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“Will Wonders Never Cease?”
Arc One; Chapter Eleven
Balance of Power



WARNING: Post Series, Post Movie **SPOILER HEAVY** and slightly AU


“I think I’ve just been insulted!” Ducky complained.

Ed blinked, and grinned. “Not half as much as Hughes was.”




May 10, 2006 – 11:47 pm
Bartlesville, Oklahoma


“I’ll take two,” Reilly said.

Ducky sighed. “Three. Again.”

“I’m good,” Ed said.

Hughes dealt the cards out. “And the dealer takes two.”

Everyone studied their hands intently and in silence. Hughes cast a casual glance at each of the players. Reilly was good, he noticed. She never showed anything in her face; and while she wasn’t exactly winning, she wasn’t losing, either. She was keeping about even with him, as far as the pile of chips in front of her showed.

Ducky, on the other hand, was a lousy poker player. Every hand showed in his face, no matter how hard he tried to keep it neutral. Such as now. Hughes knew he had a good hand, even though the boy was losing his ass.

The big winner seemed to be Ed tonight. His stack of chips just seemed to keep growing. Hughes knew why. He also had a feeling Reilly did, too. He just wondered if Ducky was going to catch on eventually.

Dinner had gone off with only one complaint from Ed. “It’s… green,” he said when he saw the guacamole. Apparently that didn’t phase him as much as he let on, because he put most of it away by himself. The group was now quite a bit more mellow in comparison to earlier. Not that it was saying much. Reilly’s place always seemed to be crackling with energy, even on the easiest days. Hughes wondered just how much of it was natural, and how much of it was the friction between Ed and Ducky, or Reilly and Ducky… or Reilly and Ed. The only one around here who never seemed to bristle for any reason, was Tom. Nothing seemed to rattle the man, nor did anything ever seem to piss him off. Of course he was a tad cranky right now, because his leads didn’t seem to be panning out beyond the first one. Hughes heard him mutter from the living room for about the thousandth time that night.

Reilly glanced up and he saw her scan the group. He caught her glance his way, and noticed her face was still flushed. I really should apologize he thought. He honestly didn’t deliberately leer down at her chest earlier, but it was damned hard to avoid. It was so obviously there. He hadn’t thought she’d caught him out, though. At least he hoped she hadn’t; but that could be the only explanation he could come up with why she seemed so nervous and embarrassed whenever their eyes met. Well, he corrected himself, there is another reason. That reason would be the same one that made him feel a little warm whenever their eyes met. Except he knew she wouldn’t be having the same battle of conscience he was.

It’s been four years, Hughes Old Man.

You’re married, damnit.

Not in this world, you aren’t.


Reilly laid her cards face down on the table and said, “I fold.” Hughes followed suit with a soft sigh. He had no idea what he actually had in his hand. He was too busy arguing with himself to concentrate on the game.

It was just between Ducky and Ed now. And he knew Ducky wouldn’t fold. Not with the way his eyes were lighting up.

It was Ed’s turn and he placed a modest bet. Then Ducky grinned and shoved his remaining chips into the center. “I call.” He threw down his cards with a huge grin. “Read’em and weep, Terminator-boy! I got you on a straight.”

“Nice hand,” Ed said, but his smile was showing a bit of fang. He slowly laid his hand down. “But I have a Royal Flush.”

Reilly suddenly had a coughing fit and got up from the table. Hughes saw the impending explosion himself and cautiously scooted his seat back from the line of fire.

As Ed reached for the stack of chips in the center of the table, Ducky grabbed his wrist and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “That’s like the third Royal Flush you’ve gotten tonight.”

Ed smirked and shrugged. “I guess I was just lucky.”

“No one is ever that lucky.”

A staring contest started between the two of them, and Hughes wondered who’d blink first.

“Are you accusing me of cheating?” Ed asked.

Reilly’s coughing fit suddenly became more violent and Hughes worried she was about to hack up a lung. He was also worried about the possible fall-out and moved his seat back further.

