A/N: No, I'm not dead! I am so, so sorry it took forever to get this out! Thanks to all of you who've stuck with it, and for those who have poked and prodded at me to please not give it up. I never abandoned it, just had to set it aside for a little while. And thanks for all the reviews, too! Sorry to those who I didn't thank personally in a PM, just been crazy busy lately in RL.
Also, for any who are interested, I run a forum called The Beta Branch open to whoever wants to join. We post up our WIPs to the group as a whole, so we can get not only beta work done but also get feedback from several people at a time. It's very much a working system, and tons of fun, too! The link is on my profile if you want to check it out, but you won't be able to see the WIP section unless you actually register. We're a little overloaded with Avengers fans right now, so I'd love to see some more Losers folks jump on board! Come play!
Clay checks the clock for the thousandth time and scowls at it, seeming to blame it for the hours that have passed without them having heard from the doctors in regards to Jensen's test results. If not for Pooch's report upon returning from his "recon mission," Clay would've been threatening certain members of the medical staff by now with something probably very shiny and very sharp. As it stands, the necessity to treat a large influx of patients following some sort of traffic collision serves as just enough of a legitimate excuse to keep the Colonel's frustration focused on the clock.
Well, the clock and the fact that Clay knows damn well those x-rays are sitting on a desk somewhere, already analyzed and ready to be revealed.
He remembers back to happier times when Jensen was going off on another of his rambling explanations. The group was just out killing time in some mall somewhere and they walked past a photo developing shop. Jensen had laughed as the customer paid the extra money for the one-hour service.
"That's the biggest rip-off of all time," he stated. "I worked at a place like that one summer. Everything that comes in gets developed in under an hour. Actually, it's more like ten minutes. The only thing paying the extra fee gets you is being first in line, but really it makes no difference. See, we just ran the film through this big machine, and that only takes about thirty seconds to read all the images and put them up on a screen. The longest part of the process is looking through everyone's pictures and tweaking the color and red eye and whatever else is wonky before we actually printed them off. That's fun, by the way, getting to look at everyone's pictures. I don't think people realize that the workers actually study every single one." He had stared off into space with an amused smile for a few seconds before shaking his head, coming back to them. "Picturing developing. I've seen some ca-razy stuff."
The x-rays would be just like that. Clay had had his share of MRIs and the like, and he always noticed that the machine technician would be making marks on the images as they were being taken. By the time the scan is over, everything vital is already circled and noted for the doctors to easily see and diagnose. Just like those photos, the process probably only takes a matter of minutes. Well, maybe a few more so the experts can double-check their predictions with research, but still…
"You're a dick," Jensen suddenly mutters.
Clay stands up and limps over to the bedside, wondering if this little proclamation is an actual insult or just another of the random ramblings the hacker has been spewing off and on since he woke over two hours ago.
"If I agree with you, will it make you feel better?" Clay asks.
"No," Jake pouts, his glare doing nothing but bringing relief to the Colonel. For now, the kid is remarkably lucid and opting to speak to him, the insults much preferred to the dark silent treatment the Losers received the last two times Jensen had been fully aware.
Undaunted, Clay attempts to keep up conversation with his irritable tech. The others stay where they are, listening quietly, having already learned once that any undo movement or sound that Jensen isn't expecting could startle him back into his own head.
"You need anything? Water? Another blanket? Maybe get out of that hospital gown?"
Jensen slowly looks down at himself and picks at the gown in disgust, then looks up to see Clay's scrubs. The Colonel has to fight to hide his smile, knowing the tactic of bringing up the hated article of barely-clothing would entice the man into further communication. He had been saving it for this very moment, waiting for Jensen to instigate the conversation.
Blue eyes rove from Clay to Aisha to Cougar to Pooch, then shift back towards Cougar. "That color," he demands in his weak tone.
Pooch can't stop the snorted laugh from escaping his lips. The sniper had complained earlier about the bright green he had been stuck with, wondering how it was that Clay had wound up with a dark maroon and Pooch with an even darker purple. Even Aisha's pastel-teal would've better than the blinding green Cougar had been shafted with. Of course Jensen would love it.
The small sound draws Jensen's attention back to Pooch, and breaths are held as everyone wonders how the tech will react to the unprompted noise. "Well?" he simply asks.
"Well what, J?" Pooch asks gently.
"Scrubs. Green. Go," he orders.
Pooch and Clay share a smile before Pooch gives Jensen a little salute and sets off on his mission. Taking it as a good sign, Cougar and Aisha slowly move closer towards the bed, wanting to be involved in this moment of Jensen being Jensen. They continue to allow Clay to do the talking, though.
"Need anything else? You hungry?" the Colonel continues.
Jake seems to think it over for a second before bringing a hand up to cover his eyes. He stays that way long enough for the others to think they've lost him again, but finally he mumbles, "Test results?"
Clay sighs. "Haven't heard anything, yet."
Nodding, and keeping his face partially covered, Jake speaks a little softer. "Not doing it again. No more scans."
