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A random prompt on Tumblr asked for Minutemen zombies; I wrote the promised vignette but there seems to have been interest for more? So I started writing more, and wow, I am having so much fun. But I'd like to keep this informal, so, see the comment section below for pieces of this as I finish them!

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etherati
Apr. 16th, 2013 08:17 pm (UTC)
part 1
*

"Aw, hell."

It'd been bad at first—bad like they'd all known it would be, the way they could all taste it in the backs of their throats in the moment before someone—Hollis doesn't remember who, later—threw the latch and shoved the double doors open and out. It'd taken shoving, too; the mass of clawing, murderous bodies piled against it had seen to that.

"Damn it—hold him, Bill!"

It'd needed to be done. They'd agreed to a man—and a woman too, the first thing Hollis thinks he's seen Sal and Ursula agree on in the last three years—that if they chose this moment to abandon the people they've spent years protecting, well, then they never deserved to wear the masks in the first place. People were dying; this hadn't been the time to quibble. Even Eddie had been on board, though by god the brat had taken some convincing, and if Hollis has to hear him complain one more ti—

"This is what you get," Eddie snarls from somewhere off to the left, and Hollis has both his hands in poor Byron's gut, up to his elbows in blood just trying to keep his insides inside where they belong, and well. Eddie should count himself lucky. "I told you idiots, this is where not lookin' out for yourself gets you."

"If you don't shut up—"

Bill looks goddamned furious under his mask, the kind of fury that doesn't really know itself, is too tangled up in grief and incomprehension. He doesn't say a word, even when Byron lurches up off of the table, thrashing against his hands and snarling. His mask is gone, his antennas sheared off and the stupid fabric wings hanging off by a thread. The veins at his temples stand out, blue and thick. He seems to want a piece of someone—anyone. "Hold him down, god damn it!"

"Doesn't matter," Bill mutters, and his mask is half gone, too. There's more red in his costume than there used to be.

"Yes it does."

"We were too late," he says, and the words have an edge of catatonic hysteria. "I was too late. We can't fix this."

Hollis eyes the way Bill's hands are loosening in their grip, casts a worried look to Sal, by the door. She's got a shotgun propped against one shoulder, liberated from some ransacked shop, and she nods to him, all frivolity of her showy public persona evaporated.

"Look at me," Hollis says, and Bill does. Under their hands, the body thrashes. "This isn't our fault, and it isn't your fault. I know where you are, and I've been there, but we need you here instead. Are you here?"

Bill's gaze drops to where his friend is frothing beneath them, is struggling like murder. He nods.

"We might not be able to fix this," Hollis says. "But by God we will try our best."

"Okay," Bill says, "Okay."

"Cap'n?" Hollis calls across the room.

Nelly straightens against the wall, posture all numb shock. "Yes?"

"We need rope. As much of it as you have. I know you've got plenty, so don't hold out on us now."

*
lawnnun
Jun. 25th, 2013 10:28 pm (UTC)
Re: part 1
Of course Nelly has plenty of rope. XD
etherati
Apr. 16th, 2013 08:20 pm (UTC)
part 2
*

It takes a lot of rope.

At first, they’re worried about his injuries, the amount of blood he’s lost. Most of them can’t even be sutured--just broad swaths of exposed muscle where the skin’s been ripped away, across one cheekbone, down one side of his neck, on the back of one hand and forearm. Defensive wounds. They put a few stitches into the gash running down through his right eye, but the eye itself seems ruined, and it’s really the cavernous wound in his gut that they fear will be the death of him.

Once they have him restrained well enough to check his vitals without losing fingers, it’s pretty obvious that, well, that’s already happened. The bleeding has stopped; the blood gels on his skin, taut over the wound like drumskin. It’s not something they can call healing, really. Bereft of pulse or breath, he still fights like his heart’s in it, still howls and screams.

The fever is eating him up.

They take his care in shifts, but some of them are more present than others. Eddie loiters around the edges uselessly, a steady stream of vitriolic commentary, refusing to come anywhere near any of them; they’re all compromised, contaminated, and he’s been chain-smoking cigars like the blue-grey cloud is a ward against them. Nelly’s too eaten up with fear over Justice’s continued absence to be much help, and Bill’s catatonic with sorrow, utterly convinced that everything they’re doing is in vain.

Hollis isn’t so sure he disagrees.

Sal has been an angel about the whole thing, keeping her head like a pro while the rest of them fell apart and doing her best to help, but she’s not hands-on and the bulk of the actual brow-mopping and painkillers and antibiotic administration--maybe pointless, maybe not--has fallen on Hollis and Ursula.

Hollis wrings out a wet rag, lays it across Byron’s forehead. He’s quiet, now; he’s worn himself out again, and these respites in his struggling are the only time they can really try to help him.