Ed jerked his wrist free of Ducky’s grip and looked highly offended. Unfortunately the look was unconvincing in light of the cards that fell out of his sleeve. Ducky stared down at the cards in shock for a moment, then picked one up. An ace. He held it up to show Ed and said, “You tell me.”

Ed gave him a slightly cock-eyed grin, then launched himself out of his seat and bolted out the back door. Ducky stared after him in stunned silence, then he blinked and vaulted over the table, scattering chips, cards and drinks all over the place. “Get your ass back here! I’m gunna rewire your limbs and short-circuit your brain, damnit!”

Hughes joined Reilly at the door, and watched Ducky chase after Ed into the darkness; cursing him the entire time. Without thinking about it, he’d just laid a hand on the frame right over her shoulder, and he was suddenly very aware of the closeness. He glanced down, caught her giving him a knowing look, and felt his face get very warm. He jerked his hand back as if the doorframe was suddenly on fire and started to stammer an apology, but her smirk stopped him. That, and the way some of her unruly curls fell into her eyes, and… Damnit, why the hell did she suddenly look so cute?

She gave him a graceful exit by moving away from the door, and said, “You know, if Ducky catches him, he’ll do exactly as he threatened.”

“If Ed doesn’t transmute him into slime mold first?”

She chuckled and leaned back against the counter. “Well, there is that.”

Hughes found himself leaning against the counter right next to her. He hadn’t even thought about it, but his body moved all on its own. Somehow, it felt just fine to him. He took a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling. He realized that there were a lot of things that were starting to feel ‘right’ lately.

“What?” Reilly asked, pulling him from his thoughts.

“Hmmm?”

“You’re staring off into space with a smile. What’s on your mind?”

“Normalcy.”

Reilly snorted. “Normal is overrated.”

Hughes had to give her that. “Well, as normal as one can get with Ed running around.”

“And Ducky.”

Hughes thought a moment, then shook his head. “Come to think of it, I don’t think I have any clue what normal is.”

They both glanced over at the door, as they heard Ed run by taunting Ducky, and the hacker responding in kind. There was a flash of blue light, and a startled noise from Ducky, but it didn’t sound like anyone was giving up outside.

“Gee, I wonder why that is?” Reilly said.

Hughes jerked his thumb toward the door. “That? Mild. Try having a best friend who can turn you into a human torch with just a snap of his fingers.” At the thought of Roy, Hughes felt his heart ache and his good mood started to slip away.

He crossed his arms and just stared down at the floor for a bit. Then he felt a warm hand on his arm. He looked up to see Reilly much closer and giving him a look of such compassion and understanding it seemed to make him hurt all the more.

“You miss them.”

He nodded, unable to find his voice at that moment. He felt her slip an arm around his waist and then she rested her head on his shoulder. He didn’t try to pull away. He didn’t want to. Four years he’d been just surviving… waiting. For what, he didn’t know. He could never go back. There wasn’t a way for him to go back. But he had Ed here, and Al was out there, somewhere. And Reilly was right here, and she was warm, and cute, and it felt so natural to just bring his arm up and wrap it around her shoulder, and pull her into an embrace…

…and his lips met hers before he knew it.

He wasn’t sure who kissed whom first, but after what seemed an eternity of conflicting feelings surging through him, he was the one to break the embrace. They gazed into each others eyes in stunned silence for a long moment. He saw something in hers flash. A little too much awareness, a touch of hurt, and a decision.

She asked, “Did… you just feel anything?”

He gave her an apologetic look and shook his head. She was giving him an out, and damn him, he took it. He immediately wanted to take it all back, tell her he changed his mind. After four long years, he wanted… needed… to feel someone in his arms. But no matter how often he reminded himself that he wasn’t ever going to hold Gracia again, he just couldn’t bring himself to put the guilt and the sense that he was somehow cheating on his wife behind him.

