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Universe Says

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Dirk’s ears pricked at the tell-tale rasping of a syringe being topped up, and the three tinks of fingernail on glass to settle the liquid. He sighed inwardly, then outwardly as he watched Friedkin’s attempts to stealth-ambush him within the confines of a cramped and moving van.

“I would rather not, thanks,” he snapped when the sergeant’s nose was in danger of brushing his ear. Dirk glanced up as Friedkin started slightly at his harsh tone, lowering the needle in confusion, and felt a shade of satisfaction lighten his chest as he remembered the bulldozer impression from their last encounter.

Friedkin stood up straight, squinting down at Dirk through the murky dusk-light of the tinted windows.

 “But – but the marshal said. I had to stick you with this so you went to sleep. And I really have to toe the line now that she made me a major general or whatever, because, like, if I don’t? I’ll fail my probation, and be murdered probably. Um. So-”

“Major general, you say? Very impressive!” Dirk hurriedly attempted to stall the “sticking”, as Friedkin had so delicately put it, and hoped that the trembling of his voice wasn’t skewing his attempt at a conversational tone. “What about Riggins, then? Did he get promoted as well? Where is he?”

Dirk receives a blank look.      

“…Riggins? You know – Scott? Moustachioed, gruff voice, exudes a disapproving-father sort of persona?”

After a beat, Friedkin’s face lit up. “Oh, the colonel? Gosh, it’s crazy how you forget stuff about a person. Yeah, it’s been a while since I saw him, since we killed him and burned all his photographs and all.

“You know, I thought I’d get his title after that? But they gave me all this-”, he gestures towards his tie, “-instead. I guess I don’t mind, but general sounds kinda low-down, doesn’t it? Like I’m not just a general guy. I’m an important guy, now.”

He must have heard the strangled noise that Dirk tried to disguise with a cough, as his gloved hand clapped down heavily on Dirk’s shoulder, making him flinch.

“Oh right, duh, I was doing this. Hold still-“

Dirk frantically wriggled his way out of his jacket, liberating himself, and scrabbled his way to the end of the bench, pressing himself up quite ungracefully against the back doors of the van. He barely registered it, let alone understood why, but he was crying a bit. Like it or not, Riggins was one of the biggest, if only, figures of his childhood, and in spite of all the lies he fed, the promises he broke… It stung a little. He sniffled, and tried his best to remember that he was a thirty year old man, and thirty year old men did not let their lips quiver as they spoke.

“Right – um – you will not be doing that to me, I’m afraid. I don’t particularly like needles, much less so when they’re stabbing through my skin, and even less so when they put liquids in me. And I would much rather prefer to be conscious at all times in that facility, thank you very much, I’ve made that mistake many a time before and my intestines still haven’t quite recovered. So – so I shall be meeting this marshal of yours quite awake, if it’s all the same to you, and perhaps then we can negotiate my immediate release.”  

Dirk had discovered quite recently that whenever the “everything is connected” part of his brain argued with the “try to avoid serious injury” part of his brain, it was hard to pick a side without upsetting some moral code of his. So when Friedkin groaned and pulled out a taser from his blazer pocket, he was seriously torn between sitting still and letting the universe guide him or telling the universe to stuff it and running for his life. The confines of the van didn’t give much leeway for running, as it happened, so Dirk opted instead to desperately jimmy the push bars, knowing full well they were locked, and steeled himself as he felt the electrodes catch in the fabric of Todd’s shirt.

 


 

 

Todd really needed to buy some new furniture.

He lay curled up on his bed facing the wall, using his balled-up jacket as a pillow, since – well. Farah had perched herself on a windowsill, glancing over at Todd and then the street below in even 10-second intervals, hand resting on her holster. It paid off sometimes to be acquainted with a paranoid, badass bodyguard.  

Not back at the diner, however. When Farah finally returned from the street and found him in the throes of an attack, Todd thought she’d join him screaming on the floor for all the calm she kept. He should really be grateful to her; God knows he never had friends who would have panicked to see him in pain like she did, let alone practically carry him back to his apartment. It was touching, in a way. Then again, the acrid tang of smoke still lingered at the back of his throat, and every time he twitched his fingers he could hear the burnt skin cracking, flaking off onto the bedsheets. Amanda would have calmed him down quicker.

But taking current events into consideration, she more likely would have laughed at the irony and then left him there to cook.

Amanda had arrived back at the apartment not too long after they did, a Rowdy boy in tow – Vogle, was it? What did Vogle even mean? – and they had both situated themselves on the couch. Vogle traced his hand along the tears in the fabric of the seat cushion and nodded to himself, smiling, appreciating his work.

“We gotta get our people back,” he had said, the first to speak after Amanda, who explained the incident with the Rowdy Three no further than “shit went down”.

“We rest,” Farah shot back evenly, “and we lay low. Whoever you are to them, you’re a primary target. Your biggest risk is going out there in the open without a tactical advantage.”

