Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, ideas, or concepts borrowed for the purposes of this story. I just wish to create stories to tell to all who would listen.
Chapter 1 - Always Look Both Ways Before Picking Up Guests
It was cold that night as I was taking the freeway home from my friend's apartment, leaving me alone with my inner voice and the music from my car's speakers. Honestly though, I wish I had someone else in the car with me. Cause if someone was it would've been simple to keep all the thoughts I didn't want to think about out of sight.
My Dad has cancer. The irony of that statement being the fact we'd have never known until it killed him since it hadn't caused him any pain at all the entire time. Two months ago, it looked like he could actually beat this thing, despite all the naysaying the doctors had said up to that point. Then it hit his lungs. As it is now, they say he's got six months. Six months… of him hooked up to that damn, stupid respirator instead of actually going out of the house and living and… and!
The gravel of the highway shoulder suddenly pulled me out of my growing frustrations as I quickly maneuvered my car back into the left-hand lane. Thankfully, that sleet-storm we'd had a few days ago had already melted from the streets and bridges, which meant I only got a wakeup call instead of a slip-and-slide down the highway strip. Man, I wish someone was here with me in the car. Might keep me from crashing, at least.
Of course, I couldn't think about my situation with my father and not consider the other half of my born family. Mom had been run ragged over the last few days, barely getting any sleep with Dad's up and down behavior in the house. Today had been the worst thus far, she had gotten the bill from the hospital for a month's stay there and done a quick tally of things… they weren't promising. She just broke down during the late afternoon, as did I. We actually considered-
I felt the rough gravel of the left shoulder again, making me quickly angle myself to the middle-lane while my frustrations quickly boiled over. "GAH! Fuckitall anyway! I wish I had someone to talk to right now! At least then, I might be able to have some peace of mind!"
Well, if you insist.
I was suddenly blinded by this amazing flash from the other three seats inside the cabin, an instant before three people appeared in the car with me. But I was rather occupied by trying to get the vehicle to a complete and intact stop after the girl now in the front passenger seat looked forward and screamed. I turned and realized why - I'm a few moments from hitting the off-ramp guardrail!
I pressed the brakes for a bit of lead time before jerking the wheel to the right, just missing the polished aluminum of the barrier. I let the weight of the car and the uphill slope of the off-ramp decelerate us further before finding the nearest entrance into a nearby parking lot, turning inside, and finding a space to come to a sudden and complete stop. I shifted into park before letting my head slump onto the steering wheel. My breathing was hard as I waited for the adrenalin to wear off, and it sounded like everyone else was in a similar state. After a moment to calm down, I switched on the overhead lights, and looked in the direction of my new 'passengers' to see who had been dropped in my lap.
Even if I could find the right words to describe the awe that came next, I still don't think you'd believe me.
In the front passenger seat was the girl who saved my fender earlier. She was Japanese, as far as I could tell, with chocolate brown eyes and long, dark brown hair split off into a set of looped braids that ended in a pair of tails. She looked to be dressed for an academy, with a teal blue jacket and skirt combo over a white blouse with a red bow at the collar. But the real clincher was what was on the middle finger of her left hand. A gold ring with a horned demon's face and two hook clasps that fit around the back of the hand, securing its place there on her finger.
"Devil Hunter… Yohko Mano…" I said softly, though it was still apparently loud enough for the young lady to notice as her eyes widened in surprise.
"Th-that's my name! Wh-where- how- what's going on here?!" I waved my hands in her direction to get her to calm down, though honestly I wouldn't mind having a few of those questions answered myself.
"Good questions. Maybe if we put our heads together, we can find some answers?" I turned in the new voice's direction and took in the appearance of my second passenger. Long dark brown hair held in a low ponytail, bright blue eyes, and two rows of dark spots on her pale skin that wound their way down her head and neck till they disappeared behind a light blue blouse collar. Over that was a black jumpsuit that was dark grey at the neck and shoulders, and a small pin shaped like an upturned silver arrow over two gold horizontal bars on the left side of her heart.
Oh Lord, I've crashed my car haven't I? Makes sense, two hot babes from both anime and sci-fi showing up in my car outta the blue like this, I must be dead and heaven threw me this nice surprise for dying a virgin.
Yea, you heard right, I've never known a woman in the biblical sense. Mostly because of said Biblical. Jesus for the Win, man!
I shook myself out of the 4th wall cracking recriminations and smiled at my second passenger. "Once my head stops spinning, Dax, I'll explain what I can. But I'm afraid that without any Federation tech hoodoo to help me, any explanations I have won't be that revealing. I guess to start with, you're on Earth and-."
Jadzia's eyes filled with shock as well before she began speaking again, cutting me off. "Earth?! Where am I? What year is this?"
"Where you are is Dallas, Texas, when is December 9th, 2013."
The Trill relaxed somewhat after that news. "Thank goodness, that should mean anything I do won't really have an effect on the timeline. Now I just have to figure out how I got here, that might help me figure out a way back t-" She suddenly became white as a ghost as something came to her. "The temple! Dukat's still there, and Benjamin doesn't know!"
I raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Temple? Wha-ohhhh scrap."
The lieutenant commander looked at me with a rather worried gaze before gesturing me to continue speaking. "Commander, if you just came from the Temple - as in the Bajoran Temple on DS9 - and Dukat's there also, who or whatever brought you here just saved your life. He'd've killed you with the energy of that pah-wraith inside him, then done something to the Orb that would force the wormhole shut for a time." As I spoke, a part of me felt it best to help lessen the blow I was giving her. "But there is good news. Dax does get successfully passed to another host, and Sisko does manage to re-open the wormhole soon after. Not the best solution, but at least there is one."
A tear ran down her cheek before she met my eyes again with her own. "Given the options, I suppose that's all I can hope for, really. Was Worf able to live with… without me?"
