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Sympathy for the Devil - Chapter Six, 1/2




    Chapter Six: Saturday

The twenty-sixth of June, 2007

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out who killed the Kennedys
When after all, it was you and me



Nicholas jerked into a world smelling of plastic and the sound of little kees and unknown wvoosh-pumps somewhere out of sight.

"Mrrk."


Something in his mouth. Tasting of plastic. Unable to move his lips, tongue around it. Bleh.


With effort that felt like benchpressing ten stone instead of lifting an arm, he scrabbled at his face, knocking loose something going up into his nose– ok, seriously do not think about that, do not think about catheters going into your lungs or going up your– and dislodging the majority of the short feeding tube, which promptly flopped back onto his face like a wet-warm sort of speaker mike.


"Duh…"


Alright,
said the Inspector. That's just sad.


"Danny?" rasped out Nicholas, and coughed, trying to clear his throat. It still tasted of plastic, and felt coated in dust.


“Urrwha',” mumbled Danny.


Over the last six days he had learned a lot about the impossibility of sleeping properly in hard plastic chairs, and right now he was adopting the best method he'd found so far, which was sitting with his arms folded and his head tipped back against the one solid wall of the small, curtained-off room. It was a pretty good method, unless you happen to do something like waking up with a start, because then you are apt to whack yourself quite hard on the back of the head.


Danny didn't just whack his head; he almost fell off his chair. He jerked forwards, his white shirt and pale, startled face looking almost blue under the sterile strip-lights, which had a curious universal knack of leaching colour from everything they touched. Looking for what he'd been looking for endlessly over the last, awful, week– some tiny sign of improvement.


“Nicholas?
Nicky? Did'you–”


"Un– unless this is still– just get this stuff off me," said Nicholas, giving up and spitting at the interfering feeding tube. "Didju get Gilcrest?"


Danny couldn't prevent a laugh, which came out more of a gasp of relief, and he reached over and pulled the tube and its little twist of elastic and tape off over his head, batting the piece of equipment he'd started to think of as 'the nose thing' out of the way. Trust Nicholas to come back thinking about something like that. He rubbed his face with his palms, trying to recover enough to give his partner a coherent reply.


“Yeah, I got 'im. There's one sod who's going to be happy you've woken up, for starters. I don't think he was really up for bein' charged with manslaughter.” And then, with a sort of painful nonchalance, as if being too urgent about it might jinx the issue, “How… how're you feelin'?”


"Um." Nicholas really hadn't devoted any thought to pain until now. There wasn't a wedge of sharp pain digging into his ankle anymore– just general, pervading soreness from laying still for too long, and fading bruises– although it could be numbed by anything they'd been pumping into his system since they'd moved him here– there could be broken bones, for all he knew. He couldn't feel his rib grinding or throbbing, either…


"Like I really ought to go jogging again."


Pause.


"You?"


“You… fell down a fifteen-foot hole, Nick,” said Danny, carefully. “Doctor said it's a miracle you didn't break your neck.”


He tucked back a bit of Nicholas's hair that had been ruffled up by the elastic, then grinned in spite of himself– probably his first true grin in a week. “I don't think they're goin' to let you go runnin' off just yet.”


"Mmm."


On sheer enterprising experiment, Nicholas tried to wiggle a toe, and failed. Definitely sprained, if not worse. He'd have to wait 'til later to see if he'd really actually snapped a r–


"Danny," said Nicholas, suddenly, lowering his still-pretty-wonky voice and interrupting the internal monologue of the Inspector observing damages and writing them up for later. "I want to watch Gladiator, and eat a Cornetto, and for you to shag me through a three-foot-thick mattress. Okay?"


“One at a time, though, yeah?” Danny thought for a moment, forehead wrinkling. “I dunno, though, wouldn't it get in the way?”


"You know what I mean." God, he couldn't even prop himself up on his elbows to attack Danny with a kiss, which would have been the usual response to something as transparently a come-on as that.


"Danny," he said, in all seriousness. "I haven't switched off. It's been six days of, of being stuck in my head with no you and no way of getting back, or even knowing if it was possible, and I'm so not-switched-off by this point I'm afraid I might get stuck this way and oh for fuck's sake–"


A wall of reeling black caught him up, and Danny faded from view.

