Tell you the truth, I'm not all that thrilled about giving this tour of the Facility. Especially not a rushed one. You should know, not only do I strictly maintain that all participants' identities remain anonymous, it's just the principle of thoroughness itself – if you're doing market research, you may as well do it properly, instead of apathetically requesting the Reader's Digest version of my life's work, a mere glimpse into the galaxy of diversity contained in my beloved establishment (and its award-winning garden.)
But what am I rambling on about? You'll have to forgive me, the Facility's a touchy subject, and I just want to make sure you see it at its best – we have over eight-hundred classrooms here, guaranteed to suit at least five of your embarrassing, suppressed, unpopular, mentally harmful or otherwise illegal needs, did you know that? Course, that's why you came, innit?
All right, I can see you're in a hurry. Anyone ever tell you you have an extremely compelling voice? They did. Right, right. Watch that step, let's take a look through that window now – no, don't go in! These meetings are private, I told you, folks want to remain anonymous…
Never any harm in eavesdropping, though. Pay attention.
"He simply doesn't get it!" Angua is saying. "'You can buy a new pair,' he tells me, with that infuriatingly puzzled expression on his face, as if I'm throwing a fit because it's that time of the month. And not that time of the month," she adds.
"I totally get where you're coming from," Oz says sadly. "I had a lucky sock once. Ripped apart one moon. I still mourn it. Haven't won a fight since."
"Of boxing?" Angua asks.
"Sock-Battle." Oz's plastic chair creaks as he shifts, almost apologetically, and murmurs, "college."
Remus smiles ruefully. "I take it your personal experience with higher education wasn't what you had hoped it would be?"
"Well, I set off on a spiritual quest to discover how to control the wolf, and came back to discover my girlfriend had turned gay on me."
Remus and Angua both groan. "You were close?" Angua asks sympathetically.
He nods. "Closest."
Angua stands up angrily, for a moment looking frighteningly as if she's about to draw her sword, slay some supper and eat it raw. "Control the wolf. Ha! That's what they want you to do! They go around, joking about your 'furry little problem', happily living with their delusions that inside every werewolf is a little puppy names Fluffles who just needs to be house trained, when it's actually a bloody magnetic phenomena, the pull between your teeth and their jugular…"
As Angua continues to vent, Remus turns to Oz with a contemplative frown. "So what you're saying, actually," he ponders, "is that you left on your – spiritual quest? – and when you returned, your closest friend had turned gay."
"Hmm," he muses. "Interesting…"
Let's go, lots more to see. That was an example of one of our support groups, of course. Werewolves. Terrible, terrible, especially living in crowded populations like those three, pain on the nose, from what I hear.
Ah! Here's another support group for you. These fellows get individual counseling, apart from the regular meetings. Most of them were pushed here by suffering friends and family who were fed up by constantly having to look at – well, see for yourself. Greasy Hair Disasters. Poor fellows.
"I don't even know what I'm doing here," Angel proclaims, and leans forward in his chair, looking pointedly at one of the room's other occupants. "I mean you, I get. You look like you could run a car on the amount of oil in your hair."
Severus Snape sneers in disgust.
"But this thing?" Angel smirks, eyebrows raised smartly, indicating his hair with a toss of his right hand. "Chicks dig these spikes. Total babe-magnets."
Snape's eyes almost drill a hole in the door.
"I mean, okay, granted, I may have gotten them when I was evil," Angel relents, "but it was part of my sexy-evil-charm. It's just the kind of thing you do when you're evil. Right?"
With the high concentration of oily hair products in the room, Snape's scathing glare just might be enough to set it on fire.
"Right?" Angel presses, oblivious to the growing danger. "Yeah, I bet you got yourself some wacky tattoo when you were evil. And don't tell me you were never evil, it's all over you."
The tension in the room could be lit by a match.
"Anyway, Cordy's the one who sent me here. And Buffy. And Fred. And – well, let's just say there were a lot of them, and they're all, like, 'Angel, listen to us, no listen to us, this is an intervention, your hair, we just can't take it anymore…' and I'm like, whatever, that's not what you said last enter-relevant-time-period-here – only not to their faces, which would have been incredibly dumb. Hey," Angel says suddenly, having noticed a new figure in the room. "What are you doing here? You're not even greasy."
Book, still looking stunned just from witnessing Angel's tangent, shakes himself out of his reverie. "I was…" He sighs heavily. "I was sent here by my crew. They said they were performing an intervention before someone lost their head, and they were afraid it would be me."
