Pairings: Mostly Gen with a dash of Feral/Red for your angsty delights, oh, and some brief Feral/Ghost
Warnings: violence, gore, mentions of cannibalism, homosexuality, rape, attempted rape, insanity
Author: Alex Kade and Lily Zen
Notes: The final chapter in the story. Thank you for reading. Reviews are appreciated.
Disclaimer: Shadowrun belongs to Shadowrun peoples. Original characters belong to us.
"I want in," Rip demanded as she pushed her way into the room where they were getting ready to work on Switch.
"What?" The head mage, an aging man with peppered air, but with sharp green eyes that spoke of the vibrancy of youth, turned in preparation to argue with the younger doctor.
"Asa, let me in. I need to know how to deal with this in the field. I could've done more for him there."
With a sigh and a soft smile, Asa shook his head. "You're drained, Selene. I can sense it. You won't make it through the healing."
Throwing up her hands in frustration, she rolled her eyes and leaned back against the wall. "Fine. Just talk me through it then. Everything you do, everything you see, talk me through it. I can't fail my people out there like this, not again."
"He's alive, Selene." Seeing the square set of her jaw, Asa realized this was an argument he wasn't going to win. Nodding towards a chair in the corner, he let out long sigh. "Very well. I'll do my best, but you know it won't be the same if you don't take part." He waited for her nod before adding, "This is going to take a while."
"I can sit here all day if I have to."
Rip leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes as the doctor began to weave his magic, painting a picture in her mind with his words. The more he told her of what he was seeing, of the massive damage done to the tech's otherworldly body, the more she began to lose hope. But then he started the process of repairing all that damage, and as he wove together the torn flesh and replenished what was lost in metaphorical blood, she began to let herself feel that little inkling of optimism that she normally tried to shy away from.
The little shit's going to make it, she thought with a smile, and thought maybe once this was over she'd see about joining Asa's team for a little while so she could learn. From just what he was saying, this type of healing was fascinating, just the type of thing she'd love to experience for herself. And the type of thing she hoped to never have to do on a teammate, because this shit was brutal.
Hackers were apparently built from tougher stuff than a lot of people thought they were.
Teva was still crouched under the awning. There was a little collection of cigarette butts she'd flicked into the gutter, and she'd taken the jacket off, which left her weapons bare but she didn't mind. If anybody was in the mood to fuck with her, well, she was in just the right frame of mind for the situation to light up like dry wood.
Madden and Red had both eventually conceded to the weather, and gone inside the clinic. The troll had attempted to shrink her for all of about five seconds. She'd maintained her blank face, and he had sighed, giving up, leaving her in peace. Leaving her alone, which was how she liked it.
Finally, when she could take no more, when her legs were shaking with the chill of the rain, she went inside, asking Madden, "Can I have the keys?"
"Of course," the troll agreed, fishing them out of his pocket.
"I'm going to change. Either of you want something from the hotel?" she offered, her voice still a little on the raw-sounding side.
Red waved her off, but Madden wondered, "If you could grab me some regular clothes out of my bag?"
"Okay," she agreed, and stepped out again.
She felt a little better after she cleaned herself up. A little soap and water, some gauze and tape, and she was almost like a shiny new penny or something equally cliché. Teva removed all traces of her alias, sliding on worn jeans, and even more worn combat boots. She wore a tank top, because fuck them, she wasn't going to hide her bruises, and a navy hoodie under a black leather jacket. She even took the time to roll on eyeliner, thick and black, like her mood, and swapped her comm out for her personal device, tucking the AR shades in her inner jacket pocket. A quick pit-stop at Madden's room, and she was heading back.
She felt like she'd put her armor back on, and the woman who walked back into the clinic was somebody else. Over an hour had passed since she'd left, that meant it was nearly three since they'd arrived, and nothing was changed except for the fact that Ghost was up, and apparently normal again. Oh joy. Feral nodded at him politely, and tossed Madden's clothes in his lap.
"Let me know when it's over, I guess," she stated, and went back out walking because anything was better than sitting there doing nothing.
Will's first thought when he was capable of thought again was that he was warm.
His second was that he was incredibly comfortable.
His third was that he shouldn't be.
There should've been pain, and fatigue, and cold, hard floors that moved around however they pleased. Or there should've been nothing at all because he shouldn't have been waking up. He should've been dead.
But he wasn't. He was thinking, and thinking meant he was alive, and he wasn't feeling any pain, and he was in a bed, and not being in any pain and in a bed meant...
A memory shot through him of the little girl giggling as she demolished his agent inside the node. There was nothing keeping her from catching him anymore, from biting him, from sending him into her own twisted BTL.
His eyes snapped open, instantly confirming that he was, in fact, in a clinic of some sort. There were people he didn't know, didn't trust, and they were touching him.
"GET OFF!" he screamed, instantly panicked at the thought of what the IC had planned for him. As he scrambled up into a sitting position, then rolled himself off the bed, it didn't occur to him that the medical staff had backed off instantly at his command. He didn't notice Rip jumping to her feet, asking Asa if this was from the P96 or damage rendered from his condition, or Asa confirming that it was not the drug, that it might be mental damage. The fact that everyone remained frozen, no one moving in on him to try to strap him down, didn't cross his mind. All he knew was that he was in a strange clinic with strange people immediately after being chased down by an IC who could make this happen.
"Switch," Rip stepped in, concerned as she watched the tech get himself trapped in a corner. He was too wound up, putting too much strain on the body she had worked so hard to bring back to life. "Switch, you're okay. You need to calm down."
"GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!" he screamed, making her jump back slightly.
She recovered quickly and took a tentative step forward, stopping when he looked like he was literally trying to meld with the wall, his fingernails scratching gouges in the paint as his hands tried to find purchase on anything.
"Hey, you need-"
"YOU'RE NOT REAL!" he screamed, then repeated softer, "You're not real. It's not real."
The doors burst open behind her and she turned to see Madden and Red barrel into the room.
"What's going on?" Red asked.
Madden placed a hand to his eyes. "The clinic," he said almost to himself. "He's scared of clinics." Making his own pass at calming down the frantic tech who had slipped into a mantra of "it's not real," he moved forward and tried to reach out to him.
