Friends Like These

From the Story Arc: Red And Blue

Previous Story in the Arc: Among the flowers... by Red Saviour (Friday, July 01, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Reunion by Belladonna Aura (Monday, July 04, 2005)

(posted Saturday, July 02, 2005)

Red Djinni

Red stared at the display on his comm unit, musing quietly to himself.

"... quiet enough around here, I suppose, I wonder..."

"... got an appointment to keep, can't go myself..."

"... but it's Bella..."

He stood up, leaned against the stone lion atop his aerie, and massaged the back of his neck. He had an appointment to keep, there would never be a better time now that Amber was out of town for a spell. So he couldn't go to Bella himself. But perhaps another could.

He hit the transmission command on the comm unit, scrolled through the menu, and selected "Titian Paladin".

"Paladin here, Commander."

"Morning Captain Jarhead," Red said, as seriously as he could. "Got a favour to ask, if you can free up a few days."

"Of course, Sir. Things are unusually quiet for me at the present."

Manoman, he EVER going to react to that "Jarhead" crack?

Red chuckled. "Yeah, it's odd, things are quiet for me as well. I've got... something to take care of, the next few days, or I'd do this myself."

A pause, then...

"Ever been to Las Vegas, Paladin?"

____________________________________________________________________

Sturmfront

He lay in his bed in the little one-room appartment he inhabited and had the computer -really the only thing of note standing out in the room- tuned in to some rock internet radio station. One of the things he never told. He had been a communications officer in the East German Navy. He did know how to deal with computers. In fact, he was rather handy with them. But it always served to keep a few secrets. If only to surprise them if needed.

He would pause at that thought.

Then wonder whether this paranoia, this need to have a few reassurances to fall back on in case everything went horribly wrong, was an inherently German trait or had been trained. Musings to become lost in, and certainly he did.

Both his thoughts and the Motörhead classic he had been unconsciously humming along with were interrupted by a brief fanfare sound that meant that he had received mail. Rolling over on his bed, he nudged the mouse that had been placed on the floor like the rest of the computer to bring up the screen. A notice from Belladonna Aura. He skimmed it and his initial reaction was a snort.

"Did not take you for the running kind." He accused the computer screen in front of him. Pulling his prone body closer to mouse and keyboard, he hit up several webpages from Las Vegas hospitals, trying to see if there was a patient listing available. Of course, it was not. This would take some time...


On the other hand, he might be able to afford giving her the benefit of the doubt.

"Particularly since it affords me some wonderfully plausible deniability..." He thought aloud, considering his intentions for the immediate future. Which might turn out to be a bit of a gamble, but then, he did not really have anything to lose.

"Plausible deniability..." Repeating himself, Sturmfront settled on the paranoia being part of the KGB training he had received. Even if it started to slip, as his recent lax comment on his activities in Cuba had revealed.


Cuba. That was another one of those secrets he kept, just in case.


'It is a sound strategy, if underhanded.'

'I am not worrying, only wondering. No need to reassure me.'

'If you say so. I say you let them see what you are made off once... and saw what happened. And now you are afraid of how they might react.'

'They do not need to know. No-one needs to know.'

'You are afraid then.'

'Only of you.'

'Well, there is one bit of truth at least.'

____________________________________________________________________

Titian Paladin

Gairdner Ward hated to fly.

In airplanes, that is.

He had flashed his Hero CORPS registration card, and they had allowed him to bring the gloves onboard as carry-on. Good thing. A year ago, the closest thing he had ever worn were military-issue, now the thought of ever being away from these power gauntlets was more than nervous. Having them near, he felt better, and could look out the window in fair comfort, knowing a safety net was close.

Something about hollow metal tubes travelling this far above the ground...

It was something he'd have to get over. He was eventually meant for interstellar travel, after all. Who ever heard of a Titian Paladin afraid of heights?

Well, until a year ago, who on Earth had ever heard of a Titian Paladin?

The flight was short, but there was definite relief as he left the plane. He had only brought carry-on, grateful to be able to avoid the hot mess surrounding the baggage claim.

The first thing he did, was send Bella a message on her PDA.

"Miss Bella,

How odd, my vacation time in Vegas has somehow coincided with your own time here. This is just to let you know that I am in town, should need arise. If you need any assistance at all, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Titian Paladin"

He hated to lie, but orders were orders. And Gairdner Ward was always careful to follow orders.

Even if they called upon him to commit utterly transparent acts of subterfuge.

____________________________________________________________________

Belladonna Aura

Bella woke to the sound of her PDA telling her she had mail.

From Titian Paladin. Yada Yada--she skimmed through it then did a double-take.

On 'vacation' in Lost Wages.

Oh Red, I am so not that dumb.

Still.

I am also not turning down help.

He'd be damned useful at getting Gramma and her parents to go home and get rest in a real bed.

Like she should talk...still, she was decades younger and sleeping in a chair was no big deal.

Palladin; tell your Commander to teach his grandma to suck eggs and thanks for the reinforcements. Yes, I can use your help. If we can persuade my folks to go get some sleep in a real bed because there will be two of us over here on watch instead of me alone, it would be a vast improvement in the situation. For the purposes of defeating hospital regs, you will be my designated fiance for the duration.

