Desperate Measures

Desperate Measures
by: Laura Boeff and Birgit Stäbler

"Ace.. this is crazy," Cosmo muttered darkly as the wind rose around them again.
Ace just heaved a sigh. Perhaps it was crazy, but it was the only clue they had to finding this mad man. The wind gusted again, rocking them both slightly as they moved over the tributary dam. A storm was moving in. A mean, early summer storm, bringing the promise of wind and lighting and a heck of a lot of rain. Cosmo paused, just long enough to zip up his jacket, then continued to follow.
The tributary dam was not much. A concrete construction spanning the Maumee river. Not a particularly wide river, but rather deep. Perfect for this sort of use. The damn being a small control station for the cities overflow system. Not much was out here other then the dam and control tower where the sluice gates could be opened and closed as needed. At one time a manned position, but now automatic.
"Stay here, I'm going to check out the control center." Ace almost had to yell above the rising wind that was whistling around them. Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps he had miss-read the clues. The clues to catch an insane cop killer. Worse than that actually. Marvin Jones hadn't just targeted police officers, he targeted their family, friends, everyone the madman thought connected with the law. A man hunt was going on for the fiend right now, but on the other side of the city. Marvin couldn't resist leaving scathing little notes at every crime scene. Little notes that had led Ace here.
The wind gusted again, pulling his cloak and disrupting his balance as he staggered stepped. The storm was picking up fast, the sky dark overhead and a strange shade of putrid green. One heck of a storm coming in.
"Coming with you," Cosmo declared, hot on his heels.
"No," Ace ordered, "I need you to stay out here on watch, Cosmo." He turned to briefly face his younger partner. The wind was absolutely lashing the red hair to and fro, but it didn't seem to bother Cosmo any.
"This is a madman we're dealing with. I'm not taking any chances. Stay here and watch out."
"Ace.."
"That's an order, Cosmo!"
Cosmo huffed, but stopped, jamming his hands in his pockets and pointedly glaring out at the landscape around them. Ace smiled slightly. Cosmo might be an adult legally, just, but he still was a hot blooded youth who was not real keen on following orders. Ace wondered if any a amount of time would change that in his young friend. Probably not.

Cosmo watched Ace head toward the control house, mumbling about stubborn pains in the ass as he looked at the churning waters on either side of the dam. He wisely stayed away from the edges, there being no safety rails here up at the dams top. People weren't suppose to be up here anyway. The dams top was a no public access area. Cosmo grinned. Not that ever stopped them from doing something like this.
Turning to pace along the top wall, Cosmo flinched as another sharp wind rose, pushing against him and snapping his hair in his face. He shoved it out of the way without missing his stride, pausing to pull down his glasses. He was well use to the hair getting in his eyes, but the wind was getting difficult and making his eyes water.
In the brief moment of distraction, Cosmo passed over a manhole cover, set in the dam top. There were many of them here. Maintenance tunnel entrances, spotting the dams top, allowing access to the internal gate workings. The only thing different about this one was, that it wasn't completely seated.

***

The door swung open, the lock standing no chance against the magician. The interior was dank and dusty smelling from long disuse. Ace found the light switch, throwing it. One light came on and promptly blew out, but the other remained lit. It was enough to illuminate the small control room. Not much to the place really. A small console that had been retrofitted with the new remote controls and a couple of empty file cabinets. Ace knew they were empty because they had been left open, gathering nothing more then dust and the occasional rats nest.
He paused, fingers tracing over the dusty console, looking about, brooding. Okay, nothing here. You couldn't so much hide a plot bunny in this small space, let alone a deranged killer. So where was their killer? Once again doubt rose in Ace. Was he even here? The trailing hand clenched into a fist of frustration. Ace was sure he had sorted the clues out. Sure of it!
Taking a deep breath, Ace let it out in a sigh. Forcing himself to relax. Well, Marvin certainly wasn't in here and the storm was coming in fast. They needed to get to some sort of shelter just as quickly. Already the wind was starting to howl outside the door. A wailing drone that seem to almost bypass his ears and stab straight in to his brain. Definitely one heck of a storm coming in.

***

Cosmo cried out as he was tackled from behind, landing hard on the cement causeway as something leapt onto his back. Not that he had any intention of staying there on the cold surface. Cosmo was already rolling, shoving up with his hands as someone hastily tried to catch his arms. Even while still moving to his side, Cosmo caught sight of his attacker and lashed out with a foot, feeling a moments satisfaction at the grunt of pain his attack brought. It was a brief satisfaction as a distant lighting strike sent thunder rumbling over head and his attacker lunged again.
Marvin Jones.
The madman. And funny enough, he really didn't look much like his composite drawing.
'Those guys never get things right,' Cosmo thought glumly as he managed to get to his feet. Marvin had never stopped moving himself, leaping at him, a feral grin on his face.
"A.." His cry was stilled as the man tackled him again, sending them both sliding to the dams edge as Marvin lashed out. Cosmo raised his right arm instinctively and felt something slip over his forearm. Pain came a second later, sharp, nasty as Marvin raised the bloody knife again.
That pissed him off. He had enough scars on that arm already thank you! Cosmo punched the man, hard, in the midriff with his left, Marvin gasping. Cosmo didn't waste any time in getting a hand on the weapon arm, trying to twist the mans wrist back as Ace had taught him.
A move that might have work if only he had paid more attention. Marvin caught his wrist and Cosmo cried out as the man executed a perfect akido maneuver, forcing him to roll with the arm or have it break. Damn, it put him on his belly, the teen having fallen awkwardly with the roll to the cold cement. Marvin leapt on his back again. Landing hard and driving the air from Cosmo's lungs. The madman still had his wrist, pulling it up high across his back as the knife suddenly reappeared and laid across Cosmo's throat.
"Dying time, pretty boy," Marvin whispered in his ear, the blade caressing his throat lovingly. "Justice for all... justice for all."
Cosmo flinched, teeth gritting against the pain as Marvin jerked his arm slightly, bringing it to the breaking point. There was a course laughter in his ear and he glared, feeling the cold metal just above his jugular and fuming. He had to warn Ace. Let him know he was right and they had found their mad man. Well.. he had found them.. but still. He had to warn Ace! But the moment he opened his mouth...
Cosmo smiled grimly. There were other ways.

***

Ace wiped his dusty glove across his pant leg and sighed. Well nothing more was.. He stumbled back as the magic fabric around him shifted, coursed.
Cosmo?
Cosmo touching the magic force.
Why would Cosmo be....? Ace paled. It could only mean one thing. He had found Marvin Jones.
"Magic force, reveal the power within."
Even before the last threads of trailing purple fire had left him, Ace was moving.
The door slammed back as he scrambled out, freezing at the sight before him on the storm kissed dam. Marvin Jones sat on Cosmo, having him effectively pinned at the dams edge. A long bowie knife lay across his partners throat, the other hand having captured the young mans arm.
Marvin looked up and smiled an insane, flippant sort of grin, the knife blade sinking a touch more into the pale skin of Cosmo's throat. Blood started to seep over the laser sharp edge as the teen swallowed reflexively. There was more blood, seeping from a slash running along his forearm, but beyond that Cosmo looked okay. For the moment.
"Cosmo," he called, offering reassurance with his voice, as Ace kept his eyes locked on the madman.
"Well, well... Mr. Cooper. I know you," Marvin cackled cheerfully.
"I'm glad my reputation precedes me," Ace returned dryly. "Let him go. He's not a cop, Marvin. You have no reason to hate him."
Marvin laughed again.
"Don't I? Don't I!? You help cops and he helps you. That makes him guilty. Makes you all... guilty," he sing sang, eyes glittering hungrily.
Ace raised his hands, a placating gesture as well as a distracting one as he slowly moved forward, slow, easy.
"Uh un, Mr. Cooper cop friend. Stay right there. I know you're tricks, yes. You're good, very good. Got my clues, eh?" Marvin stated pleasantly, the blade sinking in deeper. Cosmo grunted and winced, biting his lower lip as the blood started to flow more freely. Ace glared, but backed off immediately. The knife did not let up, but neither did it sink deeper. He had to do something! He knew what this madman could do... What he had done. Cosmo, looked at him briefly, fear bright in the gray eyes even though he tried to hide it bravely, but he had ever reason to be scared. Every one.
"You can't run forever," Ace tried diplomatically. "If you turn yourself in..."
"Ha!" Marvin barked angrily. "If I turn myself in, I'm dead, Mr. Cooper. Dead!" he snarled. "Do you think they'll let me live? Really?!"
Ace knew they wouldn't. The police were only human and too many people had been effected by this mad man for someone not to seek revenge. No matter what protection was offered, Ace knew it would not be enough. Unfortunately, so did Marvin.
"I'm dead, Mr. Cooper. Dead! But I won't die alone, eh? So many to bring with me. All guilty of course. Justice for all. Justice for all!" he laughed and Marvin suddenly moved, the hand that had held Cosmo's arm snapped out and a hidden knife sprang from it's sheath into his fingers. Even before either man could react the knife sang down and slammed hard into Cosmo's side, sinking up to the hilt.

Cosmo screamed.
Oh god!
His body became alive with the pain as the cold steel invaded his body, scrapping over ribs as it gouged deep into him. It was like no sensation he could dare imagine. Cold and burning in the same breath. Another scream ripped blindly free as the knife moved, twisted in him, rearranging his insides with it's serrated edge.
"Ace!" A plea. A denial. Simply an escape from the agony that was so overwhelming, he wasn't even aware of the blade cutting deeper into his throat. The world spun around the agony in his side and no other point.

