope. And you said we were going to provide a distraction. Well? Smoke bombs can be pretty distracting."
After a long pause where Tom tried in vain to grasp the slippery logic that he was certain was hiding in there somewhere, he finally asked, "I'm certain I'll regret this, but how do you intend to use those smoke bombs to create a distraction? And please use small words for us mere mortals."
"Well, I was watching a movie last night-"
"Always a bad sign with you."
"-and these guys went through the air ducts to get to this hotel room to take out a mobster-"
"You do understand that movies are make-believe, right?"
"Well, yeah. It's not like Terminator and I'll be shooting up the Russian mob, but anyway-"
"I've seen that movie Ducks. Their 'plan' didn't exactly go as planned, remember?"
"Well, Duh!" Ducky said as he barely slowed to make the left onto Reilly's road. "They were too big, and weighed too much. Terminator and I are small and light. Anyhow-"
"Ed isn't all that light. Trust me."
"Well, okay, he has that automail, but still-" For once Ducky shut up all on his own and Tom had nothing to say. Instead, they stared nervously out the windshield of the Ninjavan as the younger man drove slowly down the dark dirt road.
They should have been able to see the soft glow of the torches in the garden and inside lights of Reilly's house from the corner -a welcoming beacon that was as dependable in warm weather as the sound of cicadas-but there was nothing. Were it not for the fact that both men could measure the distance from the corner and turn unerringly into the drive with their eyes closed, they would have passed the property on by. As it was, they pulled to the side of the road because the drive was taped off, but the headlights illuminated the area enough that they got a hint of the destruction.
"Oh, dear God," Tom whispered.
"Dude," Ducky said so softly he could barely be heard, "I don't think God had anything to do with this."
June 3, 2006 - 12:59 am
"HA! I am poker NINJA!"
"Dammit, that's the fourth straight hand in a row you've won!"
"How can you be a ninja at /poker/, Gene?"
The self-described misanthrope grinned and gathered an abundance of toothpicks from the center of the bed. "I'm just special that way."
There was a knock on the door, then the charge nurse poked her head in. Gene, Al and Ray all turned to her in unison, and Ray plastered on his most ingratiating smile.
"Might I have an explanation as to why you're still up, boys?" the nurse asked, although her attention was centered on Ray. Her expression made it clear to the one adult in the poker-playing trio that he was liable to have to do some sweet-talking to keep from having a new orifice installed on his body somewhere unpleasant.
"It was his idea, all of it. I place the blame firmly on him," Ray said with feigned petulance as he pointed at Al.
"Hey! Don't blame me for your suggestions!"
"Yeah, you're the adult here, Ray. You're contributing to our delinquency."
The nurse lost her sternness and struggled to keep some semblance of a straight face as she said, "Jeeze Ray, you really are a sucker, aren't you?" He opened his mouth to protest, but she waved him off. "Just keep it down, /boys/. No more yelling about Poker Ninjas. And no complaining when you're tired in the morning, you hear?" Gene and Al both nodded vigorously, obviously relieved they weren't in trouble. Then she pointed at Ray and said, "You're going to have to buy me dinner if you want me to keep my mouth shut."
"Isn't that extortion?"
She laughed lightly. "You bet your ass it is." She waved at them and started to close the door. "Remember what I said. If I can hear you down at the desk, I'll close this casino down."
Gene and Al beamed at the closed door. "Okay. Thanks, ma'am!" Gene called.
Ray picked up the cards and started shuffling. "Okay, the game is Seven Card Stud High-Low, one-eyed Jacks are wild."
Gene chuckled evilly and Al fell back on the bed with a groan. "Can I just fold now?" he said.
Making his way to the most recent patient on his list, Llyn Quennel wished for the thousandth time that night that he hadn't been awakened from his nap in the break room.
The steady stream of patients which had dragged him from his comfy couch had started after a quarrel had broken out at the Bohemian Coffee House. Several involved in the slight riot had been hurried through the emergency room for treatments, and Llyn had been detailed to bring supplies to the medics. The procedure he'd gotten to assist with had been treating a transsexual named Gretchen. He... er,/ she/... had been thrown into a display of some sort, and glass had cut her enough to need a stitch or two. Llyn had tried to ignore the flirting he'd gotten after he'd first opened his mouth; why did everyone have to love the Welsh accent? Even if it wasn't really an accent anymore.
