part 2b

ANGEL DOM: The curse of chemical x

Part Four

Author's note

I'm trusting that you've read the first part first so I won't repeat myself too much here;

1) I cut this down into four parts after more than a few people (not all reviewed) thought it was a little too long. I realised that it is still quite large but it can not be cut down any further. I'm afraid this is as far as this story will ever be cut down by. I ask you to please be patient when reading it. This is Part four of four.

2) Powerpuff girls and all related characters are property of Cartoon Network.

3) My eternal gratitude and supply of Cherry bakewells to Nicole Sabatti for being such a fantastic friend. This fan fiction would have never been completed without her help. So thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!! Zoy!

4) I honestly believe that the story goes down hill from here so I'm not going to be surprised if you don't like it. I don't know why I bothered to write that as its completely irrelevant but hey.

&***********************************************************************************&

John was surprised to find Nick waiting for him in his cubicle when he was finally taken back. He was also happy to see that the curtain to Adam's had been closed so Nick, hopefully didn't know about him as of yet.

He smiled as best he could at his friend despite the anguish he felt. However it obviously wasn't enough as Nick picked up on it almost immediately. With a perception that far excelled his usual depth he said, "You've seen Fred."

John dodged the question, not wanting to start crying all over again. Subconsciously he wiped his eyes and hoped that they weren't as red and puffy as before and hid the note under the fabric of his gown. However no amount of effort could remove the permanent frown he wore. He looked around his cubicle with a confused expression, looking for something that he couldn't find.

"Where's your wheelchair?"

"I walked here," he replied cheerfully and John resented his ignorance. He didn't have to choose whether his best friend would live or die. "I don't need a wheelchair anymore. Besides, I'm getting chucked out tomorrow as are you."

"What!"

Nick blinked. "The hospital is too full and they need the beds. I don't know what you're complaining about. The sooner you, me, and Fred get out of here the better."

John looked away sadly. "Nick…"

"I can't wait to get home," Nick continued, stars sparkling in his eyes. "I'm going to eat ice cream all day!"

John looked away guiltily, not knowing what to say to his friend. He seemed a lot happier than last time. Perhaps the prospect of getting out of the country was just too appealing for him even if they might not all make it back. Somehow Nick was under the impression that Fred would be up and running soon as if he was only in hospital to be treated for minimal injuries. John didn't want to be the one to tell him that it was possible if not certain that Fred wouldn't be coming back with them.

"Nick," John started and his tone carried such a heavy weight of authority that Nick immediately ceased his babbling. "Fred is on life support. They say they can't do anything for him and that it's only a matter of time before he…" he stopped, clenching his fists. "We have to expect the worst, Nick."

Nick looked down sadly. "I was just trying to be optimistic."

"Don't be," John warned, setting his jaw. "There's something else too."

This caught Nick's attention. He looked up at John, his face a picture of confusion. Now was the time. John took a deep breath, intending to relay the information of the person next door and his true identity but when he went to do so he found that the words died on his lips. He looked away. He couldn't tell Nick that Adam was next door. He didn't know how he'd react and as much as he wanted to be realistic he didn't want to upset him anymore than he had to.

Nick mistook John's hesitation as sadness for Fred. He gave a smile designed only to comfort John.

"Um, he might…not heal straight away," John eventually said.

"He'll heal though."

Where Nick's new-found optimism had come from he didn't know but John wasn't going to stop him from having a little hope no matter how misplaced. If he didn't know any better he would have swore that Nick was only being optimistic so someone would contradict him. He supposed it was his way of indirectly asking what was going on with his fellow companions yet why he couldn't come right out and ask was beyond him.

John stifled a yawn; the lack of sleep and events of that day had exhausted him both physically and especially mentally. All he wanted to do now was crawl into bed, wrap himself into the covers and fall away into a blissful slumber land where he could live under the pretence that everything was fine.

"Um, I don't want to be rude or anything, "John started, interrupting Nick for the second time. He deliberately yawned this time, ensuring that Nick knew what he was getting at before he actually said it. "I'd like to get some sleep."

Nick nodded in comprehension but made no move to leave the cubicle. John cocked an eyebrow, wordlessly asking why he wasn't leaving.

"You say Fred is on life support?"

John paused, considering his answer. "Yes."

"Are we going to stay in a hotel or something because we can't leave him here."

"I suppose," John agreed.

He hadn't thought about what they would do after they got out of the hospital due to the fact that it seemed such a long time away. If he were to be honest he would admit that he didn't feel up to leaving the hospital as of yet but the burning desire to leave far overpowered his weakness.

Nick smiled wistfully. "I want to go home, but I'll wait for Fred."

Again they lapsed into silence. Once again he considered telling Nick about Adam but found he didn't have the strength. The last thing he needed was more hassles.

"I'll come see you in the morning."

He hopped off the bed; barely able to stay upright when he landed. He waved goodbye to John and slowly made his way outside.

John allowed himself a sigh of relief before slowly tugging himself into bed, not noticing the now greatly fluctuating beeps from the heart monitor next door.