Ace cried out with his partner, horror rising in him as Marvin grinned happily, hand still on the knife handle. Moving it, twisting it slowly inside his partner. Cosmo screamed again, unable to do more as the pain overran him.
"Stop!" he begged, feeling the magic churn wildly in him. But what could he do? The knife was still across Cosmo's throat. Still there, even as the second blade rested in his young friends body. Marvin grinned and laughed and anger joined the horror. White hot and nearly overwhelming. This lunatic had wrought so much damage. So much... pain, and still he rampaged.
"Stop?" he mocked cheerfully. "Why? What are you going to do, Mr. Cooper? Eh? I'm dead, I know that. But I'm going to take so many people with me." His hand left the knife, the sick, protruding handle dark against the brightly colored jacket as the serial killer reached up and caressed back Cosmo's thick, red hair. The teen whimpered, eyes clutched shut, breathing ragged.
"Take so many with me..."
Ace's jaw clenched, neck muscles corded, his fingers curling into fist's. Damn it! He had to do something. Now! Blood was staining the jacket, dark wet red and spreading. He had to do something now. Had to stop this insanity. Had to save Cosmo!
"Leave him alone," Ace growled dangerously, world narrowing to this man and this man only as the magic rippled and surged around him. Hot tendrils of energy danced over his skin, taking brief substance of vibrant blues, waiting... aching to be used. But the knife, the knife was still at his partners throat. Still too much a threat for Ace to lash out blindly.
"Alone?" Marvin smiled lovingly, still caressing back Cosmo's hair. "Alone. Yes, I'll leave him alone. We are all alone when we die."
That was when Marvin Jones made his last mistake. He jerked the knife from Cosmo's side, the teenager screaming again as it left in arc of his own blood. It was joined with the knife from Cosmo's throat, both rising in the air and plunging back down toward the teens exposed back.
They never made it.
Ace howled in raw, irrefutable hatred, hands snapping up as the energy gathered there leapt out. Marvin let out an inarticulate cry as he was slammed sideways, off his partner and sent skidding along the dam. Rain started falling, spattering the hard surface as the killer sat there in a daze.
Ace wasn't done yet. One fist clenched, magical energy lashing there as Marvin endeavored to stand up, one knife still in hand. Just as he reached his feet Ace struck with a high kick, foot catching the man alongside the head and snapping his skull back. The knife hit the ground as Marvin was rocked back with the blow, falling to the causeway, legs half hanging off the edge of the dam and sliding slowly over the slightly angled, rain slicked cement.
Ace was blind to it as he dropped to one knee, fist raised and coming down hard and fast with all the strength his powerful body could produce. Rage blinding him as the blow was delivered with cold satisfaction. Marvin cried out piteously as the magician's fist slammed him back on to the cement. Barely conscious, he started scrambling as his body slid farther, fingers desperately clawing at the ground as momentum gained.
"Help," Marvin wailed hoarsely, as his body slipped over.
The world seem to snap back into focus for Ace. The boiling rage that had consumed him, completely, thoroughly, sizzled and died at the man's desperate wail. It was with a dim sense of horror he realized just how much he had done in his anger, and how fast and how easily. It was pure reaction. Pure reaction and not thought that let Ace reach out and grab the man's arm before he dropped into the waters below.
Chest heaving with exertion and residual fury, Ace grunted as Marvin's weight dragged him a little closer to the edge.
"Don't let me fall. I can't swim," the madman whimpered, fingers slipping along his arm. "Please. I don't want to die!"
Ace glared down at the sick, twisted man, mind still numb with the hatred he'd felt and the violence. A hate and violence still simmering beneath the surface. But still he held on, tried to pull back, but there was no purchase as the rain came down harder.
"Ace?"
Ace's head snapped about, rain heavy hair clinging to his face as he focused on Cosmo laying close by. The teen shuddered, head lolling in semi-consciousness as he tried to find the older man.
"Ace?" Cosmo called again, his voice nearly drowned out by the mad wind rising around them. Blood had pooled around his friend, the rain spreading it, starting a thick river to the dams lip as the young man's life seeped over the edge with every beat of his heart.
The magician looked at his bleeding partner and then the mad man clinging to his arm. He had to get to Cosmo now! Get help for his injured friend, but he had this... this creature clinging to him for dear life.
His chest heaved with desperation and trailing anger. Cosmo was bleeding badly and fast, but... Ace looked down at Marvin, then back to the teen. Cosmo shuddered and thrashed, fingers clutching at the air as he called out again. He turned toward Ace, blinking against the rain.
Perhaps he saw him, perhaps not, in the fading light beneath the worsening storm. Still... Ace made a last try at pulling Marvin back up, muscles shaking. No good. No good! Between the rain and the weight the task was nearly impossible. He couldn't even work the levitate spell with his hands so encumbered. Ace shuddered and looked desperately at Cosmo, the young man staring back through heavy lidded eyes, not so much as looking at him, but beyond him. There was a faint twitch, a last attempt to rise that ended in a whimper. Ace's heart clenched. No.....
He slid a little further toward the dams lip, muscles quivering from the dead weight in his hand. Marvin whimpered as his fingers slipped a little further along his arm and Ace snarled in painful desperation. Ace tried to tighten his grip, but between the wind and the rain.... His back ached and shoulders shuddered as he tried to pull back once more. He nearly fell, feet slipping, fighting for purchase as for a brief moment Ace's arm relaxed.
It was all that was needed.
He couldn't tear his eyes away if he tried. Ace stared in a dull horror as the man fell gracelessly away with a scream that was sucked up almost immediately into the roar of the storm churned waters below.
Ace looked frantically for Marvin. Tried to find him. The fall was not long, the water deep, but the shore close. Perhaps he could survive. Perhaps...
Only the water and the rising waves were present, offering no answer. Ace sat, numb, feeling his heart beat hard in his chest like a death toll as he stared blind at the water.
"Ace?"
Reality slapped him hard in the face as Ace flinched. Cosmo! Panic overrode his shock as the magician scrambled across the wet dam and slid to the teens side.
"I'm here, Cosmo," he assured shakily, placing a hand along one chilled cheek. Cosmo coughed, blood flecking his lips and looked up him, eyes glassy and distant. He shuddered and coughed again, more blood frothing up.
"Ace," he whispered thickly, fingers clutching at his arm. "Hurts, Ace."
"Shhh. I'm here, Cosmo, it's going to be okay," Ace promised, trying to still the terrified tremble in his own voice. A lung. The bastard had struck one of Cosmo's lungs. Damn him! Ace jerked his cape off, bundled it up and rested it under Cosmo's head.
"It's going to be okay, Cosmo," he whispered again, hitting he's com.
"Electro City emergency services. What is the nature of your emergency?" a calm voice asked. Ace was glad someone was calm, because it sure wasn't him.
He kept his voice as steady as possible. "My friend has been stabbed. We're at the Tributary dam. On it actually," he tried not to run his words together. Cosmo coughed again, gagging against the blood gathering in his throat.
"Easy, Cosmo. Here." Ace helped turn his assistant's head, allowing the blood to freely escape his mouth. Cosmo hacked again, breath raspy with a sick gurgle to it.
"Please hurry. The knife hit his lung. He's bleeding internally," Ace told the emergency worker. The last coming in a desperate whisper. "Please."
"I've got your location locked in. An ambulance is on the way. You have to keep the victim calm and immobile until help arrives."
"How long?"
"Approximately 15 minutes."
15 minutes. Ace groaned silently. An eternity in the here and now.
"Thank you," he whispered dully, returning his full attention to Cosmo. The teen was barely conscious, eyes slits, not noticing of the cold rain that pelted down on both of them. He was white as a sheet, breathing labor and strained, small tremors rocking his body. A trickle of blood seeped from his nose, trailing across his cheek, getting washed away in the downpour.
"Cosmo, you have to stay awake as long as possible," Ace started, pulling the jacket open. He drew a sharp edged card and simply cut the purple red shirt along the side. Nausea rose up at the sight of the heavy puncture. The serrated blade had rent a massive hole into his young friends side, blood pouring from the wound, washing away in the rain. Ace's jaw clenched. No time for personal weakness. Drawing a kerchief from his sleeve, Ace folded it quickly and pressed it hard over the wound.
Cosmo cried out, a sick whimper of agony, flaying weakly at him.
"No, Cosmo. It's okay," Ace murmured, rubbing back the teens rain slicked hair. "I'm sorry it hurts. We have to slow down the bleeding. Rest, rest, helps coming. It'll be okay, I promise," he assured earnestly.
"Ace," Cosmo wheezed, fingers latching on desperately to his arm. "Hurts, Ace."
Ace felt his gut twist. A feeling of impotence raging in him.
"I know. I'm sorry. Hang in there, Cosmo. You have to hang in there. Help's coming," he returned softly, trying to position himself over the smaller man, to protect him from the worsening downpour.
"Try.. Ace.. try," Cosmo coughed again, eyes staring at him dully, shock setting in and sending shivers over his body.
"You'll be fine, Cosmo. I promise," Ace went on tenderly, keeping up his reassuring caress.
"You'll be fine."
Cosmo coughed, shuddered and coughed again. More blood. Bright, frothing. Attesting to the damage done. Ace kept talking, softly, calmly, even as Cosmo started slipping away from him. It was all he could do. All he could do till help arrived. All he could do to keep his mind off of what had happened and what he had done.

***

He was staring. At no point in particular. Eyes locked on the white floor tiles. Mesmerized by a dark scuff mark that marred the marbleized pattern. It was all he could do. Was capable of doing. Ace was numb. Body.. soul.. Numb. Numbed by it all. By talking to his partner, even when unconsciousness claimed him. Cosmo's life's blood pumping through his fingers with every breath. Trying to hold on, trying not to think about Martin's hand slipping along his arm. Screaming to his death. A death from Ace's hand.
He choked back a soft sob.
"Ace?"

Vega found his younger friend, tucked in the corner of the waiting room. Head hanging between powerful shoulders that were slumped in defeat. Blood speckled the white shirt. Sick, dark points of crimson. Grisly reminders of what Ace had just gone through.
"Ace?" he called again as he approached. The magician flinched in surprise, gray-blue eyes jerking up toward him. Red flecked and hollow looking in the mans drawn face.
"You look like hell, Ace," Vega sighed, sitting in the neighboring chair. The quip had been meant in humor, but Ace simply winced and his head dropped again, hands wringing tightly about each other.
Oookay. That hadn't worked. Vega frowned at the dark.. aura, Ace seemed to be radiating. Ace always got taciturn when Cosmo was hurt. Almost a specter, but never dark like this.
"Any news?"