After Gretchen, there had been one or two scalding injuries from coffee or soup being spilled when the stampede had started before the victims of what had been termed 'The Accident' had shown up.
The first victim had been DOA, a young woman of about twenty or so who had been trapped under the car when it had exploded. Hideous burns and lacerations had covered what little of her torso was left, lavender hair still clinging to the remains of the skull half-singed and stained red with drying blood.
The paramedics had gotten the second victim to ID her. Her name was Katherine Letrowsky, though she was better known as Kitten to her friends. A morbid thought had made Llyn slightly nauseated as he'd listened to the paramedics talk; there weren't enough pieces left for the coroners to make a whole person anymore.
There goes any chance of an open casket funeral.
The second victim, Brian Spiegel, was in much better condition considering how Katherine had looked. He came in mostly coherent, if in a crapload of pain. A large section of sedan shrapnel had been lodged in his chest and wrapped to prevent arterial bleeding. Llyn had been sent in with supplies and to assist some of the procedure, but the victim had latched onto his purple scrubs with one hand. "You."
He'd struggled to get his shirt out of Brian's hand. "Let me go, sir. You need to calm down."
"Forget that, I need you to-AUGH!" His words had been cut off by one of the ER doctors attempting to stabilize the piece of shrapnel lodged in his sternum, his hand nearly ripping Llyn's scrubs. "Get this message to the other guy, got it? Or I'll hurt you once I'm out of surgery."
Llyn leveled a calm gaze at the man, whose grimace revealed some very real-looking fangs, and sighed. "Fine. Put the fangs away, an' tell me the message, aye?"
The other doctors had sent Llyn to assist with the third victim after he'd written the message on a slip of paper. It was just as well, since there wasn't much that could be done for Brian after they got him somewhat stabilized, until he was wheeled into the OR.
He slipped through the curtain surrounding the exam table where the third victim was waiting, and made a quick assessment of the man laying on his stomach. Marc Holland was a physically fit, albeit ordinary Caucasian male in his late 30's; at least what he could see, which was primarily the man's shredded backside. Llyn had a hard time figuring out just why two teenagers with things like lavender hair and spiked teeth were hanging out with him. Holland had escaped with a dislocated right arm, some deep bruising, and long slices and cuts that were scattered along his back and forearms from flying pieces of car. Even without cleaning, Llyn could see bits and pieces of ripped flesh littering the man's backside, and realized with revulsion that some of that torn skin didn't belong to Holland.
He decided that bringing the note to Holland's attention directly probably wasn't the smartest move in the world, so he casually tossed it in front of the man's nose and picked up a sponge to clean the long furrows on the man's back left by the car shrapnel. The first thing that needed done was for Holland to get cleaned up before stitching, and as he tugged on gloves and started, Llyn was vaguely thankful the man couldn't see his own back. It looked absolutely horrifying.
"It looks like you got cut up pretty badly there, Holland sir," he murmured as he carefully sponged the deep slices. "The doctor, he'll be needin' to stitch some of those up."
Holland didn't actually say anything and never looked up to see who was treating him. He only twitched slightly and grunted low when Llyn touched any of the more sensitive injuries as he sponged debris from his flesh, although he did seem to relax after he gingerly opened the note with one hand.
"Were these cuts from the car exploding? The boys from the ambulances said it was a bomb that went off."
Llyn's eyes widened at flatness in Holland's voice and he wondered again how he was connected to the two kids. "How's the shoulder feelin'?" he continued, wringing out the sponge and working his way down. "Looks like it's swellin' pretty good; you should go easy with it for a few months. Give the joint time to repair itself."
"Heh. With the way my luck's been going today, I'll lose it by morning anyway."
