Disclaimer: It's Jonathan Larson's sandbox. The toys belong to some other copyrighted kids. I'm here because alligators have invaded the sandcastle competition.
Author's Note: A serious author's note, I had to make some aesthetic choices regarding Angel and gender for this chapter. So far, Angel's been in the first person, hence avoidance of gendered pronouns. Well, here it was unavoidable. Seeing as Angel had been locked up for ten years for being "degenerate," I went with the choice that would make the most sense given that situation. Interestingly enough, Angel remains ambiguous about how she sees herself in the show and the movie. Please note for the other characters, I've tried to have each character refer to Angel as they would see Angel.
I also must thank The Free Library for some last minute help. My copy of the Count of Monte Cristo had gone AWOL, so I found this place on a google search. They have the whole book on-line and I am grateful to them for bailing me out of a sticky spot. I would not have been happy if I had to change the book in this chapter. But that's neither here nor there. I appreciate all the feedback so far. Please keep commenting—the good, the bad and the ugly.
By Etcetera Kit
Chapter Seven: A Sunrise
Angel Dumott Schunard awoke to dull, pounding pain, and oppressive silence. He blinked, trying to focus on his surroundings. The med center—still. Ordinarily, the med center meant anything, but giggles and sunshine. However, the place hadn't been so bad since the broken leg. At least, here, the sheets were clean and the thin mattresses beat out the stone floor any day. Besides, being in the med center meant that he didn't have to go to the disinfecting once-a-week showers with everyone else. Med center patients got to have a real shower. No soap, just rubbing alcohol, but he wasn't going to complain.
He leaned back on the paper thin pillow. There was no escape from this cycle. He had tried—and failed. Death was the one release he wasn't allowed. And it might have worked, had the doctor not come by at that moment, saying he was part of some experiment. What experiment? It had been a while since he'd been given injections. Not that he ever knew what was going on in this place. No one deemed it necessary to tell him things.
Sunshine, flowers, colors… all those things seemed so foreign. He'd had them, once. He closed his eyes, trying to remember the warm sun, the hot pavement, making it from the fashion company to the deli to NYU in less than ten minutes, skidding to a halt just outside Collins' classroom as the lecture was letting out. Simple things, good things. Real things.
He opened his eyes. Had someone just used his first name? No one had used his first name in a long time—if the doctors had to use a name, they used his last name. In fact, the doctors were convinced that 'Angel' wasn't his real first name. Apparently, they'd never met his mother. She had been a romantic at heart, and gave him and his sister names with a romantic, ethereal flair. Perhaps he had the better end of the bargain, since his sister abhorred 'Glorianna Belladonna.'
A white coat. He focused on the face of the doctor. She looked vaguely familiar, as if from a dream within a dream, from another life. She smiled, gently inspecting his broken leg.
In a flash, he remembered her. Life Support. She had been the older lady in their group—not much older. She never talked about how she contracted AIDS, but her aspiration had always been to be a doctor. He remembered her shy smile, her genuine laugh. "Sue?" he croaked, scarcely believing that she was real and here.
"Yes," she replied softly.
"It's a long story." She paused, lowering her voice even more. "I'm here to get you out."
Her words seemed distant. He couldn't quite believe what she was saying. After so long, this wasn't possible. She couldn't get them out of here. He remained silent, watching as she went to a tub in the corner of the hall. The med center was a long, rectangular room and had been divided with screens and curtains to make individual rooms. His area was on the end, with the sinks and tubs visible. She poured another liquid into the tub, the acrid smell of vinegar hitting his nostrils. She turned on the water and the sound of gushing liquid filled the room.
After a few moments, she seemed satisfied that the tub was filled enough and turned off the water. She crossed the small area to him.
"Come on," she said, holding out her arms. "We need to get that cast off and get you in a walking cast." Angel didn't move, eyeing her warily. "The break was clean," she continued, as if his reservations had anything to do with the healing of the limb. "It's mended enough that the cast can come off and a walking cast will allow you to exercise the limb, while allowing it to continue mending."
