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Cinderella of Chicago

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His outfit was sheer genius. The wings could actually lift and wave, and fold back to their resting position smoothly and silently. They worked on servos he’d spent way too much for, but it was worth it. You couldn’t even see him toggle the switch that controlled them, because it fit perfectly within his palm. Brilliant.

Not only that, but the workmanship on the suit itself was perfect. His Baba had asked no questions, just taken the pictures he’d given her, drawn up a pattern, and sewed holy hell out of it. It fit like a glove and made him look pretty damn good, if he did say so himself. He’d had to make a few concessions here and there on fabric and trim, mostly because the real suit was undoubtedly butter-soft leather that cost about a million dollars a yard, but he’d done superbly there, too. Well worth the number of days off he’d spent haunting every fabric store in greater Chicago.

Which is why Brian Zvonecek could not be blamed for maniacally bouncing his foot and checking the clock every seven seconds as he sat ignoring the morning talk show on the common room TV, waiting for this shift at Firehouse 51 to end. When ChicagoCon started in approximately three hours, he planned to be there, and he planned to be the best Sumendi anyone had ever seen. Including, hopefully, Anthony Lang, the guy who actually played Sumendi in all three movies, and was going to be on a panel talking about the upcoming movie that would have all the Planetary Saviors in it. Brian couldn’t wait.

************
At this stage of her nursing career, not much bothered Meg Armstrong, but this was a bunch of shit. Literally, the largest amount of feces she’d ever seen, which had issued from a homeless woman who had come in to Chicago Med’s Emergency Room after not being able to “go boom-boom” (her phrase) for a week. Well, they’d solved that problem. And now, here was Meg, four years of college and fifty thousand dollars in student loans later, dealing with the aftermath of their success.

At least her shift was almost over. The minute she had Mrs. Carlsberg cleaned out and cleaned up, she could, at long last, catch the El to her friend Karen’s apartment where the girls were meeting to get ready for ChicagoCon. After all the planning and all the work to make it, Meg was dying to put on all the pieces of her Tabiti costume and hit Rosemont.

************
The hall was huge. Actually, if Brian was being honest with himself, it was a little overwhelming. Half of Chicago was here, and a good third of them were in costume. He’d get used to the crowd, and the more people in costume the better, because he knew he looked good. He’d already lost count of the number of people who’d asked for permission to take his picture, or to be in selfies with him. He graciously agreed every time, while his roommate Joe Cruz rolled his eyes and made annoyed faces. Well, Cruz could be getting this kind of attention if he’d chosen to dress up, but he’d absolutely refused. So there he was, wearing a T-shirt and jeans and absolutely invisible next to Brian.

“C’mon, Otis, we’re not gonna get a good place in line for the panel.”

Brian accepted yet another high five on his costume and joined Cruz for the short walk to join the throng in front of the doors to the main auditorium. The panel wasn’t for another hour at least, but if they didn’t get in line now, they’d have lousy seats. Brian wanted to be sure to get great pictures and – although he didn’t admit it to Cruz – he hoped someone on the panel would notice that he was looking crazy good as Sumendi.

For the next hour, Brian and Cruz stood cheek by jowl with an odiferous mass of Planetary Saviors fans, many in costume. There were a fair number of Sumendis, but none that could approach Brian’s costume, even without the real, working wings. Unfortunately, there weren’t many women in the vicinity of Brian and Cruz to make the wait more enjoyable. There were a few mediocre Tabitis and one group of all the female Planetary Saviors, but they were all too young to be interesting.

Being taller, Cruz could see further into the crowd. He mentioned a few particularly cool costumes, but Brian couldn’t see them. It would be easier to check out the costumes when they were released from the horde into the auditorium. For now, he was stuck among a mostly-male group of younger fans, all of whom smelled like they needed either a shower or a lesson in moderation when applying Axe body spray. He wished he was wearing his SCBA apparatus. It would’ve ruined the look of his costume, of course, but no one could really see it in this crush, anyway.
At last, the doors opened and Brian and Cruz were propelled into the auditorium by a suddenly frenzied mob, having all they could do to keep upright. But they had a plan. Cruz was pretty big, and could use his arms and elbows to basically swim through the crowd. All Brian had to do was stay tucked right behind him, and Cruz would get them to the front. Which he did with a minimum amount of elbowing teenagers and a very clever “accidental” de-helmeting of a Boba Fett.