Not entirely surprised at the seriousness of Holland's tone --but beginning to wonder if there was more trauma there than just the explosion and the girl's death-- Llyn gave him a pat on his uninjured shoulder and made a few swipes at the cuts on his forearms. Those wouldn't need stitches, thankfully.
It was at the point that Holland turned his head sideways and actually glanced up at Llyn. He caught the stunned blink and almost imperceptible widening of the man's green eyes just before he went a sickly pale, and Llyn hesitated. "Mr. Holland? Are you a'right? You needin' to be sick?"
Holland closed his eyes and sighed. Llyn saw a deep sadness seem to just wash over the man and he barely shook his head. "No. Sorry. For a minute there, I thought you-" A tiny, wistful smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, then was gone in an instant. "You look almost like someone I once knew."
Llyn let it lie, and moved to get the dirt out of the deep lacerations gracing the top of Holland's buttocks. He worked in silence and finished up just as his supervisor came in.
"Llyn! Who sent you to work on Mr. Holland?"
Llyn shrugged, rinsing the last of the blood from his patient's back. "Got sent with a message, and I didn't see a reason to not be gettin' Mr. Holland cleaned up. Did I do a'right?"
Doc Grubb, his supervisor, peered over Llyn's shoulder. "Yeah, you did fine. Could you go and get a brace for Mr. Holland now? Things have quieted down, and it'll take me at least an hour to get him stitched up, so after you get the brace, catch up on your reports, then be back here with something for him to wear."
Llyn sized up Holland. /With the stitches and the brace... let's see if I can find size 'tent' for him/. "I'll be back in a bit then, sir. Shouldn't take long."
As Llyn wandered out of the exam bay, he rubbed at his eyes, thinking back to that note. Brian had given him a phone number. That was it. No bells, no whistles, just ten digits. With sleep deprivation working on his nerves, the conclusions he was drawing weren't very reassuring.
God save me from Americans and their clandestine love affairs. Why it's so important that Holland man get a bloody phone number after he was in a car bombing is beyond me. Crazy Yanks.
Ah, well. Maybe it's not what I think, and he was meeting someone to...yeah, right. His car was bombed, and someone died because of it. So it's either a severe case of jealousy, or he's in over his head with something illegal...
I almost hope it's a severe case of jealousy.
"Man, look at that poor guy out there! Doesn't he know birds like shiny things?"
"Ouch, there it goes for the scalp! Maybe he should've worn a toupee."
"Nah. Then the bird would've just stolen it."
"Should we go help him?"
"Why? This is hilarious!"
The sound of giggling ER staff members fell on Llyn's ears, and he peered around the corner to see just what all the fuss was about.
And he froze.
Outside the doors to the ER, in front of the large clear panes of glass, a bald man in an impeccable suit was frantically waving his arms around his head, trying to fend off a raven.
"Ravens are ill luck, son. You should remember that. Death and chaos follow those touched by the raven's wings, so avoid 'em."
"Dad, you're getting senile in your old age. No one believes the myths anymore!"
He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry, as he looked down at his nametag. Llyn Quennel. Not Llyn Branch. He hadn't really used his adoptive surname much, preferring to honor his dead kin by keeping the name he was graced with at birth.
Especially after he'd met the raven cursed man.
"Hey, Quennel. /Que/nnel? Hel-/lo/? Earth to Llyn, do you copy?"
Llyn forced himself to come out of his shocked reminiscing, and looked up. "Huh?"
Danny, the only other intern working the shift with Llyn, shook his head in pity. "Damn, man, when you space, you space! You should go get some coffee, if you're done tending patients. You look like shit; did y'see a ghost or somethin'?"
"You don't look like a spring chicken either, /ffwl,/" Llyn retorted, getting control of himself as Danny looked puzzled at the slippery Welsh insult. "I'm getting stuff for Grubb."
"Well, hurry up then! I want my break."
Llyn scowled, and headed for the supply closet for the brace and clothing. I'll just avoid the man. It's a large hospital, surely he won't come bothering me. Dammit, you come across one raven cursed man, you start seeing them everywhere. Nothing's going to happen, Quennel, so relax.