No other choice—she was a doctor here. Angel swung his good leg off the bed, and followed with the leg in a cast. Using Sue's arms as a support, he managed to stand on one leg, keeping the bad leg off the ground. Stilling using Sue as a support, he hopped to the tub. Sue lowered him onto the edge of the tub. "You need to soak the leg until the cast dissolves," Sue explained.
Angel lowered the broken leg into the water, managing to maintain balance on the edge of the cold, aluminum tub. That much was a miracle. Perhaps that kickboxing jaunt a few weeks ago had actually helped, even if it had ended in broken limbs.
Still feeling surreal, he watched as Sue left his cubicle and disappeared into the one next door. He couldn't believe any of this, even if he had known Sue before. She could just be a part of the regime, here for… he didn't know.
Low voices came from the cubicle next door. Angel frowned, trying to ignore the vinegar. Sterile, medicinal scents were not unusual, but rubbing alcohol didn't have the same bite that vinegar did. And the voices… doctors and orderlies spoke to one another here, but patients—right, patients!—were backhanded for speaking or worse. He had learned to keep silent here.
But seeing Sue after so long… he hadn't even thought before speaking. It was almost as if life before… this… came rushing back. Freedom to speak when, where and what he chose. For a brief moment, Angel wondered if Sue knew about the others—Mark, Mimi and Roger… Collins… Maureen and Joanne. She would know, wouldn't she? If she was here, and claiming to help, escape…
Sue came back into his cubicle. Angel stared at her, knowing that the cast was thoroughly soaked at this point in time. She was quick and efficient as she removed the sopping wet cast, dried his leg—which looked dirtier and punier than ever—and got a walking cast in place. Despite the surreal quality of the situation, Angel could only think that Sue had really grown up and come into her own in all the years since Life Support. She would have had to.
She pulled a bundle from under the bed, motioning him closer. On closer inspection, he saw what was in the bundle—clothes, shoes. Sue held up the visitor's badge. Distantly, he recognized the photo as one from his old Pennsylvania driver's license.
"You are a med student at NYU," she said quietly and quickly. "You're field of specialization is biotech industries. You're here to observe some new advances. I am your academic advisor."
Angel nodded, frowning. "But the names, it's—"
"The same, yes." Sue paused. "Visitor logs and prisoner logs are never compared. And, because you've been a prisoner, you've been legally dead for ten years. Even if they discovered you on the outside, they could never prove you've been here, because you don't exist." She gave him a wry smile. "Your activities for the past ten years have been fictionalized as well."
Heavy footsteps could be heard coming into the med center. Sue shoved the clothing at him. "Hurry," she hissed. "I'll stall the guard."
Angel watched as she stepped into the hall. Her voice could be heard greeting the guard, explaining that someone else had already escorted the two prisoners back to their cells. The small talk was amazing to hear—the guard teased her about screwing up their routine, and Sue claimed that being the new guy caused those things.
He shook his head. He pulled off the orange uniform. Hands shaking and not quite remembering the motions, he put on the shorts and undershirt, the feel of clothing odd after such a long time. The shirt was long-sleeved and black, with a V-neck. The material was soft—cashmere? The cloth felt heavenly next to his skin. The jeans were next—one leg had already been split for the walking cast—a bit too big, but cinching the belt tighter solved that problem. Shoe and sock on the non-cast foot, and he slipped the visitor's badge around his neck.
Distantly, he heard Sue and the guard exchange closing pleasantries. The guard walked back towards the main desk, and Sue reappeared in the cubicle.
"Good," she said, inspecting his appearance. She picked up the hat from the bed—reminiscent of one he wore frequently before coming here—and jammed it on his head. "You'll need to put weight back on," she continued, "But the guards won't notice."
Angel doubted that, but didn't say so. Hadn't these same doctors and guards been dragging them all over this facility for years? Wouldn't they recognize someone that they had dragged from place to place? Beat up? Brutalized…
Sue pushed open the curtains to the neighboring cubicle. For a moment, Angel didn't recognize the woman sitting on the edge of the bed. Then it clicked. Maureen. Her hair hadn't been shaved in a while, so about an inch of brown hair covered her head. The shirt and slacks would have been attractive had she not been so thin.
