-A Modest Proposal-
At three point five in the morning Thea was sitting in the waiting room of Galway Hospital. When the Doc cleared his troath she was snorting softly on her ebook's forgotten page.
-Ahem. Miss Thea Hudson?-
-Uh. Ah. Yep, I mean, yes, I am.- She tried to assume a smarter face, looking up at the doctor standing in front of her chair. He was a thin, small man, back slack in the fashion of natural-born leaders. His face was rough, but the eyes shone with a ridiculously beautiful green.
-Are you the young lady with the nameless lad?-
What a nice way to call the Grindhouse Driver. She clutched her hands in her lap, breathing. -Yes, that is me. Doctor, uh, Magnus. How, how bad is it?-
-You want the five-years-old version or the professional version?-
-The twelve-years-old one, I think.-
There was a slight chance he was smiling.
-Very good. Well, Miss Hudson, it could have gone a lot worse. I wouldn't say he'll go hiking anytime soon, but he'll definitively survive. We found a dislocated shoulder, the same for the left ankle and what seems like a mild concussion. He needed some stitches on the forehead, and a clean change for those absurd things he was in, but we do not really fear lasting damages. We'll have to wait for him to wake to be absolutely sure, of course.-
Thea nodded, swallowing a tight lump she didn't know had been stuck in her throat. She had not killed anyone. He could still wake up and insult her and go on with his life. She swallowed again.
-Oh, damn. Good. Wonderful. Damn.-
-'Agree.- The doc commented soberly. -However, since the circumstances do not look exceedingly serious, you should talk with the cops. The earlier you do it, the freshest would be the impression..-
She frowned. She recalled vaguely a blue-clad boy listening to her rambling, a istant chocolate pushed in shaking hands. -Oh, sure. I think I've already given my report to an agent, however.-
-Obviously you've never been in a precinct, Ma'am. Before dawn we'll all know this story alla nausea.-
Thea peeked over the doctor's shoulders. A bulky man was marching toward them, mismatched tie half-hanging from the collar and a set of sharp angles that seemed to literally cut air. She had seen enough procedurals to recognize a detective.
He stopped in front of her chair, hovering in all his Copness over her and Doctor Magnus. A mop of cops wobbled behind him.
-Jim, don't over-scare the lass. Miss Hudson, this is Detective Browne from Galway PD. He's in charge for your case.-
Thea wondered briefly how she should look like. She was wearing her Cozy But Not-so-Yankee Professional outfit, but it turned out roaming around in mud and rain doesn't improve neither suade jackets nor velvet pants. Oh, her velvet pants. She repressed a whine of girlish dismay.
-Detective, I. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say. I'm sorry?-
Detective Browne scowled stat.
-Miss Hudson, I understand your tribulation, but it's deep night of Erasmus Party Day – from his look, it should be a very bad thing – so I would really like to make ye answer a bunch of questions and go home before my baby girl starts throwing her Night tantrums, and to do it with the minimal amount of faintings or conniptions or various emotional bullshit. Are ye going to faint or dob anytime soon?-
-Ah, I think not?-
-Good. Now, I understood you've already roughed out the facts with O'Brien there- he pointed to the toothy rookie that brought her the chocolate -So for the moment we'll skip that part.
-Moreover, I came to know from O'Brien that you're are some sort of scholar. Is it correct?-
She had this image of her sobbing about being "a good ol' girl" and "could you keep research founds while in prison?" agsinst the cop's shoulder. -Yep. I'm, I'm an anthropologist, from Berkeley. I'm here for Folklore researches. -
Browne nodded. -I see. I suppose. Well, in this case there's somethin' I would like to submit ye, Miss Hudson. If you know it, or some stuff like that.-
He nodded to the flock of sleepy rookies behind him, taking a sack from one of them.
-We found it in the patient's, err, pants. It's probably just a lucky charm, but anyway.-
He fumbled a bit with the sack, and slided something small and cold in Thea's hand. She squinted down, surprised.
It was a coin: a golden, rough-shaped coin.
She turned it, letting it slip along her fingers. It resembled closely the countless Roman coins she examined during college for the Classical History seminar; it seemed as ancient anyway, and too heavy to be a false. But the carvings, well, they didn't make any sense. There was a tree, fat roots and branches spreading across the plate like golden snakes; on the other side, a single scratch that looked suspiciously like an Oghman glyph. She brushed it, and for a moment the room was full of peppermint.
