Connor hates family reunions. He's pushing forty now, and surely by this point in his life family reunions are not something necessary or even recommended for the maintenance of one's health and well-being. But Ma's insisted, so here he is: pressed, buttoned, tucked, and belted, with Murphy next to him. Even got them to put on neckties.
Fucking detrimental to his health, that's what this shit is.
His collar is already soaking wet, and all he wants to do it rip off the tie, loosen his callar, and crack open a cold one with Murph. He's tired, aching down to his soul and bone weary if anyone cared to ask, and thank the sweet Lord at least he doesn't have to stay here for long. The lighting is so fucking dismal in the crowded room he doesn't figure anyone can clearly make out his expression anyway.
He hears a strange whining tone that's followed by some rhythmic beeping: dah-Deet-deet, dah-DEET-deet. What…what is that? He can just barely make out the sound over the dull rumble of people chattering and plates clinking and drinks being poured and…
"Murph, make th'rounds, say yer hellos, then let's get outta here."
At a nod from Murphy, they split up and set off down the sides of the room, skirting the long table and its mismatched chairs, greeting relatives neither of them has met. They live a whole ocean and more away from these people; why should they have to leave prison and come all the way out here just to visit?
Connor stops short at that thought, right in the middle of shaking hands with his mother's second cousin he hasn't seen since the man went off to join the army. The prison…shouldn't they—
"Connor, lad, ha'n't seen ye since ye'was wee high, come gi'us a buss!"
For a moment, the faces in the room blur and change, turn pale and gaunt. Connor thinks he sees…no…everyone's just drunk, that's all. Too much to drink, everyone's gone fuzzy, that must be it.
That noise again, more insistent now: dah- dah- DEET-DEET! dah- dah- DEET-DEET!
Well, that just means he's had too much to drink. But he doesn't remember having had anything to drink.
He glances down at his hands and is astonished to see two empty glasses, as well as a row of empties on the table on his left…the table he doesn't remember being there.
"Must've had more than I thought," he mutters, hastily setting the glasses down. The room comes back into focus then, and he sees Murphy on the other side of the room greeting Gran Maggie, who is clucking disapprovingly over the length of Murphy's hair and the bloodstains on his clothes. Murphy at least has the grace to look abashed when Gran scolds him for the blood dripping from his leg and puddling under his foot. Connor remembers the last time he saw Gran Maggie in the hospital, all trussed up to the machines and wasted to near bones.
"She's lookin' much better now, yer Gran, ain't she?"
Connor's head is spinning, and the room blurs again. Gran Maggie glances his way, and Connor can see the sharp bones of her cheeks pressing against the papery, dried out skin; her cheeks are as withered and sunken as her eyes, and he wishes she'd look somewhere else.
He gropes for support from anything nearby and finds himself already holding on to the back of a chair. His hands are slick with blood and sweat, his fingers slipping on the slick, unfamiliar wood. The older man next to him is chatting away as if they've been in a conversation for a while. Connor realizes with a start that they have, and he struggles to catch up.
"Lots o'mem'ries growin' up in this place, lad. Yer great-granda's whole family was raised here, that's them over at th'other end o'th'table. Five brudders in dis wee little space, can ye'magine?"
"Not really, no. 'Twas bad enough wit' just me an'Murph. Ma swore if Da had stuck around she'da gotten her tubes tied or somethin'—"
The old man—an uncle of Da's who got liver cancer some years back, now that he thinks about it—nods and says, "Aye, yer da's been sayin' s'much all evenin', ye might want t'stop him tellin' too many embarrassin' stories. Not sure where he got all of 'em, as he weren't there, nor can he talk t'yer ma yet, anyway."
Da's here? Telling stories? But…Da was…
Connor looks up, frantic and suddenly very sure they need to leave, searching the room for his brother. He wipes sweat from his forehead, wiping the residual blood onto the leg of his jeans. This isn't right, they aren't supposed to be here yet, they're way too early, and he knows that now. He needs to find Murph, get them out of there before…
He sees familiar face after familiar face, people he's never met and instantly knows all the same, people who shouldn't…
"Connor, yer cup's empty, lemme fill that for ye, lad."