"Aha," Angel nods with understanding. "A fellow intervenee. A family of friends – can't live with 'em, can't suck 'em dry without ruining your chance to shanshu." He turns to Snape who is seething in his corner. "So, what about you? Your girlfriend send you?"
With a sudden snap, Snape draws his wand and—
O-kay! Time to go, I think we've seen enough. Oh, don't give me that look, look, it was just a bit of horsing around. These things never – hardly ever – very, very rarely – well, fairly uncommonly, at least – reach any level of violence. Even if they do, we've got state-of-the-art security technology, and almost always – though we try not to rely on it – the best skilled physical and magical beings in the universe are at our disposal. You wouldn't believe how messed up most of these are.
Not all of them are in our support program, though – even if the small homogeneous groups are always a benefit. Here for instance, you'll find some of the greatest names in our decade in one of our workshops. Watch.
"I believe I am speaking for us all when I say that that was excellent, Albus."
A wave of nodding heads confirms this, and Dumbledore modestly bows his head at the compliment.
"Very well done," Merlin repeats, "a fine example of how a correct shift in posture can convey strength in a manner that suggests an aristocrat as opposed to a brute – and at once takes off a hundred or so years from our age," he adds wryly. Several soft laughs answer in return.
"Might I suggest that we continue?" Gandalf proposes. "I fear my time here is restricted tonight; my hobbits are calling for me as we speak."
Belgarath sighs. "Oh, how I wish I had to deal with hobbits. They're so much simpler than humans. Give them shelter, give them food, and they're happy. And don't get me started on gods…"
"No," Dumbledore points out with no little amusement, "I don't think we will. I second our Middle Earth colleague's timely proposal – moving forward is, indeed, in order. Merlin?"
Merlin nods, straightens his back, and assumes his regular teaching stance. "Gentlemen, will you kindly remove your hats? Our next lesson will be more effective if we have an unobstructed view of the face."
Almost immediately, four wide-brimmed, robe-matching hats gently find their way to a hat-rack in the corner of the room. "If only our regular students were as prompt…" he smiles. "We will begin with a new subject altogether. It is one which all of you have had experience with before, yet there is nothing like practice to master a skill, and of all our skills, this is by far one of the most frequently used. I am referring, of course, to The Twinkle in the eye." Merlin's eyes twinkle.
"Of course!" Dumbledore beams. "A most prudent idea, Mer. I have often practiced The Twinkle for hours in front of the mirror, only to manage a sparkle at best. I'm never certain whether I'm really twinkling in the moment of truth."
"It's true," Gandalf admits. "I can make my eyes shine, glitter, and gleam with amusement, but that dreaded slippery Twinkle gets me every time."
Belgarath lets out a big breath of relief. "I thought I was the only one! It seems so elementary, and it really is simple if you're already smiling, but the real trick is trying to do it with a serious expression, and directing it so that only the person you're aiming it for will catch on…"
Merlin strokes his long, white beard with amusement, eyes still twinkling merrily. "In that case, mirrors out, gentleman, and let us do this in turns!"
Fascinating, innit? Oh, I know you want to watch more, but believe me, they're just gonna Twinkle at each other for an hour now, you're not missing anything. Now, as we move along the corridors notice how clean everything is – we don't believe in glass walls like certain medical facilities I don't care to mention, but we do have a wonderful cleaning staff that makes sure there are never any leftovers on the floor.
What leftovers? Did I say leftovers? I, er—oh, look! Another support group! Let's take a peek.
"I get tired of it sometimes, that's all I'm saying." River leans both elbows on her knees, staring at the floor between her legs.
"Hey," Drusilla says, "I sympathize. I really, really do. You know, I try to help my guys, and it's hard phrasing things simply enough to get through to their level of understanding – they're not exactly nuclear physicists, if you know what I mean – but more often then not, they just give me this infuriating look of 'who let her out of the loony bin?' that makes me want to scream. Of course, when I do, it only gets worse," she snorts.
"Don't even mention the word 'loony'," Luna mutters. "I can't take it anymore. And I'm not even half as crazy as everybody thinks you two are."
Drusilla pats Luna on the head. "You poor thing," she murmurs. "You're only fifteen, and it's starting already… You see the truth clearer than most of them now, but just wait until you start getting visions." Luna gives her a surprised look, and Drusilla returns it with a kind one. "Yes, I can feel it in you. It might take a few years to mature, but the ability's already there."
"Bloody wonderful," Luna groans.
"Being brilliant?" River declares aloud. "Not at all what it's cracked up to be."
