Word count: 3,107
Rating: PG (language, etc.)
Fandom: City of Heroes/Sunday 9s
Characters: drew, Ray/Heat, and our mystery guest, whose identity is revealed at last! (though you've probably guessed it already ;)
Timeline: After the rest of the investigation fics so far and actually slightly before "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". (Yeah, I know, I just screwed up the timeline.) Mid to late January, Paragon City.
If you've read the previous fics, you know who these people are and what's going on. If you haven't, you might want to go read them first, 'cause this will make lots more sense after you read the other ones. Check the Memories section under CoH in my LJ info.
Comments & criticisms gleefully accepted, etc. :)
One Mystery Solved, Another Arises
drew got through the doors to the Restricted Ward easily enough. The new cloaking device got him past the electronic guards, and his superspeed helped him past the humans. As long as he was quiet, he could probably get everything he needed and get out with none the wiser.
He checked the records once inside the RW for a John Doe. There wasn't, but he found the name "Teflin, J.A." on one of the beds, set aside at the end of the room and "protected" by a curtain from the rest. Teflin, J.A. was unconscious, hooked up to medical machines, and had a fair growth of hair and beard – maybe a week's worth or a bit longer, drew thought, which was within the right timeframe. Teflin looked young, though still older than Bone. Perhaps more importantly, he looked distinctly non-burned.
drew stood at the end of the bed. Police notes hung from a clipboard, but he didn't touch them; too much risk of someone noticing the movement. After all, one or two other people here were awake or otherwise aware – a woman in a bed was watching TV at the other end of the room, and now and then a nurse or doctor entered or left the ward.
Moving to Teflin's bedside, drew took another device from his belt, and slowly waved it along the unconscious body's length. The man's face and muscles filled out a bit more.
A nurse on her rounds entered the ward to check on equipment and patients, and drew halted what he was doing, careful to stay out of her way. As the nurse got to Teflin, she noted his condition and typed something into the computer mini-setup next to his bed. It looked to drew like a networked machine, which meant he probably couldn't retrieve the information from here – he'd have to go to an archive, and he wasn't sure he wanted to try that just yet.
He waited until the nurse left again, and tried using the healing device a second time. This time he was in luck: Teflin woke up. Eyes unfocused and very groggy, it was obvious he had no idea where he was or what was happening.
"Shush, shush, Teff," drew whispered, taking a chance that it was the right guy. "It's Bone's friend drew. Stay quiet." The last thing he needed was for someone to hear talking down here and come to investigate, at least until after he'd found out what he needed to know.
"...Wha's... fire..." Teflin looked around, trying to get his eyes to focus on the same thing.
"You're safe. You're at the hospital. Relax."
"You're safe. Eric is in trouble, though. He thinks you're dead."
~ ~ ~
Dead? Who's dead? Teff tried to figure out what was going on. I'm dead? Eric? Who is this again? I don't see anyone.
He started to move, despite what felt like complete energy failure in his limbs.
"Shush, stay put."
Teff tried to look for the source of the voice. If he were dead – but then, invisible people were certainly possible too –
Hospital. I'm in a hospital. His vision started to clear at last. Okay. So I'm not dead. Just talking to an invisible man who says he knows Eric. Uh.
As if on cue, the other voice said: "He loves you."
Teff wanted to sit bolt upright in anger, but couldn't, so he settled for slumping back against the hospital bed. Shit. Eric talked.
~ ~ ~
"He's sorry," drew continued. Teff remained staring at the ceiling. Not quite the reaction drew had looked for, so he elaborated: "It's okay. I'm his gay friend in the 9s. The one with the guns." He had to hope that Bone – Eric – had actually mentioned some of the people in the 9s to Teff.
"Oh." Teff blinked twice and turned to look in drew's direction. "Where...?"
drew gave Teff his hand, explaining, "I'm invisible. I have a cloaking device."