I crossed my arms in front of me and thought back along my memories of watching Deep Space Nine. After another moment I spoke up again. "He managed to, eventually. 'Course he had to make sure you got into Stovokor first by blowing up a Dominion orbital shipyard with only one Klingon cruiser." I started chuckling. "His ship forced the nearby sun to eject a coronal mass emission right at the yard, vaporizing it instantly. Awesome fireworks, really."
As the Starfleet officer started to smile at the thought of her husband doing something that crazy just for her, Yohko just glanced back and forth between the two of us, utterly perplexed. "Ok, what in the hell are you two talking about? Temples? Dukat? Woof?!"
I couldn't stop myself. Within seconds my head was thumping the steering wheel as I howled in laughter over the teenager's misinterpretation over the prior discussion. Dax was giggling herself over the whole thing, probably because she would know just how much that would've irritated the gruff, sober Klingon. "It… hehe… It's Worf, Miss Mano, not Woof. And this is Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax, Science Officer for the Federation-run space station Deep Space Nine. The station itself is located at the mouth of a kind of tunnel in space called a wormhole, which allows anyone from this part of our galaxy to another that's several thousand light-years away. There's more to it than that, but suffice it to say that she comes from a possible future of ours. I'll save the whole explanation for later."
Dax nodded before looking to her left, which of course made me look where she was looking. Once I had managed to angle my vision that way, I took in the look of the last new arrival to my world. It was a man this time, an elderly one from the color of his gray hair and goatee as well as the lack of hair atop his head. He had thick, gray sideburns and a section of his remaining hair was locked into a simple topknot. A set of brown shoulderpads and matching breastplate covered his upper torso, while a simple gray robe took care of the rest. He had a gentle smile on his face, making me feel more at ease over the whole thing.
Off hand, I couldn't really place him, but he was familiar to me. "So how come you haven't introduced yourself, sir? As it stands, the girls and I are doing all the talking."
It was at that point that the elderly man's expression turned neutral and he looked at me. I emphasize it like that since he did much more than just point his eyes in my direction as I did earlier, it honestly felt like he was peering deeper in a way that's hard to describe. But soon enough, a smile came back to his face, and he finally started speaking. "I am Iroh, retired General of the Fire Nation. I apologize for my cautious actions, but I have found that it is best to stay quiet when you are in unfamiliar surroundings. Often it will help you avoid attracting the wrong sort of attention."
I thought about it for a moment before shrugging. "Makes sense. Anyway, I'm Jonathan Vehan, and either I'm dead and about to enjoy the everafter alongside some of my favorite characters of all time, or the three of you have been transported into my car from across time and space."
Funny thing was, a second after I started thinking about it, I realized I actually was fine with it being one or the other. Logically speaking, the actions I would wish to take in either case were exactly the same: I'd want to interact and get to know my new acquaintances - especially these acquaintances. But that hard-worn cynical side of me started barking almost as soon as I entertained the thought that this might be real. It couldn't be real. Not this, this culmination of wishful thoughts and hopeful dreams, brought forth in the form of three of my most favored and liked characters from the various genres I've experienced in my lifetime.
Well then, even if it is a dream, I might as well make a good showing of myself.
The Science Officer smiled at my intro. "Then Jonathan, I hope you wouldn't mind telling us how you know who we are, especially if we're simply dreams to you." Her expression suddenly turned serious. "Not that I'm upset, but frankly you shouldn't be capable of knowing about what's to come in your future."
Both Iroh and Yohko nodded their agreement to that idea, and I sighed in resignation. "I… could show you, if you like, but I think I'll show Miss Mano's proof with her alone. She hates how she transforms enough as it is."
The Japanese girl squeaked as her face suddenly turned crimson. "...nooooo… Please don't tell me you know about that?!"
I shrugged my shoulders and nodded once, which was all the cue she needed to bury her face in her hands and start cursing her ancient ancestors who apparently were exhibitionists. While she kept wishing to disappear through the floor, I shifted in my seat till I faced forwards again and buckled my seat belt. "I suggest you kids buckle up, I'd rather not have an accident after doing so much to avoid one earlier."
All of them managed to do so, though the aged firebender had trouble figuring out the mechanism of the seat belt at first. Thankfully though, there were no more surprises the rest of the way home.
I pulled into the available space in front of the house that my folks owned and shifted into park before turning in the direction of my guests. "Ok guys, just give me a few seconds to dash inside the house and I'll be back here with the proof you all wanted to see. I know it's bad manners not to invite you in, but honestly, there's no room. My folks are minor packrats, and the behavior's been passed on to me as well. Besides, if my 'roommates' see you guys I'll never be able to explain things to everyone's satisfaction."
The retired General nodded. "Very well. Please be swift in your retrieval, my young friend."
I gave a quick nod and cut the engine. Problem was, with all that had gone on before now, it had slipped my mind that it was 34F° outside the car at the moment. Which meant that the moment I opened the car door, a blast of frigid air filled the cabin, making the young devil hunter jump in her seat in surprise. "EEEE! It's cold!"
I quickly shut the door again, with a panicked expression. "Sorry! I'm sorry about that, I should've remembered why I'm wearing three layers of shirts today."
"Then if you can't remember, could you share some of those layers instead?!" Her brown eyes flashed angrily as she spoke, making me feel worse for forcing a Texas chill on her. Not really thinking about it, I quickly unbuttoned my outermost shirt, forest green with a plaid pattern and long sleeves with this great quilting on the inside. Warmest thing I own, really. Within a few seconds I'd pulled it off of me and quickly tossed it into the young woman's lap, leaving me in a black sweater and blue jeans.
"That should keep the worst of the cold away from you. I'll ,uh, try to slip out so as to not let as much of the outside air in." Before anyone could say anything else I did just as I said and opened the car door just enough for me to slip through quickly before quickly shutting it behind me and dashing into the house.
