Things Undone 4: Alchemy of the Word, part 11

[disclaimers in part 1]

"The world is good. I will bless life. I will love my brothers."

~~Rimbaud -- A Season in Hell~~

8:03 AM


I smell coffee. It's not unusual, but since Fro's spent the night with Byers, I was sorta figuring on getting up and making it myself. Then I remember we got a houseguest. Two, if you count the cat standing on the end of the sofa, staring at me with those big, gold, inscrutable kitty eyes. He's a good-looking cat, that's for sure. Big kitty. Gotta weigh at least 20 pounds, and he's not fat. I try to lean over and pet him but he's not having it. He's not ready for a full-on relationship yet. He's content for now to be a voyeur.

I can hear Sari talking on the phone. Sounds like she's calling into work, since she's saying she'll be out a few days but she'll be at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Thursday. That's right, she's a lobbyist. Wonder if what Byers was doing for her was tied up in this. If that's true, then Frohike and me gotta get to work on that today, as well as on what we've got in mind for her asshole ex.

"Good morning,  Ringo. There's coffee," she tells me when she hangs up the phone.

"Thanks. How'd you do that, you know, you only got one arm and all."

"I can do coffee one-handed; I found some beans already ground. However, I do have a problem with washing dishes. Do you think you could wash a couple of mugs out for us?"

"Uh, sure."

She smiles at me. "And don't forget to use soap."

Women are so picky. And speaking of women -- "Hang on a sec, gotta check something." I run over to look at my email, see if anything from Deb is there. Yep, sure enough, I got a response. Cool. She wrote "purple." I guess the game is on. I type in "people" as a response. Wonder if I'll get "eater" back. That'd be cool. Man, I wish she was here. We could play all kinds of games, not just word games.

I wash out a couple mugs; Marvin the Martian and one that says "I Love My Attitude Problem." That was a gift from Frohike last Christmas. He said he thought of me when he saw it. I think I'll let Sari use Marvin. I show her the mugs for inspection and she passes them, once she's ascertained I rinsed all the soap off. I try to play host with the most, and pour for us without even spilling. "You take anything?" I call to her.

"Just some milk, if you have it."

"All we got is half and half. That okay?" I mean, yeah, more calories than milk, but she looks like she could use some extra calories. How the hell was she able to even try and fight off her bastard ex? She must be stronger than she looks. Maybe she's a ninja babe, does martial arts. She said something about a shock stick last night though. Should check her out, but right now, all I want is coffee. A shower might be good too. I should let her go first though. And if she wants to take one, I'm gonna have to bag her arm. Thank God I'm past that; all's I got left is the light cast, and that should be done soon.

"Sure." The phone rings. "You want me to get that?" she says.

"If you don't mind." I've kinda got my hands full here, and I'm really trying not to drop anything. I'm not snooping like I was with Mulder -- well, not mechanically -- but I can tell that it's Frohike she's talking to. First thing, she's like, how's John? I ask her what Fro said, but she's going shhh. God, it's so hard when you got women around, you got to mind your manners and all. But I want Deb to come and see me, and she's working on getting enough days off in a row so she can. Might as well start practicing now.

"I'll be happy to come over and stay with him for a while," she's telling Frohike. "No, it's not a bother, and it's the least I can do for you and for him, after all you've done for me. Yes, Langly's awake. Would you like to speak to him?"

He probably said not really, but she hands me the phone. "Yeah, hi," I say. "How's our boy Byers?"

"Rough night. Doing a little better this morning. We're going to try and get some breakfast into him."

Oh man, hospital cuisine. "That slop? You really trying to kill him?"

"Very funny. I was going to ask you to come and relieve me for a spell, but our lovely houseguest has graciously offered to spare you from your babysitting chores."

"Hey, not like I wouldn't do it!" Just because I'd complain, doesn't mean I wouldn't. I'd do anything for Byers, and Mel knows it. But he can't pass on giving me a hassle. Hell, I don't know what I'd do if Frohike ever stopped hassling me. Wonder if he was dead, probably.

"You are, however, going to escort her over here. No way is she getting on the Metro alone. Or going anywhere alone, for that matter. Do you understand?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Christ, what kind of idiot does he think I am? Like I'd really let her go running around with her ex still on the loose. I don't think so.

"I'm going to take a nap when I get back, but after that, be prepared to work your sorry ass, Blondie."

"Yeah, yeah. Later, dude." So I turn to Sari. "Like, you want the first shower?" I could always take mine after I drop her off.

"That'd be nice, thank you. But I'm going to need your help wrapping my cast."

"Hey, you're talking to a pro here." Well, at least a pro at having it done for me. I haven't been on the other end of it, but I think I've watched enough times I could do it. I grab a clean trash bag and some duct tape (you *can* fix anything with duct tape) and wrap her arm up watertight. "Ah, you need any help, like with your hair or anything?" I mean, I'm not trying to be a pervert; not that I mind seeing naked women, not at all, but I know right after I got banged up Frohike would stay in the bathroom with me for a few days till I finally told him to find another way to get his rocks off. I mean, he was just taking care of me, and I was glad he did. I was pretty shaky there for a while.

But she says, "No, I think I'll be fine, I'll call you if I have any trouble. Would you feed the Cardinal, though? He gets downright ornery if he doesn't get his breakfast." Yeah, like we don't have enough ornery critters around here already.

9:45 AM


Ringo and I stopped at a bakery and a grocery store before we got to the med center, and also got coffee. We brought breakfast for everyone, and Frohike seemed delighted with the idea when we started pulling scones and fruit out of the bag. I set his latte in front of him, then get John's out of the cup carrier.

"Hey, Byers, you get real food this morning," Frohike announces happily. He puts an almond scone on a napkin for John and starts peeling a tangerine.

