X: The Fixer
"Sacrifice still exists everywhere, and everywhere the elect of each generation suffers for the salvation of the rest." Henri Frederic Amiel
The silence said it all: Lauren was no longer speaking. Hank stared blankly into her dim eyes, attempting in vain to discern some sort of response or emotion. But her gaze remained fixed on the concrete wall behind him. She had shut herself down, no doubt a Zippler panic response. Hank sighed and sat back in the wooden chair.
"She's gone, Beck." he said softly.
"Figures." Becker replied, circling the girl. He ran a hand along her fiery hair and laughed.
"Now what?" Hank asked as he folded his arms. "Not going to get anything out of her."
"Not the point." Becker announced. "We have a trade of sorts."
"A trade. Jana for Lauren." Becker stated, grasping the girl's shoulders and peering at Hank over her shoulder. "This poor little girl is at our mercy. It's only right that Jana would sacrifice herself for her dear little sister."
"But she IS a psycho. How do we know she has a heart enough to give herself up?"
Becker furrowed his brow in frustration. Hank had a very good point. Why would the girl who had nearly killed him a few months ago give herself for someone else? He retreated from Lauren's shoulders and circled back around to Hank's side.
But then, he smiled. A finger to his chin, he gave Hank a look of knowing, to which Hank responded with a raised eyebrow.
"Your proposal?" Hank asked, unfolding his arms and running a hand along his slick-backed hair.
"No proposal." Becker laughed. "You know the reason."
Hank sat in silence for a moment, lost in thought. He crossed and uncrossed his legs, trying to find a comfortable thought or position. But a moment later, it came to him, like an arrow through the heart; it burned.
"She loves you."
"Yeah. But I can't let her know I exist."
"So how are we going to go about this?"
Becker shrugged with a small frown. He turned and took a few steps away from Hank, folding his arms behind his back in an elegant fashion.
"That's a good question, really. We'll have to rely on her sense of humanity for now."
He peeked over his shoulder at the silent Lauren and gave a wicked chuckle.
"But should that fail" he began, taking the steps back toward Lauren, and placing a hand under her chin to make her look sharply upward at him.
"Wellwe'll have to improvise from there."
Charlie could barely sit still on the ride over. He wasn't sure his heart could take the strain of seeing the ruins again; seeing the ghosts of friends' past. But despite his anxiety, he remained sure that Jay wouldn't go anywhere else. Where else could he go?
Kristin passed a glance at him from the driver's seat. He looked quite pale and sick, having lost muscle mass over the past few months. Ever since the night Becker died, he hadn't really been the same.
In the distance, he saw the rubble: still blackened despite the frequent rainstorms that now plagued Harmony Hill. The gray ashes fluttered about the property, like specters in the air of a haunted night. Charlie gulped silently.
As they pulled up, Charlie could already see the figure he knew would be there: bent over, digging through the rubble. The figure tossed aside a length of wood and cried in despair. Charlie nodded to Kristin, who unlocked the doors and let him out.
Quietly, Charlie approached the figure, identifying it as Jay, as he suspected. Jay was still dressed in the eggshell blue scrubs, now scuffed with the dirt and dust received from an hour's worth of digging through the ruins.
"Hey, bud." Charlie whispered, approaching him with one hand aloft. With a look over his shoulder, Charlie saw that Kristin was watching warily from the car, waiting for an excuse to leap in. Charlie had warned her to stay in the car, but he knew her; she wouldn't stay there long.
Jay straightened and looked to Charlie in one fluid, freakish motion. In one hand, he held aloft a large, splintered piece of wood, and now aimed it carefully at Charlie.
"Oh, no you don't!" Charlie yelped, reaching into his pocket and withdrawing the ankh, which he held at the base. Now in a stare-down, the two glared carefully at each other. A moment of no movement or noise passed, and Charlie began to step toward Jay. To his surprise, Jay didn't move, but stared emptily at the ankh. Charlie continued forward, carefully marking each step until he was two arms' length away from Jay's face.
He paused, and then lunged forward. Jay began to move, and Charlie dove, slipping the necklace around Jay's neck. Charlie fell forward, slamming face-first into the dirt. Jay's now-conscious hand dropped the piece of wood, which clattered about his feet.