Outside the reinforced windows, a jungle-wild howl of rage and misery. Byron whines in response, all of his strength sapped.

“This isn’t going to end well,” Ursula says, across the table, rolling a bottle of morphine between her fingers. She sounds just as drained. “Is it?”

Hollis takes a long breath, lets it out. Under the rag in his hand, Byron’s head lolls woodenly from side to side, single milky eye searching. “Probably not, no. But stranger things have happened.”

“So we try. And keep trying.”

“For Bill’s sake if no-one else’s, yeah.”

“I’m not sure that false hope has ever helped anyone,” she says, quiet, land she’s probably right.

*

Edited at 2013-04-16 08:21 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 16th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
part 3!
*

Hollis can hear the voice on the edge of his consciousness long before he surfaces enough to make out what it’s saying. It’s just encouraging noise, praise and reassurance like he might lavish on Phantom, fully aware the old girl doesn’t understand a word he’s saying.

She’s around here, somewhere. Basement maybe; the loud noises of other, aggressive animals have always driven her to ground.

“...okay. It’ll be okay. Just have to hang on for us... just a little longer... oh god, By.”

His eyes slit open carefully. He’d fallen asleep on the job, obviously, but there hasn’t been much that’s needed doing. They’re out of penicillin and the morphine shouldn’t wear off for another few hours, and the armchair he’d dragged over alongside the makeshift operating table had been awfully comfortable. He is, despite common opinion, only human.

“This isn’t fair, is it?” the voice continues on, wobbling and listing left and right. “This isn’t what was supposed to...”

“Bill,” Hollis says, because that’s who it is, braced over the table on one hand, the other combing back through Byron’s sweat-and-blood-soaked hair. The body on the table is unresponsive, passed out. Bill’s out of costume--they all are, obviously--but there’s something of the innocent all-American golden boy still about him in the terribly visible way his heart is breaking.

“How is he?” Bill forces out, a breathy wheeze.

Hollis pushes himself more upright in the armchair. The chair opposite the table is empty; Ursula must have gone off to get some actual sleep. Smart lady. “Mostly the same. Out cold now, but that comes and goes. Not getting worse, anyway.”

“That’s... is that good? I guess that’s good.”

“You don’t sound sure.”

A slow blink, and Hollis has never seen anyone looking so lost. “Should I be?”

“I’d question your sanity if you were.”

A sharp bark of laughter, and nothing is funny.

Hollis watches him for a moment, propped there unsteadily, then gets up from the chair--goes to where the other one is and drags it around to the same side as his own. “Sit down with me here, for a minute?” he says, and then: “Before you fall over?”

He does, after however long it takes him to process the request. They sit in silence for a long moment, watching their teammate not breathe; watching him lie there in state, and only the heat pouring off of him tells them that he’s not gone.

“Bill,” Hollis says, because it’s a syllable he can put between himself and what he has to say next.

“Mm?”

“...we should have a talk.”

*
etherati
Apr. 16th, 2013 09:34 pm (UTC)
part 4
*

God damn it but this is hard.

“I’m not saying we’re giving up. I’m willing to keep trying for as long as we can, until he’s either better, or...”

“Or dead.”

“Bill,” Hollis says again, careful, “he’s been dead since you and Ursula brought him in here. You do understand that, right?”

Bill scrubs his hands up his face, digging fingers in hard. “Kind of. I’m still having trouble understanding all of this.”

“It’s... pretty complicated.”

“Too complicated for a dumb farm boy like me.”

“I wouldn’t--”

“No,” Bill says, lifting his eyes above the line of his hands. They’re red-rimmed, hollow. “It’s actually really simple, isn’t it? He’s like them. Outside.”

Hollis doesn’t respond for a while; he picks at the seam on one arm of the chair just for something to do with his hands. There’s a thread hanging free, and when he pulls on it the seam starts unravelling, all the pressure of stuffing inside pushing out on it, making it bulge.

He sighs, pushing the stuffing back in with his thumb. “I know you two are close. I just don’t want you unprepared for what might happen, here.”

“He’s the best friend I’ve ever had. God, that sounds so stupid.”

“Not from where I’m sitting.”

“Just these... cliche things, like, how could he do this? How can this be happening? I keep trying to wake up, like an idiot, like if I just keep trying...”

He trails off, thick hands masking his face completely. He’s been shaking, just a slight, constant baseline shudder, for the last thirty-two hours. Hollis isn’t sure he’s aware of it. It makes him think, suddenly, of Nicky Bukowski from work, the day he’d found out his wife Marcia had drowned. It’s that same terrifying depth of sorrow.

And they all know, even if he’s never said--

“Go ahead and tell me if this is out of line,” Hollis says, teasing at the thread again. “Because it probably is. But were you two ever, ah...”