 

*

Danny's voice, indignant and quite a bit louder than it was acceptable to be in a hospital, through the dark fog.

“I was not asleep, he bloody woke up! Check his wavy lines!”

 

*

Time wrapped around on itself. It had been difficult, sealing that final loop. There was the always present possibility, as in the possibility that this time around, page opened in the middle, that the villain in the story could win. It was the way of time, that things in Sandford would happen over and over and overlay on each other, like ghosts or overlaid frames of film. It made up the spirit of Sandford, all those people who’d ever lived there, dedicated their lives to the swelling and shrinking village.

Frank Buttleman had been… unwanted. After all, if he’d continued, if he and a certain escaped (read, specifically-selected-to-be-
released) criminal had joined forces instead of the two pitting their intelligence and skills against the other…

If Nicholas Angel had not been there to re-anchor Frank Butterman’s morals…


If one or both of them had died in the fire, or killed each other before the story unwound, or if they'd just simply failed to work together...


If Danny Buttleman had not survived to help Sandford into a new age, a naturally-evolving era of uncorrupted policing and forward-thinking beyond its years…


Things could have gone very, very wrong.


But they hadn’t.


It was a lucky thing Nicholas Angel had been anchored by the dead and the ancient at both ends of his journey. He might not have made it back, after fulfilling his purpose, if not for that. He certainly hadn’t understood when the village had tried piping the thoughts directly into his head. But no matter. He’d just done what had come naturally to him, and had pulled it off beautifully. He hadn’t even gotten any family trees cut unceremoniously short.


Times change. Places change. Like a game of chess, all moves are possible. A chessboard doesn't take sides, and the pieces don't care who wins and who loses.


But the players do.

 

*

The next time Nicholas approached something like consciousness, Danny was still in more or less the same place. There was a dog-eared copy of Empire on his lap, and he had shifted his chair around slightly so his view of the bed, and vice versa, wasn't so obscured by all the stuff all over the side table.

There was a lot of it. Flowers, mostly, bright explosions of colour with tags stuck to their vases, some already beginning to drop bits of petals and pollen over the table and floor. Cards, running the whole gamut from a couple with the inevitable kittens, to an absolutely filthy one which pointed out that only two types of people make money by lying in a bed. Someone appeared to have pushed this one hastily behind a vase of daffodils.


"Blur," said Nicholas, waking up from what would turn out to be his very last nightmare ever concerning castles and churches and things that had no business being animate talking objects, and viewing this particular display of Sandfordian misplaced enthusiasm (and taste) with a slightly hitched lip.


Danny looked up sharply from an article about the latest promo photos for The Dark Knight, and smiled sheepishly.


“I got you this thing,” he said, half-whispering, “only they won't let you bring in anything alive in a pot– I s'pose they're worried about bacteria– so I had to leave it at home. It's one of those little bonsai tree things, a Japanese Elm. You'd better get better quick so you can come back an' take care of it, I'm like Dr. Crippen with plants.”


Nicholas nudged a hand out towards the edge of the bed towards him, beginning to grin. "I know." The birthday lily had only lived because Nicholas was the one who had taken care of it– until the sea mine had blown up the evidence room, with everything else. "You'd probably rub salt into the leaves if I weren't around."


“I gave it some Baby Bio, like the label said,” said Danny, who had evidently had this on his chest for a while, “but the book I got out the library said I shouldn't have done that, even. I don't know how you're s'posed to tell which one's right. It's like the bit that says you've got to water it with rainwater. Where'm I s'posed to get rainwater from in the middle of bloody June?”


He took Nicholas's hand, careful not to knock the awkward blood monitor cuff taped to his index. “You're gettin' some colour back.”


"Mmm," said Nicholas, curling his fingers around Danny's and smiling at the rough, slightly sweaty texture. And then, "Love you."


Danny squeezed back, but the slight undertone of nervousness that had been apparent when he was going on about the bonsai was still there, and he gave Nicholas a small glance that dodged to the left, over the other side of the bed.


"Er," said Nicholas, catching on, and rolled his head to the right.


