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Tales From the Cata-Combs

Chapter Text

“Jesus, Crawford, if you’re hungry, you should’ve told me so!”

Crawford stared at Dan with a wide-eyed embarrassed expression. He had come over to the house to de-stress after a long tedious day in front of the computer, running mostly on cup after cup of coffee and a sandwich at around noontime. Dan was making dinner as he arrived, and the mere scent of a potential meal made Crawford’s stomach practically cry out in desperation, and Dan very much heard that.

Dan took the stomach growl in stride, smiling as his eyes twinkled in silent laughter, “What’re you standing around there for? Find yourself a seat!”

Crawford stayed rooted where he was, picking at the end of his sweater sleeves, “N-No I can’t, Dan. You weren’t expecting me for dinner, and you probably only made enough for yourself, and I couldn’t possibly intrude and make you eat less and go hungry for the rest of the night, and… and…”

As Crawford rambled on, Dan’s warm hand gently took ahold of his and tugged him towards the kitchen table, sitting him down in the chair before Crawford blinked and realized his position changed, his voice trailing off and dying in his throat. Crawford blinked in surprise, looking up at Dan who stood over him, this time laughing out loud.

“You’re adorable, you know that?”

Crawford blushed brightly and tried to muster out a “Thank you”. The attempt came out as an incoherent babble. That only made Dan laugh again and ruffle Crawford’s hair affectionately. Crawford no longer felt embarrassed, but his face still felt very warm as he watched Dan turn away back to the pot on the stove.

“You’re just in luck,” Dan smiled over his shoulder back at Crawford “I was just about done with the pasta.”

“Then I can still help!” Crawford exclaimed as he started to quickly stand up. Dan, instead, grabbed the pot and brought it over to the sink before Crawford could do anything.

“Oh no you don’t,” Dan spoke as he dumped the contents of the pot into the strainer that rested in the sink “I know you, Crawford. You’ve been working all day.”

That didn’t stop Crawford from shifting nervously, staring at Dan with his head ever so slightly tilted down to make the puppy eyes both he and Dan were well aware he was good at making. Dan looked back and sighed with a soft smile.

“Alright, Crawford. You can set the table.”

Crawford smiled, a small flower of triumph blooming in his chest as he quickly stepped to the cabinets to pull out the necessary items. As he set the table with the plates and silverware, Dan moved around him to put out the food for the both of them. The pasta went in the middle, the parmesan was placed to its left, and a small bowl of a green sauce was set on the right.

The sauce gave Crawford pause, staring at the bowl with a furrowed brow of confusion. Dan must’ve noticed this, as he scooped of a sampling of the sauce with a spoon and held it out to Crawford.

“Francesca taught me this recipe while she was still around,” Dan explained as his expression grew slightly saddened from an old memory “It’s called ‘pesto’.”

Crawford still looked confused, not used to the idea of a pasta sauce that wasn’t made from tomatoes, not to mention a green sauce. Dan chuckled softly and used his hand to tilt Crawford’s head up.

“Say ‘Ahhh’...”

Crawford’s face heated up again at the gesture, his mouth hanging open wide enough from shock to allow Dan to carefully stick the end of the spoon inside. Crawford’s heart skipped a beat, closing his mouth around the spoon, letting the taller man feed him the mysterious sauce.

Dan smiled with satisfaction as he pulled the now-clean spoon out, “Like it?”

Crawford let the sauce linger in his mouth. It was cool with a slightly lumpy texture, the tang of garlic was really was all he could taste alongside lingering traces of olive oil and basil. Crawford smiled with pleasant surprise, swallowing what was in his mouth.

“Not bad!” Crawford exclaimed. Dan laughed, gesturing back to the table.

“Then let’s eat!” Dan grinned, popping the end of the spoon into his mouth, the spoon that was coated in Crawford’s saliva. Upon realizing this, Crawford gasped and gently shoved Dan away, his face alight in a bright flustered blush.

Chapter Text

The bar was busy, but it was mid-December. Of course it was busy. Swan looked out at the sea of college students wearing sweaters and sweatshirts emblazoned with the Miskatonic University emblem. Most of them were chatting amongst themselves, drinking off the stress of finals with friends. Swan didn’t mind much, instead keeping a sharp eye out for solitary patrons, as these nights also attracted TA’s and interns who were escaping from the mountains of papers they needed to grade. Being the nice mature age of 33, Swan felt he had a better shot at taking home a member of that crowd.

Wading through the crowd, Swan eventually made it to the bar. A grin tugged on his lips as he waited for the bartender to notice him. He could see a pair of women, one of them wearing a MiskU sweater, eyeing him up a few stools down out of the corner of his eye. Of course they were, Swan made sure to prepare for this night. He had on his lucky leather jacket and cut open shirt, exposing enough of his chest to be enticing but not enough to get him thrown out for indecency. Admittedly he had little luck past the hook-up stage, but Swan was forever the optimist.

The women stepped away from their spot and made their way down the bar, and Swan straightened up. It was his time to shine. He had little preference for threesomes, as he found it hard to pay attention to both people at once in bed, but who was he to say no if the opportunity arose? He put on a winning smile and turned to face them.

Only to find that both women walked right past him.

“Andrew! It’s so good to see you here!” one of the women exclaimed.

Swan’s mouth hung open, the flush of embarrassment rising in his cheeks, the realization that the women weren’t looking at him, but rather past him. He ignored the drink that the bartender set down in front of him and turned to see who they could possibly be ignoring him for. He totally wasn’t jealous, nope not a smidge.

Besides, he didn’t have the time to be jealous, for as soon he laid eyes on the man, he fully understood why. Outfit wise, the man was unremarkable with the warm jacket, dress shirt, and jean combo. The kerchief tie was an interesting choice, but what caught Swan’s attention was the man’s face. The man’s eyes were occupied by the women standing with him, the corners his plump, kissable lips curled upward in a bashful smile as they cooed over him, one of them running a hand through his already disheveled brown hair. Jealousy sparked in Swan again, but this for an entirely different reason.

Curiously, the man didn’t seem to be reciprocating their obvious advances. He hunched and turned away from them, babbling through excuses as the women tried their best in seducing him. No no, I’m waiting for a friend. I need to get up early in the morning. I’ve got work to do after this. Swan chuckled at the display, but was confused why the man was turning down such a prize. The women were practically throwing themselves at him, and neither of them were what anyone would call “unattractive”. After about the fifth or sixth excuse, the women backed off, leaving with a disappointed huff and a begging “Call me~”. The man looked back at his drink with a tired sigh of relief.

Swan almost forgot that he was staring at the man until their eyes met. The bashful smile returned on his face as he tilted his head in the direction of the women.

“Women, amirite?”

Swan couldn’t help but laugh, getting off his stool with his drink in hand and sidling up next to the man to lean against the bar, “Something like that. You’re either gay or a fool to turn those two down. They were quite the catch.”

The man looked in the direction the women left with a small frown, as if talking about them troubled him, “Yeah…”

“So which is it?”

“Hm?” The man looked back with a confused expression.

“Are you gay or a fool?” Swan prodded, slightly hoping that the man would say the former. God knows it would better his chances right now.

The man huffed out a soft laugh, “A fool then, I suppose.”

Swan hoped his disappointment wasn’t too apparent, “Why turn them down? They seemed nice enough, and they definitely looked more than willing to have you take them home, if you know what I mean.”

The man took a sip from his drink, “They’re both students.”

“Let me guess, you’re their teacher?”

The man balked at the suggestion, “God no, that would be ten times weirder. I’m just an intern.”

“Not a fan of mingling sex into your education?”

“More or less,” The man nodded, taking another swing of his drink. Swan cursed inwardly. He might not have much of a shot with this guy after all. Even so, fortune favors the bold, and Swan knew that sometimes he just had to go for it.

“But what if it was someone who isn’t a college student? Someone outside of Miskatonic? Would you consider it then?”

“Well…” the man scanned his eyes over the man before him, Swan recognizing the appraising look the man was giving “I suppose it depends on the person,” The man was considering the bait, and Swan was more than willing to encourage him.

“You’re quite picky, aren’t you?” Swan leaned closer with a teasing grin. The man didn’t lean away, instead donning a matching grin.

“Only when I want to be,” the man responded, Swan knowing he was definitely getting somewhere.

“What do I call you then?” Swan looked into the man’s eyes, which were glittering with interest.

“Andrew,” the man maintained the unwavering eye contact “You?”

“Swan,” the man, Andrew, looked at him with a look of disbelief “Swear to God, that’s my name. If you have a problem with it, take it up with my hippie parents.”

That got Andrew to laugh, which is always a good sign, “Alright then, Swan. You live nearby?”

“Within walking distance,” Swan grinned. He was reaching the home stretch “What say we finish our drinks and I can show you my place?”

Andrew’s smile grew wider, taking a swing of drink, “I like the sound of that.”

Swan raised his own drink to that with a smile. He had him hook, line, and sinker.

Within half an hour later, Swan and Andrew found themselves in Swan’s apartment, not even bothering to turn on the lights as they tore at each other’s clothes and exchanging saliva in a fervent passion. Once their naked bodies reached the bed, it took Swan less than five minutes to make Andrew moan out his name. All in a good night’s work, if he may say so himself…

 

Swan awoke naked and alone in bed the next morning. He felt positively spent from the night before, with only the faintest headache from the alcohol he had consumed. He sat up with a soft groan, unsurprised to see hide nor hair of Andrew in the room but still disappointed. It was the best fuck Swan’s had in a while, but better yet the man was nice. He could only imagine what this guy must be like on dates. Ah well, he could still cherish the memory of-

Something on the nightstand caught Swan’s attention, a scrap of paper with handwriting that he did not recognize. He could feel his heartbeat quicken in pace as he snatched it up to read it. It was in a nice legible print, easy for Swan to read:

“Sorry, I really did mean it when I said I had to get up early in the morning. But I had a really good time last night. Here’s my number if you want to talk or get together again sometime.
- Andrew”

Swan’s joyous smile grew wider and wider and he reached the bottom of the note to see the phone number written out and underlined for him. He had the best of luck and he’s had the worst of luck, but this time Swan definitely won the jackpot. He leapt out of bed to put in the new contact, realizing he’s going to have to find his phone first.

Chapter Text

“A hundred and fifty years, huh?” Ash observed as he looked at the sorcerer up and down “Ever thought about picking up any hobbies while you were here?”

A small smile graced Mordrid's lips, “Of course. I had to find a way to entertain myself somehow.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Well…” Mordrid paused to think “I dabbled in artwork: sketching, sculpting, and painting. Taught myself how to sew. Ah yes, and the ballroom dancing-”

“Hold on,” Ash cut back in “Ballroom Dancing?”