Going into the supply closet, he found the brace and the set of scrubs he needed with little difficulty. The scrubs were thankfully large enough for Holland to wear; Llyn just hoped he didn't take it the wrong way that they were the same dark purple as his own, but that was the least popular color, so there were always plenty. He was going to make it a point to avoid the front and just go straight to the Doctor's station to get his reports done, when the cursed man caught his attention.
"My name is Sidney Bond, ma'am."
The intake receptionist let loose a soft giggle, before coughing. "Are you sure the first name isn't James, Mr. Bond?" she asked, the mirth evident in her voice.
The Cursed Man sighed explosively. "Yes, that's my real name. I'd appreciate it if you'd drop that matter, though; I'm looking for a man named Hughes. He was supposed to have come in with two other accident victims."
The sight was absolutely ludicrous; there he stood, the Cursed Man, calmly eyeing the receptionist who was trying with all her might not to laugh at the large dollop of bird poo on the man's otherwise perfect suit. He ducked back behind a partition so he could listen in and watch.
The receptionist, finding within her some fount of resolve to swallow her laughter and concentrate, frowned at her records and shook her head. "I'm sorry, sir, but there's been no one under that name admitted to the ER this evening. Are you sure you have the right hospital?"
"I'm sure this is the right hospital." Bond fiddled with his watch, and for some reason, Llyn felt uneasy. "He'd be in his late 30's, black hair. He was involved in a car bombing this evening; I'd like to ask him some questions."
Llyn paled and slipped out of view, trying to control the panic rising to grab his heart. Holland. And I don't think he's the one in the wrong here; that Bond guy looked like Mom...
The receptionist sighed and said, "Fine, Sir. Just take a seat in the waiting room, and we'll see if we can track this Mr. Hughes down."
...and he's cursed.
Llyn looked down at the bundle in his hands, and gripped it tightly. He had work to do.
"A cursed man is after you."
Hughes looked up and stared, eyes widening at the young intern who looked so much like Roy it hurt. He had been replaying the events of what had turned into an excruciating day --knowing that it was useless to try and figure out what he could have done differently, but too exhausted to fight the inclination-that he never heard the young man return. He'd so completely withdrawn after the doctor started injecting the local anesthetic into his torn-up ass that he hadn't even realized when he'd left, and now the intern was back, cleaning up. "Huh?"
"A cursed man is after you," he repeated, throwing away some dirtied gauze in the biohazard container. The young man --whose nametag he finally noticed, proclaimed his name to be 'Llyn Quennel'-offered his hand to help Hughes sit up on the gurney. "He's a bald man, calling himself 'Bond' and asking for the man who was in the big car explosion, named Hughes."
Hughes felt the blood drain from his face and he gripped the gurney with his left hand in an effort to keep himself upright as Llyn continued, taking gauze and wrapping it lightly around his torso before reaching for a brace, supposedly to keep his right arm immobile. "As you were admitted under the name Marcus Holland, I get the feeling you're lying about your name, but you probably have a reason for it."
It was as Llyn took the arm brace and wrapped the main part around his middle where the gauze was that Hughes realized he was entirely nude, due to his clothing being cut off by the paramedics. Feeling the blood rushing back to his face, Hughes debated between holding onto the gurney with his left hand, and reaching to cover where he was exposed. Llyn didn't seem to notice the nudity, too intent on gently strapping first the injured bicep, then the forearm of Hughes' right arm into the brace. "There. Now, use your left arm to keep steady, an' I'll help you get some pants on."
Hughes throttled down the blush and did as asked, letting the intern tug the pants into place just below where the stitches ended, the hospital scrubs riding low on his hips. Hughes just stood there, letting Llyn get the matching purple shirt ready before he spoke again. "Why are you helping me?"
The young man smiled, and tossed the shirt over Hughes' head. "Because another man once did the same for me." Hughes felt a tug at the bottom of his shirt, and he was soon dressed with Llyn's help, his right arm hidden under the scrubs. "I'm not a superstitious person, I'm not, but I know how bizarre things can be with a raven cursed man." The slight accent the boy had became more apparent the quicker he spoke, the vowels broadening slightly as his r's disappeared with the cadence of his speech. "I can help you, but you'll be needin' to trust me and do exactly what I tell you to."
