Zilo: Hey everyone. First off, profuse apologies for taking so long to update, especially on a cliffhanger. Anyone who follows the fanfic Twitter knows that my computer was broken for a month, and I had to buy a new part for it. My mom's been dealing with some serious health issues. Also, Chizi and I had a massive falling-out. I'd like to believe she and I can still be friends, but I'll running the ship here.
Anyway, massive thanks to Beryl Bloodstone, nisakeehl, DoctorWhotaliaandtheOlympian s, alexthegreat, Owlsweety, Shinigami's-Neko-Gaki, JellyfishWarfare, Guest, and Draconic for reviewing and being awesome patient people. The story's about to wrap itself up, so hopefully I can keep the quality up (lol get it because I mentioned QUALITY and the chapter's unbeta'd...anyway). Enjoy!
RANDOM NOTE: If The Houseguests was an anime, I always imagined that Mortimer would be voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch. Just sayin'.
16: Take A Third Option
in which nobody uses Mortimer's actual name
"Y-You can't kill Mom!" Ricky blurted, his voice high with anxiety.
Cassie started to whimper.
"Oh yes I can, if you all refuse to cooperate. And if that's not enough to sway you, I'm sure I can find some other people to use as well."
He's not kidding. This guy will really…bastard.
"Now," Mortimer said, direction his attention at Ling and Al, "if you two would so kindly step away from the others…"
I felt Al shift next to me. Cassie started suddenly. "No, Al!" she exclaimed, her voice scared. She clutched his fingers tighter in her hand.
"It's okay, Cassie," Al said to her, gently but firmly untangling her fingers. "Joey will protect you."
"No! You'll disappear! Joey, tell him to stop!" Cassie wailed, and I saw Mom flinch. All I could really do was hold my sister closer. Al dutifully stepped away, and Cassie's now-empty hand went after him.
"You too," Mortimer said to Ling.
Ling, scowling now, reluctantly released Ricky's shoulder. "You won't get far leading the way you do now. Fear does not make a long reign," he said.
"You're entitled to your opinion," Mortimer sneered.
There has to be something I can do!
"As for you two," Mortimer said, leveling a look at Roy and Riza, "you can also step away, just to ensure you don't plan anything. We'll have Joey send you back in a moment."
My head hurt too much to think of anything but useless crap. In fact, the ache was spreading to my temples. That reminded me of something.
"Well? Don't waste time," Mortimer said to a non-budging Roy and Riza.
"Ricky," I said.
I turned and shoved Cassie at him. He almost stumbled, but he instinctively reached out and caught her like the responsible big brother I knew he was. I snatched the smoke bomb out of Ling's hand and threw it directly at Mortimer's face.
"What the—!" Mortimer exclaimed.
I did it for three reasons. One, because I really wanted to throw something at his face. Two, to set off the smoke. Three, so his eyes would follow the ball and not me. In the precious few moments before he thought to deflect it away, I stamped down the pain in my head and rushed at my mother.
Mortimer slapped the smoke bomb down, but it fortunately hit the ground hard enough to release its contents. I heard another one of his annoying "tch" noises, and then Cassie cried out. I couldn't look to confirm, but I guessed that Ling and Al had just been poofed.
And then Roy, that wonderful military-minded guy, snapped his fingers, and there was an explosion somewhere behind me. I also heard several single shots that had to be Riza. They were covering for me. They were awesome.
Mom saw me coming and looked up in alarm. The guy with the gun to her back also saw me coming, and the gun came up to point at me. "Stop, or I'll—!"
I grabbed my mom's wrist.
The headache spread all over my head, then eased, and as it did the scenery changed around us. A city was now around us, its colors brighter and more vivid.
"Joey…" Mom said hesitantly.
I let go of her and stepped back. "You can get back on your own, right?" I asked.
"Well…no. General Wing revoked my letters."
"Then I'll come back and get you later. Just stay here so nobody can use you against me."