&******************************************************************************************&

Even though his eyelids felt like dead weights and his body felt completely warn and exhausted, John couldn't get to sleep. Usually he tossed and turned when this happened to him (recently it was happening most frequently) but he didn't even have the energy to perform that simple task. Instead he remained still and lifeless, listening to the muffled noises of the other inhabitants of that ward. He had no idea what time it was exactly since he lost his watch to Fred. In all honestly he hadn't truly known the time since he woke up in the hospital. It was impossible to determine whether it was night or day in the windowless hospital and every clock he had seen so far on his travels had always been contradicted later by another one that was either hours behind or ahead of the previous one. In the end he decided that time was something he'd rather not know mostly because he didn't have much of a choice in the matter rather than he didn't care. Fred still held onto the watch he had bestowed upon him. Removing the watch now would be like breaking his side of the promise. If Fred was still holding on, the watch was still his.

He busied himself with these noises for what seemed like hours, wishing them to lull him into a nice and fitful sleep. They refused to do so and now he was on the verge of insanity.

He tried counting the amounts of dots on the wall. That lasted only a matter of time before he had actually counted them. After the dots came sheep however the sheep reminded him too much of Farmsville next door to his beloved hometown and that was something, as pleasant as it was, he didn't want to think about. Every memory he had of Townsville was linked with Fred, and every thought of Fred was linked with the life support machine, hopelessness, and a graveyard.

He couldn't run from his thoughts forever and in the end he relented, mulling very reluctantly over the torturous events of a very long day.

The first problem was that of Fred and how, or if, he would ever recover depending on the reply to that document. As Nick had suggested they would have to find accommodation in the city. That in itself wouldn't be a problem. Paying for it would. They had only bought a limited supply of money for the trip and none of the students were particularly wealthy. They were, after all, students and most money they had was loaned from Townsville bank and tied up in their studies. Fred could be in the hospital for God knows how long and he would need permanent care if the poisonous chemical x weren't flushed from his system.

Another strange thing that had come to him since Adam had first slammed the virus into his friend was the endurance Fred had shown. They had walked in the desert without water for days after he had been poisoned. Chemical x however was absolutely lethal and technically should have killed him on the spot. There was no way Adam, whose heart monitor could faintly be heard through his thoughts, could have diluted it as he wouldn't waste any precious water on them and he wanted, definitely wanted, Fred dead or at least hurting a lot.

Mission accomplished.

The second problem was when, and he would, tell Nick about Adam. If Adam survived then he would undoubtedly go back to Townsville but if he died…

Either way Nick would need to know about Adam. He would have to know that someone who was after the meteorite piece attacked him. How anyone knew they even had it was beyond him. Intentionally attacked? They couldn't have attacked him for the meteorite could they? How could any one possibly know that they had discovered it? They would have to be able to see them any time, any place, anywhere whenever they wanted to. That of course was ridiculous. No one could see everything unless you were God or…

He would have to be told that the man who left them for dead was currently fighting for his life next door.

The only question was when to tell him.

John didn't know which he'd prefer, Adam alive or Adam dead. He didn't wish anything bad on anyone but Adam's death may be a lot less stressful for the rest of them.

No.

He couldn't wish Adam something like that, even after what he did. It was wrong, it was inhuman, it was sick.

John felt as if the world was crashing down on top of him and no amount of thought or preparation could save him. As the sleep he so desired gently crept in to claim him, he decided that tomorrow would sort everything out and to just retreat into the safety of his mind. The document dropped to the floor, untouched.

He had no idea then how wrong he would be.

&*******************************************************************************************&

Everything that could go wrong was about to go wrong.

His fitful sleep was rudely interrupted by a great commotion coming from somewhere else in the hospital. He turned his head, burying it into the pillow in an attempt to drown out the irritating noise. He had yet to fully awaken from his peaceful slumber but the shouting, screaming and incessant high pitched scream of some machine flat lining was pulling him back to a world of consciousness he was just too reluctant to go back to. Eventually though the voices won out and he groggily opened his eyes.

Nick was standing next to his bed.

Is it morning already? he asked himself as he steadily arose from the bed. The headache had dimmed down to a small throbbing now, a vast improvement since yesterday. He felt a lot better in himself physically but this was dampened by the realisation that his problems were still very much apparent.

He ran a hand through his hair to comb it down a little. He looked at Nick who was dressed in his usual leather trousers and shirt, a welcomed change from the mundane desert clothing, an aspect of normality. What wasn't normal though was the expression he wore: a distant, shocked sadness.

Then the annoying sounds of the hospital filtered into separate, decipherable noises.

There was the usual banter from the other patients and doctors but it was much more panicked and louder than usual. It sounded like the doctors were rushing about the place, screaming at each other as they ran from one spot to the next. The most dominant noise though was not from the clear cries of the doctors demanding the resuscitator but from the piercing scream of a machine.

Next door.

