"Man, when are we gonna slide, Q-Ball? These threads are seriously cramping my style! The Mummy look mighta worked for my man Karloff, but not for the Cryin' Man."
Rembrandt tried valiantly to fight the urge to scratch his face underneath the bandages he wore, but eventually the itch won out. He started to tug on the fabric, worming his fingers underneath it to get to his neck and face.
"Remy, stop it!" Wade hissed under her breath, shooting him a stern look. "Once we get out of the open, then you can take them off, okay?"
Rembrandt grumbled but subsided, bringing his hands back down to his sides. She was right, of course. Didn't mean he had to like it, though. "Girl, this just ain't right! I should be wearing a suit and tie - maybe something from Armani - but no, instead I'm dressed up like it's Halloween."
"You know good and well that this was our only recourse," Arturo said as gently as possible. "Whatever your counterpart did on this world, it apparently made him quite notorious. And seeing as we don't slide for another two days, this seemed like the safest way to proceed."
"Yeah, by making me into a freak show, right?" Rembrandt shot the older man a glare, but it wasn't very effective through all the wrappings. "I'm trying not to take offense here, but you're making it pretty damn hard, Professor."
Arturo frowned. "Now look here, this is not my doing! You're taking this all much too personally, Mr. Brown."
Hoping to forestall another outburst, Quinn interjected quickly. "The Professor's right, Rembrandt. Near as we can tell, this world's Rembrandt Brown is Public Enemy Number One. They've got your picture plastered up on every street corner! It's too dangerous for you to be walking around out in the open without some kind of disguise. Unless you want to start another riot like before?"
"Fine, fine," Rembrandt muttered, shuffling along after his three companions as best he could without tripping over his cloak. "But it's just not right, keeping my face hidden away like this. Depriving the world of my devilish good looks is downright cruel, if you ask me."
Wade giggled, standing on her tiptoes and giving Rembrandt a one-armed hug. "They don't know what they're missing," she told him with a smile.
"Damn right, sweetheart," Rembrandt said, giving her shoulders a friendly squeeze in return.
Quinn smiled, glad to see that Wade seemed to be a calming influence over their friend. The last thing they needed was for him to cause a scene, be recognized and then get arrested for his double's crimes. "Look guys, we just need to keep our heads down and wait for the slide window. The Motel Twelve is just up the street. We can get a room and wait this thing out."
"I concur," Arturo said with a decisive nod. "The less we're seen on this world, the better."
Rembrandt spotted the faded sign of the motel in the distance and sped up his steps, almost tripping on his cloak in his haste to get inside. "I never thought I'd be saying this, but that motel sign looks like heaven come calling me home. And man, when we get a room, I've got dibs on the shower! It's gonna take a week's worth of showers to make me feel clean again, so I plan on starting A.S.A.P." The others exchanged amused glances and hastened their steps to keep pace with him.
They were a rather bedraggled looking little band, Rembrandt in his "disguise" and the others still wearing the same clothing from three worlds ago. All its drawbacks aside, at least this world was going to allow them time to rest and regroup after the insanity of the last few slides. Quinn was beyond ready for a shave and a new pair of jeans.
The bell above the motel's front door jingled as they filed in, calling the receptionist out from the back room. The clerk smiled at them, and it was the most familiar thing they'd seen all day. At least a thousand different worlds and always the same receptionist. It was reassuring in a strange way that no matter how many parallel worlds they visited, some things always seemed to stay the same.
"We need a room, please," Arturo said, moving up to the front desk. "I trust cash is an acceptable form of payment?"
Rembrandt tuned out most of the conversation, idly humming a few bars from "Tears in My 'Fro" under his breath as he waited. When he felt the conversation turn to him and his rather odd ensemble, he listened long enough to hear Quinn's sad sigh as he launched into their cover story for Mummy-Rembrandt. ("Burn victim... scarred face... doesn't like all the pitying stares.") Somebody give the kid an Oscar, he almost had Remy buying into it.
Soon they had their room key and were on their way to cheap motel room bliss. The door to their room had barely clicked closed behind him before Rembrandt was tearing the wrappings off his face, leaving a trail of bandages from the door all the way to the bathroom. "Hallelujah, I'm free at last!" he cried, just before the bathroom door slammed shut and running water could be heard.