He looks up as he trails off; Bill’s face is a picture of confusion. Then he seems to get it.

“Oh, uh,” he says, looking away. “No, I mean. I think he might have wanted that? But I’m, I’m not--”

Hollis nods vaguely. It doesn’t matter, he wants to say, I just wanted to know how much of a mess you’re going to be, but he can see the answer in front of him: an awful one. It doesn’t need to have been like that.

“Sometimes I wish I...” Bill says, then resettles himself in the chair, restless. He ends up leaning forward over his knees, reaching one hand out as if to touch the edge of the table. It’s all just useless, wasted motion. “I’ve always just wanted him to be happy. Now...”

Now nothing. Now it’s done.

Hollis sighs; gets up to re-wet one of the rags, arrange it across Byron’s throat where the fever is worst, heat rising from rent skin. It’s hard to get it where it needs to be, with all of the rope lashing him down.

Then a rustling from the next room, and Sally leans her head in, one hand on the doorframe like she’d had to stop from a dead run. She’s a little breathless.

“Bill, honey?” she says, all motherly gentleness. “On the radio. You’ll want to hear this.”

*
wednesday42
Apr. 17th, 2013 01:24 am (UTC)
Re: part 4

*tries to think of something eloquently appreciative and encouraging*

*sobs incoherently instead*
Re: part 4 - etherati - Apr. 17th, 2013 04:01 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: part 4 - wednesday42 - Apr. 17th, 2013 12:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: part 4 - etherati - Apr. 18th, 2013 05:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
etherati
Apr. 18th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
part 5a
*

They got themselves a proper headquarters a year or two back--Hollis has always had a setup at home, but it’s not big enough for all of them, and neutral territory really is best given how explosive the combination of all of their personalities can be--and it’s a high-security paradise. They have all the food and supplies they’ll ever want, but what they really need right now is a radio room, because the communal kitchen cannot hold the number of people currently crowded into it, perched in chairs or leaning on counters, looming. There are three units in here: the shortwave, the local AM receiver like everyone has, and the police frequency scanner Hollis donated to the cause two years ago, hardwired to the local stations. It’s the AM they’re all listening to, though he can see that the scanner’s on too, turned very low.

“...secuted at the time as it’s discovered they have committed such crimes. Call your local municipality if you have reason to suspect anyone in your neighborhood of criminal activity.”

Sally steers Bill to a chair by the table; his strength isn’t going to hold for much longer. She keeps one hand on his shoulder, reaches across the counter to dial the volume up.

“How many goddamned times,” Eddie drawls from the far side of the room. He’s all false ease, slouching against a cabinet like a kid against a fence, shirking his work. “...do we have to listen to this?”

“You’re free to leave whenever you like,” Sally says, chilly. Something’s gone south between the two of them, and Hollis hasn’t worked out what yet but he’s never been a fan of the kid nor had a reason to doubt Sal’s judgment. The radio hisses silence and static, and then there’s a hitch in the white noise of a tape splice, a message spooling up to repeat.

“This message is being broadcast by WMCA on the behalf of the New York Police Department,” it starts, and it’s the usual groomed radio voice, but there’s a sobriety to it.

Nelson is in the other chair, leaning forward across the table to listen more closely. He’s at attention, rapt, just a little glazed. Byron might be their only known casualty, but he wasn’t the only one who went disappearing into to a cacophony of violence two days ago.

“The police department would like to advise the following precautions to all citizens. The phenomenon of disease and sudden insanity being observed in the city has been reported across the country and, possibly, the world. Do not attempt to evacuate to another location. Do not attempt to reach loved ones. Do not leave your homes to intercede on others’ behalfs.”

Bill snorts, a low noise of frazzled nerves entirely unlike laughter.

“If you have a safe location, stay there and do not attempt to engage with the activity outside. Relief efforts to provide supplies safely are being coordinated. If you must defend your location against violent and insane individuals, the use of lethal force is authorized. Do not, under any circumstances, allow a compromised individual into your home.”

“...why are you having me listen to this?” Bill asks, and Hollis is wondering that too. It isn’t encouraging information.

“Shh,” Sally says, “Listen.”

“We should get Ursula in here,” Nelson says; his voice is flat, a wrung-out monotone.

There’s a crackle and a hiss from the radio, and then it smoothes out again. “However,” it continues in a different voice, oddly conversational, like an afterthought or an add-on, an edit: “the police department would also like to remind its citizens that violence against someone not presenting an actual threat is, as always, against the law. A compromised individual that is no longer showing madness is not a threat, and lethal force used against any nonthreatening citizen of this city will be considered murder. Violators will be arrested and prosecuted at the time as it’s discovered they have committed such crimes. Call your local municipality if you have reason to suspect anyone in your neighborhood of criminal activity.”

