A/N: I'm going to be hitting myself over this fic pretty soon. I can just feel it. x-x;; I should've waited until it was all written before posting it… I'm too impatient for my own good.
Oh, and on another note… If you're trying to picture Trent in your mind while reading this fic, picture him the way he looks in IoH. In other words: sexy. ;D
Trent stretched luxuriously, blinking up at the brightness of the mid-afternoon sun. Even when his eyes were closed, the brilliant golden glare still somehow managed to shine through, painting his eyelids in all the hues of sunlight. The train behind him, an old-fashioned steam engine painted a glossy red, whistled loudly and began slowly chugging away along the rusty train tracks. Trent watched it until it disappeared from view, curving away behind a copse of evergreens, white steam billowing like a veil behind it. He glanced around the empty train platform, which over the years had become cracked and overpopulated by prickly weeds and anthills. Here and there, however, purple wildflowers bloomed amongst the weeds, a splash of color against the otherwise dull scenery.
Beauty amid the weeds. How poetic.
The platform had fallen into disrepair, Trent knew, because very few people ever came to Forget-Me-Not Valley. And those that did rarely ever left.
Mineral Town was a bustling hub of commerce compared to the Valley. In a sense, it was nice to escape from it for half of each week. In Forget-Me-Not, one could really take a moment to breathe – to appreciate the way in which hours and minutes seemed to flow seamlessly together.
Trent passed by Vesta's farm, where she and Celia were toiling in the fields, inspecting crops and examining the quality of the soil. Celia glanced up as he walked by, and her pretty face broke into a heartwarming smile.
"Hello, Doctor!" she called, and raised a hand in greeting. He smiled and waved back, bemused by how well-liked he was in the Valley. Back home, he was mostly ignored as he walked through the streets. Perhaps the Mineral Towners had simply grown used to the presence of a young doctor like himself, but either way it still felt lovely to be appreciated.
He pushed open the door to Hardy's clinic and stepped inside. The older man glanced up at him briefly, mechanical eye whirring into focus, then returned his attention to the newspaper he was reading.
"Nice of you to finally show up, boy," Hardy muttered. "I was thinking you'd gotten lost on the way here."
Trent smiled wryly. "Good morning to you as well, sir."
He set his bag down, poured himself a cup of tea, and joined Hardy at the table. He sipped at his tea amiably for a few minutes (although it was far too watery and mild for his tastes), skimming over the headlines of Hardy's newspaper. Living so far out in the country made it difficult to keep up to date with what was going on in the world, and Trent had little time for such frivolities as television.
Hardy folded his newspaper and focused his cold, appraising attention once more upon his understudy. "There's something I need to do today," he said suddenly. "I'm going into the city until the evening, to pick up some supplies and visit an old colleague of mine. So you're going to have to make the rounds for me."
Trent blinked in surprise. Hardy had never allowed him to "make the rounds" before, as he still didn't consider Trent responsible enough to entrust with the health of his patients. ("Sir, I've been a doctor for well over five years," he would say, but to no avail.)
"Y-yes, of course, sir," Trent murmured, feeling something akin to pride ignite in his heart. "I'll take care of everything."
Hardy nodded, pushing back his chair and fetching his briefcase from the top of the bookshelf. "Good. I better not hear anything negative from the regulars, you hear? Oh, and no slacking!" He pointed to his mechanical eye and leered in Trent's general direction. "This eye sees all, boy. Remember that."
Trent had to restrain an amused smile. "I understand completely," he said, putting on his best serious face. "I'll do my best not to disappoint you, sir."
Once Hardy had stepped out the door, the young doctor allowed himself a quiet laugh at his mentor's eccentricities.
The door opened a moment later, and Hardy stuck his head back inside.
"I saw that," he growled, and left.
Trent had often wondered why Hardy had never trusted him with his patients before. Now he thought he understood – they were all completely insufferable.
"I'm not taking any of your damn medicine!" Galen shouted, brandishing his cane as if it were a weapon. "Now get out of my house before I call the police!"
