Theme Song: 'Tokimeki no Doukasen' – Fushigi Yuugi
"You look terrible," Gary noted, not even bothering to knock the snide amusement out of his voice. Mia groaned and shifted against the damp bed sheets.
"Thanks," she croaked.
"No, I mean it," Gary continued airily, as he rinsed out her makeshift cold-compress in the nearby bowl of water. "I have never seen you look this bad." Mia growled low in her throat, and regretted it immediately due to the rasping pain it produced. "Not even when you clambered half-drowned out of the ocean covered in oil," Gary continued, "not even first thing in the morning. Not even-"
Somehow Mia found the strength to lean over and tip the bowl of freezing water onto his crotch.
"Something to drink?" Drake offered, with a fond smile, A4 menu in hand. Trish's mouth was already open to reply when she stopped. Darkness poured down her throat, sucking in her moisture.
She could not breathe in air, she only breathed out fire. Gasping, she clutched to her consciousness as the darkness became more and more complete.
She felt the fire spread. Felt each and every organ give out on her.
The darkness came for her.
She was dead.
Trish jolted out of her reverie and stared at the concerned man opposite her with blank eyes. It took a few seconds for the message to move reached her arm.
"Oh, sorry Drake, I-" She swallowed; her tight chest complained. "I just remembered something I have to do later." Drake relaxed, although his expression remained lightly worried. Trish made her aching cheek muscles create a warm smile as she reached for the water bottle in her bag.
"I… do have enough money to get you a bottle of mineral water, you know?" Drake said, in an amused tone.
"Oh, no, I know," Trish exclaimed, "it's just I have this… thing, where I have to er, know where my drink comes from." Drake stared at her and she inwardly winced.
"Um, that's kinda cute. Like a… compulsive disorder? My sister has a thing where she has to tap the sphere at the end of the banister whenever she goes past it." Not sure whether or not she should laugh, Trish attempted a weak smile and gulped down some of her luke-warm water. Perhaps sensing that Trish was somewhat nervous, Drake took masterful control of the conversation.
"So, did you read about the time I was playing Lysander in a outdoors production of A Midsummer Night's Dream?"
Trish lit up and leant over the table towards him.
Erin couldn't suppress a smile as she entered the room; Mia dewy-skinned but pouting ferociously in the direction of the window, Gary scowling equally ferociously as he blotted a dark stain on the front of his trousers. The sexual tension was humming between them as it had since the day they met; Erin's smile became a chuckle – she had never known a couple deserve each other so.
Mia was the only one to turn as she heard the laugh of the other girl, and was met by a cool palm pressing itself to her forehead. She blinked, her green eyes already clearing of the fug that had clouded them at the height of the mysterious malady.
"I suppose you can get up whenever you feel like it now," Riny said, voice solemn. "But, if it were me, I'd have an hour's kip or so," she continued, in a way that made it sound less like a polite suggestion and more like a direct order. Mia didn't want to argue; Riny's form was already distorting around the edges as her tired eyes begged for respite. The last thing Mia saw as her clammy neck hit cool pillow was Gary, turning back around to look at her, his soft expression evident even through the veil of closing eyelashes.
The even breathing that filled the room signalled to Erin that Mia had fallen asleep immediately and she gently rose from where she had been half-sitting on the bed, making a gesture at Gary that it was time to go. Gary seemed reluctant to leave, whether it was defence reaction to being bossed around by one so tiny, or desire to watch over his girlfriend, Erin didn't know. She only knew he was going to do as he was told. Expertly placing a long fingernail at his shoulder blade, she guided him swiftly from the bedroom. Gary shrugged her off as they turned into the main corridor and shoved his hands into his pockets.
"Out of interest, Fluff," he sneered, in a pretentious tone that made him sound as if he wasn't really interested at all, "where did you get off blaming me for all this?"
"You know." Gary mimed the short girl's erratic behaviour the previous night by screwing up his face and tugging on his own necklace. "You bastard!" he cried, in a highly affected pitch that was obviously meant to be a parody of a panicked female.
"Oh." Erin coloured slightly and brushed it off. "Well, you know."
"She thought you'd knocked her up!" came the voice of the only person who could match Gary with a jeer. Both Gary and Erin scowled at Karlie.
"No, no, not necessarily," Erin blithely defended herself to the two of them. Gary stopped and leaned back against the white wall, arms setting in a fold at his chest as he scrutinised her. Erin faltered. "It's just… if anyone had done anything to her… it would have been you."