He automatically holds out the cup in his hand to Carrig, blinking as the room blurs again. Carrig's hand is yellowed and frail, the veins standing out like tiny blue ropes against diseased leather as he pours something into Connor's glass. Wait, hadn't he just set the cups down on the…
There are some muffled shouts from the corner, then a buzz and a fleshy, slapping sound.
"Drink up, lad, ye won't get many more chances. Yer early, but ye could stay if ye want."
"Thanks all th'same, but we gotta be headin' on." He politely sets the drink on the table and moves on to greet more of the crowd. The faster this shit is over with, the faster they can leave. Family or not, he and Murph belong here, don't belong with these people any more.
Or maybe these people don't—
"Bout time you got around to me. Thought you were gonna take all fuckin' night to find me." Connor automatically reaches out, taking Greenly's offered hand and pulling the detective in for a manly, back-slapping hug. Connor winces at the painful jolt, sucking in a hissing breath; no reason that should hurt so bad, except he is hurt, and he's actually supposed to be in bed right now, and so is Murph, and—
"Glad you made it, though, was gettin' kinda weird out here. Lot of your family here, they're good folks." Connor brushes absently at the smear of blood Greenly's chest leaves on his shirt; there's already enough blood there, no one will notice it anyway. But he needs to find Murphy.
"Grab a cup, have a drink with me. You sure as hell look like you could use one."
"Sorry, Greenbeans, gotta find Murph an' get outta here. Somewhere we gotta be soon." Connor doesn't want to be rude to his friend, but there's a painful knot in his stomach that grows more unbearable every minute he doesn't spot Murphy in the crowd.
And he's tired, sweating, and aching like hell, and he just wants to sit down for a minute.
There's more commotion from somewhere else in the room, someone frantically asking for something, then another smacking noise.
"I know, pally, you really ain't supposed to be here yet, anyway. You'r not actually due at the reunion for a while, but it's nice of you to visit. Wouldn't stay too much longer if I were you."
"Fuckin' A, man, I'm tryin' t'get away. Can't get through th' crowd, is all Keep meetin' folks who wanna talk."
Greenly wipes a drip of blood from the corner of his mouth, smiling wryly. "Well, you caused a lot of ruckus in the world, even way out here. Your family's excited to see you, they don't care you ain't supposed to be here yet. Of course, they didn't think they were supposed to be here yet, either, when they got here, so I guess it's a matter of perspective. Got a lot of that out here."
"Catch ya later, Greenbeans."
Connor greets more people, moving as swiftly as he can without being too rude, but if he doesn't find Murphy soon, he's going to—
"No time for a shot with me and your old man?"
Rocco is seated next to Da at the long table, each of them in their own chair, and Connor sees for the first time that each chair has writing on it, numbers and letters that he can't quite make out. Da is settled back in his chair, looking both relaxed and uneasy in his baggy, homemade sweater as he picks at a loose tack on the arm of his chair.
Rocco swipes a hand back through his disheveled hair, leaving the strands streaked dark crimson and stuck to each other, but at least they stay out of his face. He sloshes a nearly full bottle towards Connor, grinning before pouring a shot into the small glass in his hand. He sets the glass on the table and does his best to wipe the red smears from its sides. His best isn't very good, but it's Rocco, so no one really minds.
Suddenly Connor's throat feels very, very dry. Still sweating, which really doesn't help.
"Always time fer a drink wit' ye, but have ye seen Murph? We ain't s'posed t'be here yet, an' we need t'get goin'."
Da glowers, suddenly tense, as Rocco pushes the brimming, reddish glass in Connor's direction. "Yer brother's on his way over, nearly done wit' his side. Ye need t'head on, now, as ye ain't s'posed to'be here. Not yet."
Connor pulls out the chair in front of himself, reaching for the drinking and starting to sit. He doesn't know if he's ever hurt this much in his life, and all he wants to do is just sit down for a long, long time. Suddenly, Da's hand clamps down on his wrist hard enough to smart, and he looks up to see his father's eyes blazing with anger and…something else.
"That seat's not fer ye, lad, ye ain't got a chair at this table."