-Miss? Did ye understand?-
The detective's voice made her jolt. -Uh, sorry, Detective. No, I've never seen it before. I can say it's pretty ancient, I would dare a late Imperial-Provincial mint, even if the engravings are peculiar. I can't really say anything else.-
He nodded again, arching an eyebrow. -We supposed so. Well, too bad, considering it's the only thing we have.-
-The only thing?-
-Aye. Seems the fella wasn't interested in trivial things like wallets or ID cards. And that he has had a pretty rough time too.-
Thea's expression should have been not smart again, because Doctor Magnus stepped in. -I was about to tell you, Miss Hudson. It seems the patient's main injures have been previous to the accident, ma'am.-
Thea frowned. -I'm pretty sure a pickup could do main injures.-
Doctor Magnus laughed as if she had just done a really irresistible joke.
-Ah! Ah, sure, I suppose a funny-twisted arm could be really showy, but you should know that during the examination we discovered a series of bruises on the chest. As it seems, the guy has gotten a cracked rib, and for some days now. If he had kept goin around the country like that it could have puctured a lung, and probably no one would have found him before it was beyond help.- The green eyes stared right at her. - All in all you could have saved him, Miss Hudson.-
She looked for a juicy, sophisticated remark. Her mouth had other plans.
-So is it not that bad?-
Browne casted her another scowl. -Well, that's depends mainly on our guy, Miss. To proceed we need him to be awake and able to talk.-
Magnus sighed. -We can't fully assess his conditions withou that, effectively.-
Thea swallowed hard. Oh, yes. The head, the damn head. There could be brain damages. Harming another mind, causing someone to lose himself. Oh God, she could not bear it. Anything, but not that.
She felt like talking through concrete. -There, there would be any damages, doctor? To the brain I mean?-
-No, miss. No worries. It's a really, really improbable evenience.-
But she was too angry for that. -Ah, I've been so stupid. It was raining as Hell, I should have check the road better.-She ran a hand through her hair. Let Yankeeness slip in. -Dammit.-
Classic shoes clacked closer to her, softly. Looking up, Browne's face seemed a little less sharp and a lot more tired.
-Ma'am, let me be perfectly clear. You look like a young, well-mannered, foreign lady that dragged an unconscious man in the ER barking to call a doctor and the police. No one here has the slightest fancy to blame ye. I have enough sonsofabitch to deal with without making up others.-
He held her gaze, and Thea was absolutely sure he was telling the truth. How brutal, and rude. How nice.
-Thanks, Detective Browne.-
-No problem, Miss Hudson. Done with the emotional crap?-
-I think so.-
-Sweet. Now, I need to listen to the accident sequence another time, and this'll be the long version. Can we use your office for a bit, Leonard?-
-Sure thin'. I need to check on the ER patients before Wilson kills someone, and pick up some analyses from the lab. By then I suppose the lad'll be awake.-
-Can I see him, doctor?-
Every pair of eyes widened. Every pair, hers included, because she had no idea where that came from.
Magnus blinked. -Well, yes, why not. The detective'll keep an agent in front of the door, but if you want, I don't think there's any real problem with it. Jim?-
-No real problem. I'm fairly sure she won't try to kill him in the sleep.-
The big detective switched again on her. He seemed about to say something, squinted. Stayed silent.
-And for God's sake, bring her something to wear. That thing's dripping on the floor.-
It took Thea twenty minutes to get in the stranger's room. The detective, who responded to one of the most Irish names ever but graduated at Yale -what? Look at yourself, Miss Hudson- asked her to tell her story at least twice, intimidating her all along to stop staring at him like a damn cat in the headlights. She was pretty sure Agent O'Brien had grinned at her First Aid episode.
Thea perched through the door, taking a look around. The chambre was one of those rooms obtained in the ER back side, and it looked somewhere between a storehouse and a dentist's waiting room. Some very medical-looking machines, a metal bookshelf, the poster of a Hospital Rugby Cup fastened on a wall. All in all, it was cozy.
She squeashed her way across the linoleum floor. The stranger was lying in the bed across the room, with one arm hanging from the neck in a complicated bandage. Damn, coming there had been a bad idea. A very, very bad idea. Atavistic. Dumb.
The nurses had left the guy's clothes on a nearby chair, neatly folded on the back: in plain light they looked even more flamboyant. The shirt was nice, however. Silk, and of the deepest, ever-changing red she had ever seen: she ran a hand across a sleeve, feeling its cool, heavy thickness under her fingertips. It seemed hand-made: and the skin pants, yeah, she had seen it right, and the knee-high boots smelled vaguely of rain and real leather. Oh, sure he was a strange guy. Somehow it made her feel a bit more at ease.