Mordrid's smile grew wider, “Oh yes. There have been many dances during my time here, but I always was a fan of the waltz…”

“You are now?” Ash raised an inquisitive eyebrow and crossed his arms “Show me.”

Mordrid paused again, as if checking that Ash was serious. Ash kept his face still, doing his best not to crack a smile as Mordrid bowed.

“As you wish…” the sorcerer responded before stepping towards Ash, causing Ash to unfold his arms and his hands to be gently taken by Mordrid.

“H-Hey…!” Ash raised his voice in alarm as Mordrid tugged him along, aligning his steps and moving the two of them in a small circle. His hand was on Ash's waist, making Ash instinctively place his prosthetic hand on Mordrid's shoulder. Ash could feel the heat rise in his cheeks as he realized what was happening.

“Yo! Mordrid!” Ash exclaimed, attracting the sorcerer's attention away from humming along to their movements “What do you think you're doing?”

“Hm? I thought you wanted me to show you.”

“Okay, but why are you leading?”

Mordrid smiled slightly, “Because I always lead.”

Ash shrugged it off, deciding to let the sorcerer have his fun. Mordrid resume his humming, a soft melody the went in time to their steps. Ash felt awkward, as he had never actually danced the waltz properly (especially being lead by someone significantly shorter than him), and that time in senior prom didn’t count because he forgot how to do it halfway through. He instead did his best to match Mordrid’s movements, the quiet steps that had a surprising amount of cat-like grace. The sorcerer’s hand was holding his, and was surprisingly soft given the man’s age. Ash opened his mouth to quip about using an excellent brand of lotion, but found that Mordrid had closed his eyes, in his own little world as his humming kept going and he tugged Ash gently along like a mother would lead her child.

The dance only lasted a few more moments before Mordrid brought the two of them to a stop, flashing a smile as he opened his eyes.

“What do you think?” He queried as his revealed an expression of silent laughter. He let go of Ash, allowing him to step away.

“It’s fine, I guess,” Ash fumbled through an adequate response “Just don’t tell anybody you did that. I got a dignity to uphold.”

A chuckle cut the conversation short and both men turned to the doorway where Samantha stood, who had a hand to her mouth to stifle her laughter.

“Too late, it seems,” Mordrid observed with a surprised expression. Ash quickly stepped away, hoping beyond hope that he wasn't blushing too hard.

“It’s not what you think, I swear,” Ash tried to explain himself.

"Oh I know exactly what I saw," Samantha grinned as she left the room, causing the two men to quickly follow after her.

Chapter Text

The night was cold in the Plague Zone. Again. Chaz scowled at the wind that blew through their campsite as he huddled closer to the campfire. Off to the side, he heard Luger chuckle.

“You know, with a guy with so many layers on,” Luger teased while he laid on his back “You sure do get cold easily.”

“It may occur to you, Luger,” Chaz adjusted his coat “I’m not as large as you are. You probably as hot as a furnace.”

“You say that like you know that for certain.”

Chaz frowned and looked over at Luger, who was grinning back. It frustrated him to no end that Luger took every opportunity to tease him practically Day 1 when they met at the Zero Cafe. They were polar opposites, with Chaz being a small average joe and ex-chaufaur to the president of one of the largest corporations in America and Luger being a down-on-his-luck Zero-Man (like every Zero-Man, actually) just for looking for something to relieve his boredom, end his already shortened lifespan, or both. This may be true, but that gave Luger no right to be so relentless, especially since it was Chaz who hired him in the first place. Then again, this was the Plague Zone, a place where anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Whether he liked it or not, Chaz needed to rely on Luger.

“Have you ever actually slept with someone, Chaz?”

That made Chaz’s entire train of thought derail, “I’m sorry, what?”

Luger shrugged casually, “You know, sleeping with someone. Laying next to someone? Side by side? Closing your eyes and falling asleep?”

“O-Oh…” Chaz could’ve sworn Luger was talking about something else. It could’ve been the fire, but he felt heat rise in his cheeks as he looked back to stare at the fire. His tie felt a little too loose around his neck, so he reached up to loosen it as he heard Luger laugh again.

“You’ve never even shared a bed with someone? God I should’ve known you’re such a virgin, Chaz.”

Chaz glared back as irritation flared in his chest. He opened his mouth to protest, but Luger interrupted as he sat up.

“Don’t even try. You even blush like one.”

Chaz gasped, turning away as he swore under his breath and rubbed his cheeks in a desperate attempt to make it go away. It must’ve been oh-so funny to the larger man, because that only made Luger laugh louder.

“You surprise me, Chaz. With the way you’re so determined to find the girl, I would’ve pegged the two of you as an item.”

“Leila and I…?” Chaz stopped as his thoughts derailed again, tried not to look too insulted as he responded “Christ, Luger, she’s still in high school. And I’m 33! What kind of guy do you take me for!?”

Luger held up his hands as he grinned back, still finding it all amusing, “Hold your horses, Chaz, I had no idea how old she was. So you see yourself as the brave older brother, going out into the Plague Zone to rescue his dear sister. Did I get that right?”

Chaz furrowed his brow and looked back at the fire. Luger hit the nail on the head. He could remember when Leila and her father visited him at the Unitus-sponsored hospital. She had no way of knowing what he was going through when she saw him lying there, always the naive sheltered daughter. But on that day she was his savior, calling over her father and pointing out Chaz out of all the other patients in the ward. Chaz could remember the day when he was finally discharged with a clean bill of health, the smile on her face when she found out that he was coming to work for them. It was a sweet smile, a smile he wanted to protect and now to rescue. No one should ever be in such a predicament, least of all her.

As he reminisced, he didn’t even hear the other man move closer, “Hit that a little too close to home?”

“Hm?” Chaz looked up to see Luger sitting next to him. Somehow, he no longer felt irritated as he let out a soft sigh and stared back into the warm glow of the fire “You can say that, yeah… I just want her to be okay, Luger.”

“Unlike me, you two actually have something to lose.”

Chaz nodded, hoping beyond hope that she still has a sliver of a chance to recover if they find her. No, not if, when.

“So, have you ever kissed someone?”

Leave it to Luger. Chaz glared back back up at him, “Will you stop i-!”

He was stopped by a hand gripping his tie, pulling him forward, and closing the distance between him and the larger man. His eyes went wide, and it took Chaz a few more beats until the kiss registered in mind. Wait. Kiss?! He was kissing Luger! Luger of all people! Chaz squirmed, but Luger’s grip held him fast. He shouldn’t have been caught with his mouth opened, for now he found something wet and foreign pushing past his lips and the taste of Luger’s saliva made Chaz’s skin feel as if he was on fire, despite the cool temperatures of the outdoors. Chaz reached up, intent on pushing the larger man away, but his resolution began to crumble and he found his hands coming to rest on the other’s man chest. His eyes slowly closed, feeling lost in the new and alien sensation.

Air rushed back into his lungs when Luger abruptly pulled away, Chaz unmoving from his current position as he reluctantly opened his eyes back up. Luger looked down at him, grinning of course but it somehow seemed… softer. More amicable instead of teasing. It did nothing to rid of the fire under Chaz's skin as he found himself looking up at Luger dumbly and panting for air.

“Finally found a way to shut your whining,” Luger teased like he always did, but this time Chaz didn't feel any of the barbs from the previous times. In fact, the only think he felt was a nag in his heart, a gut desire for more like he just discovered a new dessert that he couldn't get enough of. He did nothing to resist when Luger dipped back in for another kiss. In fact, Chaz was embarrassed to admit the he actually pulled him closer.

Chaz prided himself on being a fast learner in a world where time was as precious as your health, so he felt his heart swell as he managed to keep up with the clashing of tongues the second time around, feeling a jolt of excitement when he heard Luger hum with approval. The larger man leaned forward, shifting his greater weight to urge Chaz down onto the ground. Chaz was right, Luger was a furnace, his body feeling nice and warm up against his. Anxiety and excitement grew in the back of his mind. Oh god, are they really going to do it? The dirt ground pressed up against Chaz's back as Luger's large frame loomed on top of him, keeping him captured in a kiss Chaz felt no desire to break free from. Chaz didn't care what was to come. At the moment, he just wanted more as he reached up and held Luger's face with his hands. Luger chuckled and, much to Chaz's disappointment, pulled out of the kiss once again.

“You even kiss like a virgin,” Luger observed Chaz's, no doubt flustered expression. He got off of Chaz, leaving him to the mercy of the wind again.

“Where,” Chaz paused to catch his breath “Where are you going?”

“Getting us a blanket. So we can sleep.”

“S-Sleep?” Chaz squeaked out.

“Uh-huh. You know what sleep is, right Chaz?” Luger pulled out the orange woolen blanket from the back of the car, “Laying side by side? Closing your eyes and falling asleep until the sun comes up?”

Chaz laid where he was, staring up at the night sky as the fire crackled beside him. A smile grew on his lips as he found himself relaxing. As Luger laid down beside him and draped the blanket over top of them, Chaz found his eyelids growing heavy with sleep. He slowly closed them, knowing he'll need all the energy he can for the journey ahead. He can't help but fear the worst, but with Luger's arm draped around him and holding him close, Chaz felt confident in their chances as he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Chaz?”

Chaz’s heart nearly lept out of his chest with fright as he swiftly turned to find the voice that said his name. He was sure he was all alone in his home, as tiny as it was, but before him loomed a tall, blond, broad-shouldered man. However, much to his surprise and relief, it was a very familiar tall, blond, broad-shouldered man. Luger stood in the entrance to Chaz’s humble abode in his usual black trenchcoat and a brown paper bag tucked under his arm.

“Jesus--!” Chaz exclaimed, putting a hand over his pounding heart “Don’t do that!”

“Do you always leave your door unlocked? You don’t seem like the type,” Luger questioned, tilting his head in the direction of the front door. Chaz furrowed his brow. He was the chauffeur for Leila’s family, so of course he lived under their roof with the same amount of protection they received in the form of armed guards. Speaking of…

“How did you get here? They patrol this side of the mansion every half-hour or so!”

Luger’s face scrunched up as if he was asked a stupid question, “Leila snuck me in. She owed me a favor for saving her life and all, don’t you think?”

The warm deep chuckle bubbled up Luger’s throat with a grin while Chaz rolled his eyes with slight exasperation, “Why am I not surprised?”

Chaz motioned to Luger to enter his home fully, not there was too much else to see. Being the driver for the former President of Unitus Corps. rewarded Chaz a small box-like room, with a bed shoved to one side and a small television set on the other, with a table placed in the center of the room. There was only one other door, and that led a simple bathroom. The moonlit night streamed in through the room’s sole window, providing enough illumination for the two men to see each other. However, out of politeness, Chaz turned on the lamp at his bedside, providing further light for the room, and taking a seat on his bed.