About Cosmo. Ace shook his head. No. No news. No nothing! Only the vivid memories of the blood covered face and the gurgling gasps of his dying friend echoing in his mind. A sound that barely, just barely, drowned out the echoing screams of the man that had wrecked this havoc as he plunged to his death.
"Ace?"
He jumped. Heart thumping painfully as he was wrenched back from his dark, drifting thoughts. Brown eyes watched him. Compassion and concern in their depths as a warm hand patted him on the shoulder.
"He'll be okay," Vega assured with the barest hint of a smile. Ace shook his head miserably.
"You weren't there, Derek," he murmured. "You weren't there."

Vega's frown deepened to a glare. Something had happened out there. More then just Cosmo's attack. Something besides the young man's injuries and the death of the mad man that left the magician haunted looking.
"What happened, Ace? Tell me then," he coaxed gently. Cautiously. As he had with the Ace of old. When encouraging a once young, shy teen to open up. Otherwise Ace would bottle it up. Hide it away and deny it and suffer in silence. He might be older, but something's seemed never to change.
Silence reigned for several minutes as Ace hands clenched, then unclench. Vega waited patiently.
He was rewarded as Ace took a deep breath.
"He attacked Cosmo, Vega... Caught him and hurt him and I... I couldn't do anything," Ace hissed angrily. "Anything!"
"You did something, Ace. Cosmo's here and he's still alive. So you did something," Vega pointed out gently.

Ace shuddered, violently.
"I..." he whispered, head dropping. Yea. He'd done something all right. Lashed out in a blind anger. Feed on the sudden hatred that had exploded in his gut. Martin's fingers, dragging over his arm. His scream as he died.
He was evil. Ace had no trouble accepting that, but he was a human. He should have been able to do something. The man, while perhaps deserving no right to life, should not have found death at his hands. He should have done something differently. Something.
"What happened, Ace? Really happened. I know you said Marvin fell off the damn, but I know you. There's more to it, isn't there?" Vega entreated softly. "I'm your friend, Ace. You can talk to me."
No, he couldn't. He couldn't talk to anyone about it. Who would understand? Vega? No... Vega was a cop and his job was to apprehend criminals, not serve them his own justice as Ace had done. Yes, maybe he had taken justice into his own hand this time. He should have been able to save Martin. There must have been something.... a spell.... anything. He should have concentrated more, should have tried to cast without gestures. Ace had done it before. He could have done it again. That the times he had done it without his safety measures had had almost catastrophic results was beyond him right now. He should have been able to do something!
"Ace, there was nothing you could have done," Vega suddenly said and Ace became aware of the fact that he had spoken the last out loud. "You did everything humanly possible."
"No, Vega, I didn't," he whispered, voice rough. "I didn't....."
The cop shot him a confused look, but Ace determinedly looked the other way, fixing the low table with the old magazines with a stare. He had hated Marvin for what he had done to Cosmo- so much that he had subconsciously already decided what to do. And in the end, he had done it.
He had killed the man.
"Ace?"
Ace shook his head, but he didn't say anything. Vega sighed audibly.
Two hours later a doctor came into the room. Ace was immediately on his feet, cursing his sense of balance as he swayed slightly. "How is Cosmo?" he fired the question at the middle-aged woman.
"Your young friend was lucky," she said, the name tag introducing her as Dr. Emmerson. "The lung was hit and deflated. He suffered from a pneumothorax, so we have to keep him intubated until the tissue heals. Traumatic pneumothorax occurs when a physical injury causes the lung to collapse. The muscle damage around the area is severe, but nothing that won't heal in time. Same about the cut on his arm. We gave Cosmo a transfusion because of the blood loss and he should be out of intensive care if the next forty-right hours show he is stabilizing."
"Intensive care?" Ace whispered, his world starting to collapse slowly but surely.
"He is in critical condition, Mr. Cooper. We nearly lost him on the operation table."
The room spun around him at an alarming rate and Ace had to fight to focus on a specific point. He was aware of a hand on his shoulder-blade, keeping him stable. He inhaled deeply and shoved the emotions back out of his mind. "Can I...can I see him?" he heard himself ask, voice shaking.
"I can't allow you into the room, but you can see him through the windows. For now, we have to keep him isolated."
"I understand," Ace whispered, falling deeper.
They were led along a stark white and gray corridor and Vega didn't move from his side. Ace was thankful for his presence, his silent support, but he felt unable to express it. He kept his eyes straight forward. He didn't take note of anyone else passing him and was surprised when they were suddenly in the ICU. Cosmo was in a separate cubicle and a nurse with a mouth cover and in white scrubs was doing something or other. There were two bottles of a clear liquid hanging to the left of the bed and IV needles stuck in Cosmo's good hand. The other hand was bandaged and slightly elevated. His chest was bare and wrapped up. He was connected to a Ventilator which was breathing for him and letting him take his own breaths as he was able. A chest tube was draining all the blood and air from his chest. It kept anything from getting into the space around the damaged lung so that it could re-inflate and do its job. The ventilator tube was coming out of Cosmo's mouth, held in place by a plastic device that kept the patient from moving it.
Ace felt himself spiral down into darkness. Seeing Cosmo like that, so frail, so lax, so white..... It was too much. His knees were shaking and tremors ran through his body. Moments on the dam rushed back and he grabbed onto the narrow window sill to keep himself from falling. Vega grabbed him around the waist.
"C'mon, Ace," he rumbled. "We should get you home."
"No," Ace rasped, resisting weakly. "Cosmo... can't leave him alone....."
"There is nothing you can do."
Ace knew that, but he didn't want to acknowledge it. He couldn't leave Cosmo alone, not again. He just couldn't!
Vega used gentle force to steer him out of the ICU and Ace had no chance to fight back. Exhaustion, both emotional and physical, took over and he was aware how badly he was trembling. His friend got him to his car and made him sit in the passenger seat.
"Can't leave him," Ace mumbled.
"He's in good hands, Ace," Vega reassured him. "You need sleep. I'll get you home."
Ace let his head sink against the cool window, eyes staring sightlessly outside. He didn't feel the time as it passed and he was slightly surprised when Vega pulled up next to the Magic Express.
"Ace?" the cop asked softly.
Ace slowly pulled himself out of the car. "I'll be okay," he mumbled like on automatic.
"Listen, if you want to talk, I can come back after I check with Ms LeSage....."
"No." The magician shook his head. "I'll be okay," he repeated. "Thanks, Derek."
Every step toward the train was like lifting leaden weights, but he made it without stumbling, and when the door slid open, the dim interior was like a safe haven for now. Ace went up the stairs and heard the doors close behind him. He sank briefly against the wall and drew a shuddering breath, then he pushed away and went into the living room.
Zina greeted him with a rumble and wound herself around his legs, then stopped and gave him a critical cat look.
"Hey, girl," Ace mumbled and briefly patted her head.
Zina snorted and growled in disdain as she smelled the blood on his shirt.
"Yeah, I know. I don't smell so good." Ace shed the jacket and cape, and threw them onto the floor. He didn't care as to what it looked like, that he, the one who had a thing for neatness, was leaving clothes strewn over the floor. He would need a shower, a change of clothes and some sleep.
He felt like none of it.
Collapsing on the couch, Ace closed his eyes, the darkness of exhaustion pressing in on him. He chased it off, afraid what sleep might bring. What he knew it would bring. Nightmarish recollections. Zina looked at him with her golden eyes, rumbling to herself, then flopped down in front of the couch. Ace managed a smiled, then gazed at the ceiling. Like a mocking hologram, Jones' face materialized and sneered at him. He screwed his eyes shut.
I don't want to die!
And Jones fell. The dark water boiled up, swallowed him.....
"No," he breathed. "No, no, no!"
Laughter rang in his ears and he was back on the dam again, the blade twisting into Cosmo, Marvin mocking him.
Blood was everywhere. On the mad man's hand, on the knife, the concrete walkway. Cosmo's brightly colored jacket soaked in it. Blood on his hands. Marvin Jones' blood.
Ace choked on a sob and jumped off the couch. Zina looked up, tail flicking. Ace stumbled into the bedroom, but the memories followed. They piled up, toppling and collapsing on him, drowning the exhausted magician. Guilt rose like a tidal wave, and Ace had no more strength to fight. Marvin Jones' face danced around him, mocking his helplessness, mocking his hesitation.
He should have been faster.
He shouldn't have left Cosmo alone! He had left him.... open and vulnerable.
His fault.
Jones had used the opportunity.
Magic building up inside of him, useless in the face of his predicament. But not forever. One little mistake on the mad man's side and Ace had struck. All the pent-up energy... all focused on one man. He had simply unleashed it without thinking about the consequences. And he had followed up the magical attack with a physical one, blind to his opponent's condition, blind to the danger, blind... so blind! All he had seen had been Cosmo and the blood.
Ace felt nausea rise inside him. The image of so much blood pooling under his friend haunted him and made his stomach turn.
Don't let me fall!
His anger and fury had blended into one dark rage, consuming him... killing someone. Ace shivered, his stomach revolting more. He had killed someone.... with his magic. Through his magic. Murder. He was a murderer.
Marvin Jones laughed, wielding the knife, stabbing it into Cosmo and twisting... turning....
"No," he whispered. "No!"
The last was a scream of denial and he drove his fist into the metal wall. It didn't give under the attack and spikes of pain shot through the abused hand. Ace didn't feel it. He drove his hand into the wall again and again, finally collapsing with a sob. He leaned against the metal wall, tears running over his cheeks, his body and mind breaking down. His right hand hurt abominably and he knew he was bleeding, but he didn't care. He didn't care at all.
What he had done.... he had killed.... in cold blood... accepting the death of another.....
"What did I do?" he moaned.
He had never killed before. Never. He had been a criminal, but he had never taken a life. Throughout his career as a crimefighter he had always known when to draw a line, but not tonight. He had attacked with all the darkness inside him, had let it happily consume him, had let it out. And the darkness had taken a life. Not an innocent life, no, but a life nevertheless.
Killer, a dark, evil voice whispered. Killer-killer-killer.... It sounded so much like Jones' voice, but it was not his.
Ace curled up, shaking badly. "Leave me alone!" he cried.
But he wasn't left alone. Spiraling down the never-ending path of his memories, he was caught in an unbreakable circle. The dark side of magic, the emotional magic, the one driven by hatred and rage..... Anna had told him to always control his emotions, never to fall for the magic easily wielded when negative emotions rose. He had forgotten about it for just a second, had cast aside all the teachings.
"I'm sorry," he whimpered, but no one was here to hear him.
Only Zina. The black panther sat down beside him, then rumbled softly and nudged the trembling human form. She heard the soft sobs and started to purr, trying to soothe, trying to ease the pain of a family member. She curled up beside her friend and kept up her soft purring.

