Clay cocked his head to one side wondering how much of both their assessments were made from personal feelings against the person in question. He rubbed his eyes, his headache building - it was going to be a big one.
"Okay lets just regroup and figure out what we are going to do with Akemi. We'll leave the question of Jim and Belle till later."
"Clay? Are you all right? We've got to get Akemi somewhere she can rest. We don't want the doc here in any more trouble than he needs to be…and doc? Don't worry about the boy. It's probably my fault for blowing up like that. It's been a shitty last couple of days. We need food and rest, in that order. Doc?" Blaze turns. "Any suggestions? Gina, you know this area better than we do…how do we go about it?"
"There are a lot of places 'round here ta eat…shit like that…far as sleeping goes…we can find some place…' Gina looked thoughtful, chewing her lower lip. She looked from Blaze to Clay, eyes moist and wide. "I…can take you to some other people…maybe they'll help…but…but I don't want ta get anymore people in trouble."
The doctor looked up from washing his hands. "Gina child…what have you gotten yourself into…."
"Headache, " Clay muttered, "I'll be okay."
Something in him rallied against letting the woman take command like that but he fought it down. She made sense. He walked over to her and slipped his arm around her, the other hand smoothing Gina's hair.
"Yeah, well I remember the last time you had a headache…Get something from the doc." Blaze walks over to the doctor. "Doc, I know you said you owe Gina, but you can't run the clinic on nothing." She pulls some money out and gives the doctor $100. "I know it's not much, but I don't know how much I've got left or how much we'll need. Thanks." She turns back to Clay. "We're gonna use that van one more time, cause we can't move Akemi without it. You and
she can rest in the back, and Gina can guide us to somewhere safe. We need to get some shelter and then get rid of that damned thing. Any other suggestions?"
"I'll go see if I can do somethin'" Gina said and headed out the door.
"Gina!" Blaze calls out. "Be careful. We worry about you, you know!" She gives a small smile as Gina leaves.
Clay nodded closing his eyes, resting his head against the wall. Think Clay. Find way out of this.
"Its not much but you two can rest on the couch." the doctor offers gesturing to the battered leather sofa. He turned back to Akemi checking her pulse and vitals once again.
Clay muttered a thanks and stretched out on the couch making room for Blaze should she wish to lay down as well. He closed his eyes intending only to rest for a few moments, but soon was sleeping soundly.
Blaze lays down on the couch, just to rest for a minute. Can't be too tired yet. Got too… much… to… (ZZZZZZZZZ!)
Seemingly an instant later they are both being shaken awake both mentally and physically by an insistent Gina. "C'mon… get up… get up… Belle's been shot!"
"What?!?" Blaze snaps awake. "Where? Where is she?" Blaze reaches for her jacket. "Let's go!"
Clay sat up, easing Blaze up as well, "Okay Angel we're coming." He shared an ironic look with Blaze.
"Word's all over the street… club's all busted up and she's at Mercy General…" Gina was nearly dancing from foot to foot with agitation. "don't know if she made it or not…"
Not made it? What the hell happened? "Ok, Gina. Let's get over to General. Clay? How do we find Jim, do you think?"
Gina led them down to the van. "People are sayin' she was fucked…real bad. Buncha Silk's boys shot her up…maybe raped her."
Blaze feels the power come up, right there. Forcing it back down, she says, "We'll just have to teach those motherfuckers a lesson. Later."
The doctor stepped out of the rear room. He was still dressed in the white lab coat, now somewhat rumpled. Looking from face to face he left the question unspoken.
"Let's find out about Belle, and get Akemi somewhere safe…relatively safe. Let's get to the van. Clay, do you want to get Akemi, or shall I? And doc? thanks again. I mean that." Blaze keeps the image of a fire close to mind, and checks the gun. "You lead, Angel. Once we're in the van, we'll head somewhere safe."
Clay growled, "Silk huh. Why don't you tell me about him on the way there. And Blink, love, I don't think we'll have to worry about finding anyone. I'm sure they'll find us. Thanks doc," he paused frowning.
"I know this is asking a lot but I've no place to put Akemi just yet," his indecision and pain at the thought of putting her in peril again plain on his face.
"She can stay here. I wouldn't want her moved so soon anyway." He nodded slightly and went to Akemi's side.
Willow woke slowly, luxuriously. She felt endlessly better, her body for once well fed and rested. Stretching she opened her eyes and looked around slowly. The memory of where she was slowly came back to her. The room, last night. Lauren. At the thought the blonde woman stepped into the room dressed in a loosely belted robe. She smiled. "Good Morning."
Willow sat up, holding the sheet to cover herself loosely. "I want to thank you again for helping me last night."
"Its nothing really…" Lauren smiled. "There is some breakfast in the living room. we have to get dressed rather quickly…there's been an incident."
Willow nodded, looking around for some clothes or a robe to wear. "Did they find Belle?"
"That is the problem. She was found rather severely injured." Lauren said. "The victim of an assault." Clothing was lain out for her by the bed.
Willow nodded and slipped out from under the covers. She wasn't surprised. Not really. Not after what she had seen when she was walking… No, Drifting. That's the proper term for it. She started to dress quickly. "Where is she?"
"At Sister of Mercy Hospital…intensive care." Lauren said, giving a Willow a speculative glance over then heading into the living room. After dressing Willow joined her. Breakfast waited as promised.
"Doc, you're a real gem, you know that?" Blaze walks up and kisses him on the cheek. "We'll be back as soon as we can." The older man looks rather flustered and smiles slightly at the kiss. Blaze turns to the others. "Let's get moving, folks. I want to see what happened."
Taking the van over to the hospital, Blaze and Clay listen to Gina go about Silk. He seems to be some local pimp/vice lord. Rather powerful and ruthless individual Belle had managed to piss off sometime in the recent past by sheltering one of his girls…Latoya. The woman Clay had first met seemingly so long ago.
Sisters of Mercy was a large metropolitan hospital near the center of town. Crowded but clean it reeked of the antiseptic and chemicals of hospitals everywhere.
Heading up to Belle's floor they stepped off just in time to see Willow and some sleek blonde in a dove grey suit heading to the nursing station.