***************
Meg and her friends were not as successful, mostly because they didn’t have a plan beyond “get great seats”, and they didn’t feel like waiting in a huge, jostling melee for the auditorium doors to open. Still, they got in for the panel and had seats. They counted that as success, especially since all five women were seated together. Karen was determined to get to ask Ken Terhune, who played Sumendi’s wicked brother, Adranos, a question. He was so hot, she was sure she would have an instant orgasm if he actually spoke to her, and she was going to do whatever it took to make that happen.

The first thing she’d done to get his attention was to come dressed as Afi, wife of Adranos. Another thing she’d done was to make sure that her boobs looked spectacular in her Afi costume. Not that much of her boobs were in her Afi costume, but that was kind of the point.

While they waited for the panel to start, the women looked around the auditorium, admiring all the costumes and looking for cute guys. Liz saw one cute guy, right down front, in a really great Sumendi costume. She elbowed Meg and pointed.

“Look over there! That guy’s Sumendi is almost as good as your Tabiti! You should totally get a picture with him,” Liz told Meg.

“Whoa! That is a good costume. He’s cute, too. But I’m not going down there. What would I say? ‘Hey, dude, I see we’re dressed as a couple, so let’s get our pictures taken together?’ I’d die of embarrassment.”

“Then I’ll say it. You look really good, and it doesn’t look like he has a Tabiti with him. Come on.”

“Not happening, Liz. Thanks, though. Hey, look over there. Is that dude supposed to be a zombie from The Walking Dead?”

“I don’t think so. I think he just needs to eat some vegetables or something.”

“Unfortunate.”

“Highly.”

*******************
“Cruz, Cruz… look at that Tabiti up there!”

“Whoa, dude, she’s checkin’ you out, too. You should go meet her.”

“I can’t go meet her – we gotta… protect these seats.”

“You’re such a weenie, Otis.”

“Are you really willing to give up these primo seats just to - Oh! They’re starting!”

**************
The panel was awesome. Nobody on the panel said anything about Brian’s outstanding costume, but he was sure they saw him. Both Brian and Cruz were hoping to get picked to ask their questions, which would have given Brian a perfect opportunity to show off his Sumendi wings, but that didn’t happen, either. Still, it was a great panel. Well worth the hassle of getting in and getting these seats.

After the panel, it was time to cruise the main exhibition hall. That was going to take some time and coordination, because Anthony Lang was going to be signing autographs and taking pictures at three O’clock, and Brian had pre-paid for his photo op. He was not going to miss out on that. Cruz had thought that the $75 price tag was too high, but that was ridiculous. How could you put a price on getting your picture taken with the real Sumendi?

***********
Meg and her friends needed a break after the excitement of the panel. They’d do the Exhibition Hall, but right now coffee was a must. Karen was bummed that she didn’t get to ask her question, and that Ken Terhune hadn’t commented on her Afi costume (or her boobs). But they all thought a little caffeine would fix her right up.

They’d been right, and for a while, they’d had a great time shopping the booths and checking out the costumes. But after lunch, Susan and Lita were getting a little tired of the Con. The others wouldn’t say it out loud, of course, until after they’d gone home, but Susan and Lita weren’t really “fans” so much as just there for the experience itself. Maybe Susan and Lita wouldn’t even understand that was an insult. But best not to say it out loud anyway.

“Come on, you guys, we’re only halfway done with the Hall! We’re never gonna see everything if we take another break,” Meg urged, pulling on Lita’s arm.

“We’re getting smoothies. We’ll meet you after. We know the pattern you’re following around the Hall, we’ll just find you.” And just like that, Susan and Lita ducked into the crowd and were gone, leaving Meg, Karen, and Liz (wearing a Sumendi T-shirt, which was closer to being in costume than her friends had thought they’d get) to shop the rest of the booths.