"John, there's something I have to tell you," Nick said not even bothering to look him in the eye. Instead he kept a firm gaze on the curtain as if it were transparent. Tears were dripping steadily from his eyes and he wore a very pained expression.

Adam.

He knew.

John groggily flung himself from the bed. He pushed past a startled and sad Nick who tried to grab his attention and ripped open the curtain. He was almost run over by a swarm of doctors all of them cramming themselves into the next cubicle.

"Adam," John whispered.

They were everywhere, practically piled on top of each other in an attempt to reach the patient. The heart monitor was continuing its funeral march, proclaiming to the ward that another patient was about to be lost.

John stood in the fray, dumbstruck, heart pounding in dread and fear. The doctors continued to barge past him, each one falling into any available spot they could find.

The wailing continued.

"Ok give me some room, here," one doctor demanded. The group jumped back into the corridor. Now John could see Adam. His face was pale, almost serene. His chest bare as one doctor furiously applied the electric charge to his body. His body jumped. The heart monitor remained the same.

"Okay, again!"

John continued to watch. This battle was out of his hands. It was out of Adam's hands. It was out of the doctors' hands now.

They tried again. They failed.

"One more time!"

The fear and realisation was swelling, bulging, exploding from inside him as he watched the battle to save a fallen life. Watch. That was all he could do.

Watch as the doctors tried again and again to bring back the fallen body.

Watch, not help, as every attempt failed.

Watch as Adam's life slipped away.

Watch as Fred went the same way.

"One more time!"

He was helpless. He couldn't assist him.

"Adam!" He cried.

"It's not working!"

No, this wasn't happening. Adam had to survive. He had to.

"We're losing him!"

Adam clenched his fists. He made a simple promise that the tone of his voice told that he would die before he let that dream slip away.

"I'll show them."

They were losing him. The doctors were failing. "ADAM!"

"Please sir, stand back!" One doctor cried as he prised him away. John fought back, continuing to scream Adam's name as he pulled against the doctor. His weakness let him down and the doctor was winning.

"ADAM!"

"Please sir!"

He stopped crying. If only he could silence that machine as if he cried loud enough Adam would come back to them. Adam was a victim of this life, a product of neglect. He could have such a bright future. He was denied the luxury of friends, family and more importantly, love.

It wasn't his fault.

The machine continued to scream. John shook his head, trying in vain to ignore the tolling bell.

Adam…

"I want to be a scientist,"

John's heart froze in his chest. His body became numb. He felt like he was miles away from the scene, unable to help. Adam was walking away into the darkness.

"No…"

"I'll be recognised world over. People will love me for my discoveries. I'll win the Nobel peace prize!"

Then the fray became deathly still. They stood, exchanging gazes.

They stepped back from the bed.

"I promised myself that I would achieve something that he couldn't and science was my best bet. I'll show them all who's the better sibling,"

One doctor stopped in front of John. She stopped, smiling weakly. "We tried."

The high pitched scream was cut short. They turned off the machine.

"I'll be loved."

John collapsed to floor, unable to believe what he had just seen. He watched in shocked desperation as they pulled the cover over Adam's face. They closed the curtain.

Adam had tried to take their lives in order to keep the meteorite. Who would have thought that fateful irony would claim his before any one else.

Then John whispered a few sentimental words, his farewell to the man no one understood.

"We forgive you."

And John meant it, every little word.

&**************************************************************************************&

Nick hadn't moved from his spot which made getting John back into his bed more than a little difficult. Nick's head was buried in his hands, his body weakly trembling. Doris had tried to snap him out of it but with no success at all.

John remained silent. It had been so quick, so rushed. He knew Adam was weak but he wasn't expecting this. It had happened so quickly. Like that. A flash. Now he had to deal with Nick and at the current moment in time he wasn't sure that he could. He was holding himself together with a thin thread that knew would unravel if subject to any more emotional turmoil.

They sat in a thick, impenetrable silence. Nick was staring blankly at the curtain; John was staring blankly at him. The heavy depression of that morning's events hung palpably in the air, ten times more virulent than the depression of the desert when the prospect of death was a only a likely option rather than facing the blunt fact that one of them was gone forever. Adam had left them to go into another world but not before he brandished his name in the memories of those teenagers he left behind.

John had little time to dwell on the reason why Nick had been in his cubicle as his mind was a twisted maze of tangled questions that clouded his usually penetrative perception and replaced it with an inaccurate and fragile grip on reality. Never the less the thought eventually broke free from the shackles of his thoughts long enough to get his attention. He wondered momentarily if he should even bring it up at all as it was hardly appropriate.

The atmosphere was becoming increasingly uncomfortable between the two. One of them would eventually break but who was going to be the one to do so was another matter and both were reluctant to attempt it.

John was determined that he wasn't going to be the one to speak first. Nick was either angry, sad, or perhaps an oscillating mixture of the two and John knew that he couldn't explain himself to his friend simply because he felt he had nothing to explain.

It was like a tactical game of chess. John knew that choosing silence over words would be a much more powerful technique.

