|First of a series of character development pieces I wrote for a CWRPG. Actually spent more time doing that than I did in the missions themselves. This one fills in a gap between instances where I'd used them in a different game. It's divided into four pieces, but it's really one unit, so I'm not going to chapter it out.|
(1) Drunk and Disorderly
"You could come, you know, if it bothers you so much."
"I think not. It's bad enough knowing you're going to amble out sober and come back staggering. I don't think I'll watch the process."
"It's more fun than you think, yaknow." Douglas leaned back against the doorway, eyeing her speculatively. "I bet you'd enjoy it."
"Like hell." Wraith was seated at the table, legs crossed, lazily perusing the reading material he'd had with him when she returned from the mission. She very deliberately didn't look up at him. "Getting drunk and looking like a fool are very much hobbies of yours."
Douglas sighed melodramatically. "Well ... I guess that's true ... but, yaknow ... who knows what'll happen the next time you have to come peeling me off the floor ... maybe I'll get in a fight or something, and you won't be there to protect me --"
"You are incredibly full of shit." Wraith slammed the book down on the table. "But if you insist ..." She bared her teeth in an irritable smile.
"Er, I don't really --"
"Too bad." She stalked to his side, took him firmly by the arm, and led him out into the hall. "So, this bar?"
Douglas gave her a defeated look. Ten minutes later, it was a defeated sulk.
"You could let me have one, yaknow," he scowled at his white-haired bodyguard, who had just finished off a third beer -- a third beer that was rightfully his. Every time he'd ordered a drink, she had calmly and precisely taken it away from him and swallowed it down as if to make a point. It was making him exceptionally grouchy.
Her expression was idle -- weirdly relaxed, in fact, as she answered him. "I could indeed. But then you'd be getting drunk."
"That's kind of the whole point, Wraith."
"So it is." She gave him a remarkably steady stare. "Going order anything else?"
He met her challenge with a light snort. "As a matter of fact ... hey! Barkeep! A vodka, if you don't mind!"
Wraith's expression of annoyance was impressive, even in her slightly inebriated state. "How tedious."
This time, as the drink slid down the counter toward them, they both lunged for it at once, which resulted only in getting the both of them liberally splashed with vodka and knocking the glass onto the floor, where it shattered explosively.
"Bother," muttered Wraith, as Douglas stared blankly back and forth between her and the mess on the floor.
"Great, you wasted the drink, and we have to pay for the crockery --"
The white-haired Reploid snorted, interrupting him, as she snagged a nearby napkin and began to mop herself dry. "You can afford a drink and a glass, given what you have access to."
"I thought Dad cut me off. You told me he did --" He stared at her wonderingly for a moment. "You mean I've had access to my account all this time!?"
She tapped her fingers meditatively on the bar for a moment as if she hadn't heard him. "As a matter of fact," she remarked just as he was going to repeat his question, "yes. Bloody-minded old fool always hoped you'd come back to the fold."
"You're puttin' me on."
She gave him a cross look. "If it's a lie, you'll know the next time you access your bank account." She whistled sharply up the room, where the barkeep could be seen, a faintly surly expression on his face. "Excuse me, can I have another, please?" she cooed, smiling sunnily.
"That just doesn't sound like hi -- what are you doing?" The puzzlement that had marked her charge's face turned suddenly to stark horror as she caught the drink she'd ordered and knocked it back in a long gulp. "Wra-aith," he began warily, but she didn't answer, smacking the glass firmly down onto the counter.
"You know," she said conversationally, "you were right. Being drunk isn't all that bad."
"Yeah, sure.." As a matter of fact, he'd been regretting the notion for the past half-hour, but he wasn't about to let her suddenly garrulous mood go un-mined. "Uh, just exactly what were you saying -- about my dad?"
"You pick the most annoying times to exhibit that familial single-mindedness that annoys me so much," she sniped, raising her voice slightly.
"Well, you're the one who brought it up."
"You're the one who took all of his dreams and threw them back in his face!"
"I did what!?"
Wraith stood up very abruptly, slamming both hands down on the counter -- half for emphasis and half to disguise a rather startling wobble in her balance. "You have the intelligence, the capabilities -- you could have taken over five years ago when you left!" She barrelled onward, ignoring his frantically placating gestures. People were beginning to stare. "Your father wanted the business to stay in the family, and now he's going to have to hand it over to someone else -- his life's work!"
