Chapter Twenty-two

A few days ago, Dante and I had gotten into an argument. It wasn't a very important one, and I don't even remember what it was about, but eventually we had gotten to the bottom of it, apologized, and kissed it better. But Dante had been down for the rest of the day, until I set him aside and asked him what was wrong. He looked me in the eyes and said, "I want to be honest with you."

"Then be honest."

"I'm scared."

"Of what?"

"That you'll be afraid of me."

I snorted. "Dante, I've seen you kill three men, and you've nearly killed me twice now. Believe me, nothing you could say or do would scare me."

So on our way back from school that day, Dante insisted we take a detour. We drove down Mission, and I thought we were headed toward the piers but we ended up heading down an increasingly ramshackle looking area. The buildings were crumbling or little more than walls of graffiti, the streets littered with trash, and the only company was the occasional homeless stray or a flock of pigeons. We parked in front of an abandoned-looking factory and headed down the street. I could hear the gentle lapping of the bay water against the shoreline, and the occasional scream of a gull, but otherwise, the mysterious journey was quiet and reserved. After weaving in and out of alleyways, Dante finally stopped in front of a small, two-story building that positively looked to be on the verge of collapse. He kicked the door in – a fragile wooden thing hanging on rusted hinges – and beckoned me to follow. At first it looked like some kind of warehouse, it was so wide and empty, but then I began to notice the irregularities. Piles of cardboard and chunks of carpet shoved in a corner, boarded windows, eerily familiar holes and indents along the walls that resembled huge claw-marks.

"God," I breathed. "You lived here."

"Almost two years ago."

"Why?" was all I could ask.

"I was terrified, Sean," Dante replied. "All I had ever known was in that lab. My life, my childhood. I didn't know what people were really like."

"I thought you said you didn't remember anything."

"The escape was hazy. All I remember were giant white horses in the horizon and darkness and the stink of sewage."

"What about Ms. Hughens?" I asked quietly.

"She found me here," he said. "She was visiting her brother in the area, back when there was still housing. I was having a particularly bad withdrawal, and she found me passed out on the floor. If she'd come in a minute sooner, I would have killed her in an instant." I glanced around, and, barely hidden under the cardboard, I caught sight of a glint of metal. I slowly approached it, and though I could see, from the corner of my eye, Dante shift uncomfortably, he made no move to stop me. I pushed aside some of the clutter to reveal a pair of rusted chains seemingly nailed into the ground, with shackles at the ends. I dropped the chains, stumbled away and vomited across the room. Dante stood stock still in the middle of the room.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I couldn't control myself. I spent days reading and rereading the papers I'd taken with the suitcase, but I couldn't figure out a cure. There had only bee three injections in the suitcase, and no spare pills, and the withdrawals became more frequent and more violent. I killed a man the second time it happened, and I didn't even know until I woke up and found myself almost drowning in a pool of his blood."

"Why are you showing me this?" I asked, feeling sick again.

"Because I want you to see, Sean," Dante said. "I want you to see the kind of person I really am. The kind of person I will always be."

I woke up in the hospital. It was very white, very clean. I blinked groggily. My head pounded in my skull, and I couldn't smell anything, most likely because there were two plastic tubes shoved up my nose. I twitched, but everything felt heavy, and the memory still sickly and potent on my tongue. I tried to gauge my surroundings, but it all began blurring together and making me feel nauseous if I glanced around too fast. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. Finally I managed to look down at my arms. There were several wires coming out of my arms as if I'd become part of the giant, noisy machine to my right. An IV filled with yellow-clear liquid stood erect to my left, and I was hooked up to that as well. I tried flexing my arms, but the movements were sluggish and slow. My chest felt numb and heavy. Suddenly, everything came rushing back. Dante, the black men, Matches-guy, and the gun. The shot. I screamed.

Using all the strength I could muster, I managed to bend my arm far enough to check my chest. I felt a thick bandage on it, and tore at it with feeble fingers. The machine next to me was making a ruckus of a noise, and a nurse finally came rushing in. When she saw me, awake and struggling, she pressed a button by the doorway and came rushing over, pressing my arm down and mumbling incoherent words.