Willow was too hungry to give much thought to Lauren's looking her over. She sat down on the couch and looked over the tray, trying to decide what to eat first. "Will I meet with Charlotte before or after we see Belle?"
"While. She will meet us there." Lauren replied. Dressed and ready she checked out a small gun, dark grey blue, snub nosed and unlike any one Willow had ever seen. Not that she was that familiar with guns. She slipped it into a shoulder holster "Ready?"
The drive was short and quiet. Only Lauren and one other accompanied them. He was a large dark skinned man. Italian features and good looking if you liked rugged types. He waited on the ground floor as Lauren and Willow headed up. As she stepped off the elevator, Willow saw Jim standing near the nurses station, trying rather unsuccessfully to be inconspicuous, battered trenchcoat and scruffy demeanor making him look the classic "thug" image. Perhaps more surprising was who he was watching…the girl from the "dream."
Lauren noticed Willow's sudden excitement and gave her a questioning look.
Moving a little closer to the girl, Jim looked around briefly and made eye contact with a certain young girl that he had been hoping to find… he just didn't expect to see her here. Hmmm, things are becoming more and more complicated now. He stopped moving and smiled at Willow as she walked up to him. "I see my worries were unfounded. How are you?"
Fandora awoke early, very much so. She felt tense and ill at ease going through the motions of dressing and eating almost mechanically. Her parents were sleeping in. They always did on Sundays. The dream and its implications hadn't left her. She was worried about Belle to put it simply. A few quick phone calls confirmed her worry. She was in one of the downtown hospitals but she couldn't get any details over the phone.
She knew her duty. The giant clearly needed help, and it was her duty to give it. so she took advantage of her parents' sleeping habits (and hoped this wouldn't queer her chances of staying in Hudson City), taking the bus to Sisters of Mercy General. Once there, getting to Belle wasn't hard - simply knowing who the woman and where she lived was enough to back her claim of being a friend. But that raised another worry: Latoya and Shanisa. Would they be safe with Belle hors de combat?
The trip across town took about 20 minutes, long enough to think and long enough to worry. The hospital itself was large, crowded even at this hour on a Sunday. Fandora took the elevator up and headed for the nurses station. A thin redheaded woman greeted her, asking her name.
Oh, spirits… better give my right name in case they ask Belle. "I'm Fandora - a friend of Belle Maverick."
The nurse smiled slightly. "She's been a very popular woman. You're the third to ask about her today. She's in room 346. It's a little early for visiting hours for all but immediate family."
"I don't think she has any - not locally. If you could stretch the point just a little? Please?" Fandora tried to look as appealing as possible.
"I'll speak with attending physician and see," the nurse said consolingly, patting Fandora on the hand. "She's in stable condition but not conscious as of yet, doing quite well though… no family… her mother showed up a little before you did."
Interesting - I'll have to ask Belle about that.
"Jim," Willow said, not even bothering to try and keep the happiness off her face, not caring if she was making a spectacle of herself. She had seen him die in the "dream", and seeing him alive was like a gift from heaven. She practically ran down the hall, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him tight. "I was so worried! Are you okay?" She tilted her head back and looked at his face searchingly. "I thought…" Her eyes grew bright from unshed tears.
Hmmm, things are becoming more and more complicated now. Jim smiled at her as she walked up to him. "I see my worries were unfounded. How are you?"
Not really waiting for an answer, Jim replied "I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be? It hasn't been that long. Is everything alright with you? What happened?"
"I'm okay," Willow said quickly. "What happened? Where did you go?" She looked at him, trying to drink in the sight of his face undamaged, trying to banish the image of the metal skull from her memory.
"I was forcibly called back in for a debriefing. And some adjustments to my system. Seems I was suffering from some type of neural feedback or something like that. What happened to Anvil and the doc lady? And where is Trevor and Akemi?" Jim asked Willow.
Pain flared up in Willow's eyes. "Anvil and the doctor are dead," she whispered. "The group was attacked and that's when they died. Trevor… He… He sacrificed himself to let the others escape and keep the Templates from falling into the enemies' hands. Akemi was seriously injured. I think she's still alive. I don't know." Her voice trailed off.
"I had no idea. What templates though?" he asked her, matching her low, hushed tone.
Fandora glanced up at the commotion and saw her…the other person from the dream. She looked somehow smaller, more frail in reality than she did in their shared dream The man she was embracing was familiar as well.
Blaze hurried to catch up with Willow. "Willow! thank God! We didn't know what happened to you. Are you all right? Clay and Gina are with me."
"Hey Willow!" Gina almost squealed and ran up. She started to hug her but held back abruptly realizing she the attention she was drawing. "Hey Jim!" she said smiling broadly face lit up with unrestrained happiness.
Clay hung back, trying to get his anger under control. He looked around and shock his head. First Belle all but has everyone of us ready to kill her and now we just all wander on in. He sighed deeply and leaned against the wall. Willow would get to him eventually. Once she was done with him. Clay scowled, startling a candy striper.
"Gina." Willow gathered the girl into her arms and hugged her close. She opened her mind to bring Gina in, wanting to make sure she was okay. Her eyes and her mind then sought out Clay, longing for his presence. Love. Willow's mental voice was gentle and caressing. Are you alright?
Clay's mind was closed tight.
Gina hugged Willow in return but she didn't try to speak mentally not in the slightest.
Gina, Willow said, her mental "voice" gentle. Are you okay? I heard you before. I tried to find you but I was too weak.
Gina muttered,"I don't wanna talk like that…"
"Why?" Willow asked softly. "There's nothing wrong with it. And you need to practice."
She looked down. "I jus' don' wanna anymore."
Willow thought for a moment, remembering what had happened during the fight, and how Gina had helped her. "Gina, whatever happened when you guys were attacked, it wasn't your fault," she whispered. "In fact, you were the one who saved me." Willow reached out and cupped Gina's chin, lifting her face so she could look into her eyes. "If it wasn't for you, I don't know what would have happened to me." Gina, please, don't shut me out. Nothing of what happened was your fault.
"Yes it was…it was all my fault…" she whispered.
How could it have been your fault? You didn't do anything wrong. You tried to help me and the others. Willow was confused, wondering why Gina thought it was her fault.
Gina turned away, hugging herself tightly.