Jay blinked and shook his head. Light flooded back into his eyes, and he suddenly found himself in reality once more. The brightness of the heavens overloaded his gaze, and he was forced to blink rapidly. With no idea of how or why he was in the rubble, he dropped to his knees and vomited into the grass, a mixture of awful cafeteria food and gray matter, probably bits of bacteria.
He wiped his mouth, still feeling sick, and looked over his shoulder at Charlie, who rolled over and smiled warmly. Jay coughed and, through his sickness, managed a quick grin before spitting up a bit of bile into the dirt.
"Welcome home." Charlie said, then winced and fell onto his back. His hands grasped at his abdomen. Jay watched in horror as the crimson fluid seeped through Charlie's clenched fingers. Charlie quickly glanced at the piece of wood at his side, now stained with Charlie's blood.
"Crap!" Jay cried, censoring himself from a far worse word. He quickly crawled over to Charlie's side. From somewhere behind him, he heard a car door slam. Grasping Charlie's bloodied hand, Jay pulled it away to reveal a long slice in Charlie's stomach, just above the waist. It traveled a few inches across, and from what Jay could tell, was at least an inch deep.
"Oh, gosh!" Jay cried. "I'm so sorry!"
"Nah, man." Charlie responded weakly. "Don't worry about it."
"Don't worry about it?! You're bleeding. Bad."
"Meh." Charlie muttered.
From behind Jay, Charlie saw Kristin approach, quite angry. Charlie knew why: he had promised her nothing would happen. But then, upon noticing the blood seeping from the cut, Kristin softened and crouched to insepct it, a slight bit of tears in her eyes.
"You idiot!" she cried, lifting Charlie's shirt to get a better look at the cut. Jay was right; it was a nasty bit of work. "Going to need stitches."
"Too bad I don't have insurance." Charlie seethed. "Just bring me back home. Amber can fix em."
"Jeez." Jay muttered, grasping Charlie under the shoulders and picking him up. "I'm really sorry, man."
"No big, dude." Replied the injured Charlie. "I did what I came here to do. That's all that matters."
"I'm guessing I have to go back to the hospital?" Jay asked sadly as he carried Charlie to the car.
"Nope. You're living with us now. Wellsquatting."
"Jeez, you're like, the Fixer or something."
"Nah." Charlie sighed. "I'm just trying to undo everything."
From a distance, a figure watched in agony as her every measure was undone. With a swipe of her hair, she sighed and slipped back into the darkness, wrapping her hoodie about her shoulders. Her pale skin reflected like a mirror in the rising moon's light. Like a ghost in the haunted night, she floated away, evil still within her mind.
The unmistakable sound of instruments warming up was like the feeling of coming home. Eric was stepping back into the warmth and comfort of the life he once knew, albeit within a different context. Whereas Becker had taken control with his booming bass back then, Amber now took that role, and, much to Eric's surprise, was actually rather talented.
"Thanks." Amber said with a smile, responding to Eric's comment on her abilities. "Even Anson didn't know I played until we found him."
"Naturally." Eric replied dully, strumming a G chord and adjusting his lower E string.
"It is nice to be playing again." Porfirio noted from behind the drum set. Eric had to laugh when he first saw that Porfirio would be playing the set Jay had used over the summer, complete with the Chagrin signature drama mask pasted on the bass drum.
"Yeah." Eric sighed, but still smiling weakly. He looked down past his guitar to his slightly oversized stomach, and lifted his shirt gingerly. Glaring back at him was the small scar from the Shredder's knife. In his head, Eric could still replay that fateful night at the Garden, and every time he did, his scar stung slightly.
"What's that scar about?" Amber asked, placing her Schechter Stiletto on a nearby stand. Eric quickly dropped his shirt over his stomach again.
"It's nothing." Eric said, looking back to the headstock of his guitar. He strummed the chord again and adjusted accordingly.
"Surgery or something?" Amber asked, now leaning over the seated Eric.
"Yeah, sure." Eric muttered. "Surgery. Can we please just get back to work?"
"Yeah." Replied Amber, backing off and returning to her bass. "Jeez."
Sensitivity, Eric thought, I don't want to remember. Even sitting where he was, in Becker's former basement, he felt uneasy. The faint chipping in the wall's paint and the missing ceiling tiles brought back a sickening memory of what once was. With Becker gone, Eric had begun feeling a sense of utter loss. Who many considered the last good person left in Harmony Hill was now being devoured by the worms, and all anyone could do was stand aside and watch as the black hole ate up the town. Eric gagged at the thought.
