"Doesn't it bother you that the very foundation of this house is infected?" Lucas asked, his hands stuck into the sleeves of his sweater.
"It bothers me that we're in fucking Alaska," Ramsey said. "It bothers me that it's freezing, and that Baylock stuck us here to play house while they're out chasing aliens. It bothers me that I can't formulate algorithms that make any freaking sense, but no, it doesn't bother me that the foundation is infected. The mutation is stable, we're several yards above it, and if the house should grow chicken legs and walk away, I'm sure we'll have time to tie some sheets together and jump off. Unless we freeze our asses off first."
"You should be wearing thicker clothes."
"Well, thank you, Captain Obvious. I'll think of that next time they haul me out of bed at 3AM. My company was not pleased."
"You were supposed to be at work," Lucas pointed out, but when Ramsey only glared at him in response, he relented: "Do you want to borrow one of my sweaters?"
"I'd drown in one of your sweaters."
"You could cut the sleeves off."
"Sweet of you, but forget it." Ramsey took a flask from his jacket pocket and gulped down some of its contents. "Want some?" he offered.
Lucas waved the flask away. "I think I'll make some tea."
"The water's safe?"
"Yeah, I checked. Do you want a cup?"
Ramsey rolled his eyes. "God in heaven help me – yes! I want a cup of tea!"
As the kettle was brewing, Ramsey's cell phone went off.
"Any luck with the algorithms?" Baylock asked.
"This is not luck," Ramsey said. "This is hard work combined with our double genius, and I can still only give you an 80% certainty on what'll happen around here during the next few weeks, never mind beyond that. Also, this computer you've saddled us with is a piece of shit. I've met dinoaurs that are faster than this."
"All right, hit me with the 80%. It's better than nothing."
Ramsey proceeded into the bedroom, where his laptop was folded open on a rickety chair. "For the time being, the number one problem is most likely going to be people. If only this species had the sense to hibernate. Considering the estimated level of mutation in Anchorage..."
A clatter and a loud cry came from the kitchen.
"I'll call you back," Ramsey said, hung up, and rushed to see what was going on.
Lucas stood frozen by the work bench, his hands stretched out in front of him, and the kettle in a wet steaming puddle on the floor. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened.
"Are you okay?"
"I overturned the kettle," Lucas said. His voice was calm and strangely distant. "It hurts."
"Put your hands under water," Ramsey said. He stepped carefully over the puddle and led Lucas away to the sink.
The faucet had old-fashioned cross handles, and Ramsey pulled up a chair and stepped up to turn on the water. What little could be seen of Lucas's hands under the sweater was starting to redden and blister. Ramsey carefully tried to roll up the sleeves, which caused Lucas to make a very quiet noise and his nostrils to widen and whiten.
"Okay. Okay." Ramsey let go of the sweater and thought for a moment. "Remember that stuff about cutting off sleeves? I'll have to take you up on that now."
Lucas nodded quietly, and Ramsey went to fetch a pair of scissors. It took him about a minute, but felt a whole lot longer. As he started cutting, he winced at the sight of the skin below. At least the right arm wasn't as bad as the left, and it looked like second-degree kind of burns, but what did he know?
"Okay, just stay right there," Ramsey said. "I'm going to call Fenway."
"We should go to the hospital," Lucas said, still in the same calm voice.
"Yeah, yeah, hold your horses. I don't know a whole lot about burns, but I know you should keep your arms under running water for at least ten more minutes. Plenty of time for me to call Fenway."
Ramsey told himself sternly that it was ridiculous to get this worked up over some scalds. Jesus, the kid would be fine, this was nothing like last time. But even so, he couldn't help his heart from pounding as he made the call.
No answer. No fricking answer.
"Fenway, you asshole, pick up your phone," he told the voice mail and hung up. After a brief pause, he decided to call Baylock back. At least that was someone he knew would be waiting by the phone.
"Hey, the whole work thing is gonna have to wait; Lucas just poured boiling water all over his arms. I can't get hold of Fenway, so I'm taking him to Anchorage. That car of yours had better be all you've promised."
He didn't much listen to what Baylock had to say, until the bits about handing over the phone.
"What? What does Cavennaugh know about anything?"
Despite the protests, Baylock did hand over the phone, and Ramsey had to sit and listen to Cavennaugh's advice which, he had to admit, did sound like good sense.
"There are blisters, and, I don't know, the skin looks loose. Yeah, of course he's in pain! But he's all calm about it. Oh. Okay. So, good and bad news, huh? Oh, gross. Right, I'll see you there."