Willow started to reach out to Gina again, but changed her mind. I can't press the point right now. Wait until everything cools down a bit, then find out why she thinks it was her fault.
Lauren caught up with Willow and others scanning from face to face quickly. Her expression was cool and neutral, a seemingly natural look for her. Fine featured and pretty she still exuded an aura of aloof confidence, taking in much but letting very little of herself show in return. "These must be the others you spoke about."
Willow looked over at Lauren and nodded. "I was hoping to find them here." She ran her eyes over her friends, reassuring herself they were alright, then her eyes strayed to the other woman. The one who was with her in the dream. She looked at her, trying to find out why she had been there, and who she was.
"Jim. It's good to see you back. We've got some catching up to do. So, Willow," Blaze says, looking at the woman in the suit. "Looks like someone found you before we could. I'm Blaze." She extends her hand. "Now how long do we have to wait to see Belle?"
Jim merely nodded at Blaze's statement. Hmmm. What to do? What to do?
Suppressing a shudder as her skin touched Blaze's Lauren fought to keep the surprise of her face. The feeling of scarcely restrained power in the woman was undeniable, seething and struggling to be free. "I think actual visiting hours don't start for another hour."
What's her problem? Blaze thought. "Are you all right? You look a little… shaken."
"No…no I'm fine." Lauren replied quietly.
Looking from Willow to Gina, Jim smiled at the little girl "Hey kiddo. Hangin' tough?" He looked around at the others, wondering if they thought he was the one that almost did Belle in. Gina waved to Jim again, still grinning,"I'm cool…where you been?"
"You know employers…they like to tug at your strings whenever they can," Jim answered her.
"I suppose the proper saying would be the gangs all here." A familiar quiet voice said from the rear of the group. Looking up they all saw Marks standing quietly arms folded. She was dressed in another dark grey suit, black bow tie and frighteningly sensible shoes.
Oh, charming. A female MiB. This was not going at all well; she'd never get any time alone with Belle at this rate. Fandora decided her best option was to avoid the mob and try to slip in by herself. Hospital security was rarely very good.
Room 346 - that wouldn't be hard to get to. Not when most hospitals had security response times measured in minutes. She just walked to the like any legitimate visitor.
The room was one of the ICU wards. All the beds had curtains around them. Quiet except for the steady ping of heart monitors and whooshing respirators. Aside from the patients she saw one other figure here, a tall silhouette behind one of the curtains. She stepped through the curtain, hoping the person was Latoya, or maybe a doctor.
"And who are you?" the woman standing over Belle asked not looking up from the pale form laying on the bed. She was tall, dressed in a soft brown skirt and blouse, loosely cut but flattering to the athletic figure it covered. Blonde hair was piled into a tight bun under a pill box hat with veil. Behind it the woman's face was soft and pale, sharp features softened by worry and soul deep weariness that Fandora could sense.
Belle looked small, surprisingly so laying among white sheets and machinery. Tubes ran into her nose and mouth. A monitor beside the bed beeping off the rhythms of her body with cool efficiency. Slowly her great chest rose and fell, long and laboring motion but steady.
Fandora blushed, looked down and bit her lip. It had been a hard past few days - her debauching, the party (and its aftermath), her parents wanting to send her off, her father's advances, the non-dream; she just wasn't up to this. She went silent and confused. Could this be Belle's mother?
After a moment's pause the woman spoke again. "Come now child don't be shy…we seem to be here for the same reason." She stroked Belle's cheek, the unbandaged one, slowly.
Fandora nodded. "To help Belle." She didn't dare take her Aspect with this woman around. She'd have to wait until she left to attend to nature's call for food or drink - or the remains of such.
"To watch over her at the least. She has to help herself now. You still haven't answered…who are you?"
Fandora clammed up again. Between the need to preserve her secret and her natural shyness, and the strain of the last few days, this wasn't hard to maintain.
"If it makes you uncomfortable…" the woman turned back to Belle. "My name is Charlotte."
"Fandora," she murmured. She hated this - Belle had already received the best mundane care. All she could do now was wait for Charlotte to leave long enough for a minor healing - enough to bring Belle back to consciousness. And how was she going to cover this absence with her parents? She still had homework to do!
"Interesting name. And just how do you know…my daughter." Charlotte asked, her tone suggested that she already knew somehow.
"No, that wouldn't be proper at all. Some of us didn't make it." Blaze looks at Jim as she says this. "The house wasn't quite as safe as hoped."
Returning Blaze's glare, Jim asked her "What house? And why do I feel like I'm being blamed?"
"Not your fault, Jim. From the warehouse, we went to another safehouse. It just wasn't that safe. They were your associates, that's all. Except Trevor. I just thought you'd like to know."
"There have been casualties? I note the absence of Trevor Jordan, the ones called Anvil and Lisa, Akemi as well." Marks looked around from face to face. "And Belle's injury of course."
"Mercenaries killed The doc and Anvil." Blaze lowered her voice to a whisper.
"Trevor brought the house down on them all, including himself. We couldn't save him. Anything else you want to know?"
"Yes. But not here." Marks replied.
"Right." Blaze looked for a coffee machine. "Does anyone else want some coffee? If we've got to wait anyway, I want some caffeine in my system."
Blaze walked up to the coffee machine, searching for enough change to buy the coffee. Hunh! Jim acted like he didn't even care the others were dead. Maybe Clay was right after all. Guess I don't count much on Willow's list right now, either. Oh well. Where did that other girl go? Blaze gets her coffee, leaning up against the machine and sipping slowly. Her eyes never left Willow or the suited woman next to her.
Willow hid a frown. She didn't remember Marks being there when they were attacked and the others had died. Where had she been? She released Gina from her hug, stood, and moved over to where Clay was standing. She stood in front of him, looking deep into his eyes. She couldn't hide the pain from him, the memories of the horror and helplessness she felt.
She was suddenly conscious of how awful she must look, and ducked her head to hide her face in embarrassment. I… I tried to help. But they died. It was my fault. I felt them die. And I saw Jim die too. I couldn't do anything to help. To stop it. Willow wanted to be held by Clay, to be comforted, but she felt his anger. She didn't understand why he was angry, but she sensed it was directed at her.