A few moments later, I returned with my 'proof', a laptop along with a set of anime DVDs for Yohko, and some video files for Iroh and Jadzia already loaded in the internal hard drive. Like before, I opened the door quickly and slipped inside the car, only to find all three of them looking at me with odd smiles on their faces. "What?"
"We were just talking about what we all think of you so far." Dax eyed my little tech toy with curiosity. "Is that a datapad?"
I chuckled. "Not quite. This is my portable computer, or laptop. With this you guys can see the proof with your own eyes. I've set up one episode each for you and the General to see, I hope you like them. As for Miss Mano… "
I passed the DVD case to the young devil hunter, thinking to myself that she looked rather cute with my shirt around her slender frame. She took the offered holder, looking at it with first confusion, then shock as the drawings on the front and back were recognized. While that was going on, I unfolded the device and started it up, passing it to Jadzia once the video player was ready.
During the next hour, the science officer and aged firebender both saw events that were unforgettable to them, from a third person perspective: For Iroh, the events that led up to his nephew's banishment as told by himself during a powerful storm. For Jadzia, the time her symbiote was stolen by the disgruntled Verad while DS9 was in the middle of an ion storm.
"To see your own past, from another's viewpoint. I must confess, seeing such a thing is somewhat… disturbing." The retired General closed the lid of the computer as Jadzia looked out the side window of the car, remembering things thousands of lightyears away with an absent look to her eyes.
"Sorry about that, General. But frankly, you asked for proof, not comforts." I replied while facing forward in my seat.
The aged firebender couldn't help but smirk at that one. "Indeed we did. Thank you for showing us these things. And please, call me Iroh."
"And I'm Jadzia." The Trill turned back my way as she spoke. "With all you no doubt know about me, I think a first name basis is only fair."
"Well I don't think any of this is fair!" The Japanese girl huffed in her seat with her arms crossed under her breasts. "I never asked to be a Devil Hunter, I never asked to be sent to some freezing cold foreign country, and I most certainly didn't ask to have the first day of my tenth year as a Devil Hunter start in the worst possible way!"
It took me a second to process that. "Wait, you're 26?"
"Of course I am, I'm only wearing my old high school uniform cause I was feeling a little nostalgic today." The young woman shifted in her seat away from me facing the door. "Things used to be simple. I was in love with a handsome boy, going through my classes, planning for college… so much for that."
I could relate to that feeling, knowing how everything you know and take for granted can suddenly be upheaved without warning. "Well, Miss Mano, if it's any consolation for you; right now my father isn't doing so well. In fact, some are saying he's not got much time left. I agree completely, things did used to be simple."
I noticed Yohko was starting to turn back my way, so I kept going. "But as I'm starting to find out, just because something's hard doesn't mean you up and quit. Instead, you have to simply make the best of things and keep going."
She had locked eyes with me now, probably wondering where I was going with this. "I'm supposed to outlive my dad, but that won't make the event any easier to handle. Just as you are supposed to be a Devil Hunter, despite it making your life more complicated. This is what our lives now endure, and wailing about how bad it is… is just wasted effort."
I suddenly felt a large hand clap my shoulder as Iroh spoke up. "An excellent way of seeing things, my young friend. Do not lament on what was, but focus on how to improve what is."
I nodded. "Speaking about what is, we have to get you kids situated somewhere safe for the night." I then started the car's ignition and pulled out of it's parking space. "Maybe I can find one of those all-night motels…"
A few moments later, a subdued voice came from the young Devil Hunter's seat. "Thank you both… for helping me through that."
I glanced her way with a big smile. "Hey, what are friends for?"
I woke up with a start that morning, groggy for a few seconds as my mind woke up alongside me. I looked myself over, noting that I was still in my white pajamas with blue stripes over a solid white shirt. I ran a hand lightly through my long hair, which I kept in a fishtail style at night so that it wouldn't twist and tangle while I slept. I know what you're thinking: 'Why the hell did he grow his hair? Isn't that dumb?' The frank and honest answer was so that I could prove that I could decide a course of action for myself and deal with the outcome. It wasn't anything big, true, but it was something that I knew I had decided for myself, so it was a start in showing that I could be independent if I so chose.
But it looks like the fun was over, dreams do have to end after all.
I looked around the cluttered mess of my room for anything that might give credence to what I thought I remembered last night, but could find nothing. My green quilted shirt was hanging in it's usual spot on my computer chair, instead of being last seen on the attractive form of the Japanese demon hunter. As my thoughts drifted to the young Mano woman, my head shook in disapproval over what I had actually considered trying to do over the course of the night. Yes, Yohko was beautiful. Stunning, even. But facts are facts, and the fact is women only lead to pain where I'm concerned. Thus, even if it was a dream, odds are she'd reject me like every other girl had in my life.
Still though, the idea of actually meeting those people sounds rather interesting. Perhaps I should turn this remnant dream into a plot bunny and toss it at Spacebattles after I get off of work today. However, just as I untangled myself from the bedsheets to start my day, the familiar opening sounds of Yuusha Ou Tanjou rang out from my cellphone. Grimacing at the thought of starting my day cussing out a telemarketer, I answered the phone in a huff. "If this is that damn US Pharmacy group I'm gonna look into mailing a bomb your way… "
A feminine giggle responded through the mouthpiece. "Please tell me you don't tell everyone that phrase when you answer the telephone."
I blinked twice, slightly confused. "Sorry, it's just only oddballs and telemarketers that call me this early in the morning."
"Well, I'm no telemarketer, whatever that is. And while Benjamin would tell you otherwise I doubt I'm an 'oddball'."
My left eyebrow rose in time with my bewilderment as I continued speaking. "Oookay… and I would know Benjamin from where, exactly?"
"From the station! Jonathan, it's me, Jadzia!" My eyes grew wide as my arm holding the phone went slack. The natural ligament tension in my hand was enough to keep the phone in my grip even after my arm dropped limp at my side. I could vaguely hear Jadzia, if it really was her, trying to get my attention over the phone, calling my name repeatedly.