Static. The white noise fades out as Sally turns the knob again, silencing it.
etherati
Apr. 18th, 2013 05:02 pm (UTC)
part 5b
Hollis leans against the kitchen door, considering. “So, they’re saying...”

“That people are getting better,” Bill says, shocky. “Or else they wouldn’t be worried about that? Why would they care if...”

“Kill ‘em all anyway,” Eddie says, smirking around his cigar, and good god but Hollis wants to throw him out into the street himself. See how long his attitude keeps him afloat out there. “Set ‘em on fire, I say, and--”

“Edward,” Nelson says, not moving from where he’s still sitting attentively, not even moving his eyes. “If you don’t stop talking, I am going to set you on fire.”

“Whatever, man. I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking.”

Nelson leans forward a little bit, licks his lips between teeth that want to clench. Sally looks like she wants a piece of this action too.

“No,” Hollis says, quiet and even. “You’re actually the only one thinking it. As usual.”

A stretch of silence so profound that the the voices on the turned-down scanner start to become intelligible, and then Eddie shrugs, slumps away from the counter.

“Do what you want,” he says, “But you heard what they said. Who knows when I might start feeling threatened by your fucking mess of a boyfriend in there?”

Bill looks up, genuinely caught off guard, and Eddie just smirks and tips an imaginary hat, and then he’s out the door and back off down the hall.

“He’s not...” Bill says, looking between Hollis and Sally. “We’re not--”

“Ignore him,” Hollis says, and he feels a little sick for having brought it up earlier. Feels sick if it’s true, feels sick if it isn’t. “He’s all talk. We’ll keep him away.”

Bill shakes his head, and it’s like he’s shaking something off--like all of his size and strength come back at once. “No, I can keep him away,” he says, taking a breath. “I’m not afraid of him.”

“Good,” Sally says, and picks up the shotgun propped against the counter; shoulders it on her way out the door.

*
etherati
Apr. 18th, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
part 6
*

Watching Bill push himself to his feet with a startling new steadiness—necessity finds strange pockets of strength, sometimes—and stride off back down the hall, Hollis has a distinct feeling of My work here is done. It’s not, probably; it’s not close to over for any of them, but he can leave it be for now.

That just leaves Nelson at the table, and before he can even think about why he feels the need to help everyone, all the time, he’s already slipped into Bill’s abandoned chair.

Hollis doesn’t pretend to understand the unstated thing between Nelson and Justice. He can be generous in the abstract, with Bill going to pieces and their teammate dying in front of them, but the actual reality confuses him more than he’ll admit. He doesn’t get what it is or why it exists or what they get out of it or whether it’s wrong or right—but he knows what misery looks like and this is it: missing, dreading, not knowing.

There’s a lot of it going around. He lets the silence hang.

“…windows,” Nelson says, as if coming out of a trance. One hand taps the table. “We have to make sure all the windows are covered, that none of the bars are working loose.”

“I checked them all a few hours ago,” Hollis says. “They were fine.”

Nelson shakes his head. “Highest activity is between noon and three.” It’s three-fifteen now, Hollis can tell by glancing at the clock over the stove. “That’s when they do the most… when they’ll make the most inroads.”

A nod. “I’ll check them again.”

“Just from in here. It would be a bad time to be outside.”

“I’ll be sure of it.”

A pause, and in any other situation it would be a dismissal, Well why don’t you get a move on, then?

“We need to work up some sort of protective gear we can wear,” Nelson continues eventually, “so we can start sweeping the neighborhood. We’re not in a good location; they’re going to shut us in, let us eat each other and exhaust ourselves and die off.”

Like a mushroom colony, Hollis thinks; he’d found one growing in the woods he’d been sent to as a kid one summer, a broken ring with nothing in the center but emptiness and death. Fairy ring, his cousin had said, but he hadn’t been able to get the stink of rot out of his city-kid’s head for a month. “Are you sure?”

He shakes his head, digs through his pockets. “Hate to say it, but it’s what I would do,” he says, coming out with a folded map of the borough. The HQ is marked on it, and other lines highlight the area’s major arteries. “See here? There’s too many ways in and out, too many places for easy ambush. They won’t risk sending help.”

“The radio said—”

“To hell with what the radio said.” Nelson runs his fingers back through his hair. “They won’t send help.”

Hollis just leans over the map; tries to get a clearer sense of how big the area they’re talking about is. It’s big, and they are very small, but he’s a cop—he’s used to looking at maps that look like this one.

“To hell with it,” Nelson repeats, reaching to fold the map back up. “We can’t rely on anything they say. Not about help, and not about… anything else.”

Hollis lets out a long, metered sigh; pushes the chair out as he stands up.

“I hope we can,” he says. “I hope you can.”