Clay looked at her and sighed. He reached out and traced her check bone gently, "Speak out loud love, we can't run the risk of being tracked again. They have a Clamp. A very good one. Latched on to Gina when she tried to find you. We have to start thinking smart."
He suddenly reached out and gathered in his arms, holding her gently, he whispered, "do you still think Jim will be your Knight in Shining Armor? "
Willow shook her head, wrapping her arms around his waist, hugged him tight and buried her face in the crook of his neck. "I can't afford to have any childish notions anymore. No more fairy tales. The real world is too dark and cruel to think like that anymore." He could tell she was trying hard to be strong. "It's just… I Drifted last night. Or at least that's what Lauren called it. I saw Belle, dead on the floor of a club with some kind of runway in it. There was another woman there, and it was the young woman standing over by the nurses' station."
"Something took over control of Belle's body and attacked her, and then me when I tried to help her. Then Jim showed up and…" Willow's voice broke slightly and tears came to her eyes again. "It spat something on him and it dissolved away his living flesh until there was nothing left but his skeleton. It was my fault, Clay. That thing said so, and it's true. How many people have died because of me. And how many more?"
"You and Gina, the two people I love are in danger. And people like Jim, who have helped or been helped by me. They're in danger too. We've got to do something."
"I'll be right back," Jim said to excuse himself from the rest of the group and walked down the hall and around the corner. He pulled out his cellular phone and called Sniper.
"Huh" Oh Sniper stirred and looked around before he realized the annoyance was from the cell phone he opened it and "Yes?" as he scanned the parking lot getting his bearings and looking for potential problems/targets.
"Pay dirt. Everyone is here. We can't just take her though, the others would not just stand aside. We'll have to stay close and wait for a good time. Ok?" Jim whispered into the phone, as he kept poking his head around the corner to make sure nobody was trying to eavesdrop on his conversation. Blaze was at the coffee machine near the corner but not seeming to really pay attention.
"Sounds good but why not just take them out aren't they expendable?" Sniper asked.
Noticing Blaze walking down the hallway towards him, Jim continued to advance down the other hallway and kept an eye out for her to follow him. He made sure to be well out of hearing range before responding.
"Not the teenage girl or the child. The others are as far as I am concerned." Jim answered in a hushed voice.
"Yeah so how we going to do this then? Since you seem to not take any others out it's up to you to get her away from these others. Think you can grab some sedative and disable her so we can then take her out quietly and not attract much attention." Sniper answered. Wonder if he's going soft afraid of a couple soft casualties, wonder what his attachment with these people since he seems to want to protect some of them.
"Maybe I could get her to go downstairs with me…you be waiting somewhere to 'snipe' her? You able to aim to impair rather than retire?" Jim asked, still in a whisper.
"Yeah I can do that. It's close enough to my specialty." Sniper answered.
"Figured. It might me awhile though, everyone is a little uneasy right now… it would be too suspicious to try it immediately. Go ahead and try to find a good spot… I'll get back to you in a few. Cool?" Jim asked.
"Bringing her out the entrance you went in?" Sniper asked looking over the scene and towards the hospital to see what entrance he was near and what obstacles were between him and the door. Jim had taken the parking garage elevator up to the ward. The garage was fairly packed at this time of day, several vehicles in and out as visiting hours grew near.
After clearing out the last number dialed from his cellular phone and placing it back into his coat pocket. He walked back into the room everyone was waiting in. He was greeted by several looks from the assembled, ranging from pained welcome to slight disdain.
Now why the hell would Jim suddenly go off like that? Blaze thought. Taking her eyes off of Willow, she saw him making a phone call. Interesting. He got a phone call right before we left and got hit, and conveniently he was gone. So, Mr. Jim. Not quite the helpful gent we thought? That really burns me up! Taking her coffee, she walked up and grabbed Clay's arm. "Willow? Would you find out what time visiting hours start?" She surreptitiously tugged at Clay's sleeve.
Clay looked up and caught the look in Blaze's eyes, "Go on love, we're right here."
Willow nodded. She kissed Clay softly on the lips then slipped out of his arms. As she walked to the nurse's desk, she looked around for Lauren and for the girl from the "dream". She wasn't at the desk anymore. She caught Marks glancing around as well.
Clay waited till Willow had stepped away, and asked quietly, "What is it?"
"You're not gonna like it, Clay. I've got a hunch. something here isn't quite right. The last time we got hit, Jim got a phone call and conveniently disappeared. Now he's off making another one. I could be wrong. I hope I am. But, keep your eyes and senses open, ok? We're losing too many companions as it is." She watched Willow, and then Marks. Speaking of losing people…where'd the girl go? And the suit? She looked around to make sure Gina was still here.
Willow looked at Marks curiously, then continued to the nurse's station. Once she had the attention of one of the nurses, she spoke. "Hi," She said, smiling at the woman somewhat shyly. "I'm a friend of Belle Maverick. Can you tell me what room she's in, and what time visiting hours start?"
"She's right down the hall," the nurse told her the room number. "And visiting hour start in about an hour…are you a friend of the other young…" She trailed off looking around for a moment. "Where did she I…. damn it I bet she went back anyway." Sighing she stepped around the desk. "May I ask what relationship you are to the patient?"
"We're concerned friends, and this is Belle's stepsister." Blaze says, putting her arm around Willow. Blaze turns to Gina. Whispering, she says, "You know, angel. With a lab coat I could have been a doctor. Ain't hindsight a bitch?" She winks theatrically.
Gina smiles a bit but seems distracted. The nurse heads toward Belle's room. "Just a moment…"
Willow glances at Blaze, trying to hide a frown. "I wish you didn't lie to the nurse," she said in a soft whisper. "There was no need." She slipped out of the circle of Blaze's arm and walked over to Gina, squatting down so she was at Gina's eye-level.
"You okay?" Willow's voice was a gentle whisper. She wanted to reach out to the girl, but was hesitant. Gina had been through a lot, and trying to push and prod her would most likely do more harm than good right now. Willow suddenly wished she had her sketchbook. She always felt more in control when she was doing her art, even if her powers took her over.
"Yeah…I'm ok… I… gotta go pee…" she turned and headed off toward down the hall, looking for a bathroom.
"Um, I, ah, I helped out one of her dancers and she gave me some help with a little problem later."