“Luger,” Chaz turned back to face his former companion “Why are you here, exactly? Aren’t you supposed to be a wanted man on the run?”

“I start running again later, but not right now,” Luger placed the brown bag he brought onto the table “I’ve been doing some digging.”

That didn’t sound good. Chaz furrowed his brow as Luger took a seat in the only chair in the room, “What did you find?”

Luger shrugged, “Nothing much, files on various Unitus employees. Names, patient records…” Luger paused to make direct eye contact with Chaz, “Birthdays.

It took Chaz a moment or two to figure out what Luger was insinuating. Birthday? What birthday? Whose-- Oh.

Chaz’s cheeks grew hot as realized what Luger discovered, “Luger why the hell were you looking through my file!?”

“Hey, for the record I was not going out of my way to find it!” Luger’s voice lowered defensively “How else was I supposed to know that today was your birthday? It’s not like we call each other on the regular.”

Chaz huffed and crossed his arms, feeling the warmth of the blush lingering on his cheeks. Embarrassment aside, he couldn’t help but feel flattered at the idea of Luger risking being found to come to him for his birthday of all days. It made him feel wanted, which was a rare occurrence considering his position. Leila cared for him, and now Luger presumably. Perhaps their travels in the Plague Zone did them both some good.

The rustling of paper brought Chaz back to the present, and he looked back up to see Luger opening up the bag and sliding it towards him.

“For you,” Luger simply stated.

Staring at the brown bag in surprise, Chaz reached out and took ahold of it. He wondered what on earth a man like Luger could get him. As he looked in, he half-expected to find a gun resting at the bottom of the bag. However, it was much lighter than expected. Furrowing his brow, Chaz reached inside and felt his hand touch something soft. He was further bewildered when he withdrew the item to find that it was a scarf, a knitted scarf!

“Now you can stop complaining about how cold you are all the time!” Luger teased. Normally Chaz would fire back a glare, but he was too engrossed in the gift in his hands. It was wool, quite plush but scratchy to the touch, with a grey color that one would argue was simple, but Chaz quite liked simple. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling fondly as he placed it on his lap and looked up at Luger.

“Thanks, Luger. I really mean it.”

Luger’s smile seemed softer now as he nodded towards the bag, “Wasn’t the only thing I got you.”

Surprised, Chaz fished his hand into the bag once again, hearing something rattle within. He pulled out something cylindrical, and his smile broke into a laugh once he got a good look at what it was.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

In Chaz’s hand was the unmistakable orange of a pill bottle stamped with the Unitus logo. He could just barely read the words “Plague Medication” that was typed on the label due to a note scribbled across it that simply read “SORRY.”.

“Figured you’d like that, given how much of a fuss you kicked up back in the Plague Zone about them,” Luger noted, to which Chaz could only nod in agreement. He didn’t even want to know how that man got ahold of a bottle, which would’ve no doubt been kept under lock and key at some Unitus sponsored hospital. Chaz’s smile was wider as he looked up at Luger again.

“You didn’t have to, but… Thank you.”

“You needed more pills, right?” Luger stood up from his chair.

Chaz shook his head, “Leila made sure I got more when we got back from the Plague Zone, but for you to go out of your way to get some? It really is the thought that counts, Luger.”

The tall man’s soft grin returned, “I guess I can live with that.”

Before Chaz could do anything else, Luger picked up the scarf from his lap and wound it around the smaller man’s neck, causing him to sputter with surprise and protest. Chaz had to admit, it was a nice and warm scarf. However, he couldn’t dwell on that for long before Luger pulled on it to get Chaz back up into a standing position.

“Hey! What’re you--” was all Chaz could muster out before Luger planted his lips against his. It caught him by surprise, but Chaz relished in the familiar feeling. They had their lingering moments during their journey for Leila, and despite their limited contact after everything, he could still feel the lingering sensation of Luger’s lips in the quiet hours of the night. Chaz raised up his hands, gripping onto his partner’s arms to keep him from pulling away, only letting him part after a solid moment or so.

“Happy Birthday, you little weasel,” Luger grinned with a wink. Chaz smiled in response as he felt his face heat up from the pet name. He adjusted his glasses, not even sure if they were askew or not.

“Warn me next time before you start pulling on anything around my neck.”

Luger chuckled as his remark and leaned closer to ghost his lips against Chaz’s, “I won’t…”

Chaz closed the gap between them, holding the warm body against his as he allowed himself to fall back onto the bed with Luger. Happy Birthday to him indeed...

Chapter Text

The computer was the only light in the run-down apartment, and that had to take a toll on D-Day’s vision. He never minded it, adjusting the glasses that rested in front of his eyes. He sat cross-legged on the floor, dressed in loose clothing that hung like a sack over his wiry frame. His greasy shoulder-length hair fell in front of his face, and he was quick to brush it away. A burning blunt was clamped between his teeth as he stared at the screen, flicking his gaze over a wall of text. A pit of boredom grew in his stomach, and it was making him antsy.

A cloud of smoke blew out of his mouth, D-Day felt around the table, searching for something to engage him. The computer rested on a table, surrounded by clutter that spread throughout the whole apartment. The phrase “organized chaos” accurately described the piles of paper, stacks of magazines, and strewn mechanical bits and pieces that made up the mess. The day’s paper sat on top of last month’s porno-mag, and D-Day snatched it up to read it over again.

Passing the blunt out of his mouth and into his hand, he opened the newspaper to a random section and skimmed over the bolded headlines. They belonged to the Local Section, and the photo plastered on the page was of some random politician standing before a crowd of journalists, the snapshot catching him in the middle of a speech. D-Day looked up at which headline it belonged to, an action that only took a few moments.

“DEM. CANDIDATE, JOHN BUCHNER, RELEASED FROM MISKATONIC GENERAL HOSPITAL”

D-Day squinted his eyes with intrigue, recalling the name “Miskatonic”. It was a university in Arkham, the hospital operating in connection with the medical school. Something happened there, D-Day could barely remember, but it happened before he had found his way to Arkham from the West Coast. He looked around the room. Did he have any documents about it? Unlikely. Turning back to his computer, he brought the blunt back to his lips to free up his hands to type “Miskatonic Massacre” into the search bar.

A laugh bubbled up D-Day’s throat as he scrolled through the search results, opening tab after tab to read through information. Some details varied, but the overall story was the same: The Dean of the medical school and a renowned brain surgeon were found ripped apart in the morgue of the hospital along with a group of naked and crazed maniacs. A few more conspiracy-oriented sites replaced the word “maniac” with “zombies”, which caught D-Day’s attention. There were only 2 chief suspects of the case at the time, but both were let off on account of being classified to also be victims in the case, both of them now working as doctors at the larger Arkham City General Hospital. D-Day was quick to search up their names and find their pictures.

“What the hell do we have here…?”

The two men were so similar in skills, but so opposite in presentation. One looked like he stepped out of a trashy romance novel with his mane of brown hair and sharp jawline. His eyes looked open and honest; perhaps a bleeding heart if D-Day could wager a guess. The other man, in contrast, kept his hair in a shorter cut, staring back at him with a piercing gaze. D-Day shuddered at the look, coughing up some smoke that prompted him to take out his blunt and stab it into the ashtray. He’d seen that gaze before once or twice out on the streets. The person with that stare always had an aura around them, like they looked death in the eye and spat in its face. Shifting his focus onto only one person, he went back to the search engine to type in “Herbert West”.

The same news articles returned, causing D-Day to curse under his breath in disappointment.

“C’mon man,” D-Day brushed his hair back again “There as to be something about Creepy-Eyes on here.”

An all-caps result caught his attention, something he hadn’t seen before. It was for another one of those conspiracy sites again, but this time saying something different. He clicked on the link, a tab opening to reveal a forum discussing the Miskatonic Massacre. A smile slowly grew on his face as he read through the main post of the page.

“MISKATONIC MASSACRE THEORY- EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

Tl;dr- I was a medical student at Miskatonic, and I think the suspects are guilty (especially West)

So, I was about halfway through medical at Miskatonic when the Massacre happen. I had class with Dr. Hill, one of the victims, and both of the suspects. Hill was alright, not the worst professor in the world. Dan Cain too, though there were rumors going around that he was dating the Dean’s daughter. Cain seemed really well behaved and seemed to get along with everybody. West, on the other hand, not so much. It was like he went out of his way to piss Dr. Hill off, breaking pencils, interrupting him with questions, and even shouting at him after class! If anyone were to kill Dr. Hill, I’d say West so would. He also seems to have these really strange ideas. I don’t want to be one of those people on the forum saying there were zombies and stuff, but I seriously get Frankenstein-vibes every time I see him. I have no idea why Dan Cain would even hang out with a guy like him??? I’m so glad they were both on their last years when all this happened.”

D-Day felt a laugh bubble up again, not believing what he was reading. How did this West guy even graduate? He skimmed through again and a phrase caught his eye: “Frankenstein-vibes”.

“Shit, man... Don’t tell me we’ve got a mad scientist on our hands!” D-Day was grinning from ear to ear “Now this, I gotta fuckin’ see!”

 

D-Day always relied on Operation: Janitor because it had the best success rate, but he’s been to package stores with tighter security than Arkham General. All it took was his janitor jumpsuit, a clean print-out of an employee ID, and a winning smile. Finding himself mopping the hallway of the maternity ward, D-Day adjusted his glasses as he looked around for any signs of the doctors in question.

“Thank you so much, Dr. Cain!”

That name made D-Day turn around, recognizing it. He bit back a triumphant smile as he watched the doctor exit one of the rooms. There he was in all his chiseled jaw and brown mane-glory. He looked even more like a leading man in person, D-Day was surprised he didn’t have a woman hanging off his arm (or a man, who’s he to judge?). His eyes followed as he watched Dr. Cain walk down the hall towards the main body of the hospital. D-Day didn’t even bother with finishing his mopping in the ward as he plopped the mop back in the bucket and wheeled it along to follow the doctor.

Stopping sooner than expected, D-Day caught sight of Dr. Cain standing by a desk and going through paperwork. He hung close to the wall, watching as another doctor round a corner and join Dr. Cain at his side, recognizing the other familiar face as a shudder ran down his spine.

“Leading me right to Creepy-Eyes,” D-Day spoke under his breath “Must be my lucky day, man.”

The two doctors conversed, their tones seemingly tersed and short. Dr. Cain shook his head to disagree with something, and Dr. West held his head high in defiance. Slumping his shoulders, Dr. Cain did nothing to stop him as Dr. West stepped away and made a beeline down a different hall. D-Day took that as his cue and wheeled his mop-bucket along to follow, making sure to keep his head down as he passed by Dr. Cain.