Thea sighed, pulled back the chair, sat beside the bed. For a moment she thought about picking up her ebook and find out if Black Jack Geary had finally managed to use the Syndic hypernet, but decided it would be inappropriate. Ipod? Nah. Sleeping? Adrenaline afterwards wouldn't let her anyway. She squirmed, humming. It was quite natural her eyes travelled all the way up the bed and to the stranger's face.
It ws not so natural the way they stuck there, however.
The man's face was peculiar: roundish, gentle, cheekbones and chin and jaw melting one in the other with no angles at all. Raven-black, lushy waves of hair brushed pink ear tips. The eyelashes were really long and curvy like a girl's, but the eyebrows were thick, crafted for scowling. Without dirt and blood, just a light gauze wrapped around his forehead, his skin had the sturdy paleness of eggs and new branches.
Thea gulped slowly. She had sensed he was kinda cute, back in the pick up. But he was not cute. He was fuckin' gorgeous.
Oh sure. She found her perfect man, and she ran him down with a truck.
She groaned, bending forward and digging her hands in her hair.
Okay. Okay, let's calm down. It was no tragedy. Maybe it could all end well. Maybe he was a very, very understanding guy and she could explain him what a tragical mess it had been and offer him a make up coffee. Maybe it could become one of those silly stories you could build a flirt on or at least something that is not irreparable regretful hate. C'mon, they were both grown, eccentric adults. They would work it out. There was nothing to fret about. Nothing. Yeah. Sure. Thea smiled, relieved.
Until a death grip clutched her wrist and all went to Hell.
-What are ye doing, mortal?-
Thea had barely the time to get out a "Uh?". She registered a swirl of sheets, a very pointy elbow nearly colliding with her head, and suddenly a gown-dressed man was standing on the hospital bed, watching her with eyes full of disdain.
But that was hardly important, because those eyes had melted her heart like margarine.
-I need to go. There's no time, no time at- He took a step. Something cracked badly deep inside and he crumpled back on the bed in a whining heap. He turned, yelped again.-Ah! Wretch! Ah! It hurts why it hurts?- his eyes slashed to Thea's hand, widened in horror -Oh, for Dana's sweet womb, me coin! For Dana's womb, she has me coin!- He wobbled back, slamming his head against the wall. - It couldn't be. Oh, that's his doing, I know, that mousy rascal- The arm creaked, he wheeezed.- Oh, that blind-staggerin' bleedin' rascal! Blast ye and all your shameless breed!-
Thea blinked, mildly fascinated. She had never seen anyone managing to hurt himself so bad in less than twenty seconds of awereness. She had not had the time to say a word.
Before it got worse she launched forward, clasping lightly the man's unharmed shoulder. Soothing talk, now now now. -Ehy, ehy. Calm down man. It's all okay. We're at the hospital, it's all o-
He jerked back, rightening his back. Blue eyes fessured at her.
- Stay back, mortal!- he hissed. -How ye can dare to touch a Leprechaun Prince, uhm!-
Thea's hand dropped. She blinked again, slowly.
He threw back his head, unfazed.
-You heard me right, woman. I'm Seamus Berr, Prince of Clurichauns, Lord of the Berr Sidhe, rightful kin of the Fae Folk of Eire. And you have me coin.-
Her jaw dropped further.
- Fae, folk? Like, fairies?-
- Of course. You doubt me, woman?-
Thea didn't answer. She stared at the strange man in front of her, as he stared back at her. She didn't answer, because the real answer was no.
Then the gauze around his forehead began to bleed, and the guy assumed the greenish tint of who's about to see again his last three meals. She pushed the calling button with much too strenght.
-What are ye doin'?- The man's voice held a edge of panic.
-I'm sorry.- Thea squeaked.
The guy's face got fully dismayed as a bunch of white-coated docs stormed in the room, resembling closely a flock of hungry seagulls. Thea was shoved out of the way with a "sorry ma'am", chair and all, the seagulls honking about IVs and reflex checks and how many fingers sir? Said sir however was more interested in cursing them and prating about " the stupid mortal with his coin". Trained by a life of family reunions, Thea knew it was time to flee elegantly.
-The coin! She has me coin, I can't let her go!- -Sir, please, I must ask you to keep calm.- -Leave me alone, blasted fools! Leave me now! She has me coin.-
She pushed the door with shaking hands. Fuck. She finds a nice guy, she runs him over and he's also cracked as a a freaking kite . Fuck. She needed a coffee. The man's voice rang over the seagulls.