The nurse stepped into the ward room, looking about until she spotted Fandora. "There you are…. I'm going to have to ask you to step-"
Charlotte raised a hand. "Its all right…she's with me and no trouble at all." Starting to protest, the nurse sighed and nodded. "Anyway Ms St Clair, the transfer paperwork is almost complete." Nodding St Clair never looked up from Belle. "Dr Samuels would still like to speak with you about the irregularities in her examination and the detective…"
"Yes. I will speak with both of them later today."
The nurse nodded again, seemingly resigned and headed out of the room leaving St Clair and Fandora alone again. Alone that is until a great shudder passed through the Belle's body, almost a seizure and her eyes popped opening staring into nothingness then turning to Charlotte.
Charlotte took her hand softly, tears welling up in her eyes. Eyes that for the first time Fandora realized were amber.
Focusing on the still unfamiliar visage, made more so the veil, Belle moved her lips after a moment. "I know…whose fault it…is…" was all that rumbled out of her chest. The she closed her eyes again.
Fault? Charlotte silently mouthed the word, hand still on Belle's cheek. "Belle… please… you'll be fine… trust your instincts…" She whispered, leaning close, voice more a caress of warm air in Belle's ear.
After a moment, a sound part gasp, part rumble, echoed through the room, Belle's chest heaving in time. It took a moment for Charlotte to realize that her daughter was laughing ruefully. "That's just…it," she replied.
Inspiration struck, and Fandora began to softly sing Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'God is Afoot,' giving the huge woman something outside herself to focus on; the young priestess put all her belief behind the song, all her emotion in it. Written for a contralto, it sounded a bit odd sung by a coloratura, but hey. As long as helped.
The girl's singing caught Charlotte's attention. She watched for a moment, then smiled slightly behind the veil.
Belle let the sounds of the girl's voice wash over her for a while, declining to wonder for the moment what she was doing there at all. "Instinct…" she finally continued. "That's just it. What you said, and what you didn't say. I know now what really happened…what we've been blaming ourselves for all these years." Her eyes opened, and she squeezed Charlotte's hand with surprising strength. "Too much to explain…Touch my mind again." Belle hoped Charlotte would understand what it cost her to say that, and that what she had to tell meant more still. "You have to know what I know… for both our sakes."
"You're not strong enough for that now." Charlotte said quietly. "Let your body heal itself. We'll deal with regrets later."
Willow sighed, feeling a touch of frustration, wishing she knew what to do to help Gina. She cautiously expanded her senses, seeking out the minds she knew, to reassure herself that everyone was here and okay. Hiding be damned, she thought, remembering Clay's words. They're probably hurting as bad as we are, and making sure everyone's safe is more important.
Blaze watched Gina walk away, then turned back to Willow. "Well hello to you too, Willow. The nurse was worrying too much anyway. So, you don't like me anymore? You said 'hi' to everyone but me. Hey, that's all right though. You really don't know me from Eve. I'm just some psycho-bitch along for the ride."
Blaze turned away, wondering what the hell prompted THAT. I'm just tired, I guess. Too much, too fast. Walking by Marks, she said, "Will you get me when it's time? I'm gonna go sit down someplace." She went to the coffee machine for a refill.
Willow's mouth hung open for a second, then she quickly closed it, flushing with embarrassment and guilt. I didn't, did I. I was so caught up in my fear over Jim and wanting to see Clay again. What kind of awful person am I? I've got to try and be more conscious of others, not just myself.
Slipping into the hard plastic chair, Blaze sighed, staring into the steaming coffee cup. The stuff was vile looking, let alone the taste but the she needed the caffeine rush. Or maybe she didn't… she'd really laid into Willow. Aside from her the only other person in the waiting room was a woman, somewhat matronly looking in a dark blouse that hung on her plumb frame like a sackcloth. Her hair pulled into a painful bun that seemed to pull her features into a hawkish mask as she looked around the room, fairly oozing disdain.
Lady, I don't know who you are, but if you keep looking at me like that, I will personally kick your ass. Blaze thought. She was just too tired to put up with any crap.
Suddenly very tired again, Willow walked over to the waiting area and flopped heavily into a chair. Everyone was here…safe for now. She could take the time to rest a moment. The vigor from a good night's sleep and meal had evaporated. The old tensions were back, the hostility and paranoia. These peopled were each others only chance and they were at each other throats half the time. Dropping her head into her hands she sighed heavily. A stub of pencil lay on the table beside her chair and a coffee stained old note pad. Before she had even realized it she picked them up, intending to doodle to ease her mind . But the picture took on a more solid form even before she realized it… a woman… a beautiful woman… encircled in vines… running over her naked body. The another, a man's face…stern and chiseled so solid it might have been carved out of the bedrock. His eyes were so powerful… it wasn't conceit in her own talent but the truth… another face a woman's older and haggard but strong… and familiar.
She draw faster, more… a gun… no! Willow sat back with a gasp, the pencil and pad dropping to the floor. Her heart hammered in her chest, trying to crawl up her throat. Her eyes were locked on the dour woman sitting right across from her.
"Willow? are you all right?" Blaze followed Willow's eyes to where they were looking. You! I knew there was something about you… She stood and turned to the dour woman.
She was sitting, shaking her head slightly looking at Willow, the corners of her mouth pulled down into a disapproving little frown.
Willow tried to take a few deep breaths to calm herself, unable to look away from the woman. Why did I draw this? Is it you? Who are these people? Still shaking, Willow tried to bend over to retrieve the dropped pad and pencil from the floor. Willow quickly retrieved the pencil and pad looking up just in time to catch a scornful look from the woman as she stood and walked toward the ladies' room.
Out in the hall, Lauren paced a bit, feeling suddenly restless. Something was tinging, nagging just at the edge of her perceptions, a like a buzzing in her ears a slight persistent itch. Stepping into the waiting room she sat down beside Willow, frowning deeply.
Gina started, nearly falling off the commode as Willow's stark terror and surprise hit her. She held her head, shaking it. "No! No! don't want to feel it…." she whimpered squeezing her eyes shut, hot tears rolling down her face.
Gina stepped out on the single occupant bathroom and was nearly shoved over by the older woman as she hurried inside. Turning with a retort on her lips she stopped and just stood staring at the door. for a moment. Looking somewhat nonplussed she walked over to Willow and sat down.
