Disclaimer: It's Jonathan Larson's sandbox—I just play here because it's fun.
Author's Note: This is very AU, very sci-fi, and very much an experiment in style (more for later chapters.) My hard-drive crashed, I lost a year's worth of writing, so this is like catharsis. I'm writing it to get back into the proverbial swing of things. I apologize to no one for borrowing from all over the place. My only statement on where this came from is this: I have spent too much time lately reading the Handmaid's Tale and 1984—I watched V For Vendetta the other day and that was the whipped cream on the pie. Here I am. This takes place before I'll Cover You (Reprise) and goes AU from there. The prologue focuses on Collins and Angel, but that is not where our lens will remain.
Reviews are appreciated, not required. Honest opinions and brains inside the heads are, though. Flames, praise, critiques… hit me. I've got a bottle of Absolut and a kung-fu bunny.
By Etcetera Kit
Prologue: A Cure
"The latest outbreak has been at St. James' Secondary School, a private boarding school in East Hampton. The students began to suffer high fevers last week. Currently, one hundred and fifty-seven students have died. More are infected—"
"Do you fucking believe this?"
Tom Collins grabbed the remote, clicking the television off. Without the squawk box, the waiting room went back to being sterile, cold, uninviting. The white walls appeared bluish under the fluorescent lights. Magazines from years ago cluttered the chairs and tables. His back hurt from leaning against a garish orange chair. Hell, his back had hurt permanently from these chairs. The thought of these chairs made him ache. At least, when he was with Angel, she wanted him in the bed with her, not in one of these hellish chairs.
"No." Roger Davis took a drag on his cigarette. This waiting room was one of the only ones in the whole building that allowed smoking. Mimi was with Angel. Collins didn't like to leave her for long, but Mimi had told both of them to go smoke. Angel was sleeping—nothing was going to happen in the next half hour.
"And we thought AIDS was bad." He snorted. "It's like they're finding more viruses to unleash on us. Pretty soon everyone will be infected and dying of something."
"Schools," Roger replied. "It's all been at schools."
"Now we're going to attack educated people." Collins threw the remote into a vacant chair. "This country is turning into 1984. George Orwell fucking called it forty years ago, and no one listened to him." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "And all this crap about uniformity? How long before that kills all expression and we have to conform or die?"
Collins just sighed. Roger was placating him. The rocker knew that his nerves were shot. Angel didn't have much time, combined with the new outbreaks and government going military about it, instead of looking for a cure. Part of him was glad Angel wasn't going to live to see this—he couldn't imagine her forced to dress as a man, unable to walk down the street, dancing to a rhythm in her head. That sort of thing would kill her faster than AIDS ever would. He placed a hand over his heart, rubbing, but knowing that the tightness wasn't going away. Angel… He loved her so much that it hurt. He didn't want her to die, but the cold truth…
Nothing was going to be the same.
"I wish he was."
The pair looked up as Mark Cohen walked into the waiting room. He sank into a chair next to Roger, clutching his messenger bag to his chest. Collins leaned forward. Mimi might have told him to smoke, but he couldn't calm himself down enough to light a cigarette, let alone enjoy one.
"I just got done talking to Maureen and Joanne," the filmmaker said softly. "Joanne's got some friend whose father is a senator. They're talking about cracking down on protestors—anyone who strays from the norm. Martial law is coming, according to them."
"Shit," Collins swore.
Roger leaned back, eyes wide. He turned to Collins. "Maybe you weren't dramatizing."
"The media is being pooled into one conglomerate," Mark continued. "Alexi wanted her directors and their lawyers present. It's going to be something like a one year program. Everything is going to be fed from one source."
"Fucking hell." Collins stood up. "There has to be something we can do. I'm not going to lie down and let liberty die."
Mark and Roger scrambled to their feet. "Where are you going?" Mark asked.
"Angel," he replied, a sarcastic edge to his voice. He felt strung out, hollow. Dear God, even if Angel was sleeping, her company was better than Roger, who couldn't understand what was happening, and Mark, who knew all too well. However, his solitude with Angel wasn't going to happen. The rocker and the filmmaker followed him down the hall and to the elevator.