The next booth they came to sold nothing but hoodies – from traditional ones printed with pictures and logos from all sorts of fantasy franchises to ones with attachments on the hoods that made you look like your favorite character. They spent a long time looking through them all, especially trying to find one with Adranos’s crown in Karen’s size. They were ultimately successful, and she waited in line to pay more than Meg ever would have for it. Liz continued to hunt through every hoodie with a Dr. Who theme, afraid she would miss The One if she didn’t look at every single one to make sure she hadn’t missed a design.

Meg’s feet were starting to hurt in Tabiti’s signature stiletto-heeled red boots, so she took the opportunity to lean against one side of the booth so she could stand on one foot at a time, giving the other a rest.

“That is an outstanding costume,” a voice at her ear said.

Meg turned to face the cute guy in the really good Sumendi costume they had seen at the panel.

“Oh, hi,” she stammered, immediately embarrassed at the overzealous squeal in her voice. “Yours is great, too. I saw you, at the panel. It’s really… great.” Could I be more of an idiot?

“Thanks. Your headpiece is awesome. Isn’t that heavy?” He asked. They had to practically shout to be heard over the jostling, milling throng hemming them in. But it was worth it. Brian couldn’t believe his luck finding the Tabiti they’d seen at the panel, who was even cuter up close.

“It isn’t that bad,” Meg answered, self-consciously touching her headpiece and knocking a shower of glitter onto her shoulder. “It’s papier-mâché, mostly. So not that heavy. You can, you know, touch it. If you want.”

Brian touched Meg’s headpiece, knocking on it a little with his finger. “Wow. I’d swear it was metal, from a distance.” From a distance? Nice one, moron. She’s gonna punch you.

“Thanks. What did you use for the red streaks in your hair?”

“That? That’s natural.”

Meg laughed, but then began to cough as she inhaled a bit of spit down the wrong tube. Oh, for fuck’s sake. Kill me now. You, Aquaman over there, if you could just impale me with your trident, that would be great. He’s gonna think I have fucking tuberculosis.

The problem was that he had smiled. This Sumendi, who was pretty cute to begin with, and had made a very funny joke, had smiled after he said it. And his smile was… electrifying. He had gorgeous, white teeth and, with his dark hair and dark eyes, and the little moustache and soul patch he wore (which Meg usually hated), it was just… well, it was enough to make her choke on her own spit like the gargoyle she was.

He patted her on the back. “You gonna be OK? I’m a firefighter. If you need CPR, just say the word.”

Meg flapped her hands around, trying to signal that she would be OK, and desperately tried to control her cough. She could feel the tears smearing her mascara and knew for a fact her face was beet red. Yeah. Some Tabiti. She’s supposed to hold Sumendi spellbound with her charms, which I’m dead certain don’t involve hacking up a lung at his feet.

“I’m… I’m OK…” Meg choked. The taller guy behind Sumendi handed her a bottle of water, which she gratefully accepted. He was kind of cute, too, she noticed. The water helped.

“I’m sorry.” Meg covered her face with her hand. “I just… something went down the wrong way, I don’t know…”

“As long as you’re OK.” Sumendi was looking at her with a sort of serious expression. That looked good on him, too. Did he say he was a firefighter? Meg really, really liked firefighters.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Thanks for the water,” she said to the taller guy, handing back the bottle.

“Keep it. Just in case,” he said, smiling. “Hey, would you mind if we got a picture of you guys? You know, together?”

Sumendi smiled again. “Yeah, that would be great!”

Meg was still working to calm her spasming trachea, and knew what her makeup must now look like. “I’d like that, but… Can I just…” She pointed to a mirror in the jewelry booth next to the hoodie booth.

“Oh, sure!” Sumendi said excitedly. Could I sound more like a fourteen-year-old? Damn it!

Meg went over to the next booth, bending down to survey the damage to her eye makeup. It was bad. She pulled her small backpack off her shoulder and rummaged inside. People kept bumping against her in the overcrowded Exhibition Hall, making her work much harder. She was eventually pushed over to the other side of the booth, where there was another mirror. She had to wipe a lot of smeared mascara off her cheeks, which messed up the rest of her makeup, which meant she had to re-do that, too, before she could re-apply her mascara. It took a solid five minutes, with added time to deal with all the pushes and shoves from the crowd and those wanting to get closer to use the mirror themselves to try on jewelry.