"DON'T!" Will screamed, then slid down to the floor, drawing up his knees and wrapping his arms over his head. "Log out, gotta log out," was the new mantra he started to repeat.
"Shouldn't you drug him or something?" Red asked, a touch of concern riding beneath the seemingly crass statement.
"No," Asa said quickly. "He's confused, isn't aware that he's not still inside the Matrix. If we drug him and he wakes up here or somewhere else, we could just have a repeat of this same form of attack. He needs to be convinced that he's in the real world."
"Teva," Madden called. "You might want to come back here. We have a...situation."
Teva was on her...okay, she'd lost count...lap of the block, and chainsmoking her...again, she couldn't remember how many cigarettes she'd smoked. She just used the burning end to light the next one, and ditched the butt on the ground. Hand in her pocket, head down as though she was plowing through a strong gale, she walked until Madden buzzed her comm with a sense of urgency in his voice. She immediately began heading for the clinic, asking, "What kind of a situation?" She didn't want to walk in there and be blindsided by what she found.
Madden replied, "Switch woke up. He's panicking. He thinks he's still in the Matrix, that this isn't real, and he's in a clinic, so he's doubly freaking out."
She picked up her pace, answering, "Okay. I'll be there in a sec." She didn't know what the hell good she'd do. Dealing with emotional crises wasn't exactly her forte. But at least she could be there and confirm for her own eyes that her little retard was alive and kicking, and hopefully he wasn't crazy or brain damaged or something made of equal amounts of suckage.
Ghost was still in the waiting room when she got there, and he offered her a wan smile. "Hey."
"Yeah, hey," she responded without much enthusiasm, "Where is he?"
"The first room," Ghost replied, pointing back toward the hallway that would lead toward the exam rooms.
Teva nodded, and walked back there, finding that she didn't need much more direction than that. The door to the exam room was wide open, and crowded with bodies. She understood now why Ghost was still out in the waiting room. Tapping Madden on the bicep, she slithered her way inside the room.
What she saw almost broke her heart, if such a thing was possible for such a seasoned veteran of heartbreak as Teva.
Will was huddled against the wall, rocking, muttering to himself.
She looked to Rip. "We can't get near him," the medic replied.
Teva slid a little closer. "Hey, Will," she said, and crouched down so that he wouldn't have to crane his neck to look at her. "What's up?" Good opener, Teva. Fucking smooth. You are doing so awesome at this. What the hell, they should make you captain of the sensitivity squad!
Will froze at the sound of Teva's voice.
"No, not her," he begged. "Please, don't make it be her."
The IC was inside his head, reading his thoughts. It was going to torture him with the one person he had just realized was his one true, real friend...his friend whom he had let down. Maybe that was better. Maybe he deserved that. To be killed by the only person who had honestly cared about him since his father died, who he'd repaid that kindness with lies, lack of trust, stupid grudges... Yes, it was better this way. The IC was trying to tarnish the image of his friend, but in truth it was doing him a favor. It was bringing justice to a person he'd wronged in reality, and though it was all just pixels and images inside his head, on some level it still just seemed right.
Uncurling himself, Will lowered his arms to his lap, but couldn't bring himself to look at her. She was just a program, nothing more, and the IC probably made her look terrifying. He didn't want his last visual representation of her to be terrifying.
"Go ahead," he whispered. "I deserve it."
He squeezed his eyes shut and waited, remembering that Stealthwing said this one fed on pain. That meant there would be no hope for a quick and painless death. The only thing he could do would be to try to save some dignity and hold out as long as he could without screaming.
"Will..." Teva hesitated, then looked over her shoulder. "Do you think you guys could clear out? At least some of you? It's kinda crowded in here."
It was a lame excuse, but Madden at least understood that she was probably going to get all emotional and sloppy at some point, and she didn't want anybody to witness it. He left the room, and Red followed with a quiet, sincere, "Take care of him."
"No," she drawled, "I'm gonna throw him out the window, and see if he'll bounce."
Red shot her a look.
Teva stuck out her tongue at him.
He left with a little chuckle, and a shake of his head.
She turned to the docs with raised eyebrows.
"We should stay," Rip said.
"He's healed, right?"
"Well, yes, but..." the other doctor began.
"But what? I'll have a better chance of calming him if you aren't hovering around being all doctoral," Teva tried to explain.
The two physicians had a quick conversation while Teva refocused on Will, saying, "Hey, go ahead with what? I'm confused. Did we have plans I don't know about? Because I know we briefly discussed flying to D.C. for face-punchings, but we never confirmed that."
Rip cleared her throat to catch her attention. "We'll be right outside the door. Holler if you need something."
Her only response was to make an impatient gesture with one hand while the doctors filed out. She was here for Will. Wasting her time with the doctors was low on the totem pole in her list of things to do.
God, the D.C. trip. He needed to stop thinking, to stop giving it fodder to use against him.
"Don't...don't fuck with me," he muttered. His head was starting to ache, and he unconsciously pressed the heel of his hand against his brow. This was probably the beginning of the pain part. "What are you waiting for? Start wherever you want. That's why you healed me, isn't it? To start fresh? Maybe you wanted the other arm instea-" He hissed in a breath and screwed his eyes shut even tighter. His head was really starting to hurt.
Great, she wasn't doing well at this at all. In fact, Teva was kind of sucking hardcore at it, and she didn't really know what to do that wouldn't jar him too badly. Eh, well...maybe directness was what the situation called for anyway. "Will, peanut, you're not in the Matrix anymore, and frankly, I think me attempting to hurt you is an unfair advantage. I mean, you can't even throw a punch. So..." she paused, noticing that Will was starting to grab his head. "Are you feeling okay?"
She'd only called him that once before, and he'd forgotten. The IC couldn't dig that deep into his brain, not for things he didn't remember, could it? No, no, that's not how it worked. The Matrix worked on direct thought or subthought just under the surface. There was no way...which meant he really was in some clinic somewhere...with Teva sitting right in front of him.
Will pushed himself away from the wall and latched onto her - hard - pressing his face into her shoulder so the light would stop stabbing at his head through his closed eyelids. Then, in a mix of fear, relief, gratitude, and regret, he let the words pour out.