"Hey, Angel. Feeling better?" Blaze said. Now why do I keep using Clay's name for her?
Gina nodded absently,"yea…I'm cool…"
Willow glanced over at Lauren. "Hi," she said softly, almost hesitantly. "I… I don't suppose you know who this woman is?" She showed Lauren the sketchpad, holding it in such a way that she blocked as much as she could of the other drawings.
Lauren shook her head. "No…I'm afraid not…did the image come to you just now?" she asked glancing from Gina to the bathroom door then to Jim.
Willow nodded. "This one was the last," she said, her voice almost a whisper. "She seems familiar, but I don't know why. I drew these other two first." She pulled her hand away to reveal the other drawings. "I suddenly got scared while I was drawing the gun. I don't know any of these people."
Blaze wondered. "Willow? I'm going to go have a smoke. Will you call me when it's time, if I'm not back? Or just send someone for me. I'll be on the roof." She stood and headed for the elevators.
"I don't know the first one but the man's face is familiar…please let me see the last drawing again…" Lauren asked. When Willow showed her she nodded slightly. "Yes… I do recognize the face… its yours… older by perhaps 30 years, but you."
"I can't seem to do anything right. I offended Blaze with my thoughtlessness. Gina got hurt during the battle at the house. She was being Ridden, whatever that means, and feels everything that happened was her fault. She doesn't want to talk mind to mind anymore, and I don't know what to do to help her. First my lack of control blasts open her mental pathways, now this. How do I help her now?"
Gina got up," you don' have ta talk about me like I'm not here, ok…" she walked into the hall, passing Jim as he came in.
Looking around the room, Jim asked "Did I miss something?"
Jim sat down in a chair next to Willow. "So what happened to those that were chasing after us? Were they stopped when the building was destroyed?"
Gina caught up with Blaze as she was getting into the elevator, slipping in just as the door was closing. Leaning in a corner, she folded her arms and glared at the opposite wall.
"Hey, kiddo. What brand do you smoke?" Blaze smiled, seeing if Gina would laugh at her joke. She pushed the button for the top floor. There was always an access to the roof from the top. If she had to, she'd steal that lab coat after all, but she needed to be above everything right now, at least figuratively. What's up with Willow, anyway? What the hell did I do to her? She smiled, thinking about what she almost did, just a few short hours ago… Seems like forever… she thought.
Gina shot her a look then returned to glaring at the elevator door until it opened. The upper floor was mostly administration and mostly empty at this hour. Gina stepped off with Blaze, stopped and finally spoke. "Its not fair…its not fucking' fair ya know that…"
Walking and looking for a door leading to the roof, Blaze asks, "What's not fair, kiddo? Life? Trevor? Belle? Shit, life's not fair, but tell me what you mean. I'd like to hear what you think about all of this, since you've been dragged into it all."
The girl started to speak but stopped, mouth hanging slightly open as she digested what Blaze had said. She sighed and closed her mouth falling silent again.
Emerging from the bathroom, the woman in black headed for the rooms. Apparently visiting hours had started. She was smiling now, an expression of sheer bliss on her face. The hint of tears shined in her eyes which were wide and an turned slightly upward. Willow was drawn to her like iron to a magnet. The warmth and joy in the woman's manner made her feel sick with some unknown dread. Lauren got to her feet and walked quickly after the woman, her face grim and set.
"Is it worth you possibly dying to tell me?" Charlotte asked quietly. "You are not aware of your own abilities let alone you limitations. In this area it is you who is the novice… and when have I refused to listen to you in the past, Belle?"
"We don't have any past," Belle replied. "I think knowing the real reason Mom died will change that, though. And that makes it important enough, for both of us."
"If you feel that way then continue." Charlotte said simply.
Belle stared at her in silence for several moments. "First, it's not my fault that I don't know what I can and can't do," she said at last. "So the next time you pull that line on me, you better fill in the blanks." Then she looked at the ceiling. "OK. Mom. The short answer is that she did it to herself, with her own fear, and the self-loathing that came from it. And her legacy to us is that we're doing it to ourselves too--"
"Belle I am trying to fill in the blanks. It will take some time and you have to be willing to listen." Charlotte replied quietly.
Lauren stepped into the ICU. Charlotte looked up as she entered. The two shared a meaningful look. Greeting, concern and anxiety passed between them in that short look. "Ms. St Clair, I feel there's something quite wrong… you should…"
"I'll stay with Belle. Augustine and Hamil are in the car." Charlotte replied, her tone allowing no argument. Lauren nodded once, turning to step back into the hall.
At that moment, two shots rang out, loud and close. The sound shot through the nerves of all present…still all to fresh in the memories of all involved.
"Shitfuck!" Belle spat as she pulled herself up and tore at the tubes that were stuck into her. No way was she going to be caught lying down by yet another wacko with a gun and an inferiority complex. She was already considering the possibilities. It kept her mind off what she was doing there in the first place. Couldn't be Silk's assholes: broad daylight and public places wasn't that worm's style. That didn't exactly narrow the field any, though…
Charlotte held her back. Her hand was gentle but surprisingly strong. "Lie still." Looking up she nodded to Lauren who nodded and stepped into the hall, reaching into her jacket.
Belle glared at Charlotte. "All right, who the fuck is this fucker?"
"We don't know." Charlotte replied simply, stepping forward. Lauren frowned deeply. There was a sense of communication between the two women.
Marks regretted leaving her weaponry. It was a most grievous error. The woman seemed to be under the influence of some sort of drug, firing almost at random at anything that moved. It would be prudent to give her a target less vulnerable than the nurses. Stepping into the hall, she shouted. "You there, stop!" and dove back around the corner, two shots blowing holes in the plaster by her head. The nurses took the time to crawl away.
Oddly, Fandora was in a way pleased by this turn of events; Charlotte would have to attend to this, which would give her the time alone with Belle to take on her Aspect, and raise up her Attribute of healing. On the other hand, she might need to raise up some of her other Attributes, which would not be good.
Fandora made a snap decision and prayed she wouldn't regret this. She checked the privacy curtain (fully drawn), then, "Now, Rutia, Light of Justice!" As the spirit rose she grew taller, firmer, more developed, the Armor of Righteousness spinning onto her as her clothes shredded off, the Shield of Virtue and the Sword of Justice forming from globes of light as she gestured.
