And we proudly present: a plotless followup to a silly comment! Enjoy the ConRage!
A timeline can be found on my page, and the story directly before this one can be found on Vaysh's page.
Capital of the Northern Florida Union
Third Year After the Collapse
"I know it's crooked, but it's the only game in town."
A side effect of Hanna's massive, cancerous hero complex was that he liked to drop back in on the places he'd saved from time to time. He also liked to drop in on one or two places he'd failed to save, when he could manage to plot a course through them, probably in the hopes that eventually his accumulated misery would rupture like an overtaxed boil under pressure and annihilate itself. At least, that's what Worth was hoping. At least something useful would come of it.
Today was the lesser of two evils. Worth stepped out of the familiar, air conditioned RV and into an atmosphere that appeared to have its own built-in thermostat manned by sadistic senior citizens. Fucking Florida.
"Why th' fuck did we come to Fucking Florida in the middle'a fucking June?"
Hanna peered out of the door, trying not to look intimidated by the climate. "Does my answer have to have fuck in it?"
"Juss don' get it. Y'were here less'n a year ago. Can't be missin' all the charmin' natives already."
The redhead sighed, stepping out into the dark yellow sunlight. "Dude, what've you got against this state anyhow?"
"Besides th' goddamn boiling shitstorm that passer fer weather?"
"Yeah, besides that."
"How about all the bloody retards then, eh? Halfa them think yer Christ come again, the other half think it's me, and th' other half wants us all roastin' over a big fuckin' bonfire in the village square!"
"Well yeah, if you wanna focus on the negative."
Worth gave up. There was no telling Hanna anything once he had decided on being brutally stupid. Hopefully his undead nanny would ward off the worst of the potential disasters long enough for them to get in, grab some closure, and get the fuck out.
The doctor huffed out an irritated breath and stalked back into the RV with a snappy "hotel, one hour. Don' getcher ass shot." The last time they'd passed through here he'd put up with it, because it had been January and after spending his first civilization-free January freezing his nads off in the Midwest, he'd been willing to settle for anywhere in subsequent years if it was above 32 degrees Fahrenheit more often than not. This time, in summer, there was no such compensation.
He kicked his way into the bedroom at the RV's rear and stomped through the door—Sleeping Beauty could get his motherfucking beauty sleep some other time—and threw himself onto the bed. His boots were somewhere down there, under the edge of the mattress, and he busied himself reaching blindly for them while his night vision reluctantly started to kick in. A vague moan surfaced from the lump of black sheets at his back.
"…Smell sunlight," the buried vampire muttered, his outline shifting vaguely.
"Nah," Worth replied, only half aware of his mouth moving. "Tha's just early mornin' synesthesia talkin'."
"Fuck kind of time's it?" Conrad demanded through a layer of cotton. "Too early. Somebody shoot us again?"
"Not yet," the doctor grunted, snagging a single boot. "In this town, give it a day, tops."
"Ugh," the younger man grunted, flipping the sheet off his face. His eyes glared blearily at the ceiling. "Then why the hell am I awake?"
"Felt like sharin' the gift'a my bountiful fuckin' lust fer life with ya. Y'kin thank me later. 'Sides, I hate ter see ya sleepin' all by yer lonesome; can't have ya gettin' spoiled fer the extra space."
Conrad's face shifted, turning less bleary and more tight-lipped, and he turned over abruptly so that he was staring at the blacked out window. He still looked just as vaguely nervous—guilty?—about sleeping in the same room with the doctor as he had weeks ago when they left the bed-and-breakfast in Salem Massachusetts. Best Worth could figure, it must tick back to the whole confession debacle, although how that made sense he couldn't decide.
"Oi," he said, elbowing the poorly concealed spine, "getcher ass up. Practically sunset anyways."
Worth laced up his boots and stared at the lump of cotton and undead flesh in front of him. Well, there was fuck-else to do anyhow. He dug up a bent cigarette from the crumpled depths of his pocket and fished around under the bed for his lighter. He'd started sleeping between Conrad and the door many countless months ago, and one good thing about it was that he'd had a lot less trouble locating his shit ever since. Kicking his newly shoed feet up on the sheets, the doc lit himself a smoke. He hadn't had one in days.
"What happened ta that pillow wall ya made?" he asked, sucking in a lungful of smoke. "Felt like sleepin' with a twelve year old girl. Thought ya were gonna break out the nail polish an' talk about boys."