"I'm sorry. Jesus, I'm so sorry. I'm so...stupid sometimes. Please don't hate me, don't hate me, Teva. I don't want to be in here all by myself. Don't leave me here by myself. Or we can go. Can we please just go? I don't know where we are, and I don't know those people, and last time you took me to the Doc Wagon so I know you didn't take me somewhere for someone to cut me up because I trust you, and I know you don't believe that, but I do, I really do. I just don't know where we are, and I don't want to be here, and...and..." He unwrapped one of his hands from around her back to curl it around his head again, and murmured. "It hurts..."
For a brief moment, she was too stunned to respond. Will was hugging her and babbling in that way that he did whenever he was feeling anxious. Okay, so apparently he'd decided she wasn't an illusion. Great. Score one for the sensitivity squad. She hugged him back, hands beginning that soothing rhythm of comfort that might have been hereditary knowledge in all people, though the movement over his back was absent of the pull of magic. "Hey, it's okay. Everything's fine. I promise, I won't even tranquilize you this time," she joked awkwardly.
"The docs did their best to repair all the damage, but I guess it was pretty bad," Teva stated, not sure of the actual diagnosis because she'd pretty much avoided the clinic like the waiting room was hot lava. "Maybe I should have them check you out? This...doesn't look right," she hesitated, beginning to rise up. His reaction was worrying her. She wondered if the docs had screwed something up in there, crossed some wires or something, though she'd never say that to Will out loud. He'd start panicking way worse, and it might make his medical phobia even worse.
As she started to pull away, Will curled his fingers into the fabric of her shirt in a desperate attempt to keep her from leaving him, but he quickly abandoned it when his headache spiked to an even higher level. It had gone from mild to bad to really bad to now it felt like someone was drilling holes into his head while at the same time clamping it in a vice. The light was searing into his brain and subtle sounds were hitting him like a sledgehammer. As much as he wanted to tell her not to get the doctor, that he was fine, that he just wanted to go to whatever passed as home for the time being, he wanted the pain to stop more.
Gasping, he wrapped both arms around his head again and dropped down against the floor, curling up into a ball on his side as he tried to hide his face from the light and cover his ears at the same time. Nausea hit him, and though he had told himself he wasn't going to cry anymore it was either let the tears slip out of his control, or throw up again. He'd thrown up enough in front of Teva. So he lay there in his ball, trying to block out the world, swallowing heavily and altering his breathing in an attempt to hold back the nausea, and crying silently against the crippling pain.
"Oh, Jesus," Teva whispered to herself in alarm when Will began to cry. She got up, and walked over to the door, poking her head out into the hall. "Hey, something's wrong," she told Rip and her constituent, "He said his head hurts really bad, and he's like...crying and stuff. I mean, that's not normal, is it?"
The other doctor pushed into the room while Rip answered her question. "No, it's not normal," the medic agreed, "But there was a lot of damage that he had to repair, and unfortunately, there was some he was unable to repair. Asa wasn't sure what it would manifest as, but it seems like a migraine just going off of what you told me."
"Which means?" Teva wanted to know.
"Well, he's now twenty percent more likely to die from a brain aneurysm," Rip offered, "But other than that, I don't know what this will mean for his...line of work, or even his lifestyle as a whole. I wish I could tell you something else."
With a sigh, Teva stepped back inside the room, while Dr. Asa was introducing himself and beginning to question Will about what exactly he was experiencing. She walked back to Will's side, settling back on her haunches again so she could rub his shoulder companionably, letting him know wordlessly that she was back. Silent, she listened to what the doctor had to say.
Asa knelt down in front of his patient and very gently pulled one of his hands away from his ear.
"Switch...street names... What's your real name, son?" he asked, keeping his voice low.
Will's head spun even more, something he thought would be impossible at this point, as he tried to remember who he was supposed to be right now. Who's comm was he wearing? Caleb's...Warren's...both...which one should he say? No, wait, it didn't matter. Teva had already said his name out loud, hadn't she? He thought she did...this much thinking hurt.
"Will," he finally whispered.
"Alright, Will, my name is Asa. I'm going to ask you a few questions, okay? Then we'll take care of you."
Will nodded ever so slightly, trying not to move too much. Asa asked the typical medical type questions: did it hurt more on one side versus the other - does it fucking matter? the left side, dick - did he feel sick - yes, goddamn it, and asking about it makes it worse - did he find light and sound to be more aggravating - shut the fuck up and turn off the lights and maybe I'll tell you - did he hurt anywhere else - does it look like it hurts anywhere else? I'm holding my head, dumbass. Will didn't say these things, of course, the effort to speak making everything that much worse. Instead, he kept his answers to short phrases or just subtle nods while inwardly just begging for the guy to give him something to make the pain go away.
"Okay," Asa continued, speaking to Will but also addressing Teva, who seemed to be his support system. "I'm going to give you an injection of a pain killer called Xetomyathine. It's not going to make the pain go away completely, but it'll help dampen it quite a bit, and it will control the nausea." Without saying anything he nodded up to Rip as a sign to go get the drug while he continued. "You'll have to give it a few minutes to kick in, and then we'll see about getting you back up onto the bed. Does that sound good?"
Will simply nodded in response, but inside he was screaming HURRY THE FUCK UP!
Rip was back in a flash, and she gave Will the injection herself. After that she got up and dimmed the lights, much to Will's utter relief, and everyone stayed blissfully silent for the next several minutes while they waited for the drug to start doing its job. When it did, it was almost like that thing that Teva could do with her hands, rounding out the sharp edges of the pain so that it was less stabbing and more like a round pebble rolling around in his brain. Not gone, but definitely better; and not feeling like he had to throw up was an added bonus.
Letting out a shuddering breath, Will let his muscles relax somewhat and rubbed his hand over his eyes, wiping away the tears. "Thank you," he said in a weak voice.
"You're welcome," Asa answered, also still keeping his volume down. "Selene, help me get him back on the bed."
Once Will was settled, and the doctor had gestured for Teva to resume her post on the other side of the bed, Asa offered them both a bit more of an explanation of what was to come. "Will, I need to understand where exactly this pain is coming from so that I can help you control it better in the future. That means I need to go back in while you're still experiencing it. Have you had a procedure like this done before?"
"Yes," Will sighed out, still keeping his eyes shut. "A beetle, when I was sixteen."