But all I could hear and see at that point was last night, along with the growing shock that I had interacted with those amazing people for hours without ever connecting the dots that it was real. "I just hung out last night with an alien space babe that's mentally three hundred twenty-seven years old, a mystical devil hunter that can kick my butt a hundred different ways, and man that can bend fire to his will. My God, I am that dense."
I completely agree. Not even Jean-Luc was this thick-headed about things.
There was another sudden flash of light and I suddenly found myself sitting in my computer chair fully dressed and ready for work in my Domino's uniform, blue shirt with black trim and the logo and black pants secured to my waist with a belt, facing the bed. Laying on said bed with hands behind his head was a man with short dark hair and blue eyes, wearing a red Starfleet uniform with four pips on the collar. He spoke, glancing around the disheveled state of my living space as he did so. "You really should clean things up around here, what if guests suddenly dropped by?"
"Guests normally come through the door, not the subspace barrier." My face fell into my hands as I tried getting a grip on my rising stress level. First Dad, now my sanity. If I lose much more I won't have anything left.
"Now now now, cheer up! You humans die all the time, and quite frankly, your mental state is as stable as it's always been."
My eyes locked with a glare onto the omnipotent being as he lounged on top of my bed, my head rising slightly from where it was resting on my palms. "Q, I'm not having a good morning so far. So I hope you'll forgive me when I promise to kick your almighty ass back to the Continuum if you ever make light of my dad's condition again."
Q scoffed, turning his head to focus more on one of the wall scrolls I had hung right next to my bed. "Yes, yes. Vacant threats, and all that." Just as quickly as he had dismissed my warning to him, he all but leapt off the bed to a standing position right in front of me, staring me straight in the eye. "Now to business. My fellow Q and I have grown interested in how far some of you are willing to go just to test your inner character, despite still being a savage child race. You Spacebattlers, in particular, have caused quite a stir back in the Q Continuum."
He raised his hands in a dramatic gesture and spread them wide for emphasis, as if he was taking the whole of the universe into his hands. "Oh believe me, I tried quite hard to keep this little nugget to myself, but I'm sadly not the only omnipotent being there. But once I sent dear Keiran on his merry way, the Continuum noticed what I was so interested in these last few millennia."
The godling grimaced suddenly. "Now I've had to share all that I've worked on. All those interesting worlds your comrades, and recently you, have created. If it wasn't beneath me, I'd feel like sulking for an eon or two."
But just as fast as his expression soured, he seemed to perk right up again. Q clasped his hands behind his back and assumed a parade rest stance. "Thankfully, my friend Q and I found a way to really amuse ourselves: a Bet."
My brow raised in confusion at the godling's words seconds before I sat up straight and leaned back in my chair to a more comfortable position. "A bet? So what, you're all gambling on the fate of worlds now? Is there a point spread or do you just count all the millions slaughtered outright by whatever you throw at them?"
Q's head dropped till his eyes were facing the carpeted floor and shook it side to side in disappointment for a moment. Afterwards it rose back up til his eyes met mine as a smirk formed on his face. "Not a bet, a Bet, in the vein of a certain series of fanfics you enjoyed reading years ago. Besides, if the Q were unable to know about which mortals were killed when we wouldn't be omnipotent beings, would we? No, this Bet is far more interesting."
My eyes widened at that news. The Bet series, a vast set of 'What If' stories involving bored gods and mortal circumstances, usually Ranma ½ and- ...ohh, scrap. If the Q of all things were interested in enacting such a concept-
Q suddenly straightened up with a smile on his face again. "Quite so. I've already seen several Q make their entries, so I'd better hurry with mine before all the good ideas are scooped up."
I felt a smirk crawl onto my face despite myself. "So I guess you're leaving then? If you are, be a pal and take my new guests to their homes when you leave, would you?"
The omnipotent being returned my smirk with his own. "Not quite. Your Mission, regardless of whether or not you accept it, is to ensure the Health and Safety of your three guests for the next seven days. Should you succeed and not die in the process, I'll grant you… a wish."
I shot up to a straight standing position as the last word hit my ears. A wish. A wish backed by the power of Q. I could… I could-!
Q finished my thought aloud for me. "Yes yes, if you really want to waste your reward on curing your father, you can do so." He crossed his arms in front of his chest impatiently. "Now, do we have a deal?"
I moved the proposal around in my head, trying to see if there was any tricks in the wording, especially considering that this was Q I was dealing with. Then a half-second later I smacked myself in the forehead after realizing what I was trying to do. This is Q. This guy's been around longer than Earth has, and I'm trying to out-think him?! While we're at it, might as well call up God for a pizza.
Hearing the godling smother a chuckle brought me out of my self-deprecation and back to reality. While I'd like to say I had a choice now, if Star Trek was any judge, Q would go forward with whatever he was going to do regardless of whether or not I agreed. And if I did the sane thing and just ignored the problem and left those three to their own devices, I couldn't help but feel that I'd be doing something unforgivable. Which means…
I crossed my arms in front of me, matching Q's gesture and staring him in the eye. "Fine, I'll babysit three people for you for a week. How hard could that be?"
The omnipotent being answered me by suddenly causing a big flash of light, returning me back to my original standing position with my cellphone back in my hand, though I was still dressed and ready for work. As for Q, he was gone completely with no evidence left that he had even been there in my room.
Famous Last Words, my friend.
I could hear Jadzia's voice coming in over the cell once again, though it sounded a bit frustrated now, and put the device back next to my ear. "Yea, sorry about that Dax, someone was on the other line and I switched over without thinking."
"It's alright, Jon. You didn't really leave me hanging for more than a few seconds."
Seconds? Thought for sure I spent at least a few minutes talking to Q. "On another note, how exactly are we talking like this? Don't we need the UT for basic understanding?"