None of them said anything as they made the journey to Angel's room. Mark looked pale and frightened, like he had never dreamed that life could come to this. Roger was frowning, probably trying to place himself in this picture. He hadn't had a band in over a year, just stayed around the loft writing songs, and intermittently helping with the sound equipment at the Green Onion. Nothing he did caused much of a splash—heterosexual, steady girlfriend despite their constant fights… Mark knew that his films brought too much forward. HIV, the homeless… that certainly didn't have the ring of conformity. Outbreaks and the government wanted martial law…
Angel's hall was silent. That wasn't unusual for this time of night. The nurses stayed in their station and were supremely quiet on rounds. Collins rubbed his forehead. This night wasn't going to get any longer. Besides, he hadn't had a full night's sleep in months. He was so afraid that Angel might slip away while he was selfishly sleeping. The irrational side of his mind said that Angel wouldn't be tempted to sleep in a situation like this, but that was a lie.
He walked into Angel's room, and his heart froze.
"What the hell are you doing!" he bellowed.
Collins frantically looked around, trying to determine the situation. A woman in a black tank top and jeans was near Angel's IV line. Her hair was in a simple ponytail, and she was Caucasian. Mimi was sitting in one of the chairs, a man leaning over her, checking her pulse. He was tall, lithe, and dark-skinned, indicating Hispanic or Pacific Islander descent.
"He's dying," the woman said simply. She turned towards them, a large syringe in her hand.
"It's poison," Collins hissed. "You're killing her!"
"It's not poison," the woman replied, sounding bored. "And he's already dying, what difference does that make?"
Collins started across the room, losing his footing when Roger grabbed him around the torso. He went down on his knees, breathing ragged, and cheeks damp from tears he hadn't been aware he was shedding.
"Mimi," Roger breathed from somewhere above Collins' shoulder.
"She's fine," the man said. "She'll sleep for an hour or so."
"We need an explanation," Mark said, his voice shaking. "You can't just barge into someone's hospital room without permission. We know someone whose a lawyer and she can—"
"Joanne Jefferson," the woman said. "She's a good lawyer, a good person." She paused. "She's also a lesbian, so she's at risk, as are most of you." Her eyes were distant, sad. The man stepped forward, holding his hands up.
"We want to help," he said slowly. "We have contacts in the government. Things will only get worse before they get better. Almost all of you are at risk. You're either homosexual, or you have AIDS, neither of which bodes well."
"Why us?" Mark asked, sounding confused. "We're no one! We live in a loft that doesn't have power or heat, and we don't ever have enough money for food, and—"
"So?" the man asked. "You live. You dream. Is there much more?" He paused. "Mark Cohen, currently employed by Buzzline, but you don't get your best footage from using what the show can offer. You get your best footage prowling the streets on your bike." He turned to Collins, still on the floor in Roger's embrace. "Tom Collins, MA, currently a professor of philosophy at New York University, specializing in a theory of actual reality that hinges on anarchy."
"How do you know all this?" Mark whispered.
"It doesn't matter."
"Why us?" the filmmaker repeated.
"You represent hope."
"I don't understand," Roger spoke up. "Mark said it—we're no one. Nothing we've ever done has made a difference. Why are you helping us?"
"You're not the only ones," the woman said. "Join us, and we offer protection, a chance to make a difference—"
"Those don't go together," Collins growled, unaware of how tight his chest had gotten. These people made no sense. "Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both," he intoned. Go back to Abraham Lincoln. That's how long these truths had been here, and that would all be lost in one fell swoop.
"I never said anything about forfeiting liberty. I am merely saying that we can hide you. We know of places that have little surveillance." She shrugged. "And people are easily bribed. None of this is foolproof, but we want to stop this. You can help in whatever fashion you wish." She paused, holding up the syringe. "And we have a cure."
Collins balled a fist against his heart. "A cure?"
"A cure," the woman repeated. "For AIDS. The cure has been here for as long as the disease, but no one wanted you to know that."
"Distribution of the cure?" Roger whispered.
The woman nodded. "If that's what you want to do."
"He is pretty advanced," the man picked up. "This will require a series of injections. The first will feed in through his IV. The initial injection will make him feel a hundred times better, but all injections must be administered for him to be cured."
Collins watched, unable to speak, as the woman shot the clear liquid into the IV. Angel continued to sleep, her expression peaceful. He felt torn. She couldn't be telling the truth. AZT was the best hope any of them had about delaying the onset of full-blown AIDS. All this time? A cure?
"Take him home in the morning," the woman said. "We'll be in touch."