-I'll chase ye, coin-thief! I'll chase ye, and I'll feed your entrails to the vultures!-
Okay, she needed a double coffee.
Once, Thea had spent the worst day of her life. She had been in sixth grade, not a brilliant year as a whole, and she had managed to throw up on LA road's outskirts at the beginning of her first Big Girl holiday, among the tanned scowls of her schoolmates, because she had forgotten to take Benadryl. Upon the return she had discovered that her fiasco had disintegrated her chances with Brendan Shannon and that ABC had cancelled Twles of the Crypt. She had never felt so helpless.
Until that moment, of course.
-No. Oh no no no.-
-I fear it's a "oh yes yes yes", ma'am.-
Thea breathed in, glaring sourly at the two stubborn men in front of her chair.
-Listen, sirs. I'm quite honored by your trust, especially considering the circumstances, but I think it's a really, really bad idea. I'm an academic. I have no caring skills. I put him in hospital. I just, can't take care of that guy.-
Detective Browne tried to sigh and cringe at the same time. - Miss Hudson, under normal circumstances I wouldn't be more in agreement. But these are no way normal circumstances.-
Thea fidgeted with her mug, unhappily. When she had staggered back to the ER from the guy's, the fucked up, gorgeous guy's room she had thought there would be obvious complications. More civil responsibilities, an incrimination, a lot of analyses to find out if she had a man sanity on her conscience. She had been almost ready for it. It was what she felt it was just to do. But that, that was on a whole new level of weird.
-He believes he's a fairy.-
Doctor Magnus pondered that for a moment.
-Well, yeah. But that's less critical than you may think, Miss Hudson. I've seen my good share of accident patients. It's not unusual that a mind enduring a trauma conjured previous knowledges in a complex delusion.-
Thea arched a eyebrow. -So basically he hit his head hard enough to think he's some sort of Fairy Princey?-
Magnus blinked with no trace of humor. -Rough but accurate.-
-Well that doesn't change anything. I can't take care of a hurt stranger, fairy or Vulcan.-
A Trekkie smile grazed O'Brien's lips.
-I fear it's still the best option we have, Miss Hudson.-
-I love tacos. I steal my cousin's Netflix account. I don't wash dishes every evening.-
-Impressive, bot I'm positive this doesn't invalidate your caring capacity.- Browne leaned against the relax room's fridge, talking softly. -We're serious, miss. It's a matter of days, just until we figure out things. A case-worker would come checking everyday, and he probably wouldn't do much more than sleeping. We would never ask a civilian something like that. But there's no free room in a recover facility around here and we don't want to transfer him in Dublin in case he has relatives here in Galway. Moreover you live in a college flat among lots of people, so it's pretty safe for both.-
Dr. Magnus nodded back. -As absurd as it can sound, you're kind the best choice. The delusional state is probably temporary, but cutting it abruptly could result dangerous to his full recover. A face somehow linked to his fantasy could be soothing.-
- He said he would feed me to vultures.-
-I've heard worse things.-
-You saw him, Thea. He's angry and hurting and for some inexplicable reasons you seem to have a link with him. If you just go away, we do not really know what the consequences could be.-
The cops in the room fell silent. Green eyes batted with gravity.
Thea felt exactly like the eight years old that Grandma managed to send to Sally Smith's clown party: duped and deeply unhappy.
Obviously, it worked.
-Fine. Fine, I'll do it.-
-Lovely.- Magnus chirped. -You're doing the right thin'. We'll keep him in observation for the night, but I think we'll be able to discharge him in the morning. We'll provide you a folder with the tests and all the requirement, and of course a module for future refund. I suppose you would like to go to your flat to prepare a bit?-
If he meant parking the blasted thing in the garage, plunching in the shower and curling on the couch with the Grannies' cookies, then yeah.
-Uh, sure. Preparing.-
-Good. The detective'll check daily, obviously, till Mr. Berr will be able to give some clarifications.-
-And you're required not to leave Galway county without inform us.-
-I have no intention to, Detective.-
After that two rookies and two interni stepped closer, asking questions and filling her with way too much technical information. Do you smoke, no, any pets?, a bunny, do you know how to change a IVs? not for my dear life. It felt relatively easy, and logical. Then the group looked up to their bosses, seemed satisfied enough and left the lounge along with all the cops.
Thea turned to Magnus. -Why I have this distinct feeling I've just been fregata?-
-Because probably you're a good person, Miss Hudson. Most times it feels like this.-
Doctor Magnus nodded to her, and stormed out of the door.