* * *

Vega had spent most of the remaining afternoon of yesterday's fateful day at the precinct and had closed a few files. Then he had accompanied Ms. LeSage home since she lived in his neighborhood, and had gone home afterwards. After a stiff drink he had tried to distract himself with some TV, but had switched it off later. Sleep had not come easily, but he had finally dropped off into dreamland. Today, he felt even worse. Ms. LeSage had called the hospital, but there had been no news. Cosmo's condition hadn't changed and he was still critical. Ace probably already knew and he hadn't received any reply to his call to the Magic Express.
Suddenly the door to his office opened and he looked up. The smile that automatically came to his lips when he saw Ace died a quick death. Ace looked terrible. Like death warmed over several times. He was pale with rings under his eyes, a haunted expression in his gray eyes, and his hair was.... mussed. Not like him. Just like the rumpled shirt was not Ace's style. Or the missing gloves. Speaking of which, Vega discovered badly scraped knuckles and he was afraid to ask what had happened.
"Ace?" he asked.
Ace looked at him, gray eyes so flat and emotionless, then flaring with undefined darkness the next second. "Vega, I've come to turn myself in."
Vega blinked. His ears needed a readjustment. Ace had come to do what?
"I killed Marvin Jones," his friend added.
"What?" Vega blurted. "Ace, what the heck are you talking about?"
The haunted eyes wavered. "I killed the man, Lieutenant. You have to arrest me."
Vega was slowly losing track of what was going on. "Ace, sit down," he ordered.
The magician remained standing and Vega inhaled deeply.
"I said, sit down!"
Ace flinched and followed the order. His cloak hid his body and he stared at nothing at all. Hollow, empty, defeated..... Vega didn't get it.
"Would you mind explaining to me what has brought that on? Why do you think you killed Marvin Jones?"
"Because that's what I did. I killed him."
"He fell off the dam! Did you push him off?"
"No, not really. But I'm responsible for his death. I attacked him, I shoved him over the edge and I couldn't hold him. I could have done something... anything.. but I didn't. I killed him. My magic... it destroyed a life. I killed him, Vega." Ace's voice was flat, monotonous, devoid of life.
Vega came around the desk and tried to touch his friend, but Ace flinched away.
"Arrest me," he whispered.
"No." He shook his head. "First I want a complete statement. Tell me everything that happened, Ace. Chronologically."
And Ace did. His voice never reached more than the flat tone, except when it came to Cosmo being injured, where it wavered precariously. Vega started to understand and he realized where this was coming from and leading to. Ace suddenly stopped, voice trailing off, and tremors ran through the slender, tall man. Vega pushed away from the desk and touched his shoulder, squeezing it, holding on to keep Ace from pulling away.
"You didn't kill Jones," he said calmly. "The man slipped and fell, and you couldn't save him."
"I could have," Ace insisted hoarsely. "I could have used a spell.... levitate him... hold him."
"Ace...."
"But I attacked him with my magic!" the magician insisted, trembling more. "I didn't see anything except the man who had attacked Cosmo and I wanted revenge. Vega I felt satisfaction when he fell! For a brief moment I felt it!"
"Ace, please. You didn't kill him! You tried to help. Your first reaction was just plain normal. You defended yourself and Cosmo. Jones slipped and fell."
Ace shook his head. "No."
Vega crouched down and gave the limp wrist a little shake. "Ace, stop doing this to yourself! I won't arrest you for a crime you didn't commit."
"Then I'll go to Friedrichs," he whispered.
"The hell you will!" the lieutenant snapped, pleased to see that it got him a flinch and a wide-eyed stare. "You are not guilty of anything except defending yourself! What do you think the judge would say? No court would see it as murder. Ace, you don't have to punish yourself like this!"
Another flinch. One hundred percent right on target, Vega thought. This was Ace at his most self-destructive. Judging from the injured hand, he had begun last night already.
"Cosmo needs you outside a prison cell. And I don't think any lawyer would let me book you."
Cosmo's name evoked a more violent reaction and Ace drew a shuddering breath.
"Did you call the hospital?" Vega asked gently.
"No," Ace choked. "I... I couldn't."
"Ms. LeSage did and there is no change in Cosmo's condition." He squeezed Ace's wrist as the other man tried to pull away again, disturbed by the news. "Which means there hasn't been a change to worse either, and that is good news." The haunted gray eyes flickered over his face. "Good news," Vega insisted.
"'kay."
Vega straightened and cursed his protesting muscles. He was getting old. "And now, we'll that hand looked up and you might want to consider a comb and a new shirt," he went on conversationally.
Ace looked up, blinking. "I'm fine," he told him.
"Fine my ass. Ace, you look like hell. I don't want to know if you even slept at all, or what the wall of the Express looks like if I look at your knuckles."
Ace sighed and ran a hand through the ruffled hair. The stubborn white lock sprang up right away and Vega suppressed a smile.
"And I don't want to hear anything about guilt or killing the guy or prisons again. Understood?" The last was a snapped order that let Ace wince.
"Yessir," the magician mumbled.
Vega gave his shoulder a paternal pat. "Good. Now come on. We'll make you presentable again."

***

It was more of a task then Vega had expected. Their first stop was the Express where he had shoved the magician straight toward the shower. Ace had gone in a dazed stumble, not really thinking, just following. That was fine with Vega. It kept the man from getting fool ideas like turning himself in in his head. As Ace cleaned up, Vega made himself busy in the kitchen. Nothing fancy of course. Vega wasn't a fancy sort of guy, just a sandwich and some juice, which he carried back to Ace's room. He smiled slightly. His timing was perfect. Ace was just shuffling out of the bathroom in his robe and drawing a comb through his hair on top of it. Vega let him finish, then made him eat. Ace protested immediately. Vega had ignored him. Ace lost the argument in the end and halfheartedly nibbled the fair as he got dressed.

Ace put down the sandwich, not really tasting it, definitely not wanting it, but eating it nonetheless. Otherwise, Vega was liable to sit on him and forced feed it down his throat. And feeling the way he did right now, it would be rather easy for the old cop to do so.
His eyes flicked up to the mirror, froze there, Staring into the gray depths of his own eyes. The gray going dark blue. Wide, scared eyes, ridiculously pleading as he felt the weight on his arm- sliding down. Indecision raging in him. Cosmo needing his help so badly, and this man needing him equally. And Ace hated it. Hated having that.. creature clinging to him for life. Needing him. If only he would...
"Ace?"
Ace jerked back, eyes wide as Vega grabbed his arm. Distantly, he realized he was clutching the dresser madly. Nails scrapping across the polished surface, muscles tight. Guilt rose in him. Rose in him and he started to speak.
"Don't you even dare, Ace," Vega stopped him before he got started. Mouth still hanging open Ace paused, then sighed in defeat.
"Not your fault, Ace. You're not super man. Even with the cape," Vega said kindly. Ace slumped against the dresser, forcing his hands to unclench.
"It was still wrong, Derek," he murmured. "Still wrong to let it go that far."

Vega sighed silently. What was it going to take? What was it going to take to get Ace to see beyond his guilt at what had happened? His younger friend had acted as Vega would expect anyone to act. Hell. Ace had shown far more restraint then he felt he could have in the same situation. But Ace wouldn't see it that way. Just wouldn't. His respect for life was just too strong for him to see beyond what had happened.
Vega decided then. He would just have to make him see!
"Come on. I think you look fit enough for the public," he chuckled, tugging Ace's arm gently. Ace looked at him, eyes warring between depression and annoyance, but he relented, still following, somewhat blindly, his most trusted friend.
At the hospital Ace stopped following and took the lead. Speed walking through the building, his pace gathering momentum till it was a hairsbreadth from a run. That was when Vega caught his arm, pulling him back down to a walk.
"Easy, Ace. It's not a race," Vega admonished at his glare. Sort of a moot point since they were outside ICU anyway. But it wouldn't do to let Ace get worked up more then he was. As they entered the duty nursed looked up, offering a small nod. Vega returned it absently sticking to Ace's side as the man made a bee-line for Cosmo's cubical. The magician almost pressing against the transparent barrier. Hands against the glass, a slight tremble in them.
"Ace... I know you think you did something wrong, but you didn't," Vega started softy, noting the slight flinch in his friends shoulders.
"Not now, Vega," Ace hissed.
"Yes, now, Ace," Vega shot back with care. He jerked his chin toward the young man on the bed. Damn. Nothing bugged him more then seeing the kid that still. It was just so wrong. Just plain outright wrong. But it wasn't just Cosmo who was hurting at the moment.
"This is who you saved, Ace. I know you think you took a life. You didn't. Not by my book. Not by any damn book in the land!" Vega rested his hand on Ace's shoulder, squeezing it. "But you did save a life. You saved Cosmo's life. Nothing is more important then that, Ace. Nothing!"
Ace shuddered, but was silent, forehead dropping to rest against the glass.
"Vega..."
"Nothing, Ace," Vega repeated firmly. Another shuddering breath and the older man rested a calming hand on his back. "How about we find a doctor and ask him about Cosmo?"
Ace nodded slowly, detaching himself from the window. He moved slowly, hesitantly, as if it was the hardest decision in the world to leave here -- leave Cosmo. Vega didn't say a thing, just kept physical contact, and finally Ace followed him down the corridor.