Hughes suddenly had the overwhelming urge to kick himself. Here was a woman, lovely in her own unique way, and who knew who and what he was; who didn’t care that he was from another time and place. She was intelligent, witty, and she was able to deal with Ed without batting an eye. That was a big plus in his book in this world. And he’d just hurt her feelings. Hughes, he thought, sometimes you can be an idiot.

He never quite got the chance to apologize, though.

She smiled and ducked her head; but not before he saw the color rise on her cheeks. “Okay, good. Because… well… kissing you was kinda like… kissing Ducky, there.”

“Hey!”

Hughes and Reilly both started, and turned toward the doorway. Ducky and Ed were standing there; Ducky looking somewhat put out, and Ed just staring with his mouth hanging open.

“I think I’ve just been insulted!” Ducky complained.

Ed blinked, and grinned. “Not half as much as Hughes was.”

Hughes covered a laugh with a badly faked cough that he knew no one was buying, and watched as a look of pure mischief crossed Reilly’s face. She slipped from his arm, crossed over to Ducky, and gave him a long, hard look. Then she grabbed his chin and planted a long kiss on his lips.

When she finally let him up for air, her look was thoughtful. Then she glanced over at Ed. Hughes saw the growing horror on the boy’s face; but before he could make good his escape, Reilly had him by the back of his head, and was kissing him, too.

When she finally released him, he stared at her in shock and Hughes wondered just how long until the bomb went off. One… two… thr—

“WHAT THE GODDAMN HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT YOU PERVERTED OLD WOMAN?!”

Reilly ignored the outburst and grinned at Hughes. “I was wrong. Kissing you is more like kissing Ed.”

“FUCK!” Ed spat, and wiped his mouth. “HOW DAMN MUCH HAVE YOU HAD TO DRINK TONIGHT, ANYWAY?!”

Reilly cocked a brow and said, “Come to think of it, kissing Ducky is kinda like kissing Ed.”

“HEY! NOW I’M INSULTED!”

“You know, I need to get more information,” Reilly said with a smirk. “My research really isn’t complete.”

From the living room, Tom yelled, “Come near me with those lips, and I’ll rip them off your face, Woman!”

Hughes felt his knees go weak at the absurdity of the scene. Reilly was the mischievous calm in the center of a raging Ed-storm, and it looked like Ducky was the sole victim as he leaned slumped against the doorframe with a most befuddled and happy look on his face.

“She kissed me!” Ducky mumbled, then grinned drunkenly. “I can die happy now!”

Hughes caught the look on Reilly’s face. She knew exactly how he felt, and showed him that it was all right. He realized there was something more to her than she or Ed had shown him and the Investigator in him vowed to find out what it was.

0o0o0


“May 15, 2006 – 6:22pm
Bartlesville, Oklahoma


“Damnit, Hughes! Why didn’t you double check how much you needed of that crap?”

“Hey, it looked too thin to me.”

Ducky heard the two of them arguing before he’d even opened the front door; and between the shouting and the smell, he knew that there had been another failed latex experiment.

“Do you even know what you’re doing there?”

He chuckled low as he let himself in and headed straight to the kitchen.

“How hard can it be? It’s bearings and gears.”

“It’s also the only right arm I have, damnit!”

Ducky was brought up short at the sight of Hughes bent over Ed’s automail arm; which was not only no longer attached to Ed, but the forearm was opened up and laying in pieces all over the table. This is bad, he thought.

Ducky had lost count of the number of attempts made to cover Ed’s prosthetic arm with something that would at least allow it to pass as ‘real’ without too close of an inspection. He didn’t lose track of how abysmally each attempt failed, though. Each one seemed to be just one step more disastrous than the last. From the look of all the guts from the inside of Ed’s arm all over the table, Ducky figured this one had to be the mother of all failures.

Gears and bearings and wires and other bits and pieces that were not immediately identifiable were spread out on newspaper all over the table; and all of it was covered with a smelly, sticky, gooey mess that may or may not have been latex.