"Okay, first of all, ew," the vampire retorted, in a tone that said his face was currently scrunched up into a mask of revulsion. "I am not looking to add pedophile to the ever growing list of things that are wrong with you. It's long enough as it is."
"Eh, ya gotta wait for 'em ta grow a decent rack 'fore they're any fun."
"Again, ewww. Just stop talking."
"Aw, this about yer trainin' bra again, Connie? Tol' ya, ain't nothin' ter be ashamed of, lossa pretty ladies started out late bloomers."
Conrad muttered something venomous into his pillow.
"Sorry," the doctor replied, "Couldn' hear that."
"I said I'm gay, not a girl," Conrad informed him stiffly. "So can you lay off the insults and let me sleep?"
On the notepad Doc Worth kept in the back of his head, he made a quick note to self. That was the first time Conrad had said the word since their fight at the Anniversary bash in May. It sounded halting and awkward in his mouth, like a schoolgirl trying to curse. But it was something.
"Well…" the older man mused, scratching his recently shaven chin, "I guess if y'd rather sleep than break in yer newfound faggotry, there's no accountin' fer taste."
"Okay, now I'm seriously ignoring you."
"Sure ya don' wanna knock me over an' make out? Thought ya were inter that sorta thing now."
Conrad lashed out with an arm that got tangled in the sheet and never made it to the intended target. He lay there for a couple seconds, irritated and twisted over himself, a curve of white chest showing under the disheveled night shirt he'd inexplicably started wearing again for the first time in more than a year. Then he grunted and went back to staring at the wall.
Worth focused on dragging down clouds of life-preserving cancer for the moment—Conrad would be around, but cigarettes were harder to come by.
"You don't have to sleep in here," the vampire said, at last, still facing the wall. "You could clear out the overhead bunk again. Or we could take turns sleeping. You could use the bed at night."
"An' why would I wanna go ta all that trouble?"
There was the sound of weight shifting on cloth. "Because… you know. Me. Now. You could make Hanna take the overhead and use his bench, I guess. "
The doctor blinked, uncomprehending for a minute or two.
"This about th' business in Salem, then? What, like I think yer gonna rape me now 'r summat? I'd like ta see ya try."
The vampire twisted his face into creases of irritation and crossed his arms, still tangled in blankets.
"Sides," the Doc went on, puffing out gray smoke, "anybody round here's gettin' raped it's you, sugartits."
"That is not funny."
"Well a'course not, it's yer ass on the line. Prolly oughta get used to that."
"Wha? We all know which side'a the line yer standin' on. Layin' on."
"Mebbe ya need some help breakin' all that in, eh?"
"…That does it."
And then Worth's face reacquainted itself with the floor as a weight of pale, neurotic fag rammed into his back and knocked him off the bed. They landed in a cloud of smoke and shouting. In between getting a fist in the kidney and putting a knee in Conrad's collar bone, Doc Worth managed to snuff out his cigarette with the handily scarred flesh on his wrist.
Not that he minded, at all.
Some time later, Worth shuffled into the hotel with a swollen cheek the size and coloring of one of the peaches they'd picked up in Georgia a few days ago. He flashed a crooked grin at Hanna as he made his way in, attempting to hide the bit of a limp he'd acquired in the last hour. The redhead replied with an exasperated sigh, motioning for his handful of companions to spare him a moment.
"Conrad, or a counter-rebellion?"
Worth poked the swollen patch below his eye, teeth grinding down on an involuntary hiss of pain. "How about C. All'a the above."
"You know, eventually you'll end up punched so many times that your whole face detaches from your skull and just hangs there."
Worth's eyebrows made a bid for his hairline. "As a man'a science, believe me when I tell ya that's the biggest load'a horseshit I ever heard in all my long an' distinguished career."
One of the men Hanna had left hanging made a sort of head-tilting, entreating gesture and waved a pad of yellow legal paper. The magician held up a finger and turned back to the doctor.
"Look," he said, "these guys want to talk to me about the religious schism we caused, so I'm gonna be out here for a while. Ozymandias is at the library—they're doing this restoration project, it's really cool, I'm kind of amazed they have the resources for it actually but I guess they've got a couple weeks free until the harvest comes in—anyways, I put up a shielding charm for your imaginary assassins so don't worry about me, okay?"
"When've I ever worried about you?"
"Right. By the way, I ran into a couple of our old friends on the way here so word's gonna get out pretty fast. You might wanna… oh, hide under the bed, or whatever it is you do when people want you to socialize."
"I'll go'n get Betsy."
"Dude, a shotgun is not the answer to all of life's problems."