“You ready to go on?” Meg heard Karen’s voice at her elbow. She looked up, surprised.

“Oh, well, we’re gonna get a picture together, me and Sumendi.” She looked over to where Sumendi and his friend had been, but couldn’t see them in the seething crowd.

“What Sumendi?”

“The cool one, the one we saw at the panel. They were right there-“

Liz stepped up beside Karen. “They didn’t have any good Dr. Who shirts. Let’s go.”

“No, but… wait-“

“Meg, I don’t see any Sumendi around here. Maybe he bailed.”

“He didn’t bail! They were right there!” She moved toward the hoodie booth as best she could, but there were so many people crowded around it was difficult to maneuver. Pushing a bit, she got further into the walkway but couldn’t see Sumendi or his friend.

“Damn! They’re gone.”

Karen and Liz hustled Meg along to the next booth. They still had a lot of ground to cover. Meg was crushed. That Sumendi had been really cute. And he said he was a firefighter. And that smile!

Meanwhile, Brian and Cruz had been shoved into the hoodie booth, and were trying to get back to the walkway, but it was taking forever. Finally, Joe used his elbow-swim move to escape the booth, with Brian in tow. By the time they got out to the walkway, Tabiti was nowhere in sight. Brian sighed. He had really liked the deep copper color of her hair, especially with her green eyes. Plus, she’d remembered him from the panel!

****************
“OK, this is where I leave you,” Cruz announced as Brian joined the line for his picture with Anthony Lang. It was only two thirty, but he wanted to be sure to get his picture and autograph.

“You sure, Cruz? This is Anthony Lang we’re talking about.”

“I know, but I’m not paying seventy-five bucks for a picture with a dude I can see in a movie for less than twenty. You’re crazy. I’m going back in, to finish the Exhibition Hall.”

“Fine. You’re missing out.”

Cruz gave a little wave and disappeared into the crowd, just missing colliding with Meg as she maneuvered through the crush of people to join the line for pictures and autographs with Anthony Lang. Looking around, she figured out where the end of the line was and stepped up behind the last person, who happened to have a really good Sumendi costume –

“Hey! It’s you!” Brian greeted Meg, again giving her that blinding smile. She blinked a bit, momentarily confused by his sudden reappearance and by the effect that smile had on her.

“Oh, hi! We got separated. I’m sorry, I really wanted to have a picture with you.”

“Yeah, so did I. But we can do it now. You know, if you want.”

Meg’s face fell a little. “I’d like that. I guess you’ll have to text it to me, though, because my phone died.”

Now Brian’s face fell. “You are not going to believe this.”

“What?”

“I don’t have a phone, either. I gave it to my roommate, because there’s no place for it in my costume, and I didn’t want to be bothered with it. He has it in his jacket.”

Just Brian’s luck. Here he was, looking great as Sumendi, with a long wait ahead next to the best Tabiti he’d seen at the Con, who seemed genuinely excited to have their picture taken together, and neither of them had a phone. His choices were laugh or cry. Or swear a blue streak, he supposed, but he didn’t know this girl and she seemed really nice. Maybe she would be turned off if he swore. But he was brutally disappointed.

Meg laughed, so Brian joined her. She was no more thrilled than he was not to have a camera, but maybe they could find her friends, or his, when they were done with Anthony Lang. Or maybe they could get a picture taken in the booth with Anthony Lang. That would be really cool. In any event, she was pretty happy to get to spend the next hour or so with this cute Sumendi while they waited. They were going to get a chance to actually talk. To get to know each other. She wondered whether he was single. She also wondered, based on the excellent craftsmanship of his costume and his obvious closeness to the guy he’d called his “roommate”, whether he was straight. She really hoped so.

“I’m Brian, by the way,” he introduced himself.

“Meg.”

“Meg. Nice name.”

“Short for Margaret. Call me Margaret and you’ll get Tabiti’s scepter up your nose.”

Brian held up his hands. “Meg it is. That tip looks like it could do some real damage.”

Meg smiled and took a look at the tip of her scepter, which had a lampwork glass flame at the end. It was fairly pointed. “Just letting you know the rules.”

“That scepter is great. You’re really talented. How’d you make that?”