She swept out of the room. The man crouched on the floor next to Collins, producing a small soft-side cooler. He unzipped it, revealing four packets. Each was labeled with a name. Angel's was on top—Angel Schunard, followed by a birth date and other information. The man lifted Angel's to reveal the others. Thomas Collins, Roger Davis, Mimi Marquez…
"One injection, once a week, until the supply is exhausted." He re-zipped the case. "One month from now, make sure all your friends are in the same place. We'll find you. And we'll send messages before then."
And he was gone.
Collins stared at the case in his hands. This was incredible. There was a different number of injections for each of them, he supposed, depending on how advanced each person was. Angel still had the most. Mimi, then Roger, then himself… one month… he couldn't process how he felt, what was happening… He wasn't sure how long it was before Roger released him and crossed the room to Mimi. She was still asleep. The rocker smoothed back her hair, probably remorseful over their last fight.
Angel was awake. He awkwardly pushed himself off the floor, still clutching that precious case to his chest. The clock read a much later time than he thought it should have. They must have stayed frozen for much longer than he originally thought. "I'm here, baby," he whispered, sitting on the edge of the bed and taking her hand.
"What did they give me?" she asked.
"A cure," he replied, kissing her forehead. "A cure."
The townhouse was quiet, for once. Collins breathed a sigh of relief. The place hadn't been built to accommodate seven people, most of whom had explosive personalities. Joanne had offered to let them all live in her house, simply because the mystery people had asked them all to be together, and her place had heat, and water, and all the things that the others places lacked. Plus, she had the space. Joanne and Maureen were in the master bedroom, while Roger and Mimi were on a futon in Joanne's former office. Mark had the sleeper-sofa in the living room, while he and Angel had the guestroom. He knew that Joanne had done that based on the fact that Angel was still weak, but, three weeks later, it was hard to tell that Angel ever had been sick.
He wasn't going to complain about having the guestroom. They had relatively more privacy than the others, including Maureen and Joanne, due solely to the floor plan of the house.
Angel was curled against his side, not sleeping, but silent and still. She spent a lot of time thinking. Collins had told her what happened in the hospital room that night, and she hadn't said much, just been quiet and thoughtful. They hadn't been able to go out very often, because of the increasing restraints. Tempers ran high and loud. Angel usually managed to calm everyone down, but then went into their bedroom and cried. The tears were also unusual. Angel did a lot of eccentric and eclectic things, but she rarely cried. Until now.
He stifled a laugh. "You can't go get water by yourself?"
"Be my buddy?"
"Angel," he said, smiling in their darkened room. "Fine." He pushed back the covers, locating a pair of pajama pants. He pulled them on, aware that Angel was taking in the show. "I'm not going downstairs naked. Mark's on the couch and God only knows when Roger and Mimi might appear."
"You can just give me the full show later."
Collins shook his head. "It's a good thing I love you—"
"You love me bunches, don't even deny it." Angel got out of bed. She had already been wearing a tank top and running shorts, parts of an assortment of old clothes that she slept in. Well, slept in if he didn't get around to taking them off first. She pulled him out of bed. Once he was standing, she stood on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on his nose.
Hands entwined, they went downstairs to the kitchen. Mark was sprawled on the couch, mouth slightly open, as he snored. The door to the office was shut. That much was good—Roger and Mimi weren't fighting.
The kitchen seemed different at night. The lights made it appear large and surgically clean. Various people, in different stages of agitation, went on cleaning rampages. Maureen and Joanne took turns, although Mark had been known to do odd housework when upset. Collins thought they were all nuts, especially since he and Angel never did dishes until there were no clean ones left. Laundry day meant there were no more clean clothes. Their apartment was cleaned when all the surfaces and chairs were covered in stuff and their bed doubled as a dresser. Oh well, their clothes weren't in their bed here, just all over the floor.
Angel got a glass from a cupboard, and filled it with tap water, not bothering with ice. She leaned against the counter, looking like a normal guy, standing in a normal kitchen, drinking some water. Her eyes met his over the top of the glass. "What?" she asked, a lilting laugh behind the word.
"Nothing," he replied. "You're the one that dragged me down here."
"You're sexy," he added, stepping closer. Angel drained the glass, placing the used dish in the sink. Her lips curled into an amused smile. He closed the space between them, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer. She rested her hands on his chest.
"What are you thinking about, professor?" she whispered.