"Jensen-" Clay starts.
The hand pulls away to reveal a hard glare - determined, frightened, and threatening at the same time. He puts a little more power in his voice. "I can't, Clay. Not again."
The Colonel reads the message underlying the statement: I'll forgive you once, but once is all you get.
He nods and pats Jensen on the leg. "No more scans," he promises.
Jensen studies him for a second before voicing, "You're still a dick."
A tiny smile quirks at his lips, bringing matching looks to the rest of the team. Some of the thick tension in the room evaporates not just due to the fact that he's let them off the hook, but also because his mental faculties must be in order enough for him to understand why they had forced him into that scanner in the first place. He wouldn't be forgiving them so easily if he wasn't able to puzzle out the logic behind their actions.
Pooch returns with the requested green scrubs and grins as he sees his teammates interacting with one another. He had missed the moment, but he doesn't miss the fact that the air in the room suddenly doesn't seem as heavy as it's been over the last several hours.
"You guys done with your little kiss and make-up session?" he jokes.
Jake rolls his eyes. "Just gimme the clothes."
"One pair of ugly-ass, toxic green scrubs coming right up," Pooch says, walking over and laying the scrubs on the bed.
The pleased look on Jensen's face quickly gets replaced with one of concentration as he struggles to sit up enough to reach for the shirt. Without a word, Cougar gently stops Jake's struggle with a hand to his chest, then presses the button on the side of the bed to raise it up into the sought-after position. Jensen flashes him a grateful smile as he grasps the coveted shirt, then arches an eyebrow up at Aisha.
"What? Is somebody shy?" she teases. At his more pointed glare, she grins and moves for the door. Before she closes it behind her, she says in a more mischievous tone, "Maybe I'll just go see what those doctors are up to."
"It's alright, J, nothing to be sorry about," Pooch says as he pats Jensen's leg. The tech, sitting on the edge of the bed with his legs dangling off the side, is leaning heavily into Pooch, the transport specialist being the only thing that's keeping him upright. The hospital gown is still on but twisted horribly out of place, and the scrub pants are halfway pulled up, only staying where they are by Jensen's weak grip on one side of the waistband.
"Why can't I do this?" Jensen mumbles in frustration into Pooch's shoulder.
Clay leans down in front of him, reaching out to gently grip the wrist of the hand holding the pants up. "I think a few robots electrocuting your brain might have something to do with it. You're not going to just bounce right back from that."
With a sigh and a short nod, Jensen maneuvers himself so he's sitting up a little further. Keeping his gaze down, his face flushes slightly as he speaks. "You think if I, um, shift my weight around a little, you guys could…."
"No problem," Clay answers, nodding at Cougar to come help him slide the pants up the rest of the way while Pooch continues to support Jake from his position on the bed. It's an awkward process, with the guys having to do most of the work despite Jensen's best efforts at trying to help. By the time they get to the shirt the tech isn't even trying anymore, just allowing his arms to be bent around as easily as a rag doll's. His utter silence as they ease him back into the pillows is unnerving enough for Cougar to be the one to shatter the somber mood.
"I tied a man to a car," he blurts out.
The statement is successful in getting a reaction from the brooding patient. "Please tell me my ears aren't messed up, too, because I swear you just said you tied a man to a car."
Pooch laughs. "Nope, your ears are fine. Wrapped up one of those guys we've got locked in the car like a birthday present, bow and everything."
Jensen looks back and forth between the two, his eyes lighting up just a little bit. "Why?"
Before they can fill Jensen in on everything he missed while the nanobots ran rampant through his system, a loud knock comes on the door.
"Everybody decent?" Aisha asks. "Picked up a couple stray doctors in the hall."
She cracks the door open, and when there is no immediate objection, she pushes in the rest of the way. The what took you so long? comment that she had wanted to throw as a friendly barb dies on her lips as she takes in how suddenly exhausted Jensen looks. Instead, she flashes him a crooked grin and says, "I didn't think it was possible judging from Cougar's looks, but I have to admit, 'radioactive snot' is not a bad color on you."
"Thanks," Jensen mumbles absently, but his eyes are glued to the doctors and the file folder clasped in one of the man's hands.
"Mr. Jacobs, happy to see you awake," one of them says with a soft smile. "How are you feeling?"
Jensen shrugs, unfazed by the use of the alias – they're all used to going by fakes names at this point. "Tired. Can't move around very well. Otherwise just peachy."
The doctor nods. The other one steps forward slightly. "Mr. Jacobs, I'm Dr. Ires, and this is Dr. Rauth, the resident neurosurgeons here at Victor Memorial. We've been studying your file, and-"
"Should they be sitting for this?" Jake interrupts, nodding towards his also less-than-healthy teammates. "Some of them look like they might keel over any second now."
Clay shakes his head, knowing the diversionary tactic for what it is. As much as Jensen had wanted to know what was going on with him, actually being faced with the results had thrown the game up to a new level.