Teff looked closely at him, or where he would be if he were visible. "Oh."
"Look," drew said, "Eric thinks you're dead, and he's doing some bad things." He didn't know how long he'd be able to talk to Teff; better to get things moving, even if the other guy had just had a bit of a shock. "I need to know what happened and where he might be. If I'm not the one that finds him, it could be bad." It was no secret in the 9s that Lapis was looking forward to a fight.
~ ~ ~
" 'partment?" Teff said at last.
"I don't know the address," drew admitted. "He kept your secrets safe."
Not safe enough, Teff thought sourly, and coughed. "Next t'... aqueduct. Don't... feel right." It was true. He felt as though he were floating underwater, and he'd expected more pain, although maybe he'd been doped when they brought him in here. On the other hand, the floating sensation didn't give him any extra energy or sense of freedom – just talking seemed to take an effort.
"You got hurt. You're not healed yet. What happened? Do you remember?"
Like a frickin' cop. But he answered anyway: "Fire." He licked his lips and continued: "Family... found the guns. Told 'em they were... hard to use." Not just that they pulled to the left, but tried to play up that these were not preferable for any dirty work you needed done. The Family hadn't believed him, of course. "Was in... Justice Quay when... it happened." Dammit, wish I could breathe. "They took me an' the guns. Made me show how to use 'em. Heroes come in... bust it up... an' I ran." He paused to catch his breath; even such a short talk had winded him. Man, how beat up am I?
"Take your time," drew said soothingly.
"Kep' tryin' all day to... reach Eric. No answer. Then he's there, an'... fire." He really hadn't wanted to remember that part, but it had haunted his sluggish hospital stay, in his dreams: the fire, burning, the worst pain and fear he'd ever known. He started to shake despite himself.
"You're safe now. He was there? Eric? Was there a spiky haired guy there too?"
"Don't know about hair. Just ran when I saw 'em." It was the truth. Caught with stolen property, no hero license, in the middle of a Family-owned warehouse? Getting the hell out of there before the heroes got him was the smartest thing to do at the time.
"Eric wasn't in colors," he continued after a moment. "Heroes were... black an' white." He remembered that much. Any time you saw a bunch of people all in the same colors, it meant a whole team was out there, and teams could be even more enthusiastic about their jobs than if you came across 'em solo. And the one in front had worn black and white.
"Black and white," drew repeated in a neutral tone. "Okay. What else can you remember?"
Teff searched the ceiling with his eyes. "Eric put somethin' on me. Don't know what it was." As he was wearing a hospital gown, whatever it was had probably disappeared, either stolen or as evidence or personal belongings for whenever he woke up. "Felt strange, like..."
"Was it the belt? The one that gave him his powers?"
"Might've been." Teff wanted to shrug, but settled for a halfhearted attempt. "Then he touched... here..." he pointed at his throat, "an' it all went black."
Yeah, he was singing away, all right. But if Eric was in trouble somehow – how was he in trouble, anyway? And why wasn't he here at the hospital instead of Mister Inviso?
"How long...?" Teff asked, meaning how long he'd been at the hospital, but having to rest his throat. He was incredibly thirsty all of a sudden.
"A few days." Teff couldn't see the hero, but he had the weird sense that if he could, he'd see the man scribbling away in a notebook. "Where did Eric and you go that was special, just for you two?"
Damn, you don't quit, do you? "Water. Thirsty." It gave him a moment to collect his thoughts and figure out what he wanted to say, while drew found a small cup of water that wouldn't be missed. After drinking a few sips - God, I need a beer - he answered, "Mostly just... my place. Or driving." He couldn't think of anyplace else. He'd have something to say to Eric after all this was over, too, about privacy and respecting that of other people.
"All right. What's your address? I can make sure everything's OK there, and maybe Eric is there, too."
Teff gave the address. "What'd you say your name was, again?" It still felt strange talking to what sure looked like empty air.