Dr. West was faster than D-Day expected, the doctor keeping a brisk pace while he tried to not break out into a run to try to keep up. The hall they entered was much quieter, more private in D-Day’s eyes. The gears spun at high speed in his mind as D-Day ran through predictions on what Dr. West could possibly do in a hallway like this. Does he have a test subject hooked up to a gurney? Is he going to try to steal a corpse under everyone’s noses? Did he realize he was being followed and just leading D-Day to his death? He didn’t want to think about that last option.

Dr. West came to a sudden stop, and D-Day tried not to swear out loud as he stumbled. Hands shaking, he quickly pulled out the mop to “clean” the floor. What he wouldn’t give for a blunt between his lips to take the edge off as he kept glancing up to see what West was doing. The doctor didn’t turn to face him, and instead turned to the door on the left and entered the room labelled “Pathology”. D-Day continued his cleaning as he moved closer to the doorway, spying a small window at eye-level on the door to look through. Idly mopping the same spot in front of his feet, he peered inside.

West was the only man in, carefully stepping through the room with a clear objective in the form of the door to a refrigerated room. D-Day smiled gleefully, knowing full well that he got Dr. West where he wanted him. He stuck his hand into his pocket, pulling out a simple flip-phone as he watched the doctor reach the door.

“Come on…” D-Day muttered under his breath as he opened his phone “Show me the goods, man.”

Dr. West slipped through the door, leaving it closed enough to make D-Day unable to see the inside. This time, D-Day did swear out loud, realizing he had no other choice but to go inside the room. He could be quiet when he wanted to be, so with a slow turn of the knob and a careful pull he stepped inside.

Trying to keep his breathing as even as possible, D-Day pocketed his phone and clutched to his mop. If anything, he could always make off with the excuse of cleaning the Pathology room if West caught him. He slowly made his way across the, thankfully, small room to reach the partially opened refrigerator door. Backing himself against the wall, D-Day swallowed and looked inside.

Dr. West stood in the middle of the small room, looking through the shelved stuffed with bags and jars full of body parts with a casual contemplative look like he was in the grocery store. He took out a bag of hands, checking the tag, and putting it back. He repeated the process with an arm, and then a bag of ears, and then came to a stop at a small baggy. He pulled it out with an amused smile as D-Day tried not to wretch at the sight of the severed tongue that rested inside. Dr. West moved to pocket it in his lab coat, and D-Day acted fast. He pulled out his flip phone, opened it up, and snapped a picture.

Except he forgot to turn off the shutter sound on his phone.

Dr. West’s head snapped around to stare with wide eyes so suddenly, D-Day yelped and stumbled back. His heartbeat hadn’t finished skipping when the refrigerator door was shoved open to reveal Dr. West with an expression of silent rage that made D-Day’s blood run cold. Dr. West extended his arms to grab him, but D-day was quick enough to swat them away, turning to book it for the exit.

“H-Hey man!” D-Day made a measly attempt to defend himself as he fumbled to pocket his phone and open the door “I didn’t see anything, I swear!”

A glint of metal caught his eye, and D-Day pushed himself away as he barely missed the syringe needle that nearly came down on him. His chest tightened and his heart beat even faster as the fear kicked in. D-Day never had a good relationship with needles, and now he was trying to escape a mad scientist wielding one. He had to fight back somehow, anyhow!

It dawned on D-Day… He was holding a glorified stick in his hands! He tightened his grip on the mop and lunged at Dr. West, nailing the end of the handle against West’s abdomen. The doctor let out a cry of pain, dropping his syringe as he collapsed to his knees and coughing from the blow to his stomach. D-Day took it at his chance and bolted out the room, dropping the mop in the hallway as he broke into a full out sprint for the nearest exit.

He didn’t even want to know if West was catching up to him, because he knew he was being chased. His momentum nearly swept his legs out from under him as he rounded the corner, catching sight of the handsome Daniel Cain stepping out from a patient’s room. From behind he heard a shout “DAN! CATCH HIM!”. The doctor readied his stance, and D-Day shifted to weave out of the way only for Dr. Cain to weave in the same direction, sending both men to the ground. The last thing he felt was hard tile smacking against his face and the warm blood rushing out of his nostrils.

 

The ride back to his apartment was more a bleary blur. D-Day could remember strong hands holding him back at the hospital, and someone asking where he lived. People were gathering, and being deterred away. By who? D-Day could only remember the dark hair and pale skin. Dr. Handsome was looking down at him with a concerned expression. Perhaps he was the one asking the questions. D-Day was not surprised that he told him, that doctor had one of those faces everyone could trust.

He was blinking in and out of consciousness during the car ride, catching snippets of a heated conversation in the front seats.

“No, we shouldn’t!”

“Yes, Dan. He saw me. We have to--”

“And then what? You’re just asking to paint targets on our backs.”

“... He took a picture.”

D-Day felt his eyes grow heavy again, and the next thing he knew, he was on his futon, right back in his apartment. He blinked blearily, the bandage over his swollen nose making itself known as he fumbled for his glasses. A sigh of relief escaped his lips, not because he found them, but rather he found them unbroken. D-Day placed them back on his face and brushed his hair back, getting a better look at the world.

There he was, back in the familiar space of his apartment, with the clutter and organizes chaos on all the surfaces. Nothing seemed even a millimeter out of place.However, that only surprised D-Day, that Dr. Cain and Dr. West decided to take him home like this, or rather: Dr. Cain convinced Creepy Eyes to take him home. Speaking of, a grin grew on D-Day’s lips with excitement. He crawled over to the computer and switched it on, illuminating the room with its cold sterile light. A half-smoked blunt sat waiting for him next to the monitor and he happily picked it up to clamp in between his teeth. With the computer on, he fished out the phone from his pocket and scrolled through to find the incriminating picture…

However, something was wrong. He narrowed his eyes at the issue as came to realize what had happened during all the confusion and blinking in and out of consciousness. Of course Dr. Creepy Eyes wouldn’t be stupid enough to just leave him like this. D-Day laughed as he looked at the gallery of photos to find his picture of Dr. Herbert West to have been deleted.

Chapter Text

“Tell me, Father, what sin if I desire something I cannot have?”

The man expected no answer, and he was given none. A small smile tugged on his lips.

“Most say Envy, but what I desire is a body, a youthful body. Does that make me Lustful if I want it for myself? To keep and use however I wish?”

This time, a chuckle escaped his lips. He looked down, remarking his reflection in the forming pool of crimson that was forming on the tile floor of the cathedral. He frowned. Time had not been kind to this body. He had been so sure of this one, but even he couldn’t predict how well bodies age. He regarded his baggy, sunken-in eyes, his greying hair, his hooked nose. He tutted as his appearance and looked at the altar where the priest lay, gasping his final breaths while he bled out from the cuts on his wrists.

“I’m sorry about all those horrible visions I put you through, but you needed to die by your own hands in order for you to be mine. Those are the rules. Cruel rules, but the rules I’m forced to follow.”

He lean over and gently touched the priest’s face, tilting it to get a better look of his new prize. The face was rounder, softer, belong to a man in his late twenties (though some will be unable to correctly guess that). His nose was significantly smaller, almost like a button, and while the light was slowly leaving them his eyes were quite the alluring shade of hazel. The priest’s skin, though growing paler and paler by each passing second was always so flush with life. The man smiled to himself: Oh yes, he’ll love this new body of his.

The scuttling of rodent feet caught his attention, and he turned to see the matted ball of fur standing in the center of the isle. He forced himself to move away from his prize, crossing over the the creature, kneeling down before it.

“You approve, I hope?”

The rat hissed, moving its head to reveal the face of a man. It snarled and glanced past the man to look at the priest.

“Kill! Fuck them all! Whore!” It cried out.

A smile tugged on the man’s lips again, the short string of obscenities that came from the creature seemingly satisfy him. He turned back to the priest, feeling the buzz of excitement flare up in his chest.

“Today’s your lucky day, you must feel honored. I certainly do,” the man stood up and crossed back to the alter “Your body is mine, and come to think of it… I should take your name as well. You won’t be needing it anymore. What was your name?”

The man leaned over so his ear hovered over the priest’s mouth, delighting in the feel of the shallow last breaths ghosting against his skin. The priest’s mouth twitched ever so slightly, making no sound, but it seemed to be the answer the man was going for as he pulled away.

“Jonathan? Jonathan…” The man mulled that name over in his mind, liking the ring to it “A fitting name. Thank you, Father Jonathan.”

 

The following day, the cathedral made headlines when a homeless man was found dead on the altar from slitting his wrists. On a lighter note, the congregation held a going-away party for one of the younger members of the priesthood, who decided to spread the gospel even further by moving down to the sleepy town of Arkham, Massachusetts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The chapel always felt cold to Jonathon whenever he stepped inside the main chamber. Many visitors expressed warmth, proclaiming it to be the embrace of God himself, but he felt nothing. He mused it to be due his soul to be abandoned long ago. How long? He will never truly say.

The chamber was still and quiet, being only disturbed by echoing of his footsteps as he approached the altar. Warmth or no warth, he was still tasked in preparing for the next morning’s sermon. Smoothing out the silk cloth, Jonathon raised up a hand to pick up the chalice for polishing. However, he hesitated, eyeing his hand and, more specifically, his fingers. It was still, the skin as smooth as the first day. He pulled his hand away from the holy chalice and brought it to his face. His cheeks still felt smooth as well, freshly shaven as he always cared to do. Sliding his fingers underneath his nostrils, he took a deep inhale. They still smelled of her.

It brought a smile to his lips. Their meetings have become regular now, always after confession as she took care in ensuring she was the last person in the booth. Even in the midst of acts of debauchery and lust, she concerned herself with the rest of the congregation. Her soul was that of fire, glowing as brightly within her as her golden hair in the light, whether it be sun, candle, or moon. Jonathon was more than happy to play with it, to see a body as powerful as hers be bent to his whim at every slightest touch, at every hushed whisper. Oh yes, he’ll gladly play with her much longer. His mouth opened to his fingers, wondering if they still bore a lingering taste of her.

The door to the chapel opened with a creak, disturbing the silence of the chamber yet again. Jonathon was quick to lower his hand down to his side and face the newcomer with a smile, always willing to welcome lost souls into the warmth he did not feel.

But the smile froze on his face as he looked upon the old man’s garb. It was another priest with a hard expression in his eyes. Jonathon always knew when a priest was searching out evil, as all the faces had the same expression, like they had smelled something foul.

“Father,” Jonathon addressed the man “To what do I owe this honor?”

“You may already be aware,” The priest spoke with a lilt to his voice as he approached Jonathon at the altar “We have knowledge that an evil force is hiding among your congregation, a wolf in sheep’s clothing corrupting the souls of His faithful.”

“Ah,” was all Jonathon could say as he turned back to face the altar. Frustration flared in his chest. Someone knew. Someone told, but who? He played off the spark of emotion by crossing himself. It was an empty gesture, but it always placated the concerned.

