Sunday, March 12, 2006
Gah, this is late, gomen! I wasn't home today. Anyway, for those of you who're just stopping by, this is the next chapter of a story I've been posting here. Previous chapters can be found by scrolling down! ^_~ Enjoy!
Aidan snapped out of his thoughts at his sister's quiet comment, and he turned to her with a raised eyebrow. "Sorry for what?"
"Your hospital." Leaning against his shoulder, Lily gestured to the blazing building in front of them. "Hope there wasn't anything important in there."
"Important? Nah." Aidan patted the cart full of medical supplies. "I got everything I needed. And what're you apologizing for, hm?" He lightly pushed her. "You didn't burn it, did you?"
"It's possible." When Aidan sharply looked at her, Lily's lips twitched. "I'm joking."
"Oh… right." Aidan laughed. "It's a bit hard to tell with that poker face, you know."
"That's not my poker face," she smugly replied. "You should know that by now."
"How should I know? I've never played poker with you before."
"I've never played poker before."
"Well, there you go." Aidan shook his head, staring into the flames. "But like I said… it’s nothing to worry about. We were ready for a change of scenery anyway, weren't we?" He paused, fiddling with the stethoscope on top of the cart. "Still… it is a bit…"
"Pretty." Lily smiled. "It's kind of pretty."
Aidan offered a wry half-smile. "Not quite the word I was looking for… but pretty works."
Lily vaguely nodded, then looked around her. "What are we doing about them?" she asked.
"What, the people from the hospital?" Aidan looked over at the refugees sitting in a small circle a few feet away. "Get them out of the city, I guess?" Aidan shrugged. "Although I don't think we can fit 'em all in that piece of junk van-"
"Not them." Lily shook her head. "Them." She gestured to where Tobias and the rest were tying groups of the insurgents together. Aidan could hear his new employers bickering about how many criminals should constitute a group, of all things.
"Well… I don’t know." He shrugged. "I hadn't asked." He looked like he was about to add something to that, but he stopped, squinting at his sister. "What's that?"
"…what's what?" she asked.
"There's a smudge on your face." Aidan tilted her chin up. "Looks like dirt, or—"
"It's dirt." Her expression barely flickered, and she licked her finger and began to rub it off.
"That Loki guy… he didn't try anything funny, did he?" His expression darkened.
"Of course not." Lily gently shrugged him off. "He did just what you asked him."
"You sure? We can leave right now if he's a problem—"
"It's fine." She patted her brother's shoulder. "Don't worry about it."
"…sorry, Lily." He awkwardly crossed his arms. "Next time I won't leave you alone, okay?"
"It's fine," she repeated with a reassuring smile, then looked over his shoulder. "…I think the hobo is waving at you."
"What?" Aidan frowned. "What hob—"
"Aiiiiiiiidaaaaaaan!" Tobias sang from across the lawn, jumping up and waving. "Be a darling and load those supplies into the van, will you?"
"I'll… be right back. Okay?" Aidan apologetically smiled.
"I'll be here," Lily mumbled.
Grabbing the handles of the cart, Aidan pushed it across the rough ground towards the van. Pulling the trunk open, he stared at the pile of trash lying there, dismayed.
"Need some help, Doc?" The chipper voice from behind him made him jump, and he swung around, grabbing the first thing he touched from the cart and holding it high in the air.
"Oh… Mrs. Croft." Aidan deflated. "I'm sorry, you surprised me."
"None of that 'Mrs. Croft' stuff!" Theo waved a hand. "And it's perfectly understandable. Besides, if I could be beaten with a roll of gauze, might as well quit this job right now."
Sheepishly, Aidan placed the gauze back on the cart. "I-I could use a hand, thanks."
"Good!" Theo began clearing a space in the back of the van. "So, interesting first night, huh?"
"You could say that," Aidan said weakly. "Sorry I can't be of more help."
"Ah, don't be like that. My first job, I was bloody useless." Theo grinned. "I think I ran away screaming."
"I can't really imagine that," Aidan blurted out. "I mean… that is… you looked pretty confident in there."
"Hardly," she laughed. "I'm still a coward, I'm just better at handling it."
"If you say so." Aidan began to load things into Blue Heaven. "Um, the rioters you caught… are any of them…"
"Dead? God no. Wasn't even much of a chore to subdue 'em." Theo shrugged. "An' a weapon's no use if you don't know how to aim it. Speaking of, I think I might've scared you earlier?"