As expected, Nick spoke first. "You knew that Adam was here, didn't you?"

Nick was sat at the end of the bed, back turned to his friend whereas John was lying down and staring blindly at the opposite end. Although John couldn't see any noticeable change in Nick, he could definitely sense it.

So, it began.

"Yes."

Honesty was the path John must follow for lying to Nick would not achieve anything now.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

John shrugged even if Nick couldn't see it. "Didn't know how you'd react. I was worried…"

Nick cut him off. "I guess you're wondering why I was here earlier than planned."

John crossed his arms as he tried desperately to rid himself of the echoing cry of the heart monitors last stint. The thought of Fred going through that made him shake in fear.

"The thought had crossed my mind."

It wasn't a usual trait of Nick's to be so malicious and cold even in the wildest extremes of his mercurial temperament but these were hardly ordinary circumstances that they were in. However Nick was, in essence, one of the gentlest people John knew and somehow anger didn't suit him. His steel edged tone spoke of an unreleased anger but it seemed rather hollow and misplaced in his words.

Nick didn't move a muscle as he gently stated, "I went to see Fred."

Things were about to get worse.

Like Doris earlier there was some unspoken implication that hung from that statement that John didn't like one bit.

"Oh?"

The discomfort was amplified when Nick, who was now shuddering weakly, didn't answer to John's prompt. John continued to frantically entwine his fingers around each other as he fought against the building feeling of his well-known enemy; fear.

"Nick?"

Nick raised his head. Tears were spilling freely from his eyes. "He's… gone."

The words struck John like a thousand poisoned blades, each one piercing on a level that would never heal.

"He's…"

John faltered that heartless shriek of the heart monitor echoing throughout his mind. After all they had been through, after the lengths they had gone to save him, all of that was in vain? A pointless attempt to save a fading friend from fate? All of those happy times they had. All the scraped they had both got in and out of. All of it, everything, it was…over?

Erased by the cruel hand of death.

Over…

No one was with him when he died.

"I think you misunderstood me John," Nick said as he fiercely twisted a paper towel until it tore. "It isn't a euphemism."

John blinked away the tears that had built up in the short period where he had mourned for his friend. As he spoke his voice was punctuated with barely restrained sobs.

"You mean, he's not dead?"

John looked up hopefully, wanting, no, needing to hear that his friend was alive and well.

"Worse."

What could be considered worse than death, John didn't know. "Worse?" he asked just to make sure he had heard correctly.

"I meant it literally," he turned his head slightly, tears sparkling in his eyes also. "He's gone. The doctors went to check up on him this morning to find his bed was empty but it gets even worse."

John honestly didn't know how this situation could get much worse but he knew from his experience so far on this vexed mission that he was about to find out.

Nick didn't disappoint.

"They found a huge circle in the wall that led outside. The strange thing was that it was a perfect circle. The debris was found on the outside, so someone broke out rather than in. They speculate that it must have been dynamite but there's no way it could be formed that perfectly and not be heard."

John froze when he realised what Nick was hinting at. "Are you saying…"he paused, finding the words strangely foreign, " that Fred did it?"

Nick didn't say a thing.

"He couldn't have done it, Nick. He was in intensive care for goodness sake. He was dying last night and in the small space of a few hours he suddenly completely healed, blew a perfect circle into the hospital wall without any explosives and escaped into the night. Are you saying that chemical x gave him super powers? That's absurd." John didn't realise how loud he had become until he reached the end of his sentence. He lowered his head and voice simultaneously. "I'm sorry Nick. This is all too weird for me."

"It doesn't change the fact that Fred is gone, John," he replied indignantly.

Fred was out there, alone only hours after the doctors declared they were going to kill him.

It did didn't make any sense.

Nick stood up.

"I booked our flight back to Townsville. We have to get going in an hour. There's no reason for us to stay here anymore."

John leapt from his bed, landing a forceful hand on his friend's shoulder to stop him from leaving. Nick turned, not angered but saddened by the violent move made.

"We can't leave Fred here!" John challenging, adopting his "obey me or else" tone. "He could be in dying in the street. He could be injured, he, he could be…"

"Dead," Nick finished. He put a hand on top of John's kindly. "If Fred's gone anywhere it's back to Townsville. There is nothing for him here."

During previous battle and arguments Nick had folded out of fear of being argumentative but it was apparent that wasn't going to happen this time. John wasn't sure if it was because Nick valued home too much to allow it to slip away from him and the idea of being in Townsville was too much to resist. Nick wasn't the best negotiator therefore wasn't prepared to tangle with John over the subject for the risk of losing the fight. He had a point. John just hoped he was right, as for him there was no life in Townsville without Fred.

"What if he hasn't?" John asked softly as he watched the slide show of a few happy memories where the three of them were together, their laughter echoing hollowly in his mind.