Mom nodded slowly, then hesitated. "I'm…sorry. I didn't want things to turn out this way."
This time I was the one who couldn't look at her. "Just don't talk about it, okay? I really don't want to hear your justifications right now. I just hope now that you get how incredibly wrong you were."
Mom didn't answer, but she also looked at the ground. We stayed silent like that until my moody abilities finally kicked back in.
I returned into smoke, and instinctively crouched just in case. I could hear explosions and gunshots, and also Mortimer yelling insults and rather choice phrases at his goons. I made a note of some of the more inventive ones to use later.
To my right I could just make out some trees, so I hurried over to them, gritting my teeth as every step made my head throb. I'd been able to push the pain down when I'd been focused on making my wildly unreliable plan work, but now it was back full force. As I emerged from the smoke I saw that I'd made it to the trees that surrounded the hill.
"Joey!" a voice said excitedly but quietly. I turned and saw Ricky and Cassie peeking from around a tree they'd been hiding behind. They hurried over to me, Cassie throwing her arms around my waist as soon as she got close enough.
"That was so smart! How'd you think of teleporting Mom away?" Ricky asked.
"It just came to me," I said. "Come on, let's go to the van."
"But what about the colonel and the lieutenant?"
"We're not leaving them," I assured him.
The three of us hurried through the trees, me holding my head as I steered us in the right direction. I saw the van parked behind the scraggly bush like I'd left it and felt relief, though I was concerned about my ability to drive with a head wound.
We all piled into the car, and I had it started and thrown into gear before I'd even buckled my seatbelt. My head was a distraction, but I could still drive. I swerved around the trees and straight into the smoke from the bomb, switching on my headlights.
"How far did they go?" I asked.
"They were running around like crazy," was Ricky's answer.
"A little less specific, please, I don't want any idea whatsoever," I griped.
The side door suddenly slid open with more force than necessary. I twisted around in alarm, but it turned to relief when Roy and Riza jumped in, trailing a little of the smoke. I threw the van in reverse and peeled out before they could even shut the door.
"I used up every shot on them," Riza said, unloading the empty clip from her gun.
"At least you never missed," Roy commented, touching a gash on his cheek and wincing.
When I made it back to the road, I found a spot just big enough for a U-turn, awkwardly jerked the van to face the right way, and started driving with a lead foot.
For a while, there was silence. I was mainly focused on not getting us lost. I thought I was doing all right. Except at one point I started to turn left, and Riza spoke up. "We came from the other direction."
"Oh." I threw another sharp U-turn that snapped everyone's necks to the left.
"Good grief, Joey!" Ricky complained.
"Sorry," I managed.
After that there wasn't much talking, except for Riza giving me directions so I didn't give everyone whiplash again.
I pulled into the driveway as the sun was setting, parked, and turned the van off. Then I slumped over the steering wheel, resting my forehead on my arms. My head was pounding bad, and I wanted to scream and cry and rant and quit.
Ricky was the one who finally broke the silence. "Let's go in the house and eat," he said quietly.
"Sounds good," Roy said, and I heard the sound of several seat belts being unfastened, and then the back door was slid open. They climbed out, jostling the van, and the door was slid closed. I sat in the new, better silence, purposefully breathing lighter so I didn't interrupt it.
A couple moments later, the driver's side door opened. "Come on, Joey, let's go in," Ricky said, and I felt his hand on my back. Cassie's arms soon slid around my waist as well.
I heaved a huge sigh, then lifted my head and looked at my brother and sister. We all looked terrible, like survivors of a war, with dirt smudging our faces and our clothes wrinkled and our hair messed up.
"We'll figure out what to do. We just need to eat," Ricky said firmly. "Come on in and I'll find something I can make."
That actually made me smile. "You can only make pasta," I pointed out.
"Then I'll make a giant pot of pasta, now come on."