His mother had commandeered a plastic chair of her own, had been sitting with her hands in her lap. She looked like she might have been recently asleep, although it was difficult to tell because being able to wake up quickly and with no apparent sleepiness was something that ran in their blood, or at least it was when the blood in question didn't have three types of sedatives percolating through it. She smiled at him, eyebrow slightly raised.


“Hello, love.”


Nicholas flushed furiously, could feel his heart rate pick up from the sluggish pace it had been on the hospital bed to something more definitely alive –like he was back on that rattling funeral cart– and then remembered that everyone else was aware of it too, as the steady little background bips sped up on the machine behind him.


Weakly, he managed, "Hello, Mum."


Amy got up, leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “Don't you worry,” she told him, briskly. “We've been getting on like a house on fire. You might have told me, though.”


Nicholas looked down, feeling thoroughly chastised. It wasn't that he was in any way ashamed of Danny, but…


"I was working on the best way to tell you," he said, and it was the honest truth. He'd obsessed over it, pulling apart situations, stringing together a dialogue in his mind, what he'd say, what she'd say, perhaps preparing some sort of presentation… but it had never been quite up to snuff, and after a while every approach he'd decided on made him feel stupid, and he'd put it off.


And now he'd lost control of the situation by failing to act soon enough, and he'd be working by improv from now on.


Amy gave him a look full of understanding and exasperation. “Nearly left it a bit late this time, didn't you?”


Danny had to look away and grin at the flowers. As nice as Nicholas's mum was, he was fervently glad that she had not been there for the bit about the Cornettos and the shagging.


"Didn't… know how to tell you there wouldn't be any grandchildren," said Nicholas, ears still pinking. He’d rather be up against an enormous, unstoppable, and worst of all, half-intelligent Armstrong again, than be here, discussing this with his mum.


She hugged him, briefly. Amy didn't wear perfume, but somehow the clean laundry scents of her skin and hair conspired for a moment to crowd out the sickly hospital smell. “I didn't have you for the grandkids, you... you perfectionist.”


A woman in a receptionist's uniform almost the same colour as the walls chose that moment to poke her head around the dividing curtain. She put a hand on Danny's shoulder, spoke quietly to him when he turned to her, then withdrew. Danny got up, hurriedly, dumping his magazine on the floor.


“Just a sec,” he assured Nicholas, and pushed through the curtain after her.


"Where's he going?" asked Nicholas, arms still wrapped around the back of his mother's neck and grasping his own wrists to keep his heavy arms from falling, and quite unable to keep the note of disappointment from his voice.


“Mm…” hesitated Amy, into his neck, then disentangled herself, gently, laying his arms down by his sides. “His… dad's none too clever, love. I think he's taking a call.”


"…Oh," said the younger Angel. His hands twitched, curled, tightened, released, rinse, repeat. If they'd both been in a coma, like Frank had said… That gaping wound in his side couldn't have been good, whether or not it had all been some sort of collective dream.


This was going to be very, very hard for Danny.


He stared at his clenching hands for a minute, then said, "Mum. Do you think you could get me my handgrip? It's probably in my house, somewhere."


His mum smiled at him, warmly. It was quite possible that she read a story of her own in those twitchy restless hands, but if she did, she wasn't telling. “I'll bring it tomorrow.”

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
random_nexus
Jun. 17th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
I've been doing the junky shuffle waiting for this!!!
Oh, my my my, this is... all kinds of yay. Assorted flavors, take your pick.
Woo!

*greedily hops to next bit*
waffleguppies
Jun. 17th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
Can I be one to tell you exactly how awesome you are for commenting on every single chapter we've put up?

Yes. You are that awesome.
random_nexus
Jun. 17th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
*grin* You sure 'awesome' is the word you want? Not 'annoying' or 'persistent' or 'pest'?
;D

HEEE! - IT'S BECAUSE I'M ENJOYING IT THAT MUCH!

waffleguppies
Jun. 18th, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC)
I echo my erstwhile ameneusis here, your blow-by-blow commenting is made of the win.
random_nexus
Jun. 18th, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
Well, backatcha. So there.
And thankee.
:D
miss_dearheart
Jun. 17th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
“I didn't have you for the grandkids, you... you perfectionist.” I like Nicholas's mother. And the idea to make a presentation - that's so Nicholas.
I loved it. Danny is so sweet, worrying about the plants.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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