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 Return from Never Land (Teneo Lupum x Abeyance)

Discussion in 'Roleplay Area Archive' started by Teneo Lupum, Jul 14, 2018.

  1. Teneo Lupum

    Teneo Lupum damned if you do, damned if you don’t Member

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    One blue eye cracked open under the assault from the ray of sunlight that had managed to fight its way through thousands of leaves just to wake her. The other eye soon followed but only for a brief moment, her eyes screwing shut as the woman yawned. She stretched, her arms reaching far over her head as her back popped once or twice. The bed was large and comfortable, heaped with pillows and covered in crisp white sheets. Erin was reluctant to get up but it was her turn to go see if any people had arrived in the middle of the night.

    Never Land had a strange way of pulling newcomers in while they were sleeping. Or maybe it was while the Never Landers were sleeping. Either way, it didn’t matter much. All she knew was that Sarah had gone to check yesterday and Ryan had gone the day before that which meant it was her turn in the rotation. With a grumble, she tossed the covers back and rolled out of bed, her bare feet landing with a soft thump on the smooth wooden floor of her treehouse.

    It didn’t take long to pull on her clothes which consisted of a well-worn pair of jeans that had clearly seen better days based on the rips, holes, and bloodstains that covered them along with the fitted t-shirt that may have once been white but was now a dingy gray and also ripped in places. Nimble fingers quickly braided her long dark hair so it was out of her face before she strapped a sheath to her right thigh then carefully slid the long knife into place. Finally, she pulled on her socks and boots, lacing them tightly. Dressed and ready to face the world, she stepped out the door with a smile at the view laid out before her.

    The tree that her house was in was immense, reaching into the sky until it was impossible to see where it ended. Sometimes Erin swore it touched the stars. The branches were thick and strong, dotted with the small houses of others that lived in the tree in the dead center of Never Land. Forest stretched to the north and east while open plains and fields occupied the west. To the south was the sea where Capt. Madelyn Hooke maintained a fleet of pirate ships. Erin wished someone was going with her today; she’d even settle for Chris but he seemed to prefer to keep to himself, avoiding contact with pretty much all the inhabitants of the tree.

    Without further ado, the woman did an elegant swan dive into thin air. It was hard to deny that flying was one of the most amazing feelings in the world. Erin felt weightless as she dove and swooped through the air, even letting the air currents take her where they wished. After a few minutes of simple fun cavorting through the air, it was time to get back to the task at hand. The fields seemed to the best place to start with her search for newcomers. People that appeared in the trees tended to arrive a bit worse for the wear while the unlucky ones that appeared over the sea, well, they mostly drowned. The mermaids were picky about who they rescued and the crocodiles took care of those who weren’t lucky enough to be saved or land close enough to shore to swim.

    The trip to the open fields wasn’t a long one. Within minutes she was swooping low, flying back and forth as she scanned the ground below for signs of life. The land below seemed empty and she was ready to turn for home when something caught her eye. There, in the treeline. A vague shape. Erin flew closer, wary of what it might be. Hooke had been known to set traps before. In fact, Elijah had disappeared that way. They still weren’t sure what had happened to him.

    It appeared to be a large man. Burly, almost. And he appeared to have a beard. He seemed to be out cold. Sleeping, perhaps. Sometimes it was hard to tell. He was curled on his right side, knees drawn up a little. There was something embroidered on his chest, on the left side above a pocket. Alighting on the ground, Erin moved closer as she squinted to make out what it said. ‘Alek’.

    “Hey,” she called out cautiously, ready to run if he tried to attack her. “You alive?”

    @Abeyance
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2018
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  2. Abeyance

    Abeyance Security Member

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    Despite his profession, Christopher O'tool could not admit to finding any real pleasure in his workspace. Oh, he loved helping people. The thrill of finding out what was wrong and fixing it, seeing someone go from unhealthy and ailing to recovered and strong, there was nothing like it in the entire world. He would have given anything in the world to make it happen anywhere other than the sterile, medicine-scented white halls of the hospital. Especially now.

    He walked into her room and only narrowly missed the janitor with the door. "Shit--sorry, Alek," he muttered, still half awake. The coffee in his hand had yet to properly settle in, and he took another sip as he stepped more carefully into the room. The janitor waved it off.

    "Don't sweat it, I was just wrapping up. You're here early, though."

    "Yeah. Had to get ahead of Satan. Oh, ha, silly me, I meant Doctor Hooke." Chris settled into the chair next to the bed, sparing a brief glance at the beeping EKG machine. He set his things on the table next to her bed but did his best to avoid looking right at her. It was hard, still, to see her like that. "I don't suppose she sat up and told you she's faking it?" he asked as Alek went for the door, but the man only gave Chris a sad smile.

    "Sorry, doc. You'll be the first to know if she does."

    "Thanks. Have a good morning, Alek." Chris leaned back in his seat and ran a hand through his hair. Like most doctors, he was in desperate need of a shave, though he had yet to bloom into a full Viking display of hairy glory. His dishwasher-blonde hair was carefully combed and professionally styled, with just the right amount of product to keep it in place no matter how many times he touched it. Or, more appropriately, his best guess. Erin had always known just the right amount to put in. She had laughed the first time he'd come out of the bathroom with mousse in his hair, then turned him right back around to clean it out and have another go. Ever since he'd relied on her to take care of that detail. Until now, anyway.

    He scanned a few documents and charts he'd brought along, other patients that Madelyn Hooke had insisted he attend to. To help you move on, she had said. To help you feel like there's something you can do. Chris hadn't liked it, but if she needed to know he could work while his fiance lay comatose in a hospital bed he would prove it to her. After twenty minutes, though, he decided he'd stalled long enough. His eyes turned from pages of information to a bruised hand and an arm with needles stuck into it. He reached out to take that hand, gently lacing their fingers together as his eyes continued up past her shoulder, to a face covered in bruises and wrapped in bandages.

    "Morning, baby," he said quietly. "It's Chris. Let's see... what is there to tell you..."

    Deeper in the trees something moved. Slow and careful at first, every movement wary and slow. One foot in front of the other, a soft pace through trees and branches. He held a bow in one hand, an arrow strung and ready to be drawn. He slowed to a stop when he saw the bearded man laying there, and his eyes widened when he saw the flying girl appear. He waited until she drew nearer and spoke before he made himself known, straightening and holding his bow arrow down. "Hoy, there," he called softly, so as not to scare her, "I don't think he's going to wake up. Not many do when they fall as quick as he did."
     