"No, Dante… he's in trouble," I choked out. "He was taken… the black men have him… they've taken him back. Dante… Dante… oh god, they shot me, they shot me… they…" my tongue softened in my mouth, and I looked down to see the nurse had injected something in the IV. I struggled – I didn't want to fall asleep again. Dante was in trouble, he needed my help – why couldn't they understand?

"Colin… uncle… Detective Colin… Meyers… where…?" the nurse began to reply but everything sounded muffled and I rolled back into unconsciousness.

When I woke up again, Colin was sitting beside me. I blinked and flexed my fingers. They were more flexible and less sluggish this time. The anesthetic must not have been as potent. Colin noticed my movements and looked up. He looked tired; there were dark circles under his eyes, his short hair was a mess, and several days-worth of stubble grew over his chin and cheeks.

"Sean, how do you feel?" he asked. I licked my lips and tried my voice.

"Shitty, but alive. How long have I been here?" He managed a smile and rubbed at his temple.

"Two days. Your mother's in the waiting room. I asked her to stay there. Before you see her, I want you to tell me exactly what happened out there." I blinked and tried to remember everything.

"I… I was supposed to meet Dante at that Sushi restaurant. The one dad used to take us to every year for my birthday. He called me out of nowhere – I don't even know where he got the phone from. Must have been a call-phone. He sounded panicked, told me to go home. I couldn't leave him there." I licked my lips, and realized my throat was parched. Colin must have noticed because he immediately handed me a cup of water. I managed to empty it with minimal choking.

"I got there and… he told me to leave. We fought a bit and suddenly they were there. Everywhere, like… ninjas or something." I laughed at the absurdity but it hurt so much that I forced myself to stop.

"They?" Colin asked.

"The men… the… I don't know who they were. People from the facility. There was a man… Dante called him Matches. He said he was going to take Dante back… Dante…" I felt another bout of panic seize me and looked at Colin. "Where is he?" I pleaded. "Did you see him? Was he alright? They shot him with something… some kind of tranquilizer, I don't know…" The monitors were making a lot of noise again and Colin rose, pressing a hand to my brow and holding my hand with the other.

"He wasn't there," he said quietly. I could hear the apology behind the words. "We found you alone, coughing and bleeding and clutching your chest. You weren't making any sense." I nodded.

"Dante was trying to tell me something before he left. He told me to apply pressure to my wound. Something about having blood…" I trailed off, trying to remember what he'd been shouting, but everything was so dark and blurry. It was then that I realized I couldn't feel the pain in my chest. Only discomfort and soreness, but the sharp pain wasn't there. "Jesus they must have doped me up on painkillers," I muttered. "I can't feel anything." Colin sat back down, edging the chair beside the bed so he could hold my hand. The look on his face told me I wasn't going to like what he was about to say.

"Sean, there's something I need to know."

I nodded, ready to spill. If it could help Dante, I wouldn't hide anything.

"Have you taken Beast Syndrome?"

I stared momentarily. Then blinked. Then scratched a particularly itchy scratch on my nose, still staring. "What kind of question is that?" I asked, finally. "Of course not. Goddamnit Colin are you interrogating me or are you going to help my fucking boyfriend?" My voice had slowly risen, and it wasn't until I nearly screamed the last word that I realized quite how angry I was. Colin looked pained, and I took a deep breath. "Sorry," I mumbled. "I just wasn't expecting you to ask me that."

"It's ok," he said, shaking his head. "It's just…" he paused, debating whether or not to go on. "I think I should just show you."

"Show me what?" I frowned. Colin rose and propped the bed upright, adjusting some of the pillows behind my back. I winced at the effort, my chest unsurprisingly sore.

"Can you take off the gown?"

I raised an eyebrow but obediently pulled the tie behind my back free and slipped the hospital gown from my upper body. The wound was covered by a white gauze bandage taped around the edges, which stuck to my body as it was removed. I blinked as I looked down, angling my head and trying to make sense of it.

"What am I looking at?" I asked. Colin shook his head, passing me a small mirror from beside my table, which I used to get a better glimpse at the wound. It didn't look like any bullet-wound I'd ever seen. The skin around it was stretched and bumpy, but otherwise smooth and nearly flawless. It looked more like a three-year-old scar than a gaping wound.

