A Bond Unbroken

Author's Note - Hello again to all the other fans in the Fillmore section. Why am I starting another fanfic? Well, technically, I've had this written for an era, but I've been hesitant to post it. (The fact that this fic's a few months old explains why it has such a similar plot to a lot of other Fillmore fics out there, you know, where Ingrid gets hurt, etc. Usually, if a plot line's been done already, I don't attempt it as well). "Band of the Bandits" will be continued soon, as soon as this resounding case of writer's block takes a leave of absence from my skull. In the meantime, I'm looking for ways to name the Fillmore/Ingrid pairing. Reformshippy, maybe? They were both juvenile delinquents before becoming the heroic, justice-ly safety patrollers we know them as today. And guess what? That little rant foreshadows the presence of F/I deep within the fic. Unfortunately, you'll have to read the whole thing if you want to get to the deliciously fluffy inner core. And that's really all I have to say, so quit readin' the author's notes and skip ahead to the bold print directly below them.

Part One - Prelude to a Grim Predicament

POLICE LINES. DO NOT CROSS.

Cornelius Fillmore felt his jaw drop as he saw the yellow tape border-lining the school premises. It wasn't the tape itself that startled him. He saw that same yellow tape almost twice every week, for one reason or another - but never before was it being hung by actual policemen. Sure enough, a single police car was seen parked outside X's front doors, with every student outside and clustered around it.

"Dog. Looks like something bad went down. Real bad." Fillmore murmured. Immediately, he started imagining the extremes. Maybe someone had stolen from the school vault, or perhaps Folsom had a heart attack. No, no, wait, forget that, she was standing in front of the school, hands on her hips. But her back was turned, so Fillmore couldn't judge the situation by the look on her face.

"You better check it out." Mrs. Fillmore encouraged him. "It looks serious."

The anxious boy wrangled his way out of the seat belt and swung open the car door.  As he trotted towards Jr. Commissioner Vallejo, he hurriedly threw on his favorite gray jacket, as it was a tad chilly outside. His left arm went through the final sleeve as he slowed to a stop beside the Safety Patrol. Ingrid appeared to be absent, but Fillmore didn't dwell on it too long; she was sometimes late for school on those days when her dad, an esteemed professor, stayed behind to experiment a few extra minutes.

"So, what's the crisis today, Vallejo? Sorry I'm late. We hit some traffic down by..." His speech came to an abrupt halt when he noticed his comrades' somber expressions. The rest of the Safety Patrol was clearly avoiding eye contact, staring down at the light layer of snow on the cold cement below them. Karen Tehama was stealing glances at the school every few seconds, biting her lip. She looked like she was about to cry. Joseph laid a hand on her shoulder subconsciously, but he knew it wouldn't help much. Even O'Farrell, who was usually bright and chipper, seemed dispirited. He stood there silently, using his fingers to nervously twiddle with his sash, his entire body quivering visibly. "Hold up! What's going on?!" Fillmore demanded, feeling a sudden pang of worry strike him hard in the heart. He could feel himself start to tremble; he was dreading their reply. It was something horrible, he could tell just by the looks on their faces.

Joseph Anza opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn't find his voice. He gave a melancholy sigh, and instead just grumbled forlornly as he lowered his head to face the ground once again. The remainder of the Safety Patrol shot a desperate glance at Vallejo, and shortly, the Junior Commissioner had been elbowed to the front.

"It... It's Ingrid, Fillmore." Vallejo's voice was quiet and solemn, and lacking the usual, bossy lisp it normally had. He raised a hand to his forehead, as if he were having a splitting migraine.

"WHAT?!" Fillmore could feel his worry turn to mindless panic as he reached out to latch his commissioner around the collar. Vallejo was, of course, startled by this sudden display of behavior, and had the situation been different, he would've booted him out of the Safety Patrol on the spot.

"Hey! What are you..."

"What happened to Ingrid?!"

Vallejo lashed out at Fillmore's arm in an attempt to pry him off of his collar, but the officer's grip only tightened. "Let... Go...!" He choked out. "Have you gone mad, Fillmore?!"

"What happened to Ingrid?!" 

Both boys stayed in that same stance, eyes narrowed at each other in unfocused aggression. Tehama and Anza took this as their cue. They both sprung into action, restraining the resisting Fillmore, and proceeded to hold him back until they could get him calmed down.

"Fillmore! Get a hold of yourself!" Tehama pleaded in desperation. "Chill for a sec, all right?!"

The boy in question stopped struggling long enough to regain control of his better senses. He let out a shaky breath, as the rest of his body started to relax. Joseph and Karen could feel the tension and hostility leave his system and they loosened their grip.

"Oh... snap. I'm sorry, man. I don't know what got into me." Fillmore rubbed one arm as he stammered an apology. Vallejo nodded his forgiveness, but he still looked a little uptight. "Now, about Ingrid... Please say she's all right."

"I wish we could." Vallejo lamented. "See, she came in a little early today to help us organize some files with her photographic memory, but after only a few minutes she said she was feeling a little nauseous, and left to go talk to the nurse. When we called the nurse about ten minutes later, she still hadn't arrived, so we sent Anza and O'Farrell to investigate. Well, it didn't matter - Stephan Morris, the new president of the Photography club, found her, collapsed, just outside the school darkroom."

Fillmore felt his heartbeat quicken. His eyes widened in terror. "Why are the police here? Why not an ambulance?!"

"The ambulance already left. Ingrid's being rushed to the hospital." Tehama supplied, wiping her eyes discretely with the back of her palm. "And the police are here because... she's the nineteenth case this week."