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  3. Teneo Lupum

    Teneo Lupum damned if you do, damned if you don’t Member

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    Local Time:
    10:07 PM
    A crack of thunder sounded somewhere in the distance when the other man spoke to her. Erin's heart pounded wildly as she peered through the trees trying to figure out who else was here. She took one step closer towards the trees, glancing briefly at the slumbering man on the ground. He hadn't moved so maybe what the voice said was true. Maybe this Alek wouldn't wake up. By now she was close enough that she could just make out the man standing amongst the trees. It was Chris. What was he doing here? But then she realized he was always nearby, always hovering just in the edges of her vision. She couldn't remember a time when he hadn't been there. Now that she actually stopped to consider it, his very presence provided a sense of safety and security. A warm feeling almost.

    "There's only one way to find out. We'll have to try to wake him up. Besides, we can't just leave him here and he's too big to carry." She offered him a bright smile before turning her attention to this Alek still curled up as if he was sleeping.

    She crouched down near his head where he'd be least likely to lash out when he awoke. "Hey. Hey! Are you awake? Can you hear me?" There was no response. So she pinched him. Right on the soft skin on the inside of his upper arm where it was bound to hurt more. And yet there was still no reaction. Her brow furrowed while she thought about what to try next. Erin looked around for something she could use to wake him up. There was a stick nearby that would do perfectly.

    She grabbed the stick then straightened slowly before making her way to Alek's feet. Again she crouched down, this time to unlace the man's boot and pull it off, tossing it aside carelessly. Shifting her grasp on the stick, she drew it slowly and firmly up the sole of the man's foot. To be honest, she had no idea how she knew to watch to see if his toes curled or he tried to pull his foot out of her hand. Something about a reflex? It was just knowledge it felt like she'd always know. She thought she saw Alek's toes curl a little but couldn't be quite sure.

    Her attention shifted back to Chris. He knew what to do, didn't he? It was another one of those feelings that she felt she'd always had, the feeling that he was her rock, the one she could rely on.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
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  4. Abeyance

    Abeyance Security Member

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    He came closer as she tried and failed to rouse the man. The hunter only stopped when he was near them, looking down at the sleeping bearded face. "It's no use. We have to go. We have to stay ahead of them. You're not safe here--she saw him, she must have. She'll be here soon." He turned his gaze toward the field beyond the trees, a faint scowl on his face as he tried to pick apart the moving grass and whatever else might have been hiding among it. The bow came up a few inches. "There, through the grass. Speak of the devil... hurry, Erin. Hurry back home."

    "Alek plainly thinks I'm crazy for coming in like this," he told her quietly. "He had this look on his face like I was grasping at straws. He's entitled to his opinion, y'know, but... I dunno. He can give up on you if he wants. What I'm more worried about is if he tells Hooke I'm here already. The last thing I want is another confrontation with her about 'decorum' and 'what's right'." Chris scratched at his chin, grimacing at the sandpapery feel of his own skin. "On the upside, I'm starting to grow a beard, so you'll finally have your hairy logger man that you always wanted." He smiled at her, and in his mind he could almost see her smile back.

    His attention was drawn back to the door, a shadow moving past the glass, the low murmur of voices. His hand tightened on hers. "Ah, fuck. Speak of the devil." He looked back to her and sighed softly. "Hurry, Erin. Hurry back home." He leaned over to kiss her forehead and stood as the door opened and Madelyn Hooke entered. Of all the other doctors in the building, Chris found her the most disagreeable. Where he would recommend surgery, she would prescribe medicine. Where he would advise one more night, she would push for immediate release. It didn't help that she never once seemed out of line. Her voice was soft and her tone reasonable, a sort of adopted personality that quietly assumed she must certainly be correct. Insisting otherwise would not be wise. Worst of all, in his mind, she referred to everyone as 'my dear'.

    As she stepped in he folded his arms. Her blue eyes flickered from his face to the patient's, then back to him. "You shouldn't be here, Christopher," she said quietly, and he felt his eyes go cold on her.

    "I should be wherever I choose to be, Madelyn. She's my patient, after all, is she not?"

    "For the time being. But you're hardly the one most qualified to treat her." She paced to the foot of the bed to check Erin's charts, her head tilting slightly. "Most neurologists don't specialize in coma patients, do they, dear?" she asked, glancing briefly at Chris. He shrugged.

    "Most witches live in bogs, but here you are," he shot back. Chris knew he should be more careful, but Madelyn had always known how to press his buttons even without knowing what they were. His comment hit home all the same; her back stiffened, and she replaced the chart slowly.

    She folded her hands into the pockets of her white coat as she paced back around the bed to stand in front of him. Her eyes met his unflinchingly and searched, deep and uncomfortably hard. "What happened to her is not your fault. And you are not responsible for her now."

    "She's my fiance--"

    "Might have been. There is no ring on her finger, no certificate signed by her hand. Christopher, you are too close to this. You cannot be impartial enough to be effective." She paused and tilted her head, her voice going even more soft. "What will happen the day her family signs the form to terminate life support? Will you steal her away? Abduct her and the equipment? How tightly will you cling before you can be convinced to let go?" She held his gaze for a moment before she broke away and returned to the door. Madelyn pulled it half open, then looked back at him. "I'll forgive your outburst this time, Christopher. But really, I have to insist that you look in on your other patients. Erin is not your only concern, my dear."

    She stepped out and left Chris there to seethe. Always with the last word. He sat back down heavily and glanced at the comatose woman next to him, then shook his head and covered his face with both hands. "I really do hate that woman. I really, really do." He exhaled sharply, then slapped his hands onto his knees and pulled over the paperwork again. "Ah, right. I've got a message here from your sister. She says she's going to come visit a little later, and that she's going to bring your favorite snack... or at least what she thinks are your favorite. So there's... there's something to look forward to." He closed his eyes as all the frustration and grief and fear grabbed him by the throat, his breath catching sharply.

    "Fucking Madelyn," he whispered, trying to take deep breaths. "Fucking cruel old... British... asshole." He turned back toward the bed and took her hand again, his head bowed, thumb running across her knuckles. "I need you to wake up, Erin. As soon as you can. I'll do whatever it takes, just... please. Just show Maddy Hooke that you aren't going to roll over and die like she hopes you will. Prove her wrong for once in her worthless career."
     
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  5. Teneo Lupum

    Teneo Lupum damned if you do, damned if you don’t Member

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    At his warning to hurry home, her attention shifted from the man on the ground to stare out into the grass. What had he seen? There was no time to waste. If the archer had spotted something with his keen eyes then there must be something out there. Erin hated to leave Alek there on the forest floor but if he wouldn’t wake up for them then it was unlikely that the pirates would be able to rouse him either.