Gary blanched. "What?! Are you kidding me?"
Karlie didn't seem to be following either. "Rin, he's the last of us who would hurt her."
Erin shook her head. "You don't understand. In that moment, to me, it wasn't about being here, or being killed. I just saw Mia in distress. And I'm not used to it, Mia's too strong."
Comprehension dawned first on Karlie's face and she nodded slowly. "Too strong," she echoed.
"But one word from you, and…" Erin's sentence trailed off as she saw realisation on the boy's face and knew that voicing her opinion any further was unnecessary.
"I didn't know that she…" Gary said slowly, as he straightened from the wall and walked further down the corridor at a brisk pace, as if wanting to put as much distance between Mia and the conversation as possible. The two girls jogged a little to catch up, but remained behind the boy, out of pace.
"Of course. You fill her up inside," Erin said, poetically, with a laugh to lighten the mood.
"She'd do anything for you," Karlie agreed, as they reached the end of the white corridor. The blast of summer sunshine as Gary pushed the veranda door open masked the boy's expression. Karlie skipped past him to join Tracey sketching in the allotment at the side of the house, raising a hand in greeting to an orange and peach smudge that was Misty sitting by the wavebreak. Gary sunk wordlessly into one of the maroon-cushioned chairs that faced the surf.
Erin hung nervously for a moment, regarding the back of Gary's head as he in turn watched the rolling waters. Obviously emotions, belong or relating to himself, were not something Gary enjoyed discussing, though he looked deep in thought. After a full minute of stony silence, Erin took the hint and retreated back inside the house.
There was sudden darkness. Misty squinted up with one eye. Gary was blocking her sun, his face impassive.
"I need to talk to you."
Misty immediately felt the need behind the even tone of voice and patted the sand next to her. Gary slid into a sitting position, one leg stretched out, the other bent and hugged into his torso.
"It's about Mia," he offered into the silence, voice as smooth as the sand he kept his eyes trained on. "I've been thinking. It's all been getting too intense, around here and, you know, with her. And - and, I've decided that she's a distraction." Gary raked his fingers through the sand beside him. "So I'm going to end it. I can't deal with her right now, you know?"
Misty was silent as she contemplated the side of his face. She sighed and flicked off the sand that had become embedded in her knees.
"She won't buy that," she said quietly. Gary sharply turned to her and she was almost taken aback at the rawness in his eyes.
"How do I make her?" he asked quietly, in the same controlled voice.
"You think you distract her?" Misty deciphered. "Oh, Gary, you're wrong. She-"
"Please!" There was no control in Gary's interruption. His teeth were clenched, his eyes unnaturally wide.
"You truly think this is best?" Misty asked, softly, knowing the answer as she spoke.
"Yes," Gary answered to the sand. His form crumpled, almost irreceptively; his forehead lightly banged against his raised right knee.
"This will kill her," Misty shook her head, her mind starting to reel at the realisation that Gary was deadly serious.
"It will keep her alive!" Gary exploded, meeting Misty's concerned teal eyes with his blazing brown ones. Misty shook her head again, desperately groping for the right thing to say.
"She loves you," she offered, quietly. Gary matched her sincere gaze with a level one.
"She doesn't know me," came his cool, controlled reply. He let go of his right leg and began to brush sand off his trousers. He stiffened as he felt Misty's arms wrap around him.
"Make her hate you," she whispered, her voice odd as she held him. "Because it's far worse to love somebody who doesn't want you."
Gary left Misty staring vacantly at the ocean. He was halfway back to the beach-house when he encountered a curious Ash."Hey man, what-"
Gary pushed him aside without a second thought.
Years and years, he thought, as he made his way up to his bedroom. I couldn't be bothered to let people near. Now I'm even chasing it away. He collapsed on his bed fully clothed, pulling the blanket over him.
I don't need her, he answered the yawning cold inside him. And the last thing she needs is me.
Trish was the safest she had felt in days; flanked by Drake and Michelle, she moved through the hospital corridors, conversing animatedly with Drake whilst Michelle did her best to remember the name of the doctor she was meant to visit for her check-up. In truth, there was the niggling sensation that somebody was watching her, but she reasoned it was probably Drake's strange attire (the Communist overcoat once again) or Michelle's brightly dyed hair that drew attention to the small group.