There was a smudge in the air, then drew appeared: a tall, shaven-headed man, wearing a black T-shirt with a pink triangle on it. "I'm drew."
Teff studied him during the moment the cloaking device was deactivated. He barely knew anything about Eric's hero team; it was enough to know their paths should never cross. He wasn't even sure what he should say right about now, so he asked a question instead: "Why's he... think I'm dead, if I'm here?"
"Because he doesn't know." The air smudged again, and drew vanished from sight. "I'll be back. Promise. I'll find him and tell him."
"Okay." Teff waited a bit, and sensed rather than saw when drew had gone. He stared at the ceiling again and sighed. Well, this is one big fuckup, isn't it? Wonder how many people Eric told? Plus nearly getting killed. And where the hell is he? He just wandered off after the fight or something, didn't bother to see if I was alive? These thoughts kept him occupied for a time, until to his own surprise he dozed for a bit, waking when a nurse came by to check on him. She seemed happy to see him awake, asked him a few questions, made sure he was comfortable, and refused to answer some of his questions about why all the machines were hooked up to him.
Teff's opinion of the day, which was already mixed, took a nosedive when representatives of the Paragon City Police Department came to talk to him about a very interesting piece of weaponry found on his person when he'd been teleported in, not to mention the array of inventory in his place of residence. He wondered if, presuming he could get out of this, leaving Paragon might be the wisest course of action at this point. It's all gone to hell anyway, he thought, as the questioning began.
~ ~ ~
Once outside the hospital, drew called in to Sunday 9s headquarters via communicator. "Heat!!"
"Gah! What?" It sounded like he'd distracted Heat from something.
"I found him."
"Bone? Is he alive? Or did Lapis find him first?"
"Not Bone. Teff." Mr. J.A. Teflin, to be precise. "It wasn't you. You didn't attack him."
"Not unless the team's colors have changed to black and white."
"Oh, thank God." drew could hear Heat's relieved sigh. "He's alive, then? Teff?"
"Teff's in the IP hospital. Whirly was right." drew continued on, leaving his cloaking device active for the moment. "Bone's belt is probably there too. You have to use our influence as a team to get him cleared of any charges. And get Bone's belt back."
"All right. I'll see what I can do. God knows how he's managing without it."
"I'm gonna look for him now," drew said. "Teff had a few leads."
"So he's conscious now? Did he say what happened? I'm trying to figure out how Bone thought it was me."
"The Family kidnapped him, another supergroup barged in, and he got mistaken for a bad guy," drew summed up. "Guns with no hero ID, bad all the way around."
"All right – hold on, landline's ringing."
drew made his way to the address Teff had given him while waiting for Heat to return to the line. It wasn't long.
"That's strange... dead line," Heat mused.
"Tried star-sixty-nine, 'this number is no longer in service'. You don't think...?"
"Stay safe at the base. I have to find Bone. He still thinks Teff's dead and that you killed him."
"Yeah." Heat's voice was heavy. "Let me see what I can do on this end. Wait – what's Teff's name? It'll go faster if I don't have to guess when I make the call."
"J.A. Teflin. Don't know what the initials stand for."
"Thanks. And good luck."
~ ~ ~
Teff's apartment in Kings Row had yellow police tape over the door. Probably as soon as they'd gotten his ID out of his wallet, back when he'd been teleported into the hospital, Paragon City's finest had converged here looking for evidence of any kind. drew snuck in, careful not to disturb anything.
It looked like there were once many boxes in the place, based on the marks in the carpet. The apartment was already small, but it would have been downright cramped, drew estimated, based on the flattened patches of dingy beige shag. The closetlike bedroom held a single bed; the kitchenette had cheap, nearly-nonperishable food in the cabinets and extremely cheap beer in the fridge.
It appeared the place was unoccupied and had been for several days.