A muscle beneath Trent's right eye began to twitch ever so slightly. "Sir, you don't seem to understand," he said slowly, working hard to keep his temper in check. "Dr. Hardy is out of town on business today, and I'm simply filling in for him. I'm his understudy, see. My name is Trent – I'm the resident doctor in Mineral Town."
Galen stopped his angry tirade and lowered his cane, but there was still a suspicious gleam in his old eyes. "His understudy, you say?" The old man raised one bushy eyebrow, as if doubting his story. "How old are you, son?"
"… I'm twenty-five, sir," Trent replied, vaguely confused about the old man's line of questioning.
Galen snorted. He hobbled over and took a seat at the rickety old table, easing into the chair with a groan. Trent could almost hear his aging joints creaking and protesting this sudden movement.
"Twenty-five years old, and you think you're fit to be a doctor, do you?"
Now Trent was even more confused. "Well… I suppose so," he said, but his voice suddenly sounded very weak to his own ears. "I passed all my classes in med school, and I've been a doctor for nearly five years now."
Galen harrumphed in that derisive, curmudgeonly way of his, obviously unimpressed by Trent's claims. "It takes more than med school to be a doctor, boy. You're just a child in the scheme of things – I can see it in your eyes. You haven't seen anything yet."
"… I'm sorry. I don't quite understand."
Galen's eyes narrowed, and he sighed quietly – the tired sigh of an old man who had grown weary of life and all its sorrows.
"Never you mind, son," he said. "Just give me my medicine and get going. I know how you young folks are these days. Always busy with this or that, taking no time to appreciate the little things. Times have changed, they have. It's a crying shame."
A crying shame indeed, Trent thought as he left Galen's modest little home.
As if to prove the old man wrong, he took a moment to admire the way the trees by the river swayed in time with the crisp autumn breeze, scattering their red-gold leaves upon the swiftly flowing waters.
It was late in the evening by the time Trent finished his rounds – Cody, the sullen, moody artist, had been bitten by a wild dog while trying to sketch it (he'd stubbornly refused his shots until Trent told him about the nastier effects of rabies), and he'd had to give Flora a long lecture about cutting back on the excavating while she was pregnant (though he knew she'd sneak back to the dig site soon enough). Not to mention that Gustafa had stopped him for one of his infamous esoteric speeches about the brilliance of nature.
The people in the Valley were indeed a… colorful bunch.
Tired to the utmost extent, Trent had decided to stop by the Blue Bar for a drink. Three hours later and he was still there, listening to the hazy strum of Griffin's guitar strings and Muffy and Popuri's never-ending chatter. At this point, however, he had already downed four Goddess Smiles' and several shots of something called merely "the strong stuff," and all the background noise was beginning to melt together into an unrecognizable hum.
And then he heard something that caught his attention.
"Did you hear?" Muffy was saying with a conspiratorial gleam in her eye. "They say the Phantom Thief is going to strike again tonight!"
Popuri literally squealed in excitement. "Oh wow, really?" she whispered. "They say he's a real Prince Charming! Who's his target!?"
The blond barmaid glanced around the room warily, as if expecting someone to leap out of the shadows and haul her away for daring to speak of the Phantom Thief. "Apparently he's after Celia this time," she murmured, lowering her voice so that Trent had to edge a little closer down the bar. "She found the note around noontime, and she's been panicking ever since, the poor dear. I tried to comfort her – I told her that maybe it would be love at first sight and he would take her as his accomplice or confidante, but she didn't seem too thrilled by that idea either."
Popuri's crimson eyes were wide with curiosity. "It's strange," she said, tapping her chin lightly. "Celia's just a regular farm girl. What could she have that the Phantom might want?"
"You know, that's what we've been asking ourselves all day." Muffy leaned against the bar and took a dainty sip of her amber liquid of choice. She twirled the ice cubes in her glass absentmindedly, then glanced towards the clock.
"Umm… Popuri, weren't you supposed to be home an hour or two ago?"
The pink-haired girl practically leapt off of her bar stool. "Oh no, oh no, oh no…" she muttered. "Mother will be wondering where I am; I promised her I'd be home by eight! And Rick…" She suppressed a shudder at the idea of her brother confronting her, demanding to know where she'd been and who she'd been with.