He returned to Lucas and kept his voice light. "Couldn't get to Fenway, but apparently Cavennaugh has been having some fun with his extracurricular activities. It seems you're gonna be fine. All we have to do is get you cooled down, maybe bandaged up a little bit, and then I'll drive you to the hospital. Cavennaugh will get Fenway and meet up with us."
"They're sending Fenway for this?"
"Kid, for you they'd better send the damn cavalry."
Lucas smiled, a smile that quickly turned into a wince when the water hit a particularly bad spot.
Which reminded Ramsey: "Also, good news – pain is good. We want pain."
Lucas gave a breathy laugh. "I don't."
"Do you want some drugs?"
His head whipped around quick as lightning. "You have drugs?"
"No. I just wanted to see how much your eyes would light up at the mention."
"Dick." Lucas closed his eyes, only to open them again a moment later. "You have alcohol, though. I've seen you."
"Yes I do, but you're not getting any."
"Why not?" There was a childish whine in Lucas's tone that spoke plenty of the kind of pain he was in.
"Because I'm mean and selfish and want it all for myself. Or because I've been given strict orders not to give you anything to drink, least of all alcohol. There's this little thing called shock, see, and we're not entirely sure you're not in it."
"Oh. Yeah." Lucas looked down into the sink, leaning his unharmed elbows against the edge.
"Do we have cling film?" Ramsey asked. "Or plastic bags? You packed a roll of plastic bags, didn't you? Where is it?"
Lucas made a sound that might have been an "um", or just a moan, and frowned deeply.
"You didn't stick it up on the hat shelf or anything, did you?"
At that, Lucas actually managed a smile. "How stupid do you think I am?"
"Oh, I know you're a genius," Ramsey said with a shrug. "I've just known too many geniuses to put much faith in that. Especially considering that you've just managed to boil yourself."
"Under my bed," Lucas said, closing his eyes.
"Much better. I'll be back in a moment."
Ramsey dug out the roll of plastic bags, which was buried under a pile of notes, equipment, and odd socks. Apparently "under the bed" was Lucas's go-to spot for everything. He rolled off the first couple of bags and put them aside, figuring that they'd be dirty after the contact with all that other stuff. As an afterthought, he got the unused extra pillow from the closet and removed the pillowcase. It may not be hospital stuff, but at least it was clean. He checked his watch, trying to determine if it had been ten minutes since the accident. Time was always much more difficult to calibrate when you were upset. Hang on, Baylock had called just before... Ramsey went to get his phone, and compared the times. Yup, should be safe enough to get the kid packaged up and ready to go.
He returned to the kitchen and turned off the water. "Feeling better?"
"A little bit."
"Good. Sit down."
After turning off the water, Ramsey used the pillowcase to pat Lucas's arms dry. Some of the skin came off along with the water, but not too badly – he hoped. He tried his best to keep the blisters whole, and kept the light touch as he moved on to cut up the plastic bags and use them to wrap up the wounds.
"You have to make sure there aren't any creases," Lucas instructed him. "At least that's what our scout leader said. Not sure it applies to plastic bags."
"You were a boy scout?" Ramsey asked, undoing some of his work to get the creases out.
"Did you know that the entire boy scout organization was created to prevent kids from masturbating?"
"It's true. Pick up the first edition of Scouting for Boys if you don't believe me." He ended his work by pulling a whole plastic bag over the cut-up ones, and put on some sticky tape to make it hold. "Did it work for you?"
"That is none of your business," Lucas said, but the beginnings of a smile curved the corners of his mouth.
"Oh, so it didn't, then. Well, this should make Baden-Powell happy for a while." Ramsey patted at the finished wrapping. "All done. Come on!"
They stopped in the hallway for Lucas's jacket, and putting that on him made Ramsey feel like one of those medieval kings about to dub someone a knight. Richard Lionheart or someone. He did a couple of buttons and couldn't resist saying, "Rise, sir Lucas, and charge to the garage."
The car was another matter entirely, leading his mind into a much more modern kind of hero, though as quintessentially British. He let Lucas in through the passenger door, stroked the hood as he walked past it, and sat down in the driver's seat.
"All right," he told the panel. "You'd better be everything Baylock says you are." He punched in the code he'd been given, and the seat and pedals shifted to a comfortable position. No, a divine position, which only became better as they got out on the road and he moved into some serious speed. Whoever built this car was a genius almost on his own level. Other cars, on winter roads, were either too slippery or too sluggish, but this one gave him the most smooth ride of his life.