"Maureen?" Angel limped across the small space, still not used to the walking cast. Maureen forced a smile and stood up. For years, only seeing a part of her face or her fingers… and now… He reached out and pulled Maureen into a tight hug. She returned the embrace.
"We've been together for so long," she whispered, "And now I finally get to see you."
"I know, honey," Angel replied softly. "I know."
"Let's go," Sue interrupted softly. "We have to get to the safe house before first light."
Angel released Maureen, and nodded slowly. The situation still felt too surreal, like things were happening too quickly to comprehend.
No day but today…
He shifted, taking Maureen's hand. She held on tightly.
Sue led the way out of the cubicle and into the hall. A single guard stood on duty near the end of the hall—not the guard Angel was used to seeing. He nodded at them as they approached. "My med interns," Sue said easily. "Stopped by to observe."
"State of the art, isn't it?" the guard asked them.
Heart pounding with terror, Angel couldn't make his voice work, so he just nodded. "Anyways," Sue continued. "We've got a long drive back to New York."
"Hear that," the guard responded. "Have a safe trip."
They walked past the guard and out, up… No one looked twice at them. They entered a huge lobby, complete with a reception desk, security checkpoint and night guard. He inspected their badges as Sue signed them out. Angel knew this guard—the one that broke his leg. He looked right into the guard's eyes… and the guard didn't recognize him.
Gray, pre-dawn light filtered through the window. He pushed the blankets off and glanced across the small room. Maureen was still asleep in the other bed. The real mattresses reminded him just how much his body hurt—and had become accustomed to aches and pains. And still, sleep was elusive.
The past few hours came back to him as a blur. They had left the facility without as much as a second glance from a guard. Sue had timed their departure just after a change of guards—no one knew that she hadn't ever brought in the two interns, and she doctored the visitor's logs. A truck had been waiting for them just beyond the facility gates, hidden in a wooded area. He and Maureen had been in the truck bed, under a blanket and a tarp. They clung to one another, listening to the wind howl, as they were jostled and bruised.
Still the dead of night when they got to the house.
A safe house, Sue had said, operated and run by an underground organization called the Patriots. The government turned a blind eye to their houses and complexes. Angel couldn't help but remember 1984, when the resistance movement had turned out to be part of the government, designed to relieve pressure from the masses, like a pressure cooker.
Warmth and freedom, for the first time in… Sue had said they'd been in that facility for ten years. He found that hard to believe. Had so much time passed? He lost track of time fairly quickly and being underground only added to that disorientation.
And now… no day but today.
Angel crept out of bed, careful not to wake Maureen. Sue had taken her blood pressure and run a score of tests last night, before they had gone to bed. She wanted to make sure that the latest infection was out of Maureen's system, and that she was recovering well.
The house was seemed bigger at this hour of the morning. The rooms were eerily quiet, his limp sounding much louder than it actually was. He glanced at the duffel bag of clothes at the foot of his bed. Before the adrenaline wore off last night, he had rifled through the bag. The pieces were dark colors, nothing like the bright, riotous things he wore all those years ago. All men's clothing… a part of his mind knew that dressing in drag was dangerous, if not lethal. Even the bright colors might be something frowned upon. The dark clothes were a necessity, something required for survival.
That didn't mean he had to like it.
He could remember ten years ago, when they received the cure. He and Collins had spent late nights thinking of ways to help. They wanted to distribute the cure to their friends and family. Organize protests, march on Washington, raise voter awareness and get people to the polls… all had been discussed as serious options.
Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both.
The motto quoted, almost incessantly, to remind themselves that fear was not a reason to forfeit the things that made them unique, that made them human. If they sacrificed liberty, what else was left? And the rest of the world… what had happened when America fell to this insanity? Sue would know. He'd ask her what had happened in the ten years since he'd been locked away, the subject of bizarre tests.