A sharp laugh, frightening in its context. “I’m not a kid, Hollis. And I don’t need coddling.”

“And false hopes don’t help anyone, I know. Ursula’s already given me an earful on that.”

“She’s right.”

“Yeah… but I’m not sure they hurt, either.”

Across the room, the quiet voices on the scanner seem excited about something. There’s a build up and a crescendo, and then a gutted silence, and he hasn’t checked in with the guys in his department yet. He doesn’t want to.

“You’ll get the windows?” Nelson asks, words like an exhale.

“Yeah,” Hollis says, because he will. “Don’t worry.”

*

Edited at 2013-04-18 08:39 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2013 01:28 am (UTC)
part 7
*

Bill surfaces from a nightmare, a terrorscape of dead-eyed rabid cows and fields where nothing grows except for cornstalks that bleed when he cuts them--he always dreams of the farm when anxiety gets the best of him, a vestige of childhood spent with its borders as the sum whole of everything that can go wrong in the world--to the sound of lively conversation somewhere in the building. It’s a nonspecific hum of layered voices, suffusing in from the walls, coming from everywhere at once.

He pushes himself up, rubs at his eyes. He doesn’t know how long he’s been asleep but it can’t have been long; he feels worse now than before he lay down. His mouth feels gummy, his head cottony, and to complete the set, he could swear his skin has been coated in dried-on machine grease.

Stumbling, he finds his discarded pants on the floor, struggles into them. One leg sticks and he almost falls; his body feels like jelly.

It’d seemed like a good idea, hours ago, to sit up guarding Byron all night; Hollis seemed convinced Eddie had been bluffing, but he’s just a little less certain. But sitting by the bedside while his friend alternately frothed mindlessly and lay there like the dead had gotten to him after a while, had worn out his fresh resolve. It’s not just that it’d been hard to see him that way--though of course it had--but also the utter, complete helplessness of their position. What do you do for a wounded man except bandage his wounds? What do you do for a dead man except...

So when Hollis had come to relieve him at three in the morning, and he’d seen neither hide nor hair nor smokecloud of Eddie the entire time, he’d given in.

His window’s covered in bars outside and slats of wood inside, nailed up with meticulous neatness. There’s no light coming in between them, so either their building is now so completely covered in the bastards that they’re blocking the sun, or it’s still night.

“Hell,” he mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose. Still night, he figures. What, one hour of sleep? Two? He’s not going to be any use to Byron like this, or to Hollis or Ursula or any of them. He should just go back to sleep, but...

But something drove him up to his feet, drove him to get up and stay up. Maybe the voices, maybe a hunch, a feeling. He feels his way to the light switch, throws it. Gives himself a few blinking seconds to adjust before braving the hallway.

Only to run headlong into Nelson, hand raised to knock, a collision made soft by how little energy either of them have. He still reels, apologizes. Steadies himself on the doorframe.

“They want you in the kitchen,” Nelson says, and his voice is cold, a little angry, which would confuse Bill if he wasn’t half-asleep and really lousy at those sorts of social subtleties anyway. He could tell you sixteen ways to detect it when a cow’s about to kick the stool out from under you but he can’t for the life of him work out what’s at play here.

Then Nelson moves past, down the hall towards his own room. “Surprise for you down there,” he adds over his shoulder, and this time it’s downright cruel, in a childish way that could almost be jealousy, or vindication.

Bill blinks in the hall light, works on putting it together. Then, suddenly: Eddie, his threat, Hollis looking dog tired himself when he sent Bill off to sleep, a surprise, oh god.

He’s down the hall faster than he can breathe, the steps at the end two at a time all the way down to the meeting room and then on into the kitchen, heart in his throat and going double time because what if he found a way around them what if he did it, what if his friend is on fire, is a pile of ash, is lying there with his head gone, with his skull split, Eddie laughing and laughing, what if--

Around the corner at a skid, and it’s only when three heads turn to look up at him from the kitchen table that he finally registers something his eyes had seen but his brain had not processed: the sicktable in the common area is empty now, the ropes shed around it in loose coils.

“Uhm. Hey?” Byron says, lifting one chewed up, mangled hand from the table in greeting.

*

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:21 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2013 03:51 pm (UTC)
part 8
*

Hollis and Ursula are both frozen where they are, watching him--Hollis leaned back in his chair with a bottle in his hand because yeah, if there was ever an ‘I need a beer’ moment it’s this, and Ursula perched up close into Byron’s space, lifting one of his bandages away.

“Hi,” Bill says, through the hand he has pressed to his mouth because he’s suddenly a little worried he might throw up and god but that’s the last thing he wants to do now. He should be happy, and he is, because Byron is... not alive, maybe, but here, sitting up, awake, talking.

Talking to them with half of his face hanging off, oh jesus.