"Says you. An' that's why I'm the brains'a this operation."
Hanna rolled his eyes and turned back to the awkward men in their faintly stained formal polos, probably to discuss the territory lines of tree nymphs or the canonization of saints or something equally obnoxious. What there was to say about the CUT at this point was beyond Worth, unless it was something to the point of "put the guns down slowly". He was trying his damnedest to stay utterly out of the local politics.
While Hanna reabsorbed into that particular hive mind, the irritating brass bell someone had attached to the door rattled behind them. That would be Conrad. The doctor turned and bowed with as many sweeping, overextended motions as possible.
"Mornin' yer highness, bright an' early I see."
Conrad scowled his usual scowl. "Couldn't go back to sleep after you woke me up. It just got dark enough to leave."
"I think it's fairly clear ya dressed in the dark, Princess. Shirt's ripped at the collar, fer one thing."
"That's completely your fault for yanking on it, and it turns out I'm out of clean clothes after you burned a hole in the shirt I had set out for today." He paused, shooting a glance over his shoulder. "You haven't seen anybody running around out there have you?"
Worth blinked. "I ain't been watchin'. This somethin' stupid or somethin' I oughter be worried about?"
"Thought you said you didn't worry!" Hanna called out, from a ways across the room.
"Thanks fer that contribution, ya nosy li'l dick!"
The vampire did another shoulder-glance, black brows furrowed. "I don't know. Probably nothing. I just, you know, I thought I heard yelling back down that hill."
"Mebbe we ought ter check things out. 'S not like we got anything better to do."
"Well, if it's somebody looking for us then they'll find their way here soon," Conrad responded, and turned his attention to Hanna. "Hey, what's going on over there?"
There was a reply, which Worth wasn't paying attention to, and then the vampire was strolling between a couple lounge chairs to reach Hanna and his buddies. Worth contemplated the door for a moment. He could go out and check by himself—it certainly wasn't as if he needed Conrad's help or anything, in fact fuck Conrad—but that would make him look antsy and it might give Conrad the wrong idea about how many shits Worth gave over his weird paranoia. Which was none.
Eventually, he settled on following the same path across the room to where the conversation was. Screw lookout duty. The CUT was terminally unsubtle; there would have been something worth noticing already if they were storming the hotel.
Hanna and Conrad were mid-debate when Worth joined in, resentfully, with his two cent. He actually managed to get up a pretty good argument before the whims of reality swooped in and hijacked his train of thought.
"Still say we—" Worth managed to get out, and then he stopped. He looked out the windows. He looked again. He swore. "Oi, Conniekins. What's teenaged, retarded, and running this way?"
"What?" Conrad turned around. "Who?"
That kid was in fact named John, and he'd been both the instrument of both a tyrannical regime and the restabilization since, although god knew he wasn't smart enough to comprehend his role in either. Kid was popular with the people though, somehow. Maybe they'd found a way to keep him from opening his mouth.
He rushed into the room, the conversation between Conrad and Hanna tapering off as the young man stopped directly in front of the vampire, frowning. He opened his mouth then snapped his teeth shut on whatever words were clearly trying to escape, head titling slightly to the side.
The vampire exchanged an apprehensive look with Worth, who stepped back and positioned himself in the corner in case someone needed to block off the exits.
John stared hard at Conrad, taking in the wrinkles on his shirt and the faint stain of color by his jaw from the punch the doctor had given him earlier (only an hour ago, but Conrad didn't stay bruised very long these days). He leaned in closer, catching a faint, second-hand curl of tobacco hidden in the folds of the vampire's skin, his hair, his very, very uncomfortable expression.
John narrowed his eyes for a moment, then slid back out of Conrad's personal space with a frustrated grunt, his posture broken and hands digging in his jacket pocket as he turned to Hanna.
"Fucking goddamn Fell, and his stupid fucking being right about things," the boy muttered, "double-crossing know-it-all bastard."
"Yeeeeah," Hanna cut in, who had the most tolerance for John out of all of them. "Nice to see you too. What, uh, what are you doing here?"
"Fell told me you just got to town," the kid replied, still staring with a frankly creepy intensity at Conrad. "I can't believe you," he added, apparently taking to Conrad now. "No, I can't believe him, but you too, you share the blame in this, Achenleck. I never thought the devil would stoop to tempting a friend. If you can even have friends. I should have known better than to bet against another creature of Satan—like knows like, as they say."