Letting out an inaudible sigh, he went through the clothing and picked out a navy blue long-sleeved shirt and another pair of jeans. The bathroom seemed like a foreign land—the light having the same effect on his eyes as a supernova. So many years of only having a toilet and being put in a sterilizing shower. He wasn't sure what to do with the freedom to even bathe as he wanted.
Finally, he opted for a quick shower, using the nondescript soap that someone had left in the bathroom. Dirt was still caked under his fingers and toes—he'd have to soak for many hours before that got loose. And despite being relatively clean—for the facility standards—the water still ran gray, the soap lather turning the same color.
Weirdly, in those facilities, the doctors hadn't wanted to deal with rotting teeth, so their teeth were cleaned once a week with those disinfecting showers. He still felt better brushing his own teeth with actual toothpaste.
The sun still hadn't risen as he left the bathroom.
Almost as if the sun were waiting on him.
Ridiculous. Orbits didn't slow down because of one human being.
He dressed and padded out of the bathroom. He had taken off the walking cast to shower and saw no reason to put the thing back on now. Hopping along on one foot, he managed well enough. The stairs were even less of a challenge.
Downstairs was even quieter than up. He could hear the water heater of the house, the soft whir of fans. The rooms were warm, almost stuffy—another thing he hadn't felt in a decade. Their cells were always cool, but never quite cold. He moved through a hall and towards the back of the house. The porch faced the sea—east. He hopped over to the sliding glass door, resting one hand on the glass.
Slowly, golden light began to break over the horizon. The grays were melted with the morning mist as streaks of gold, orange and pink painted the sky. He blinked, shielding his eyes against the glare. The only bright lights for all those years were the fluorescent lights of the med center, not the natural light… not the sunrise.
Warm, breath-taking in its beauty…
There were no words to describe seeing the sunrise after so long—he had thought he'd die without seeing another sunrise, daylight…
A tear rolled down his cheek, followed by another. Soon, he was sobbing, still staring at the rising run, unwilling to look away for fear that he'd miss a moment. His fingers against the glass clenched into a fist. They had tried to steal the basic things from him, things he had taken for granted before being captured. They had tried to say that he didn't deserve sunlight, that he was degenerate, something unnatural and evil. They had wanted to crush him, take away all hope and light.
Well, they were wrong.
The sun was his once again.
He didn't know how long he stood in front of that door, watching the sun climb into the sky. Eventually, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning slightly, he saw Sue. She smiled. "You need to put the walking cast back on," she said gently, no reprimand in her voice. "And I'd appreciate it if you'd help me get some oatmeal together for Maureen."
Food… that hadn't even occurred to him yet. "Real oatmeal?" he asked, voice shaking, and mind immediately going to the thin gruel they were given in the facility. He suspected some of the IVs actually had nutrients.
"Yes," Sue replied. "Oatmeal will be best for Maureen, since she hasn't had solid food in a while. But I was going to have fresh fruit and toast. Want some?"
Fruit? Toast? He hadn't been properly hungry in a long time, used to surviving on what little was available. Despite all the images and memories that came flooding back with the idea of food, he could only think of one thing. "Is there any green tea?" he asked softly.
"Lots." She paused, another smile gracing her face. "When we were stocking this place, Mimi mentioned that you liked green tea. She made sure lots came with the other supplies."
His mind froze for a moment. "You've seen Mimi?"
"And Roger. And Mark." Sue nodded towards the kitchen. "Let's find something to eat, then take something up to Maureen."
Angel followed Sue into the kitchen. "Are they okay?"
"As fine as anyone can be, I suppose." She took a kettle from the stove and filled it with water from the sink tap. "They're living at a Patriots complex just outside New York City." She moved the full kettle to the stove and turned the heat on. "Mimi and Roger are married. They have two kids."
He almost couldn't wrap his mind around the idea. He'd stopped hoping for himself, because there was no hope, or he hadn't thought there was hope. But he'd never stopped hoping that Mimi and Roger and Mark were all right, alive and well somewhere. He'd hoped that Mimi and Roger got to have children that wouldn't have been a possibility before. He'd hoped that Mark would find a nice girl and settle down, raising a dozen kids. Roger and Mimi had two kids. They were all at a Patriots compound, which meant they were safe.