“Don’t look so happy to see me,” Byron says, but the side of his mouth that can grin is, so he’s not that upset. The words are a little slurred, no worse than when he’s had a drink or two. “‘course, I probably can’t blame you. They haven’t let me look at a mirror yet, so I don’t have any idea how bad it is.”

It sounds like an excuse, a defense. “It doesn’t matter,” Bill says, forcing his hand back down to his side, because Byron should not need to make excuses for this.

Then Byron laughs a little, dropping his face down and to the side self-derisively, and it’s so him and so normal and Bill can feel something in his chest give with a spang, something that had been winding tighter and tighter. He takes two steps forward and drops onto his heels, at eye level with the slumped form in the chair--reaches out to gather his friend into his arms, pull him nearly out of the chair with the force of it, and who cares what anyone thinks because god, the last two days--

He can feel the embrace returned, shot through with a slow shudder, and Byron’s hands around his back are as strong as ever but the rest of him just collapses there, boneless. There’s a wetness on the side of his face and he doesn’t know if the dead can cry or if it’s something else, but he doesn’t care.

*

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:21 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2013 06:37 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2013 08:33 pm (UTC)
part 9
*

“You’re gonna knock me over in a minute here,” Bill says after a moment, low enough to be just between them, joking. Trying to joke. “Heavier than you look,” he says, and Byron laughs again, and it sounds strange but also like it always has, with that sharp edge aimed inward. His hair is still a filthy mess, hanging between them in blood-stickied hanks, and Bill combs it back once with his fingers, steadies him back in the chair.

Moment passed, the scene unfreezes; Ursula goes back to poking and prodding at Byron’s bandages, not ungently but not with a healer’s touch either. Hollis is unreadable--he’s smiling like he’s happy but also like he’s overwhelmed, expression a little glazed.

“This hasn’t healed at all,” Ursula says, peeling back the dressing on Byron’s forearm, peering under it. They’ve thrown a bathrobe over the worst of it, a mess of badly-fitting maroon terrycloth. “How are you even moving your hand?”

“Same way he was when he was tied to the table,” Hollis says, pulling from the bottle.

Bill frowns, pulls up an empty chair of his own, turns it to sit in it reversed, leaning on the back.

“Why was I tied down? Someone getting a little--” Byron asks, and then flinches, because Ursula’s peeling away the bandage on his neck now and Bill has to think happy thoughts, happy thoughts, because it’s been flayed right down to the jugular and he didn’t really need to see that on anyone, much less a friend.

“What?” she asks, “Did that hurt?”

He bats at her hands, and one of his fingers is gone. “No, just, if I need a physical,” he says, grinning halfway again, “Can’t we get Dawn in here instead? You’re good at a lot of things, Urs, but bedside manner’s not one of ‘em.”

It’s like the temperature in the room drops ten degrees; Bill can feel his stomach drop out. No one says a word, though Ursula turns away, expression brittle and determined.

“...what?” Byron eventually asks, though it should be obvious, is obvious.

Hollis considers the label on the bottle he’s holding; has been peeling it away in little strips. “Dawn’s missing,” he answers without looking up. “Last heard from... what, two da--”

“Three days,” Ursula says, with the steadiness of careful, necessary control. “Not since all of this started.”

“...oh,” Byron says.

“And you were tied up because if you hadn’t been,” Hollis continues, “you would have killed all of us.”

“......oh.”

Hollis pushes up from the table, goes to the fridge for another beer; they can hear glass clinking too loudly, too carelessly.

“Edward’s going to be upset,” Ursula says, “if you take more than your ration.”

“‘Edward’ is hiding so he doesn’t have to deal with anything. Cowards don’t get beer.” Hollis’s voice sounds hollow, echoing out of the coldbox’s bare interior. “What do you say, Byron? Feel up to a Schlitz?”

“I’m... not sure I should. Thinking about eating or drinking anything feels... weird.”

“Let’s give it a try and find out, then,” Hollis says, a little strained, and two bottles drop onto the table. Ursula’s gone quietly back to her investigations, probing at his neck again; this time he tolerates it silently, picking up the open bottle in his free hand.

The normality of it hits Bill suddenly: they are back at HQ after a hard fight, after near-misses and near-losses, having a few drinks to celebrate pulling victory once more from the jaws of defeat. Maybe that’s what Hollis needed, but Ursula’s cold professionalism is a front and Byron grimaces at the taste of the beer, mutilated face scrunching up, and this is no Saturday Evening Post cover.

“...doesn’t taste like it used to,” Byron mutters, “but the fizzy’s good at least.”

We thought we were going to lose you, Bill wants to say; he rubs one hand over his face instead.

“Kinda clears the gunk out,” Byron says, looking down the bottle’s mouth like it’s the barrel of a gun.