Hughes didn't have to be told twice. "What do you need me to do?"
Llyn dug into his pocket, pulling out a set of car keys and a phone. "Down the hall there'll be an exit to the parking ramp. I'll cover for you while you get to it. I drive a red Toyota Camry; get in it and call someone to be pickin' you up. Leave the keys and the phone locked in the car; I have another set."
Hughes gripped the phone and keys tightly in his good hand, nodding. "Right. But what about Spike? He'll need protection, too. Bond doesn't leave witnesses."
"Brian? He's in surgery, but I'll figure out something," Llyn said as he pressed a small paper bag into Hughes's hands. "These're your antibiotics and painkillers, with some gauze to wrap around your middle t'protect the stitches from the brace. There's enough samples there to last a few days plus the scripts. You know the drill, don't operate heavy machinery under th' influence, don't drink alcohol, all that. Now, just follow me and wait for my signal."
Tom scratched at a chigger bite on his ankle with one hand as he held his cellphone to his ear with the other and waited for Ducky to come out of the convenience store. It was the first place they reached once they got back in town and out of the signal dead-zone that had always surrounded Reilly's property. He listened -for the fourth time-as Reilly's cell rang and he prayed that this time she answered, because he was certain the messages he was leaving were growing shriller with each call.
The moment he and Ducky saw the devastation to the house, they grabbed lights and started snooping around. It didn't take long to find the tire tracks of at least three vehicles that tore across the front yard and around the house. They followed the trails, two of them squeezing between the house and the shed, the third going around the shed (with a return path for that one, and a very wide wheel-base which Tom assumed to have belonged to the tow-truck that hauled at least one vehicle out of the field). He and Ducky followed the trails, discovering that two of them ended in the far corner of the property, but a third tore through the barbed-wire and on through the neighbor's field.
Ended right where we found Ed, he thought. He'd never seen hide nor hair of that damned Gate when they found the young man, and he couldn't see jack shit tonight, but every hair on his body stood on end when he got near where it was supposed to be. It felt like coming too close to a transformer the way it made his nerves hum and it just added to the creepiness of the whole scenario.
All around where the one trail had ended the ground was warped and bare of grass, and Tom didn't want to contemplate just what had caused the scorch marks that surrounded a vaguely rectangular shape about the size of Reilly's truck. It looked bad. Very bad. But Tom wasn't about to give up on the woman he'd damn near raised, or the kid who'd been quite literally dropped on them.
Both of them are cut from the same cloth, he told himself. They're both stubborn as an old jackass and harder than hell to kill. They're not dead. They weren't in the truck or the house. They got somewhere safe and I'll hear from them soon. Goddammit Reilly, if you don't answer the fucking phone I'm going to hunt you down and kick your ass.
The call rolled over to Reilly's voice mail again and Tom didn't bother leaving a message this time. He slapped the phone closed and slung it onto the dash in frustration. "Dammit."
The driver's door opened at that moment, and Ducky hesitated before he climbed in. "No luck, huh?"
Tom fell back against the seat and scrubbed at his face with a shaky hand. He clenched his teeth and struggled to find some center of calm that he didn't think he possessed at this point. "No. I just keep getting her voice mail." He cast a sideways glance over at Ducky and saw the worry darkening the younger man's face. "You?"
"Hughes has his cell turned off," Ducky said low.
Tom stared. If they couldn't reach Maes either, the implications were dire. "So... we're missing three people, then."
Tom's cell chirruped, startling both men, and breaking the silence. The older man lurched for the phone, fumbled it, and smacked his head on the dash as he scrambled to scoop it up off the floorboard. He took a quick glance at the number that showed up in the window as he rubbed at the new tender spot on the top of his head, and said, "Not Reilly's or Maes' numbers."
"They could be calling from a payphone."
Tom shook his head. "Nope, it's a cell prefix, not a landline."
"Well hell, are you going to answer the fucker, or not?"
Tom ignored Ducky and flipped the phone open. "Hello?" he said, hesitantly.