Meg explained the rather simple process of fabricating the scepter. The basic idea wasn’t too complicated; she’d started with an old baton. But she made Brian laugh with her story of the lengthy and heated negotiations she’d had to conduct with the friend who made the tip.

The friend, Alice, made lampwork beads, which was a fairly expensive hobby that required a great deal of practice to master. Besides that, the flame tip had to be both intricate - woven of several different colors of glass - and strong enough to withstand whatever abuse it would get at the Con. Alice’s initial price had been far too steep for Meg to afford, so Meg had offered to clean Alice’s apartment in addition to paying what cash she could. No deal. Meg had added a week of cat sitting, but still the price was more than she could pay. In the end, Alice had agreed to accept the price Meg offered, along with the apartment cleaning and cat sitting, plus one more, hideous cost.

Alice had a cousin named Harold. Harold’s mother, Alice’s aunt, was very concerned that Harold, who was going on twenty, hadn’t met the right girl yet. Alice’s aunt kept pressuring Alice to set Harold up. So Meg had ended up having to accept a date with Harold.

There was a reason Harold hadn’t met the right girl. Several, in fact. First and foremost, Harold had the worst breath Meg had ever experienced. He was also extremely shy, but only at first. Once the lights had gone down in the movie theater, suddenly he was all hormones and hands, and Meg had spent the next two hours ignoring the movie in favor of fending off almost-continual frontal assaults.
In the end, the guy behind them in the theater had actually leaned forward and hissed to Harold, “Dude, even I can see you’re not gonna get there with her. Give it up and let’s all leave with what little dignity we have left.”

After the movie, Harold had taken Meg to a bar he said he frequented. Meg was completely uninterested in Harold, but after what she’d been through, she was very interested in a drink, so she’d agreed. “They know me here,” Harold said proudly.

They didn’t know him there. And, apparently, he didn’t know them, either, because the bar’s clientele, while sparse, was mostly female, and entirely gay. When they had their drinks (Meg didn’t usually do shots, but it was an emergency), Harold had once again begun relentlessly trying to grope her. Meg was usually a very nice person, but she’d had enough. So she said, quite loudly, “Listen, I have asked you more than once to stop trying to touch me like that. No means no. Knock it off.”

Harold was very unceremoniously escorted from the bar by a lovely woman named Bud. Meg had enjoyed getting to know Bud over a few drinks, and they’d had a few laughs at Harold’s expense, but Meg was honest about her preferences when Bud handed over her phone number. Bud didn’t seem to mind that Meg wasn’t planning to call, which Meg actually found pretty attractive. She kept Bud’s number. She didn’t even mind having to pay for the cab home.

Brian liked that story a lot. He had really appreciated the opportunity to simply stand there, listening to Meg and appreciating the way her green eyes sparkled when she smiled, and the cute way her nose wrinkled when she laughed. Meg was funny, and Brian especially liked that the story indicated quite clearly that she wasn’t seeing anyone. Which, of course, was part of Meg’s reason for telling it, in addition to introducing the topic of lesbians in hopes that Brian would share something that would let her know which team he played for.

“Now it’s your turn to tell me an embarrassing story about you,” Meg invited.

“The problem with that is there are so many choices,” Brian mused. “Stuff seems to… happen to me.” He hemmed and hawed for a few moments. He needed to find a story that would let her know that he, too, was single, and preferably one that also reminded her (in case she’d missed it the first time) that he was a firefighter. Women loved firefighters.

“Well, there was this one time on a fire – did I mention I’m a firefighter? – when this really, really huge guy was stuck in a hammock. We never did learn why he had a hammock in his living room, but…”

Brian told a very funny story that ended with the man being rescued (if not very gracefully) and the man wanting to reward Brian with a date with his sister. He had tried valiantly to get out of the “reward”, explaining to the man that it wasn’t necessary, and that it was really a little frowned upon for firefighters to be rewarded for just doing their jobs. Baked goods or something, sure, but… Brian had been entirely unable to talk the man out of it. The entire firehouse had given him endless shit about it, because all of them imagined the sister as, basically, the brother in drag.

Until she showed up at the firehouse for their date and was one of the most beautiful women any of them had ever seen.