"Okay, then I won't bother going through with the explanation. Just try to relax, and I'll be in and out as fast as I can."
Will nodded again and let the doctor do his thing, feeling the magic as it probed around his aching brain. It was an invasive procedure and it made him uncomfortable, so instead of focusing on that, he tried to just keep his attention on Teva's hand on his shoulder, on the way her thumb was drawing little circles and figure eights in a slow, fluid motion. He had almost fallen to sleep to that lulling touch when he felt Asa's magic slip back out, and he chanced cracking open one eye to look at the doctor.
"How bad?" he asked.
Asa sucked in little breath before he spoke, a telltale sign that the news wouldn't exactly be good. "Will, how much of what you do depends on you being in the Matrix?"
"It's my life," the tech answered, dread settling in his chest like a lead weight.
Asa nodded. "I assumed as much. I'm not going to tell you that you have to stay logged out - the damage isn't that critical - but I will warn you that there may be certain triggers to these migraines that you'll experience almost solely within the virtual world. It's impossible to pinpoint for sure what may or may not bring on these episodes, but I'm willing to bet that factors such as length of time, stress, damage taken inside a node, how heavy the workload - all of these could increase the chances of you experiencing what you've just gone through. I'm going to send you home with an oral prescription of the Xeto. If you learn to read the early signs of an oncoming migraine, you can take it in time to prevent the worst of the pain. Common signs are blurred vision, maybe halos appearing around objects, possibly a slight ringing in your ears, or maybe a slight pressure in your head, tingling in your hands - if you experience anything out of the ordinary, take the medication, even if you're not sure. It'll be much better than letting the headache progress to its advanced stages, as I'm sure you've noticed."
"How long?" the tech asked, pretty much skipping past everything the doctor had just explained.
Folding his hands in his lap, Asa leaned forward a little bit to answer the question, knowing exactly what the young man was referring to. "This will be a permanent prescription in your file, son. Do you understand?"
Will felt a sort of numb acceptance of the whole situation. He knew his job...hobby...duty...was a risky one, and he knew this particular Run was the most dangerous thing he'd ever done. He was lucky to have made it out alive at all. This was just a minor setback, nothing that would keep him from doing the only thing he was good at.
"How much?" was his bigger concern.
The doctor offered a sympathetic look. "More than your average grunt corper can afford, but if Selene brought you in here, I'm assuming you're not the average grunt. Take some extra jobs, but keep them simple. If you can make the pills last between the big Runs you should be okay."
Will turned to Teva and flashed her a small smile that he didn't really feel. "Guess between the Doc Wagon and here, I won't be seeing any of my cut, huh?" It didn't sound so funny coming out of his mouth, and he lost his tentative smile quickly. Dropping his gaze, he whispered. "Can we go now?"
"You should rest for a few hours," Asa recommended.
Will shook his head. "I don't have to do that here."
With an understanding nod, Asa stood and patted Will on the leg. "I'll ready your prescription, then you may go. It'll be on a nameless file for the time being as I'm certain you can handle altering the patient name on your own."
Will closed his eyes and nodded, done with the conversation. Being in the clinic had him on edge, and between being tired and in pain, being on edge really didn't fit into the picture. All he wanted to do was get out of there and maybe just sleep for the next week. Maybe the next month.
Teva listened to the news solemnly, and felt like an asshole all over again. More than that, she felt guilty. Will had suffered permanent mental damage during the course of a Run that she'd brought him in on...while she was yelling at him for being an inconsiderate dick, and not telling her that he was double-dipping jobs. (Okay, maybe she was still a little irked about that, but he'd apologized, and she was going to let it go...any second now...maybe now...now? Okay, now.) Still, he wouldn't have been there if she hadn't asked him to come, and he'd still be riding net waves, watching Garret Hood trids or whatever it was that geeks did in their off-time. Instead he was...
God, she was doing it again. That was the problem with getting close to people. Once they were in, their hurt became her hurt, and she just felt way too much. Teva didn't understand how normal people could live like this. She shouldered the blame because it was what she'd always done...with Tamsin...with her mother, whom she couldn't save...even with Razor, though she knew it was a bass ackwards kind of logic that led her to doing so. Caring hurt. It was a burden, a weight.
And that right there was the reason why she would never do anything more than flirt with Red. She wouldn't even learn his name, because once she started crossing boundaries and letting people in, the harder it became to do what she needed to do.
Some people said that love was an asset, a source of strength. Teva had only ever found it to be a weakness.
Will saying something about leaving startled her out of her trance-like state, and she gave him a worried half-smile. The doctors had given it the go-ahead, so she squeezed his shoulder. "Give me five," she said quietly, and slipped out the door into the waiting room. It seemed like she drew her first deep breath in days out there, and Madden gave her a look, stepping over to her quickly.
"How is he?" the troll wanted to know.
It appeared that Will had secured himself another friend whether he knew it or not, Teva thought wryly. "He's got some permanent damage. Migraines. The docs can't fix it. He's gonna have to be on medication to control them."
Madden winced. "Jeez."
"Yeah," Teva replied with a nod, not quite knowing what else to say. "He wants to leave, so the doc's getting his prescription ready, then we can go."
"I'll get the car," he acknowledged the unspoken request.
She smiled wanly in gratitude, and went back to find the doctor in the room giving Switch some last-minute instructions regarding his new prescription, and a few sample packs to get him settled for the time being. Poking her head in the door, Teva asked, "Ready to go, Hercules?" She winked at him jokingly, not sure if he'd get the literary reference, or that it was her way of maybe saying that he was tougher than he looked. It was a compliment. A weird, outdated, bass ackwards compliment, but a compliment none the less.
Will offered up a little half-hearted smile at Teva's words. "Theseus might've been better," he said quietly, then looked down at his arms. "I'm kind of not that strong."
"Strong enough," Rip said with a little grin, and gave the tech a hug. "I'm going to stay here a little longer, talk to Asa a bit more. I'll see you guys back at the motel later, where I will run a check on you." She gave Switch a pointed look, to which he nodded readily enough. She then turned to Feral. "I'm having the guys pull out my RFID while I'm here. The offer's on the table for Red if he wants it, otherwise I'll handle it when I get back. Or he can leave it in. Whatever he wants." She shrugged, easily slipping back into her passive attitude. That skin was much more comfortable to wear than the stressed out, worried one was, and it suited her better in her opinion.