"Are you sure you will be okay for practice?" asked a concerned Porfirio, leaning over the set to get a closer look at the ailing Eric.
"Positive." Eric answered weakly, pulling his guitar closer to his body, as if to put another layer of material between his scar and Amber's prying eyes.
"Okay." Porfirio said, then nodded and sat back down.
"Okay." Eric repeated, pacing his hand back on the neck. It felt so familiar and yet, so sickening. The queasiness in his gut came roaring back, and he began to wonder what would become of him. Better yet, he began to think about what would happen to everyone in the grand scheme of things. The darkness was creeping in again, and Eric knew it.
It was just a matter of time.
"So tired." Charlie mumbled to himself and partially to the wall.
His house felt so warm and comfortable, but he had to face it. The pain in his stomach was keeping him awake. He was almost sure the makeshift stitches in his abdomen were improperly placed, and in retrospect, were not helping at all. Every time he tried to move on his side, a ripping pain would travel up his front, until he was almost paralyzed in agony. The sweat on his forehead was testament to the suffering.
In a daze, he tenderly lifted the bed sheets off himself and lifted his shirt to take a look at the wound. It was still a rosy pink on the outlying sectors, and the cut itself was still half-open and bleeding lazily in the corners. Charlie winced and lowered his shirt in disgust. The pain was becoming more common, but accordingly, he felt much number than he had a few moments earlier.
His phone rang out in the dark and he reached for it blindly. Fumbling for a moment, he found the rectangular shape and brought it to his ear with a beep from the button.
"Charlie?" came Jana's voice from the rectangle.
"Yeah, what's up?"
"Umcan I share something kind ofupsetting with you?"
"Well, I just got home from Shoprite and"
There was the sound of rustling papers over the phone. For a moment, Charlie began to worry she was going to keep him in suspense forever, but a moment later, she piped up again, apparently having found what she was looking for.
"And I found this note on my front door."
"Note." Charlie stated blankly, letting his eyes shift over his dark room. "What's it say?"
"It says: we have Lauren. Do not attempt to call the police. If you want to have her back unharmed, you will show up at 5 Park Drive in exactly one week. If you do not comply, she will be killed. Come alone and unarmed.' And it's unsigned."
Charlie felt the need to sit up in bed, but fought against the urge for fear of his nervous system revolting violently. He instead lay in weakened surprise, eyes half-open. He took in a deep breath.
"What should I do?" Jana asked, sounding as if she were in tears.
"Don't call the cops." Charlie said sternly. "If they get out some sort of bulletin, these guys might hear about it. Besides, you know how stupid HH's finest are. Two on duty at any time, right?"
"Mhm." Sobbed Jana.
"Um" Chrlie was trying to buy time. He slapped a hand to his forehead in deep thought, but his mind didn't find anything to grasp. He had no idea what to do.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm here." Charlie assured her. "I justI don't know what to do. I guessgo to that address. I'm sorry. I'd go with you, but"
There came the sound of a click, and Jana was gone. Charlie sighed heavily, winced at the pain, and tossed his phone back on the floor next to the mattress, which also lay on the floor.
"Damn." Charlie cursed aloud.
Then, with a moment of silence, sleep took him back.
Hank shrugged his shoulders up, trying to hide himself from the atmosphere of the same familiar caf where his more meek ego had spoken with Becker not long ago. And much like aforementioned ego, Hank too despised the quiet shop. There was no way to hide in the dark here; the light flooded in from the window to their immediate right, and the near-silence in the caf hid no conversation.
Hank leaned forward uneasily and spoke in a hoarse whisper.
"Jesus, Becker. Could you choose a more public place to have lunch?"
"I could." Becker replied, taking a calm sip out of his teacup. "There's oh-so-many lukewarm street corners to have a picnic on."
"Very funny." Said Hank, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms defiantly. He roled his eyes, and for a moment, lost his vision's focus. The blurs descended into a shade, and when his focus returned, Anson had retaken control of their joint body. He looked a bit bewildered for a moment, then bent over in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Sitting back up, Anson looked to Becker.
"Becker. I'm back."