“So? Did you marry her and live happily ever after?” Meg asked, laughing (on the outside, at least – she was finding that she cared more by the moment whether he liked girls).

“I’m afraid not,” Brian answered with a cute twist of his lips. “She was about two feet taller than I am, and she was, um… let’s just say we should set her up with your friend’s cousin. They’d never be heard from again.”

“I thought guys liked women with, um, an appetite.”

“Well, sure, to a point. But that one… I don’t think I want to marry a woman if I’d be afraid to fall asleep around her.”

They both enjoyed a long moment of laughter. Hmmm. So he’s single and apparently straight. Well, well.

The conversation moved on to the Planetary Saviors. For quite some time, Brian and Meg enjoyed talking about what they liked – and didn’t like – about the Sumendi movies thus far and what they hoped to see in the new movie that would include all of the Planetary Saviors. The fun of that conversation was that they didn’t always agree – Brian thought Sumendi’s look in the movies was nowhere near as good as in the original comics, while Meg had to admit to not having read the comics themselves. Somehow, whether because they were intentionally trying to humor one another due to their mutual attraction, or because they really didn’t mind, they found that their differences actually made them see the Planetary Saviors universe just a bit differently than they had. Rather than being annoyed, they were each favorably impressed with the other’s slightly different take on the franchise.

“Sumendi’s made of fire, right? I mean, he’s basically the son of a volcano, so why doesn’t he have any glow to him? In the comics, he does. He has a sort of inner light that makes him look sort of… molten inside, you know?”

Since Meg hadn’t seen the comics, they borrowed some comic books and a couple of artists’ renderings that people around them in line had purchased at the Con. She saw Brian’s point. He liked that she was interested in his thoughts, and was especially impressed when she began to think out loud about ways he could make his costume have that same lit-from-within quality.

“That’s genius!” He cried. “I would never have thought of that. I’m going to-“

The crowd noise, which had been fairly deafening, suddenly ceased entirely as the air was split by a scream. All eyes turned in the direction it had come from, behind and to the left of the booth at which Brian and Meg were waiting for Anthony Lang. A knot of people were standing around a woman on the floor, but the thick crowd had parted so that there was a few feet between the people with the woman and the staring mass just beyond. The woman on the ground was jerking violently and appeared to be very pregnant.

“She’s seizing,” Meg cried as she slipped quickly under the ropes that demarcated the line she and Brian had been in. Running over to the woman, Meg dropped her belongings as she knelt on the floor beside her. She reached out and took the woman by the shoulders, helping her to turn onto her side, and was surprised to find Brian kneeling next to her, bending one of the woman’s legs so that she rolled smoothly and easily.

Meg whipped off her Tabiti headpiece and set it on the floor next to her, beginning to assess the woman quickly. She determined that she was breathing shallowly and irregularly as she seized, and had a strong pulse.

“Who’s with her?” Brian asked loudly, using a tone that instantly commanded attention.

“We are – she’s my sister. This is her husband,” a thin, terrified-looking woman in a pretty bad SuperGirl costume answered, pointing out the blank-faced teenager next to her.

While Meg commandeered a sweatshirt from a bystander to put under the woman’s head, Brian continued to ask the right questions.

“What happened?”

“She just… fell down. She started jerking like this and she won’t wake up!”

“How far along is she?”

“She’s thirty two weeks,” the sister answered. “What’s wrong with her? What’s happening?”

Brian looked at Meg, who almost imperceptibly shook her head.

“We’re going to figure that out. Who has a phone?”

Brian pointed to the first person whose brandishing of a cell phone caught his attention. “OK, you. Call 911. Stand right here next to me, and when you get them on the line, put them on speaker. You-“ he pointed to a spray-tanned Superman. “Go get help. Security, anyone with a walkie-talkie. Tell them what’s happening and get us whatever medical equipment they have here.”

The woman appeared to have stopped seizing for the moment. Meg looked at the teenager who had been identified as the woman’s husband. “Talk to me, Dad. What medical problems does she have?”

“N-n-nothing. She’s been fine.”

“Has she ever had a seizure before?”

“No! What’s wrong with her?”

“What medications does she take?”

“Nothing. Prenatal vitamins.”