    She straightened slowly and stepped closer, behind yet off to one side as she continued to search for what might be coming their way. Her eyes narrowed; the sky darkened and another rumble of thunder filled the air. One delicate hand rose to rest on his upper arm, the fingers curling around the muscle there. She was filled with the urge to slide her hand down his arm and lace their fingers together. Only the uncertainty of how he would react kept her hand in place. “You’ll come too, won’t you? You can’t stay here. She’ll defeat you,” she pleaded. Erin took one step backwards, tugging gently on his arm. “I don’t want to leave you.” There was a short pause as she glanced once more out into the open field.

    “I don’t want to let go.” Her voice wavered now, on the verge of tears as she tried to pull him into the forest with her. The thought of leaving him here alone to deal with Madelyn Hooke terrified her. They would be okay if they just stuck together. Just the thought of separating from him made her heart ache and a rock form in the pit of her stomach.

    As the panic began to claw its way through her, the light continued to fade until the sky was that dark gray that signaled an impending storm.



    “Hey, anybody in here?” Sarah called as she rapped on the door with her knuckles, opening the door a crack. A tired smile appeared as her eyes landed on Chris sitting by her sister’s bedside. Every single time she had come to visit since the accident, he had been here. Not that she could blame him. She came as often as she could but it never felt like enough. It just felt distasteful to leave her older sister alone with only the rhythmic beeping of the machines to keep her company.

    Sarah stepped into the room, pausing a second to let her eyes adjust to the dim lighting. “I brought you some coffee,” she said quietly as she set a styrofoam cup on the bedside table closest to Chris. Despite the numerous doctors who assured the family that Erin could not hear them, she still couldn’t help but speak in hushed tones every time she came to visit. She’d almost just managed to convince herself that Erin was simply sleeping. After kissing his cheek in greeting and giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze, she pulled a chair up next to the man but angled it more to face him than her sister. He needed just as much support as anyone else, probably more since he knew how serious Erin’s injuries were.

    “You know, I keep thinking one day she’s going to sit up and wonder why we’re all here sitting around her bed, moping,” she mused out loud, mostly to herself. “She’s a tough girl, Chris. She’ll pull through this, you know she will. Maybe you should pull out that giant ring you bought her and wave it under her nose. Tell her how much you love her and how you want to spend the rest of your lives together.” It was a gentle tease that only Sarah would be able to get away with. She knew how much Erin loved him and how sad she’d be knowing that he was so distraught over what had happened. Sarah reached for his forearm and gave it a gentle squeeze. “When’s the last time you left this room? Going home to sleep and shower doesn’t count. I can sit here with her if you need to get some work done or take a walk. I promise I won’t leave her alone.” Sarah and Ryan, as Erin’s siblings, were worried that Chris wasn’t taking care of himself. They had taken it upon themselves to visit in turns so he wasn’t always alone.

    Sarah sighed softly as she settled back into the uncomfortable chair. Hospitals should really invest in more comfortable seats for visitors, especially for long term patients she thought. At that moment, the EEG, which had been just one of many machines beeping regularly in the background of the conversation, gave one beep out of rhythm before settling back into rhythm again. “Did you...what was that…?”
     
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  6. Abeyance

    Abeyance Security Member

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    The hunter looked at her as she pulled him toward the trees. He wanted to stay and fight, to face Hooke and whatever she brought. He could do it. He knew he could. But one look into her eyes, at the worry and fear on her face, and he let the bowstring relax in his hands. He slung it over his torso and slid the arrow into the quiver at his hip and turned toward her entirely, both hands lifting to cup her cheeks. "Listen to me," he said softly as the sky above thundered again, "I will never leave you behind. Never. But right now, I have to stand and fight. I can't let Hooke just come and find you. We both know what she'll do if she gets her hands on you."

    He kissed her forehead gently. "Your sister is nearby. I can feel it. Find her, stay with her. I'll come find you both once Hooke's been distracted. Don't worry, love. She won't get her claws on me."



    "Sarah, hey," he smiled when she came in. "Oh my God, you are an absolute godsend, hon." He stood to greet her properly, leaning slightly into the kiss and touching her hand before he sat back down. He took the cup and helped himself to a deep sip, eyes rolling back a little as the stuff warmed him. "Just right. I don't know how you make this hospital crap taste like gourmet, but fuck me if it isn't amazing." He took another sip before he set it back down and looked Sarah's way to listen to her. He had always been fond of the little sister. She was unrelentingly cheerful even now, and Chris was smart enough to know why. The only reason she sat there with a smile on her face was for his sake.

    "It's been... a while," he said carefully. He reached into his shirt pocket and took out the ring in question. Despite the jab about how big the band was, it was plain, a platinum ring with no adornment. She was an intelligent woman, creative and appreciative of grand gestures when they were made. Which was why he'd kept the ring so simple. She didn't need some gaudy, flashy declaration. The best statements were one rendered to their most basic design. I love you. Be mine. He sighed and turned it over in his fingers. "Y'know, maybe you're right. A lap around to see my other patients might give me a brain wave on this whole thing."

    Chris stood and put the ring back in his pocket, all but ready to leave and trust Erin to Sarah's watch when the machine beeped out of time. It may as well have been a peal of thunder for how it shook him, and he stepped around the bed to check the equipment. It was no malfunction. He shook his head quietly and turned to look at Sarah, then back down at Erin. "That, I think, was proof that you're right." He rubbed her arm gently. "There's a lot of debate about whether or not people in comas can actually process or react to external stimuli... most doctors will tell you no, no way. No can do. It's a vegetative state, nothing gets through. I happen to believe that, pending the damage and severity, a person can hear, and will interpret external cues and respond to them... well. However they can."

    He rubbed at his face and the stiff, scratchy stubble on his jaw. "This is... it's a good sign, Sarah. Really good. I think--yeah, I just. I need a few to go walk and think and maybe check with a couple of colleagues. But this is good." He smiled at her, quick and small, then crossed the room to the door to step outside.
     
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  7. Teneo Lupum

    Teneo Lupum damned if you do, damned if you don’t Member

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    Sarah returned the small smile as she watched her sister’s boyfriend leave the room. Once the door shut behind him, she slid into his abandoned chair and took Erin’s hand in her own, mindful of the IVs taped to the back of it. A soft sigh escaped her as she sat quietly, keeping her sister company. It was hard to see the once vibrant woman reduced to a bruised and battered shell covered in bandages and surrounded by monitors, the tube down her throat to make sure ‘her airway was maintained’ in the words of Dr. Hooke. She ran her thumb slowly across her sister’s knuckles.