Muffy was laughing quietly at the mental image of Rick throwing a fit over Popuri's curfew. (He'd make a wonderful mother someday, that was certain!) The barmaid reached under the counter and withdrew a small bottle of something dusty and indistinguishable, then handed it to one very flustered Popuri.
"Here," she said, winking mischievously. "I think Rick could probably put it to good use, no?"
The two young women shared one last laugh and a few words of parting, and then Popuri closed the door of the Blue Bar behind her and was gone. Trent continued to stare into his empty shot glasses forlornly, only semi-listening to Griffin admonishing Muffy for handing out free beverages. Instead, his drink-addled mind was focused on a slightly more intriguing subject – Skye, the Phantom Thief.
If Muffy's claims were correct (as they undoubtedly were – Forget-Me-Not was such a small place that gossip was hardly gossip at all), then the alluring Phantom Skye would be arriving to claim his next prize in just a few minutes. And as much as Trent wanted to forget about the beautiful man who had caused him so much confusion, at the same time the urge to see him again – that lithe form, that ghostly pale hair, that self-confident smirk – was too strong to resist.
Trent rummaged through his pockets and withdrew a few gold coins. He left the money on the counter, mumbled something about keeping the change, and walked out the door with only the slightest stagger in his step.
It was dark. That was the first ill-constructed thought that came to his mind. The usual darkness of nighttime seemed deeper than usual – shadows seemed to slither around his ankles like snakes, and the moon was obscured behind smoky purple clouds. The houses and buildings around him were unrecognizable black shapes in the oppressive gloom.
But then a light flickered on, across the river at Vesta's farm. And another. And another, until the entire farm was alight with bright fluorescence. Though Trent's hearing was a little off due to the alcohol interfering with his senses, if he listened closely he could hear some sort of uproar from the direction of the farm.
And then came the shout that he had been both dreading and anticipating.
Trent simply stood and watched as the dark, graceful figure appeared on the bridge and made its way towards him.
"So we meet again, eh Doctor?" Skye murmured, materializing like a ghost right before Trent's eyes. His features were cast in shadow, just like everything else on this black, black night, but Trent could still see the faint gleam of his quicksilver hair, the delicate set of his cheekbones, the casual sway of his movements…
"It's as if you and I are simply destined to cross paths," the thief purred, and his voice was almost seductive. "It must be written in the stars…"
Trent cleared his throat. He was feeling oddly flushed, and immediately blamed it on the alcohol. "Wh-what did you steal from her? From Celia?" he questioned, trying to ignore the strange urge to reach out and touch this beautiful man in front of him.
"Hmm? Just this silly little music box," the thief replied, sounding bored. Through the darkness Trent could just barely make out a box-like object in Skye's hands. "Apparently it's an heirloom from her dear mother or something like that."
The Phantom stepped a little closer, so that they were almost touching, and Trent felt the flush creep throughout his entire body, making him feel as if he'd been set aflame. He could almost sense the thief's warm breath ghosting over his skin, and he longed to see those brilliant green eyes appraising him once more…
"Doctors shouldn't drink," Skye whispered, and Trent could hear the smile in his voice.
Flashlight beams flickered to life in the distance, and vague, shouted orders drifted through the still night air. The pursuing party was preparing for a hunt – one that they would never win. No one would ever win. Not against the Phantom Thief. (If Trent had been able to see anything, he would have seen Skye's exasperated eye roll at the pitiful attempts of his would-be captors.)
The Phantom's hand brushed against Trent's arm ever so slightly, and he smirked when the dark-haired man nearly jumped at this light touch. Who knew that drunken doctors were so very fun to tease? He would have to continue this at a later date…
"Point them in the wrong direction for me, would you?" Skye asked, still smirking under the cover of darkness.
And then he was gone.
Trent could do nothing but blink in weary surprise, feeling the flush that had set him ablaze slowly begin to dissipate. What was it about that man that made him feel so… strange? They had only met twice, but Trent could already sense something odd about his feelings for Skye, and they had little to do with his criminal behavior…
"Doctor Trent!" a voice called. He turned to see a small group approaching him, flashlight beams swathing through the darkness. The group was composed of Celia, Vesta, three police officers and a man in a long, dark trenchcoat, whom Trent identified as the same man from before.