"Oh, baby, you're beautiful!"
Lucas closed his eyes hard and slumped back against his seat. "Are you hitting on the car now?"
"Have you seen this thing?" Ramsey gestured at the dashboard, which was a rather futile gesture since Lucas's eyes were still closed.
A quiver of the eyelids was followed by the slight movement of the corners of Lucas's mouth. "Play track 14."
"Track 14. Trust me."
Ramsey, curious to what he would find, fiddled with the CD player until he found track 14, and Shirley Bassey's sensual voice clawed through the loudspeakers with "Goldfinger". He burst into laughter.
"You put this in?"
"It's the same mix in all the cars, unless you change it."
"I gotta admit, I didn't expect that from Baylock. Maybe he's got some flunky programming the cars. Seems more likely, doesn't it? Do they have Mission Impossible on there too?"
"Don't think so, no."
"Big mistake." Ramsey increased the speed even further and breezed through the landscape like 007's American cousin. What was the name of that dorky old spy show again? Uncle. That was it. He breezed through the landscape like Uncle.
About five minutes later, Lucas got some color back on his nostrils, and opened his eyes. "Just how fast are we... Holy shit!"
"Relax," Ramsey said. "I've gone faster than this plenty of times."
"Yeah, I bet you have. Oh. Oh, no." Lucas blanched so much Ramsey was afraid that maybe he was in really bad pain or something, but that wasn't it. "You've been drinking."
"What, this little thing?" Ramsey asked, patting the flask in his pocket. "It's nothing."
"It's something. It's always something with you, and... oh, God, have you been taking anything else?"
"Are you asking if I'm high?" Despite the situation, Ramsey was starting to get really amused. A little bit ticked off too, but you couldn't get too ticked off with Lucas. "No. I'm not high. I'm not even drunk. Relax."
"Relax? At this speed, and alcohol in your system, and the snow, and what if the police gets us? Or what if there's another accident? It's not like I can take over the wheel, or drag you out of here if the car catches fire, or..."
Ramsey relented and slowed the car to a more or less appropriate speed. He shot Lucas a glance that meant, 'See? I can play nice,' but couldn't resist saying, "I can't believe I'm being lectured in safety by the guy who doused himself in boiling water. Most people learn not to do that at five. How did you ever survive childhood?"
"You're not being very sympathetic, you know."
"When am I ever?"
Lucas laughed, but soon his face tightened in pain, and he took a couple of deep breaths through his nose, slowly letting his eyes drift shut again.
Ramsey waited only a few seconds before hitting the gas. He wasn't about to let the kid sit in pain any longer than necessary.
"I'm insulted," Lucas said quietly.
"How could you possibly think that I wouldn't be able to tell a shift in speed? The frequency..." He halted, choking a groan. "The frequency of sound is different, as are the vibrations in my seat. You may be able to slap my fingers in plain equations... but this is a machine. And a very simple machine at that."
"Okay." Ramsey drummed at the edges of the steering wheel, not yet ready to slow down. "You know, if you grit your teeth any harder they'll wear out. I want to get you there as fast as possible, and I know what as fast as possible is. I underestimated you, and I'm sorry, but don't underestimate me in turn."
It occurred to him that there was so much Lucas could have said to that – about the drugs, the gambling, the women – but Lucas, being Lucas, didn't bring out any of the uncomfortable things he could have. Instead, he went with the puppy dog defense.
"Please. It's scaring me shitless."
Defeated, Ramsey stepped on the brake, making sure to be within ten miles of the speed limit for the rest of the way. He felt as though they were crawling like slugs to Anchorage, coming down to a mold-like pace once they were actually in the city. Maybe he should have called an ambulance. Did they send ambulances for shit like this? He'd love to have a siren to get people out of the way – honking the horn just wasn't the same.
He parked the car as close to the hospital entrance as possible, and steered Lucas inside, taking care on the icy ground.
"My friend burned his arms," he told the clerk. "Dropped the kettle on them. It looks pretty bad."
She pushed a sheet of paper and a pen across the desk. "Fill in this form, please."
"Can you at least get him some painkillers?"
"We need a doctor to do that, and for the doctor to have full information, we need you to fill in the form." She smiled. "You'll get help. Promise."
"It's okay," Lucas said. "Really." He splayed himself on a nearby chair and leaned his head backwards.
Ramsey reluctantly sat down next to him, pen ready.
"September 21st, 1970."
"Really? I thought you were younger. Any history of heart disease, seizures..."