"How old are they?"
Sue seemed to know that he was asking about Mimi and Roger's kids. She took two mugs from a cupboard over the sink. "Tommy is seven," she replied. "Jo is five." Another pause. "Their full names are Thomas Angel and Joanne Maureen."
Angel raised a hand to his mouth, unshed tears burning in the back of his throat. A namesake… Collins would be mortified. You picked a crappy person to name the kid after, he'd say, all the while smiling and pleased that someone thought that highly of him. Now look what'll happen. The kid'll become a wandering vagabond professor.
There were worse things. Much worse things.
He took a shaky breath and looked up at Sue.
"Do we have honey as well?"
The safe house didn't have many books, despite the fact that one room was obviously supposed to be a library. The shelves held knick-knacks, the kind of things wealthy people bought because they looked good or were expensive, but not because the people actually liked them. Angel figured that most of the books had to be hidden, because the titles displayed were the products of government propaganda.
Another supply truck had come a few days ago. With the extra food and household items, a small package had two books. Battered copies of the Count of Monte Cristo and 1984. Both of the books held so many memories. He hadn't read them—not yet. A part of him wanted to savor the feel of holding real books, the words of great authors. Collins had loved both the books. As he'd realized many times before, Angel knew that he'd read more books than he'd had in his entire life when he and Collins were together.
He remembered a spring afternoon when Mimi had come over to his apartment. She had picked up one of the books from a stack near the bedroom door. Montesquieu's the Persian Letters. Mimi had asked what the book was about, probably having images of Arabian Nights, and Angel hadn't quite known the reason for her shocked expression when he replied that the book was a key text about anarchy, the cornerstone of Collins' theories and lectures.
Only later, did he realize that he'd never had an interest in literature before. He wasn't stupid and had gotten decent grades in high school, and the few general core classes in fashion school. But he'd never been interested in a text beyond reading it for a class, and comprehending enough to pass the test and write an essay. Collins had introduced him to the pure joy of words on the page.
"Edmund Dantes," he murmured, stretching both legs in front of him. The mending leg ached and threatened to seize up, another sensation he'd grown used to. He couldn't stay in one position for very long, not without the danger of either collapsing or being unable to move from frozen muscles. And they couldn't go outside to swim in the ocean or run—Sue was wary, because they were still so close to the facility, in a relatively isolated area.
Maureen was slowly getting stronger. Once she was able to stay on a normal diet and sleep cycle, they'd move towards New York, to the Patriots' facility where Mimi, Roger and Mark lived. Angel looked across the library, to where Maureen was dozing on one of the small couches. The late afternoon sunlight spilled through the window. Somewhere, Angel had read that hair grew at the rate of about an inch a month. Maureen's hair was gotten to about two inches, already threatening to begin curling again.
He opened the book to the first page.
Marseilles -- The Arrival.
On the 24th of February, 1810, the look-out at Notre-Dame de la Garde signaled the three-master, the Pharaon from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.
He had struggled reading the book at first, but soon was entranced by the flow of words, the poetry, the beauty. Angel lowered the book to his lap, letting his gaze wander across the room to Maureen once more. She hadn't said much since they arrived here. Instead, he'd found himself talking and asking questions, anything to prevent silence. Strange, because silence had never bothered him before. He'd paint or sew, and Collins would read or grade papers, and they'd just be.
Now, in this moment, the silence was all right. Things were never really silent. The distant crash of the waves on rocks, Maureen's gentle and even breathing, Sue moving dishes and pans in the kitchen, the howl of the wind… the days were sunny and warm, with a hint of impending fall.
"What are you reading?"
Maureen had opened her eyes. She hadn't moved, but was staring at him. Angel held the book up. "The Count of Monte Cristo."
"Is that the one about the prison break?"
"It's about a sandwich that learns to add."