Finally, he broke eye contact to extract a crumpled slip of paper from his pocket. He shoved it against Hanna's chest, startling the tiny mage. "Next time you come by I'll have the rest. Give Fell his share for me, because if I have to do it myself it might involve a bonfire."
And with one last measured glare at Conrad, John stomped out of the room, passing Worth with a scowl and slamming the door with another incomprehensible curse. Worth settled down into a chair, reasonably assured that no one was going to declare any fatawa against the three of them.
Conrad slowly turned his attention back to Hanna, his features a little too composed.
"Ah, hum… uh, yes?"
"What. The fuck. Was that about?"
Hanna's cheeks went from pink to pale and then climbed to a dramatic shade of red: what Worth liked to call Hanna's I-am-so-fucked-right-now face.
"Guh. Nothing. John's crazy, dude, I dunno what language he's talking in half the time."
Conrad's eyes went kiln-brick hard. "What. Was that. About."
Hanna glanced around, desperately trying to locate his zombie bodyguard. Phase two of textbook I-am-fucked behavior. Tall Green and Nameless was nowhere to be found.
"We, uh, we just had a bet? Uh. Horse racing bet. On horses."
From his spot in the corner, Worth fancied he could feel the chair he was now straddling rock in the thunderstorm pressure of Conrad's building rage.
"If it was a horse racing bet," Conrad said slowly, eyes narrow, "which it isn't, you wouldn't be making that face."
"'E's got a point," Worth remarked, highly amused by this new addition to Conrad's misfortune. Looks like John finally managed to do something decent for once.
Hanna shuffled awkwardly for a minute, looking like the heavy silence was curled around his throat and constricting a little more tightly each second. When Conrad started tapping his foot, the kid broke.
"I'm sorry man, I'm so sorry it just sort of happened and it was funny I mean not funny like I'm laughing at you or you're funny or well sometimes you are but it wasn't like that I swear!"
Hanna hunched, looking more like a teenager than ever before. "You remember the first time we came down here, we had Fell with us? And he was all like I know stuff about stuff you don't even know about?"
"Well, there was this one time when you and Worth were asleep and Fell was there and we were talking and I sort of snagged some of Worth's whisky?"
From the corner, "Ya did what now?"
Hanna ignored him. "And it was like… you and Worth had been fighting about something and then you punched him and then you just sort of stood there for a minute and then you both just turned around and went to bed, and me an' Fell got to talking about it. And he was like is that a bet and I was like it would be if I had anything to bet with and he was like you're on or something. And then stuff happened. And then we ran into him again when we were here in January and it turned out he was a triple agent and he was all like about that bet. Turns out Bondye—you remember Bondye, the guy in the cowboy hat? Turns out he knows Fell somehow and they wanted me to hold the betting pool for them, and we were escorting this guy at the time and he wanted to place a bet too and then John threw in and I guess I thought it wouldn't hurt anything, you know? I swear it didn't mean anything!"
"What was the bet, Hanna?"
The redhead mumbled something into his chest.
"I'm sorry," Conrad hissed, "I didn't hear that."
"I… uh… I said, how long it would take you guys to hook up."
Worth sat forward in his chair, squinting at Hanna. "Now, when y'say 'you guys', ya don't mean—"
"I mean you and Conrad!"
Silence wrapped meaty fists around the room. There was vague, quiet shuffling behind Hanna where the local guys were trying to pretend like they didn't exist and definitely hadn't heard any of this.
Finally, Conrad closed his eyes. "Cross," he announced, "I am giving you ten seconds, and then I am coming after you like the hounds of fucking Hell, and I will do such a number on you that Worth will look like a Greek statue by comparison."
Hanna did his famous impression of a beached goldfish. "What?"
And then Hanna turned tail and ran like hounds of fucking Hell were after him.
Conrad opened his eyes.
"Y' really gonna beat him up?" Worth asked, quite interested.
"You're motherfucking right I am," Conrad answered, in the calmest voice Worth had heard out of him in months.
"Well, don't break nothin'. I don't wanna be piecing the idiot back together all night."
Worth propped his chin up on his fist. "Yanno, we could pro'lly make a decent con outta this set up. I'm just sayin'. Might need ter get yer hands dirty, so ta speak…"
"Please," the vampire replied, "don't make me rip your spine out too."
And while the night was echoing with terrified squeals and timber-rattling roars, Worth sat in his chair by the door feeling vaguely cheated. By life, by irony, by her Ladyship, and by the revving, stalling engine that kept him from moving forward while the finish line was finally in his sights. Frankly, he'd forgotten how to drive the blasted thing.