"Oh Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be" by Tris
A/N: AllRIGHT! So, here's how it goes. What was originally titled "Burned and Broken" is now chapter one of "Fools." I am uploading chapter 2 as well, which is new material, and what used to be chapters 1 and 2 of "Fools" are now chapters 3 and 4. Weee! Hopefully chapter 5 will be up fairly soon. I would estimate that in the end this will be 8 or so chapters. Oh yes, much more to come...
Rousseau stumbled into the bar, eyes staring but seeing nothing. People gave him a curious glance as he made his weaving way to the counter. He slumped down at the bar.
"Hey man, how many drinks have you had today?" The bar tender asked with a grin, throwing his towel on his shoulder.
"None, yet. Give me a glass of Cognac, please. Remy Martin."
"Good choice!" The tender said approvingly. "You've got a sophisticated palette…and a thick wallet too I hope," he added with a chuckle, turning to fetch the drink. He returned and poured a full measure of the burnt orange liquid.
Rousseau tossed it back, panting slightly.
"Whoa! Wasn't that hard stuff?" A teenage boy asked admiringly.
"Hell yes," Rousseau gasped. He raised his hand for the tender to hit him again.
This is what happened one Winter evening, long ago. But the consequences reach into today.
"Dr. Rousseau, are you awake?"
"Wha…Dr. Blaylock? Is that you?" Luc blinked groggily.
"Can't you see me? I'm right here."
"Without my glasses, I-I'm nearly…I…please, can you help me find my glasses?" He groped over the edge of the bed, hand knocking into the sidetable.
"I'm sorry, but the skin on your face is badly singed. It would hurt you to wear them," Val explained, reaching out and gently catching his searching hand before laying it back on the blanket.
"Singed? How did…I remember now, there was a fire…how b-badly did I get burned?" His voice rose in pitch and volume, while decreasing in stability. "Am…am I going to…how bad do I…is…what…"
"Luc, calm down, it's going to be okay." Val knelt by his bed so he would at least see her in blurry form. "Most of the burns were on the side of your chest; you're not going to need plastic surgery."
"But will I look…the same?" Luc asked, going rigid as he stared in her general direction.
Val paused, swallowing slowly. "You…might not," she said, struggling to keep her voice steady. "A specialist was called in to do some delicate work on your face, so there should be minimal scarring there, but Luc…there were many third-degree burns on your body. We had to perform debridement—"
"Debridement?" Luc cried out. "How much? Did you…Dr. Blaylock, I've seen burn victims! I d-don't want to look like that! I want to look like me! Please, please get me a mirror and my glasses." Tears were pouring down his face as he fought against bursting into hysterical sobs. "Oh God, please! I'll say three thousand Hail Mary's if you'll only…my glasses, please, why aren't you getting them?" He convulsed in a single sob and shook with the effort of pulling himself together.
"I t-told you, Luc, you can't wear them." Val bit her lip, tears filling her own eyes as she gently smoothed the remains of his burnt hair a couple times. It had no effect on him. "Do you wear contacts? Maybe—"
"Y-you just don't want me to see myself, that's all it is! I'm crippled, aren't I? Disfigured!" He spat, chest heaving. "What if…I can't go back to work?"
"Oh, what a tragedy. You'll have to take a break from drinking coffee and lapping up patients' praise." Markus muttered from the doorway.
"Markus? I thought you were going to—"
"Wait in the lobby, yeah; I came to tell you I can see the Director's car coming up the drive."
"What's going on?" Luc asked, voice high and sharp. He was visibly struggling to plunge his emotions under the surface. "Not Irene Quatro, the director of Caduceus?"
"Yeah, you know her?"
"The Professor has mentioned her once or twice. Why is she coming today?"
"I wanted to tell you before we left, Luc--Markus and I are being ordered to transfer to Caduceus, Maryland. We're leaving today as soon as the Director gets here."
"Which is basically now." Markus looked out the window across the room, shading his eyes.
Ignoring Markus and turning toward the shape he knew to be Val, the injured man gathered his remaining scraps of self-control and sanity. "What will you be doing in Caduceus?"
"Well, it's up in the air, but probably something to do with Stigma."
"Oh." If a person's face could actually show their heart breaking, this was it. "So…you'll be working quite a bit with this new disease?"
"Yes…" Understanding dawned on Val's face. "I-I'm sorry Luc, I know you would have loved the chance to study Stigma…"
"It's so beautiful," he murmured, blinking back tears. "So complex. Its potential swings from one extreme to the other—dark or light. The paradox of it…" he trailed off, trying hard to smile. "You're very fortunate, Doctor."
"Luc…" Val choked up. "You can visit, you know. I'm sure you can."
"I've always loved puzzles," Luc continued, lost in his thoughts. "Stigma is the greatest puzzle of all. Its workings, its origin and exact behavior…and does it have consciousness? Provoking questions…"
"I didn't know you were such a deep thinker." Val could no longer see through her tears.
"Oh yes..." He looked her full in the face, estimating where her eyes were. "Val, promise me you will respect Stigma. Respect it, and never abuse it." He was propping himself up on his elbow, staring fiercely.
Markus looked out the window again. "…Val, she's here, we have to leave."
"But—Markus!" Val gestured helplessly. "We're still saying goodbye…and he hasn't had a chance to tell us about the fire or—"
"We have to go, Val," Markus said quietly. "I'm sorry. Irene will know how to get the information. So long, Rousseau."
"Good…goodbye, Luc," Val said, getting up slowly. "Don't worry. You'll be back to work in no time, I'm certain—" she stopped. His expression was so stricken that it was painful to look at him. "I-I'll let you get some rest," she amended, and followed Markus to the door.
She whirled at Luc's voice and found him forcing himself to sit up again. "What?"
He was staring at her, his sightless eyes speaking words he could not express. When Val hesitated, Markus gently took her arm and pulled her away. She stared into his eyes until she could see him no more.
To be Continued