"I want to go home!" Nick suddenly winged, losing all patience. He stabbed a pointed finger into his chest softly. "I've had it with this place. It has too many bad memories for us. It was a waste of time. One of us is dead, the other missing presumed dead and the other two will spend the rest of their life trying to mend the irreparable damage that was done here." Nick breathed deeply after his emotional outburst. Hit bottom lip wobbled with the effort of holding back the tears and his whole body was shaking. John offered a few kind reassurances but Nick pushed away from him.

"I want to get as far away from Adam as I can."

"Hey!" John cried, pointing warningly in his direction. "He's dead. Have a little respect."

Nick refused to listen. "Respect?" he scoffed. "Don't you remember that he left us in the desert to die and just because of some stupid yearning to be accepted?"

Both of them were becoming enraged at the other for reasons they didn't really know. Deep down inside they knew that they were only venting weeks worth of emotions and neither was taking the insults, as they weren't meant for them. It felt good to pour out some of that energy, to finally confide in someone and not worry of being shunned. It was like a mournful euphoria that they didn't want to deny themselves.

Outside of their private cubicle the muttering of the masses had been drawn to a temporary halt as they eavesdropped on theirs resulting in a stifling silence for all except the two men. The curtain trembled on more than a few occasions where presumably a mixture of patients and doctors who were listening were accidentally pushed against the fabric.

John couldn't care less. They could tape it, perhaps even join in for all he cared. It didn't matter to him.

"It wasn't his fault," John insisted, not really knowing why he was defending Adam after all he had done to them. It would have been easy to turn around and scorn him like Nick, but John couldn't find it within himself to do so. Tears of relief were cascading down both of their faces now as the realisation hit home.

Fred was missing.

Adam was dead, killed by someone who was after something specific.

They were going home.

"Adam was like a forest fire. You don't blame the fire for destroying the forest but the one who started it. His parents."

"But a fire doesn't have a conscience," Nick argued, gesticulating frantically to get his point across. "A fire doesn't have morals, it doesn't have a soul, a, a knowledge of what's right and what is wrong. Fire doesn't have free will. Adam did."

John shook his head. "You don't understand," he said softly. "Adam was intentionally attacked. Someone took the chemical x, the meteorite and left all his valuables. He was a victim too. Just like us."

Strangely Nick calmed. Suddenly the curtain was pulled open catching both of them off guard. Doris stood before them, offering evil glares to every patient and doctor who had listened into the argument. They proceeded to wilt at her gaze, before walking away, whistling no less in an attempt to look innocent. She gave them all another glare before pulling the curtain back across and dumping a large bag onto the bed.

"You two are quite the little entertainers aren't you? We should get you a T.V contract," she said dryly.

She gestured towards the things on the bed. "These are yours."

"They're not all mine," John argued. "There's way too much."

Doris pointed to the now reoccupied cubicle that once belonged to Adam. "Some of it was what's his names. We thought you should have it."

She pushed the bag towards them. Nick and John exchanged uncertain glances.

"Why?" Nick asked. "There's nothing you could possibly offer us from there."

Doris smirked. "Well it's yours anyway. All of those water containers."

"Well I don't think we'll need…" John screeched to a halt. "Water containers?"

"This." She plunged into the bag, fishing around for the item. She gave a little "ah!" when she found it and she withdrew them.

John couldn't believe his eyes, ears or any other sense in his body. The chemical x that they had found such a long time ago was back in their possession. It glittered in the synthetic light, untarnished by their earlier scientific administrations.

The string of four water containers, each one with a faint 'x' carved on the metal lid was pushed towards them. "Want them?"

John and Nick stared on, chins practically reaching the floor in amazement. John wanted so much to reach out and touch them but feared they would vaporise at his touch so he hung back, arms twitching as he restrained himself.

"Chemical x," he breathed in complete awe. He snapped out of it. "I thought that other person stole it."

"He must have taken the one on his belt," Nick offered grudgingly. "Do you remember? Adam had one on his belt and the others were in the backpack. He took it out to fill up the needle remember. They must have grabbed the meteorite and took off as he must have been holding the meteor at the time."

"You mean the attacker took only one bottle of the chemical x because he thought that was all we had."

"Right," Nick agreed.

This time he couldn't restrain himself and he lent towards the containers. He held his breath, only allowing himself to breathe after his fingers fell on the cool surface.

Nick looked down at his wristwatch and gasped. "It's time to go."

"Can't say it was nice having you here," Doris said before disappearing without a second glance. After a few seconds of awkward silence Nick said, "Come on, John. Let's go home."

&********************************************************************************************&

John didn't really register anything on the plane journey back home. He vaguely remembered the hostesses ushering him onto the plane and getting very angry with him when he refused to comply, and he faintly remembered Nick's constant, unbearable silence every time John pulled out one of the containers of chemical x.

He was out of it completely, too caught up in his own personal thoughts to be concerned about the events in the outer world. On two occasions it had almost cost him his life as he had walked straight in front of moving traffic and if it hadn't been for Nick's intervention he would have joined Adam in the realm of the dead.