On the other hand, as Clay looks over his people all stitched and clean, he does notice that they all do look a little more tired than any of them will actually admit. They'd been so worried about Jensen that they neglected to remember their own injuries, himself included. Of course, being on pain killers had made it that much easier…
By the look on Dr. Rauth's face, he appears to be running through the same thought process. "That's not a bad idea, Mr. Jacobs. Gentlemen, Ms. Fatin. Please, have a seat."
As they get comfortable, Dr. Ires takes over the conversation again. "Before we start, I'd just like to make it very clear that while Victor Memorial offers the best medical service it can, we are a smaller facility in the way of offered services."
Pooch shifts in his seat. "What, exactly, does that mean?"
"It means," Dr. Rauth continues, "that as capable as Dr. Ires and myself are at common neurological procedures-"
"We fully admit to the fact that there are many…anomalies that fall outside our range of expertise," Dr. Ires finishes.
Jensen lets out a huffy sigh. "I'm an anomaly, aren't I?"
Ires nods. "According to your scans, you are suffering burns and scarring in various areas of your brain, which by itself is a concern, but not necessarily a permanent one. In time, those will most likely heal to a point so as to not to be hindering any of your normal functions."
Clay leans forward. "So what's the real issue?"
Ires and Rauth glance at each other before Rauth answers. "The test results of the brain activity scans were…unusual, to say the least."
"Unusual?" Cougar repeats, lifting an eyebrow.
"Yes…" Ires draws out, looking at the results in his hands again as if not believing what he's seeing on the paper.
Aisha snaps her fingers at him. "Hey. Cut it with the suspense bullshit."
Ires shakes his head. "Sorry, yes, well, what we're seeing is almost…how do I explain this? It's as if someone has gone in and rewired a circuit board. The proper signals are all there, but they're firing in the wrong directions at almost random intervals. Sometimes they stay on the right path, other times they stray."
Jensen snorts out a little nervous laugh. "That sounds like me on a good day."
A little smirk creeps onto Clay's lips at the tech's attempts to lighten the mood. Leave it to Jake to make light of what is clearly a very serious situation.
"So, what can we do about it?" the Colonel asks.
Rauth frowns, looking apologetic. "Nothing, I'm afraid. As we said, we aren't equipped to handle certain types of anomalies. Trying to essentially rewire brainwaves on this level…we could try, but I'm certain we'd do more damage than we'd do good."
The team look from the doctors to Jensen, seeing the humor leave his face. "What…exactly…does that mean?" he asks. "For me, specifically."
"Well," Ires starts, taking a deep breath. "As we've never come across something like this before, it's a bit hard to predict. I'd hazard a guess that it will cause any number of complications, including lack of motor function, possible memory lapses, you may find your speech or your senses cut off for short intervals of time-"
"Christ," Jake mumbles. "I get it. You can go now."
"But, Mr. Jacobs, we have yet to discuss-"
"Please, just go. You can come back and tell me about your crappy treatment options later. We all know they won't work."
Rauth and Ires give him and the others a sympathetic look before standing and heading out the door. "We're very sorry," Rauth says quietly, as he closes the door shut behind him.
There's a silence in the room for a few minutes before Clay stands up again. "Jensen-"
"Right back where we started," the tech sighs. "You realize that, right? From what that guy just said? My brain is going to do exactly what those robots were already doing, only now it's running on its own program."
Pooch shrugs. "They didn't say anything about there being pain," he offers hopefully. "That's a step in the right direction."
"Yeah, well, I could fall over after the next step," Jensen snaps. "I'm fucking useless."
"Those doctors are fucking useless," Aisha mumbles.
Clay jerks his head in her direction, a thoughtful look crossing his face.
"Uh oh," Pooch states, "Colonel's got that 'I got an idea' thing going on."
"I might," Clay answers, an absent quality in his tone. He comes back to the real world and offers them a hopeful grin. "Those doctors are useless, but we happen to have a couple neurological geniuses packed away neatly in the car, don't we?"
Aisha's evil smirk grows to match his. "Yes, we do. Come on, Pooch, let's go fetch."
"'Fetch the Labcoat' is the Pooch's favorite game," he answers almost giddily.
Jensen arches his eyebrows as they leave the room. "That sounded…scary. You're letting those two spend too much time together."
Clay shakes his head. "You have no idea."
Cougar lets out a soft chuckle and makes his way over to the side of the bed. He sits down on the edge and rests his hand on Jensen's knee. "We'll figure it out, my friend," he states quietly.
"God, I hope so." Jensen offers him up a small smile. "There's a new video game coming out next month. If I can't-" The smile drops, to be replaced with a look of confusion. "What was I just talking about?"
Cougar and Clay share a concerned glance.
"Video games, Jensen, video games," Clay offers, and waits as Jake tries to latch onto the memory. He can't, and turns his face to the side, already back to being frustrated with the situation.
"We'll figure it out," Clay repeats Cougar's words, and hopes to God that they can.