"No, no... wait." Lucas raised his head and lowered his voice. "That thing with the alien infection, what do we...?"
"Depends. Do you want to 'disappear' into a cozy little cell somewhere? No? Okay, then we don't mention the alien infection." Ramsey ticked off a few more squares as per Lucas's instructions. "Current medications?"
Ramsey grinned as his friend's apologetic tone. "Guess I know who to bum from when I run out, then. Any other dirty little secrets?"
"Cavennaugh!" Lucas said with evident relief.
Ramsey turned his head and saw Cavennaugh and Fenway coming through the main entrance. Despite his own considerable relief, he couldn't resist razzing Lucas a little. "Cavennaugh gave you herpes?"
"No, I..." Lucas caught sight of Ramsey's expression and broke off. "Shut up."
Cavennaugh and Fenway came over, Cavennaugh with quick military strides that forced Fenway to break into a trot to keep up.
"What the hell took you so long?" Ramsey asked the moment they were within hearing range.
"Had to pick up this guy," Cavennaugh said. "There are other things going on in the world." Nodding at Lucas, he asked, "You okay?"
"Been better," Lucas admitted, but amended it with, "Then again, been worse."
"Let me take a look," Fenway said, stepping up. Gently, he held up Lucas's arms and peered through the plastic. "Okay. It's not so bad, but you were right to come here. I'd recommend keeping you here for a few hours, make sure you're properly hydrated, dress the wounds, give you something for the pain..."
"Great," Lucas said. "Can we do that now?"
Cavennaugh cleared his throat and fished around in his breast pocket. "Let me see if I can swing some authority in this place."
He went on to talk to the clerk, and remained by the front desk for a while with his arms crossed over his chest. Meanwhile, Fenway started stripping Lucas of the bandages and asking him inane questions, and soon enough, they were all lead to an examination room so small the doctors and nurses had to duck under each other's arms in their eagerness to give Lucas care. With the Red Team members there as well, it made the room quite crowded, but Fenway was right in the midst of things, giving orders as if he were dealing with his own crew, and Cavennaugh took up position by the door, the very image of an immovable object. Leaving Ramsey, who was pushed this way and that and finally, despite his protests, pushed all the way out the door. When he tried to loiter in the corridor and listen to the sounds coming from the room, he was escorted into a waiting room, where he was left to sit fuming.
At one point, a woman stepped out of the corridor and walked away at a pace so brisk Ramsey didn't have a chance to ask her what was going on or even check her name tag, but she had both the uniform and the legs of a nurse. Of course, legs like that on a doctor would be even better.
Bored and frustrated, he took another swig from his flask.
When another woman, a doctor, came out of the corridor, Ramsey jumped to his feet and addressed her: "Can I go in now?"
She pulled back her scrawny neck and peered down at him over the rim of her glasses. "Who are you again?"
"Friend of Lucas Pegg. Burned arms?" He was tempted to add 'we save the world together,' but abstained. As true as it might be, in theory at least, it wasn't the sort of comment you needed to merit you for access to a hospital room.
Her name-tag read 'Dr. Annabelle Fell'. Doubtless she'd been the butt of some cruel jokes in childhood, though whether or not he liked her would depend very much on her next answer.
"Yes, I don't see why not," she replied. "He's been moved into room 512. We're keeping him overnight for observation, though we've returned main responsibility for his care to Dr. Fenway as his primary physician. It's a bit of a compromise, based on Mr. Pegg's medical history."
He tried to decide what to say to that and settled for, "Right. Thanks."
Her face softened a little as she gave him a nod of goodbye and disappeared into another corridor.
Lucas looked much better now, Ramsey saw as he reached room 512. A bit dazed, sure, but better color, not so pinched, and with proper dressing instead of those ridiculous plastic bags.
Ramsey grinned at him. "You okay, kiddo?"
"I think..." Lucas paused, then started again. "I think the morphine is kicking in."
"See? I told you they'd get you the good stuff here." Ramsey rocked back on his heels and fixed Fenway in his gaze. "I just have two questions. Since when are you a physician, and what exactly did you tell them about his medical history?"
"As little as possible," said Fenway. "I don't think the signal will interfere with his treatment, but just in case, I want to make sure mine's the final word. Physician or not, I know Lucas's biology better by now than anyone else."
"You've already saved my life," Lucas said, groggily reaching out one padded paw towards Fenway and another towards Ramsey. Neither took it, and he let his hands flop back down on the bed. "Both of you. Thank you!"