Vallejo tried to explain. "See, all over the state, kids have been discovered collapsing with internal conditions matching Ingrid's. It's a disease."

"How long ago did Ingrid collapse? When did she start feeling sick?"

"About twenty minutes ago, I guess." Vallejo shrugged. "I don't know..."

"What about the other kids with Ingrid's disease? What happened to them?!" Fillmore demanded. His voice had an unusually panicked edge to it, you could tell he was very distressed.

"Woah, hold on there, Fillmore! What is this, 20 questions?! We don't know, okay?!" Vallejo let his arms hang at his sides, as his gaze wandered over the crowd. "...Look, if you want the whole scoop, you could try talking to Folsom's trusted pet, our good buddy Parnassus. He gets the lowdown on everything."

Fillmore felt himself tense again as he gritted his teeth in protest. He definitely didn't want to end up resorting to asking an old foe for help - especially one that never got busted. Especially one who pinned his scam on one of his mindless henchmen. That was the category in which Brad Parnassus fit in. But Cornelius was desperate for information, he was worried for his best friend's sake, as he reminded himself, and he couldn't let personal biases stand in the way. He pushed his way through the crowd until he spotted the aforementioned blond boy- who was standing outside X's front doors just in front of the police tape, raising his arms as if he had some kind of authority. Fillmore felt a hint of nausea himself as he watched Parnassus smugly answer every question thrown at him by a mob of anxious reporters from the school newspaper.

"...So, it's nothing really... I mean, every kid gets sick every once in a while..." He was saying, as one particularly nosey reporter shoved a microphone in his face.

The newscaster tapped a pen to his chin. "Can we quote you on that, Mr. Parnassus?"

Next to approach the podium was Cheri Shotwell, who anxiously wrapped a carefree arm around Brad's shoulders. "So, Bradley, like, has Folsom given you any inside info on Ingrid Third's condition?"

"Well, information like that is classified, but..." Brad Parnassus halted his little press conference as he saw a familiar face make its way through the crowd. Instantly his expression hardened, and he gently shoved himself out of the peppy cheerleader's embrace.

"Cornelius Fillmore." Brad forced a smirk. "Nice to see you again."

Fillmore made his way up the steps of X Middle School to stand at eye-level with the blond rival. "Let's cut to the cream cheese, Parnassus. What do you know about Ingrid's disease?"

"Ah yes, Ingrid Third." Brad didn't seem to have heard the question. "I can't say she was my favorite person at X, but, nonetheless, the news of her imminent demise seems a great tragedy to me."

His company looked mortified. "...Imminent demise? What are you talking about!? And what happened to the other eighteen kids who came down with it?"

Brad seemed almost thrilled to provide an answer to this question. "Half of them are still infirmed, bedridden, with skyrocketing temperatures."

Fillmore was starting to get a sinking feeling in his gut. "And the other half?"

"Well, unless I was misinformed, they entered a coma shortly after losing consciousness... Two of those nine passed away mere hours later." Brad shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. 

A statement of such magnitude only encouraged the reporters. They closed in on Parnassus even more than they already had, and Fillmore was lost in the crowd. He couldn't believe the entirety of what he'd just heard. Ingrid? Sick, bedridden, immobile, doomed? Each of those words stung more than the last. Fillmore had lost a partner once before... but the situation at hand was completely different. He shot his fellow safety patrollers a pathetic look - a look that didn't belong on the face of safety patrol officer Cornelius Fillmore. And just like that, his comrades lost all hope - even the fearless had lost their courage.

But as Fillmore felt himself weakening, he also felt ashamed. Ashamed that he could lose every aspect of his hardcore personality because of one traumatic event. What would Ingrid say?

He let that thought hang - Ingrid was unconscious, she was quite unable to say anything about the situation even if she wanted to. Fillmore moped by his lonesome to the northwest wall of the building, and no one bothered to follow besides the curious eyes of the safety patrol. He ignored the little puddle of melted snow on the earth beside him as he flopped to the ground, folding his knees in front of him, resting his head against his arms for support. He needed some time to get away from reality. Some time to sit down in one place and get a hold of himself.

...He didn't cry...

After all, what would Ingrid say?

You've got to be strong in times like this. He reminded himself. Ingrid wouldn't want it. I've got to be strong, for her sake. I can't let others see my weakness. But, naturally, he found it difficult to wrangle his emotions into one convenient cage. They kept running wild, and making him desire the craziest things. He could've just gone home, forgotten about school, and cry his problems out like a normal person would. He was almost tempted... Almost. But not quite.

Meanwhile, in front of the school, a circle of uneasy safety patrollers watched Fillmore with concern. "Is he...?" Tehama began, eyes wide.

"No. Fillmore's real good at dealing with grief." Vallejo interrupted, already knowing her question. "But... I... I'm worried this experience might be a serious blow to his psyche."

"Come on, guys, this is Fillmore we're talking about. He always seems so collected! I don't think he comes in any other flavor." Danny spoke up for the first time, having recovered from his initial shock enough to find his voice. But he was still a little shaky, and he sounded frightened. "Still, I hope Ingrid will be okay. I mean, she will be, right?"

Vallejo shook his head, sadly. "I don't know. Fillmore looks as if he's just heard some bad news."

"We should go talk to him." Karen suggested.

"Ah... I think I'd rather not." Anza countered. "It looks as if he'd prefer some time by himself. He's a tough guy, he can handle this. And I'm sure Ingrid will be back soon."