***

The talk with the doctor had been neither uplifting nor down-beating. Cosmo's condition hadn't changed for the worse, which was a positive sign, but it hadn't improved either. Ace sat in the private waiting room of the ICU, which was more of a comfy area than all the other waiting rooms he had ever been in. The couch was soft, the colors a calming creme with accenting dark brown, and two matching armchairs were placed in a wide pattern on the creme colored floor. Two abstract pictures were on the wall and a window showed the clear blue sky of Electro City. So beautiful outside, but Ace couldn't find the beauty inside him. There was only abysmal darkness and despair.
Vega had left because he needed to at least pretend he was working as a police officer, as he had joked, but he would come back when he could. Ace had no intention to move from here. He would wait as long as it took, or until they bodily kicked him out. Actually, the nurses on duty had tried to accommodate him as best as possible. A mug of coffee and a wrapped-up sandwich spoke of their concern, but Ace didn't feel hungry. He had drunk the coffee, but he couldn't eat any more than he had back at the Express -- and that had been forced down as well.
Ace paid the ICU frequent visits and Amanda, the nurse on duty there, smiled at him each time. He yearned to go inside the cubicle and talk to Cosmo, but he wasn't allowed yet.
"Hello, Mr. Cooper," Amanda greeted him as he walked toward the IC unit again.
She was in her mid-thirties with blonde hair that was almost white in the neon lights of the cubicle, and green eyes that held a compassionate look.
"Hello, Amanda," he answered automatically.
"Dr. McCarthy is doing his rounds at the moment," she told him. "He should be out in a few minutes."
He nodded and walked over to the window. Cosmo hadn't changed. Still pale, connected to machines that breathed for him, kept him alive, and still unconscious. He pressed a hand against the transparent wall that kept him from his partner and the tremors started again.
"Ace Cooper, I presume?"
The deep voice jolted him out of his thoughts and he turned, coming face-to-face with a white-haired man in a doctor's coat. He had a bushy mustache and equally bushy eyebrows shadowed clear blue eyes. Crinkles adorned the sun-tanned face and the good nature and humor of the man was radiating off him like a living aura.
"Yes?" Ace asked.
"Dr. John McCarthy," the man introduced himself. "Dr. Emmerson told me about you and what happened. I just checked your friend and he's stabilizing." He held up a hand as Ace wanted to say something. "He hasn't made it yet, Mr. Cooper. I can only say that he is strong and a fighter. He keeps fighting and that is a good sign."
"When can I go to him?" Ace asked softly.
McCarthy's brows twitched and he rubbed his chin. "I could let you visit him for a while, if you dress up in the scrubs and..."
"I'll do it," Ace interrupted, hope rising inside of him.
The doctor smiled and motioned Ace to follow him. Ace was given a green hospital issue coat to wear and a pair of covers for his shoes. A mask hid his features and a cap covered his hair. He had to leave the cape and jacket behind. McCarthy nodded at a door leading into the cubicle.
"I'll tell Amanda you are here. I know Cosmo is family, Mr. Cooper, but please understand that we can't allow you to remain in the room forever. The nurses need the space to work and it would tire you out soon. You can visit as often as possible, but no camping out, okay?"
Ace nodded. "I understand."
"Good." With that the doctor left him alone.
Ace licked his dry lips and stepped into the room. His eyes fixed on the motionless figure in the single bed. Cosmo looked absolutely still and so ... so fragile. His skin appeared washed out, completely white, nearly in color with the sheets. Ace walked over to the bed, eyes riveted to the unconscious young man. A convenient chair provided him with a chance to sit down. He was so tired. His eyes felt irritated. Probably from the air-conditioned hospital air. Strangely enough, apart from his eyes, which he rubbed a little, he felt numb. Totally emotionless; numb.... Cosmo was in intensive care, his life hanging on a thread, and all he could do was sit and stare.
Ace gently, almost hesitantly reached out and touched Cosmo's right arm. The bandage felt rough against his fingers and he brushed lightly over it, then wrapped his hand around Cosmo's slender fingers, so cold and limp in his own grasp.
There was no reaction. Cosmo didn't move a muscle, the monitors showed no change. Looking at the machines and the tangle of cables all attached to him, Ace felt faintly sick. They monitored heartbeat and breathing, fed him and cleaned blood and other fluids out of the damaged lung.... They lived for him, watched over his precarious existence.
The doctors had explained everything to him. The placement of a chest tube between the ribs into the pleural space allowed the evacuation of air because the pneumothorax was large. Re-expansion of the lung would take several days with the chest tube left in place. It was a sickening feeling looking at the tube sticking out of Cosmo's ribs, but it was necessary.
"I'm sorry, Cosmo," Ace only whispered.

***

Ace didn't venture far out of the hospital for the next two days, if at all. Amanda had taken a heart and when it was her shift, she always brought along some home-cooked meals and heated them up in the microwave. Ace forced himself to eat, just to have her leave him alone or stop giving him The Look. She probably conspired with Vega, he thought darkly. The old cop was haunting him just like the nurses, trying to take care of him. They all meant well, but Ace didn't feel like being taken care of. Cosmo needed that, not the man who had killed Marvin Jones. The press had of course picked up on it all, but thankfully no reporter had made his way into the hospital. Hospital policy was stern and they were immediately, though politely, asked to leave.
Ace spent as much time in the ICU with Cosmo as he could get out of the nurses and doctors, and he watched his young charge breathe and fight. Cosmo had stabilized further and Emmerson and McCarthy had agreed upon taking Cosmo off the drugs that had kept him in a kind of artificial coma.
"He will be disoriented when he wakes," McCarthy explained to Ace as he checked the chart. "Which should be within the next hours. The tube down his throat will be bothering him, but we can't take it out yet. His lung needs further mending. A nurse will monitor him outside and if there is any trouble, she'll aide. When he wakes while you are here, calm him if he panics because of the tube. It's hard to get used to that thing in your throat."
Ace nodded, never taking his eyes off Cosmo.
"Mr. Cooper?"
The quiet voice startled him and he looked up, blinking. McCarthy's gentle face creased into a smile.
"He will be okay."
"Thanks," Ace mumbled.
The doctor left and Ace sat down on the chair again, clasping Cosmo's hand, as he always did, gently running a thumb over the pale skin. Minutes passed into hours, but Ace didn't care. All he concentrated on was the slender young man in front of him, wishing he'd react to something. Anything.
It was about three hours after McCarthy had left. First Ace thought it was only his imagination, but then it happened again. A faint twitch. Just a muscle jumping, but he was alert and gazing intently at Cosmo in a flash. Then it happened again. Cosmo's eyelids fluttered and one hand twitched faintly. His nostrils flared and his jaw worked.
"Shhhh, Cosmo. Relax," Ace hushed him. "You have a tube in. Relax." His voice was soft, even, the same voice he used when talking Cosmo through a spell or a relaxation exercise.
It worked. As always, it worked like a miracle. The younger man stopped the motion of his jaw, eyes blinking open briefly, then squeezing shut again. Ace took one hand and gently rubbed the fingers.
"Cosmo, it's Ace. You are okay. You are in a hospital. Cosmo?"
A guttural sound came next and Cosmo's eyes opened again, this time staying open. He looked confused, blurry gray eyes seeking a point to concentrate on, and Ace leaned forward, summoning a smile.
"Cosmo?"
Cosmo blinked and recognition chased away the confusion.
"Don't talk. It's a tube." Ace brushed some rogue hairs out of the pale face, eyes alight like a Christmas tree. Cosmo weakly tried to squeeze his hand, and Ace smiled more. "It's gonna be okay," he promised.
Cosmo was fading again, exhaustion taking the consciousness back into the darkness of sleep, and Ace let him, promising that everything would be okay again. A nurse entered and he looked up, feeling a bit dizzy all of a sudden.
"He was awake," Ace managed.
She nodded. "A good sign. The drug hasn't worn off completely, so it might take a while till he comes back completely and is alert enough to respond, but it's a very good sign."
Relief almost made Ace sag, but he caught himself and nodded slowly.
Cosmo was getting better. Thank god, he was getting better!

***

No fun. No fun at all!
Cosmo stared glumly at the white ceiling, counting the needle-size dots on it.
Four-hundred and twelve.
Four-hundred and thirteen.
He sighed and wished there would be at least a TV in his room. Or a radio. Or an earman! But there was no distraction from the soft sounds of the ventilator, the silent dripping of the IV or the total boredom Cosmo felt. The nurses were nice enough and one of them, Natalie, was especially nice. And good on the eyes as well. Huh, good Ulene didn't know, he thought wryly. He'd probably be right back in intensive care if she did. The tube in his throat was bothering him more often than not. He couldn't swallow right, his throat was sore and he thought he'd surely have a cramp in his mouth.
Cosmo sighed silently and concentrated on the only real distraction he had, though it wasn't an especially happy one: listening in to Ace. With his shields down, Cosmo was privy to almost every shift and ripple, and he sighed again. Ace was fighting something dark and abysmally deep, something so overpowering that the magician was unable to talk about it. He had been here often enough for Cosmo to see through the weak masks his friend had pasted on.
Man, what was it? Him getting hurt? Well, Ace was prone to feeling extremely guilty when that happened, but he rarely radiated that much darkness. So what had happened? The 'vents on the dam were a bit blurry and except for the attack and the sudden explosion of pain in his side, Cosmo remembered little. His wounds were healing and the doctors had promised him to take him off the ventilator tomorrow if the final checks showed satisfactory results. Cosmo prayed they would. He wanted to get rid of this thing!
His eyes stared at the ceiling again.
Four hundred and......
Cosmo frowned. Okay, where had he left off? Oh, darn.
One. Two. Three.....
There had to be a better way to pass the time in here, but if there was, he hadn't found it yet.
Ten. Eleven. Twelve.
So stupid. Well, anything to distract himself.
Twenty-one. Twenty-two......