But then Switch had to go and ruin it with a sudden random hug of his own, interrupting the conversation before Feral could even answer. "Thanks. For not letting me die," he murmured into her ear.
Rip patted his back, not blaming him for his current emotional ADD. The kid had been through a lot over the last few hours.
"Just doing my job," she answered, the neutral tone slipping a little bit. She broke the hug. "Go on, get out of here. Go sleep off the rest of that headache. And thank Ghost, too. Poor guy had to play human intubation device for longer than he was probably comfortable with to keep your ass alive."
"Selene," Asa scolded as Will's face flushed slightly. "What did I tell you about your bedside manner?"
She rolled her eyes. "He's not in bed anymore, now is he? Besides, he's a friend."
She exchanged another smile with the tech before she tilted her head towards the door, signaling for him to go. As he slipped out, she touched Feral's wrist before the adept could follow. "I was serious about Red, and make sure Switch gets right to bed when you get him back to the motel. The Xeto can only do so much on its own. Sleep is really going to be his best cure; anything else is just going to prolong the migraine, especially anything dealing with cyberspace. He needs to understand that. Is that something you can handle?"
People were really way too touchy-feely that day. It wasn't exactly something she was comfortable with, particularly coming from stern Doctor Rip. They just didn't know each other well enough for that. Without trying to be obvious about it, Teva slipped out of Rip's grasp, and stuck her hands in her coat pocket. "Yeah, I got it," she agreed with a nod, then headed for the door as well.
In the waiting room, she found Red idly playing with his comm, strands of that absurdly red hair falling into his face. She felt a surge of something, but shied away from identifying it. Whatever it was, Teva chalked it up to a long, stressful day. Clearing her throat, she said quickly, "Rip said if you want the RFID removed you can stay, or she can do it later at the motel, or you can leave it in if you wish."
The elf looked up, thinking his options over. With a slight grimace, he decided, "So long as the chip's offline, I think I'll just leave it in."
"Probably best," she agreed with a little murmur.
Red stood up, stretching to his full height, and slung a companionable arm around her shoulders, steering her toward the door.
"After all, we both know you're kind of a wimp when it comes to owies," Feral teased, dropping into babytalk at the very end.
Red shook her a little, but she could see that he was trying not to smile. "You're an ass."
She didn't respond, but she was smiling a little too.
The ride back to the motel seemed to occur in the blink of an eye, and it was shortly thereafter that she followed Will into their motel room, quietly gathered up his electronics, and shoved them in a dresser drawer. "Doctor's orders. Sleep, no nets; it'll just prolong your headache." She almost sounded apologetic.
Red tapped on their door, and she opened it a crack, wondering what the hell was going on now. "Madden, Ghost, and I are going to get rid of the real doctors...and ditch the van. You need anything?"
"Food?" she asked hopefully.
"Of course," Red agreed with a dip of his chin, the most meager nod one could possibly make.
"Will?" Teva asked over her shoulder. "You want anything for now...or later?"
"Later," he answered somewhat absently as he sat on the edge of the bed and slowly peeled off his armored shirt, once again not giving a shit that people could see him undressing. "I don't care what," he added, realizing that the actual food part was probably intended to be included in his answer. For the first time in a while, he really honestly didn't care what he ate. What he wanted was to be able to check in with Phantom, make sure the techno had gotten out okay. Since Teva had already nixed that plan and he didn't have the energy to argue about it, his second desire was to get into his t-shirt and soft pajama bottoms, get comfortable, then pass out for the rest of forever. Or at least until his head stopped hurting.
With his shirt changed he stood up to undo the cargos, but quickly plopped back down as a wave of vertigo hit him.
"Fuck it," he murmured, and let himself fall down onto his side, curling up on top of the covers and pulling one of the pillows over his head. He could change his pants when he woke up.
Red went from glancing in the room, giving eye contact as Switch was speaking even though the other man was barely cognizant of that fact. Good breeding. Teva wondered idly where it was he came from, and what the hell a guy like what was doing running around with street trash. Mentally, she separated Will from that group. He wasn't trash either. When he was being Will, he was polite and well-bred as well. At least he had been until all of this.
Her expression became stormy.
Red must have caught on to the direction of her thoughts, because the next thing she knew there was a hand on wrist tugging her out the door. The motion was too quick for her to register, and she resisted automatically, unintentionally stumbling over the trip wire. Teva leapt forward the second she heard that unmistakable fwap.
Will cringed beneath his pillow as he heard that familiar twang, thud! of the crossbow bolt hitting the door. "Strike three," he mumbled, smiling just a little.
A second later, three things happened of various levels of importance: Red had caught her up in his arms, the crossbow bolt was poking through the door again, the force with which it had impaled pushing the door forward and gravity swinging it closed again with a gentle click, and Teva suddenly realized that she was being held by the elf and it wasn't that fucking terrible. In fact, she tightened her arms around his back, nose tilted down against the v of flesh revealed by his open collar.
He smelled like the faintest hint of cologne, and sweat, and magic. The desire to climb him like a monkey rose up in her, to press her mouth to the hollow between his collarbones. Teva kept herself in check, but it was through sheer force of will.
Then something changed. Red shifted a little, his hands running up and down her back over the dark leather jacket, and suddenly it was just about comfort. She held on tight, and let the sadness wash through her, though she fought the tears that welled up in her eyes. "It's not your fault, Teva," Red whispered against the top of her head. "You don't have to bear this burden." Shaking her head, she merely pressed her nose against his skin a little harder like she was trying to burrow in. Like a leaky faucet, the tears began to drip out, running onto him and disappearing down his shirt.
With a sniff, and a last squeeze, she pushed away. "Thanks," she said, "For...you know."
Red's grin was a weak facsimile of his usual one. He touched her neck, and frowned.
"Don't. If you want to heal something, and you've got the mojo, do the one on my shoulder," she offered.
He nodded, his hands sliding over to brush her graze wound, still hidden underneath layers of clothing, and pushed his magic into it. She felt the skin knit, the crusty pull of the scabbing against the gauze disappear. With a nod, she stepped back, eyed the door, and said dryly, "Next time you feel like grabbing me, a little warning would be nice."