He remained silent and stony even as the plane took to the star studded sky. He took one last moment to stare at the land he never wished to see again. However he wasn't met with a feeling of relief as he expected but with an unconscionable sorrow. Fred might be still down there, alone, dying, waiting for help. John couldn't help but think that he should have stayed behind just in case but that was completely impractical. He couldn't afford to stay in the hotel with his wages already depleted and

even if he did Fred would have no idea where to look for him and visa versa. As much as he hated to admit it, Townsville was the best bet of finding Fred again.

Some external force whispered something to him. Fred would be the one to find him, not the other way round.

He wondered if he would ever see him again.

He didn't inform Nick of his feelings though. They had both lapsed into a beautiful silence to dwell on their own personal, private thoughts.

They only exchanged the minimal amount needed during the flight.

The next thing he knew he was rushing through Townsville airport trying to catch his bags, and then he was outside, standing beside Nick as they waited for the taxi to take them home to the university grounds.

The night was incredibly chilly although anything below 30 degrees was considered chilly to him. It didn't help that it was early winter either as the freezing night air made both of their teeth chatter. The rustling of the trees, the darkness of tarmac and the hustle and bustle was a welcomed change.

They hadn't seen Fred at the airport.

They hadn't seen Fred period.

John dived into his backpack to grab another complimentary peanut from the hidden stash in his backpack when his fingers brushed against something foreign all together. It was a book. He halted in his actions, took off the backpack and opened it up on the pavement getting a few odd looks from others.

"What on earth are you doing?" Nick asked absently as he gestured futilely at another taxi that, just like the others, completely ignored him.

"Looking for something."

His fingers once again came onto rest on the small book. He yanked it out. It was a tiny address book with a broken lock hanging loosely at the sides. The red covers had been tarnished and drawn upon with a heavy black liner in indecipherable scribbles.

Adam's address book.

Nick looked up to wait for another taxi, his breath turning into little clouds as he exhaled.

"I guess it's over for now. Well, until next month."

"Next month?" John asked, studying the booklet carefully.

"Exams," Nick said. "Fred will be back before then. You know how much he wanted to graduate. He wouldn't miss it for the world."

Somehow John knew that wasn't going to be the case.

A weak reassurance but a reassurance none the less.

The lock released with a satisfying click. John opened the book, still crouched on the ground as he flicked through the pages.

They were blank.

"Creepy, but not surprising," Nick mused as he caught a glimpse of the diary. "He must have been hoping to fill it up."

John leafed through every single page, stopping abruptly at the letter M. He turned the book away from Nick before making his way back to the letter D and then U.

"We're in here," John told him, his heart feeling a little warmer towards Adam. "Look," he said, thrusting it into Nick's face. "You, Fred, Me, he put our numbers in here."

"How did he get our numbers?" Nick asked but was promptly ignored.

John looked down more closely at each entry. A faint pencil mark was next to each one.

"Don't you get it, Nick?" He asked sadly. "Adam considered us his friends. He even put the date he got our numbers next to them. Look, that's before the expedition."

"I get it," Nick said. "So it was that meteorites fault after all.

John sighed with exasperation. "In a way, yes."

"Look under S," Nick commanded.

John quickly obeyed and flicked his way to the specified letter. There was one entry there but it came complete with an address.

Harold smith.

Nick nodded a little sadly. "I guess he'll want to know what happened."

"That's right next to the Johnson's house," he told him, pointing at the barely intelligible scribbles.

John stood up, burying the address book into the deep lining off his coat pocket. He glanced at Nick who was now running his hands over his arms in an attempt to heat up.

"Oh, I could really use a desert right now."

John cringed.

A noisy and very rusted taxi came to a stop in front of them. "Ours." Nick stated. He motioned to get into the taxi but was prevented by John.

"What are you doing?" he asked when he refused to budge.

With absolute resolve John entered the taxi first and a confused Nick followed close behind. He leant forward to the driver and whispered an unheard address to him before sinking back into the lining.

"You are so predictable," Nick whispered, folding his arms over his chest. "He's taking us to Harold's house isn't he?"

John grinned sheepishly and began nervously scratching the back of his neck. "You said someone had to tell him."

"Rather you than me," Nick said, indicating he wanted nothing more to do with this. John wasn't angry, if anything he was expecting it. Nick had come a long way considering how much he detested Adam at one stage and was surprised at how mellow he was being about the whole situation.

"I'll walk to the university after I'm done," John said. "I need the exercise."

&******************************************************************************************&

It had taken about an hour for them to reach Harold's house, twenty minutes longer than it should. Traffic had been terrible that day.

The taxi came to a squeaky halt outside of the house. It looked completely ordinary, mundane, like every other house he supposed. Children's toys were littered all over the front lawn and they glistened in the weak moonlight.

John took a deep breath. He reached for the door.

"John…"

He turned just as he was about to exit the taxi. Nick stared back, a worried expression on his face.

"Tell him," he paused, searching for the right words. "Tell him… I'm sorry."

John smiled thankfully. He gave a quick congratulatory pat to Nick before slamming the door closed.