Ricky did indeed make a giant pot of macaroni and cheese. We were all surprisingly hungry and ate seconds and thirds. Then we set about cleaning and patching ourselves up. Roy and Riza went about cleaning and mending their uniforms with an expertise that said they'd had to do this before, with each of them keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity.
I showered after everyone else, and by then the hot water was long gone. I didn't care though, because the chill cleared my head and felt good against the ache. I watched the reddish-brown water swirl down the drain and heaved another huge sigh.
When I got out of the shower, I changed in the bathroom to a black-and-blue-striped shirt and jeans. I took my towel back to my room and found both Ricky and Cassie asleep on my bed. Cassie had both hands curled into Ricky's shirt, and he had a protective arm thrown across her back.
My brother and sister. They'd made it through this, but it was going to mess with their heads for a while. Especially Cassie, who had become understandably clingy. I'd done the best I could to keep them safe, at least I hoped I had. I managed to drag the comforter out from under them and then tuck them in, like a good older sister. They'd been understandably confused to find their rooms stripped bare of contents, and even more confused when I explained that it was part of some asinine "you're an only child" plot of Mom's, so maybe they'd crashed in mine for the sense of familiarity.
I went downstairs and found Roy and Riza waiting for me at the kitchen table. "Feel better?" Roy asked.
I nodded as I pulled out a chair and sat down. "Yeah. Head's still pounding, but it's better."
Roy nodded. "Good. We need to plan our next step."
I nodded again, this time wearily. "That douche bag Mortimer's probably already on his way here with more goons," I sighed.
"Will you be able to bring Fullmetal and his brother back?" Roy asked me.
"Honestly? I'm not sure. I just started figuring out the warning signs for these God-annoying powers activating. I can't really control them yet." I clenched my fists on the table. "Dammit, we need Ike. Where is that idiot?"
"Since we don't know, we'll have to do what we can without him," Roy said. "Is there anywhere we can leave your brother and sister to get them out of the way?"
I heaved a sigh and flicked a stray hair out of my eyes. "In an emergency we're supposed to go to Cassie's friend Natasha's, but that's right next door. It's probably too close. Other than that…I could maybe call my aunt. She could be here in a few hours if she was ready as soon as I called, and sped the whole way, and didn't get pulled over…"
"So the choices aren't good," Riza summarized.
"Nope," I said, shaking my head.
"Then the best we can do for them is take the fight elsewhere, draw the action away from them," Roy said. "So, you know this place. Where would be a good location?"
A good place to stage a no-holds-barred battle? I propped my elbow on the table so I could rub the bridge of my nose. "Jeez, I don't know…this is a suburban neighborhood, we don't prepare for bloody skirmishes…" I paused when an idea came to me. "Well, there is one place, actually…"
"How far away is it?" Roy asked.
"Maybe twenty minutes by car. It's a park, so there's plenty of space for whatever, but nobody goes there anymore."
"That does sound good," Riza agreed.
I nodded, which made my head throb a little, and winced. "Ow…before we go, I do wanna try something real quick." With one hand lightly pressed to my temple, I got up and went into the living room. The ancient family computer was still there on the floor, with a screensaver running. I sat crosslegged in front of it and woke it up.
Roy and Riza came into the living room while I messed with the computer, accessing the internet and pulling up e-mail. "So what's your plan?" Roy asked me as he sat on the couch next to my shoulder.
"Well, I'm in no position to be trying anything with my amazing powers, but I'm hoping I can make this work with the thing that started this whole mess," I said. The whole time since this started, we'd been trying to send everyone back, and it had only made things worse. But maybe if I was trying to do the opposite, maybe it would work how I wanted.
I had just gotten to Ricky's inbox (yeah, I know his password, so what?) when an IM popped up in my field of vision. I blinked in surprise.
EdwardsWife77: dont tax yr head nemore, ill take care of it
As if to remind me, my head pulsed unpleasantly. I winced, but read the line again, confused. How did she know about my possible concussion?