"Just because it was his life's work doesn't mean I want it to be MINE!" Douglas roared finally.
"Well, of course not!" She paused, face flushed, and clutched one hand to her head, unable to track her meandering train of thought. "But.. but why -- you didn't have to fight, you ignorant.. ignorant jerks. All it ever did was.. make things worse." She looked up from the bar, gaze unfocused. "You couldn't see how much .. you were hurting each other." She clutched convulsively at the edge of the counter, suddenly very dizzy. She fended off Douglas' annoying attempts to support her with slurred objections, losing track of everything all of the sudden when she slid to the floor, dead unconscious.
(2) Velvet Night
Douglas leaned heavily against the wall, panting and cursing the nearest convenient deity for giving him such a big mouth. "I'm beginning to see," he said to the unconscious Reploid half-slung over one shoulder, "why you pitch such a fit about me doing this kind of thing." At her lack of response, he sighed and struggled on. "But then, you know, I'm not quite as heavy as you, not having metal innards and all ... and you're considerably stronger than me, so --" He broke off, having reached his door, and reached his arm over carefully to push it open. "-- I don't see why you complain so much."
He staggered inside, accidentally stumbling Wraith into the doorframe once. She yelped groggily, thrashing her free arm nearly into his face, but didn't wake, much to the unfortunately sober human's relief. "Come on, Wraith, let's lie down and let you sleep this off, eh?"
He grinned, settling her carefully into his bed and kneeling beside it. "Don't get too mad at me when you wake up, okay? Every spoiled rich kid has to do this at least once, right?" The grin faded into a fond smile, and he reached one hand over to gently brush a lock of pale hair from her face.
As he rose, the fiendish grin returned, and he trotted out the door again, snagging his jacket from its hook as he went. "I haven't been to Misa's in a while -- I'll betcha the guys miss me."
"Well, well, well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes."
"Misa!" Douglas waved heartily from the doorway, then bounced across the room to sweep the grizzled bartender into an affectionate embrace. "How could I stay away, knowing you were here?"
"And an ass, as usual." She arched an eyebrow. "Where's your shadow?"
He dipped her nearly to the floor, then spun her lightly away. "Would you believe I managed to ditch my watchdog for an evening of fine company and philosophical conversation?"
"No, but I'll believe you ditched her to get smashed with your buddies."
"You always were a cold one."
Further banter was interrupted by a chorus of rowdy greetings from the other regulars, who treated him to a round of welcome-back drinks that reminded him of exactly why he'd always come to this particular seedy bar. By the time he made it back to the bar, determined to talk to Misa for a bit before he passed out on the floor, he was staggering.
"You know, there was a guy in here earlier, askin' about you," she said before he could speak, which momentarily dumbfounded him. He decided he must have had a great deal to drink.
"Askin' 'bout me?" he managed, leaning heavily on the bar as he tried to work himself onto the stool. A great deal to drink.
"Yeah." The black-haired woman gave him a moody look, tapping the fingers of her cybernetic arm on the bar in front of him. "He didn't look like the friendly type, either."
"Damn," Douglas sighed, honestly disappointed. "I need more friends."
Misa snorted, sounding to Douglas' ears a lot like Wraith when she was about to go on a rampage. "This undoubtedly doesn't mean much to you in your current state -- and by morning you'll have probably forgotten it anyway -- but watch your back, kid. And stick close to Wraith for a while." She glanced up at him and found that his attention had drifted across the room to an enthusiastic game of pool. "Geh. Why do I even bother?"
Douglas turned back to her, puzzled to see that she was walking away. He wondered if it was something he'd said. After a moment's silence, his bleary gaze focused on the clock above the doorway. Two AM? When had it gotten to be two AM? "Aagh.." He scratched his scalp clumsily, trying to remember where he was supposed to go home to this time.
They'd moved around a lot, hadn't they? No.. this time they were somewhere more permanent. Somewhere Wraith could make money. But why did Wraith need to make money? His inebriated state did little to facilitate his thought process as he ambled toward the door, waving a regretful farewell to his buddies and to Misa, who promised she'd put it on his tab.