"Doctor!" Celia exclaimed. "Did the Phantom Thief pass this way?" Her long brown hair was in disarray, and her gaze held a certain desperate edge that made Trent want to help her… And yet he couldn't. Not with the feel of Skye's touch still searing his skin…
"… I didn't see him," Trent heard himself mumbling, and the lie lodged itself in his heart like a poisoned arrow.
"… Oh no," whispered Celia. In the eerie glow of the flashlights, her buried pain looked all the more real.
"He might've sneaked his way past!" Vesta declared, eyes blazing with fury. She was quite the imposing sight; the garden rake she was wielding looked like it could cause some serious damage. "Or he might've headed towards the beach! C'mon – let's split up and find that thieving bastard!"
As the group split into two and departed, the man in the trenchcoat once again tipped his battered fedora in Trent's direction. But there was something in his expression – suspicion, perhaps, or doubt – that made the doctor feel suddenly wary. This, he knew, was a man to watch out for.
But for the time being Trent simply headed back to Hardy's clinic, still a bit overwhelmed from his encounter with the Phantom.
He fell into bed unceremoniously and was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
After a few days in the Valley, Trent was always glad to return to Mineral Town. Forget-Me-Not was a beautiful place, yes, but it wasn't home.
A beautiful place… Leaves murmuring in the wind, waterfall cascading and refracting in the rainbow mist, the faint strum of Gustafa's guitar drifting along the breeze… Beautiful… Glinting green eyes under perfectly arched brows, bright against alabaster skin…
Trent groaned, massaging his temples in aggravation. For the past few days, no matter what he tried to occupy himself with, somehow his thoughts always came back to him. And it was starting to become a bit maddening.
"Are you alright?" a sweet voice asked. Trent raised his weary eyes to find Elli peering down at him with concern. He quickly plastered a fake smile on his face.
"Yes, Elli," he said. "I'm perfectly fine. Just a little tired from dealing with Jeff."
The pretty young nurse sighed dramatically, then patted Trent's arm in a comforting manner. "I understand completely. But you know Trent, I'm worried that this constant travel between Mineral Town and the Valley is starting to take its toll on you. Wouldn't it be easier to just stay home?"
"I… Yes, I suppose it would," he murmured. "But Dr. Hardy has already taught me so much. It seems like a waste to stop my visits… And the people there are wonderful, you know. A bit over-the-top at times, but wonderful all the same."
Elli's expression was one of insecurity. "But… But it seems like you hardly care about Mineral Town anymore, Trent," she said quietly, biting her lip. "It's like you're forgetting that this is your home. We need you here. What… What if something terrible happens while you're gone? What if… What if…" She broke off, unable to finish.
Trent stood quickly and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Elli, calm down," he said, locking his dark gaze with her teary brown. "It only takes about an hour to travel to and from the Valley. If something terrible happens – which it won't, I promise you – I'm only a phone call away."
Elli nodded mutely, still with that frightened look in her eyes. Trent sighed and wrapped his arms around her waist, then pulled her in close and kissed her gently. Elli responded immediately, putting her arms around his neck and leaning into the kiss.
It was in the middle of this intimate moment that Trent's thoughts inexplicably returned to the Phantom Thief. What might it be like, he wondered, to kiss the Phantom? With Elli, kissing seemed like a chore – a task that must be completed at least once a day to uphold the image of the "perfect couple." It was not unpleasant, no, but neither was it enjoyable, for Elli's soft lips always tasted like desperation. He had kissed other girls before her, of course, but had never found any pleasure in the action.
But the Phantom… Now that was different. Trent found himself imagining what it might be like to brush his lips against those of that lovely thief…
His eyes widened in horror, and he pushed Elli away none too gently. She stared at him for a few moments, her expression one of a wounded animal, and then turned on her heel and returned to her desk without a word. Trent, however, was not paying her the slightest bit of attention. He had more important issues plaguing his mind. Specifically: What the hell was wrong with him?
He had thought (foolishly, perhaps) that he had locked away that part of himself for good.
He should have known that things had their way of resurfacing, especially when faced with almost certain temptation…