*

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:21 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 21st, 2013 01:34 am (UTC)


Edited at 2013-04-21 02:36 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 22nd, 2013 04:20 am (UTC)
part 10
*

Twenty minutes and half a bottle later and they’ve got him over the sink while he spits it all up in a foamy mess. It’s all clear and the froth looks to just be beer foam--it’s like his body hasn’t processed it at all. And really, why should it?

“Okay,” Byron says, voice strained from his heaving; he grapples with the edge of the counter, sets his forehead into his arms. Talks to the sink. “Elephant in the room, here. I’m basically dead, aren’t I?”

Bill looks over his hunched back; Hollis looks right back, and pointedly reaches to turn off the tap.

“Yeah,” Bill says, because there’s never any good to be had from dancing around things. “That’s what we think. I mean, you were basically bled out by the time we got to you.”

A mangled hand reaches up, touches the bandage on his throat. One stupid second they'd dropped their guard, and... “So why with the beer?”

“Wishful thinking, I guess,” Hollis says, and he sounds honestly apologetic. “Or hell, I just plain wasn’t thinking at all. I’m sorry, you didn’t need that.”

Byron coughs into the sink again; a thin film of beer and spit drools from his mouth, and he looks even more miserable than he did before. Considering the state he's in; that’s saying something.

Bill sets his hand between the shaking shoulder blades, silent support.

“Never thought I’d say this,” Byron wheezes, halfway laughing and halfway gagging, “But I don’t think I ever want one of those again.”

"Nothing wrong with that," Ursula says. She reaches past them all to drain the rest of the bottle into the sink. “As long as you don’t strand me on martini night.”

“Heh,” Byron says, leaning heavily on the edge of the counter.

“Tch.” Ursula turns the bottle in her hand, studies the label--chucks it into the trash can. “Pisswasser.”

Hollis raises his eyebrows, mock-indignation. “Hey now, nothing wrong with--”

“Was I really trying to kill people?” Byron asks, and his voice is small but the question comes out of the blue like heat lightning.

Bill closes his eyes for a second, remembers the day the Mothman had joined their ranks. No killing, he’d said then, not ever.

“I don’t think we have any way to know for sure what you were trying to do...” Hollis trails off, the lie obvious in his voice.

It’d been only shortly after Bill himself had come on board. He’d been idealistic, fresh out of Kansas and high on his recent victories on the field and excited to have been hired to do this, to stop criminals and evildoers and it hadn’t even occurred to him that lethal force would ever be in play. He remembers feeling a little cowed by that frail-looking slip of a man who nevertheless understood more of how the world really worked than he did.

“But I was acting like...”

“Yes,” Ursula says, setting the other empty bottle back on the table.

“Like the ones that got you.” Bill leans back on the counter himself, thick hands propping him up against it. “You were...”

“Okay,” Byron says.

“Just... thrashing, and screaming, and biting...”

Okay,” he says again, “okay.”

It’s an uncomfortable silence after that, broken up by the noise of the creatures outside, battering against the windows--and by the sound of another bottle landing in the trash can. Ursula excuses herself abruptly, disappears into the hallway.

Byron scratches at the back of his head, where the hair’s matted under the bandage that covers his bad eye. “I didn’t actually--”

“No,” Hollis says, and this time, there’s no lie there. “You didn’t hurt anyone.”

“Thank god,” Byron says, and follows suit, drawing the bathrobe up around himself and making his way unsteadily for the door.

*

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:22 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 22nd, 2013 08:30 pm (UTC)
part 11
*

He runs into two other familiar faces on the way to his room. The first is Sally, who stops to pat him gingerly on the robe’s shoulder and say that she's glad to see him up and about. There’s something perfunctory about it, but it’s not like they’ve ever been all that close.

He nods, smiles as best he can, and keeps moving.

The second is Eddie, standing in the hallway with his back to Byron’s door and a grin on his face that almost manages to hide his generalized malice. He gestures loosely with the lit end of his cigar. "Byron, man. How you feeling?"

"Eddie," Byron says, because Eddie is not really asking how he's feeling, and he just woke up tied to a blood-soaked table after trying to kill his friends and apparently he can't even drown those sorrows without puking them all back up, so he's not really in the mood for games.

"Hey, that's great. You remember who I am."

Bravado, Byron thinks; he can see the way Eddie’s pulse is racing, can smell the fear on him. The insight is sudden and shocking, would be even if it didn’t come with the fleeting impulse, there and gone again, to take advantage of the frightened prey. "Why would I not?"

"I dunno, man," Eddie says, drawing from the cigar. "Thought maybe you'd be squishy in the head, after being dead for three days."

A short shrug. "I don't know how any of this works," and his voice is carefully neutral. It's still a startling thing to hear, but its something he needs to get used to and he won't give Eddie the satisfaction.