    “Erin, if you can hear me, you need to know that we’re all pulling for you. You’re stubborn enough to beat this. Whatever’s going on in there right now, we need you back here with us. Hell, Chris needs you. If anything were to happen to you, I’m not sure he could handle it without falling to pieces. I don’t think any of us could.” Sarah blinked back a few tears and swiped the back of her fingers under her eye before any could roll down her cheek.

    After taking a deep breath to steady herself, she leaned forward as if the sisters were just whispering secrets late into the night like they had as little girls. “I’m sure you know this already but that man is head over heels for you. The way he looks at you...I wish I could find a guy who looked at me like that. It’s like there’s this shine in his eyes that’s just for you.” She had been smiling but it slowly disappeared as her mood grew somber. “You have to come back. Come back to us. Help him find the shine, Erin. Don’t ever let him lose that shine.”



    Her eyes closed as his hands came up to cup her cheeks, her body leaning into his touch. What he said was true. Falling into Hooke’s clutches would be disastrous for her. At the same time, she didn’t want him to fall victim to the evil woman either. The kiss to her forehead was soothing but at the same time, she wanted more. She wanted to feel his lips on hers, to melt into his arms and forget all about Hooke. Her chin lifted as she stepped closer to let their lips just barely touch, a brush more than any true definition of a kiss. Erin stepped backward, her eyes lingering on his face for a moment before she turned to leave and go find Sarah.

    The trees seemed to close in around her as she traveled further into the depths of the forest. Branches grew longer and blocked out the sky. Brush and brambles seemed to spring from the ground to clutch at her legs, grabbing at her as if they wanted to keep her from finding Sarah. Yet she pushed on, fighting and twisting her way through the forest that seemed to have a mind of its own. One thorny vine wrapped around her ankle and pulled her down, making her cry out in shock more than pain. Why was it so hard to find Sarah? She called out for her, stretching out an arm as if the other woman would suddenly appear and save her. Erin kicked at the vine, using her other foot to try to push it off before sitting up and unwinding the thorns from her leg. She got to her feet and continued to stumble through the trees until she reached a clearing.

    Beams of sunlight were streaming down through the opening in the trees making the ground appear golden. In the middle of the clearing stood her sister, smiling sweetly with her arms outstretched. Erin gave a cry as she stumbled forward into Sarah’s arms. “Sarah! Chris said you were nearby. We have to get out of here! Hooke is coming..we can’t let her catch us!’ A look of panic spread over her face as the sky grew dark as night except for the sun that still shone down into the clearing. More claps of thunder filled the air.

    Sarah hugged her sister tightly before releasing her with a gentle squeeze. Her hands were on Erin’s shoulders as she smiled and looked her in the eyes. “Come back to us. Help him find the Shine, Erin.” She took her sister by the hand and began to walk through the forest, back to their Tree, to their home where they would be safe.

    The Shine? Erin was confused. What was Sarah talking about? She had heard rumors about a magical item called the Sparkle that was rumored to have the ability to break curses and possibly put an end to Hooke and her band of pirates once and for all. Who was this he? Did she mean Chris? Or someone else? Rather than simply asking, Erin walked by her sister’s side. The further they walked towards the center of the massive forest, the more the sky cleared and the more the fear left her.
     
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  8. Abeyance

    Abeyance Security Member

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    "Sam!" Chris swung into the office just behind his call, causing the technician to look up just in time to see the doctor step in. Samuel Wentz was the lead tech for the MRI unit, and Chris knew better than to think the man had any respect for him at this point. They had butted heads since the day of the accident, when Sam's initial report had come back listing Erin as braindead with little to no hope of recovery. Chris had been forceful in his defense, and ultimately managed to convince his associate to change the prognosis to something more favorable. It had been just one of the many arguments he'd had with Hooke after the fact.

    The tech rubbed his face as Chris approached, his expression already fed up. "Look, if you're here to ask me about the goddamn EEG again, Chris--"

    "No, don't worry. I'm not here to give you a hard time. I actually wanted to request another scan. I was in there just now, and there was a blip on the scanner. A big one, Sam. There's something happening in there, and we need to figure out what and where."

    Sam shook his head and took a deep, patient breath. "How do I know you're not just hallucinating off of not enough sleep and just enough desperation?"

    "Erin's sister was there. Sarah. She can collaborate. I'll put in an order as her acting physician but I wanted to let you know first, that it was coming." He paused and reached out to touch Sam's shoulder. "Look... I know you think I'm an asshole, and that's fine. I can take being an asshole. That's my girl in there. Just humor me. After this is over I'll put in for a transfer to a different city entirely and you'll never have to deal with my pushy, uptight, desperate ass again. Okay?"

    The other man snorted before he could help it and patted Chris's arm. "As long as you don't go too far. I'd still rather deal with an honest jerk than a two-faced one like Maddy."

    "Hear you there. This afternoon clear for the scan?"

    "Might be. I'll swing by once I know for sure."

    "Thanks, Sam. Got rounds to do, I'll be around this floor though." He left the man to his coffee and got started on his other patients, making the rounds as promised. The blip had buoyed him a lot more than he expected. Some of his patients--the conscious ones--were surprised to see how upbeat he was compared to visits of days prior. He was glad to tell them that he finally had a reason to smile. God only knew it had been a long time coming.



    He waited just long enough to be sure Erin could get far enough away before he slipped into the trees himself. Alek had no stake in her situation, the hunter knew. He wouldn't wake, he wouldn't lend his aid to her or to her recovery. And he didn't know or care where the Shine was kept. Hooke could take him; the hunter knew he would not wake for her either. His role lay in purity, in keeping the world clean as he was told to do. What concern could he have for quests, pirates, or the hunt?

    The telltale rattle of sabers and the stink of grog told the hunter he'd waited long enough. He sunk back into the bushes and trees, relying on the network of tattoos to help hide him in the shadows. Soon enough the pirates appeared, a small knot of dirty, sour-looking men. He recognized the one in the lead, a particularly unhappy fellow named Samuel, one eye covered by an eyepatch. The patch itself was white and circular, with a small line in the center, and he claimed he could see through any lie with it. The hunter felt as though that were absolute nonsense, himself. Samuel was a loudmouth and a coward, one who had flocked to Hooke the moment she reared her head.

    He knew the others, too, but the one who kept his attention the most was the Captain herself. Taller than most of her men and more handsome than beautiful, she favored a sweeping silk coat colored lurid white. Black fur lined it, and a silver disk sat tucked into her elaborately large white cap. The cronies rushed to surround the inert figure in the grass, and Hooke herself stood next to him, one hand on her simple cutlass. "Who is this man?" she asked softly, and one of the pirates shook his head.

    "He's no-one, marm. A wastrel with no place in this world."