"Earlier? Oh, you mean… no, I'm very grateful that you helped me," Aidan said quickly. "It just seemed a bit unfair, hitting him from behind like that."
"Unfair? I was doing him a service! This way, he can think it was some big tough guy that took him down… not a tiny woman with a piece of wood."
"I…I suppose that's one way to do it," stammered Aidan.
"He a friend of yours or something?" Theo asked.
"Well, sort of. He worked for my father for a while." Aidan paused. "And he may have had a crush on my sister."
"Oh," Theo said, slowly nodding. "Should I have hit harder?"
Aidan's laugh came in a tense burst. "No, that's okay."
"So, your sister, she's doing all right, then?" Theo glanced over to where the younger girl stood, staring at the captives with a sort of morbid curiosity.
"Yes, she is… I think." When Theo looked at him, confused, Aidan continued. "I just have difficulty telling with her sometimes. She never really shows what she's thinking, or says anything she doesn’t have to… most people find that creepy. She… doesn't make you uncomfortable, right?"
"Honey, look at me," Theo snorted.
"Point." Aidan flushed.
"But you don't think that's creepy, right?" Theo tilted her head to one side.
"No," Aidan said slowly. "She just… lives in her own head, I guess. Not that it's unusual, most mathematical minds are like that, from what I know."
"She likes math?" Theo smiled.
"I think she'd write in equations if you gave her the chance," Aidan said with a laugh.
"In any case, I'll bet she's fine. Loki's a good kid, I'm sure he kept her somewhere safe."
"I'm sure," Aidan repeated with a frown. "But next time, I'd rather he pick a place further away. I don't want her near any of this."
A moment passed before Theo answered. "Why?"
"…well, that's obvious, isn't it?" Aidan said loftily. "She's too young to be exposed to this."
An odd, unreadable expression crossed her face. "Too young?" She looked thoughtful for a moment, then her lips pulled into a grin again. "I guess so! But it's not uncommon, you know."
Aidan wasn't sure how to respond to that; instead, he helped her load the supplies into the trunk. As Theo laid one of the boxes down, something caught her eye, and she pulled it out. "Aspirin." She giggled. "I could've reaaaaally used this a few weeks ago."
"That's right, you were the medic before, weren't you?" Aidan must have looked apologetic, because she dismissively waved her hands.
"No no no, don't be sorry, I wasn't very good at it!" she assured. "Absolutely awful around blood. I'm sort of used to it, though… when Anton was a kid, he lived off thinking up creative ways to injure himself. Idiot," she fondly added.
"I take it you've known him a long time, then?" Aidan politely asked.
"Ages! Since we were brats, anyway. Wish you could've seen him then, you'd have hated him." Theo laughed again. "You know where Dhana Island is?"
"You lived there?" Aidan blurted out. "I vacationed there when I was a kid… it's gorgeous there! What are you doing all the way out here?"
With her back turned, Aidan couldn't see Theo's expression, but her voice stayed the same. "That's slightly more complicated," she said cheerfully. "He'd be there right now, if…"
She turned back towards Aidan, smiling brighter than ever. "I should really go check the rioters, make sure they're tied up tight an' all. You can handle the rest by yourself, right? Later!" She bounced off across the lawn, leaving Aidan standing by the van, mouth half-open.
Lily hummed to herself as she walked in a slow circle around the building, swaying a bit as she moved onto her tiptoes. Buried in thought, she barely noticed what she was doing until a hand grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
"Easy there, girly!" Loki hissed as he dragged her behind him. "Tobias and Silas're discussing business." He jerked his thumb to where the two men were standing, seemingly deep in conversation.
"So… you were listening?" asked Lily.
"No!" snarled Loki. "…a little. Unintentionally. I was—just hush!" He flushed. Lily complied, leaning forward.
"—don't understand why you're going along with this, is all," Silas was grumbling.
"Going along with what?" Tobias casually replied.
"Can you just slow down for a minute and think about it?" Silas growled. "We don't really know what happened here."
"We don't have the time to think about why," Tobias retorted.
"We have plenty of time, Tobias," Silas sighed. "If we knew the whole story—"
"Why do we need to know? It's their business."
"If it's their business, we shouldn't have done this in the first place."
"Si," Tobias placated. "You can feel sorry for them, if you want. But I've seen plenty of people deal with stress without becoming raging pyromaniacs."