Eddie laughs. "Hell, man. Ain't you the medic?"

"Yeah, I’ve got working knowledge of how to set a bone or stitch a wound. This is a little beyond that? I mean, no, of course it doesn’t make sense. And yet--" Byron lifts his arms out from his sides, ostensibly to say Here I am, here we have it. The robe pulls open at the gesture; he can feel cold air in places he probably shouldn’t be able to.

"Jesus christ, man," Eddie says, laughing, but the fear stink on him has magnified, is suffocating.

"Do you mind?" Byron lowers his arms, gestures to the door. He feels cornered, trapped; he feels a little like he’s going to be sick again.

A deliberate stretch of inaction; then Eddie steps aside, gesturing to the door. “Gonna be keeping an eye on you,” he says, and it should be ominous, but.

But it just feels prophetic, because now the images are rising up, all the easy ways he could go through Eddie instead of around him, never mind the difference in their sizes, never mind the strength advantage Eddie really should have. Moving past him and through the door, he’s suddenly drowned in them, in perfectly detailed sense-pictures of exactly how that would go, and maybe Eddie actually has a point this time.

Maybe he is dangerous. Maybe this isn’t a game, a little act with with Bill and Urs and Hollis all sitting around with him pretending like nothing’s changed, a few drinks, a few jokes, hurrah.

He pushes the door shut behind him; leans heavily on it for a long moment, soaking in the darkness, letting the hum of a thousand years of bloody animal instinct fade out of his mind.

*
etherati
Apr. 24th, 2013 05:34 am (UTC)
part 12
*

It’s not that he ever really thought it was a game; he just hasn't had time to think much about it period. The last two hours have been an exercise in rolling with the punches, a combat technique he has always been exceptionally good at. He remembers being dragged down and an awful lot of adrenaline-dulled pain and just red, red everywhere, hazing out into grey. Then dreaming, he thinks, though he can’t remember of what.

(And then? Waking up into another layer of the nightmare?)

Byron pushes away from the door, wanders a little woodenly into the room. Flips on a light when he finds it. There’s a mirror over the bar, reflecting a dozen bottles he can't drink from anymore. Off to the side, a closet mostly full of spare costumes; it’s not like he lives here.

Not like he ‘lives’ anywhere, anymore.

He sighs--it takes effort--and pushes a hand back through his hair. Takes a look.

(The ropes had freaked him out, he won't deny that. But the quiet was worse--the quiet of his own body, without any of the usual thrumming that he never even noticed until now, now that it's gone silent. It's like he's lived his whole life to the step of some jazzy backbeat, all confidence and energy, and now it's dropped out, leaving the rest of the music to find its own meter.)

His face is a disaster, so he avoids it for the moment; lets the robe fall open so that he can get a look at what he already knows about. It’s a half-bandaged mess, the gauze stained mahogany, the skin of his abdomen a deep bruised blue where it runs under the bandages. There’s been some attempt made to stitch some secondary tears, one long run of them snaking around the bottom edge of his ribs all the way to his kidney and another dipping below the waistband of his shorts; he pulls the band down over his hip to see how far it goes. But it’s like sloppily sewn fabric, the edges loose and unmended, raw.

He’s not a vain man, he tells himself, but he also knows that if he really wasn’t, he wouldn’t need to say it. His body has always been pleasant-looking, he thought; not conventionally, but in a sort of svelte, catlike way that drew exactly the attention he wanted it to. Now, it is a monstrosity.

One knee is skinned, an incongruously mundane injury, and otherwise he’s riddled with defensive wounds on his arms and his hands--he remembers, vaguely, trying to shield his face and neck, though it obviously did fuck all good--which are, at the moment, mostly covered. He peels the dressings away, mechanically, ending with the mass of them covering his middle.

(And why had he been under their teeth in the first place? Some kid, cornered on a flight of steps, unable to get through the door into what was likely not even his house. Byron hadn’t even thought--just dived in and busted a way through, and when they’d pulled him down he’d shouted, screamed, hoping one of his teammates would be close enough at hand--)

It’s as awful under the gauze as he expected.

He covers it back up; lifts his face to meet the one in the mirror.

(The kid got away, at least. He thinks.)

His hair is a mess of blood and dirt, always unmanageably thick but worse like this, and all he lets himself think in the first few seconds is no big deal, just wash it, it’ll come clean just fine even as his hands are going on autopilot to peel away the loose dressing circling over his eye.

And god, even if he truly wasn’t vain, he thinks--one eye stitched closed, the socket swollen, and the other staring back at him in a glassy, dead white--this would be too much.

*
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what this is.


This is a fic journal for the most part, with some art on the side and a sprinkling of personal posts here and there. I don't write as much as I used to, but I try.

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