Wade giggled. "Sounds like somebody's glad to be here," she remarked, flopping down on her stomach on the bed to wait her turn in the bathroom. Quinn dropped down beside her, quickly grabbing the pair of pillows and handing her one without her having to ask. Arturo shook his head and smiled fondly at the pair of them as they squirmed around to get comfortable. Of course, Quinn's foot bumped Wade's before too long, which started a kicking war that eventually escalated into a pillow fight.
Arturo took a seat on the other bed, careful to remain out of kicking distance, and picked up the remote control. Turning on the television, he switched over to the news, scanning for any mention of Rembrandt after this afternoon's near miss with the police. Nothing turned up after a few minutes, to his great relief, and he turned off the television.
A pair of heads pivoted to glance his way at the sudden silence, their earlier pillow war already forgotten. "Coast all clear, Professor?" Quinn asked. As usual, he hadn't needed to ask what Arturo was looking for, having already followed logic down to its most likely conclusion on his own.
"It seems like it," the professor said, settling back against his pillows comfortably. "Perhaps now would be a good time to seek out provisions, seeing as Mr. Brown doesn't appear to have any intention of vacating the bathroom in a timely fashion. I know we all could do with fresh clothes and something to eat."
"Good idea," Quinn said, looking over at Wade. "Wanna tag along? It's bound to be better than sitting around here all day."
"Sure," Wade replied, bouncing up off the bed. "Besides, if I don't come along to supervise, who knows what you'll wind up bringing us back to wear." She scrunched up her nose and made a face, making it clear just how well she regarded his fashion sense.
Quinn rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. You're the high and mighty fashionista; I just work here."
Wade grinned, slugging him lightly on the arm. "And don't you forget it, buster!"
"Do you have enough money?" Arturo asked, pulling out his wallet. He was rather low on funds himself. They would need to get a few odd jobs on the next peaceful world they visited for more than a few hours. In fact, so long as Rembrandt stayed hidden away inside, perhaps they could see to some of their monetary problems on this world. "Perhaps you and Miss Wells could investigate the possibility of finding some work while we're here. Our funds are dwindling at a rather alarming rate, and who knows when we'll have the chance to do something about it again?"
Wade sighed. The idea of another crappy job waiting tables or cleaning buildings wasn't appealing in the least. "Okay, Professor. We'll see what we can do. C'mon, Quinn." She tugged on the taller man's arm, pulling him along toward the door and out into the hallway.
Once they'd gone, Arturo was left to his own devices. Rembrandt was still taking a shower; Quinn and Wade would be a few hours at the very least. Settling himself more comfortably on his chosen bed, he closed his eyes and allowed sleep to overtake him.
When Rembrandt exited the bathroom, a large cloud of steam billowing out behind him, he was surprised to find two less people waiting in the room than when he'd left it. The Professor was asleep on the far bed, but Quinn and Wade were M.I.A.
Tugging on the fluffy, white robe that the hotel staff had so conveniently provided, Remy plopped down on the vacant bed and tried to find something to occupy himself. He turned on the television, but there wasn't anything good on. He tried to amuse himself by humming through several of his favorite songs, but quickly grew tired of that as well.
Yes, there was no doubt about it; Rembrandt Brown was bored out of his mind.
It just wasn't right, being cooped up like this all day long. A man had needs, after all. He needed to get out, see the world, and have some fun. All things that just weren't possible on planet "We Hate Rembrandt Brown."
When he finally couldn't stand the boredom for another second, Remy grabbed a pillow and launched it at the Professor's sleeping form. "Man, wake up!" he cried, unable to keep an amused smirk off his face when the older man sat up so quickly that he fell right off the bed and landed on the floor with a startled "oof" that was immediately followed by an indignant howl.
"What the devil do you think you're doing?" Arturo demanded, crawling back up onto the bed and glaring hotly at Rembrandt. "Is there some catastrophe afoot that gives you just cause for startling ten years off of my life?"
Remy nodded solemnly. "Of course there is, my man. I would never wake you up unless I had a reason."
Arturo arched an eyebrow at him expectantly, his entire expression saying in no uncertain terms that this had better be good, that this had better be a bloody brilliant reason the likes of which the world has never known. Luckily, Remy had just such a reason.
"I was bored."
The Professor blinked, which gave him a rather owlish look. "You... were... what?" he asked, his voice dangerously low.