He wondered how much of a tab he'd run up. He could never remember paying. The rush of cool air that met his face as he walked outside gave the illusion of clearing his mind, and he stretched, yawning. Of course, it wouldn't do to fall asleep in the gutter. It always annoyed Wraith -- which was why he did it, sometimes. But not today. Today he had to go back and apologize, for some reason. He wasn't sure what. He suspected it would come to him as he walked, though.
It was several blocks before he noticed he'd been followed, and even then he wasn't particularly concerned about it. In a fusion of reality and assumption, he guessed Wraith had already tracked him down and was trailing him, waiting for the right moment to jump out and give him what for.
Only when a choked voice growled out "It is you," did he stop and half-turn to see a short, husky man of middle age, wild-eyed and sweating profusely in the pale light of the streetlamp.
"Have we.. met?" With great effort, he kept his voice from slurring, a feat he was unnaturally proud of at that moment.
The little man choked again, eyes almost crossing in a paroxysm of -- it took him a moment to identify the emotion -- rage. He did seem familiar, at that, but Douglas was unsure as to why until he spoke again.
"Murderer!" he roared, dragging a previously unnoticed shotgun out into the open.
Douglas stared at the gleaming muzzle in blank incomprehension, mentally attempting to puzzle out why it should be pointed at his face.
Murderer! You bastard! You killed him!
He blinked slowly as the man took a step forward. "Are you trying to tell me you don't remember?" he rasped, the gun wobbling in his hand. Shaking. He was shaking. From anger? From fear? From what?
It wasn't loaded! I swear it wasn't loaded! I CHECKED!
"I swear.. it.. wasn't.. loaded.." Douglas breathed slowly, a trickle of sweat runnelling down the side of his face.
"That's what you said then, isn't it?" The man took another step forward, his grip on the weapon steadying slightly. He wasn't holding it right, Douglas noted critically. His finger wasn't even on the trigger. "How can you still tell me the same lies?! You aren't performing for the police this time, boy!"
Sirens. Screams. An explosion in his hand. Blood. Worse.
"I didn't.." His hollow gaze was focused on the gun, but for some reason he didn't see the butt of the weapon swing up to crack him in the jaw and send him spinning into the street.
"DON'T TELL ME YOU DIDN'T DO IT, BOY." The man's bellow was shallow in his ears, drowned out by roaring of his own mind. "All I want to know --" Steadier now. Calming down? Getting angrier? "-- is why you did it. If you tell me that, it'll all be over with."
Douglas gulped, stifling a panicky giggle. Wraith, I'm really scared now. Pleasepleaseplease make him go away. "It was.. an accident.. it wasn't.. I didn't.."
The explosion hit his chest before he knew it was coming, throwing him backward, farther into the road. To his astonishment, he discovered he was flat on his back and staring at the sky. Velvet night.
"Wrai.." He broke off with a gurgling choke, vaguely aware of the iron taste of blood on his lips as the starless sky swallowed his vision.
Wraith woke with the suddenness of a student caught napping and sat up with a jerk, regretting it almost instantaneously as a remarkable headache surged across her awareness with all the subtlety of a tidal wave. Idiot. She shouldn't have let Douglas goad her into that kind of stupidity. He'd be answering for it soon enough, though.
She opened one eye and was relieved to find that it didn't make her head hurt worse. It was then she realized that she wasn't in her bed -- or her room, for that matter. Douglas. He must have dropped her in his room and then -- she lurched to her feet with an infuritated growl, ignoring the stabbing pain behind her eyes.
One hand to her throbbing head, the black-skinned Reploid stumbled to the door, pausing briefly to collect her thoughts. First, her room. Her things. And a self-diagnostic. He was probably passed out in a gutter again, she reflected irritably. At the beginning of their life on the street, he had taken every opportunity to publicly humiliate himself -- and, in turn, his father. Barfights and public brawling, dealing narcotics, passing out drunk in the street..
She pushed into her room, grimacing at the memories. But it hadn't happened -- not even a minor offense -- for nearly two years, and she could fathom why he would suddenly backslide. And this job, this organization ... she couldn't help feeling uneasy about it, in spite of the fact that most of the members seemed --
The light was flashing on her comm console. No one had that contact information except Douglas, unless ... She walked toward the console slowly, almost unwillingly, and brought the recorded message up with a light tap.