Belle's eyes grew wide at the sight. Something really is wrong with the universe, she thought.
A burst of psionic energy rolled out from the ICU room, a wall of energy that rattled the perceptions of all who could sense it. Charlotte and Lauren, closest to its source was almost pained by the unrestrained outburst. Lauren gasped, staggered, into the hall. Spinning at the noise, the gun wielding woman fired sending Lauren spinning to the floor. Charlotte stifled a small scream of terror, seeing Lauren fall and latched onto the frantic mind of the woman, trying to seize her thoughts, freeze them and her body in place but the woman's mind was subdued, no thoughts merely emotions… a rapture as her pleasure center fired into overdrive. The combined effects nearly rocked the telepath, forcing her to retreat into a more defensive state to gather her forces.
Now things were happening hot and heavy. Belle pulled herself to her feet, tearing loose the last tubes and wires stuck to her. If this were a book or a movie, it would get trashed in the reviews for obstructing plot development with mindless violence at every turn, Belle griped to herself even as the killer part of her mind took over.
Rutia crossed the room in a few long strides and stepped out into the hallway, crouching behind her Shield; the gunner had to be taken out fast. Without more bloodshed by preference. The woman's back was to her.
Once the woman who was standing in the place of that girl had left the room, Belle got down on all fours and moved as quickly and quietly as she could to the entrance. There, she looked up and down the hall to get the lay of the land.
Rutia dismissed the Sword and Shield, seeking to grapple the woman and disarm her. Once she was subdued there would be time for judgement.
Jim grasped the side of the nearest cart and, lining it up with where the woman was standing at the end of the hall, gave it a good shove. Letting that serve as the distraction to the woman, he ran behind it, prepared to tackle her.
Smiling still, the mad woman aimed down the barrel at Jim and pulled the trigger. He felt the bullet strike home, a hammer blow to his chest the knocked the wind from him in an explosive burst. Momentum and sheer will carried him forward along with cart into her. All went down in a tangled heap, sprawling on the floor near Lauren. Jim's chest burned, hot and wet but he'd had worse. The woman shoved at him, flailing with her gun arm.
"Jim," Willow cried out in dismay. She was torn, wanting to make sure he was alright. She looked frantically around, trying to find Clay, wanting to reassure herself that he had not come to harm either.
Rutia grabbed the woman's gun arm, twisting the weapon free. Rage burned in her, rising from the core of the spirit to run throughout her being. This one had callously injured, taken life and thus hers was now forfeit.
No. She is harmless now. She must be examined, judged. Then we decide what she has earned. Fandora focused her auric sight on the now-disarmed woman.
No. There will punishment; Judgement has been decided. Fandora felt her hand tighten on the woman's arm, crushing down hard as she fought with the presence with in her. It was enraged, utterly focused on the woman's destruction and… she could almost agree with it. What was happening here?!
There will be a just punishment. If she did this of her own free will, she will die. If she is possessed, she will be exorcized. And if she is sick, she will go to those who will make her well. Fandora fought the spirit, despite her sympathies for its views. But she would not allow someone to be killed who had not clearly earned it.
Two men in dark suits stepped off the elevator. Seeing the commotion at the end of the hall they rushed forward. Reaching the dog pile, they paused trying to tell apart all the players.
Lauren sat up, hand clasped over a growing crimson stain on her chest. "The woman…the older one…" she gasped out around a mouthful of blood.
At that point, Belle reached out and pulled Lauren and her gun back inside. She picked up Lauren's gun, quickly checking safety, ammo and action. It was small in her hands, but she knew how to compensate. Then she looked out the doorway again, seeing the men-in-black approaching. Glad they're not more trouble. With that, she came up and pointed Lauren's gun at the dangerous woman's head.
As the rush of adrenaline faded, Belle's vison swam out of focus, the strength ebbed. She felt herself dropping to a new low as her already taxed body started to give up the ghost.
Blaze and Gina burst through doors, stepping into the hall just past the elevators. An alarm greeted them. They heard the last of Willow's cry of concern for Jim.
The stairwell fire alarm got Belle's attention. She turned toward it, gun leveled. Now what? The gun felt slippery in her sweaty hands. The girl wrestling with the loony kept fading from Fandora to someone else. She was really bad off. Some touched her, eased her to sitting position. It was Charlotte.
"God… what more… Hamil. Help me… Lauren… dear…" she whispered, voice strained but calm. "Belle, please listen to me. Let yourself sleep… listen to your body."
Sniper saw the target step through the door he was heading for. Talk about timing. Slowing, he came up to the door…
Blaze ran up to Lauren and Jim. She analyzed them to see who was hurt the worst. She bent down and started to professionally analyze the wound, confident that the crazy woman would be taken care of. She tore some of Lauren's skirt to make a pad for the wound. "Sorry, doll." she said.
Lauren smiled wanly,"It was out of style anyway." she whispered.
Sniper pulled up gun still concealed in a pistol pocket where he could shoot with the silencer thru the pocket or pull it if necessary. He stopped and listened to see what was happening above him.
Blaze smiled back. "I'll try to get you another one." She looked around, trying to assess the situation. She saw Belle holding a small gun, IV tubes and electrodes hanging from her tall body.
"Belle! Get your ass back in bed! You can't do any more than hurt yourself." She was all professional now, in doctor mode. Been a long time since I did any ER work… she thought.
As she wiped the gun and her hands on her gown, Belle tossed her head and pinched herself to try to clear out the cobwebs. Can't pass out… not now… this woman is still dangerous… and something took out Charlotte and Lauren, if only briefly…
Conflicting imperatives: on the one hand, Charlotte was right, and Belle did need rest. Lots of it. On the other hand, all of Belle's combat-trained instincts were screaming at her to stay alert as long as possible in the face of an immediate threat. And old habits die hard, especially when they're the habits that have kept one alive. So when it looked like willpower alone wouldn't do it, she fell back on her ace-in-the-hole. Taking a deep breath, she Boosted.
It hurt. White hot pain flooded every single nerve in her as her over taxed body was pushed over the edge. Still, pain has its benefits. It can focus the mind. Belle bit back a scream, tasted blood as her vison colored red.