He watched it disappearing, waiting until the taxi was long gone before he even considered walking towards the front door. Of all the challenges he had to face so far, he believed this one was definitely up the top. He cursed himself for being so sentimental, so caring. A policeman should do this, not him. He wasn't trained.

He took one step up the winding path that led to the door. It was strange and unique as it didn't cut straight to the door but instead meandered. The only possible purpose for such a path was to perhaps travel past an assortment of floral arrangements but as he travelled along the path he found that there were no flowers anywhere along the path. Perhaps they had died, unable to grow in the infertile soil that was their garden.

He reached the door.

He knocked.

At first there was no response from inside. The light was inside was spilling out onto the lawn so he knew that they were in. He could hear the faint rumble of a T.V.

Privately, John Utonium swore that he had to be nice to this Harold Smith, no matter what. They were, after all, going to become neighbours and he felt Harold would need a little support when he discovered that his brother had died. He made it a private vow as he stood, chest puffed out in an attempt to appear hence feel brave that he would give Harold Smith every benefit of the doubt until he was proved otherwise. Just because Adam went insane didn't mean to say that Harold would too and until he proved John wrong he would be as kind and polite as any friendly neighbour.

He would keep that promise until Harold smith proved himself a danger.

He knocked again, his resolve melting away as each second passed.

"Harold! There's someone at the door!"

"Can't you get it Mary Anne, honey? I'm watching the television."

"You can watch your little cops and robbers show later Harold after you answer the door! " John visibly cringed at the commanding tones in that woman's voice. After a few hesitant seconds the male replied. "Alright."

Seconds later the door was cracked open. John smiled weakly at the glassed coated eyeballs that glared at him.

"What do you want?" he demanded through the miniature crack.

"Um, hi," John looked into the sky looking for some sort of inspiration. What could he say?

"Uh, Hi, I'm John Utonium, I'm a student at Townsville University…"

"Your point is?" The man prompted.

John faltered. He seemed a lot shyer than Adam and from the small portion that he could see of him they looked completely different. Harold Smith, from what he could tell was quite a bald man with a few odd wisps of brown hair swept over the top instead of the luxurious blond bangles that Adam owned. He wore thick spectacles with tiny black dots as eyes. The fact that he hid behind the door and was so suspicious about strangers approaching him spoke volumes about his personality. He appeared weak and rather scrawny compared to the muscular frame of his younger brother. John even looked at the address book again just to make sure he had the right house. They were two completely different people. How could anyone compare them?

"Can I come inside?"

The eyes narrowed.

"Why?"

John sighed. "I have some news that you really need to be sitting down to hear."

The door closed on him. He heard the sound of a fumbled attempt to unlock the key chain. The door reopened.

Now John got a closer look at Harold. He was as scrawny as he had thought and was adorned in a rather boring shirt, tie and trousers. He watched John like a hawk as they walked into the living room almost as if he was expecting him to pull out a gun and attack him. He was relieved, momentarily, to find a nice armchair that he could sink into. However, the ceaseless, piercing gaze of Harold Smith stuck to him like glue.

Despite the uncomfortable setting he had willingly thrown himself into, John couldn't help but think of Fred. The living room, like the lawn was completely coated with small children's toys, many of them designed for boys in a very dangerous fashion. Pins, Fire trucks and army men stuck out of every available crevice and he almost screeched when he narrowly avoided landing on a much spikier plaything.

The woman he heard from earlier suddenly trotted into the room. She was adorned in a simple yellow dress that was being put under strain by the bulging pregnancy and, unlike her fiancé a warm and welcoming smile. John was glad that some one in the house had the ability to smile. She sat herself on the sofa next to him whereas Harold sat on an individual armchair now lost in front of a shoot out (whether fictional he couldn't tell) on the television.

"Hello," she said cheerfully, beaming a dazzling smile at him. John merely smiled; glad that she was engaged and therefore wouldn't resort to his prize winning and critically acclaimed chat up line of the repetition of the word "I".

"I haven't seen you before," she turned to Harold who was smiling as one police car exploded on the screen. "Harold!"

"What!"

"Who is this guest?"

"I dunno."

He turned back to the T.V. screen.

John sighed inwardly. This was not going as planned. He stopped one critical comment from the woman, as he didn't want to be caught in a full-scale argument between the couple.

"My name is John Utonium, Miss…"

She smiled brightly. "Please call me Mary Anne. I hope you don't think me rude but why are you here?"

John purposely ignored the euphoric "yay" from Harold when a string of policeman were shot and answered the question. "I'm afraid I have some bad news about Adam Smith."

"Who?" Harold asked absently and John was sickened.

"Adam Smith?" He prompted, scowling slightly. "Scientist. Goes to university?" No response. "Your brother?"

Harold blinked. "Oh, erm I think you got the wrong house."

"Harold!" Mary Anne scolded. "Adam is your younger brother, remember dear?"

He waved his hand into the air to show that this was irrelevant. "Yeah, yeah what about, um…"

"Adam."

"Yeah him."