The face that flashed onto the screen was open, friendly, and gently concerned. She knew the expression. "Sir or ma'am, this is Southlake Memorial Hospital, and we're attempting to contact next of kin .... We have a young man in our care, and we found this number on his person -- if you know anything, would you please contact us at --"
Wraith sank into her chair at the desk, limbs like lead, as the young man finished his message and buzzed into silence. She knew the hospital. The neighborhood. The bar. God help me if I've failed him again. She rose mechanically, leaving the console on behind her as she walked out the door.
The route was so familiar. And so foreign.
God help me.
"Are you.. next of kin..?" She'd met the same doubtful stare, hesitant politeness at every stop along the way. The nurse outside his room, however, seemed bound and determined to barricade the door until she'd received a satisfactory answer.
"I'm as close as you're going to get," Wraith rasped, staring past the woman's head at the prone figure inside.
"He's just come out of surgery, you really can't -- hey!"
Wraith ignored the yelp of protest and shoved the woman aside, silently entering the room where her charge lay. She stood dumb at the foot of the bed, watching the flutter of his ravaged chest, swathed in bandages, barely functioning. She clutched the bed's railing, hands shaking, a howl bursting to be let free from her throat. Her teeth gritted to stopper it.
"I'm sorry, sir," she heard vaguely from the doorway, "she pushed me over and barged right in --"
"It's all right." The voice that had left the message. "I'll speak to her."
She turned her head slowly at his approach, gaze suggesting with hollow deadliness what would follow if he should order her to leave. He did nothing of the kind.
"I take it, then," he said slowly, "that it was your number we found."
She nodded, then added, "Yes." To her annoyance, her voice cracked over the single syllable.
"Then he's your.."
"Ward. I'm his bodyguard." Her hands clenched over the railing again. A fine job she'd done of that.
The doctor's gaze betrayed nothing, a mere nod indicating that he'd processed the information. "Well," he said, "it probably won't come as any surprise to you, but your friend is a remarkably lucky man."
Her gaze swept back to Douglas. Lucky, indeed.
"He took a shot at close range.. would have died if someone hadn't called 9-1-1."
"Called 9-1-1?" Her voice sharpened. "Who called?"
"I don't know, ma'am, truly don't. There wasn't anyone there when the ambulance got to the scene."
Wraith didn't answer him, and he went on, more uncomfortable by the minute.
"The reason we tried to contact next of kin is, you see, the surgery.. we had to do a lot of patchwork.. cybernetics and regrowths, you know the stuff." At her nod, he continued. "It's an expensive process, and we normally require permission, because of.. well, possible religious or ethical entanglements, but he was an emergency --"
She raised her hand, stopping him. "We can pay whatever you want. Will he be all right?"
"We think so." A pause. "He'll have to be kept under observation for a while, but he came through the procedure with flying colors -- very strong. It's just a waiting came now."
"I'm used to waiting games." Her lips curved, eliciting a chuckle from the doctor.
"Well, you're free to stay. It's not as if we can stop you anyway, it seems," he murmured with some amusement.
Wraith uttered a dismissive snort and looked up at him, some of the deadness returning to her eyes. "I need to make a call first."
"Of course, there's a phone in the room." He led her over to it, seeming at last to have gained his footing with her. "Ah, if you'll excuse me, Miss, there'll be a nurse in to check up on him later."
She nodded her understanding, already reaching for the phone, fingers automatically dialing the number. As she listened to it ring once, twice, and again, she wondered who she was betraying with this call. Perhaps he wouldn't even answer. She hadn't used the number in a long time.. maybe he'd thrown the cell away. Knowing better wasn't the same as knowing for sure. To her surprise, she found herself catching her breath when someone picked up after the fifth ring.
"Arthur Brandt." Funny, he always answered the phone like that.
"Sir." Even more odd how that was always her response. Automatic. Mechanical.
"I'm about to be late for a meeting, Cass," he said without missing a beat. "Can this wait?"
"He's in the hospital, sir," Wraith recited, gaze fixed on the far wall as the words fell from her mouth like stones. "Gunshot wound. Unconscious." She counted the ticks of a nearby wall clock, waiting for his response.