***

The tube came out the next morning and Cosmo felt relieved. His throat was raw and itchy, but he was at least rid of that thing and could eat normally. The catheters that drained fluids out of his lung would have to remain for awhile longer, just to be on the safe side, but he could live with that. What he couldn't live with were the mounting negative emotions from Ace's side. This had to stop one way or another, and that meant getting to he bottom of the problem. It couldn't be Cosmo's injury. That was different; that felt different. This was a more self-destructive kind of guilt, something stronger.
But for most of the morning was taken up by a visit from Ulene. She left around noon and Cosmo still felt the tingle of her kiss. Wow, that had been some kiss. He grinned as he remembered her promise to take good care of him the moment he was out. Oh, yea, that would be nice. The happiness and warm thoughts were pierced by a spike of darkness and Cosmo winced.
"Damnit, Ace," he grumbled. "What is it?"
Ace would be visiting this afternoon and Cosmo had every intention to make him tell the truth. Or maybe if he called Vega? Vega usually had an idea what was going on with Ace, even if he wasn't an empath. Reaching to the left, grimacing at the stings of pain from his injuries. He found the com unit and grabbed it, then punched the number he knew almost by heart.
"Hey, Vega, man!" he greeted the cop. "What's cookin'?..... yeah.... yeah, I know, dude, but...." Cosmo rolled his eyes. "I'm calling about Ace," he said after Vega was done ranting about why he was calling and not resting or doing whatever else was necessary to get well again soon. "Yeah.... yeah... uhm, man, I need to know something. And I want you to tell me the truth, okay?.... What happened on the dam, Vega?"
There was a brief silence on the phone and it told Cosmo a lot already.
"C'mon, Vega. Listen, I can feel something's terribly wrong with Ace and it's not my temporary residence in here. What happened?"
Another brief silence. Then Vega told him, voice even, calm and without judgment, but Cosmo started to understand. He silently cursed Ace for being so stubborn and pig-headed, then he promised Vega not to tell Ace where he had gotten the information from.
"Hey, I'm an empathic magician's apprentice. I can get through with claiming that I feel it all. Which I do mostly, but well...." He grinned.
Vega snorted and told him to get some rest, then hung up.
Cosmo replaced the com unit and stared at the ceiling with its over two thousand dots. He had stopped counting a long time ago, mostly because he had fallen asleep halfway each time. So Ace blamed himself for Marvin Jones' death..... Cosmo knew Ace was no killer. His older friend was almost paranoid when it came to his physical strength and magical powers. Ace was strong, no doubt about it, and whoever got his fist into the face would be lucky if no teeth went missing. And the magic.. the Magic Force.... whoa! Now that Cosmo knew about magic, he finally understood just what Ace wielded. It was as destructive as it was helpful and Ace had never, ever harmed anyone with it before. He had destructive spells, he could wreak havoc, but he rarely did and he mostly helped people. Ace was afraid to hurt people, a left-over from his past, and now he had taken a life.
Man, this sucked!
Cosmo glared at the ceiling, hand clenched into fists.
It sucked big time. Ace wasn't the one to blame! He had defended himself, had saved both their lives, and as for Jones.... he deserved it. Cosmo winced. His dark side taking over, he sighed. No one deserved to die, even the worst criminal.
What should he do now? Wait for Ace was the first answer. And then? How could he get Ace to talk and not run away? Cosmo was hardly able to follow. Then, if he got Ace to talk, how could he make him understand that he wasn't the killer he thought he was.
Should take Psychology 101, Cosmo thought sourly. Would come in handy. Well, right now he had to wait for his friend to visit. He would have to play it by the ear from then on.

***

Ace crumbled up the paper as threw it into the back seat of the Racer, jaw clenching. Hero. They were calling him a hero! The man who stopped the murderous rampage of a mad man. He'd stopped it all right. By bringing on his death. But no one seem to see that part. All they saw was the results, that Marvin's killing spree was at an end.
Ace trembled as he slumped against the warm side of the Racer. He felt strung out and exhausted. Sleep, when it came, was in sporadic bursts and even then never fast enough to keep the dreams from coming. The only bright spot were his visits to Cosmo. The young man regaining his strength, the damaged lung healing, albeit slowly. It was the one thing that kept Ace from wallowing permanently in despair.
He shoved off the car and clamped down on his emotions. No need to go in all gloomy. Not that Cosmo wasn't undoubtedly catching his darker musings. The teen was running with his shields down. It was easy to tell by the lack of activity in the magic force around his apprentice. The shield had it's own particular impact on the turbulent powers that made it recognizable. Understandable given his condition. Cosmo despised shielding in the best of times. Right now he didn't need the added strain to his already weak body.
Somewhat blind to what was going on around him, Ace entered the hospital, noting absently that it was particularly busy today. That didn't please him. Ace hated hospitals. Seem to be spending way to much time in them as of late. Guilt washed up. Cosmo was spending to much time in them as of late. He tried to push back the darkness. Not here, not now. Later. There was always plenty of time for his own dark thoughts later.
"Uh.. excuse me?"
Ace stumbled and stopped, turning at the feminine voice nearby. A woman hesitantly approached him and Ace sighed inside. He really didn't need adoring fans right now. But he offered a polite smile all the same.
"Yes?"
The woman's smiled brightened a touch. "Uhm, you're Mr. Cooper, aren't you?"
Ace nodded and chuckled at himself. So much for an autograph seeker. The woman wasn't even sure of his identify.
"Yes. I'm Ace Cooper."
The woman nodded. Middle age with light brown hair, very curly and long. And brown eyes that seemed.. shadowed somehow.
"I just wanted to thank you," she said simply. Ace frowned uncertainly. Confused.
"For stopping Marvin Jones," she explained in the light of his confusion.
Ace winced slightly, feeling his cheek muscle twitch. Not that. Anything but that. Not here, not now. He buried the emotions and nodded numbly. Without really acknowledging her words. She didn't seem to notice, looking away wistfully.
"I'm just glad no one will have to go through what we've gone through ever again," she sighed.
A frown crossed the magician's face. The shadow had escaped the woman's eyes and now rested in her face. He cocked his head curiously, compassionately. She saw and ducked her head with a slight blush.
"Forgive me. I don't mean to be a bother," she chuckled.
"It's okay. I don't' mind," Ace assured hastily. "Are you okay?"
She nodded slowly. "As well as can be I guess. At least I still have my daughter."
At Ace's puzzled frown she elaborated. "My husband was a second shift policeman. Marvin... Marvin caught him while he was on patrol with our daughter. It was 'Bring your child to work' day. My daughter loved it whenever she could go with her daddy. She wants to be a policewoman when she's older," she started to explain. "Marvin.. caught them and .. well... My husband died protecting our daughter. I'm.. I'm just glad it's over now and no other families will have to be afraid of him ever again."
Tentatively she reached out and touched Ace's sleeve. "Thank you. My husband would be glad that the mans no longer a menace. Thank you. I heard you had a friend here as well. I hope he's doing better."
Ace nodded numbly. "Yes, I was just going to visit."
She smiled sadly. "Me to. My daughter is in physical therapy. She escaped, but she was injured. But not too bad. Thank god, not too bad." The woman patted his hand and offered one more small smile.
"Thank you, Mr. Cooper. Thank you for stopping him." Before Ace could bring himself to speak the woman turned and disappeared down the hall. Lost amongst the milling hospital staff and visitors.
He wasn't sure what to feel at that moment. Dread that he had just been thanked for bringing on a mans death or warmth that he'd prevented more families from feeling what that poor woman felt. The confusion warred with the nausea and Ace had to physically shake himself out of it. He was here to visit Cosmo. That was what was important at the moment. If only his thoughts would get with he program here. Even as Ace reached Cosmo's private room, the conversation kept playing in his mind. Back and forth.
"Hey Ace," Cosmo rasped hoarsely as he entered. Ace blinked, almost comically, staring at Cosmo
"They took you off the ventilator!" he exclaimed.

Cosmo chuckled at Ace's pleased surprise. He'd been entertaining himself with counting the seconds since Ace's magical aura registered to his senses, till when the magician arrived at his door. It was a game he'd come up with to help further alleviate the mind numbing boredom, and hey.. it was kind of interesting to see what the range was. About 27 seconds... which he guessed equaled about 100 ft. Not bad.
He smiled for Ace, happy to see his friend, but still very worried for the older man. After his conversation with Vega he had good reason. That, and something had just happened. Just before Ace got within range the man's emotion had suddenly spiked, shifted and almost.. seem to fold on each other in confusion.
"Yea. They took it out this morning," he explained as Ace came alongside his bed, beaming.
"Still have the chest tube in." Cosmo made a face. "And the IV's. But I can live with those," he said, jerking his head toward the saline and glucose drip that seemed to have become a permanent attachment to his left arm. Not for much longer the nurses promised. Now that Cosmo could eat on his own again, the IV's would no longer be necessary.
"Well, it's step in the right direction," Ace sighed in obvious relief. "You sure you want to talk? You sound a bit hoarse."
Cosmo rolled his eyes.
"Man, you would not believe how much I want to talk!" he declared. "Hoarse or not, dude.. that tube thing sucked."
Ace chuckled. "Yes, I know it does. But you needed it."
"Yea, yea," Cosmo sighed feeling the smallest spike of positive emotion come from Ace with the improvement of his condition. Well... he did say he wanted to talk, and there was no better time then the present. Though he didn't like the idea of altering Ace's improving mood.
"So what's up?"
Ace sighed. "Well.. Mark managed to mix the electronics and the props again.
"Oh man..." Cosmo shook his head. "I'm gone for a few days and everything goes to hell..." he moaned melodramatically.
"It's not that bad."
"Huh. Bet he also misfiled both crates as well."
The look on Ace's face said he had. Cosmo could only shake his head.
"Man..." He fell silent with a chuckle. Sheeesh. Couldn't let things out of his sight for a second it seemed. Cosmo smiled at himself. Uh oh... he was starting to sound... horror of horrors, responsible.
"How are you doing?" Ace asked. Cosmo shrugged, then winced. *That* was a dumb idea.
"Sore... Just pretty much sore and stir crazy, Ace," he admitted with a sad smile. "I just want to go home and sleep in my own bed without anything poking me in any part of my body!"
Ace laughed and patted his arm.
"Well.. you keep improving and you can go home soon," Ace promised. "You just have to take it easy."
"Like I've been real active lately, Ace," Cosmo groaned sarcastically. Then looked at Ace. Well.. now or never.
"How are you doing, dude?"
"Fine, Cosmo." Same answer every time Cosmo asked. He bit back the snarl of frustration. Stubborn. Ace would be stubborn till the end of his days. Well... two could play that game.
"And now the truth, Ace."
That took the magician back a step and Ace's eyes dropped away.
"I'm fine, Cosmo."
"Ace..."
"Not now, Cosmo."
"Then when, Ace? I can feel it, man. I know what's wrong. I know you've got yourself all worked up over Marvin's death," Cosmo got out in a mad rush, wincing. Okay, not the best way, he knew. But... Ace just couldn't go on like this and Cosmo was no shrink. Just his friend. Best friend. And worried silly on top of it.
"I'm okay."
"Sheesh. Dude, would you give up lying to me. It just doesn't work."
Cosmo was taken aback by the sudden anger in Ace's eyes as the older man glared at him.
"Stay out of my head!"
A slap in the face wouldn't have hurt more. Cosmo flinched, eyes dropping. What could he say? He did get in Ace's head. Not intentionally, just naturally. Ace had never before... he hadn't...he...
Cosmo slammed up a shield. A full one.