Hughes shut the phone off, then slumped over onto his left side as he dropped it to the floorboard of the small car. He was panting and growing nauseous from the pain, and while draping his long body across two seats and contorting around the stick-shift wasn't exactly comfortable, it did relieve the pressure from his torn backside and kept him out of sight.
He was tempted to take one of the pain meds the intern had given him, but he didn't dare. He needed to stay alert for the next hour at least. Then Tom and Ducky would arrive, take him back to his hotel, and he could get some rest --after he called the number on the slip of paper the intern has given him. Llyn, /he reminded himself. /The man took a risk to help me out, the least I can do is to think of him by name. Llyn Quennel --a young man in medical school who could be a close relation to Roy if this was another world.
He kept his mind working in an attempt to subvert the pain at least a little, and wondered what Ed and Reilly were doing right now. Ed's probably sulking like he generally does when he's worried. And knowing Reilly, she's pestering him to pull him out of his funk. Hughes huffed once at the thought of the rant and flail the blonde would put out if Reilly succeeded in annoying him enough, and then instantly started to give himself a mental ass-kicking. With a grimace, he tried to feel around where he thought he'd dropped the cellphone. You idiot, he thought, as his fingertips felt the familiar shape. It was just close enough he could touch it, but not quite grasp it, and with a stretch that pulled at numerous stitches he coaxed it closer. The effort at getting the phone from the awkward angle left him sweating and panting hard enough the windows had started to fog, and he took a moment to get his breathing under control. Wouldn't do to have the hospital security thinking poor Llyn was getting a little while on duty, he thought with a soft chuckle. Then the humor of fogged windows fled and Hughes's heart pounded when he realized that it could also arouse Bond's suspicions. Shit.
He took a chance of wiping at the driver's window and taking a cautious peek out. When he was certain no one was around, he slowly cranked the window down a crack in an attempt to equalize the temperature and eliminate the most obvious evidence of his hiding place. Then with hands shaking from pain, exhaustion, and dread at what he was going to have to tell Reilly, he dialed the number on the slip of paper.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Ed sat in a chair with his arms around his knees in the darkened hotel room and stared balefully at the silent phone. Reilly's cellphone had been lost somewhere in the confusion of the day, and both of them knew that anyone trying to call it would be fretting, but there was nothing to be done about it. She'd managed to contact Kitten and gave the girl what she needed to know to get their status to Hughes. Now it was just a matter of waiting.
Ed didn't really trust Kitten. He thought she was too flighty to be reliable, but he kept his own counsel because Reilly seemed confident that the girl could be depended on. Except Hughes was two hours over-due to call them, and Ed feared he was right all along. He actually hoped he was right and had an excuse to rant at Kitten next time he saw her, because that would be so much better than any of the alternatives running through his mind right now.
He sighed, rested his head on his knees and wondered just how in the hell Al had been able to sit up all night when he was armor and not go completely nuts. The darkness and solitude only seemed to breed progressively darker thoughts and imaginings as the night wore on.
At least he'd won the fight to get Reilly to try and sleep. After all, she was the one who was going to be driving that behemoth in the morning, not him. But she wasn't really resting. She'd tossed and turned and mumbled in her fitful sleep for the past hour and all it did was make Ed realize that once again, innocent people were getting caught up in the danger that always seemed to follow him wherever he went. Meshed deeply into that guilt was worry for Al. He knew his younger brother was going to be pacing the floors right about now, wondering where Ed was at; probably vowing to beat him to a pulp for making him worry. Ed decided that he'd joyfully let his little brother pound him if it meant they were back together again. And safe... safe. God I hope Hughes is safe, too.
Ed nearly launched himself out of the chair when the phone rang, and blinked at the flood of light when Reilly sat up and turned on the lamp. "I'll get it," he said as he reached for the phone. She nodded and scooted back against the headboard.
Please let it be Hughes, he thought as he brought the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
There was silence on the other end of the line, but Ed could hear breathing and he tensed.