I felt something change in the air. It was really slight, and honestly I probably wouldn't have noticed before stupid supernatural things became a normal part of my life. But I felt it all right, and I glanced up. Roy saw the look on my face and snapped to attention. "What is it?"
"I thought I felt a…" I trailed off, not sure how to describe it right.
Just then, I heard what sounded like a rather loud scream from Cassie upstairs. All three of us shot to our feet in alarm. I nearly lost my balance and fell, as the sudden altitude made my head dizzy. Roy and Riza were already headed upstairs, weapons brandished. As soon as I was steady I took off after them.
This was not cool. If Mortimer and his goons were already on the attack, we had no time to prepare. And if Ricky and Cassie were caught in the middle, things would get real ugly real quick. I had almost caught up to them when they reached the top of the stairs.
"Which one is hers?" Roy asked, already starting down the hall.
"She and Ricky are in my room," I said, pointing at my door.
Roy and Riza started in that direction, but paused when the door flew open. Ricky stood in my doorway, his hair and clothes rumpled like he'd just woken up, but his eyes bright and alert. "They're back!" he shouted.
"Back?" I repeated intelligently.
A familiar face poked his head out under Ricky's arm. "Yep, back again," Ed said.
"Edward!" Riza said in relief.
"Wow, perfect timing," I commented, feeling a smile spread on my face.
Ricky and Ed glanced over their shoulders, then moved out of the doorway to give Al space to wedge himself through. Cassie was glued to his side, hitched up like a toddler. "Sorry if we startled anyone. We sort of appeared and scared Cassie," Al said apologetically.
"No harm no foul," I said, nodding at Cassie.
"What did we miss this time?" Ed asked as we headed back downstairs as a group.
"We made it back here, obviously. The head douche bag could be here any minute, so Roy and Riza and me were planning to draw the heat away from here and to a better location," I reported.
"You were just gonna leave us?" Ricky said, sounding almost hurt.
"Of course, you idiot. We couldn't risk you being used as bait like Mom," I reminded him.
Ricky bit his lip. "Speaking of Mom…where is she?"
"Where she can't do anything to us or be used to do anything to us," I replied firmly, my tone making it clear I didn't want to elaborate.
"We can't waste any time," Roy went on, picking up where I'd left off. "The longer we sit around, the less time we have to prepare when they do finally arrive. If we're leaving, we need to go before we lose the advantage."
I nodded in agreement as we hit the living room.
"Wait a second!" Ricky burst out. "If you just leave us here and go to wherever, they could just stop in and grab us while we're all alone. How are we any safer?"
I hesitated. I hadn't thought of that. Dammit, that's probably true. If Mortimoron is heading this whole wackjob operation, he's probably got one of those cameras in that TV room tuned in here somewhere, which is pure paranoia fuel.
"That can be taken care of now," Roy said to me. "We can proceed with your plan as usual, except we all go. Fullmetal and Alphonse can stay with Ricky and Cassie while we confront this Wing character."
"Are you sure it will be safe enough?" Riza asked.
"It'll have to be."
"I don't know about this," I cut in. "Not that I doubt you guys' skills or anything, but I don't want that freak or his goons anywhere near my family."
"Understandable, but we don't have a lot of plays here. At least this way he can't surprise us," Roy said.
"Don't worry, Joey, Brother and I will protect them with our lives," Al promised me. Cassie nodded like a bobblehead to corroborate his statement.
"Besides, no half-baked loser in a suit's gonna mess with us," Ed added, crossing his arms.
Well, I wasn't happy about this, but I finally nodded. "Okay. But promise me, promise me, you'll be careful," I said to Ricky, giving him my most serious look.
To his credit, Ricky could see I was serious, and gave me a surprisingly thoughtful gaze before nodding.
About twenty-five minutes later, I pulled up to the park. As I'd been hoping, it was completely deserted. Nobody really wants to use it because some teenage wannabe thugs vandalized the hell out of it a couple years ago, and it's apparently beneath the city's notice to do anything about it. Of the minimal playground equipment crowded into one corner, only one swing remained useable, and even that was covered in graffiti like everything else.