She laughed, the joyful noise fading off into a smile. She shifted on the couch, pulling one of the throw pillows under her head. "Is it any good?" she asked, nodding towards the book.
He shrugged. "I liked it."
"Can you read some of it?"
Angel gazed at her. Maureen had been their performer, their drama queen, the one that dashed into a situation without thinking. But she was so precautious now, so willing to hide and expect things to fail before they began. Her beauty was still there, a ghost, lost behind years of starvation and illness and scars… With time, that would return. They'd still have the scars and the memories, nothing could be completely washed away, but they'd have themselves once more. Maureen wanted rest and security. Angel wanted revenge—a raging battle.
"The beginning is kind of depressing."
"Depressing?" she snorted. "I think I can handle it." She shifted on the couch again, a wry smile over her face. "Because, amazingly enough Angel, I can brush my own hair and teeth, and, even more amazingly, I've been in a depressing situation for ten years."
Angel smiled at the black humor.
Maureen smiled in return. "Read the damn book."
He picked up the book once more, smoothing his fingers over the first page. He cleared his throat, mostly for the dramatic effect. Maureen wrinkled her nose in mock frustration. "Marseilles," he began. "The Arrival."
The first page was read with a dramatic flare that made Maureen giggle. As he read the second page and moved into the third, his voice became more disjointed and distant. Soon, he was gazing out the window, finger marking the page in the novel.
"What's wrong?" Maureen asked, reaching out across the small distance between the two couches. She poked his good knee.
"I'm just thinking."
"Does it show?"
"A little." She paused. "I bet if you ask Sue, she'd know where he is. Chances are, if we're being rescued, then plans are there to rescue Collins and Joanne."
"I think I'm afraid of the answer."
Maureen poked his good knee harder. "When have you ever been afraid of anything? There were times I wished you were afraid of something, because I thought you'd be mugged and murdered in some dark alley."
"You so did not worry about me like that."
"True." She paused. "But Joanne did!"
That was more believable. Joanne had spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about them. At one point in time, she had asked Angel to draw up a will. He remembered smiling at her anxiety and saying, gently, Collins would take care of those things. His landlord knew that the apartment went to Collins, and Collins would, in turn, decide who got his things. He didn't have money in the bank or debt, so those were non-issues. No assets of value… Really, nothing to attach him to the material world…
"I'll ask her if you won't."
There. A spark of the old Maureen. "Maureen—"
"Sue!" she called, cutting off Angel's protest. Angel tried to glare at her, but didn't quite succeed, perhaps from his own anxiety about what had happened to Collins.
Sue's footsteps could be heard coming down the hall and she appeared in the doorway of the library. "What's up?" she asked easily.
"Do you know what happened to Collins and Joanne?" Maureen asked promptly, not hesitating a moment.
The doctor nodded slowly. She sank into one of the arm chairs in the room. "I don't know all the details," she began. "I was assigned to you two, so that was the case that I read the most on."
"But…" Maureen prompted.
"But," Sue conceded. "The same tech person pulled the information on all four of you. She had to organize and decrypt it before giving me your recent—and past—medical histories."
"Are they alive?"
Angel remained silent, willing to let Maureen answer the questions. She'd been in a relationship with a lawyer for the better part of a year. Despite her silence, she had jumped on the opportunity to grill Sue about Collins and Joanne. Perhaps, that meant she was healing. Or maybe, this was the first topic she'd been really interested in.
"Yes," Sue answered.
The 'but' was unspoken, but as loud as if Sue had shouted it across the room.
She sighed. "Well, they're both in the same facility—Sing-Sing, an underground complex, underneath the ruins of the old prison there."
"So they're alive?"
Another interminable silence.
Sue looked sorrowful. "I won't lie to you though." She paused. "Collins was classified as a psych prisoner. From what I saw of his records, the psychiatrists hadn't been able to make much progress with him in all the years he'd been there. They kept him in as a control—the resilient anomaly." She paused. "But an incident happened—don't ask me what, the file didn't say—and he's been placed in solitary confinement indefinitely."