"I'll be there in a half hour."
The line went dead.
When he walked in the door, she was struck by the lines of pain and worry in his face, the slump of his back, as if he carried a tremendous weight on his shoulders. Perhaps he did. The line of his jaw, so similar to his son's, buried in a growth of graying beard he hadn't had the last time she'd seen him. He hadn't had the gray the last time she'd seen him.
She rose from the chair, her usual grace faltering with her own dismay. Failed again. He held up a hand to forestall the words that tried to burst from her lips and limped over to the foot of the bed, pulling his hat off. "I thought he was still seventeen." He shook his head, setting the hat he had unwittingly crumpled on the foot of the bed. "Has it been seven years? Really?"
He wasn't speaking to her. She wasn't in the room. She sank into the chair again, eyes cast to the floor.
"That's too long, son. Too long." He gave a short barking laugh, and Wraith looked up to see him scratching the back of his head. "Funny, isn't it? The only times I can talk to you are the times you can't hear me." His hand dropped to rest on the railing, fingers tapping a languid rhythm on the metallic surface. "The house is quiet now.. did you know Frost died last summer? Just fell asleep, right in my lap. I wish you could have seen her before she went, son. I think she missed you. I was reading Tennyson.. you always did like him."
He fell silent for several minutes. When he spoke again, his voice was barely a whisper. "I forgave you seven years ago, boy. I wonder if you'll ever forgive me." His hand flicked down to scoop the hat up and replace it on his head, and he turned to go.
Wraith half-rose to protest, and he paused. "No, Wraith, you will not resign. I don't want to know the circumstances. I don't want to hear you say it was your fault. Take up your cross, bear your grief.. and do better next time."
"Sir," she answered weakly.
"Losing you now.. would be the worst thing for him, don't you think?" Without a backward glance, he walked out the door.
She sank back into her chair, her legs, oddly, unable to hold her. The white-haired Reploid buried her face in her hands, breaking the howl of misery that threatened to wrench itself from her into a series of short, choked sobs. Who can forgive you if you can't forgive yourself?
(4) Canta Per Me
He could remember that much, being bent double in an alleyway, heaving the contents of his stomach onto a pile of already-smelly garbage and watching it all flash before his eyes, over and over.
"Are you finished?" Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her boots -- somehow still clean -- and one of them was tapping impatiently. "We have to keep moving."
He didn't answer. His breath was still coming in deep, rapid gulps, but nothing else was coming up, at least. She stood there a moment longer, then ducked under his arm to lift him to his feet, despite his attempts to fend her off. He was dirty, she'd get all messy.
"Stop it," she said shortly, and he slouched against her, letting her drag him up the street. "It's not much farther. Somewhere safe." Her words were almost drowned out by the roaring in his head.
He didn't know how much time passed before he woke from his hazy daydream, but when he did, he was clean. No blood, no bits. He wondered what she'd done with his shirt. Recycled it probably.. whose clothes was he wearing? They couldn't be his.. too big. He heard something shift next to him and glanced over to see her sitting on a chair nearby, arms folded, chin resting against her chest. Asleep?
After a moment, he reached across the gap between them and poked her in the arm, then waited silently for a reaction.
"Awake, are you?"
"Uh-huh." He felt like he was five years old. "I really killed him, didn't I?" Funny, he hadn't meant to say that.
"Yes." She wasn't looking at him. Why wouldn't she look at him?
"I don't even remember doing it." Why couldn't he shut up?
"Your finger pulled the trigger." Did she hate him now? Was she angry?
"I don't remember doing it." Not exactly. He remembered right before, someone bashing in the door and screaming, and he remembered right after, the explosion and the splatter and more screaming. Had he been screaming? And someone pulling him away and running. And waking up in the alley emptying his stomach. "I .. I messed up real good."
"We shouldn't have taken the job." Whose decision had that been? His? Hers? He couldn't remember.
"What should I do?" He should turn himself in. Go to the police. That was the moral thing, wasn't it? His hands started to shake.
"What do you want to do?"
He drew his knees up to his chest, leaning his head against them and breathing deeply, thoughts going a mile a minute. Would they go easier on him if he turned himself in? He'd killed a little boy, they couldn't go easy on him for that. But there wasn't any other solution.