    "Aye." She drew her sword and examined the blade, her expression solemn. "And what do we do with the unworthy, wastrels, and vagrants?"

    "We send 'em on," the pirates chanted in unison. Hooke smiled as she lifted her sword, turned, and plunged it down into the sleeping man's body.

    "We send them on," she whispered, watching the man jerk and wheeze as life left him. She watched with a certain sort of predatory relish, and only withdrew her steel when the man had ceased all movement. She wiped it clean on his shirt, but as she moved to sheathe it her eyes caught movement in the trees, the suggestion of a shadow, and she froze. "Samuel," she said softly, and the one-eyed man stepped forward.

    "Aye, ma'am!"

    "The hunter is near. Go, find him. End him, if you can. Bring him to me if not. It is imperative we stop him before he can guide her to the Shine. You understand, do you not?"

    "Aye, I do. I'll make damn sure he doesn't escape this time!" He turned and rushed into the trees, grasping at the pistol tucked into his belt, his good eye shining with greed. The hunter watched him slink into the trees from where he'd relocated, and kept frozen until Hooke and the rest of her band had departed through the grass. As soon as he could risk moving he did so, loping swift and urgent into the trees, bow held ready.

    She had sent Samuel into the forest in the exact same direction he had sent Erin.
     
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  9. Teneo Lupum

    Teneo Lupum damned if you do, damned if you don’t Member

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    The sisters walked through the forest in silence, their arms around each other’s waists. There was no need to talk, to fill the air with mindless chatter. Being with each other was enough. That was the beauty of the sisterly relationship. So it didn’t matter that it seemed as if they had been walking forever yet had not reached the edge of the clearing. The trees that marked the far edge between clearing and forest seemed to always remain just a bit farther away while the trees behind them seemed to move closer, almost as if the clearing was traveling with the women. Erin didn’t mind though; she wanted more time with Sarah.

    A faint rustling from behind them made Sarah stop walking and turn to see what was making the noise. Something blue darted through the brush behind them made her pull Erin to a stop. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to make sense of what she had seen. “Run! You have to go, Erin.” Her hand slipped from Erin’s side to the small of her back to give her a little shove. “It’s pirates,” she hissed. “Go on! You can’t let them catch you!”

    Panic clawed its way up Erin’s throat as she stumbled forward a step or two. She whirled around only to find two pirates dressed in faded blue garments grabbing at her sister. But not hurting her. They were only restraining her, keeping her from getting to Erin. A sob stuck in her throat as she backed up, her feet tangling with each other. Just as she was about to crash to the ground, a pair of arms encircled her, squeezing her arms by her side. Foul breath washed against her cheek causing her to shudder. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a white eyepatch. Not this one, not Hooke’s second-in-command. The man was not that much taller than she was, short and squat yet there was a strength in his arms. With a grunt, he lifted her off her feet.

    Erin thrashed and kicked as she struggled to break free from his hold. One booted foot connected with Samuel’s shin and he cursed in her ear but maintained his grip on her. Her eyes were wide with fright as she struggled to break free, frantic as she looked towards her sister. Why wasn’t Sarah trying to help her? Why was her sister standing there passively with only one pirate holding her arm? The sight of her sister standing there watching pulled the fight right out of her. The second blue-clad pirate that had initially helped restrain Sarah appeared out of nowhere and grabbed her ankles, holding her legs out so she could not kick. Exhausted and confused, she stopped all real attempts at struggling free, only attempting to pull her feet free once or twice.

    Time moved strangely or maybe she lost her grip on consciousness but the next thing of which she was aware was her hands and feet bound to the sides of a makeshift stretcher. She didn’t know how long they’d been walking but the trees were growing farther apart and the smell of salt air tickled her nose. There was only one place they could be taking her - Hooke’s ships. “Please don’t do this, please don’t take me to those ships,” she begged but her tearful pleas fell on deaf ears. The blue-clad pirates continued to carry her towards the ship. Samuel was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he had gone on ahead.

    Soon enough the men were carrying her down the dock and then up the gangplank onto the biggest grandest ship in Hooke’s fleet. It was a handsome ship, much like its Captain. The dark wood gleamed with a fresh coat of polish in the sun. The white sails were tied down to the spars but even in that position, it was easy to see that they were spotless, just as Hooke demanded. Samuel was standing near a large white tube that appeared just big enough to hold a person. Wordlessly, he gestured to her stretcher bearers to bring her to the horizontal device. Erin strained and pulled at the bindings holding her wrists still but the ropes were too tight. Despair began to wash over the small brunette. Sarah had abandoned her, Chris was nowhere to be found. She was alone and completely at their mercy.

    “Don’t worry, Erin. This won’t hurt,” said the pirate with that white eye patch. His words were simple but his tone was insincere.

    The other two laid her down on the large table in front of the tube and shoved her roughly inside until only her feet were showing. It was a small confined space, one designed to encourage claustrophobia to claim its inhabitant. Erin struggled to control her breathing, to keep the panic at bay. Breathe in, breathe out, Erin, she told herself repeatedly. If Hooke truly wanted her dead, Samuel wouldn’t have bothered to bring her back to the ship. He would have slit her throat back in the forest.

    All fell quiet. Her ears strained to catch the faintest sound, anything to signal that someone was there but the world was quiet. Just as she had managed to calm her frazzled nerves enough that she wasn’t on the verge of tears, something banged once on the metal that encased her. Just one good thunk. A cry of surprised fear was her natural response. Thunks and bangs began to come more frequently yet with no real discernible rhythm. Inside her metal prison, Erin could do nothing but cry, the tears rolling freely down her cheeks.

    The sky grew gloomy and gray as a steady rain began to fall on NeverLand.



    Sarah glanced up as the door to Erin’s room opened. Two orderlies were there, dressed in faded blue scrubs. She gave her sister’s hand a comforting squeeze as one eyebrow lifted in question.

    “Hi, we were told she’s supposed to be taken for a scan,” said the first man, a tall skinny man with a bad bowl cut and a prominent Adam’s apple bobbing as he spoke. His colleague just offered a small smile before glancing over his shoulder to see if the nurse was coming. They would need her help to prepare Erin to be moved.

    She nodded at the men before turning back to the comatose woman. “You have to go, Erin.” An updated scan would provide them with information about what was going on inside her brain. Hopefully. Sarah hoped the scan would reveal something for Chris’s sake. That small bit of hope the change in the EEG had brought had changed his whole demeanor and it would be hard to see him crushed again.

    The nurse, a small Hispanic woman, was extremely efficient as she disconnected monitors and turned off alarms. The IV bag of electrolyte solution was disconnected for the time being while the various tubs and leads attached to her body were either loosely taped to her limbs or coiled and rested on her lap. The orderlies and the nurse transferred Erin from her hospital bed onto the gurney that would transport her to the imaging lab.