"Your life's not exactly in danger," Ramsey said.
"He means last time," Fenway said, with just a hint of venom.
Ramsey averted his eyes. "Oh."
Lucas did his best to frown, his eyes drifting to the ugly spinach-and-corn-puke window curtain. "I'm so tired. I'm so tired, and my arms buzz like little bees. Busy, busy little bees, but they don't sting..."
"You could probably try sleeping," Ramsey said, sitting down on the creaky vinyl chair by the bed and putting a hand on Lucas's shoulder. "I'll stay here with you."
Lucas's eyes obediently drifted shut.
"Shouldn't you get back to the cabin?" Cavennaugh asked with evident disapproval.
"Bite me, soldier boy."
"He's got a point," Fenway countered. "I understand that you're concerned, but you've got a job to do, and you'd be more useful..."
"Is 'bite me' a too difficult concept for you, or did you think my instructions only applied to hyper-muscular federal grunts? I'm not going anywhere."
Cavennaugh scowled. "I don't remember you being such a mother hen la..."
"So help me God, Cavennaugh, if you say 'last time' I'll kick your ass."
Cavennaugh just looked at him, in a way that made evident that he didn't consider that worth a response.
"Yeah, so maybe I can't punch your lights out," Ramsey amended, "but think about what that means for your balls."
Lucas snorted with laughter, which caused the rest of them to start.
"I thought you were asleep," Ramsey said.
"Mmm." A sliver of blue became visible between Lucas's eyelashes. "But that was funny. Go get 'im."
"As much as I'd appreciate the entertainment value of a Ramsey-Cavennaugh cage match," Fenway said, "there's another aspect to consider. Lives could be at stake. You've got to finish that job."
"The same goes for you, in that case," Ramsey said. "Not to mention Cavennaugh."
"I am getting back to work," Cavennaugh said. He pulled the zipper up on his parka and took the gloves out of the front pocket. "If you're all settled here?" he asked Fenway, who nodded.
"If you could arrange to have my notes sent over I could work on my theories. Better leave the samples, though. I don't want to contaminate the hospital."
"Hey, that's a thought," said Ramsey. "Bring me my laptop, and I can work from here too."
That got him the stoneface treatment, and he rolled his eyes. "What? Give me one good reason why I can't do my job here just as well as cooped up in that ice-cold old log cabin. Better, even. Who am I, Wolf Larsen?"
"I can help too," Lucas mumbled. Idealistic little idiot.
"That's adorable," Ramsey said. "Truly, you've got the cutest work ethics since the little engine that could. But somehow, I don't think the government would be too keen on your morphine-addled theories."
"Oh, like you've never worked high," Lucas scoffed.
Either refuting or confirming that accusation would bring the conversation to places Ramsey really didn't want to go, and so instead he refocused on Cavennaugh and asked, "Laptop?"
Cavennaugh shrugged. "I'll see what I can do."
Ramsey nodded and watched with some caution as Cavennaugh left. Only when the door closed did he dare to settle down more comfortably in the chair. He kept his eyes on Lucas as well as he could, with Fenway prodding along around the bed.
Finally, Fenway had finished whatever it was he was doing, and ran his fingers through his hair. "Okay. I'm getting coffee. Do you want anything?"
"No, I'm fine."
Fenway sounded like he thought Ramsey was nuts, and Ramsey was starting to suspect something like it himself. Why was staying in the room so important? Lucas was drifting off to sleep for sure now, and wouldn't know the difference anyway, and there was absolutely nothing to do – with Fenway gone, not even anyone to gripe at. And yet, somehow, he couldn't cope with the thought of leaving. It was like he had to stand guard to make sure some fucked-up alien crap didn't happen, as if he'd even have the first clue what to do if it did happen.
Maybe it was some form of penitence. As much pride as he took in the rationality of his mind, he wasn't immune to ritualistic superstition. He'd definitely proven that... he broke off the line of thought with a low curse, realizing that now even he was obsessing about last time.
He did his best to forget the whole thing, concentrate on the present, and ended up having to recite pi just to clear his mind.
Which must have put him straight to sleep, because the next thing he saw, Caffrey and Baylock were standing over Lucas's hospital bed like parents in some hokey old sitcom, with Fenway off in the corner reading his notes. When Ramsey rubbed the sleep from his eyes, Caffrey gave him a warm smile.
"Hi." He shifted in his chair and looked down at Lucas. "He's still asleep, huh?"
"Asleep again, actually," Fenway said, erasing something he had written and then making a new mark. "You've been out for quite some time. Sure you didn't mooch some juice from his IV drip?"