Belle, no! Charlotte's mental voice was taxed still reeling from the burst of energy that had swept the room. Let me.
Looking at one of the nurses, she yelled, "We've got injured here, nurse. Get off you ass and get us some help. I need to get this woman to the OR, and we've got another gunshot man right there. MOVE!" Blaze put as much authority behind her voice as she could.
The change in Blaze's demeanor was almost frightening. Her voice broke through the shocked stupor that had descended over the staff and get them moving. Gurneys were wheeled up and people lifted onto them.
With the immediate threat ended, it was time for reason and compassion to prevail; Fandora refocused herself to see the woman's aura, to help judge her properly. What was wrong with her, anyway? She tried to focus, the concentrate on the moment but the Spirit would not rest. Fandora sat up on her knees, eyes closed as the schism between her desires and those of her fellow grew wider.
She had been afraid this might happen; the Spirit had very little compassion in it. ENOUGH! she commanded, There has been enough death here already. NO MORE. She put all her heart and will into that command, reminding the spirit forcibly that it had joined with her so she could supply it with both form and a sense of mercy and compassion. It would respond to her; she would admit to no other possibility.
She felt the Spirit release. It settled back for now, releasing her will and body. Go with the Atlantean, and it was gone. Fandora was fully herself again. Now she focused her auric sight; Belle needed help, but so did this woman. There was little to see. Her aura was almost that of an inanimate object, little emotion or power left at all.
"There for a minute, I thought everyone forgot about me," Jim chuckled, which ended in a short cough. He tried not to move much and brought his heart rate down some as he relaxed. "I've had better days…"
"Blaze…" Lauren whispered, "we can't stay here. too much noise."
"Darlin, you come up with a better place to be, I'll do my damnedest to get you there. Where do you want to be?" She was whispering, and trying to get things straight in her mind. She turned to the nearest nurse. "Get me a surgery kit, rib cracker, and IV setups, and do it now! I want a crash cart standing by, and as much sterility as you can provide me!" She was shouting orders to any nurse within range.
Lauren grasped her hand, smearing Corrine's with blood. "We have to leave now." She glanced at the two suited men who knelt to help her up. "Charlotte…"
Blaze looked at the new lady. "Look, I can save her, but I don't know how much time I have. Make up your mind now!"
Gina stood in the midst of all the motion, staring at the blonde kneeling in the middle of the tussle as if hypnotized.
Belle pulled herself bodily to her feet. The scream transmuted into a growl. The shock of Boosting in her current shape was the jolt her senses needed. Her state of awareness was hypersensitive now, her entire skin surface on fire, seemingly aware of changes and movement around her. The voice talking in her head reminded her that she was angry, with the same white-hot intensity as her state of consciousness. That, and that she would hold on to consciousness as long as she could, with everything she had, as long as the threat persisted. She turned and pointed the gun, almost ridiculously small in her hands, at the head of the old woman laying on the floor.
Fandora sensed the threat, the impending violence. The spirit screamed encouragement. Belle's finger tightened on the trigger.
Charlotte felt the surge in power, that strange alien mind seizing Belle's nearly feral consciousness and puppeting it. Launching a stabbing probe into the nexus of alien thought she tried to reach it, only to be rebuffed violently. Falling back a step she gasped in psychic pain.
Lauren tried to aid her, but her body betrayed her. Blackness crept in from the edges of her vision to engulf her completely.
Hamil gripped Lauren tighter as she slumped. "Get back to the car. I've got the rest, Ms. St Clair." The other man nodded but Charlotte held up a hand as he approached. "These people, they're coming with us."
Willow wanted to shriek, she could not, would not let this happen. Belle STOP! the mental scream was almost a tangible thing, rolling down the corridor, an ethereal wave of power only the insensitive didn't feel in some sense. Belle was jarred, fingers going numb around the weapon.
Gina clamped her hands over her ear, squeezing her eyes shut.
The shock of actually 'hearing' Willow 'scream' would have amazed Belle with its sheer impossibility, had Belle been at all rational. As it was, the giantess had an instant of lucidity between blood-rage and unconsciousness. Willow 'heard' the single thought Belle had in that instant, Goddammit-- She felt the anger and frustration that underlaid that one word, just before Belle's eyes rolled back in her head and she fell to the floor like timber hitting the ground. Charlotte moved to catch her, grunting under the sudden burden.
"We are leaving. Now." Charlotte's voice brooked no argument. Hamil helped Blaze with Lauren. Willow fell in behind them all with Clay. Fandora felt she should follow and it was where Belle was going besides.
"Lady, how are we going to explain taking gunshot victims out of a hospital? And besides that, how am I going to care for them elsewhere? I'm going to need to perform some surgery here, and I can't do that without the right stuff!" She looked back at Jim, relieved to see him on his feet. "Hey! I'll get you taken care of too, I promise!"
"That won't be necessary. I'll be fine with a little rest," he answered her.
You'll have the materials you need but there is no time. Charlotte spoke in Blaze's mind, loud and direct. The time for subtlety was long past.
Whoa! Another one? Blaze thought to herself. "Ok, lady. You're in charge."
Jim got up slowly, ribs aching in protest. Likely cracked at least but nothing seemed seriously broken. The psycho was out cold and through the confusion he saw his party was leaving with out him. Willow looked over her shoulder, meeting his with a pleading look.
Standing fully upright carefully, he felt his torso tighten some as he stretched the muscles that support it. He raised an eyebrow in response to Willow's look, wondering if they really wanted him to go along, and if so, why they hadn't asked or made sure he was coming.
Willow was numb. Shock and pain, hers and others threatened to overwhelm her senses as apparently they had young Gina's. In response she nearly shut down, retreated into herself instinctively. So much so that Jim's query was lost to her. She followed the others, folding her arms tightly about herself.
Gina, however, was more forthcoming. "What the fuck are ya waitin' for, Jim, we gotta jet!"
Clay shook his head at the carnage he had somehow missed. What a time for a nature call. He then moved quickly besides Blaze and touched her arm.
"Lets go with them for now," he whispered, "and keep an eye on Jimmy boy."
Jim looked around for Sniper to see if had come to check it out as he began to follow the others. He didn't see Sniper as they got into the elevators.