    Without speaking, because honestly, it wasn’t like their patient was going to respond, the men wheeled her down the hall toward Sam and his machines. He was standing by the MRI machine when his patient arrived. Without saying a word, he simply nodded at the two men. They were specially trained to transport and move patients while he was not.

    “Don’t worry, Erin. This won’t hurt a bit. It’ll just be loud.” It was habit to reassure his patients that what they were going to experience wasn’t going to be painful. It would just be uncomfortable. At least he didn’t have to worry about Chris’s girlfriend freaking out from claustrophobia. He patted her leg gently before heading to the console that controlled the machine. A few presses of a few buttons and she was sliding into the long white metal tube.

    The first thunk of the magnets beginning to whirl was random, seemingly out of nowhere. As the machine began to warm up, the loud sounds began to pick up in speed. The first images of her brain began to load slowly on his computer screen. As far as he could tell, nothing had changed since the initial scan from right after the accident. Sam scrubbed one hand over his face. How the hell was he going to tell Chris that his girlfriend was basically a vegetable? Goddamn EEG blip giving the man hope.

    Not wanting the neurologist to give him any grief about not conducting all possible tests, he waited until the magnet was done this cycle before heading out to Erin. The contrast would allow him to identify any active parts of the brain. He injected the dye into her IV and waited a moment to make sure she wasn’t going to break out in hives. Once he was certain she wasn’t going to add anaphylactic shock to her list of ailments, he headed back to the console to start the magnet again.

    Images began to appear slowly on the screen once more, this time with certain areas lit up in color. The brain hemorrhage seemed to be healing or at least not getting better. Sam blinked once at the screen. It almost looked as if...no, it couldn’t be. No way. For a moment, it seemed that the auditory cortex in her temporal lobe, one of the areas that processed sound, was shaded a hair brighter, indicating activity in that portion of her brain. He pressed his fingers into his eyes as if he could reset his vision. When he opened them again, more images had appeared on the screen. What the fuck was happening here? Was she having a fear response? Now it looked like her amygdala looked a touch brighter. It had to be his eyes; he had been staring at this screen for hours. Sam reached out and adjusted the contrast on the screen, making the images darker before staring at the pictures of Erin’s brain. He was right. It was just his tired eyes.

    He leaned forward to rest his elbows on the console and his face in his hands. How the hell could he face Chris and tell him his girl was basically a vegetable? Some days he really hated his job.
     
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  10. Abeyance

    Abeyance Security Member

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    Chris stared at the ground, his mind churning as he attempted to work around the blatant denial ringing in his mind. He had asked a dozen questions, thought of a hundred more, but whatever his disagreements with Sam he knew the man was a professional. He would have gone to every length, made every check he could make. Erin had been taken back to her room at least an hour prior, but he couldn't bring himself to move. Had it actually been machine error? That blip on the EEG, it had seemed real enough. Sarah had seen it just as well as he had.

    Finally, though, he stirred himself. He thanked Sam for trying and stepped out of the technician's office, out into the hallway beyond. I don't know what to tell you, doc. Your girl isn't awake in there. I wish I could tell you otherwise. The words rattled around in his brain like wasps, stinging and biting at his certainty. What if everyone else was right? What if she didn't recover from this? What if she truly were dead, a shell living without its spark? He rubbed his face with both hands and dropped them to his hips, his head tilting back as he exhaled and counted down from twenty. He couldn't give up yet, wouldn't. There had to be something he hadn't thought of, some kind of treatment or measurement that he hadn't found.

    He was about to head back to her room when a familiar voice called his name and an arm flung itself tight around his neck. "Doc Tool! I was wondering if you'd still be here." Chris had to grasp the arm around his neck and remove it somewhat forcefully to straighten up, but when he did he was met with a friendly face. Like his sisters, Ryan Norton had dark brown hair and blue eyes, but the pixie-like quality the girls possessed--big eyes and pale soft skin--was lost on him. He was still on the slight side of things, though, thin and shorter than Chris by half a head. Chris had taken to him instantly as the little brother he'd never had.

    "Where else would I be, you repugnant turd?" he asked, grasping Ryan's head with both hands and tousling his hair until it stuck out in every direction. Ryan jerked free and set to patting and smoothing his hair back down, smirking back at the doctor.

    "Sarah texted me. I guess something actually happened with Erin?"

    "Ah, yeah." Chris's face fell. "Walk with me, I'll explain on the way to her room."

    He led the way back to Erin's room, bringing Ryan up to speed on the situation as they went. The boy--which wasn't a fair use of the word, really, since Ryan was at least twenty--listened well and without interruption, though once he'd heard it out he shrugged. "So the machine didn't find anything, big whoop. Erin always thought those things were crap anyway. Trust me, Tool-man, she's just waiting for the right time to make her grand debut." He patted the doctor's shoulder then pushed through the door into Erin's room, where he hurried to his sister's side, smiling down at her as he leaned over the bed.



    By the time the Hunter made it to the site of the attack it was long over. The sky had turned an ugly grey when he got there, and he could taste rain on his tongue. He found the Sister there, weeping bitterly but unharmed, and he knelt down in front of her to touch her shoulder. "Hooke's men came, didn't they?" he asked her quietly, and she nodded, sniffling fitfully where she sat on a fallen log. "How many?"

    "I don't know," she said, wiping at her eyes before she looked up at him, the soft blue swimming with more unshed tears. "There were too many, though. I couldn't do anything to stop them. She looked so scared, though... she was terrified, and I couldn't even move to help her...!"

    She began to weep anew, burying her face in both hands, and the Hunter put a hand on her shoulder. He squeezed gently, but soon had to turn away, his eyes on the ground. Three, at least, not counting the sisters. The struggle had been brief and minor. As she said, Sarah hadn't moved to do much that he could see--and what could she do, realistically, against the pirates? Hooke's people were trained, efficient, nasty enough that even he paused to tangle with them directly. Now, though, he had no choice. He wasn't sure how he would free Erin, but he knew that he had to. There was no choice. He stood as the first raindrop fell through the trees, fat and heavy, right onto his upturned cheek. "Stay here," he told the woman softly. "I'm going to go get her back."

    "What, all alone?" came a playful voice, and the Hunter turned, smiling despite himself. The Brother stood at the edge of the clearing, grinning and brash, hands on both hips and a dagger tucked into his belt. The Hunter shrugged.

    "Well, only if you insist."