“But those are my boys,” Vogle wailed, “they been re-caged, gonna get deep-fried again.” With the other members gone, Vogle was orphaned, young and vulnerable without his big brothers to protect him. Amanda put an arm around him and pulled him into her side, locking eyes with Farah, decidedly ignorant of Todd. Todd, in turn, was paying more attention to the wall than to the current conversation.

“He’s right. Dirk’s in there too, isn’t he? Shouldn’t we be doing the whole badass kicking-down-doors thing, getting him away from those guys?”   

“Those ‘guys’ are the CIA. This Black Wing division should not be underestimated and it should certainly not be broken into. This isn’t like before – we’re up against a sophisticated military syndicate, not a group of glorified hippies. If we do this, we cannot bring any attention to ourselves, or we get killed.”

“But that sounds boring,” Vogle whined.

“Then by all means, go and put yourself on three different hit lists if you think it’s going to get your gang back,” Farah turned her back from the room and gazed once more out the window, spot-checking for the umpteenth time. “We’ll do this with or without you.”

“…Stone cold, man.”

 Amanda exhaled; sometimes she forgot that Farah was a trained military agent, not an endearingly neurotic babysitter. She tried her best not to find either attractive.

They sat in silence for another ten minutes before Farah abruptly stood and made a beeline towards the door, pressing her face against the peephole. Another five minutes passed before she flung the door open, nearly catching a small middle-aged woman in the face with it.

“I, uh… here to drop off a prescription?”

Farah tugged a small paper bag from her grasp and shelled out three bills that were then pushed into her now-empty hands. The woman hesitated, then nodded uncertainly and made her way back down the corridor, flinching violently when the door slammed loudly behind her.

Farah turned back into the room, bag in hand. “Todd.”

Todd shifted onto his back and glanced over, and as soon as Amanda got a look of his face, the way he curled his hands defensively into his chest, she understood.

Why was it always the hands?

“Thanks, Farah.” He swung his legs over the side of the bed and pulled out the pill bottle, stifling a groan. Before he could unscrew it, Amanda was in front of him with a glass of water. He stared up at her miserably, fiddling with the lid.

“You know this is karma, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

 “Like a whole boy-who-cried-wolf type scenario.”

“I’m aware.”

Amanda sighed. “Just take the stupid water. Drink it all, or you’ll be dehydrated when you wake up. The first time I took those I was out for fourteen hours.”

“Yeah, I remember. I thought you were dead.”

Amanda laughed at that, startlingly loud. Todd jumped at the noise, but managed to crack a small smile before the pill bottle popped open in his hands.

  


 

 

Amanda watched Todd as he slept, feeling like a moron for giving him even the slightest nudge of support. Like he deserved anything. Then again, Amanda wouldn’t wish her disease on her worst enemy, much less her idiot brother, whose guilt for what he did was so strong she could probably feel it through walls. Plus, Vogle refused to feed from him. He had wandered over earlier and thumped a hand on Todd’s shoulder, closing his eyes, before screwing up his nose and brusquely walking away. When Amanda asked, all he said was “Aftertaste.”

So it was hard not to feel a little sympathy for him.

“Shouldn’t he be rolled over on his side?” Farah asked from the couch, glancing over worriedly.

“The meds make your skin really sensitive, and I don’t wanna wake him up. If he chokes on his vomit I’m sure he’ll let us know,” she grinned at the horrified look that bubbled up on Farah’s face. “Kidding! Mostly.”

Amanda sauntered over and planted herself next to Farah on the couch, placing them a little closer than social norm would allow, but Amanda wasn’t about to remedy that. Farah, for her part, didn’t seem to mind much either. They sat, and listened to Vogle attempt to make himself a sandwich in the kitchenette behind them.

A beat. “But if he were to choke on his own-“

“Would you relax? We’re here, he’ll be fine. I just need a minute to breathe. God, I could really use a blunt. A big one.”

Farah smirked. “I thought you said you wanted to breathe.”

Amanda scoffed, and shoved her in the side. “Do not shame me! It’s my medication. Although, it never usually mixed well with my actual medication.”

Farah looked at her, concern turning the corners of her mouth down.  

“No, I mean – I –” she sighed, and when she spoke again her voice was just a fraction lower. “When you can’t go outside, you go a bit crazy sometimes. I did some stupid shit just to feel a little sense of… I don’t know, adventure? Plus,” she added hastily as Farah’s frown deepened, “I’ve got the Three now, right? So I don’t need my meds anymore. I’m fine. Promise.”

Farah stared hard at her for a few more seconds before letting her shoulders slump. “Alright. I just… I want everyone to be safe. I mean, that’s my job. Was my job. Will never stop being my job.”

“Man. As soon as we get everyone back, I need to take you out for a drink. There’s a lot of unresolved tension going on around…” She gestured. “…here.”

“You just gestured to all of me.”

“Yeah.”

“Wait, you wanna take me out for a drink?”

“Uh…” Amanda’s eyes widened an inch, and she silently thanked God that she was never one to blush, unlike Todd, who lit up like a tomato if someone he liked so much as smiled at him. “I mean yeah, girl’s night, huh?” At a loss of anything else to do, she proffered her fist towards Farah, who snorted and bumped it.

“Girl’s night.”