"Actually, I managed to patch my Com Badge into the phone system before I tried calling you to see if it worked. Though I might have a tough time reassembling the phone in time for checkout."
I blanched at that. "Well, uh, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Anyway, I'll meet up with you guys after I get off of my shift at work today, and we can take stock of what we all know so far. Sound good?"
There was a short pause on the other end of the line before the Trill spoke up again. "Do you think you might have an idea as to what happened?"
My eyes turned skyward with a sigh before I shook my head in resignation. "Lemme put it this way: I just got through talking with Q."
My guests called me again near the end of my shift that night with a request to bring something to eat when I arrived. Thankfully, feeding three people for seven days shouldn't be too great a burden on my bank account, given that Q'll help me pull off a 'miracle remission' of my dad's cancer after this. I just have to think of it as… paying it forward.
I showed up at the motel a little bit after nine, still in my uniform from Domino's, with a pair of pizza sitting on my right hand and a few drinks to help wash them down. As I walked up the stairs to the gang's room, I thought to just knock on their door and say hello, but my sense of humor suggested an opportunity to snag some laughs.
Which is why the moment Jadzia opened the door I said, "Not even interdimensional house guests can stop Domino's!"
I had thought the effect would be like all the times I pulled that bit for the people I had delivered pizza to in the past 3 years I had been with Domino's: big laughs from my target audience. Instead however I get one puzzled firebender, one devil hunter shaking like a leaf from smothering her giggles, and one Trill Starfleet officer asking me to get a life. Ah well, one out of three. The room itself was a simple twin bed option, with light wallpaper on the walls and a painted blue wood overlay at the bottom that linked up with the blue carpet upon the floor.
Iroh was sitting crosslegged style on the bed farthest from the door facing the TV, discovering the wonders of technology. Yohko sat on the opposing bed watching the Tube as well with her legs tucked up close to her chest and her head resting on her knees. Finally, the desk and chair on the far wall seemed to be where Jadzia had set up shop, as her Com Badge was sitting there opened up alongside various other bits of circuit boards and electronics tools.
"Sorry about that guys, but I just couldn't help myself." I apologized, cracking open one of the Arizona Green Teas I had brought with me before sitting down on the side of the bed that Iroh had commandeered. I focused on all the tech materials with a curious expression. Did I give Dax the money for this stuff? "Hey Dax, how'd you get the parts for this little operation of yours here?"
The Trill calmly walked back to her seat with something of an embarrassed grin on her face. "Well, suffice it to say I didn't pay for the parts. They were… gifts, from a fan of my work you might say."
I could feel a tick in my eye starting to develop. "So you ventured out into the world today, Jadzia?"
The grin faded from her lips before she stared at me with a slightly hardening expression. "Is something wrong with that?"
I met her glare with my own. "Besides the fact the only clothing you have is a two-day old Starfleet uniform that somebody is bound to recognize and a three hundred plus year old slug inside your belly? Not much."
Her glare morphed into a smirk as she turned her attention back to her current project. "Well, unless someone can scan me without my knowledge, my symbiote is easy enough to hide. As for the uniform, I guess I'm just that good a cosplayer."
For some reason, that casual flippancy of her situation really pisses me off. But before I could tear into her for it, Iroh suddenly let out a strangled cry of disgust. My head whipped over his way and I found the aging firebender holding one of the cans of green tea as far away from his person as his arm would allow. "What in all the world is this supposed to be?! It tastes like chilled leaf juice!"
I smirked at that. "Yes, Iroh, it's called tea. Interesting, isn't it?"
Iroh gave me a half-lidded stare for an instant before sighing aloud and gently placing the can upon the nearby night stand. "Jonathan, though your world is full of amazing technological marvels, it is quite clear your people know very little about the true wonder of tea. So tomorrow, as soon as we are able, I'll would ask your assistance in journeying to the nearest marketplace for some ingredients."
I felt faint as I heard that, doesn't he know what's riding on this?! "U-um, Iroh, I don't think that's a good idea really."
The old General cocked his head in confusion. "And why is that? I would think it very wise that we begin to acquire the lay of the land so that we might better integrate into this world."
I waved a hand in his direction to calm him, hoping he wouldn't notice my rising tension. "Ahh, It's not like you'll be staying that long, right?"
The aged firebender narrowed his eyes in my direction before allowing a smirk to grace his lips. "My friend, you wouldn't have been planning to keep us within this chamber for the next week, were you?"
Busted. I chuckled sheepishly at the spot-on accusation. "Um… no?"
Iroh just shook his head lightly while Jadzia and Yohko took their turns staring me down. I wilted slightly, but only a little. "Ok fine, bad Idea. But still-"
"Chi would kill me if I let this chance to see America go to waste, so don't even think of stopping me, Jon!" Yohko quipped, before she turned back to the TV. "Besides, I wanna see some American cowboys!"
"It would be nice to get some more components for these new Com Badges I'm working on…" Dax trailed off as she turned back to her work, hovering over her tricorder and new electronics tools.
I was cut off again as Iroh placed a hand on my shoulder. "I'm afraid you've been overruled, Jonathan. Come, let us sit and plan our outing tomorrow, and perhaps you can help me learn how Miss Yohko is altering the images on this Tea-Fee so expertly."
My shoulders hitched, then slumped in surrender while a small smile grew on my face. If you can't beat 'em… "Ancient Wisdom: 'Never surrender the remote without a fight.'"
I just hope work can deal without me there for the next few days.
As it turned out, my boss was actually rather understanding about the whole 'sudden family visit' I had to deal with. Sadly, that was the only thing easy about this impromptu guided tour, since Iroh, Dax and Yohko were still in the clothes they all showed up in a couple of nights ago. Which first meant one thing: New clothes for the lot of 'em.