    Before long the two of them were kneeling at the edge of the trees again, this time looking out at the shipyard. The Sister was with them, hiding behind a tree. She had refused to stand idle while they went to fight, and while she couldn't do much to stop the pirates by force she had her tricks and wiles. "There," the Hunter pointed, right to Hooke's flagship. A cell stood on the deck of the ship, round and white and locked down tight. Four pirates all clad in blue stood around it, including Samuel himself, his white eyepatch turning as he stood guard in the rain. The Brother nodded, eyes scanning the docks.

    "Can you get an arrow on the deck at their feet?" he asked, and the Hunter grunted in the affirmative. "Good. Do that on my mark. Sarah, are you willing to be a distraction?"

    "Yes. I'll help however I can."

    "Atta girl. Here's my idea--as soon as Chris's arrow lands, you and him break out of the treeline and distract and draw away as many of the pirates as you can. When I see an opening, I'll go in and grab her. You'll know we made it out when those stupid white sails on the main ship go up in flame. Sound good?"

    The Hunter nodded, then looked to the Sister. "Stay ahead of them. Lead them away from the docks, and don't linger in one spot for too long."

    "Don't worry about me, Chris. I can handle myself... especially for Erin's sake."

    The Hunter nodded, then stood and stepped out of the trees. An arrow was already nocked on his bowstring, and he drew it back to his cheek, aiming up and up and up... and then he released. It sailed through the air, whistling through the rain to land with a thrumming thud between Samuel's feet. The pirate swore and jumped, then glared in the direction the arrow had come from. The Sister broke cover a heartbeat later, charging the docks on light steps. She jumped and kicked a pirate in the chest with both feet, slamming him onto his back and leaping elegantly over a chest two others carried. She bounced off of it and slammed it to the ground, then ran away again, a knot of the brutes roaring and giving chase.

    Another group had turned to engage the Hunter, swords and shields in hand as they chased him, his arrows whizzing past their heads and into the fleshy parts of their arms and legs. He kept them angry and engaged, just enough to follow, and in the silence after the Brother slipped away from the trees and out onto the docks. The few pirates that remained were easy to evade, and in minutes he stood next to the cylinder, which thumped and banged with strange noises and rain that pounded over its metal surface.

    He leaned down next to where her feet stuck out and found the ends of the stretcher they'd used there, too. He grinned as he drew his knife, slashing the ropes that kept her from crawling out on her own, then yanked at the stretcher and pulled her out of the device all at once. "Surprise," he said cheerfully over her, and his knife flashed as he cut Erin's bound arms and legs. "Hurry, now! We don't have much time to escape before the pirates come back!"
     
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  11. Teneo Lupum

    Teneo Lupum damned if you do, damned if you don’t Member

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    The sudden yank that removed her from the white tube was jarring. A strangled cry of fear burst forth from her lips. There was no way of knowing who was pulling on her or what they intended to do once she was freed from her small metal prison. An intense sense of relief flooded her body as realization dawned that it was her brother who had wrapped those strong fingers around the stretcher to free her and not some wretched pirate with a nefarious plan on his mind.

    Once her bonds were cut, she practically fell off the stretcher into the waiting arms of her little brother. Her limbs were full of pins and needles from being bound for so long and so tightly, the sharp prickles of pain making her whimper quietly as she let him bear her weight.

    Ryan flashed her a charming grin and nudged her in the ribs. “I bet you thought we were never going to come but you know me, I like nothing better than to make an entrance...or a daring rescue.” His expression and tone changed as he solemnly questioned his older sister. “Can you walk?”

    Erin tested her legs, shifting her weight and shaking each foot in turn. The pins and needles were still there but nowhere near as painful as they had been at first. Clutching his shirt tightly in her hands, she looked up at her little brother and nodded. After one more slow inhale to calm her nerves, she released the fabric from her clutches and took a few steps away from her baby brother. Each step made her feet tingle but the strange feeling slowly began to dissipate the farther she walked.

    Just as she was about to cross the gangplank onto the dock, she glanced back at her sibling. He wasn’t following her. A sorrowful expression stole across his boyish face. “I can’t come with you, Erin. You have to fly away home. I’ll stay here to keep you safe.” A short pause as a wistful smile formed and one hand raised to give a small wave. “Come on now. You know what to do.”

    She did know what to do. Tears welled in her eyes once more as she picked her way down the plank to the docks. Looking back at her brother would hurt too much so she squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, bent her knees, and pushed off the wooden boards beneath her feet.

    She took to the air, high into the sky and well above the trees. There was no lingering this time, no lazy swooping circles to feel the sun on her skin and the wind through her hair. No, this time, she headed straight for the Tree in the center of Never Land. It would not do to linger around the pirate ships. Hooke might return without warning and Erin knew the Captain would be ruthless in any attempt to recapture her.

    Straight to the Tree she went, zipping through the air as fast as she possibly could. Her landing on the wide branch that held her home was rough, one that made her stumble forward a few steps until she caught her balance. Erin hurried inside, hoping that her Sister was here or even the Hunter but the small structure was empty and had an air of abandonment hanging over it.

    One ragged sob slipped out as she crossed the small room and crawled onto her bed, pulling blankets over herself and cocooning inside them. She felt so utterly alone.



    It was late. Sarah had already left, trying her best to hide yawns behind her hand or claiming she was “just resting my eyes” as her head bobbed up and down as she fought off sleep. It had been Ryan who had finally stepped in and helped her request an Uber before gently shoving her out the door, promising he would stay with Chris and Erin as long as he could and yes, he would text if anything changed.

    The little brother sat in silence next to her bed. It was hard sometimes to keep up a cheery facade in the face of his beloved older sister attached to machines the way she was, especially this late at night. He tried though, at least for Chris’s sake. If anyone in the family could hold out hope, it was Ryan. He had almost convinced himself that she was just pretending. Erin’s ability to pretend to be asleep was legend in the Norton family. You could poke her, tickle her, peel her eyelids open, try anything and everything to make her move but it never worked. She was the best possum player Ryan had ever met. She always managed to shout and grab him at just the right moment to scare him silly.

    “C’mon, Erin. Quit playing possum. You win this time, you win all the times. Just wake up.” Not wanting her distraught almost-fiance to hear, he had leaned down to rest his forehead on her forearm, whispering quietly so she’d be the only one to hear what he had to say.

    Just then there came a soft knock on the door as it pushed open. “I’m afraid visiting hours are over. You have to fly away home but I’ll stay here to keep her safe.” The nurse’s words were directed at Ryan. Chris, as her doctor, would be allowed to stay as long as he wanted even if the nurse hoped he’d go home and get some decent rest for once.