"Pleasant," Roy commented as I parked in a handicapped space and turned off the engine.
"More importantly, empty," Riza reminded him.
The three of us climbed out of the van and looked around. "Any idea when they'll show?" Roy asked.
"Not a one," I replied. I turned back to the van. Ed had just climbed out of the backseat and was surveying the area. Ricky poked his head out. "Remember, lay low," I told him again, pointing a finger.
"I promised, remember? Like four times," Ricky said.
"I hope you meant it every time, you butthead."
Ricky grinned, hearing me with a note of attitude in my voice, the first time since we'd settled on the new plan. "Of course, you bully," he said.
I managed a return grin, then faced Al, who had put his feet on the ground and was sitting in the van where the middle bench was. "I'm counting on you to be the smart one here," I said to him.
"Ha ha," Ed muttered as he leaned against the passenger door.
"I promise, we'll be careful," Al said. I'd extracted that promise from him twice as many times as Ricky, but he'd patiently reassured me every time. Cassie was currently tucked away in his armor, which both protected her and prevented him from being poofed away unexpectedly.
I crossed the parking lot and stepped onto one of the sidewalk paths that wound around the park, Roy and Riza right behind me. Since her usual gun was out of ammo, Riza now carried the gun of that one goon who had shown up in my house and first informed me of my status as a so-called "failed tester". I wondered if that loser was suffering in a hospital somewhere, and the thought cheered me up.
"So we're just going to sit around and wait until they arrive?" Riza asked.
I shrugged. "Not much else we can do. We already discussed the plan to death on the way." I was amazed to realize I wasn't even afraid of the upcoming skirmish. I was going to find one way or another to make Mortimer regret messing with my family. I'd see to it.
We came upon a bench that was amazingly unbroken, though it was covered in a layer of graffiti. I glanced back and saw that the van was safely out of sight, then sat down on a crude drawing of a clown flipping the bird and heaved a sigh. "Sorry I dragged you guys into this mess," I said. "I'm sure you've got more important things to do in your dimension."
"No sense apologizing when you weren't a part of this in the first place," Roy said.
"I know, but it still sucks."
"There's nothing you can do about that now," Riza reminded me with an encouraging smile.
I managed a return smile, even though I wondered if they could really be that forgiving about a problem they should have never even known existed.
Amazingly, I found myself dozing off a little, my head sinking in the direction of Roy's shoulder. But Roy's abrupt, "Here he comes," jolted me back into alertness. Both he and Riza were staring steadily down the path, and I followed their gazes.
Mortimer was casually strolling up the sidewalk in our direction, hands in his pockets. With his relaxed expression and unhurried stance, he could have passed for an innocent bystander on an afternoon stroll, except for the stupid suit. I hopped off the bench immediately to clear my head and started towards him purposely, hands swinging in loose fists at my side. Without a word, I felt Roy and Riza fall into step with me.
"So you found us, Douchey," I called when we were about ten feet from each other.
"So I did," Mortimer said with his stupid smirk. "And where's the brother and sister?"
"Yeah, nice try," was my reply. I stared straight into his eyes, refusing to glance back in the direction of the van, and give this loser any hints.
Mortimer chuckled like a bastard. "Always a snappy reply."
"Yeah, yeah, save it. Where's the goon squad?" I replied.
"They're…on call, so to speak. I was hoping we could negotiate peaceably like mature adults," said Mortimer.
I scoffed, hard. "Oh, sure, that ended great the last time, what with you threatening to shoot my mom and trying to kill the rest of us."
"Well, circumstances have changed slightly—"
"Meaning you can't use my mom as a hostage—"
"—and I was hoping for another shot at coming to an agreement with you before force was utilized again."
I just gave him a look. "There's not much you can say that will dissuade me from wanting to punch your smartass face in," I commented.