"Funny." Ramsey turned back to Caffrey and Baylock. "So, is the crisis off, or are you just taking a break?"
Caffrey grimaced and scratched her neck. "Crisis is... in remission, I guess you could say. We haven't encountered any more infectees, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any."
"Cavennaugh said to give you this," Baylock said, picking up the laptop from the bedside table and handing it over. He fixed Ramsey in his gaze. "I trust you can do your work from here?"
Ramsey stroke the computer shell with the back of his hand, and some of his affection for it spilled over to his attitude towards the people in the room, because it was with a softness that surprised even himself that he said, "No place better."
Figuring that the best defense was a good offense, Ramsey started talking the moment Lucas opened the door.
"How long did you plan on staying shacked up here? I was starting to wonder if you'd defected to Mexico. Not that I'd blame you. Quite a relief when Rachel called me, I must say. Where should I put the food? Don't worry, I've checked them with Daphne, they're fine."
He ducked in under Lucas's arm and put his bag down on the floor, turning to see what reception his ramble would get.
Lucas, in his dressing gown, closed the door with one bandaged hand, pushed the hair out of his face with the other, and said, "You don't have to do this. I can manage."
"I know you can. According to Rachel, you can wipe your own ass and everything. Good for you. But no one should have to live on cold leftover vegan pizza."
Lucas looked horrified. "Rachel said...?"
At that, Lucas gaped at him for so long that Ramsey considered asking if catching flies to that extent was really congruous with a vegetarian lifestyle, but before he had a chance to speak, Lucas snapped out of it, shook his head, and said, "Of course you did. I don't know why I'm even surprised."
"Beats me," Ramsey said absent-mindedly. He threw his jacket over the chair by the door and proceeded to look for the kitchen. Once he'd found it, he returned for his bag and emptied its contents on the narrow kitchen table. The apple juice, the grapes, and the various vegetables meant for roasting. Rachel had left it pretty much open which ones to use, so he had gone with whatever the Red Team biologists had okayed: peppers, mushrooms, corn, and carrots.
"You have the bulgur, right?"
Lucas gestured towards one of the kitchen cabinets, and then paused, looking from Ramsey to the cabinet, until finally he shrugged and cradled the handle with both hands to yank it open. Gently, carefully, he lifted the carton of bulgur down on the counter as if it had been the Holy Grail.
Ramsey bit down on a smile. "Very good, sport." He pulled up a stool to the counter and added, "Better let me handle the chopping and boiling, though, okay?"
"You get no argument there."
"Good. Where are the knives?"
It was quite a nice kitchen, Ramsey thought as Lucas showed him to the various utensils. A bit cramped, sure, with little room to move between the table and counter, but there was a cozy feel to it somehow. Maybe it was the dark, varnished cupboard doors.
Or maybe it was just that there was an atmosphere of people actually cooking in there on a regular basis. The kind of cooking where you didn't just throw things in the microwave or frying pan and called it breakfast or dinner depending on the time of day. Careful, thought-out cooking, with a recipe or shopping list, and the two young love birds preparing the meal together as they talked and laughed – while Lucas would, admittedly, be somewhat preoccupied with thoughts of how to put a stop to the creepy aliens, but still, it was a nice mental image.
"So why aren't you back at work yet?" Ramsey asked as he chopped the peppers.
Lucas silently held up a hand.
"Yeah, so? You can still work. It's not like you were hired for your typing skills. If you want, we could get a typist. Have one custom ordered from Baylock – hot blonde, glasses, hair in a bun, Master of Science... Or should we make it a brunette?"
Ramsey grinned and moved on to the corn. "What does that have to do with anything? You've still got eyes."
"It's..." Lucas shook his head. "Anyway, I'm still on meds."
"Like you said, if I can work high, so can you. Don't get me wrong," he amended, "if you need a bit of R&R, more power to you. I'm sure we can manage. But you seem to go for a certain damsel in distress angle, here, and that's a bit unexpected. What's the deal?"
"Damsel in distress?" Lucas echoed and started scooping up vegetables to put in the pan. He held up a bottle of olive oil, and Ramsey unscrewed the top.
"Well, what else would you call it? I mean, here you are, obviously not too hurt to help out with the cooking, and yet you plod around in the apartment in your jammies, with that hapless puppy-dog look of yours. I can't decide if it's a serious lack of self-respect or just some sort of habit from your girl-chasing days."
"Okay," Lucas said slowly. "I think I'm a little bit offended now."