"We're cured," he said softly. "The normal lives we thought we could never have… It's all in reach now."
Angel nodded. Each of them had been to the clinic, and their doctors were amazed to report that the virus was gone. For Angel and Mimi, there was one more injection, but he and Roger were done, their doctors and Joanne's having pronounced them cured. "It's why we have to help," she said. "It's why we have to fight. What good is a cure when our lives could be wrecked anyways?"
They both fell silent for a moment. Sometimes the situation was hard to believe. He kept expecting to wake up. Angel threaded her arms around his middle, resting her head on his shoulder. "I wonder if those people are ever going to come find us." She snorted into his shoulder. "That sounded like we're playing hide 'n' seek or Marco Polo."
Collins laughed, planting a kiss on her neck. "Maybe we could convince the others to play hide 'n' seek tomorrow. Might be good for us."
Angel smiled, moving her head so she could look at him. Collins would never understand how she could look so serene about everything. Roger could have torn into the house, screaming about giant hamsters destroying the city, and Angel would have just looked at him, blinked and gone back to whatever she had been doing.
She pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. He held onto it, seeking harder and deeper kisses. Angel's hands were at the back of his neck. This was—
Collins reluctantly broke the kiss, turning to see who had just entered the kitchen. Mark, half-asleep and without glasses, had wandered in, heading straight for the fridge. "I just want some juice," he muttered. His blonde hair was sticking up at odd angles.
Angel took Collins' hand. A goofy grin plastered itself over his face. "I think we can leave him to the juice," she whispered into his ear, breath hot on his skin. Mark didn't appear to have registered their exchange.
The trip upstairs and into their room seemed to take forever. Angel was everywhere—lips, teeth, tongue… Christ… his mind shut down and gave into what his body wanted.
"Well, maybe if you would do something—"
"I did do something! What the hell are you doing?"
"No," Angel groaned. "No. No. No."
The loud voices continued from downstairs. That sounded like Maureen and Joanne were in the center of the fight, while Roger and Mimi were on the fringes. Collins shifted. Angel had extracted herself from his arms, and burrowed her head under the pillows. Not that that was unusual. Angel burrowed into blankets like some kind of mole.
"Make them stop!" Angel's voice was muffled and nothing more than a moan. "I can't deal with this anymore. Stop. STOP!"
Collins sat up, placing a hand on the center of Angel's back. "Baby?" he asked. Her shoulders were shaking. Fantastic. He scrubbed his hands over his face. Someone was in the bathroom, and, from the sounds of things, retching. Mark… the filmmaker's stomach gave him problems when he was stressed and this morning's fight seemed to have been stressful. Between Mark being unable to keep anything down and Angel melting down, he wasn't sure how they were supposed to survive.
He planted a kiss on Angel's bare shoulder, gently running a hand between her shoulder blades. Sighing, he located and pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He padded downstairs, the yells becoming clearer. Maureen and Joanne were on opposite sides of the kitchen, screaming. Mimi was hunched next to the fridge, eyes wide. She never got into the arguments unless she was fighting with Roger. The rocker was desperately trying to get them to stop, but his voice was lost under theirs.
Collins placed his pinkies in his mouth, emitting a shrill whistle. Maureen and Joanne stopped mid-sentence, staring at him. Roger mouthed 'thank you' at him.
"I don't care what the hell you were fighting about, but knock it the hell off," he snapped, temper coming dangerously close to an end. "Mark is in the bathroom throwing up, and Angel is in tears, and it's not even breakfast yet!"
He strode into the room and pulled the fridge open, taking out a bottle of water and a can of Sprite. Someone had put on hot water for tea and cocoa, and coffee was perking. "I know this entire living situation sucks, but think about someone besides yourselves for once!" He pulled a mug from a cabinet and filled it with hot water. The tin of tea bags was on the counter. He extracted one and placed it in the mug of hot water.
"I'm going to make sure Mark and Angel are all right. Stop bitching at each other."
Their soft voices floated out of the kitchen as he went to the ground floor bathroom. He knocked softly. "It's open," Mark said, his voice hoarse. Collins placed the Sprite and water under his arm, opening the door.
Mark was on the floor next to the toilet—paler than usual and his eyes were watery. He pushed himself into a sitting position as Collins entered. "You all right?" he asked.
The filmmaker nodded wearily. "I guess I'm back to saltines and plain toast today." He attempted a wane smile.