    “Come on now. You know what to do. Just sit up and give us all a good scare.” But, as always, there was no response. The woman in the bed was motionless. Ryan stood up and leaned over to kiss her cheek, just a gentle touch of his lips to her skin, not wanting to cause her pain. He offered Chris a smile and a rough clap to the back before heading towards the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Tool-man.”

    The door closed quietly behind him as across the room, a tear rolled down Erin’s cheek.
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2018
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  12. Abeyance

    Abeyance Security Member

    Messages:
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    7:07 PM
    The Hunter led the pirates on a merry chase through the woods, though the only one who felt merry at any given point was him. He saw her fly halfway through the chase, and knew that the Brother had been successful. He knew what to do next, and put on a burst of speed that carried him well ahead of the pirates. All it took after that was finding a secluded spot beneath an old, fallen log, where he wedged himself in tight and lay unmoving as they charged past him and over him, never thinking to look down or around as they sped away into the growing darkness of the trees. He knew it wasn't a nice thought, but for a moment he hoped that the dark things that lived in the trees would get them all, one at a time, until there was nothing left but scraps.

    Once he was sure they were gone he turned and cut through the trees again, back toward the pirate's camp. He crept through the brush right to the edge, where he peered down at the ships collected around the dock. He could see Hooke's ship there, the clean white sails only just beginning to unfurl. Some of the pirates were back--the ones who had been chasing the Sister, if he had it right, but he didn't see any sign of her. Not her or the Brother, for that matter. For some reason it didn't seem right to him, that they weren't there, when they had been so prevalent before. Shouldn't they have met back here? And shouldn't the sails have gone up in flames? He hadn't questioned the Brother when he said he'd do it, even if the sails were soaking wet canvas thanks to the rain, but had he been thwarted so readily?

    No, none of this felt right at all. The Hunter scowled to himself and slipped back into the woods, his feet carrying him to the tree that all of the siblings called home. The Lost Ones, he called them in his privacy, in their Lost Tree here in a lost world. He had sworn to see all three of them to safety, somehow. In retrospect that promise seemed very foolish, indeed. How could he hope to sneak them away past Hooke? And yet he had promised, and so he must find a way. What was the impossible, after all, if not a challenge for the skilled.

    On his way back he passed the spot where the Cleaner had fallen and been slain. The body was gone. That only seemed right. Nonbelievers had no place here in this lost realm.



    Chris did not leave.

    He stayed where he was until it was late, using a cleared trolley to pore over all his research into the types of injuries that had sent Erin into her coma. His tablet was set up, too, so he could send emails to any specialists whose names came up, asking them for advice or guidance. He knew he had begun to reach the end of a very finite list of men and women, but he'd written down every single name and their contact information. If he had to, he would resort to phone calls to try and get the answer he needed.

    It had to be out there. He couldn't afford to tell himself anything else. There had to be a treatment, a surgery, a procedure that he hadn't heard of that someone had pioneered or thought of. It was to the degree that he was willing to entertain even experimental ideas, even bizarre Eastern concepts involving incense and abstract thought. Chris hated to admit it to himself--he preferred driven or stubborn or hopeful--but he knew he was sliding toward desperation, slowly but surely.

    Sleep took him before he could properly process it, and he awoke some six hours later to a very nearly dead tablet. The email form he'd been working on had dissolved into a long string of 'j', as many as could be typed when one held down a key for at least six hours. He swore under his breath and closed the email, though it saved as a draft that he was sure he should never risk opening. He shut the device off and set it aside on the trolley, then looked over at Erin as he blinked the grogginess out of his system. "Morning," he murmured to her. "Oh, stop that. You know I hate the silent treatment. If you woke up in the night and decided to just go back to sleep, I won't blame you, but I need to know." He waited for a response that never came.

    Not desperate, he reminded himself. Driven. Stubborn. Hopeful.

    He got up and forced himself to visit the cafeteria, where he helped himself to a stiff cup of black coffee and a couple of cold pancakes. He was halfway through the second and considering the sausage that one of the cooks had just put out when his phone rang. He dug it one-handed out of his pocket and answered without checking the ID, too tired to care. "Doctor Tool."

    "Tool-man."

    "Ryan! Hey, kid. Kinda early for you to be calling, isn't it? Thought you'd be sleeping in."

    "Yeah, well... that's the thing, man. I've got kind-of-bad news."

    Chris felt his heart sink. "Okay. How bad? One to ten."

    "Where ten's the worst? Like... a seven."

    "So you're not in a coma," Chris said dryly.

    "Not that I know of. No, it's... I wanted to bring it up yesterday, but seeing you and Sarah and Erin and everything... I couldn't, man. I just couldn't. I feel crappy doing it this way, but I ran out of time. I can't even make it to the hospital right now."

    "Ryan, talk to me. What's going on?"

    "Classes start again tomorrow. I'm flying back to California today. I board my plane in about twenty minutes."

    It took every ounce of effort Chris had to not utter some sort of dirty oath and question Ryan's timing. Classes? He was going back to school when Erin was in a coma? Even as he processed his frustration, though, he saw the logic in it. Ryan had a life. Goals. A plan. His sister getting into a wreck hadn't been in that plan, but he couldn't just put his entire life on hold because of it. He couldn't stop in place... even if Chris himself had. He must have been quiet for too long, because Ryan's voice came again, small and meek.

    "Am I a coward, Tool-man?"

    "No. No, Ryan, you're not a coward." He cleared his throat a little. "No, actually, I bet Erin would be pissed if you skipped out on your classes just because of this. When she wakes up she's going to be glad you kept to your responsibilities."

    "She won't be mad?"

    "She'd be a lot more mad if you flunked out, kid. Leave it with me and Sarah, okay? By the time you come back she'll be up and roaring. Just keep your grades up, okay? She's gonna need help paying off these medical bills, some brainiac college kid brother would be awesome for her."

    "Heh. Yeah. Yeah, you're right. She'd kick my ass if I stayed. So would you."

    "God damn straight."

    "Okay. Alright... thanks, Chris. Tell Erin I'm sorry."

    "I'll tell her, but you know what she'll say. Just go try and have fun, alright? I'll call as soon as she wakes up. SHE'LL call as soon as she wakes up."

    "I'mma hold you to that. Shit, they're calling--okay, I gotta go. See you later, Chris."

    "Yeah. Later, man." He looked down at the phone as the line went dead, then threw it onto the table next to his half-eaten pancake. He knew it was reasonable, right, even healthy, but he couldn't help feeling like somehow Ryan had abandoned him and his sister. Chris stood and pocketed his phone, then threw away the rest of the pancake. He drank the rest of the coffee, too, and threw away the cup before he headed back to her room, reinvigorated to find a solution. He should be checking in on his other patients, but they could wait. Just one hour more.
     
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