It occurred to Ramsey that if, after this rant, Lucas was just a little bit offended, he must be inured to Ramseyness to a level few people reached. Instead of saying this, though, he simply shrugged and said, "Hey, if it's a pickup technique, it really works. You've sure got me turned on."
As expected, that threw Lucas off the track. "I... really?"
There was a note of discomfort in his voice, but also beyond that a level of seriousness that implied Ramsey's flippancy had fallen flat.
"You know me. If I'm not turned on, there's something wrong with the world." Ramsey poured some spices over the vegetables and sent them into the oven. "There. All done. Now for the bulgur."
Lucas carefully measured up the bulgur while Ramsey heated the apple juice, and after a while, he said, "It's just a relief to... not... do things."
"What?" asked Ramsey, who wasn't prepared for this return to topic.
"You know. Aliens preparing to take over our brains, military on our backs, lying to my wife... Maybe I'm selfish, but it feels so good to forget about all that for a while. Curl up in bed like a kid and just be."
That made perfect sense, but still Ramsey watched Lucas in silence, thinking about how very different they were. He could get irresponsibility – he was all about irresponsibility. But his way of being irresponsible involved hard liquor and nudity, not anything that would ever be associated with kids. Not anything that implied that he couldn't take care of himself.
"What, is that so horrible?" Lucas asked, and despite his quivering smile there was an edge to his voice.
"No, not at all. More power to you." Ramsey pushed the bulgur pot aside, but kept his eyes firmly on it. "I just... Well. I could use you around."
"Monday sound good to you?"
Ramsey looked up, surprised.
"That way I'll still have the weekend off," Lucas added, a more self-assured glint in his eyes.
"Yeah. Monday is... Monday is great."
Since there was nothing else to do with the food except wait for it to finish, they went into the living room, which was slightly larger and held an impressive number of bookshelves, even over the doors. Some of them were filled with models, films, and even old-fashioned LP records, but most had actual books.
Ramsey immediately dived into some bookshelf analysis. "Bion, Ferguson... all the classics, I see. Russell Stannard – plan on having kids, huh? But Here I am? Really, Lucas, Uncle Albert is one thing, but do you really want to risk your children growing up to be Theists?"
"You're assuming that we're not," Lucas said mildly.
Ramsey found that an unsettling thought, and he hoped Lucas was kidding, or else they had some juicy debates to look forward to. This was all instantly forgotten, though, when he noticed another book.
"Sarah Waters? Yours or Rachel's?"
The blush Lucas was sporting told Ramsey all he wanted to know, but he still grinned and asked, "Have you read it?"
"Bits of it."
Using the sofa to prop the book up, Ramsey let it fall open, and glanced inside. What he saw made him grin even wider. "Read these bits?"
"No comment." Lucas spoke the words with a straight face, but Ramsey could hear the laughter lurking below.
"Shut up." But the laughter was definitely there in his voice now, as well as something more indefinable, something that became stronger when Lucas continued: "You know, about that Waters novel... or, well, about what you said..."
The sound of a key in the lock interrupted him, and his expression changed into such beaming joy that Ramsey wished himself and his redundancy very far away, preferably through teleportation.
Lucas headed off into the hallway, and Ramsey heard him say, "Rachel! You're early!"
"No, I'm still late. Just not as late as I thought I'd be." They came into the living room, and Rachel smiled at Ramsey. "Any trouble?"
"He's been an absolute angel," Ramsey assured her. "Isn't that what you say about sleepy babies?"
"Just so you know," Lucas told Ramsey, "I'm flipping you off in spirit right now."
Rachel laughed and stretched out her arms behind her back. "God, I'm so tired! Is there any food left?"
"It's not even done yet," Ramsey said, "so, yeah."
"Great! I'm starving. Thank you so much for doing this."
She sank down on the sofa, and Lucas stroked her hair tenderly with his bandaged hand.
"Any time," Ramsey said, watching the caress and wondering why he didn't get that sense of warm fuzzy rightness with the world that Lucas's marital bliss used to give him just a couple of weeks ago. "Well," he amended. "Any time before Monday."
If asked, Ramsey would have willingly admitted that he had every reason to trust Lucas to stay true to his word. He'd even made the proper preparations to welcome him back, but he was still surprised on Monday morning when he saw Lucas's curly head at the end of the corridor.
"You came," he said by way of greeting.
"And you got a typist." Lucas looked through the glass door and shook his head. "Blonde, with her hair in a bun."