"Guess so." Collins handed him the tea and the Sprite. He reached into the medicine cabinet over the sink and pulled out the Tums. Mark set the Tums and the Sprite on the floor next to him.
"Thanks," he said softly.
"Let me know if you need anything else."
Mark nodded. "I will."
"You sure you're okay?"
"I don't think there's anything left in my stomach to come up." He paused, blowing on the tea to cool it. "Go check on Angel. He's probably fed up." Collins just gave Mark a level stare. "And I won't clean anything with chemicals until I've eaten something."
"I'll give you something better—see if you can convince Angel to pick up some of the clothes."
"I do value my life, you know."
Mark smiled. Collins laughed. Mark appeared to be doing better. But they all knew that he didn't talk about it when he felt under the weather. Roger, especially, had been overprotective of Mark. Collins wouldn't be surprised if Roger showed up in the bathroom with toast or crackers for Mark. Hushed voices came from the kitchen. If anyone was still squabbling, they were being quieter about it than normal.
He walked down the short hall from the downstairs bathroom to the small front hall. He swung himself around the newel post and took the stairs two at a time. Angel was sitting just outside their bedroom, back to the wall and knees drawn up to her chest. "Sorry," she said softly with a forced smile. He shook his head and handed her the bottle of water. She accepted it. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I used to be able to handle it, but now everyone's here and we're all fighting over milk and dirty dishes and who ate the last bagel—"
"We've always been able to go home," Collins interjected gently. "We've always been able to take some time apart and remember why we love each other." He snorted. "We've never had to deal with each other constantly."
"Is Mark all right?"
Collins shrugged. "She seemed fine as well. No withdrawal problems that I could see."
Angel unfolded her limbs. "I should go check on them." Her dark eyes were distant. "Make sure they eat something."
He sighed. That was Angel—always putting everyone else ahead of her. Make sure Mimi and Mark were all right and had breakfast before even thinking about eating herself. "Compromise—you go make Mimi those toad-in-a-hole things you two like so much, and I'll help Roger force some toast down Mark's throat, okay?"
Angel nodded. She was wearing gray sweat pants and his flannel shirt. Collins pressed a firm, but quick kiss to her lips. "It'll be all right," he whispered.
The Patriot Act… Homeland Security…
When did difference become bad? Why do they hate so much?
Immigrants, Muslims, Homosexuals, Terrorists…
He had never thought he'd live to see a day when the meanings of words became twisted beyond recognition. Things that existed as mere words were imbibed with hatred and fear. People were afraid of difference. All the government asked for was conformity in exchange for security, in exchange for stopping the civil war, in exchange for… everything.
Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both.
Abraham Lincoln said it. Collins said it in the days before he was taken. God, he had thought that Collins would die. Angel had been taken while he was walking home from work. The only person who would speak of what really happened was a shopkeeper, an old friend of Angel's family. He had listened to Collins on the phone, hearing those haunting, heart-wrenching sobs.
It wasn't long before Collins was taken too. He just stayed there, waiting, offering no resistance. Angel was gone and locked up somewhere, the subject of bizarre tests, so that was the fate that Collins wanted to share as well. Maureen and Joanne were taken during the night, while staying at the Jeffersons' summer home.
And still, the strange duo from the hospital never came.
He began to think that they were just part of the government, wanting them all in one place in order to abduct them. But why would they give them the cure? Angel and Collins went to Angel's childhood home in Philadelphia, where they were taken. Maureen and Joanne fled to Maine. He, Mimi and Mark stayed in Joanne's townhouse.
No hope. No word.
The man from the hospital was in their living room. His name was Trent. He had no explanations for not coming sooner, he was sorry for what happened to their friends. He offered no false hope for saving their friends, but if they wanted to help, they could come with him.
We've got nothing left to lose.
Except each other.
Trent asked them to pack a small bag of clothing and personal items, nothing more than they could easily carry. He had done as asked, watching as Mimi packed a few pictures and one of Angel's skirts. He had Collins' jacket, the one Angel bought for him. Mark had items that belonged to Maureen and Joanne.
They got into a rickety truck, everything they had left in the bags in their arms. He watched the city melt into countryside. Was there anything left worth fighting for? Could they undo the twisted maze of madness the country had wandered through?
Collins and Angel would have fought. Maureen and Joanne would have fought.
So that was precisely what he was going to do.
To be continued…