Meg took her pulse at her wrist again, and then felt for her pulse at her throat. She leaned toward Brian and muttered quietly, “Her pulse is bounding – we’ll know more when we can get a BP, but I’m thinking eclampsia.”

“That woulda been my guess. Pregnant, seizing… You a doctor?”

“RN. We need help.”

“It’s on its way. For the moment, it’s you and me.” He looked up at the person he’d asked to call 911. “What’s the holdup?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have much of a signal in here…”

Sharply exhaling in exasperation, Brian looked up at another person who was holding a phone and appeared to be filming the incident. “You. Call 911. And nobody else better be filming. This woman has the right to privacy, same as you.”

The second person got through immediately and handed Brian the phone. He put it on speaker and, as Meg fed him information, he relayed it to the 911 operator. They worked smoothly together, and Brian had time to notice the expertise with which Meg worked with the woman, who was beginning to regain consciousness. They were both experienced first responders, so their teamwork was not entirely surprising, but there was also an element of natural communication between them. They’d gravitated to their roles in this situation without thought or discussion.

Meg reached up and unclasped her cape. Brian caught the movement and immediately understood. He helped her remove it and cover the woman with it, then removed his own (which was a little more difficult due to the wings) and put that over her, too. For the next five minutes, they did what they could to make the woman comfortable while Meg got as much medical history as possible and monitored her vital signs. Then the woman began to seize again, and they kept her safe while she thrashed and jerked, making sure she didn’t hit her head and getting people to give them extra clothing so that they could keep something soft between her spasming limbs and the hard floor.

Brian leaned in to Meg. “This is lasting too long.”

“Yeah. And she’s stopped breathing. As soon as she stops seizing, we need to be ready to do CPR.”

“Got it.”

At that moment, three people came running through the crowd, pushing their way into the circle around the woman with cases of emergency equipment. They were all EMTs stationed at the facility for the event, so Meg moved aside and reported to them that she was an RN and Brian was a firefighter, and told them what they knew so that the EMTs could take over. She wondered what was taking the ambulance so long, since there were two hospitals within minutes of the facility, but she thought she was probably just dealing with the distorted sense of time that comes with an emergency.

“Do you have any medications in your kits?” She asked the EMT who appeared to be leading the team.

“No.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah, don’t get me started.”

“She seems to be coming out of it, and I think she’s breathing again. Want me to get a BP?”

“Nah, I got it. But thanks.”

Not long afterward, the sound of a siren was clearly heard, even over the sound of the mob that was now getting back into the swing of the Con. A fair number of people were still huddled around the scene, watching, but the circle around them was only a few people deep now, since beyond that, no one could really see anything. The rest had decided to go back to their shopping. As the ambulance crew hurried through the Hall, Brian could follow their progress fairly accurately by the disturbance in the throng. He began to back people up so that the paramedics could get through with the gurney.

The ambulance crew was one he didn’t know. Their arrival caused quite a bit of excitement and hubbub in the area, and Brian lost track of Meg in the group of milling, pushing people. He wasn’t needed to help lift the woman onto the gurney, so he stepped back a bit and tried to control the crowd, to give the paramedics as much room as he could get them in the press of curious gawkers. Soon, the woman had been given some medication to stop her seizures, and the gurney carrying her was rushed from the scene, her sister and teenage husband in tow.

The crowd flowed back together as though they had never been there, except for Meg’s Tabiti headpiece, which Brian saw on the floor and picked up. He found himself unable to resist the tide of movement, and was swept closer to the booth where he was supposed to be having his picture taken with Anthony Lang. He didn’t see Meg anywhere. Without her Tabiti headpiece on, it was impossible to identify her head among the seeming thousands around him.

He thought she would probably make for the booth again, though, so he fought his way over to it, only to see a large sign:

Anthony Lang Appearance Cancelled For Today.

The sign gave a website people could go to in order to try to reschedule or get refunds. Meg wasn’t there.

Brian carried Meg’s headpiece under his arm as he looked everywhere in the huge Exhibition Hall over the next hour. There were simply too many people, moving in too many directions, and the Hall was just too big. Meg was nowhere to be found. All he had to prove she had been real was the papier-mâché headpiece she’d worn as part of her costume.