"It's like speaking a different language," Drusilla agrees. "Because you can't very well start explaining about quantum physics—"
"—every time someone asks why I'm not wearing any shoes!" River exclaims.
"Amen, sisters," Luna finishes.
For a moment all three are silent, each lost in her own thoughts of molecular theory and arithmancy and bare feet. Finally, River speaks up. "The walls are making music tonight, like a sheet with wings."
"White, and lovely," Drusilla agrees. "And its notes are sour with blood."
Luna's eyes widen. "But when the wind crosses the horizon, the crumbling fabrics will melt away like Glubbermice in the spring."
Her face breaks into a cheerful smile. "See? We understand perfectly."
Look at those exceptional girls… all that brainpower in one room, I'm surprised they haven't taken over the world yet! Not enough ambition, though, not enough malevolence. We've got other groups for those people… No, we won't visit those, there's no time.
On your right, now, that's our laundry service – takes care of any stain you might bring in, and that's a dare, that is – on your left, the cafeteria, catered by the finest chefs we can afford (and we pay quite handily, mind you – we've a Geller-Bing from New York, a St. James-Melville from Connecticut and a special soup guy from 44th and 9th in Manhattan - and boy, are they worth it!)
All right, we really are running out of time, but I can't help but stop at these two rooms here – they're right next door to one another and the occupants aren't allowed to know about the others' existence because of, as previously mentioned, privacy issues. It's… it's just so—oh, forgive my being so emotional... it's just s-so tragic.
A young man with soft, brown hair and a pretty face is standing awkwardly by the wall, shuffling his feet.
"Hey," a man calls, catching his attention. "This your first time here?"
Clark nods with embarrassment. The man beckons him over, sticking his hand out for a handshake. Clark takes it hesitantly.
"Dan Rydell," the guy introduces himself.
Clark clears his throat, which is abnormally dry. "Um, I'm Clark. Kent. Clark Kent."
"Nice to meet you, Clark Kent Clark Kent," Dan grins. "You should relax. We're all in the same situation you're in… it's good to talk about it sometimes."
Clark's eyes dart around the room, which is completely packed with people of all shapes and sizes. "So all these people are also…"
Dan raises one eyebrow. "…Pining? Yeah," he sighs. "We're really pretty pathetic, but at least we're men enough to admit it. Isn't that right?" he asks another man who is just walking by.
"What?" the man jumps.
"Oh, yes, very," the man replies earnestly, "I could write a book about it. 'The Patheticness of Us.'"
"Well, I try," the man nods politely, and continues his way to the refreshment stand.
"Sam Seaborn," Dan says, indicating the guy with a tilt of his head. "Come on, I'll introduce you around."
Clark follows Dan around the room, trying to make sense of the new names being flung at him right and left. James Wilson. Dean Winchester. Sirius Black. Frodo Baggins. Danny Ocean. Charles Xavier. Aziraphel. And on and on
And on… You see what I mean? And right next door, sitting in a room in an identical circle are their other halves, pining away and thinking they're alone in their affections… or obsessions… or twisted fantasies, but anyway. Yeah, these two rooms are full of people wasting years in waiting for a sign. Like I said, tragic.
Okay, well, I hope you've managed to get something out of this tour – remember to please keep quiet about what, and especially who you've seen here. Having a leak from this place would be entirely unethical, reputations could be positively ruined, and, of course, it's bad for business. But you look like a fellow who can keep his mouth shut.
Yeah, look, I know it was short! I was the one who told you a couple of hours wouldn't do! If you'd let me, I'd have taken you down to the spa, the gym, the Battle Room, heck, even the beach!— What was that? Yeah, we do. Nudist. Oh, you want to…
Actually, now that I think about it, the beach might be a bad idea. No, really. I mean it. I seriously advise you not to—
Well, all right, if you insist. But at least let me warn you, this is no regular nudist beach. It's catered for those with… special needs… and let me name just a couple of our patrons so you can't say you weren't informed: we have a morbid flock of fellows who call themselves Ring-Wraiths. Then, on most days of the week, we're visited by a group of Englishpersons nicknamed Dementors, always a joy to hang around. A few times a month Voldemort will drop by, and I hope you're getting the sense of our general clientele.
But actually, now that I look at you… that black robe is quite fitting, isn't it…
YES. IT WAS TAILORED BY A VERY TALENTED SEAMSTRESS. AND I WILL GO TO THIS BEACH. NUDISM SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT DEAL OF FUN. BY THE WAY, DO YOU THINK THEY HAVE DRINKS WITH LITTLE UMBRELLAS IN?