“Two women from a nearby congregation have suffered greatly,” the man continued, “One is currently being treated in a hospital. The other… She is no longer with us.”

It took all Jonathon’s willpower to not tut in frustration. It’s been two months, he had almost forgotten about those two. He glanced over at the man, attempting to get a read on the other’s expression.

“And whoever did that,” Jonathon feigned ignorance “You believe he walks among this congregation now?”

“Indeed. I believe you can help me.”

That took Jonathon by surprise as he turned his head to fully look at him, “What?”

The man was staring back, his gaze harder and burning with an accusatory fire, “You served that flock only months before. The others recalled seeing you with those women.”

The stillness of the room spread into Jonathon as he allowed his smile to fade away. A skittering echoed through the chamber. Jonathon did not flinch at the sound, but the man did.

“Do not be afraid,” Jonathon comforted, knowing full well of the mocking tone rising in his voice, “It’s simply the rats in the walls.”

The man huffed, glaring at Jonathon, “Then you are aware.”

“Are you expecting me to deny it?”

“They say you’re with another woman now.”

“I am.”

“In the name of the Holy Spirit, I will not allow you to corrupt her any further.”

The declaration took Jonathon by surprise. He could not help but cackle at the ridiculousness of it. The dry rasp echoed throughout chamber, making everything feel much much colder.

“Corrupt? Is that what you call it? I’m simply giving her what she wants!”

The man’s frown deepened, “You are not a creature of charity, there is a price whether she knows it or not.”

“Oh indeed, in return for her satisfaction, I get to fuck one of God’s beloved children in his own domicile, exploiting her for all her bodily worth.”

It brought amusement to Jonathon to see the man’s face transition from anger and determination to disgust and horror, “You’re deranged, overtaken by the Devil himself.”

“If I am, then I have been for much longer than you have been alive, Father.”

“You… You’re inhuman, only caring about bodily pleasures. A creature of Lust!”

Jonathon looked at himself curiously, “Is that what I am now? It’s been centuries now, seeking one body after another. If it no longer makes me human, then I suppose what you say is true.”

The skittering returned, closer to the altar now. Both men looked towards the sound to find a rat sitting front and center. It moved its head, revealing the human face that it bore. It opened its mouth and shrieked at the top of its lungs.

“Kill!”

“What in God’s na--!?”

The man was unable to complete his exclamation, for Jonathon lifted up the holy chalice and colidded it against the side of the man’s head.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“It won’t do. I must try something else.”

Jonathon spoke in the darkness of his bedroom, the room where night after night he committed sins against God. It always brought him more comfort than the main chamber ever did. He could feel the small beady eyes of his familiar staring back at him from across the room. It was his companion for countless years, and it always knew what would come. Jonathon wished he had such insight, but knew he would never be privy to such knowledge. No matter how many times he changed his face, acquired a new body to his liking, he would always remain human, a mere creation of God.

He looked out the window, the implications of his deeds stewing in his mind. He killed someone, a Bishop no less! He cannot simply run and hide again like with the women, and the Bishop’s face could not be his either. Even if he did desire such an old and decrepit face, he could not have it, for the man’s life was snuffed out by his hands, not the Bishop’s. A different form of deception must be considered.

“Escape in a way that no one can follow,” Jonathon spoke aloud again. The rat skittered and snuffled where it resided, and a weight was placed in Jonathon’s hands. He looked down, feeling the coarseness of the rope as he understood what must be done. It would seem his familiar agreed with his idea, for no mortal man or woman would dare chase after a person they believed to be dead.

Jonathon smiled to himself, and stepped away to find a chair.

Chapter Text

Daniel Cain may have stayed up later than normal, and he may be drinking more coffee than usual to stay awake. However, he knew he was definitely not just seeing things. That definitely was Dr. West crouching down and talking to a child with a bright smile on his face.

He didn’t even realize that the man was scheduled to be on call, for they did not arrive together earlier that morning. And yet, when Dan rounded the corner to turn in a file, he spotted the small scientists acting in a manner he had never pictured him ever being. He was on one knee in front of a child who was sitting down in a chair, clutching a stuffed rabbit close to her chest. She looked nervous, but as West spoke to her Dan could see her visibly relax and even crack a smile. Was this really Herbert West? He never acted this way around kids whenever he was forced to. Driven by confusion and curiosity, Dan quietly got closer to get within earshot.

“You have nothing to fear,” West spoke with a cheery smile “Your kind have such fragile bodies, but that’s why this place exists.”

“So…” the girl spoke, nervousness lingering in her voice “My mom’s going to be okay?”

“Of course she will! You human breeds like rabbits.”

The girl giggled again, as Dan eyes widen at the language Dr. West was using. He quickly cleared his throat to catch the doctor’s attention.

“Doctor,” Dan addressed as the two looked up at him, “Could you come with me please?”

Dr. West blinked, his eyes unusually wide as he stared up at Dan, “As you wish. Farewell, child.”

Dan’s bewilderment only continued as he watched West and the young girl exchange waves as the doctor stood up. He quickly started down the hall, and spoke through gritted teeth once they were far enough away.

“What the hell was that, Herbert!?”

West’s brow furrowed in confusion, “What?”

“You know what I mean. I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but you don’t speak to a kid like that!”

“Excuse me, but what did you call me?”

Dan stopped, turning to face West’s confused expression, and Dan’s own confusion overtake his frustration, “Herbert?”

West shook his head, “That’s not my name.”

“What?” Dan was utterly baffled “You’re Herbert West. I work with you all the time!”

The man laughed, and fished something out of his pocket, “On the contrary, this is my first time meeting you, Doctor. My name is Doctor East, not West.”

He passed an item to Dan, a visitor’s pass. Stamped on it was the words “EAST” and “GENETIC ENGINEER”. Dan looked up at the man, back down at the pass, and then back up at the man. Now that they were up close, he could now spot minor details that did not match to the West that he knew and lived with. The hair was longer and dishevelled, the glasses were circular, and his tie was not black, but spotted, like that of a snake. Dan quickly handed the pass back, feeling his cheeks light up with embarrassment.

“Sorry,” Dan mumbled “I thought you were someone else…”

“It’s no worries,” the man, East, beamed, “I designed the face specifically to look as ordinary as possible, but I guess someone else beat me to the punch!”

East walked down the hall, leaving Dan alone to stand agape at the revelation. Wait… What did he just say?

“Hey!” Dan rushed to catch up with him “What do you mean by ‘designed’?”

East jumped and turned around in surprise, either by Dan’s question or by the simple fact that he chose to follow him. However, the noise he made as not a simple “Ah!” or “Oh!”, but more of a “Me-e-eh!?”, like the bleating of a goat. He blushed in embarrassment at the sound he made and quickly adjusted his glasses.

“Oh, we Zoanoids don’t always have the option to pick and choose what our human faces will look like, but my experience with genetic engineering allows me to, let’s say, bend the rules a bit.”

“Wait, back up,” Dan stopped the other in his tracks “Zoanoid?”

East nodded, “Yes. That’s what I am. I formerly worked for the Chronos Corporation until, well… er, when Mr. Balcus and the others…”

East faltered in his words, but seemed to notice something about Dan as he looked at him with surprise.

“You’re taking me seriously. Everyone I mentioned the Zoanoids to so far have laughed.”

Dan blinked, realizing that he was, indeed, not laughing. In fact, he was just accepting what East was saying as perfectly normal. Why was he doing that? Regardless, East seemed delighted by that, as his smile returned and he continued walking down the hall, looking back to ensure Dan was following again.

“Humans can be so blind to things they don’t understand, but you, doctor, you’re much more open-minded than anyone else I’ve met!”

Dan didn’t realize the two had now entered an elevator until he noticed East reaching to push a button to go down. He recognized that button, for her and Herbert pushed it all the time.

“The morgue?” Dan questioned.

“If it’s alright,” East smiled up at him, “I’ve been itching to see how my work has been coming along. I needed a cool place to store them without suspicion.”

Uh oh. His work? That didn’t sound good. Dan held back the urge to let out an exhausted sigh as the doors to the elevator reopened and the two stepped out.

“Like I was explaining before,” East continued as they walked down the hall, “After the Chronos Corporation was pretty much destroyed, and with Balcus and most of his men gone, by all accounts I believe I should be one of the ones next in line to assume leadership of the whole operation! All I need to do is establish another laboratory, round up any remaining Zoanoids that may be hiding, and then work to dominating Earth again!”

Dan didn’t even know where to begin as they pushed open the doors to enter the morgue. This man was talking about some kind of hostile take-over as one would excitedly go over their weekend plans! And saying that word over and over again, Zoanoid. If Dan didn’t know any better, he was beginning to suspect that word to mean some type of alien.

“Question,” Dan stopped as he watched East push some gurneys out of the way to get at something stashed in the back corner of the morgue, “What exactly is a Zoanoid?”

East stopped, flashing Dan a playful smile, “You’ll see.”

Dan could only watched as East dragged a large metal container to the center of the morgue. It looked heavy from how the bottom scraped against the tiled floor, and yet East made it look effortless. The little scientist knelt down in front of the box, humming excitedly to himself as he pushed a code into the keypad.

“Are you willing to behave now?” East asked as he opened the container. Dan furrowed his brow. Was East talking to the container, or whatever was inside it? He slowly approached, just as something began to growl.

“Easy, now,” East tried to placate “It’s just a human… No it’s not feeding time!”

East quickly shot to his feet and turned to Dan.

“Look out!”

With that, East was toppled over by some unseen attacker as the growling now changed to a roar. All Dan could catch a glimpse of was a fleshy mound of tendrils and teeth. Was that really what a Zoanoid was? Is that what East claimed to be?

The creature shrieked and launched itself across the room, and Dan made a break for the door for help. However, the creature, unsurprisingly, blocked his path as it landed in front of it, baring its rows upon rows of teeth. With another roar, it launched itself towards Dan, and he only had enough time to raise his arms to brace for impact.

Only for nothing to come but the sound of ripping cloth. Dan lowered his arms slowly, looking to see what had happened.
To his surprise, East stood in front of him, holding out his arm where the creature had tore into his labcoat, and… Was it just Dan, or was that arm now a lot larger. And hairier.

“East…?” Dan managed to muster out “What are you?”

“I told you. I’m a Zoanoid.”

With the sound of more ripping cloth, East began to grow larger, and larger, and even larger. What was once a small and average looking man was now a hunched hulking mass, his small head growing and elongating as horns protruded from the crown of his head and his teeth grew longer out of his snout (yes, a snout!). All the while, fur covered the newly exposed body until all that was left of the man Dan recognized was the glasses perched precariously in front of his eyes and the tie that hung loosely around the beast’s neck.