After nosing around for a bit, drew looked for some paper to leave a note, just in case Bone came back here. As he came across a small complimentary sticky-note pad ("TTI: The Best Little Warehouse In Texas!"), he also saw the barest corner of an envelope buried inside the phone book.
drew wrote his message first - "B. Find me. I need to talk to you. T is ok. d" - leaving it in place of the envelope, which was unsealed and contained three photographs.
The first was of Teff, armed with a hunting rifle, maybe 16 or 17 years old and wearing a ponytail. He was dressed in hunting camo, with two trophy deer at his feet as he knelt by one of them. The second one looked like a candid, taken in this apartment, of Bone, shirtless, turning to look at the camera. The third was an outdoor shot, with water around, rocks, and in the distance some kind of urban area. In the foreground, Teff held up a can of beer in a salute, smiling but looking uneasy at the same time.
drew looked over the photographs, particularly the third one, for a while. That one was probably taken here in Paragon – it was probably fairly recent, based on comparison between this photo and how Teff had looked at the hospital. Although he could guess where it probably wasn't, there were a few places it might be, and drew wasn't familiar with all of Paragon.
He stepped to the bedroom window to look out. The apartment overlooked an aqueduct; it was a nice view of same, if you liked that sort of thing. A fire escape graced this side of the building; in a pinch you could come or go by that route, although the front door was probably easier.
His comm crackled. "drew, you there? It's Heat."
"What up, Heat?"
"Another dead-line call. Just FYI. Already working on getting some kind of trace on it. I'm going to let someone else answer next time."
drew looked at the phone by the bed. So wherever the calls were coming from, it wasn't here. "All right. I think I've got something, but nothing concrete yet. I'll be in soon." He signed off and left via the door for the aqueduct. He had no real reason for looking there, but one never knew. Besides, Teff had mentioned the aqueduct in relation to the apartment; maybe he was just giving a vague idea of location, but maybe there was something more.
Still cloaked, drew searched the aqueduct, until he nearly stumbled on a well-hidden pair of Family men.
"That's odd," drew murmured to himself, noting their long-range rifles and binoculars. Based on the angle, it looked like they were watching Teff's apartment. Good thing I kept cloaked the whole time. He scattered caltrops to keep them from escaping, then fired off a warning shot as they turned. They in turn fired back, but a web grenade pinned one, and the other took a couple of flesh wounds before they reluctantly chose to talk.
drew decloaked and made sure they could see the arsenal of devices he carried, so they wouldn't get any bright ideas. "Why're you watching the building? Who's your target?" he asked without preamble.
"Someone set us up, a sting," the pinned Family man said, still struggling against the web. "He's gotta come back sooner or later."
"He's dead," drew said, without pausing. "You did your job. Go." If everyone thinks Teff's dead, he'll be free of that much more of his past.
The Family man looked at him sharply. "Prove it."
"He dealt in guns. He got burned all over his body when the sting happened. He died." drew shrugged. "Not sure how you expect me to prove that. I could just arrest you, though, and you could ask the cops..."
"Not if you're lettin' us go. I'll take the word back. Boss has gotta check it, but..."
"Whatever." drew backed off and cloaked until the mobsters freed themselves and cleared out of the area, then sat down for a moment to rest.
Bone probably wasn't in this area any more – if he'd been in the apartment, the Family goons would've taken a shot at him. The apartment itself looked empty. He'd picked up three photos, one of which might lead to something; if Vixen or one of the other technically-minded heroes could trace those calls, maybe there would be another lead he could follow.
For now, he headed back to the warehouse, making changes to his plans for the night. He'd hoped to show off some of his new things – his new flamethrower, and the black and white costume he'd ordered from Icon – but didn't think this would be a good time. After all, he'd been in Independence Port recently too.
Maybe he needed to pay more attention to detail when he was on the job. As it was, he didn't like where that train of thought took him. Had he been the one to set all this in motion, with a careless use of his weaponry?
He sped back to the warehouse, wondering what the others might have found.