… oh, my aching wallet. Even so, a deal's a deal, which was why I started the day by borrowing my mom's tape measure from her old sewing kit before hightailing it out of the house in the direction of the hotel. If it hadn't set in just yet, YES, I do still live with my parents, but these days it's more of a in-family apartment setting instead of me living off of their dime.
In any case, along with the needed measuring device so that everyone's size could be found and shopped for by my lonesome, was my laptop in it's handy carrying case so that the gang could plan their day during the time I was away. With a speed borne of three years spent at my job, I hopped out of the car once I arrived and made my way up the stairs to their room. Once at the right door, I used the keycard they had provided me so I could enter and leave at leisure.
As I walked in I noticed Iroh fiddling with the complimentary coffee maker and the sound of running water coming from the bathroom, so I made myself known to whomever was in there. "Heyo! It's Jonathan, ready to receive clothing requests and dropping off fancy technical gadgets!"
The voice of my favorite Devil Hunter rang out from the bathroom door. "Just a sec, Jon! Jadzia and I are still freshening up in here! Go play with Iroh or something till we come out."
I blinked in confusion. "What's she expect me to do, play Pai Sho with you?"
The aged firebender sighed wistfully from his position over the beverage maker. "Ah, if only we could. You have the look of a crafty player, my young friend."
A snort escaped my lips. "Shows what you know, man. I couldn't win at strategy games even if my life depended on it. Besides, I didn't think to bring anything to play with me when I drove over here."
Iroh waved it off with little concern. "Nothing to be concerned about. Come, I would like you to try a little experiment of mine." With that, the tea connoisseur pulled a full, steaming pot of coffee from the maker as well as two complementary mugs from the counter. He set the items on the table in the corner and motioned for me to sit down on the bed next to the table while he himself took the only chair. "I discovered this 'caw-fee' of yours this morning. A rather potent brew, very bitter and stimulating. It's made from ground up seeds, yes?"
Wow… he really is the master of tea. "Uh, beans actually. After they're harvested the beans are dried and sometimes roasted to give the brew a particular flavor." I gave my horsetail a tug before continuing. "It's too bitter for my taste though, I'm more of a soda/energy drink guy in the mornings, myself."
The retired general set both mugs on the table and began pouring a cup for himself and I. "So tell me, do you have any suspicions as to the why this 'Q' spirit has targeted you, and us, in this manner?"
I shrugged. "Trying to figure out Q is like trying to hit warp speed by running laps, ultimately useless and you exhaust yourself in the process."
Iroh nodded, accepting my point and took swig from his mug, which prompted me to do the same. Honestly, I expected it to taste like coffee I'd had before at the prompting of one of my friends, creamed and sweetened but still having a detectable bitterness to it.
Almost the very instant the brew passed by my lips, I jerked my head back from my mug. "Wha-? Dude, no way is this coffee. This is like… like! Like Not-Coffee!"
The aged firebender gave off a roar of laughter just as the bathroom door opened and the two visions of loveliness padded in with towels around their torsos and, in Yohko's case, one also wrapped around her head. "Sorry we're running so late, boys. It's been an interesting experience having a shower using water instead of sonic waves, so I lost track of time."
I smirked while discreetly adding the sight of the two girls to my long-term memory. "No Sweat, Dax. The God of Brewing over here was just showing off his method for putting Folgers out of business."
That earned me a raised eyebrow from the Trill scientist. "Oh? It's that good, is it?"
I nodded and passed my mug over to Dax, smirking as she took a hit from it, before her face lit up in a smile. "No way a replicator could make something like this."
The retired general gave a satisfied grin while I turned away just long enough to put aside my computer bag. When I turned my attention back in the girls' direction Yohko had just taken my mug from Dax and had a sip of it herself, before giving off a deep shiver in delight. "This is amazing! How'd you do it, Iroh?"
Iroh shrugged nonchalantly. "As I've always said to those who have asked, 'The secret ingredient is Love.'"
My eyes rolled around in my head before I continued speaking. "By the way, Ladies, at which point are the both of you gonna cover up those legs of yours better? Not that I'm not enjoying the view…"
Dax smirked and gave a wink before she turned back towards the bathroom as Yohko tried readjusting her own towel for better coverage. Which in hindsight proved to be a bad idea as the towel suddenly loosened and dropped away from her torso, revealing her feminine curves to all who might look her way at that particular moment. Which I was kinda already doing at the time of the surprise unveiling. Honestly though, it wasn't my fault that my voice could still work without input from my brain! "Whoa… Some things really do get better with age."
That was the last thing I knew for a while once Yohko's mind reset and she decked me into a sudden nap.
When I came to sometime later, the first things I noticed were the concerned brown eyes of my favorite devil hunter looking me over for any other damage she might've dealt me by accident. Maybe that was where we first started to see each other in a very different light…
Yea. Right. What d'you think this is, a fanfic? The first thing I saw when I finally came to was the ugly white speckled ceiling of the hotel room. As I slowly moved into a sitting position, I glanced around the rented room finding Iroh watching what looked like the History Channel with a now familiar steaming teacup in his hands. "Welcome back, Jonathan. For a time, I was concerned you might be sleeping the rest of the day. Care for some tea?"
"If it can cure a headache, sure…" I gave my head a shake before looking about the room, noticing that I was shy two of my three visitors. "Iroh, please tell me that the girls are in the bathroom or something."
"Actually, from what I understand of it, Miss Jadzia discovered how your funds were stored upon the...credit card, as well as how to release them from their confines."
My eyes widened to their utmost as my brain flatlined at that little gem of information. "She. Did. WHAT?!" My hands quickly flew to the back pocket of my jeans, only to immediately notice the familiar bulge of my wallet no longer there. "Dax and I need to have a talk about personal boundaries when she gets back. Not to mention compensation."
The retired general's cup had bounced into the air briefly before landing back where it started, but otherwise Iroh seemed otherwise unruffled by my sudden outburst. "My friend, I'm certain Dax will not overtax your funds given your eventual need of them once we depart. You must have faith."