Becker looked away from the action on the sidewalk outside to look at his returned friend. He smiled amusedly.
"So can you voluntarily just shift back n' forth, there?"
"It used to be." Anson muttered, looking up pathetically at Becker. "But not anymore. We fight for control."
"Talk about your monstrous creation." Becker chuckled cruelly and sipped his tea again.
"Very funny." Anson muttered, echoing Hank. "But really, Becker. I need to ask you some things."
"Please, call me Beck." Replied the burned teen. "I prefer it. Makes me feel like I wrote "Think I'm In Love.""
"Right." Anson sighed, then emphasized, "Beck."
He sat up and dusted himself off. It was nice to be back in control of the body he had known all his life. The feeling of being overpowered by someone not himself left him with a never-fleeting sense of utter vertigo. With the world spinning unconsciously, Anson continued.
"I needed to know" he said. "What happened to you? I mean, how did you survive embalming and sh*t?"
"They didn't." Beck replied. "From what I understand, paperwork mixup. They double-preserved some poor bastard named Kowaltski. All the better for me."
He finished off his cup of tea and sighed, knowing he would have to pay for another. Transfixing his gaze back to Anson, he explained.
"See, I didn't purposefully fake my death. The blast knocked me out for a loooong time. I'm surprised I'm not brain damaged from being out so long. But when I woke up in the funeral home, I was confused as all hell. I got out of there as quick as possible and stole some clothes out of a dumpster. Had to lose the typical funeral monkey suit, you know? From there, I realized everyone thought I was dead. And knowing that, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to do some investigating without the worry of anyone else getting hurt."
"But how'd you figure out it was Jana?" Anson asked eagerly, leaning over the table.
"When that punk kid Darryl blew me up, he said something like, he has something of mine, too.' See, that got me thinking: it's obviously not him. Why would the Shredder lie to a dead man?"
Anson nodded and urged Becker to continue with a palm wave.
"So I began to narrow it down: not Darryl, you, Charlie, Eric, or Jay. Then I did a little snooping around the ruins of Karen's house and found a lighter with a cross on it."
Anson dug into his pocket and removed the familiar lighter.
"But I have it." Anson stated incredulously.
"So I remembered that Eric still had his, which is to say, I realized the lighters were a family thing. Zippler family thing. So I had two real suspects left: Ryan and Jana. All that was left was seeing who was missing theirs. A little unprofessional stalking led me to find both of them had theirs missing. So dead end, of sorts. I had to figure out whose I was holding. I began stalking the two again from a distance, and noticed Ryan smoked. And when he went for his lighter to light up, he looked surprised to notice it missing. Would a guilty party be looking for a lighter they know isn't there?"
Becker chuckled warmly, relishing the memory. He called over a waitress and ordered another tea. Anson refused anything else, and the girl went away. Becker returned to his story.
"But that's not confirmation." Becker began. "So I decided to follow Jana instead and I discovered a lovely piece of literature in her new joint house with her brothers."
"Her diary." Anson said quietly, mouth agape.
Beck held a finger to his nose.
"Exactly. Found out a lot of interesting information. She's apparently still a virgin, enjoys Firefly a bit too much, and has a hobby: pyromania. Oh, and that she's adored me for ages."
"Really." Anson scoffed sarcastically. "Come now, I almost got her to admit it before I took off for California."
"Interesting at the least. Can't say I didn't want her myself before half my face got blown off." Becker sighed. "But I guess that's a bit far gone now. She admitted to the Shredder business in the diary, too. She's really f-ed up in the head. I'm guessing due to genes. But that's just me. And so I sit before you today. Alive and well."
"Okay, well" Anson exhaled sharply, then looked Becker in the eyes. "How did you get this way? Soso definitive. And cold. Andcruel?"
"Desperate times call for desperate measures." Beck replied. "She tried to kill me, An. I think you can sympathize with me a little."
"But not like this" Anson coughed weakly, beginning to lose his grip on his body. Hank wanted back in. "Threatening to kill her sister?"
"Anson" Beck sighed, returning his gaze. "I'm not going to kill her."
It was then Anson lost his grip and Hank came stumbling back into control. He leaned over a bit, then sat back up, eyes now slightly glazed over. Becker's gaze dropped to the table. He spoke in monotone.
"I'm going to do far worse."