"Hey, Ed! It's been forever since I've been able to talk to you!" came a familiarly manic and wonderfully welcome voice. Ed felt a bucket-load of tension suddenly drain from his body and at his relaxation, Reilly went limp in relief. "How are you and Mary doing at your new digs?"
Ed picked up underlying stress and instantly caught onto the coded speech. "Hey, Marc. I was hoping Mary had gotten this number to you. We're doing pretty well, just need to get adjusted a bit more. How've you been? Anything interesting going on where you are?"
Ed caught the very slight hesitation before Hughes said, "Well, I'm considering moving, actually; there's this lovely fixer-upper on the outskirts of town I was thinking of buying. It kind of reminds me of your old place."
Ed felt the blood drain from his face. Shit. This is bad. This is very bad. He quickly looked down and hoped that his long bangs hid the horror he knew had to have crossed his face at that news. Reilly's home. Destroyed. How? And why? What possible reason would someone have to torch her house?! "I... I wouldn't recommend investing in a house like that, really," he stammered.
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind. And I have some bad news, too," Hughes said, keeping his tone level.
Bad news? Fuck, what could be worse? "Oh?"
"Remember the kitten that Mary gave to me?"
Ed swallowed nervously, and dared a glance up at Reilly. He kicked himself, knowing that he was doing a crappy job of keeping the growing dismay out of his voice. "What about her?"
"Well... she died last night."
Ed couldn't suppress the low moan, no matter how hard he tried. He was grateful he wasn't standing right then, because he would've hit the floor. "What... what happened?"
"She got hit by a car; some sort of beast chased her into the street." Hughes couldn't keep the grief out of his voice, and Ed wondered if the older man was at least doing better than he was at the moment. He didn't think he could talk now, not with his throat tightening. "Mary's going to be devastated."
"Yeah, she is," was all Ed could choke out.
"Remember that neighbor I had problems with awhile back? The one that broke the gate?" /Hughes said. /"Well, he was the one who sicced that beast on the kitten."
Ed was silent while he tried to parse that bit of information. The stressors were on neighbor, gate and problems, and the answer came to him in a cold wash. Bond, he realized. The assassin alchemist that was responsible for Hughes coming through the Gate. Great. This just keeps getting better and better.
"So, uh... has anything else happened that you should tell me about?"
"Nothing important," Hughes said, his tone going cheerful once more. Ed didn't believe a word of it, either, but he knew he wouldn't get any other details out of the man right now. "I can fill you in on the rest next time we get together."
"Sounds good. Mary and I are in the City now. How about the same place? East Side, around 1:09?"
Hughes chuckled wryly, without his usual energy. "You and your punctuality. I'll be there tomorrow, then. You two take care of yourselves, all right?"
"Will do. Bye, Marc." Ed returned the phone to the cradle and forced himself with extreme difficulty to look at Reilly. He could see she was steeling herself for bad news. He just wished he could prepare her for just how bad it was going to be.
"Just give it to me, Ed. Don't gloss over it."
Ed crossed the room, and sat on the bed facing her. Hesitantly, he took her hand, and stared down at it. "It's bad, Reilly. And we're in more trouble than we thought." He found it so damn difficult to look at her, but he'd never been a coward before, he wasn't about to start now. This was his fault, his responsibility, and he was going to face her pain and anger. He got her into this mess and it didn't matter that it wasn't anything he had any control over at the time. He could have insisted on going with Hughes that day he showed up on Reilly's doorstep. But he let her talk him into staying, and now her entire life was being destroyed one thing and one person at a time.
Special Thank You to ladyeldaelen for this delightful scene "That Might've Been"
"I'm glad you're leaving tonight, Al," Eugene confessed as they headed back from lunch. Al's steps slowed as the words sank in; he was glad to be leaving, too, but he was also regretting the closure of their friendship. The pair was about halfway down the hallway leading to their ward when they finally stopped, but even though they were alone, Gene beckoned Al closer.
"While you were visiting the babies in the NICU this morning, I was in the computer lab. My monitoring program picked up a snooper."
Al tried valiantly to follow Gene's train of thought, although thinking too hard on some of this world's technologies still left him with a headache.