"The doctor's weren't sure what it was. They thought maybe you'd been hit by some kind of small explosive, or just been grazed or something. There's no exit wound."

"So I wasn't shot with a bullet?" From the look on my uncle's face, that wasn't exactly the right guess.

"That's not it," he said. "I found you. You were shot, Sean. Truer than anything, they got you right in the chest. You were mumbling something, hands pressed against your chest. It took two men to pull them off and strap you to a carrier."

"What are you trying to say?" I asked, though I could see, vaguely, where this was going.

"Sean… I think you've been exposed, somehow, to a diluted form of Beast Syndrome. You're experiencing a lot of the same symptoms of Dante. Enhanced strength, rapid restoration of damaged tissues. Your blood-endorphin levels were dangerously high, and the wound was already healing by the time we got to the hospital. There was so much blood, you were put on blood transfusions and IV, but by the time the surgeon got here, it was apparently fully closed."

It took me a while to process all that. I put the mirror down on the table by the hospital bed. I touched the wound. It was numb, yes. Sore. But closed.

"But… this never happened before. I've never been strong. And I've never…" I paused. The bruises that healed rather quickly. There was no way Dante hadn't broken a few ribs during his temper tantrum in the apartment, but apparently they'd only been "bruised" by the time I got to the hospital. I sighed and buried my head in my hands. It was starting to hurt.

"Sean –"

"Can you leave me alone for bit?" I asked softly. "I just want to be alone."

"Sure." I glanced at my uncle as he rose from the chair. "I'll… let your mother know you want to be alone for a while. She'll be angry though."

"I know. She can come tonight."

Colin nodded, gave me an apologetic look, and left the room. I leaned back on the bed, idly touching the scar. I wondered how long it would take to heal. My biology professor had mentioned full tissue regeneration in salamanders, but that took several months. To regenerate the complexity of the human body… it almost felt like something out of a science fiction novel.

"A damn badly written one," I muttered. I heaved a sigh, trying to think back to when this could have started. My hand ghosted over the bullet wound, and suddenly it came back. I slid my hand over my chest, feeling for anything, the slightest of indications and there! I felt it. A slight bump of skin a few on the opposite side of the most recent wound.

"Shit," I breathed. I remembered the first time I'd met Dante. In his room. I'd hallucinated about being shot. Or so that's what Dante told me. Dante. My breath hitched and I shook my head. I really didn't want to think about this right now – not about how Dante might have injected me with BS as some kind of… what, science experiment? Or he could have just been trying to save my life. You've even tested it, haven't you? Those goddamn doctors knew it. How did it slip past me? That stock of diluted BS – that wasn't just for the symptoms.

"No," I whispered to myself. Dante needed my help. He loved me now – I knew it. He would explain all of this to me one day, and it would make perfect sense. But for now, he needed me. I presses the button to call for a nurse, and asked her to let my mother in. I wasn't all that surprised when she rushed in, seconds later, looking a right mess. Her hair was pulled in a messy bun, her face vacant of makeup and strained with worry-lines and black bags beneath her eyes. I smiled weakly as she threw herself forward, visibly using every inch of self-restraint to keep from hugging me.

"Are you all right? How are you feeling? That goddamned asshole Colin should have let me see you as soon as you woke up. Is there anything you need?" I couldn't help but grin at the uncommonly colorful language she was spewing.

"I'm fine mom. Sorry for scaring you, we just needed to discuss what happened that night."

My mother's eyes narrowed. "Colin could give you five minutes of breathing room, honestly. That job makes him forget he's human sometimes."

"It was important," I insisted. Sharon sighed, but her gaze softened and she ran a gentle hand though my hair, looking up at me with those concerned-mother eyes. "I'm fine," I vowed, rolling my eyes. "The bullet just grazed me."

Sharon pursed her lips but said nothing. "A nurse said you were screaming about someone else needing help. Was it Dante?"

"Yes," I acquiesced, looking away. "They took him."

"Don't worry. I'm sure Colin is doing everything he can to find him," she assured me. I nodded and pulled her close. She hesitated momentarily, but noticing I wasn't in any immediate discomfort, hugged me tightly back.