Dan staggered back in horror. It was a dream, it had to be… This wasn’t real. It’s just fiction!

Another shriek filled the room as in a blur of motion, the beast that was once Dr. East (or was it always Dr. East) deftly caught the creature that tried to attack them for a third time. East snorted, as if huffing in frustration, as his large taloned hand squeezed down, the claws piercing the shrieking thing’s skin and causing the blood to drip down onto the floor.

Dan was growing lightheaded and nauseous at the sight of it. As his eyes rolled back in his head, he kept thinking: It’s just a dream. I’ll wake up now, and it’ll all be gone…

 

“... Cain? Dr. Daniel Cain?”

Dan blinked awake, finding himself back in the hospital hallway, and opening his eyes to see Dr. East crouching in front of him.

“East?” Dan groaned as he was brought back to the present “What happened? Wait, that creature--!”

Dan quickly tried to get up from his chair, but was stopped by East, who gently pushed him back down.

“It’s okay! I killed it,” East reassured with a smile “You fainted, but don’t worry. I expected no less from a human. You didn’t get yourself killed, so I commend you for that.”

Dan slumped in his seat and looked over East, now completely back to normal. Well, save for his sleeve that was still torn to shreds.

“And, that goat… thing,” Dan asked cautiously “That was you?”

“Mhm!” East nodded “That was me!”

“Oh.”

Dan didn’t know what to say to that as East looked up to check the time. The smaller man stood up, dusting himself off.

“I should probably get back to work,” East noted “With the beta Zoanoid dead, looks like I’m back to square one for now.”

Dan still didn’t know what to say as East made his way towards the door. The other man hesitated to leave, and turned to look at Dan and flash a smile.

“You know what? I like you. When the time comes for the Zoanoids to take over, I’ll make sure to show you mercy.”

And with that, Dr. East left Dan alone to his own thoughts and devices. Dan could only continue sitting in his chair, dumbfounded that everything that transpired the past half-hour. He’s not waking up in his bed, so this had to all be real, much to his dismay.

“Dr. Cain?”

Dan looked up to see a nurse looking at him with a concerned look, “What is it?”

“Um, I’ve been waiting for that file you promised to get me for a while now. Did you get it?”

“Yeah, I just--” Dan looked down at his hands and realized they were empty, and he let out a sigh “Forgot it down in the morgue…”

He pushed himself to his feet and left to go retrieve them, all the while thinking a thought he hardly ever expected to have. At least at home, it made more sense than right now.

“God, what I wouldn’t give to be working with Herbert right now…”

Chapter Text

Night was coming soon, Gunner knew they didn’t have much time left.

He surveyed the other men and what weapons they had managed to get their hands on. The outpost was old, not having to worry about what they were protecting for over a millennia now, as it was locked from the outside. Most of those preparing for conflict were what remained of the Grand Palace’s men. They all wore the exact same expression that Gunner knew all too well, for was adopting it now. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Stepping along the stone walkways and through the arches of the crumbling prison, a flash of color caught his eye. Blue and gold was discarded, draped over a fallen rock. Gunner grabbed the cloak, finding it soft to the touch as he carefully folded it and set off to find its owner.

He did not need to go far, as the young man was found not too far away, staring up at the prison’s charge: the Gate. Made of the strongest metal forged by the most experienced blacksmiths and alchemists, the lid lay still over the opening to the demons of Belial, sealed magically by Mortalis’s insignia. Every so often the gate would rattle ever so slightly and clang from within, the inhabitants no doubt sensing what was to come and growing restless. The young man continued to stare, observing what was to be their last bastion against the demonic forces, and made no move as Gunner approached. He was always so engrossed in his own thoughts. Even in times of hardship and great distress, some things never change, not even Anton Mordrid.

Mordrid had grown much since Gunner was tasked with protecting Mortalis’s children, but he knew full well that in the eyes of the Sorcerers he was still very much a child. It was apparent in his eyes, so wide and so open with emotion. Once he grew closer, Gunner could see that Mordrid was grasping his amulet, tracing his thumb over the insignia that matched that of the gate. A breeze blew through the area, causing the young man to shiver. Gunner took this opportunity to drape the cloak around his former ward, and it was then the two finally locked eyes.

Gunner did not open his mouth to speak, knowing full well he didn’t have to. The pain was clear in Mordrid’s dark eyes, his jaw tensed as to not let it get the better of him. Gunner understood. Besides, he was there as well. He was there when Mordrid witnessed Grand Sorcerer Mortalis and Guard Captain Selena, his father and mother, being struck down by his own brother, Kabal. They were forced to run and leave the Gate’s key vulnerable; they had no choice. Facing Kabal in the heat of the moment would have been suicidal, and there would be no sorcerers left to stop him. Now they were on the defensive, gathering whatever strength they have left before Kabal arrives. Whatever happens, Gunner knew that Mordrid was aware that the others were relying on him, relying on him to fight someone who had been at his side for nearly a century. He raised up a hand and clasped Mordrid’s shoulder, hoping a familiar presence would reassure him.

Another set of footsteps approached, and the two turned to see a soldier approach them. He looked nervous, shaking in his armor as he stopped.

“I’m sorry, but… but the sun has almost set.”

Gunner could hear Mordrid sigh behind him, and to his surprise found his hand to be peeled off of the young man’s shoulder. He turned, about to voice his confusion when something metal was pressed into his hand. Looking down, Gunner saw it to be an amulet, and not just amulet. It was crafted from the same metal as the Gate, bearing its symbol as well and several stones that aided the sorcerers in their power. Gunner was concerned, but he found that Mordrid still wore his own amulet around his neck. It was then that Gunner recalled that grisly scene in the main hall…

“I am not your brother anymore,” Kabal growled as he ripped the amulet off from around his neck and throwing it at the two of them, “I am the Death’s Head! Son of Belial! Commander of the Death’s Hand!”

Gunner started to protest, but met Mordrid’s now hardened stare. He was determined to give it to him, perhaps to someone who he felt was more deserving of such an item, despite the fact the amulet held no practical significance to Gunner, only symbolic. Gunner curled his fingers around the gift and nodded, determination flaring up in his heart. Seemingly satisfied, Mordrid turned and walked away from them.

The guard opened his mouth in an attempt to stop the sorcerer, but Gunner silenced him with a gesture and shake of his head. Watching his ward, now friend, walk away, he opened his mouth to speak.

“Leave him be. He knows to be there when the time comes.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was not long after the stars appeared in the sky when Kabal made his appearance at the front gates. Gunner had now secured the amulet around his neck and readied his weapon, however he was not truly prepare to see the traitor again. He could not believe how much the man had changed in such a short span of time. His golden hair, once tied back in a simple ponytail, now hung loose to frame his angular face, and his once blue robes were now black, draped in a robe of purple. The humans viewed that color to be of royalty, how appropriate.

The only sounds were that of the soldiers readying their weapons and the wind picking up around them. Gunner cursed under his breath and trained his trusty rifle at a man he once trusted. Kabal only stood there and smiled, amused by the reaction from those whose power could not even be compared to his.

Gunner held up a hand, signalling the others to be at the ready.

Kabal huffed with laughter, stepping forward.

Gunner dropped his hand and a volley of energy from every soldier’s weapons shot out at Kabal.

Silence fell again after the great cacophony of noise, as the dust and dirt settled, and there Kabal was, pristine as if he had never been touched. His laughter grew louder, and he launched a volley of his own. A blindingly white streak of energy launched itself from his hands, making contact with the stone under the soldiers’ feet and exploding.

Gunner fell off of his perch on walkway above the archway as the ancient gave way, crumbling under him and sending him down to the hard ground below. He shouted his second command, and the soldiers who were still standing fired at will.

It did not stop Kabal’s advance, however, as he strode closer and closer to the rusted and barred entryway. Gunner turned to collect a small group to defend the Gate further in as another crackle of energy and the wretched sound of twisting metal drowned him out from behind. Whipping around, he just managed to see Kabal succeed in stepping through, entering the stronghold with little effort as energy rained down from above in a feeble attempt to strike him down. Gunner knew this was impossible, but he knew they needed to wear down Kabal as much as they could before Mordrid can even hope to succeed.

He shouted over the sounds of battle, ordering half to stay at the entryway while the rest fall back to the chamber of the Gate.

 

The sounds of battle were muffled as Gunner and his men stood in front of the gate, poised to fire at whoever entered. Gunner couldn’t help but glance around, seeing no sign of blue and gold anywhere. He reached up to grab his pendent, hoping his friend was lying in wait for the opportune moment to strike.

But dread sank into his heart as the sounds of battle came to a stop, replaced with silence for a third time. Silence and footsteps. Footsteps growing louder and closer.

A figure stepped through, and the soldiers all fired. It was met with screams of agony and searing of flesh, causing the shots to quicky die down. To the horror of Gunner and the others, Kabal had used the body of a soldier as a shield, smirking from behind the smoldering remains before throwing it directly at the group, knocking some over. The confusion gave the man enough time to launch himself across the chamber, firing bolts of energy at those unfortunate to be in the crosshairs. Soldiers cried out and scattered, trying to gain distance from the enemy. It rewarded them with Kabal picking them off one by one, tearing through their armor and bodies with hands that crackled and glowed with the chaotic energy within. The group’s sized was reduced, with Gunner and a half a dozen retreating to the end of the chamber. Kabal slowed when only the the group remained. The sneering smile remained, but his eyes burned with fury. He did not advance, instead raising up his hands to blow them all away in one fell swoop. Energy surged in his fingertips, and an arch of energy and light burst forth in their direction. Gunner gripped his amulet and braced for impact.

Impact came in an explosion of noise, but it was not felt among the soldiers. Gunner opened his eyes to see blue and gold before him. Mordrid stood in front of the group, arms outstretched, and a shimmering shield blocking them all from harm. Gunner knew now was the time, and he shouted at his men.

“Fall back! He’ll take things over from here!”

Gunner and the others made a break for the exit, neither sorcerer making an attempt to pursue them. Once the other soldiers were safe and out of the chamber, Gunner allowed himself to stop, turning to watch the two men.

Mordrid lowered his hands, the shield he had conjured evaporating as he stared intensely at Kabal. The other sorcerer simply tilted his head, his eyes scanning to observe as the smirk remained.

“Not surprised to find you here. How long were you aware of Monitor’s prophecy?”

Mordrid clenched his jaw, refusing to answer. That only make the smirk grow wider.

“Was this the result you were hoping for? Were you relieved to find out that you were not the Death’s Head?”

It was an obvious goad, and it worked as Mordrid to cry out in anger and fling his hands in Kabal’s direction, launching a golden streak of energy. Kabal batted it away as if it were a mere insect.

“Struck a nerve this time, didn’t I?” Kabal lifted his now crackling hands “You were always the softer one. No wonder you were Mother and Father’s favorite.”