"Someone broke into the hospital's mainframe last night," Gene continued, not noticing the confusion worming its way across Al's face. "A very talented someone. They didn't do anything... just... looked. But they covered their tracks so well that /I /couldn't even find anything useful."
Alarmed, Al immediately tensed, waiting for the impending chaos that always managed to find its way to him.
"Could it be that fed-guy Ray's been talking about?" he whispered.
"No," Gene leaned against the back of his wheelchair, thoughtfully tapping the armrests with both index fingers. "No, this is the best hack job I've ever seen, definitely not government. Seriously, the only trace I found was for a nonexistent chain of 'Radically Fresh' produce stands with locations claiming to be on Mars, two of Jupiter's moons, and some of the smaller asteroids orbiting the sun. Bizarre. Totally bizarre."
The warning came less than a second before a human projectile launched itself at Alphonse. He barely had time to whirl around and brace himself for the onslaught of an unexpected hug. Gangly arms and legs latched themselves all over Al's frame as he half-supported, half-restrained the strange creature that had suddenly appeared.
"Ooooo..." a decidedly youthful female voice exhaled in awe as fingers poked and prodded over Al's shoulders and arms and side. Al squinted as the fluorescent lights reflected off the girl's hair, the most outrageously fiery red hair that Al had ever seen.
Abruptly she released her hold on him and landed silently by his side. They stood nearly eye to eye, and Al was surprised to find a pair of golden eyes the color of his brother's staring back at him with a similarly shrewd Ed-like gaze.
"The Al-person has found himself again!" the girl announced happily, breaking into an ear-splitting grin before entwining her impossibly long arms around him in another awkward --yet strangely comforting... and almost familiar-- hug. Al felt his cheeks heat up until he was certain that they were redder than the girl's flaming hair.
A terse yip sounded close by his ear and the girl released Al again in favor of trying to look behind herself. It was then that Al noticed she had a backpack slung over her shoulders. A backpack with an adorable dog peeking out the top. An adorable dog that looked most happy to see him. Could dogs even make looks like that?
Before he had a chance to ponder canine facial anatomy or even pet the eager pooch, the girl had spun completely around to face him again.
"Ein, Ein! Ein says it's time! Must return to my own storyline!" The girl chanted as she waltzed circles around the boys. She swooped down in front of Gene with a mischievous grin. "Five a day keeps the doctor away!"
And then she was skipping and twirling down the hall with enough gusto to put Armstrong to shame.
"Tell Edward that Edward says hellooooooo!!" her cheerful falsetto echoed behind her as she turned the corner heading back towards the cafeteria. Not five steps behind her, two more people ran across the open hallway, a woman barely clad in yellow and a man in a blue suit.
"/This/ is why I hate kids, Faye," the man grumbled as they disappeared after the girl.
Al and Gene blinked in unison, looked at each other, and blinked again.
"What... just happened?"
The boys, still a little drained from the energetic sensory overload they'd just experienced, turned around slowly to find a dark-skinned man dressed in black standing calmly behind them. He slipped on a pair of sunglasses with one hand and reached into his inner suit pocket with the other.
"I believe I can explain everything," he replied with practiced confidence, pulling out a small, handheld metal cylinder with a glowing top. "Now if you just look right here at this light..."
Note from Crackbunny Syndrome for the 'WTF Mate?' among you: The preceding scene was a short fanfic of -two- fanfics; a crossed-over-crossover that includes still -another- crossover. Confused yet? Just wait. Radical Edward (of Cowboy Bebop fame) and Alphonse Elric have a 'history', and had become friends in "Once More With Pirates", the sequel to "Gotta Knock a Little Harder". GKaLH was a cross between Cowboy Bebop and Fullmetal Alchemist, and OMWP was a cross between CBBP/FMA and Star Trek: the Next Generation, and both were written by the irreverent 'Heathenesque', AKA, c_b_syndrome, who gleefully dives in to break all the rules of fanfic whenever she thinks she can get away with it.
c_b_syndrome: And you thought the plotline of "Balance of Power" was twisted? Just wait until the plot bunnies this scene has germinated are birthed. Buahahahaha!