Rocco grins, as wasted as the summer day is long, and gesture down a few spots. "Sure he does, him an' Murph both do, only they—"
"They ain't got chairs at this table yet, ain't time fer them t'be here!"
Rocco wisely shuts up, and finally—finally—strolls over to Connor's side.
"Got a shot fer me, Roc? One drink, then Connor an' me gotta be—"
Connor shakes his head; someone over in the corner says tiredly, "Call it." The room wavers, and Connor grabs at the edge of the table. Rocco's eyes turn to him, dark coals glowing from the depths of his bloodied face.
"Ya alright there, Con?"
"Dunno if we have time fer that shot, really, we gotta go."
"Always have a shot waitin' fer ye, boys, twon't be too terrible long of a wait fer ye." Da's eyes are moist, but he resolutely pulls the drink away from Connor. "Y'boys need t'be leavin', ain't th'place fer ye."
"It's our fuckin' family reunion, Da, where th'hell else are we s'posed t'be?" Connor isn't sure if Murphy spoke or if he did, but the room wavers again, and the blood is so dark against Da's wheat-colored sweater, but at Connor's words, the room grows very still and quiet. Suddenly everyone's attention seems to be on Connor and Murphy, and he knows now more than ever that they need to leave.
"Well, you could wake up, for a start. That might get you back where you're supposed to be."
Connor turns to Romeo, taken aback by his sudden appearance and completely unsurprised at his arrival. "What're ye talkin' about, Romeo? Standin' right here, talkin' to ye, as awake as can be."
"Bullshit. Wake up, y'ain't supposed to be here yet. Now get out of here before someone pulls up your chair for you." To demonstrate his point, Romeo reaches forward, pulling out a rather colorfully decorated chair and seating himself across from Da. As if his arrival is a signal, everyone else around the room begins to move toward the table, selecting and pulling out their own chairs before seating themselves.
Murphy glances at Connor and shrugs, but Connor knows they need to leave fast. "Alright, we're goin'. Are we gonna see ye again anytime soon? Any of ye?"
"Not soon enough t'suit me, an' far sooner'd I like, boys. Just…don't try too hard, aye? We'll be here whenever ye come back. Now, wake up." Da smiles briefly, though there's no joy in it, and Rocco salutes them with his glass before tossing back the shot. Romeo gives Connor a wave.
"Get the outta here, already. Y'ain't gonna get another golden opportunity like this one. Next time's for real. Now fuckin' beat it!"
The room is gone.
Connor groans. Everything. Every. Damn. Thing. Hurts.
He manages something closer to a hoarse cough than actual speech, forcing the air through the rough sandpaper that seems to be lining his throat.
"Murphy?" Louder this time, more insistent. He tempts fate and slowly opens his eyes, squinting into the glare of the overhead fluorescents. Reaching up awkwardly, he drags the heel of his hand across his dripping forehead, half expecting it to come away bloody.
Nope, just sweat. Lots and lots of sweat.
"S'matter…s'wrong?" Murphy sounds even worse than he feels, and he almost doesn't turn over to look, but that's his job, it's what he does, got to keep an eye on everyone.
"Ye look like shit, Murph. Where's Rome?"
Murphy cracks open a bloodshot eye, wincing at the overt brightness of the prison hospital. "Fuck if I know…he was here th'first time we woke up."
"He was hooked up to all dem machines, not doin' too well, but he was stable. I heard one o'th'nurses sayin' so 'fore we fell asleep last night. He was…"
Connor stops talking. The hospital around them is empty, silent, and sterile. Well, sterile except for the bed on the other side of Murphy. The machines are turned off and unhooked, the sheets are flung around haphazardly, and there's blood, and…
"Connor, did you have th'same—"
"An' Rome was there at th'end?"
"So, then he's really—"
"What d'ye think it means?"
"Think it means we ain't done yet."
Murphy digests this for a moment then says, "Saw a couple of matched chairs on th'other side o'th'table 'fore I found ye…couldn't make out what was on 'em, but they were th'only one's that looked th'same."
"Better ye didn't see what was on 'em, Murph." Connor closes his eyes. "They're still there waitin' fer us, either way."