Red fell into the bait because he knew she needed the lightness of it. "Next time I feel like grabbing you, you'll know," he teased with a wink, and a smile, and walked away before he did something regretful. When he glanced over his shoulder, she'd already disappeared back into the room. He shook his head, clearing it of the fog that seemed to enshroud him only when Teva decided it should, and headed for the van.
Ghost and Madden should have completed the unloading by now, and he had a score of errands to run before the night was done. Truthfully, he should have made Teva come with and split them up into pairs, giving Ghost an opportunity to clear the air between them, but he disliked the idea of leaving Will unguarded in his current state. So though it was not the more efficient way, this was the way it needed to be.
When Teva stepped back into the room, Will lifted the pillow up just enough so that his voice wouldn't be muffled and announced, "Your trap sucks. It struck out."
He briefly wondered what her expression looked like at the notion of him insulting her crossbow for pretty much failing to kill only the two of them, but it wasn't worth uncovering his face enough to find out.
"You're right," Teva mused as she dug the bolt out of the door again. "Maybe next time I should use a knockout-gas grenade. Yeah, I think that'll work better. After all, if you're fast enough to dodge it, somebody else can as well." She laughed jokingly, and dropped the bolt on the dresser.
Maybe after everybody was back, she'd go for a run...in a dangerous neighborhood...at night...because that wasn't asking for trouble or anything. God, she was a sick person, blood already thrumming in anticipation of the thugs she was going to beat up on. That would be...therapeutic.
Until then, she shrugged off her jacket, put on her shades, and accessed the book she was reading again. It was a cerebral novel, something that would keep her mind busy, and keep her quiet and still long enough that Switch would fall asleep.
As Madden and Ghost unloaded the van, the troll couldn't help but feel a little concerned at how uncharacteristically subdued Ghost had become. He knew it had everything to do with the things the man had done under the influence of the drug, both with Teva and with Will. It was probably very confusing for him, the fact that he could be so violent towards a teammate one minute and so protective of another the next. With a sigh, Madden wished the drug had worked in such a way that the infected couldn't remember what had happened while they'd been...not themselves. It would've made things a whole lot easier.
"It's not your fault," he started, breaking the heavy silence that had enshrouded his teammate.
"So everyone keeps telling me," Ghost muttered. He didn't sound convinced.
Madden arched an eyebrow at him. "Do you blame me for attacking you? I believe I would've killed you just as readily as you were aiming to kill Feral."
"I wasn't just-" Ghost stopped himself and turned away, the haunted look in his eyes growing more intense. "No," he said quietly. "No, I don't blame you. I just...the drug had to have some sort of latent tendency to enhance, right? So somewhere inside me...I just never thought..." Blowing out a long sigh, he shook his head. "Nevermind."
As much as Madden wanted to ask about the exact details of what happened, it wasn't in his right to do so. He knew it was more than just a violent attack, but if Ghost or Teva didn't want him to know about it, he wouldn't push.
It was time for a different tactic. "The corper we sent to the room? Her coworkers were...let's just say it was time for their lunch break and they'd decided she was on the menu. Somehow I don't think cannibalistic tendencies reside in the dark recesses of all of those peoples' psyches. The drug simply reacted to their hunger, nothing more than that. It's not necessarily a reflection of who you are."
Ghost turned to him, and the troll was temporarily set back by the fear and shame in the man's eyes that had so quickly replaced the haunted look. "What if it is, though? I can't...I don't want to think I'm the type of person who..."
"What about Switch, then?" Madden interrupted. "While people were reacting violently all over the building, you were saving someone. Even under the influence of the drug, all you wanted to do was keep him alive and keep him safe. To me, that tells me far more about who you are inside than the attacks did, because I don't believe I saw a single other person showing true compassion while they were infected. I would try to hold onto thatthought if I were you."
Madden saw Red coming out and left Ghost to mull over their conversation for a bit. He hoped it would help, if even just a little. The guy had seemed so carefree before this Run.
In fact, not one of them had walked away from this one without earning some new scars on some level. He wondered if the grand payout was actually worth it. Something inside told him that this time, it wasn't.
When Red got into the van, he almost, almost turned around and asked Ghost what the hell had gone on between him and Teva. He was feeling protective of their little adept, which she would probably scoff at if she ever realized. He turned on the radio instead, hiding his thoughts behind a pair of shades that were completely unnecessary that late at night. If anyone questioned him, he was playing around in the Matrix. He wasn't, but that was beside the point.
"Let's get those doctors," Red stated.
Madden drove to the safe house, making admirable attempts at small talk that Red half-heartedly replied to. He didn't particularly want to talk. Truthfully, he was just as tired as the rest of his team, and dreaming longingly of his comfortable bed at home.
When they arrived, Ghost led the way upstairs, and he and Madden exchanged the rounds in their weapons for tranquilizers, and unlocked the bedroom door to the shocked and ecstatic cries of the doctors...until they realized their 'rescuers' were their kidnappers. Pap, pap! and they were both down for the count.
It was a testament to just how impatient and tired he really was that Red actually helped Ghost bring the male doctor down to the van.
The work went quickly, and they ditched the van, Ghost wiring another car for them, and driving them to an all-night grocer where they picked up supplies. After they came back bearing food stuff, he dropped them off at the hotel. Madden went inside first, and Ghost was about to follow when Red cleared his throat.
"Ghost," he began in his most disinterested yet professional tone, "You're a good man to have at one's back, and you have a skill set that I find to be particularly useful. I'd like to work with you on other jobs if you're amenable, but I must be straightforward with you. I work with Feral a lot, and if she can't have you at her back that poses a problem for other runs that I'd like to hire you on for. If you're interested in working with us, please attempt to sort out whatever occurred between the two of you."
He saw Teva open her door as Madden knocked, handing over a bag to her. She accepted it with a tiny nod, and Madden ruffled her hair affectionately while she tried to dodge and twist away from his grasp. With a slight smile at Ghost, Red stated, "She's still awake, though I'm not surprised. She'll be jittery for hours after all this." With a flourish of his hand, he seemed to encompass the entire job in his explanation.