"He's alive," Angel breathed.
"And Joanne?" Maureen sounded terrified and eager.
"She's been a viral candidate—like you two. She's alive, but her prognosis doesn't look good. After all this time, her heart's just giving out."
The world whipped past them. Another car ride, but this time, not hidden in the bed of a truck. Their various papers and documentation had arrived two days ago. Maureen had gained enough weight to satisfy Sue—at least enough for a trip. Angel could walk without a noticeable limp, and his leg didn't seize up as often. He, also, had gained enough weight to satisfy their resident doctor.
Sue had said, when their papers arrived, they needed to get ready to go to New York, where they'd be joining Mimi, Roger and Mark.
Angel let out a long breath and stared out the window. They were all silent. Since Sue had told them that Collins and Joanne were alive, that had been Maureen's obsession, the thing she had latched onto and poured all her energy into. She wanted to know what was being done, and how they could help. Sue didn't have all the details on those cases, since she'd been in Maine, with them, for the past few weeks. That didn't stop wild ideas and theories, including rehashing those old medical shows she had watched a decade ago and coming up with heroic feats to save Joanne.
But the truth was, they didn't know. And they wouldn't know until they got to New York and someone filled them in on what was happening.
There never was much hope. Only a fool's hope.
Had a fool's hope been the cause of their rescue? They'd been classified as dead for so long, and not just dead, it was like they'd never existed. Almost erased from existence, except in the memories of three people who'd never given up that wavering hope. That was almost poetic. Almost. If he hadn't realized how dangerous this was for them—if someone found out that they had been the driving force behind this break-out…
Angel shook his head, not wanting to think of the consequences. This regime was so obsessed with paperwork, that it was highly unlikely anyone would be able to wade through the documents and actually uncover something.
Fighting… not apologizing for anything…
Maureen reached out and took his hand. He smiled at her. They were in the backseat. Sue was up front, driving. Finally, they'd be in a place where they could put some of the pieces back together.
"You okay?" she asked softly.
"I don't think I'll ever be truly okay," he replied. "But I think some things will grow more distant, with time."
Maureen nodded. "Time heals everything." She paused for a moment, then shook her head and let out a sad laugh. "My mother used to hope I'd settle down as I got older. If anything, the opposite occurred." She shook her head again. "God, Mom, always hoping that I'd be the perfect daughter and pretending that I was. Only ever saw what she wanted to see."
Angel gave her a distant smile. He'd never talked much about his family, not to Maureen and some of the others. The only person who truly knew about them was Collins, who'd met them. Angel remembered when his mother adopted Collins into the family. His older sister had been the aspiring actress, working at a coffee shop until she got her big break. He'd been the flighty, artistic son, who managed to scrape by, despite all the expectations. And his parents… Christ, they'd loved him and, as long as he was happy, they were happy as well. Yes, they thought he'd made a few bad decisions, but, as his mother had said after the tears about the AIDS diagnosis passed, 'All young men have to stumble and fall somewhere along the way. It's what helps you remain upright in storms later.'
Chances were that their families were long gone. If not executed for harboring "traitors," then safely in another country or dead of starvation or disease.
Ten years… so much had happened. The places they'd lived and worked, all gone and replaced with something that he couldn't recognize.
"I don't understand how you can drink all that herbal tea—tastes like sawdust!"
"It's good for you. It's got antioxidants."
"If I knew what those did or what they are, that would help."
He squeezed Maureen's hand, staring out the window. Mimi always argued about the relatively healthy things Angel consumed.
"Still trying to legalize pot?"
"There's no reason for it to be illegal." Pause. "If you really want the latest on that campaign, you need to ask Collins."
"At least pot actually has fringe benefits, unlike your sawdust tea."
"I bet you'd like the sawdust tea if I put vodka in it."
Things were in short supply, Sue had explained. They could barely get coffee and tea, so forget alcohol, real butter or sugar. Everyone suspected that the rationing went to fill the pantries and pockets of government officials and business men, but no one said anything. Produce, amazingly, was one of the few things that hadn't been affected. Perhaps because bigwigs didn't like eating their vegetables. Angel could understand that—he'd always been a bigger fan of salad toppings than the actual lettuce in the salad.