Part of me felt like exploding simply on principle, but the calming presence of the firebender helped me keep my head. "Iroh, I know I should, but you have to understand something. If practically anyone from my own world found out how to access my bank account, they'd take everything they could without a second thought and many who learned of it would see me as in the wrong for not being careful enough. They'd be right, of course, but…"
The Dragon of the West nodded in understanding as he finished my sentence. "But still, such a loss would be devastating to you, especially as a reward for your kindness so far."
"Don't get me wrong, I know Dax wouldn't do anything on purpose, it's just the economy where she's from has been on easy mode for a rather long time." By this point, I'd noticed that I had risen to a standing position during this exchange and allowed myself to flop back down onto the bed with my legs crossed lotus style and my head lowered, thinking more about DS9 and Dax's universe in general. "It's kinda cool really, being able to travel to other planets like that. Used to be a dream of mine as a kid."
My eyes rose back up to see the retired general holding another cup of steaming liquid towards me with a smile. "Perhaps you could tell me some of Jadzia's world to pass the time until our lady friends return. From the sound of it, you admire her and her life quite a bit."
I grinned before taking a sip of the tea to wet my whistle. "You could say that. Well if you wanna know, Iroh, first you need to understand the scale of things Dax's used to. Guys, like you and me, we're used to travel between continents across the ocean. Folks like Dax are used to travel between planets across outer space."
The aged firebender's eyes widened slightly before turning his gaze skyward. "Travelling the heavens… it sounds quite romantic, indeed."
I nodded with a wistful sigh. "Honestly though the Star Wars universe, especially the Expanded Verse set during the Old Republic, is far more romantic in my opinion. Star Trek is more about the hard pseudo-science and the episode's mechanical surprise of the day." I gave a pause before continuing. "DS9, thankfully, was something of an exception to that given the whole Dominion War that started up in Season 3, which was where Sisko really started to-"
I trailed off as my eyes focused on my audience, who looked like he was nodding off slightly. "-er, sorry Iroh. I forget that not everyone is on the same page as me during one of my geekout attacks. Mind if I start again?"
Iroh suddenly snapped back to attention before nodding his consent. And for the next few hours, I helped someone from another world understand a space station I had never visited, but knew quite well.
The sun had long set by the time I heard someone knock on the door to the hotel room, seconds before it swung open. I turned that way expecting mountains of clothes, more shoes than what a centipede would have use for, and a dozen other scenarios…
…only to see the girls walk in with only a few bags between them, though Yohko's seemed a bit more varied in the store logos shown than Jadzia. Dax's uniform had been changed for a light green button-down blouse with long sleeves and a simple pair of khaki slacks. As for the young Devil Hunter, she was now sporting a short white skirt and a silver-grey T-shirt that actually had the yin-yang symbol emblazoned on the front. The breath I didn't know I was holding suddenly released with the realization that I probably wasn't destitute as was previously feared. Even so…
"Dax, mind telling me what the hell compelled you to yank my life savings and go on a shopping spree?!" I'd quickly stood up from my position on the bed after I had started speaking, and had quickly closed the distance between the two of us until my eyes were scant inches from her own. "I dunno about the Ferengi, but here on Earth, in this timezone we have an old saying for three things you never do."
I started ticking off my fingers as I began to recite. "Never mess with another man's Woman. Never mess with another man's Car. and Never mess with another man's Wallet."
Part of me was unsure how I could actually shame Dax of all people, but somehow some of what I was saying seemed to make it through as the Trill scientist let her head dip with a somewhat mollified expression. "I'm… sorry, Jon. I wanted to wait till you woke up, but at the same time I wanted to show you that Yohko and I can handle ourselves in this big, nasty city of yours."
...ok, maaaybe the whole 'Keep them in a small room for 7 days' plan was a bit stupid…
But before I could speak up to defend myself, Yohko tossed her bags onto the nearby bed before sitting down herself. "Besides, it's not like you weren't going to pay for these things anyway. What's it matter if you weren't there to watch us get what we wanted?"
I frowned, turning to the Devil Hunter as she began rifling through one of her bags looking for something. "Do you have an innate idea of how much money I have to spare? Or what bills I have to look forward to after you three are back where you belong? That'd be a start. Not to mention it's still rude to do to someone."
Her gaze suddenly shot up from her bag before locking onto my own, her eyes narrowing. "I'm being rude?! I'm not the one who stared at someone like they were a piece of meat!"
My mind ground to a sudden halt before my eyes mirrored Yohko's at the accusation. "If I honestly were staring like you were a buffet, I'd have to say it was due to the feast you laid out for me."
"Me?!" I flinched slightly at the shrill rebuttal from the young Japanese woman. "Are you saying I wanted you to see me?! You're a jerk and a pervert, aren't you?"
My teeth bared in a snarl before I moved forward till I was almost nose to nose with the Devil Hunter. "Oh yes! Blame me for bowing to the opportunity of seeing Yohko Mano in the hottest look she'll ever wear!"
As if someone flipped a switch within her mind, Yohko's face suddenly lost all the anger it had been showing before her cheeks grew rather flushed. Anything else she might've said to me was lost as the brown-eyed woman turned her gaze from mine, mumbling slightly to herself, before resuming her search through the bags she had brought in with her.
Dax took that as her cue to interpose herself between us. "Well, now that you two have cleared the air about that little misunderstanding, Iroh's almost ready. I was hoping we could see the inner metropolis first tonight, then some of the more interesting sights tomorrow. How's that sound?"
The aged firebender's voice rang out from the bathroom before Yohko or I could respond. "It sounds perfect to me, Jadzia." Iroh stepped out of the lavatory wearing only a pair of khaki shorts and holding two collared shirts, a plain red one and a super loud hawaiian styled one, floral print and all. "Tell me, which do you believe would look better: the red, or this stunning floral style?"