His piece said, Red turned and began walking away, leaving Ghost to his own devices.
Ghost stood there for a while, even after Madden had finished toying around with Feral and graced him with a gentle, supportive touch on the shoulder on his way past. Questions rolled around in his head - Did he really care if he worked with Red and his team again? Could he just go on his way without looking back, forgetting that any of this ever really happened? Would it be possible to live with himself, with the thoughts of what he almost did, without at least trying to make amends?
She wouldn't forgive him. He wouldn't forgive himself. Therefore it wouldn't really make a difference if he apologized or not. Wasted effort.
Then again, maybe on some level it could make it a little better for her if she knew how much this was tearing him up inside. If nothing else, maybe his pain could lessen hers a little, and that would be something.
Taking in a deep breath, he approached the door, his hand hesitating for several long seconds in mid-air before he found the courage to knock on it. He immediately took several steps back, and put his hands behind his back, gripping one wrist with the other like a child who is told not to touch anything in a china shop.
Feral opened the door, visibly surprised to find Ghost standing outside of it. Her eyebrows appeared to climb up her forehead, disappearing under her long, messy bangs.
Whatever he was going to say fled from his mind, his mouth apparently not ready to have this conversation. After a moment's hesitation, the only thing he could get out was a simple, "Hi."
"Hey," she replied, leaning against the jamb in a tank top, and loaded for bear with weapons. It probably wasn't a very reassuring sight, and she took pleasure in the thought that making him look at the bruises on her neck would make him uncomfortable. Crossing her arms over her chest, she asked pointedly, "What's up?" What she meant was 'what do you want?'
Another thought occurred to her, and her lips twisted wryly. "Did Red tell you to come make nice?" She didn't even need to hear the confirmation to know that it was true. When Red was impressed with someone's on-the-job performance, he often tried to maintain contact, to add their information to his little black book of shadowrunners. He was a networker. He couldn't help himself.
And she, of course, hadn't told him the truth of the fight in the file room, giving him no valid reason not to want to work with Ghost again. There was a reason she hadn't told anyone. The logical side of her brain knew that it wasn't Ghost's fault, that he hadn't chosen to...behave in that manner (her mind dodged around calling a spade a spade now, possibly for the sake of her own inner peace). Rip suspected, possibly, through the snide comment that she had spat in the heat of the moment, but it was the most she'd said to anyone. Teva strongly suspected that Ghost hadn't said anything to anyone either for similar reasons; it was shameful, it was personal, it was not him (or was it?).
Teva tilted her head slightly, a coy move that drew attention to her neck even further. The look in her eyes wasn't coy though; it was aloof, maybe with a hint of curiosity in it as she waited for Ghost to speak.
The bruises on her neck made him feel sick to his stomach, and though not normally one to back down from the type of challenge she was obviously displaying for him, he found himself turning his gaze to the floor, unable to look at her.
"I have other teams I can work with," he said quietly. "I didn't come here for Red. I wanted to...I need to..." He ran a hand through his hair and began to pace back and forth in agitation. "Fuck, 'sorry' isn't going to cut it. A stupid...stupid apology isn't going to fix anything. Drug or not, there is no - no excuse for what happened back there. None." He stopped pacing and stood before her, looking into her eyes. "I didn't come here to ask you to forgive me. In fact, don't ever forgive me. I don't want it, but if there's anything you need to do to maybe feel a little better about the whole fucking situation, you do it. Tell me to fuck off, to never talk to you again, take my share of the cut, I don't care. You can even, even," he gestured towards her arsenal, "fuck, shoot me if you have to. If that's what it takes, you do what you need to. Whatever it...whatever it takes." He voice lowered again at the end as he ran out of steam. This wasn't going to help. Nothing was going to help, and he was an idiot for thinking it would. Part of him really did wish she'd shoot him, and that it wouldn't be a merciful hit. He was almost begging for it.
Teva blinked, and dropped her chin. She blinked again, not sure what to say. Opening her mouth, she started to speak, then closed it again. With a rueful grin that held more than a helpful of self-mockery, Feral said, "If you'd come up here with some apology about how it wasn't your fault, I might have shot you. Actually, let's be honest, I've made other men pay higher prices for smaller offenses; I wouldn't have shot you, I'd have taken my time." With a glance over her shoulder to make sure Switch was still asleep, Teva swiped her jacket off the back of the shitty dinette chair, and stepped outside, closing the door behind her. An audience was not something she wanted for this.
"I thought about killing you," she said idly as she lit up a cigarette. "I easily could have. So why didn't I? I keep asking myself that. The fight would have been over long before you got your hands on my throat." Blowing out a plume of smoke toward the sky, Teva asked herself again why she hadn't killed him. It had been a poor decision on her part not to, and went against all the logic that said she should have. Turning to face him, she said quickly, in a moment of rare self-illumination, "I don't think you're a rapist. If you were, you wouldn't have bothered with fake pheromones. Why charm at all if your intention is simply to take? That's why I didn't kill you. I'm not saying that we're cool just yet. We're not going to hold hands and skip through the daisies together, or sing motherfucking Kumbaya."
Shifting, she admitted uneasily, "But you did good with Switch, and on the Run in general." With another puff on her cigarette, Teva concluded, "So I guess what I'm saying is I'm not going to punish you. I'm not going to take your cut, I'm not gonna lay a hand on you, but I'm not going to forgive you either; I can't just yet. However, your self-flagellation is satisfaction enough for me. Knowing that what you did hurts you makes me feel just a little smidgen-" she held up her thumb and index finger on her left hand, the pads a mere centimeter apart, "-better about this whole thing. The rest of it I'll pack into the deep, dark corner of my mind where the rest of my traumatic life experiences go.
"If Red contacts you with a job offer, and you're intrigued, don't worry if I'll be there. We may not be BFFs, but I'll do my job to the best of my ability. I always do." She offered Ghost a wan smile, a wordless parlay.
Ghost nodded solemnly, not entirely certain if he was satisfied with her decision to not bleed him dry - literally or figuratively. It was her choice though, not his. At least he accomplished his goal to make her feel a little better. That was a start.
"I'm gonna...I'm gonna get out of here then. If you ever need anything, I can...or maybe not me, personally, but I know people, if you don't want me to...Christ, I'm just going to shut up now. Tell Switch I'll give him a call later to see how he's doing. I'll...maybe see you around. I'm sorry."