"They're going to fire you if you don't start meeting classes."
"I don't care."
"Lover, I don't want you to lose your job."
"I don't care about that job. I can tutor. Angel, please, just let me be with you."
Collins had lost his job at NYU for not meeting classes. He'd spent all his time at the hospital and, despite the fact that Angel wanted him to go to class, he wouldn't listen. Roger had once asked him to talk some sense into Collins over some issue or another. Angel remembered the reply.
"What makes you think he listens to me?"
But Collins had listened to him, almost too well. And even when he thought Collins wasn't listening, he picked up every word. But Collins wouldn't go on, wouldn't live a new life… Not without you, baby.
"We'll be there in about half an hour," Sue called from the front seat.
Prisoners, mostly political prisoners rescued from the large, state prisons, facilities that were public knowledge, came and went through the Patriots' complexes all the time. Most were broken out of a jail and then smuggled out of the country. He and Maureen were the first two rescued from one of the facilities that wasn't supposed to exist. Sue wasn't sure what the hierarchy of the Patriots' reaction would be, but there was little they could do about it.
Maureen still needed a few weeks of rest. Sue told Angel to rest, but he wanted to push himself more, be able to help sooner… help them find Collins sooner.
He glanced at Maureen, taking in her apprehensive expression. She'd asked early on if Mark was married. The answer had always been no. Maureen and Mark, just as ex-lovers, were inextricably intertwined for the rest of their lives. For them, Angel suspected that there were still remnants of their love, their relationship… the reason why Mark had dropped everything to help fix her sound equipment or film a protest or… months later, and Maureen could ask Mark to do anything and he'd do it, no questions asked.
The rest of the trip passed quietly, the only noise coming from the outside world, muted behind the tinted windows of their car.
Soon enough, Sue pulled the car into a large garage. The building was next to another, larger building. Kids screamed and chased each other around the rickety swing set in a fenced in area in front of the building. A couple of adults watched them—teachers? Parents?
A small group of boys was in one corner of the area. The oldest appeared to be about seven. He was apparently their ringleader, because he kept motioning to a group of girls about their same age.
"We're here," Sue said unnecessarily.
They got out of the car, each taking a bag of belongings from the trunk. Sue led them along a path that led from the garage to the front entrance of the building. Angel scrutinized the boys, catching bits of their conversation as he passed. The ringleader looked so familiar and…
With a jolt, he realized that the boy looked exactly like Roger, but had Mimi's eyes and hair. Obviously his father's son from the way he was about the get into trouble. As if reading the boy's mind, a teacher called, "Don't even think about it, Tommy. You leave the girls alone."
Tommy sulked, kicking at the ground.
The youngest of the group of girls, recently saved from being terrorized by the boys, stuck out her tongue. Angel felt another pang, realizing that little girl must have been Mimi and Roger's daughter, taking after her mother. She clutched a rag doll and her brown hair was falling out of the hair clip, made of faux silk pink roses. Her older brother obviously didn't intimidate her. If Tommy took after Roger, his bark was worse than his bite.
Angel tugged Maureen's sleeve. She stopped, giving him a quizzical expression.
"Look," he said softly, nodding towards the children.
Maureen scanned the playground, her gaze landing on Tommy, then on the little girl, Jo. "No mistaking who they belong to," she said with a grin.
"You'll meet them later."
He started at the sound of Sue's voice. For a moment, he'd forgotten about her and checking into the complex. The doctor stood at the door to the facility. Angel nodded and continued down the path, Maureen following.
Sue ushered them into a cluttered lobby.
But he didn't register the boxes or stacks of supplies or random people running through with electronics. All he heard was a wonderfully familiar voice shriek, "Angel!"
To be continued…
Author's Note II: I forgot to say at the beginning, my summer job begins on Friday. I won't have much time during the week to work on this, so please be patient and bear with me. I hate to leave another lull again, but such is life.