Kabal charged, swinging a fist alight with magic. Mordrid was quick the block the blow with his arm, but the burst of energy that ensued from the collision elicited a grunt of pain as he staggered back. He didn’t have enough to reel as Kabal was on him again, throwing more punches and bursts. Gunner winced, thinking back to the sparring matches all those years ago. Mordrid was never one for close combat, and Kabal always won.

Mordrid moved back to distance himself, and with the gracefulness of a dancer he spun and flicked his hands, launching small bolts of his magic to pepper Kabal and keep him at bay. One impacted Kabal’s shoulder, pushing him back and singeing the purple fabric. Kabal snarled, dropping his smile as he ran forward to close the gap. Mordrid was prepared and with a flourish and twirl of his hands a ring of light was conjured around him. It forced Kabal back, and the snarl turned into a roar of frustration.

“Come and fight me, coward!”

Kabal launched himself at Mordrid in a flurry, his fists now open and his fingers curled as if they were claws, tearing at the other man’s magics and person. Gunner had heard tales of sorcerer’s blood being able to glow, as the magics of the universe coarsed within their very veins. But as he watched Kabal’s energy claw at his dear friend, all he saw was dark dark liquid, crimson flowing from the cuts and staining the torn fabric of his robes. Mordrid side-stepped to try to make distance again, but found a hand clasped around his throat. He struggled and gasped for air as Kabal lifted him up, his eyes aflame with pure hatred as he looked upon his now defenseless brother. However, it changed to wicked glee and arrogance as he lifted his free hand up, still crackling and glowing. He held it close to Mordrid’s abdomen, and without a word unleashed the chaotic magic, letting the whole of Mordrid’s body feel that burned through him. Gunner never heard Mordrid ever cry out in true agony, but the wailing screams that came from the young man’s mouth made his heart break.

The pain came to an abrupt end as Kabal unceremoniously threw Mordrid to the side, sending him through the crumbling wall to be buried in rubble. Kabal huffed, regarding Mordrid’s general direction briefly before turning his attention to his true prize, the Gate that housed the demonic forces in which he was promised. From within his cloak, he withdrew the Key, the dagger of Belial in which the wielder can call upon his forces with a proper sacrifice. Kabal pointed it towards the insignia, as if to curse his father through it, before lifting up his hand to pay the price for his power.

“NO!”

Gunner ran forward, finding himself now between Kabal and the Gate with his rifle at the ready. Kabal lowered his arms, his expression that of unamusement and disappointment. He stepped forward, brandishing the key as a weapon, a weapon to bleed Gunner dry. It was raised on high and Gunner closed his eyes, his mind involuntarily thinking back to better days, wishing they could have continued forever.

“Everyone has a name. What do they call you?”

“Gunner, my lord.”

“Ugh, don’t call me that. Just Kabal is fine. The goody-two-shoes over there is Mordrid.”

“Er, it’s good to meet you, my l- Kabal. Mordrid.”

“Now come on, let’s get out of here. Father wants you to be our protector right? So protect us!”

A flash of light struck Kabal’s hand, sending the dagger flying and clattering to the ground. Gunner gasped, turning his head to find blue and gold standing over the rubble.

Anton Mordrid stood, looking just as pristine as before the battle had started, with his hands now crackling and glowing with his own energy. Kabal scoffed, launching energy at him again, but to his horror found it passing through Mordrid as if there was nothing there. Mordrid allowed himself to smile, but only slightly, as he stepped down off the rubble. Kabal’s confusion turned into rage and flung more and more energy, every single one passing through with no effect.

“This can’t be! How!?”

Mordrid did not answer, and in one fluid motion swung his arms and threw a great beam of energy, hitting Kabal square in the chest and launching him back. Kabal hit the wall and fell the ground with a groan. He moved to rise again, but was hit with another beam. And then another. And then another. Mordrid did not allow his former brother to get up, slowly approaching him with Gunner looking on. Mordrid glanced up at the wall behind Kabal and redirected his arms up, his energy pushing Kabal back up and against it. It was only then when the magics stopped. Mordrid lowered his arms, but Kabal could not, for the stones themselves encased around his wrists, preventing him from moving. Kabal struggled, and upon realizing what had happened, he screamed and roared with fury.

Gunner looked back at his friend, finding him to look very exhausted. Mordrid simply let out a breath, and with a shimmer he faded from sight.

The sound of stone moving called Gunner’s attention, and he ran over to the hole Kabal had made with Mordrid’s body to find his friend slowly moving out from under the rubble, his injuries and tears in his clothing now returned. He let out a soft groan of pain, reaching out for Gunner once he spotted him.

“You did it, you son of a sorcerer, you did it!” Gunner could feel the tears welling up in his eyes as he rushed to Mordrid’s side “Projecting your spirit like that… You really are your father’s son.”

Mordrid’s hands grasped Gunner’s arms, pulling the older man closer. Gunner almost asked what was wrong, but was stopped when he felt the young man shaking against him. Gunner let out a breath and held the sorcerer close, letting the man hold onto him tightly as he wept into his shoulder.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Celebration for the victory was muted and bittersweet. Most of the time was spent taking care of the wounded and the dead. While those who remained ate and drank, enjoying the relief of preventing an apocalyptic force, Gunner found Mordrid standing at the edge of the prison’s land, looking out into the abyss that surrounded the prison realm and the Key in his hands. Gunner watched Mordrid toss the artifact into the endless abyss as he approached.

“You… feeling alright?” Gunner asked slowly, carefully. To his surprise, Mordrid did respond. His mouth opened as he spoke in a soft voice.

“Monitor spoke to me while I was healing.”

Gunner’s eyebrows shot up upon the mentioning of the omnipresent Monitor. If he spoke to Mordrid, what could that mean?

“He said my duty is not done.” Mordrid continued, looking at Gunner “I am to go to the human realm, to await Kabal’s return.”

“His return?”

Mordrid smiled sadly, “My prison cannot hold him forever, and with the Key gone, he’ll need to find other means of unlocking the Gate.”

“When are you leaving?” Gunner asked, fully knowing what the answer was going to be. Mordrid looked away, obviously aware that he knew.

“I wished to say farewell to you first.”

Gunner placed his hand on Mordrid’s shoulder, and the two looked out into the abyss. Gunner was not sure how long they stood there like that, and nor did he care. After some time, Mordrid turned, looking at Gunner with his dark eyes, now hardened by everything that had taken place.

“Keep an eye on Kabal. I must do this alone, Gunner. I’m sorry that you cannot follow.”

“As long as you find yourself a bodyguard down there. If you think Kabal was dangerous, just wait until encounter humans.”

That got Mordrid to laugh, and the two men embraced. They held each other tightly, knowing full well that it will be a long time before either would see the other again. The two were reluctant to part, and Gunner could feel his eyes welling up again. Mordrid smiled, stepping away for space.

“Goodbye, old friend. May we cross paths again.”

And with a shimmer of light, Anton Mordrid was gone.

Chapter Text

The mornings were always peaceful, and that’s why Dr. Haggis hated them. It was a mask, a false disguise for the horrors that always plagued the storming nights only a few hours prior. The mornings after were always quiet, sometimes interrupted by the front doors of his clinic slamming open with new or returning patients rushing in begging for help. However, as the years passed, as population of Lefferts Corner (which was already small as it is) shrank, fewer and fewer people showed up on his doorstep. Haggis never admits it out loud, but in the back of his mind he’s thankful. He didn’t want to have to deal with even more patients dying under his watch.

Birds chirped overhead, causing Haggis to look up into the clear, cloudless sky. A bitter laugh huffed out of his mouth. How could such clear skies turn into such horrible storms every night without fail for the past 20 years? This town had to be cursed.

20 years… Has it really been that long? Dr. Haggis hated looking back on the past, preferring the burning sensation of bourbon going down his throat to wipe away the memories that made his heart ache. Too many people needed his help; there was no time for tears. Perhaps he should’ve up and leave like many people before him, but that never sat right with him. He’s stood by the side of the citizens of Lefferts Corner for so long, leaving only felt like giving up, letting those things have their way with the town and everything in it. Somehow, that made him angrier. Letting out a frustrated huff, he extracted a cigarette from its carton and set it alight with the flick of his lighter.

A foreign noise interrupted his thoughts: the sound of an engine. It caused Harris's brow to furrow with confusion. As the population size of Lefferts Corner dwindled, the frequency of cars to drive by shrank as well. Those with cars were the more likely ones to pack up their belongings and leave. The years passed, and Haggis grew accustomed to tuning his ears to the sound of rushing footsteps as survivors stumbled to his front door in search of aid. Then again, Haggis could recall the last time he heard a hum of a car's engine. It was so familiar, belonging to a small pickup truck, his truck. He never used it, instead giving it to--

The still-smoking cigarette slipped out of his fingers as he sprinted for the door.

For once in his life, it was Haggis to slam open the doors to his clinic to rush outside and stare in shock at the oncoming pickup slowing to a stop in front of his clinic. He almost believed he was still dreaming, that he was still in his drunken stupor from the night before. However, he couldn't deny his senses as the driver killed the engine, pushed the door open, and stepped out into the quiet morning. Haggis couldn't find it within himself to break the quiet around them as he spoke just barely above a whisper.

"Cathryn…"

The woman turned her head, her gaze softening at the sight of him. She offered a half-hearted smile in greeting as she slammed the pickup's door shut.

"Been a while, doc. I'm surprised you're sober enough to come out and see me."

Haggis took a few steps closer, wetting his lips to say something in response. Instead he found himself pulling Cathryn to him, holding her close in a tight hug as he could feel the threat of tears gumming up his throat. And as he felt Cathryn's arm gently hold him in return, a few did find their way out, blurring his vision and rolling down his cheeks.

 

“I thought you were leaving.”

Haggis spoke up as he watched Cathryn wolf down a plate of eggs and burnt toast. Now that the initial shock of seeing her again died down, Haggis realized that she had changed so radically, he could barely recognize her at first glance. The layers that she once wore were gone, replaced with a simple tank top and jeans. The glasses that framed her now-hardened eyes were nowhere to be seen, along with the up-do that looked to have been chopped off sometime after her departure. Haggis knew the death of her sister hit Cathryn hard, but he doesn’t have any relatives in Lefferts Corner. He knew he could never understand how hard the death was getting to his friend.

“I did too,” Cathryn paused, setting down her fork “But it didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t leave you all behind.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you did,” Haggis took a swing of coffee, though inwardly he was touched at the fact that Cathryn cared so much. The comment got Cathryn to smile somewhat.

“Morose as ever, I see,” she commented “But you’re like me. There’s something stubborn inside you that won’t let you leave.”