With that, he turned to walk away, wanting nothing more than to go hit up the local bar and get himself shitfaced drunk for the night. That was always a great way to end a shitty Run.
With a roll of her eyes, Feral watched Ghost's retreating back. Jeez, you'd think somebody had tried to rape him from the way he was acting.
She walked over to Madden's room, rapping on the door.
Red opened it with a curious little look in his eyes.
"I want Madden," she stated.
He began to smirk.
"Not like that, you fucking pervert. Just...Madden?" she called into the recesses of the room.
With a little snicker, Red backed off, sliding away toward the table as Madden's girth filled up the doorway.
She smiled up at the troll with too much innocence. "Let's go for a walk. I think we owe somebody a visit."
Madden's answering grin held a touch of the devil in it. Time to blow off some steam.
The sun was filtering through the window, warming up Will's face in a lazy, comfortable manner. He stretched under the covers, relishing in his pain free, well-slept current state of existence. Keeping his eyes shut, his mind wandered over all the events of the last several days from that first phone call from Teva to last night when Rip had slipped in, scolded him lightly for falling asleep on top of the blankets with his cargos still on, and had promptly helped him get changed before tucking him back into bed. For some reason he wasn't embarrassed by that. She was a professional in her field and had treated the situation as such, and he didn't remember seeing anyone else in the room at the time that would make fun of him for it.
He turned his head to take a glance at Feral's bed, but it was empty. Either she hadn't slept in it last night or had already slept, woken up, made the bed, and was off doing...something Feral-like.
Not thinking anything of it, he slipped out of bed and got into the drawer where she'd stashed all his stuff the night before.
"Phantom?" he asked once he had on his basic PAN stuff. He hoped the techno was out there somewhere listening. Usually the guy didn't get in touch with Will unless he wanted to.
"Thank god," came the almost immediate reply. "Are you all right? When I lost your signal..."
Will could feel Phantom's utter relief coursing through him. "Nothing a few brain docs couldn't handle...mostly," he smiled. It was good to know his friend had also made it out alive, even if he wasjust a Matrix friend. They talked for the next several minutes, Phantom informing him about the rescued technos, Will explaining the damage he'd taken and the possibility of the migraines affecting future extractions. In return, Phantom promised to compensate him more for his assistance, his way of helping out with the cost of the Xeto and as a thanks for all he had done inside Horizon.
"I wouldn't mind a few more toys," Will laughed. "I kind of killed most of the last ones, and I promised Clint a Skycycle."
He didn't need to send Phantom an image of what he was talking about. It was in his mind, which meant it was already in the node, which meant the techno had already seen it. Phantom chuckled and said he'd see what he could do.
"Cool. Hey, I'm gonna let you go. I'm starving!"
Ending the call, he meandered over to the fridge to see what Red had brought him the night before. He hoped it was something real, because damned if he didn't deserve it after everything he'd gone through. And this time he sure as shit wasn't going to throw it up.
Teva was whistling when she walked in the door, reeking of booze and blood, and wearing a collection of more bruises than she'd left with. She felt damn good. She and Madden had traipsed all over that shitty neighborhood until they found Roach. They may have also found a few bars on the way.
Roach was haunting the same neighborhood with a couple of thugs. After Feral had explained to him what happens when assholes try to fuck with her friends, she and Madden had found another bar, closed it, and promptly gotten into a fistfight in the parking lot. Some of the witnesses decided they were cool, and invited them back to party. Lots of booze and a night passed out on somebody's floor, plus a few fights meant that she was feeling pretty damn cheerful.
"Hey," she waved, grinning brightly. "Guess what? That guy who jumped you is a total pussy. I don't think he'll be bothering anybody else for awhile." Glancing in the mirror, she smoothed down her chaotic hair, then noticed there was actually a little bit of blood in it. Damn, no wonder it felt kind of chunky.
Will was sitting cross-legged on his bed, casually surfing the nets - Dammit, Teva! Now she's got me saying it! - and happily scarfing down blueberry pancakes. Apparently Red had thought ahead last night, getting him yummy breakfast foods that would be easier on his still temperamental stomach. He paused for only a second when Feral walked in looking like she'd just gotten into a bar fight, which apparently she had, then continued eating as if this was an everyday occurrence. It probably kind of was with her.
"He wasn't so pussy with a gang full of guys shooting machine guns," he commented when she was through, absently running a finger along his scar. "Freak," he added with a teasing smile.
He felt good too, strangely enough. Maybe it was just post I-should-be-so-dead-right-now-but-I'm-not glee, or the sense of accomplishment that he always experienced after finishing a Run (especially the ones where he was freeing lab rats), or maybe it was just general relief that the whole thing was over. Whatever happy place his brain decided to pull his emotions from this morning, he was grateful for it. He wasn't worried about his migraines, or the fact that after he paid everyone back for what he owed them he'd probably have just enough to get himself home before he needed to find a Fixer to get him another job, or the need for a new comm because he'd pretty much burned out Knox. Nothing mattered at all right then except his breakfast, his online hobbies, and watching his friend fuss at the dried blood in her hair.
"Group mentality is different," Feral argued without thinking as she plopped down on his bed, stealing a pancake which she rolled up and ate plain. "Groups are made of stupid. They're all cock 'n balls, and no fucking brains. Take away the group, the individual members lose a lot of their bravado. Separately they're nothing. That's why they have to band up in the first place."
"Speaking of pussies," he said in a somewhat distracted manner as he checked out the new sim movie lineup, "I know a princess who still needs to learn how to punch a guy. If the offer's still on the table for a first hand lesson, I can tell you about 'Carn."
In two bites, Teva finished the pancake, chewing with her cheeks puffed out. After she'd swallowed, Teva spoke again, "Yeah, I'll teach you some self-defense. Lesson number one: sometimes in the movies you see actors tuck their thumbs in their fist when they punch. Don't ever do that. That's how you break your thumb. In fact, open-palm heel-strikes are a lot better, and with the right leverage they can cause just as much damage as a close-fisted punch."
"Now," she rolled on her stomach, and pinched a stray blueberry off the plate, "Tell me all about 'Carn."