Tony scuffed his trainers against the floor as Wisdom walked past him, lemon pendant visible against her tanned breast. She wouldn't recognise him even if she saw him. Where there had once been long dark curtains of hair there were now neatly clipped spikes. His skin tone was lighter, and although he had not yet had the opportunity to speak, Tony was sure that his Spanish accent was gone. Only his eyes remained the same, dark and slightly slanted, somehow lucid under the shadows cast by his hair.
He watched as Reality paused outside a nondescript office door and peered at the nameplate, jeans almost as baggy as his own. Michelle shook her head and continued down the hall. As she turned, Tony noticed the almost-faded scarring on her left cheek. What has been happening without me then, he thought in surprise, also noticing the large man who hovered around Wisdom like a bodyguard.
Barriers clattered down in Tony's head, keeping him locked in the coolest, simplest part of it. The exit to redemption was always barred. He stood still a moment, disorientated, until his vision focused again on the trio paused outside another door. He glanced at his arm nervously as if checking some long-gone watch.
"This is as good as done," he muttered to someone unseen. "I'm not wasting any more of my time today."
The boy turned and navigated himself deftly through the crowds. The movement of his darkness against the white of the nurses and doctors caught Michelle's attention for a second before it returned to the nameplate.
"Doctor Challoner, yeah, that sounds about right."
"About time!" Trish said wearily. "We'll wait here," she pointed to a set of red plastic chairs opposite the doctor's office. Michelle merely nodded and slipped into the room, blasting Trish and Drake with a gust of over-enthusiastic air-conditioning. Trish looked up at Drake's flushed face.
"Aren't you hot?" she teased. Drake grimaced.
"I'm afraid you more or less get used to it," he said, reaching for Trish's small hand with his big one, leading her across to the seating. Down the corridor the lift pinged the arrival of a janitor with an empty trolley, accompanied by an official looking nurse who disappeared into the first office. A few minutes later she returned with a gloved handful of medical refuse, which she dumped ceremoniously onto the trolley, before attending to the next unit.
As the trolley made its way down towards them, Drake and Trish's conversation returned to a particular topic that kept them both absorbed, no matter how many times they revisited it. Shakespeare.
"Ophelia!" Trish countered. Drake screwed his face up.
"But she was a nutcase!"
"Precisely!" Trish laughed. Drake responded by lifting one hand and brushing the apple of her cheek gently with the side of it. Both only had eyes for the other as the refuse trolley trundled past, both janitor and nurse obviously anxious to get the final room, that of Doctor Challoner, over and done with.
Drake felt Trish stiffen suddenly against the light touch of his hand and could actually see the happy blush drain from her cheeks.
"What?" he asked urgently, at the same time that the nurse gasped in horror, rushing back towards Trish. Drake followed the nurse's line of sight and went cold himself when he saw the cause of the panic. A rogue needle had fallen, and as chance would have it, was currently injected into the vein that curved around Trish's left ankle.
Trish couldn't, or perhaps wouldn't look at it. Glassy-eyed and damp with fear she merely allowed the alarmed nurse to grab her arms and half-carry her into Doctor Challoner's office. Drake rose to his feet, helplessly. He felt the blast of the cold air and Michelle's raised voice before the door swung to, leaving him and the greying janitor staring at each other across the expanse of white walls.
"There's something we need to talk about," Gary said. He looked strange; his dark eyes were hot as he looked
at her, as if he was burning from the inside. He stood, a fluid, purposeful
movement; his eyes never left hers.
Mia's heart began to beat a little bit faster.
There was a drawn out silence before Mia realised that stretched voice had been her own. Gary seemed to lose momentum. He made no attempt to break the stifling silence. He simply stood in front of her, the metre between them yawning like a mile.
Why is this so hard?
His arms felt long and useless dangling alongside his body and he self-consciously folded them, the rapid movement breaking the stalemate of silence and stillness in the room. Mia's loosely clenched fist came partway up to her mouth on reflex. Her chest pinched, she was forced to open her mouth and relieve her lungs. Heat washed over her hand as she breathed out. The cheap peach carpet was irritating her feet but she daren't move any more. The room was still, stuffy, silent.
Why do I know something's wrong?
"What's wrong?" she tried to steady her voice. Nothing can be wrong, she repeated, forcing a mental chuckle at her own paranoia.
But Gary looked at her and she could see his mentally prepared speech behind his eyes. And she knew what it was he wanted to talk about – that pinched, warm spot in her chest was screaming it.