"I want to run away."
He hadn't meant to say that.
Douglas opened his eyes with a leery feeling of deja vu, but he was relieved to find that he was breathing on his own, and he only had a couple of tubes up his arms. Yuck. What the hell had he done to himself this time? He felt a queasy lurch in his stomach as his memory caught up to the whirlwind rush of his thoughts. Oh yeah. That.
He forced a smile and glanced over to his right. Wraith was sitting there, all right, arms folded, legs crossed at the knee, chin bent down to her chest. The deja vu rippled through his stomach again.
"Hallo, Wraith," he said, taken rather by surprise when his voice came out a croak. "How long have I been out?"
The way she reacted, it might as well have been a shotgun going off next to her head. She sat bolt upright, hands slamming down on the arms of the flimsy, plastic chair so hard he thought she'd break it, and she stared at him. He hadn't ever seen that expression on her face before.
She looked almost.. lost.
He found that a little frightening.
Come on now.. you're supposed to snort and say something snappy and sarcastic.. or maybe get mad and yell at me. Don't just sit there.. come on.. please..
His face managed to reassemble the cheerful smile he'd put on, but before he could speak, she had lurched across the intervening space to kneel on the floor next to the bed. Her hands clasped over his arm, but her expression was unchanged. In fact..
"Crying?" His voice cracked again. He needed something to drink. "You aren't supposed to cry, Wraith. You never cry. You're supposed to get angry and ... shit." He couldn't lift his arm to wipe away the wetness suddenly flowing down his face.
Her forehead dropped to the bed. She was trembling -- shaking. His leaned his head back against his pillow, staring at the ceiling, unable to think of a thing to say. How to apologize. Whether to apologize. What to ask. He didn't know how to make her stop crying. He'd never seen her cry before.
"Four days," she whispered hoarsely, startling him.
"That long.. wow. And the doctors say I'll live?"
"You were here that whole time?"
So very surreal.
"What about the job.. the mercenaries? Will they kick us out?"
"I don't know."
He didn't think so. It was kind of unlikely, given the nature of the group.. at least, what he'd seen of it. Maybe they thought they'd been out on a job or something. Maybe they didn't even know they were there. Maybe they didn't care. Probably.
"We'll be fine," he told the ceiling confidently.
Wraith didn't answer him. He hoped she wasn't crying again. That was really disturbing, for some reason. It was about to get marked up on his list of least favorite things in the world. He never thought he'd ever make Wraith cry. He wondered if he'd ever made his father cry.
"Does Dad know?"
He felt her head lift up from the covers. She was debating whether to tell him. He could tell. She did it a lot when they talked about his father. "Yes."
"Ahh." It was a sigh, like something inside him getting released. "Did he come?" Then he gave a short, barking laugh. "No, what am I saying? Sure, he hopped on his private jet and flew in from Costa Rica or wherever just to see whether his worthless son was going to live or die."
She didn't answer. Damn it, why wouldn't she say something? Her head dropped to the covers again. But he could swear, somewhere in that jumble of dream and memory, he remembered hearing his voice. It didn't make any damn sense.
"Yes." He half-heard her say the word before she stood up and went back to her chair.
"He came." He couldn't digest it. It was too much to wrap his head around. "I don't.. I don't get it."
Silence again. He wished she wouldn't do that. How much effort had it taken him to swallow everything down, every pain and grief, every angry word. Had he missed a meeting to come and see him? Had he left to make it back in time? Would he hunt down the man who shot his son and shoot him for vengeance?
Douglas swallowed. Everything down. It hurt.
The below would be the unused flashback introduction to part four. I decided I needed something more on point.
Your name's Cass, innit? That's what Dad always calls you.
Do you have the right to call me that simply because your father calls me that?
But if it's your name, then what am I supposed to call you!?
Why don't you just call me what you've always called me?
Why? It's silly.
It's my proper name.
Then why does Dad call you Cass?
She never had answered him.
Why are you following me!? I said I'm leaving, and YOU get to stay behind with HIM.
Why would I stay behind with him?
Because you're supposed to stay behind!
Hadn't answered him then, either, though she had smiled, then picked him up and dusted him off when he tripped over a rock while he was yelling at her. Come to think on it, she rarely ever did answer his questions.