Ace was frozen. He had not yelled. His voice had been low and even and even the more horrible for it. He felt the magic force thrum to life. Gather and knew Cosmo had, for the first time since waking up, thrown up a shield. It wasn't what he wanted. Not at all. He wasn't mad at Cosmo. Never! He was simply.. well...
"I'm sorry, Cosmo," Ace rasped. He was just mad at himself. Doubly so now. Cosmo wasn't being nosy. His partner made a point of respecting his privacy. Ace knew the teen was just worried for him. And how did he return that concern? By snapping at him. Ace felt like screaming. Of all the things to do. Cosmo was suppose to be resting, recovering and he went and did this. Now the teen had a shield up. In his condition it was suicide.
"I.. I." Ace shut up. Cosmo wasn't looking at him. Studying a point on the blankets in front of his hands that lay limply in his lap. He wasn't sure what to say.

That hurt. Cosmo glared at the catch in the fabric. That had hurt! He felt his jaw clench and tried to force it to relax. Ace was beside him. Apologizing. He knew the older man hadn't really meant it. Ace was just.. lashing out, and he'd been the most convenient target. Still hurt...
But hurting wouldn't solve the problem. Wouldn't help Ace. Cosmo started to draw in a deep breath- and hissed as his whole side exploded in pain. Whoa! Stupid idea!
"Cosmo!" Ace gasped as Cosmo winced and let out a gurgle of pain. The heart monitor stuttered as the young man's fists clenched.
"Dumb.. dumb.. dumb," Cosmo whispered between clenched teeth.
"Easy, Cosmo. Relax." Ace went immediately into The Mode. Voice calm, even, commanding the same response from Cosmo. The young man's body relaxed almost unconsciously, easing back into the bed as Ace talked to him soothingly.
"Relax, Cosmo, relax," Ace kept up his soft commands as Cosmo's hitched breathing steadied.
"You okay?" Ace queried softly.
"Deep breaths are not a good idea right now," Cosmo muttered angrily, eyes still closed against the fading pain.
"Small breaths, Cosmo. You have to take it easy. Relax," Ace said softly, voice still a calm point. Cosmo nodded slightly and at last felt the pain ebb back to it's typical background noise. They had him on mild pain killers, but the flair ups still caught him off guard.
"Thanks, Ace," Cosmo murmured, opening his eyes and looking at his distraught friend. Ace was about to explode if he didn't let go his hurt. Cosmo couldn't be mad at him. Not seeing Ace like this.
"Please drop the shield, Cosmo," Ace sighed gently. His hand reached out and carefully wrapped around Cosmo's. "I'm sorry. That was totally uncalled for."
Heck yea it was, but Cosmo couldn't feel the anger. Not now. Ace was just to messed up to think straight.
"Only if you're sure, Ace. I don't want.."
"Please, Cosmo." Ace interrupted. Cosmo nodded and felt a tremendous relief as he dropped the shield. Ace's emotions slammed in. Despairing and dark as before. But he reveled in the connection again all the same. It just wasn't right when he was blocked off like that.
"Thanks, Ace," Cosmo breathed softly. Ace shook his head.
"No. Don't thank me. I was way out of line."
"Ace.." Cosmo sighed. "Ace, dude, you can't go on like this. It's not good, it's not healthy and besides... you're getting me depressed," Cosmo chuckled. Ace smiled briefly and shook his head.
"It's just... I killed someone, Cosmo. I took a life."
"Not intentionally, Ace."
"It doesn't matter. I got mad.. furious. I let myself get carried away and now a man is dead."
Man. That was a compliment for the creature, Cosmo thought glumly then shoved the thought aside. His own opinions on the matter weren't the problem here. It was Ace's.
"Ace.. you're human. Just a plain old ordinary human. You were mad, scared, desperate. You were just being human," Cosmo sighed. "What would have happened if you didn't stop him, Ace?"
Ace jerked and dropped his eyes, refusing to answer.
"I'd be dead, bro. I'd have two knifes stuck in my back instead of one in my side." Cosmo was glad for the call to Vega. He had no idea just how close he had come. The moment that knife had left his body the world had simply ceased to exist beyond the pain.
"It's no excuse, Cosmo, my magic.."
"Doesn't make you a god, Ace. You taught me that," he interrupted. "Your still good old, Ace. Emphasis on the old." That got him a glare. "With or without the power. Still human, man and not perfect."
Cosmo smiled. "And I'm glad." The teen caught Ace's wrist. "Glad. Thank you for saving my life."
Ace shuddered and tried to draw away. Cosmo held on, but the magician finally broke free of the weak embrace.
"I better go, let you..."
"Don't you dare run away from me, Ace," Cosmo snapped rather harshly. Ace froze, staring wide eye at him. It was not a tone Cosmo took with Ace any day of the week. But damn it! Ace didn't need to feel like this! Cosmo couldn't let him go on like this.
"I..."
"You did your best, Ace! For me. To save me. And you tried your best to save Marvin too. You have nothing to feel guilty for. For one moment in your life the great magician was just a plain old scared human. There's no crime in that, Ace. None. You tried to save us both. You got stuck in a real crappy position and handled it the best you could."
"I should have..." Ace was trembling badly, frozen between the bed and the door. Between running and confronting himself. "I shouldn't have split us up, it was a bad decision. I got you hurt," he whispered.
"No you didn't," Cosmo sighed.
Ace shook his head in denial. "Yes, I did, I shouldn't have left you vulnerable."
"Dude, I'm not a kid and its my own damn fault," Cosmo spat. "I wasn't taking things seriously. I was being cranky with your order, which was the right thing to do by the way, I should have taken it more seriously. I should have kept my eyes open and not been wandering around like a pouting brat," Cosmo explained in aggravation. At himself. He hadn't been paying the best of attention. Hating being separated from Ace. Reacting the same way he always reacted to orders. Rebelliously, angrily.
"You'd think I learn by now. I'm sorry," Cosmo sighed.
Ace looked ready to faint in confusion.
"Why?"
"For not trusting you more, Ace. You'd think by now I wouldn't see your orders as simply a way to push me around, but for what they are. You trying to do your best to take care of me. Me being here is my fault, dude. I didn't take your order to keep on the look out seriously and Marvin caught me off guard. Not your fault, Ace. I'm an adult now, well, technically. We won't go into what Vega has to say on the subject. You tried to protect me and get me to take the situation seriously and I didn't. It got me stabbed."
"It was my responsibility, Cosmo," Ace argued, almost desperately.
"Why? Because you were trying to do what you thought best? Man, how man times have I gone against you because I'm just plain stubborn and how may times have I paid for it?"
Ace was silent momentarily. Cosmo knew he had him on that. Cosmo's track record was pretty sad in that state of affairs.
"Still..."
"Still nothing, Ace! I didn't take you seriously and it got me stabbed. End of story. You did your best to save me. You did save me." Cosmo held out his hand. An invitation for Ace to come back to his bedside. The magician hesitated uncertainly. With a glare Cosmo planted his good hand on the bed and started to shove himself up with a sharp wince.
"What are you doing?" Ace demanded, at his side immediately and nudging him back down. Cosmo went happily with a smile. Ace froze for a moment, then glared.
"Cosmo..."
"It worked didn't it?" That, didn't help the glare.
Ace rubbed at his face, scrubbed it furtively.
"Cosmo..." he gave up. "You are crazy. You know that."
Cosmo grinned. "Yep. I know that." He touched Ace's hand. "But I'm not the problem here."
"Oh. I'm a problem now?"
"Okay... not a problem.. well.. not a big one at least."
Ace groaned.
"More of a little one.. about this big." Cosmo held his hands apart a few inches.
"Cosmo."
"Ace."
Ace sighed and gave up. He started to speak.
"And don't tell me I don't understand," Cosmo interjected cheerfully. Ace glared at him.
"I thought you couldn't read my thoughts?"
"No. I can't. But, Ace, I know you. You did your best. No one holds you at fault. Only you do. You think that would tell you something, bud."
"It was a man's life, Cosmo. I just can't forget that."
Cosmo nodded. "No.. but you can't bring him back either. And beating yourself up one side then down the other won't bring him back either. You did your best, Ace. Heck, you taught me that's what counted in the end."
Ace was silent. Contemplative. He had tried. Tried his damnedest, but still...
"It'll take some time," he sighed. Cosmo shrugged slightly.
"Hey. I've got time. Doctors have been real keen on telling me how much I can't do even when I'm released." He patted Ace's hand, head ducking slightly. "I.. You did your best, Ace. Thanks."
Ace sighed and smiled slightly.
"Thank you, Cosmo. For pointing that out." That got him a blush. Cosmo waved it off with a grin.
"Just pointing out the obvious. Hey, at least I'm cheaper then a shrink."
"For a reason," Ace snorted.
Cosmo rolled his eyes. "Oh great.. sarcasm. I try to help and I get sarcasm."
Ace laughed and shook his head.
"Thanks, Cosmo. Really."
Cosmo just sort of ducked his head.
"So. Tell me what else Mark has messed up while I've been in here."