“I wonder what it is,” Haggis mused out loud, staring off as the heavy silence settled between them. He could still feel it, the clawing urge to care for those who came to his doorstep, the burning hatred he felt for the creatures that ate everything around him bit by bit, but he couldn’t puzzle out what that feeling was for the life of him.

“Hope.”

Cathryn’s answer caught him off guard. He looked up at her, seeing her stare intensely back at him.

“Sorry, what?”

“You still have hope. You hope for the day that everything goes away. You hope for the day those creatures stop coming, and people start coming back to live in Lefferts Corner. You hope that the rain at night stops.”

Her eyes burned into his very being, and Haggis quickly stood up. He turned to empty his cup in the sink, but those eyes could still be felt staring at him. Haggis bit back a swear as he could feel himself about to start shaking. Cathryn was right, he knew that even if he didn’t want to admit it. Something as cheesy as “hope” keeping him from the edge from giving up, either through escaping or drinking himself out of existence. His heart hurt to see everyone suffering, and he wanted it to stop. Haggis hated mornings, but deep down he didn’t want to anymore.

Chair legs scraped against the floor followed by a set of footsteps as Cathryn moved to Haggis’s side, but when he looked up he found that her expression grew soft to one of sympathy.

“We’ll figure this out, I promise.”

Haggis let out a hollow laugh, “‘We’?”

Cathryn nodded, holding out her hand wordlessly. Haggis stared it, knowing full well what she was asking him to do. Was it even possible to kill one of those things? He laughed again, but something in his chest stirred. It was that same thing that had kept him going for so long, the same thing that made his friend return. Cathryn’s eyes burned with determination. Maybe they do have a chance…

“Ah, what the hell… It’s not like I have much less else to lose.”

He reached out and shook her hand firmly.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think you shouldn’t go to work today. Doctor’s orders.”

Haggis hacked out a cough, his body feeling hot and heavy on the mattress as he frowned up at the man looking down at him.

“But I’m the doctor here,” He managed to growl out before interrupting himself with a weak cough. The man simply tilted his head curiously and smiled,

“And I have a doctorate,” he retorted gently “so my statement remains true.”

Haggis groaned as the man stepped away from his bedside and let his head fall back. He’s having a fever dream, he has to be. What kind of stranger would appear out of nowhere the night before in bright blue robes and a cape, a cape of all things! The way the man moved, as well, was strange, moving deliberately with some kind of grace that one wouldn’t normally have unless on, say, a stage before an audience, and right now the only audience the man had was Haggis.

"Some audience I must be," Haggis grumbled in his head as he looked towards the ceiling. A pair of beady black eyes stared back at him. Oh yeah, how could he forget the crow. That's how this whole dream began. Somehow that blasted bird found itself in his clinic, and while he was in the midst of shooing it away, Haggis came upon the strangely dressed man. He should be more frustrated, but for some reason he couldn't find it within himself to hold onto that feeling. The sickness must be exhausting him.

With the soft padding of footsteps signalling his return, the man approached Haggis's bedside. His wardrobe had slightly changed, the cape missing and his sleeves rolled up to the elbows, no doubt in accordance to the bowl and towel he held in his hands. The man said nothing as he dipped the towel into the bowl's contents, something Haggis was oddly comforted by. Actually, how long has it been since someone took care of him?

"Why are you here?" Haggis breathed out with a suddenness he didn't expect. The man flicked his gaze up to regard him with those unblinking hazel pools. His gentle smile returned as he lifted the towel out of the bowl and wring it out.

"I was in the area--"

"Dressed in that?" Haggis cut in incredulously.

"Yes," the man chuckled, reaching over and draping the towel over Haggis's forehead. It was cool and wet against his skin, eliciting a sigh of relief from Haggis.

The man sat back in his chair as he continued, "I heard interesting stories about this place, so I was curious. And seeing you… Also made me curious."

"Came to gawk at me, did you?"

"You didn't seem well,"

The man sat with his hands folded on his lap, one leg crossed over the other. His expression suggested that he expects Haggis to get mad, but despite a brief flare of irritation, it fizzled out quickly with the sound of flapping above Haggis's head. Instead, Haggis simply scanned his eyes over the man. He seems so strange. He looked quite young, or at least younger than Haggis, a man of 40 years. However, the man's eyes displayed an age far greater. Haggis knows the stare of a person who's seen some shit, and whoever this man was, he definitely had that stare.

"You got a name?" Haggis asked finally.

The man seemed to hesitate, glancing up at the crow that was still sitting on the head of the bed frame. He nodded to some unspoken words and smiled back at Haggis reassuringly.

"Mordrid. My name is Anton Mordrid."

Haggis smiled in return, "Haggis. Ian Haggis, but… everyone just calls me 'Doc'. I'd offer a couple of drinks, but I'm a bit too tired to move."

The man, Mordrid, shook his head in disapproval, "You're sick. The last thing you need is alcohol."

“Hasn’t stopped me in the past.”

“And now isn’t the past.”

Haggis and Mordrid glared at each other from opposite ends of the bed. It clicked in Haggis’s mind as to why the other man frustrated him so much. It was the do-goodery, the desire to help others, and it reminded Haggis of himself, the him of 20 years ago. Before those creatures appeared and nearly devoured the entirety of Lefferts Corner.

The crow above them let out a squawk, breaking the tension between both men as they looked up towards it. Mordrid sighed and lowers his gaze back to his lap.

“You’re right, Edgar. Illness makes us all irritable.”

Haggis furrowed his brow, but not at the illness remark, “You… talk to your pet?”

Mordrid smiled in a soft chuckle, “No. Edgar isn’t my pet. He’s my bodyguard.”

The crow squawked, seemingly with pride, as Haggis looked even more confused. Sure, talking to one’s pet was not the most unusual sight, but the man seemed to understand the crow, conversing with it like it was an old friend. Everything about him seemed off, the only thing Haggis could see as genuine was the acts of kindness towards this. It brought him relief, knowing that the stranger was less likely to kill him in the night.

“You must find me very odd,” Mordrid’s soft voice cut back in, as if commenting on Haggis’s inner thoughts.

“And I find you to be very perceptive,” Haggis retorted, unwilling to let his man have the upper hand in this strange situation. To his surprise, Mordrid smiled, crossing the room to the old desk. Haggis couldn’t remember the last time he sat in front of it, with the office being so busy and all. However, now the desk was clean of clutter, instead playing host to bowls and cups and utensils Haggis was sure weren’t his. Mordrid took ahold of a small whisk and began stirring something in a cup as he walked back to the bedside.

“You all have yet to master the skill of alchemy passed down by the Great Sorcerers,” Mordrid sat down in the chair, “But I’m sure Monitor will forgive me for helping one person like this.”

Haggis laughed weakly before the tickle in his throat caused him to cough again, “I’m not even going to pretend to act I understood what you were saying.”

Mordrid’s eyes twinkled with silent laughter, “That happens more often than you think.”

The man reached out, bringing the cup to Haggis’s lips.

“Here… Drink this.”

Haggis tilted his head up to do so, which resulted in his nose getting assaulted by the putrid scent of stewed cabbage. Or was it socks? Regardless, he wrinkled his nose and turned his head away.

“Hell no!” He protested angrily, “What the fuck is that!?”

Mordrid pursed his lips in a way unlike of a mother dealing with an unruly child, “If I told you, I doubt you would still want to drink it.”

“What exactly is it supposed to do?” Haggis eyed the cup skeptically.

“It’s to cleanse the energies within--” Mordrid faltered, noticing Haggis raise his eyebrow incredulously, “It strengthens your immune system.”

Haggis let out a sigh, carefully propping himself up some more, “What have I got to lose?”

Mordrid’s smile changed, and Haggis knew the look. It betrayed sadness, the pain of an old wound that’s never quite healed. He opened his mouth, but hesitated as he answered softly.

“More than you can imagine…”

Mordrid brought the cup to Haggis’s lips and let him drink. The first thing to his the doctor was a blow of nausea, the aches in his stomach intensifying greatly before spreading to his chest then to his arms and even to the tips of his fingers. It took all he could to keep drinking, and as the last of the liquidy paste left the cup, it was swiftly removed from his lips before being replaced by Mordrid’s hand. Not as a comforting touch, oh no. It was clamped over Haggis’s mouth tightly. Reflex caused Haggis to struggle, but as the nausea crept up higher into his throat, he realized why the hand was there. Doing his best to still himself, it took the last of his willpower to swallow the rest of the medicine. After a few moments of laying limp on the bed, the hand was slowly removed.

“How do you feel?” Mordrid’s voice betrayed his worry. While his body still felt warm, the aches have dulled quite a bit. He opened his mouth to voice this, but found himself to be completely without energy. Letting his head fall to the side, Haggis’s eyes felt heavy. The last thing he heard was the ruffle of feathers of Edgar Allen taking flight, and Mordrid sighing with relief. A hand reached out, and the man gently removed the glasses from Haggis’s face.

“Get well soon…”

 

“Doc…? Doc? Ian?”

Haggis awoke to the sound of a woman’s voice, and as his eyes opened he saw Cathryn looking at him, her brow furrowed with worry. In her hands was a small bottle, no doubt with medicine. He pushed himself up into a sitting position, and--

Wait. He pushed himself up? Haggis looked down at himself. There were no more aches. No more pains. He blinked in shock. He only just got sick. How?

“Your fever’s gone down quite a bit,” Cathryn interrupted his thoughts as she gently felt his forehead, “I told you all you needed was some actual sleep.”

“Where…” Haggis licked his chapped lips, “Where did he go?”

Cathryn turned from setting the medicine down on the desk, the clutter having returned and replacing the tools and utensils from last night, “Hm? What do you mean?”

“The man… the man in the robes. Did you see him?”

“Father Poole came to visit you? Never expected that he’d do something like that.”

Haggis shook his head, “No he had blue robes! And a crow! I think his name was… was… Anthony? No. An… Ant… Anton! And the crow was Edgar. No wait! It was a raven.”

Cathryn raised an eyebrow with a small smirk of skepticism, “Doc, I think you had something you people in the medical profession would call a ‘fever dream’.”

Haggis slumped. Had he really dreamt up all that? It was possible. Cathryn moved to exit the room, calling out as she did so.

“I’ll make you some breakfast while you figure out whether to move or not.”

Haggis remained in bed, staring at the blurry surroundings that were his room. Had he taken his glasses off? Or was it that man? To be honest, someone like Mordrid would be a little good to be true. He chuckled to himself, reaching out for his glasses on the nightstand.

“Just a dream…”

His hand hesitated before grabbing them, as something foreign caught his eye in the form of a black blotch resting next to his glasses. Quickly putting the glasses on, Haggis almost burst out laughing at the sight of what the object was. Plucking it off of the stand, he sat back in his bed and twirled the black raven’s feather with his fingers.

“Or maybe not.”