John looks terrible. I can see the pain on his bandaged face, and he seems to be responding to things slowly, but between the surgery and the drugs, I wouldn't expect anything different. "Sari, how are you?" At least he's speaking in complete sentences today. His voice is quiet and tired, like speech is draining for him. It probably is.

I sit beside him on the bed and take his hand. "Much better, John. I managed to get some sleep last night. I still hurt, but I'll manage. What about you?"

He squeezes my hand and sighs. There's some relief on his face, I think because I'm not in a hospital bed too. "I'm okay. I don't remember much after the ambulance came. My head really aches. I'm... I'm sorry I couldn't keep Barry away from you. I didn't want to see you get hurt." He looks so sad.

"This isn't your fault. What you did was very brave, and I'm grateful for your help. I don't know how I can ever thank you enough for what you did. You probably saved my life." I want to blame myself, but I know that all three of them would get agitated about it, and I don't want to get John upset. He still very much needs to rest.

Frohike puts John's food next to his latte on the little tray table in front of him; almond scone, peeled tangerine, some grapes, a sliced up kiwi fruit. "C'mon Byers, let's sit you up a little so you can eat." He pushes one of the bed buttons to raise the head up enough for John to drink the latte without spilling it.

"I'm not really --"

Frohike and I look at each other. I take the first poke. "I was going to make you eat last night when we were so rudely interrupted. I still consider it my sworn duty to get some food into you. And it's not like you can escape this time." Frohike laughs.

John just sighs. "My head hurts so much," he says quietly.

Ringo sits on the other side of the bed and moves a hand along John's forehead, offering a little gentle massage. "Sucks, doesn't it?" John nods. "Don't stress too much on it, Byers. Everything's okay. We're on it. You gotta get better soon, though, Narcboy. I'm kinda missin' the old you." He smiles a crooked little smile down at John. It sounds like there's a lot of history behind that remark.

John looks up at him and takes Ringo's hand for a minute. "I'll work on it. Thanks."

"Eating something will probably help a little with your head," I say. "And even if your head isn't hungry, your body still needs food to get better." I break off a little nibble of his scone and hand it to him. "Just a little now and then. It doesn't have to be all at once." He looks up at me, then down at the scone. "Don't make me treat you like my kid brother," I threaten. That raises a tiny smile and a chuckle, at least, and he starts to nibble on the scone, then takes a sip of his latte.

"Here's yours," Ringo says. I take my double tall hazel mocha breve and sip at it, letting the scent and warmth and sweetness of it seep through me.

"And John," I add, "I intend to get Ethiopian for us for lunch. I'm still having that injera craving."

"You're not going anywhere alone!" Frohike snaps. Ringo and John are both trying to talk at once too.

"My sister's coming by with it about noon," I reply. They all relax. "Honestly, guys, I'm not that stupid."

No, dear," Frohike sighs, "I didn't really think you were. We're just worried about you." He's really a rather sweet man, if  somewhat gruff. Kind of like a grouchy but soft-hearted uncle. We all settle into our breakfast, and shortly after they finish, Ringo and Frohike leave. Frohike really looks like he needs serious sleep. "We'll be back this afternoon," he promises.

John and I just sit quietly together for a while. He manages to get in a little bit of a nap, which pleases me. Eventually, he wakes again. "Are you sure you're all right?" he asks me.

"It's just a broken arm and some bruises. Really, I'm fine. I've had broken bones before."

"From him," he says.

"Mostly, yes." It's an uncomfortable admission for me, but it's true. I need to talk to him about that Pinck article, though, and now is as good a time as any. He's had some rest and might be up to a conversation. Besides, it's a convenient way to change the subject. "I read your newsletter last night, your article about Pinck. I need to talk to you about it"

He gives me a sharp, suspicious look. "What about it?" He sounds a little wary.

"It's all right, John. I figured out last night what you guys really do, without any help. It's just that your article contains
information that's part of what I'm basing my white paper on. It wasn't easy for me to get, and I wondered if you knew more than what you wrote."

He relaxes again. "So that's what the hack was all about," he says. I ask him what he means. "I thought when I saw the damage to your system that it seemed like a targeted, maybe even politically motivated hack. Pinck certainly has the resources to pull off something like that, and if they knew you had those files, they would naturally want to eliminate the threat of their exposure at a congressional level." He gets an odd look on his face. "I don't suppose Barry ever worked for Pinck?"

"Not that I know of. He was an accountant for a long time, though, and worked for a number of firms over the years. Who knows who he could have been contracted to."

"We'll have to check into that, then." We discuss the files and the information I've been gathering for about twenty minutes. He seems to think I've gotten even closer to the answers than he had. "Where have you been getting your information?" he asks quietly, and looks around furtively to see if anyone's nearby.

"I'm afraid I can't reveal my sources," I tell him, "but I think you, of all people, would understand that."

He looks at me, then says, "Yes, I do." He's looking more exhausted by the moment. "And I'd have been worried if you had named someone." A nurse comes in to check his vitals and we drop the subject.

"How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Byers?" she asks.

"I have an awful headache, " he tells her. "Is there anything you could do for it?"

"Well, you still have the Demerol drip hooked up, so use that if you think you need it, but I'll see what the doctor has to say about other options." She makes chart notes, pats his shoulder, and leaves.

"John, you should really take some of that Demerol and try to get some more sleep. You're not up to any more talk right now, and I don't want them to toss me out for not letting you get enough rest." He nods and pushes the button on the PCA pump. "You've been a good friend to me, thank you." I tell him softly, and he has.

"Thanks, Sari. So have you," he says. I take his warm hand in mine, and soon he's asleep.

end part 11