***

"Hey."
Ace jumped at the unexpected voice.
"I thought you were over the dark brooding stage," Vega teased as he wandered into the study where he had found Ace starring absently at a pile of papers. Probably bills, not that Ace would have any trouble paying them. The magician's thoughts were elsewhere. And it wasn't his financial affairs he was mulling over.
"I'm not brooding," Ace muttered, fussing the papers into a haphazard pile and simply abandoning them on the desk.
"Okay, so you've got a new hobby of staring at paperwork till your eyes fall out. Can't see why anyone calls you eccentric, Ace. That seems normal enough."
Vega just grinned as Ace threw him a dark glare.
"Come on, Ace. Today's not a day to be gloomy," Vega went on. Today Cosmo was coming home from the hospital. And not a moment to soon for the detective. Ace had been slow to coming to grips with the whole ordeal. Accepting his role in Marvin's death, accidental that it was. As Cosmo had recovered so had Ace to some degree. It was like the young man's condition was linked to Ace's acceptance. In a way it was. The better Cosmo was, the less guilty Ace felt. Having him home would help all the more.
Ace sighed, and nodded, a smile hinting on his lips.
"I know, Vega. I know. It's... I still need time."
Vega nodded slightly and came alongside the desk, leaning against it comfortably.
"Well, just don't take the rest of your life, Ace. That's all I ask," he chuckled. Ace shook his head and the smile widened.
"Hopefully it won't go that far," he admitted.
Vega snorted. "I don't think Cosmo could stand it if it did."
At the mention of his partners name, Ace brightened.
"Yea. He's pointed that out to me. Though in a slightly more crude fashion. Something about tossing a brick at me till I started to think straight..."
Vega laughed and shook his head. Not that he didn't agree with the kid.
"Not subtle. But effective," he declared.
Ace just rolled his eyes and pushed himself up. "Cosmo may be many things, subtle is not one of them."
Vega snorted and nodded enthusiastically. "Tell me something I didn't know."
Ace paused at the door and waited till Vega started walking alongside him. The men heading toward the Magic Express' side entrance. Vega's car had been volunteered to bring Cosmo home in today. To save the teen the difficulty of getting into the high sitting Racer.
"Place doesn't seem right without the kid here," Vega commented. The Express seemed.. empty. Too quiet. It reminded him of the time before Cosmo had entered Ace's life. And he'd been a fool in trying to convince Ace not to take the teen under his wing.
"He's not a kid anymore, Vega," Ace pointed out.
"Hummph. Eighteen is barely an adult. Nope. To me he will always be a kid," Vega argued cheerfully. Ace just chuckled and fell silent as they reached the door.
"How's the case going?" Ace asked suddenly, catching Vega off guard. Marvin's case. The wrap up into the official inquiry. Vega had kept Ace's involvement out of it as much as possible. Accidental drowning was the official cause of death. But it was something Ace had not asked about before and Vega hadn't offered any information.
"Almost filed," he said simply.
Ace stepped slowly outside the Express, the door snicking close behind him.
"Almost filed.." he echoed. "How strange that a man's life can end and it ranks nothing more then a folder in a forgotten file cabinet."
"Cut it out, Ace!" Vega snapped, eliciting a slight flinch from his younger friend. Vega planted a hand on the magician's shoulder catching his eyes and holding them.
"There's more to it then that and you know it, Ace. And dwelling on what you can't change won't make things easier for you in any event. It's happened. It's done with and we go on," Vega said simply and firmly. When Ace tried to dodge his gaze Vega shook his shoulder and reclaimed it.
"Go on, Ace. Marvin died. Not you. So start acting like your alive."
"It's not that easy!" Ace argued flustered.
"With you, Ace, it never is," Vega shot back. "But that is the way it is."
Ace sighed and shook his head.
"Time, Derek. I just need time."
"Perhaps," Vega conceded. "But time can only do so much."
Ace frowned slightly, looked ready to say something then just nodded.
"No wallowing in guilt while your around, eh?" he joked softly.
Vega chuckled. "No chance," he assured and steered Ace toward the car.
"Come on. We have a date with a very antsy young man who wants to come home."
Ace brightened at that and let Vega lead the way.

* * *

Home, sweet home.
Cosmo lay on the couch, feet propped up on one arm, some goodies piling up on the low couch table next to him, and soda cans next to them. The couch table had been pushed over within reach so he didn't have to stretch. Well, it wasn't really too bad with the stitches and all, but the spiking needle-like sensation of pain was something Cosmo could do without. It happened now and then, whenever he wasn't careful, and he regretted every wrong move dearly.
Sighing, sipping at the straw from his soda, the teenager zapped through the channels until he found something entertaining, and watched it with some interest. His injured arm lay comfortably across his chest, the thick bandage barely a hindrance but still a nuisance. The wounds from the drainage had been stitched and would leave faint scars. The stab injury had been the worst one and it would most definitely leave a scar. It was the injury that also hurt the most.
Cosmo snuggled deeper into the couch, feeling sleepy but not really exhausted enough to rest. He had rested a lot already and the itchiness inside him didn't come from the healing injuries. It was restlessness. He wanted to get up, walk around, do stuff. He wanted to go to the arcade, meet the gang, hang out, go dancing with Ulene..... Ulene..... A sigh escaped his lips. Ulene had visited every day while he was in hospital, clearly not amused that he was in there... again! She had given him a piece of his mind about ending up on the wrong side of an argument then and Cosmo had to suffer through it. He couldn't leave the room and Ulene was not inclined to.
In the end she had made him promise to be more careful and kissed him. Wow, that kiss. A smile lit up his face at the memory. Ulene could really kiss..... man..... Cosmo dragged himself back out of his warm feelings, aware that if he went any further, he might need a cold shower -- not an option in his condition. He'd need an eternity to just undress and Ace would rip his head off if he did it without help.
Another sigh. This time tinged with mild annoyance. Friendly annoyance. Ace was being the top mother-hen at the moment. He hovered, he pampered, he tried to make up for something he thought was his fault, and Cosmo was slowly getting fed up. Really fed up. It had been nice at first, to have someone waiting on him hand and foot, but there was also the empathy component. Ace projected everywhere, mostly barely squelched guilt and anger at himself, mixed with worry and fear, lined with relief that Cosmo was okay. Of course he was okay! He had been okay the moment Ace had taken out his assailant and gotten him to the hospital. They had talked about this, but Ace was too hard-headed to accept it all immediately. He just had to torment himself.
And Cosmo. Cosmo didn't want to shield because it meant draining his just recharged energies, and he didn't really like shielding to begin with. Working magic was not an option, so he would have to suffer Ace's emotions for a while. Or beat him over the head with a convenient brick if he kept it up.
A grin flew over his lips, disappearing when he felt aforementioned problem coming into the living room/library. Ace walked over to him and Cosmo could read the question before it was spoken out loud.
"I'm fine, Ace," he cut it off, leaving Ace looking perplexed and blinking. Cosmo grinned. "I know what you wanted to ask, so?"
"Oh, right.... empathy."
"No, Cosmo knowledge of a certain magician." Another grin.
Ace sighed and rubbed his neck. "Too much, hm?"
"Just a little bit." Cosmo held his fingers apart about two inch. Then frowned and held both hands apart as if showing him the size of the catch of the day. "Okay, more like this."
Ace gave him an annoyed look and the teenager grinned. "I'm not that bad!"
"Worse."
The magician rolled his eyes.
"I know you mean well, Ace, but that's a bit too much....." Cosmo sat up slightly, wincing. He waved off Ace's help. "I can do it. I'm fine, okay?"
A frown was the answer. Cosmo groaned inwardly. That was just Ace. He would worry until his hair fell out and his face went all crinkly from the constant frowns, but he would still continue worrying. It was in his nature. Few people got to see past all the masks and 'public faces', and Cosmo felt honored that he was one of them, but it was there. Bone-deep, unmovable, ever-present in situations like this.
"You are not fine, Cosmo," the magician now contradicted. "You are still recovering..."
".... from my injuries, I know. I'm the one who gets to lay on the couch and watch all the daily soaps. Not to mention the talk shows. Man, I never thought there were so many and so awfully bad ones. You think you have problems? Go and watch a talk show. Then you know problems!"
Ace chuckled at the exaggeration in Cosmo's voice. "I see you are using your sick time intelligently."
Cosmo grimaced. "I've been through Angel's complete back-up security system twice! By voice activation code! I can tell you, I really miss sitting in front of a keypad and typing it all. I might even have cleaned up my room if I weren't bound to this couch."
A dark eyebrow rose in amusement. "I think that mess will still be there when you are allowed to do real work."
"Oh, and combing through Angel for bugs isn't real work?" Cosmo mumbled mock-insulted.
It got him another grin and he felt Ace's emotions shift. Banter and humor always worked that magic. Huh, yeah, magic. In a way it was.
"So, you and Mona going out on a date?" the teenager asked.
"No. We, uhm, decided to wait till the whole thing blows over. Paparazzo is just waiting for me to get out into the open."
Yeah, and you can't hover if you are enjoying yourself, Cosmo thought with a sigh.
"Hey, I can get my own soda and use the bathroom," he said aloud, grinning to take the edge off his rather pointed remark.
"That may be so, but if something happens to you....."
"... then there's Angel to monitor me. And Zina. Angel's keeping all eyes on my anyway, so what's to worry?"
A frown.
"Ace, c'mon, dude! I'm okay, really! All I do all day and night is lying around and watching TV or read or whatever else takes the mind off this boring existence. I could call Ulene if that makes you feel better and leave the Express."
Now both eyebrows rose. "And you want me to believe that if she's here, you won't exert yourself?"
Cosmo managed not to blush. "Cosmo word of honor. No exertion. Just some friendly care and nursing."
"Ah." Amusement flooded through Cosmo, coming from Ace. The magician didn't really believe him.
"Ace, please! Get out. Date Mona. Whatever. I'll be just fine and it's not like I got any tubes or needles in me."
That produced a brief, dark hole in the happiness and Cosmo cursed himself. Way to go! Remind Ace of the hospital time! But the darkness was swallowed by the brightness almost immediately and Ace simply sighed.
"Okay. I'll call Mona and see if she is free for the evening."
"If she isn't, call Vega," Cosmo suggested, smiling.
Ace chuckled. "Don't you think he's a bit too old?"
Cosmo laughed, ignoring the stinging from the wound. "Nah, but he isn't your type anyway."
The magician smiled. "Well, thank you, I think."
He rose from where he had sat and walked over to the phone, not using the vid screen. Cosmo felt satisfaction course through him. Ace's emotions were turning more positive and happy by the minute, which meant that Mona had some free time. Good! Perfect even! Cosmo would call Ulene later and let her know that he was in dire need of some company, intelligent company. A nice evening with her was just what the doctor had ordered. Same went for Ace.
More self-satisfaction filled him.
Yep, good work. Psychology 101.... well, Ace Cooper 101..... and no consultation fee. Cosmo snickered to himself, then went back to watching TV, trying to find a channel where they didn't have either soaps, talk shows or reruns of movies he had seen over a dozen times already when he had been a kid.