"I'll let you get some rest now," she said hoarsely, and I noticed her red-rimmed eyes before she wiped at them with a sleeve and hurriedly stood up. "I brought you a bag with some of your stuff. A book, your mp3, some homework. Oh and your cell phone. You should really call your friends – they've been asking about you."

"Homework? Seriously?" I made a face. "Am I being punished for something?"

"You don't have to do it," she laughed. "I just… wasn't sure what you'd want."

I smiled up at her. "It's perfect. I'll see you later."

My mother planted a kiss on my forehead. "The nurses say you need to rest for at least a day longer, then you can come home," she said. I thanked her, and she left. I fished my phone from the bag at my feet and called Dane's number, listening to it ring and ring until the voicemail answered.

Sean, how does this work I… oh… hi um… this is Dante, please leave a message and uh… I'll get back to you soon. And leave me your number or I can't call you back. What do you mean I didn't need to say that? Wait –

The phone went silent for a moment, followed by a long beep. I clicked the phone shut. The sound of Dante's voice in the quiet hospital sent chills down my spine and left me trembling. The nurse suddenly walked in, and I quickly hid the phone beneath my sheets. She smiled at me and jot down a few notes about the meaningless blips on the monitor on her clipboard before wishing me a good night and leaving.

A few minutes later, assured that she was truly gone, I pulled the needles from my skin, threw the covers off, and flipped my legs over the hospital bed. I straightened, ignoring the slight twinge of pain that streaked through my chest, and hopped onto the floor. The tile was cold, but I quickly threw off the hospital gown and changed into a pair of jeans and shirt, burrowing into a thick sweater as well. I slung the back over my shoulder and slowly opened the door, peeking down the hall. It was relatively dim, lit only by the occasional LED on the ceiling, but otherwise quiet and empty. I shivered. It wasn't a surprise that no one liked hospitals. The ambience alone was enough to make anyone uncomfortable. Whoever decided bleached white walls and sharp lighting made for a nice recovery area had a rather warped sense of comfort. Assured that no one was around, I prowled out of the room, closing the door quietly behind me. I quickly shuffled my way as quietly as possible down the hall toward the back exit. Colin had taken me through here once to visit Damian after he'd had his first overdose, though I wasn't technically supposed to see him at that time since he was still 'psychologically recovering.'

I found the double-door exit – the place they generally used to rush emergency cases into the hospital – and slipped quietly outside. A gust of cold air hit me right as I close the door behind me and I shivered, clutching the bag closer to my person. I headed down and across the street, making a rather familiar route back downtown, though with no set destination in mind. Once at least a half-dozen or so blocks from the hospital I called Colin.

"Sean? How did you get your cellphone back? Is everything alright?" Colin sounded both confused and anxious on the other line.

"I'm fine," I answered reassuringly, but kept my tone serious. "Anything on where Dante could be?"

"Not yet," Colin replied. "We're looking around – I've called it out as a kidnapping, but made sure to keep it away from the higher-ups. Just the local division working on it. It'll take longer, but we won't have Rawlins sniffing at us."

"That's fine. Look, I think I have an idea of where they might have gone."

"Sean," Colin warned. "I know what you're thinking, but you're still recovering and you are not leaving that hospital until –"

"Too late," I interrupted. "I'm across from the Walgreens on Grant street. You need me if we're going to find him, Colin. And I need to come. You know I'm the only one that can calm him if he goes nuts again, and we don't know what's happening to him down there."

"Sean you are not coming –"

"Then I'm going by myself, and I'll probably get myself killed."

There was a short silence on the other line, followed by a long sigh.

"You're more like your father than I would ever have imagined," Colin said softly. "Fine. Look, don't move and I'll come get you. Your mother's going to murder me."

"Love you too, uncle," I grinned and hung up.

.:Author's Note:. Look who's still alive!

Sorry for the ridiculously long wait for this chapter - I kind of had a writers block, plus college kicked my arse this term due to the ridiculous amount of extra-curricular activities I'm now involved in. Anyway, I'm back in writing mode (kinda) and I really want to pump this story out 'till the end!

Thank your for reading and reviewing!

- Kerrigas