I took one look at the sizzling pink flowers over that eye-searing yellow cloth and knew that Hell was coated in this color scheme. "Iroh, you wear that hawaiian shirt outside and everyone in a 5-block radius is gonna go deaf."
Iroh looked puzzled for a moment before holding the affront to my vision right next to his left ear. "I cannot hear anything..."
I palmed my face with my right hand as Dax started giggling slightly. "If you wanna wear that one, go for it. I'll just avert my eyes when I'm speaking to you."
"Here they are!" The Devil Hunter suddenly cried out with glee, causing all of us to turn back her way. I swear, my wallet seemed to cry out in pain just as Yohko pulled out one of the objects of her searching through the many parcels and bags: a matte-black stiletto-heeled shoe. "Chi'll look so sexy wearing these!"
My hand clapped against my head again. "Yohko, it's crap like that that I should've been around for to approve of or deny! I'm up for giving you kids the essentials so you can look around my world without being noticed or getting into trouble, but I'm not a no-risk charge card for you to go on a bloody shopping spree with!"
The japanese woman gave a slight pout."But Jo~~on! Chi does need these! How else could she find a boyfriend if she can't make herself feel attractive!"
Before I could say anything else in reply, Yohko quickly moved right next to me and gave me one of the most heart-rending gazes she could in my direction. "Pleease Jon? You don't mind helping me make my best friend feel like a new woman, do you?"
Oh God, she's even doing that pouty lip/fluttering eyelash thing! That. Is. Cheating! "Gh-ehh… A-Alright, alright! I'll help, okay, just turn of the damn femme-power already!"
The young Mano woman bounced up and down happy as a clam, while I sulked slightly at being defeated by my own chivalry. But just as fast, a side of me came up with a rather nasty idea to get back at that little sneak play of hers. "One thing, Yohko, I expect a favor in return for this little 'Extreme Makeover' of yours."
The Devil Hunter's chocolate brown eyes focused back on me and my growing smirk, blinking twice. "Favor? What kind of favor?"
I moved up close before whispering in her ear, seconds before she blushed red and pulled away from me, stammering wildly. "It's either that, or no extra stuff. Besides, you did it in front of a metropolitan area before, how's doing it in front of me worse?"
In the end, Yohko relented to my terms, such as they were, and once Iroh had settled on the Hawaiian shirt (dear lord, my eyes) and khaki shorts, we were well on our way into the city proper. Thankfully, I remembered an old nightclub that I visited a couple of times a few years ago. It seemed as good a place as any to finish up the evening after showing my three guests the inner city of Dallas. I started out by driving them to the city center using the I-35N freeway, as the motel I had them bunking in was right at one of that route's off ramps. It was especially funny to hear Iroh geeking out over the buildings as we crossed the river.
"Incredible! Not even the Great Walls of Ba Sing Se could reach such heights. And with simple metal and glass, no less!" The aged firebender's enthusiasm was contagious inside the car cabin, as Jadzia and I were soon smiling along with him. Yohko, however, had a melancholy air about her and was just looking out her door window as the night scenery passed by. She had exchanged her new outfit for the familiar red silk cheongsam that she wore as a Devil Hunter.
Didn't take long for Iroh and Dax to notice how somber the young Mano woman was acting, though the retired general was the first to speak up about it. "Miss Yohko, what seems to be troubling you? Do you not find the towers of this city fascinating?"
The japanese woman's frown deepened before answering. "Ask Jon."
Not even a picosecond later I could feel the heat of the Trill Scientist's eyes boring into the back of my head. "Jonathan, what did you do to Yohko?"
I frowned, and would have stared right back at Dax were I not currently driving. "Hey, she knew the deal well in advance. If it was really that much of an embarrassment then she shouldn't have agreed to the terms and just accepted the fact she wasn't getting any extra clothes out of me. Not to mention, I got decked into La-La land just because I was present for Yohko's wardrobe malfunction earlier today. The way I see it I'm giving her a two-for-one sale, under the circumstances."
The Trill scientist gave off a confused reply, so I continued. "Lemme put it this way: There's a reason Yohko's in her work uniform right now."
Much to the Starfleet officer's credit, it didn't take long for her to guess what I meant by that. "You bartered that dress she wanted for her performing her transformation for you."
The young Mano woman's face flushed scarlet again as I gave off a rather loud cackle. Suddenly though, the light music coming from my car's radio was interrupted by an announcer coming on the airwaves. "All travelers in and around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area should be advised of the unusual rise in violent behavior since the morning of December 7. All drivers are advised to adhere to defensive driving procedures as a precaution and to avoid the freeways wherever possible. We now return you to you regularly scheduled programming."
I raised an eyebrow at that odd bit of news seconds before some jackass in a black and red muscle car roared past, clipping my bumper in the process. "Wha-? TH-That ASSHOLE!" My foot stomped down the accelerator till it was pressing tight against the floorboard, forcing my silver Nissan forward as fast as the engine could muster. That guy might be driving a massive masculine overcompensation, but no one does that to my car! I can barely hear the others shouting at me to slow down, but there's no way I'm stopping till I catch up to that jackass. Oddly enough, my car seemed to respond to my mental demands for more speed as the speedometer continued to climb. 80 miles an hour... 90… 100 miles an hour. I caught up to that affront to the driving code and was in perfect position to bump his rear bumper just so so that he'd go into the middle dividing wall. Heh, that didn't sound so bad now that I-
I felt someone's hand clap onto my shoulder, snapping me out of what I had been doing moments ago. At the same time, my car slowed back down to the 65 mph I'd been going before I had the run-in with the speed demon. Not that I could remember any of that at the time. "Wha? Where'd the black car go?" I glanced in Yohko's direction, noticing that she seemed rather concerned over what had happened earlier. "Guys, what just happened to me?"