"How can we know it's just 'stress?' From the way that kid was talking about it—"
"Talking about what?" Tobias mirthlessly laughed. "He didn't seem to want to talk about it at all."
"There seems to be a lot of things he doesn't want to talk about." Both Tobias and Silas jumped as a third voice slid into the conversation.
"Anton… what have I told you about giving people warning?" Silas breathed.
Tobias instantly snapped into a cheerful tone again. "Aww, he's just showing off again," he said with a grin.
"I'm serious." Anton crossed his arms. "You don't know a thing about that doctor… or his little sister, for that matter. Don't you think we should be a bit less hasty?"
"Now, if being on this crew required a full resume, we wouldn't have the pleasure of your company," Tobias said smoothly. "Or your lovely wife's, for that matter. And speaking of, you could follow her example?"
"She's just being polite," Anton grumbled.
"Jealous?" Tobias sang.
Anton didn't answer the question; he simply huffed. "I just think you should consider the fact that he may not be trustworthy."
"That's not my concern," Silas butted in. "It's irresponsible of you, taking on someone so inexperienced."
"You talk like I'm gonna drag him out on jobs every time," Tobias laughed. "Listen, I don't want either of you to even think about it. I have it entirely under control."
"Tobias," Silas said warningly.
"Si, Si… how long have you known me?" Tobias purred. Loki and Lily thought they saw him smiling. "Have I ever made the same mistake twice?"
"…if something goes wrong—" Silas began.
"Then I'll fix it." Tobias clapped a hand on Silas' shoulder. "Have a little faith, hm? Both of you."
Anton shrugged. "It's not important."
"Your wife can handle herself." Tobias threw the other arm around Anton. "Now, smiling faces? They'll be here any moment to collect the— well, look, there they are!"
From Loki and Lily's perspective, they couldn't see the cars pulling up the driveway, but they could hear them sliding up the pavement.
"Ah, finally!" Loki exclaimed. "I heard Tobias saying some important guy was gonna be here, too… Mr. Wittenberg?"
Lily's eyes widened, and her fingers closed around Loki's wrist. "Let's go back to the van."
"Huh?" Loki frowned. "I need to go out there—"
"You don't." Lily tugged on his arm. "You don't need to see them at all."
"Girly, what's wrong with you?"
"Please?" Lily pleaded. "I just want to go sit in the van, now."
"Okay, okay!" With a loud sigh, Loki let himself be pulled over towards Blue Heaven. "I guess it'd be useless to ask."
Lily ignored him, looking around them. "…w-where'd Aidan go?"
"You don't know how grateful I am to you all!" rumbled a portly man in a business suit, vigorously shaking Tobias' hand. "You'll all be handsomely rewarded, of course, only the best for the people who saved my city!"
"We hardly saved it, Mr. Wittenberg," Tobias said smoothly. "I only wish there was more we could do to help."
"Well, I want all your names, at least!" Wittenberg chortled. "I'm sure some of our citizens could learn from your example… wait a minute!" he cried. "Is that Aidan Connors?"
"Mr. Wittenberg," Aidan said stiffly. "It's been a while."
"Too long!" Wittenberg shook Aidan's hand as well. "I should've just known you'd be out here, helping, always such a dedicated young man… but tell me, how is your sister? She feeling better yet?"
"Much better," Aidan mumbled. "We were going on a short vacation, actually, get her some quiet time."
"Of course, of course," Wittenberg replied, his voice bubbling with sympathy. "We've all been quite concerned about her, to say the least… well, do tell her that we're all waiting for her return!"
"A little at a time, sir." Aidan stared at the ground.
As the last of the captives were loaded into the police cars, Wittenberg clapped Aidan on the shoulder. "Well, good luck to you, my boy, and to the rest of you, as well! Here's my number, Mr. Locke, we'll have to arrange another meeting soon to discuss your payment." With a genial wave, he climbed into his black sedan.
"See? That's how all city officials should be," Tobias laughed. "Polite, and… oh, excuse me! You in the brown suit! Mister…"
The blond man trailing behind Wittenberg turned around, smiling. "Hawthorne. Mr. Hawthorne."
"Yeah, you dropped your cigarettes!" Tobias handed them to Hawthorne. "Owww… what happened to your face?"
Hawthorne's smile widened. "Pretty dangerous people out there, Mr. Locke." With a polite nod, he climbed into the front of the sedan, coasting down the long driveway as the flames swallowing the hospital slowly began to dim.
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