Mortimer's face was so smug it was practically imploding on itself. "You can use all the threats you want. I think you realize I hold the upper hand at this point. I have more than enough resources to make your life hell if you refuse to even attempt negotiation, despite your drafting the colonel and lieutenant into bodyguard service."
"We never would have become involved were it not for you and your people," Roy said crisply before I could think of something witty. "You have only yourself to blame on that count."
Mortimer's smirk readjusted a little, as if he were digesting that it was indeed all his fault. "Well. It's still no matter. Are you at least willing to consider, Joey? It can be made worth your while, if you'd at least try to work with us."
"After what you and your moron brigade has done to my family? I'll say it one more time and hope it gets through that five-gallon layer of gel on your thick head: no way in hell, you ass."
Mortimer's smirk faded into a rather displeased sneer. "I see. I think Phoenix did a little too good of a job encouraging your smart mouth."
I stood my ground, glaring at him.
"Then I suppose you've brought these results on yourself," he went on, raising a hand.
I felt a jolt of fear. As if sensing it, both Roy and Riza shifted slightly closer to me. I appreciated the gesture, but I couldn't help feeling a little scared.
This is it.
"Hold your horses, people."
This is not it.
My head, and everyone else's, snapped to my left. Ike stood there, dressed in a sleeveless black shirt and red jeans. He stood with his feet spread and his arms behind his back, his brows raised and a smile on his face. It looked like the most Ike-like cat-ate-the-canary pose I'd ever seen.
"You!" Mortimer practically gasped, all his smuggery changing to straight up anger. "What the hell are you doing here, Tak?"
"My job. Which is more than I can say for you, General," Ike said to him.
"Ike, where the hell have you been?" I snapped next.
"Like I said, doing my job. More specifically, getting the necessary permission to put an end to this ridiculousness before it gets out of hand."
"Explain yourself," Mortimer said through gritted teeth.
Ike's grin got a little wider. "Sure. Your assignment here has officially been cancelled, and all your backup has been dismissed. Not only that, but I've been placed in charge of cleaning up the mess you and Phoenix made. In other words, you've been demoted." As Ike spoke, Mortimer had gone paler and paler, much to my pleasure. "Oh, and…you sure you should be speaking to a superior officer like that?"
"What? No! There must be some mistake! The last report I sent in clearly explained how the situation was about to be resolved—" Mortimer began to sputter.
"Yeah, well the mess made of the building begged to differ," Ike commented.
"Does this mean we're no longer in danger?" Riza asked Ike.
"It means just that, Lieutenant. Now that the general's no longer allowed to have goons point guns at you," Ike said.
"Why couldn't you have done this sooner?" Roy wanted to know.
"Well, it wasn't until I learned who was in charge that I realized how I could fix this. But I had to do it without him realizing it, or he could have tried to head me off," Ike explained. "That's why I disappeared on you guys."
"We could've been killed!" I exclaimed.
Ike smiled at me. "Nah. You were in charge, Joey. I knew you'd be able to handle it."
Even though I did feel a little swell of pride at his faith in me, I still wanted to hit him. "So you waited for the most dramatic moment to appear and fix everything?" I said instead.
"Well…" Ike hemmed, and I knew I was right, and rolled my eyes.
"You…" I had never heard Mortimer snarl before then, but that was definitely what he was doing. I looked back at him in surprise, to see his glare directed at Ike. "You are not going to get away with this. Once I send in an appeal, you will seriously regret messing with me." The level of his anger seemed kind of high for just this one thing, but I figured I wasn't one to measure the shortness of someone's fuse.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm terrified. Now go on and disappear like I know you will," Ike said with a shooing motion.
Mortimer shot of a look of pretty damn pure hate before vanishing in an air shimmer.
Zilo: Dun dun...whah? So is it over then? Happy ending time? We're almost there, but we've got a few more loose ends to wrap up. My goal is to finish before the new year, so wish me luck!