"Simona Kandinsky. Pretty as a picture, too, but the toughest muse you ever saw. You got to hand it to Baylock, he delivers to spec. Though strictly speaking, she's not a typist. She's an army secretary and, as ordered, a Master of Science. I'd sure like to know how he finds them." He caught sight of Lucas's expression and asked, "What? Would you have preferred a brunette?"
"No. That's... no. But you can't just do that!"
"Do what? Hire a typist when we clearly need one? The horror! Does it help if I tell you I handed our demands in as a joke? I didn't expect Baylock to actually follow them."
"Does he even have a sense of humor?"
"See, that's the factor I failed to consider. That's why I need you here, to provide another perspective."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm here," Lucas said with a half-smirk. "No flattery necessary."
"Who said it was flattery?" Ramsey dug around in his pockets until he found the notes he'd taken during his phone conversation with Baylock the night before. "Speaking of different perspectives, the pattern showed up in an art gallery video installation. I'm gonna figure out the spread from there. Want to help with the tech bits?"
"Always," Lucas said, accepting the notes. He looked as though he was going to say something else, but halted and instead proceeded into the room.
Ramsey had already tried to flirt with the lady inside, despite the stern countenance caused by the shape of her features and aggravated by her arrangement of them. Unfortunately, her response had been a spot-on Queen Victoria impersonation. She responded somewhat better to Lucas, even though her voice suggested that he was a little kid with a boo-boo. In combination with her face and body, it was so mismatched as to be unsettling, but it took only ten minutes for her to give up the pity act and join in the discussion.
"Don't confuse the intended audience with the actual audience," she said at one point, halting the swift movements of her fingers for a minute. "There will be those who go to see it because they see everything, or because they're dragged along, and even those who deliberately want to get riled up about it."
"True," Ramsey said, "but still, they went for a museum when they could have gone for a Multiplex. They must have had a goal with that. There's no technical reason against a Multiplex, is there?"
The question was directed at Lucas, who shook his head. "No, though of course if the artist was involved a video installation would be much easier to set up with the signal. But since he's not an infectee..."
As the conversation continued, Ramsey became aware that Lucas was standing a bit too close – no, not too close, too close made you want a guy to leave, not to wish him even closer. And his hand... his hand was resting on Ramsey's shoulder.
Ramsey managed to hold his tongue for a while, but on his first smoking break he made some flimsy excuse to Simona and pulled Lucas outside.
"What the hell's going on? If I didn't know any better, I'd half think you were making a pass at me."
"Oh." Lucas looked chagrined. "I really have to get better at this, I meant for it to be obvious."
"But..." Ramsey was at a complete loss for words, for once unable to even properly sort his thoughts.
"Did I read you wrong? After what you said yesterday... I mean, I know you were joking, but at the same time it seemed like you weren't joking. But if you were, I mean, I don't want to make you uncomfortable..."
Lucas was rambling now, and Ramsey realized that he'd have to sort out this mess and spare the kid the mortification. And so, in spite of his life-long conviction that cheating was the cheater's problem and not his, he said, "Yeah, but you're married."
Lucas paused, blinked, and then gave a wide, relieved grin. "Oh, that! Don't worry about it. I'm allowed guys."
"I'm allowed guys, just not girls. It's the same for Rachel. I mean, the other way around. Do you want to see the pre-nup?"
This was a dream, Ramsey decided. It had to be a dream, the awesome kind you had two minutes before the alarm clock – or worse, the phone – waking you, in which everything was going your way and the most wonderful people you knew turned out to be polyamorous bisexuals... though even his dreams had never been that glorious.
"You lucky bastard," he said slowly.
Lucas, still smiling, sat down on the ground and tucked his wounded hands under his arms. "So I was right? You are interested?"
"I... well, yeah!"
Clearly deciding that this answer was all he needed, Lucas reached out and, for lack of tugging skills, prodded Ramsey close enough that he could lean in and kiss him.
Through the buzzing in Ramsey's head, kissing back was the most articulate thought, and so that was what he did, cradling the back of Lucas's head in his hand in order to come even closer.
"Hang on," he mumbled as he broke the kiss for air. "No girls... so should I have described a male typist?"
"Simona's very useful," Lucas said, his lips curling in a way that made Ramsey want to run the tip of his tongue over them, which he went straight on to doing.
Another thought striking him, Ramsey pulled back again. "What about threesomes? Does your pre-nup have anything about those?"
Lucas laughed. "No comment."
In fact, Ramsey decided, it was excellent enough to call for another kiss, with no more interruptions.