She attached the map and gps coordinates and sent it, then started some stretching exercises in the waiting room to get the kinks out. When Palladin arrived, they'd boot the folks out of Grampa's room and take over.

____________________________________________________________________

Titian Paladin

A light knock, a pause, and the door opened a crack. Gairdner watched as Bella swung the door wider, inviting him in.

The introductions were halted as she turned to him, it was his cue. She could have introduced him as the Titian Paladin, but as he was dressed in a simple tee and jeans, his real name seemed called for.

"Ward," he supplied, shaking her father's hand. "Gairdner Ward."

"A good friend of mine, from Paragon," Bella added, with an infectious grin.

"I was in town, and thought I might lend a hand if I could."

"Thank you, Mr. Ward."

Even with him there, it took some fast-talking on Bella's part to convince her parents and grandmother to go home, get some sleep. In the end, her pleas won out. She simply wouldn't take no for an answer.

And it was only after they left, that Bella allowed herself to sink down in a chair, her overly energetic posture gone, her limbs beginning to droop. She was exhausted.

"Yes, thank you, Mr. Ward," she said.

"Of course, Miss Bella. I am at your disposal."

"Here on 'vacation', huh?"

"Why Miss Bella, whatever do you mean?"

In spite of herself, in spite of sorrow, she had to utter a short laugh.

"Siddown Paladin. I may need to.. dose off. If I do, please wake me if..."

She looked over at her grandfather.

"... if he should need me. If he as much as moves in his... sleep. Please."

He nodded. "Affirmative, Miss Bella."

But she had already dozed off, unable to keep her eyes open a moment longer. Gairdner looked around the room, saw a small stack of blankets and pillows nestled on a hospital dolly. He selected a few, covered Bella with a light comforter, and delicately slid a pillow beneath her head.

"Sleep now, Miss," he said softly, and then took his place next to the door, standing rigidly on guard.

___________________________________________________________________

Belladonna Aura

It was hard to sleep in a chair. Correct that, it had been hard to sleep in a chair. Now Paladin---Gairdner---was standing on-duty, and her subconscious said, "Someone else is standing watch. Someone else is on guard. That someone is one of the most trustworthy people you know. You can stop being the one responsible now."

Eyes closed, a few moments of listening to the pings and beeps of the machines, and then---

Mind-chatter.

All the worries about Grampa---the folks---Gramma---

Shelved. Gairdner is on-duty. Most she could do nothing about, he would cover the rest.

The memory. High risk CoT mish. Seven other team members who were either indifferent at best or hostile at worst. In the front rank as always to cover the ones at worst risk. Call me a coward? Yeah, right. Faceplant. Struggle to feet. Faceplant. Doesn't matter. Keep the team up. Don't let them fall, even if they hate your guts, you're on the same side. Heal, heal, faceplant.

"Why are you acting so angry and aggressive?"

As a flood of hostility, aggression, and anger washed over her. Not hers. Foreign-tasting.

I'm not an aggressive person. I'm depressed but---

"That link you share with Seraphic Flame---"

"---and when her powers weakened, some of it seems to have scraped off on me---"

"---amplified telempathy---"


She drifted down further into darkeness, past the "aha" moment that would emerge when she had caught up on the sleep to think about it.

Gairdner is on-watch. Sleep now. Sleep.

Thank you, Paladin. Thank you Big Red

Soft, sweet oblivion.

___________________________________________________________________

Titian Paladin

He hadn't done anything like this in a while, but the old training was kicking in. Gairdner stood at attention, using every trick he knew to keep from drifting off himself. The room was quiet except for the deep breathing of both Bella and...

...he had not caught the name of her grandfather.

He was a sturdy, strong-looking man, her grandfather. To see someone like this struck a deep chord within the Paladin. Struck down like this, probably before his time, was not something Gairdner had ever thought of. Himself, he had always thought he would meet his end in battle, lord knew he had faced death numerous times. But what if he too were to live to that age?

The thought of lying helpless, comatose in a bed connected to machines...

An involuntary sound escaped him, almost a low cry. Bella woke with a start.

"...huhwhazza?..."

Her eyes flew open, and came to rest on him.

"My apologies, Miss Bella. I did not mean to wake you."

She waved it off, propping herself up. "How long was I out?"

He looked down at his watch. "About 6 hours, Miss."

She gave him a look of wonder. "You've been standing like that for 6 hours?"

"Yes, Miss."

She sighed, it sounded like gratitude. "Take a load off, Paladin. I'm up now."

He took a seat as instructed. They sat in silence, Bella had begun to watch her grandfather. Just... watching him. Her pose was as rigid as a sentry's, but the emotion pouring from her face was too much for even this bewildered soldier to ignore. He saw overwhelming love, worry, and so much anguish there, almost impossible in intensity.

And a history. He found he wanted to know. Respect for her, and this man he didn't know, seemed to demand it.

"Tell me about your grandfather."