John looked away. He wondered if Harold knew about Adam's deep psychological problems and, more importantly, if they even cared. Adam's whole universe rotated on Harold, his hatred for his elder brother but little did Adam know that it wasn't the same for him. Harold didn't even know Adam existed, like he was just some statistic, a disposable person who inconvenienced him by being in his life.

John took a deep breath. "I'm afraid that Adam met with an accident during the journey." He paused to check if Harold was still listening. He was but John believed it was more out of curiosity than out of care. "Well," he started again. " I'm afraid he didn't make it through. He…died a few days ago. I'm very sorry."

The TV volume rocketed as another explosion occurred. "Sorry," Harold apologised. "I missed that last part."

"Your younger brother is dead!" John yelled, bolting upright from the sofa. He expected some sort of reaction but didn't get one from either.

Mary Anne approached him, that smile still present on her face. "Thank you for coming to tell us. It was very kind of you." She glared at Harold disapprovingly.

Now he didn't care what was going on. He just wanted to escape and he wanted to escape now.

"I'd better be going. You have my condolences." He bowed in respect.

Mary Anne smiled. "I recognise you from the real estate agency. I'll put a good word in for you for the house next door maybe then we could have tea?"

John smiled weakly, the best he could muster.

"Thank you."

He left the house.

&****************************************************************************************&

John didn't have the energy to walk back to the university and unfortunately he didn't have the money to grab a taxi. He considered going back to Harold's home and asking if perhaps he could use the phone but found that he didn't want to be around them anymore. In many ways Harold was as deep into insanity as Adam and, due to this connection, John determined that Harold would just be a little lonely and, like Adam just needed a friend or two to get him back to normal.

Again he reminded himself of his promise; to treat Harold Smith like a brother, to pretend everything was fine and dandy in order to convince Harold the same applied to him. The disturbing meeting in the house had shook the foundations of his promise just minutes after its birth. However he would diligently guard this promise until the very end and, again, until he was proved wrong. He may have been too late to save Adam, but perhaps there was still hope left for Harold.

Years later, he would be proved horribly wrong.

With out any money or energy John wondered over to the old Johnson's house, the relatively small three bed roomed house that he had put a bid in for. He silently walked into the back garden and collapsed underneath the blossom tree that was showering petals down upon the green coloured earth.

There he stared once again into the stars, pondering the events as he had done so many times before. Only this time he was truly alone. There would be no doctors barging in to take a blood sample, or no Nick telling him to wake up to start the next stint of the journey…

No Fred to laugh and joke with…

He buried his head into his hands, nestling them together to encourage a little warmth.

Fred.

It had all happened so quickly. Adam's death, Fred's disappearance, coming back home. All of it had happened within the space of 24 hours. It had flashed by so quickly, confusing the scientist.

He didn't know what happened at that hospital, how a person on life support could suddenly get up, walk away, blow a hole in the wall and disappear into the night. Fred would never abandon his friends either. John knew he wouldn't. It wasn't in his nature.

And Adam's murderer had intentionally attacked Adam to get the chemical x. What was this lobster creature that was seen at the crime scene, and did they deliberately attack Adam just to get the chemical x, and if so why did they leave 80% of it behind? Nick had suggested that perhaps they thought they had it all, which was the most feasible explanation. John couldn't imagine why they would attack Adam to get the chemical x and then leave the majority behind. That was just idiotic.

It was strange to think that somewhere in the world, Fred was out there. What he was doing, John didn't know but if he knew Fred, and he was sure that he did, it would be for a good cause. John didn't know when he would see Fred again, if ever, and this thought saddened him to braking point. But he knew, somehow, that Fred was alive. He had to be.

They had made a promise. As long as he had the watch, Fred was alive.

Silently he dug out on container of chemical x, staring at it evenly underneath the night sky. Had this simple substance caused Adam to break? Had it caused Fred's disappearance? Was this truly the cause of all their woes these past few weeks?

John pulled his legs to his chest and rested his head on his knees, staring at the rolling green field.

They had all come so far.

To think that a couple of weeks ago he was laughing and joking with Fred and Nick. They were happy, ignorant, blissfully happy…

He bit back the urge to cry once again and raised the container of chemical x into the stars from where it came. He wasn't the only one with the strange liquid though, and as he swirled the liquid around in the container he found himself wondering what the other person was doing with their share of the chemical x and why they thought it was important enough to kill for.

He had no idea what power that strange liquid held.

He couldn't throw it away but he was determined not to profit from it. He could not afford to draw attention to the chemical lest he draw the attention of the murderer and then he and Nick would go the same way as Adam. He made a silent promise to himself that he would buy the old Johnson house as Fred would then know where he lived. He would build that laboratory in the basement no matter what and he would store the chemical x in the darkness of that basement for when fate decided to call upon it again.

&********************************************************************************************&

The End

There is a sequel in the pipeline to this just in case your wondering why some things are left unexplained. Um, please R&R, as I'd really like to know whether you're interested in a sequel and what you thought of this one.

Thanks for reading!

Love,

The Ice Princess