"You heard me, man. I was bored outta my skull. So where'd Wade and Q-Ball get off to? Supply run?" He sighed. "Figures they'd get to go off and have all the fun while I'm stuck in here with you."
Arturo sighed, sensing that he wasn't going to win this argument any time soon. "Yes, they went out for supplies and to ask about short-term employment opportunities. I don't expect them back for at least a few hours."
Remy nodded, absently drumming his fingers on the bedside table, keeping time with a beat only he could hear. Arturo tried to ignore it for as long as was humanly possible, but eventually his patience began to run thin. "Could you perhaps restrain from doing that? Unless you'd rather I went insane and murdered you in your sleep!" he snapped, well aware that he was still sulking from the rude awakening and taking it out on his friend.
"Oh, sure thing," Rembrandt mumbled, sighing softly to himself. He began picking at his robe, distractedly pulling off little bits of fluff here and there.
Arturo frowned. He'd gone from his normal, energetic self to this quiet, subdued creature in just a few short moments. Something was most definitely wrong, but he was just too sleep-addled to make any sense of it. Deciding to just bite the bullet, he asked point blank, "Is something bothering you, Mr. Brown?"
Remy sighed. "Yeah... no... I don't know. It's just everything, you know?"
Arturo rolled his eyes. Yes, that was a breathtakingly illuminating answer, wasn't it? Everything was now as clear as mud. "What are you talking about? You can't expect me to help if you give me riddles instead of answers."
Rembrandt shrugged. "Never mind; just forget about it."
Arturo sensed that whatever was the matter, he had best not 'just forget about it,' no matter what Rembrandt said. He'd noticed something off about the man for a while now, but he covered it well enough that Arturo hadn't thought to intrude by asking about it. "No, please, tell me what's troubling you," he said. "I'd like to help, if I can."
The man on the other bed sighed again, seeming to fold in on himself. "It's stupid, Professor. It's just... I feel like sometimes I don't do enough for the group. Like... I'm a liability, you know? Everyone else has something to contribute. You and Q-Ball are the brains, Wade's the heart, but what am I? The singing talent? It just seems like all I do is get us in trouble."
Arturo caught his breath. This was much more serious than he'd thought. The four of them were the only family they had out here in the unknown, sliding between dimensions. They depended on each other for everything, from help when one of them got into trouble to love and support when one of them was feeling down. But it just never really fell on him to be the one giving the support. Wade and Rembrandt were much better at that sort of thing than he was; they were so much more in tune with their emotional sides. Even Quinn could always be counted upon for a rousing speech should the occasion call for a little morale boosting. But Arturo? When it came to problem solving and quantum equations, he was the one to call upon, but when it came to matters of the heart? And yet Quinn and Wade weren't here, and Rembrandt needed some help now. So it fell to him to make sure he got it, didn't it?
"I think you're doing yourself a disservice, Mr. Brown. You have much to contribute to the group. How many times would we have given up and called it quits if you weren't here to spur us onward? How many times have you been there to lend a friendly ear when one of us needed someone to talk to? You are a part of this family, Rembrandt Brown. And I won't have you forgetting it. I know it's not the fame and fortune you've always dreamed of, but you do matter, even if only to us."
Remy chuckled weakly. "Wow, Professor, even when you're trying to make a guy feel better, you still manage to sound like you're giving a lecture."
The Professor frowned. "I assure you, that was not my intention..."
Rembrandt waved it off. "Nah, I know what you meant. Message received, Professor." He smiled crookedly, shrugging one shoulder in an awkward apology. "And... um... thanks."
Arturo nodded, feeling suddenly more accomplished than when he'd published his first book. All from just a simple conversation. "You're welcome," he replied, a bit stiffly. "I am... glad to have been able to help."
There was a long moment of silence, neither of them wanting to say anything that might spoil things. Finally, though, Rembrandt just couldn't keep silent for another second. "Man, you should've seen your face when you fell off that bed, Professor! I just wish I'd had a camera. Definitely a Kodak moment."
Arturo glared at him. "If you ever even so much as think about doing something like that to me again, I assure you, I will live to see you regret it, Mr. Brown!"
And that was how Quinn and Wade found them when they returned to the room an hour later, bickering back and forth like an old married couple...
Or maybe, simply, like family.