Hughes was currently attempting to pry something loose from the inside of the arm; his brow was deeply knitted and the tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth in his intent concentration. Spatters of light pink latex dotted his face and his hair, with one rather noticeable gobbet clinging to the corner of his glasses that only emphasized the maniacal glee sparking in the man’s green eyes.

Ed was similarly splattered; mostly all over the empty right sleeve of the old tshirt that had to originally belong to Hughes, because Ed was practically drowning in it. A quick scan of the kitchen told Ducky that they’d at least had the forethought to lay newspapers on the floor. Well, Reilly won’t kill them too badly, he thought.

The scene had a strange sense of surrealism to it. The bright sunlight and gentle, fragrant breezes filtering through the cheerful yellow curtains had no business being paired with the Shelleyesque madman hunched over what equated to being a disassembled human limb at a very innocuous kitchen table in the middle of North America. And while Ducky had intellectualized the fact that Ed was missing an arm and a leg-- Dear Goddess! That thing goes up to his thigh! –It was another matter altogether to see one of those limbs unattached.

It might’ve been comical, were it not so dire.

“Careful there!” Ed protested from the other side of the table. “Don’t bend that gear.”

“I’m… not… going… to bend—” Hughes said as he used a flathead screwdriver as a prybar. The unidentifiable part came loose quite suddenly. It flipped out of the arm, bounced once, then flew off the table. Only Ducky’s uncanny peripheral vision and quick reflexes prevented it from haring off for parts unknown.

“DAMNIT!” Ed shouted as he came out of his seat to chase after the escaped piece. It was only then that either man realized Ducky was actually there.

The hacker grinned at Ed’s stunned look and opened up his hand. Nested in his palm, amid curds of something that Ducky now realized was most definitely not latex, was the small bearing. “Lose something?”

Ed almost allowed himself to look relieved as he snatched the bearing from Ducky’s hand. “Thanks,” he grumbled and flopped back down into his seat.

Ducky looked for something to wipe the sticky goo off his hand. “Just what the hell is all over this stuff, anyway?”

“It’s supposed to be adhesive,” Ed said. He jerked a thumb at Hughes. “But Mr. ‘It’s-too-thin’ went wild with it, and it seeped into my automail.”

“It was too thin,” Hughes protested. “The pieces weren’t sticking together.”

Ed ignored him. “Next thing I know, it coagulates and I can’t move my fingers.”

Hughes gave Ed an annoyed scowl, then bent back down to pry another part loose from the congealed mess inside the arm. Ducky didn’t even want to attempt to contemplate just how much adhesive was used; but watching Hughes stab at the parts still glued inside was becoming painful.

“Maes,” Ducky said as he set his laptop aside and came around the table. “Dude, you’re using the way wrong tools here.”

Ed scowled at him. “You people don’t even have automail here, how would you know?”

Ducky just smiled and pointed at the pieces scattered on the table. “It’s gears and bearings and springs. Clockworks. You need more delicate tools to work with them.” He tapped Hughes on the shoulder to get his attention, and said. “Stop right there, before you do any more damage.” Then he headed back out to the Ninjavan.

After digging around in the back of the van, he came up with his tool case, a new gallon of antifreeze, and several moderately clean rags. With a satisfied nod, he went back inside.

When he returned to the kitchen, both men were just as he left them. Ducky was silently grateful that Hughes was willing to see logic, and stopped jabbing that screwdriver at the gears in Ed’s arm. He might be able to fix this disaster, but he damn sure knew he wouldn’t be able to replace the arm. Not with one that actually worked, anyway.

Ed stared suspiciously at the gallon of antifreeze, and Ducky held it up. “Ethylene glycol. It’ll soften the adhesive enough that we can clean it off your parts without corroding them.” He glanced significantly at Hughes. “Or scraping at them.”

He set the antifreeze down and dropped the rags on top of the jug, then he shooed Hughes out of the seat and took his place. He was all business as he opened up the tool case and gently poked around the remaining mechanics of the arm. “Damn, Maes, you really did a number on his arm this time,” he said with a laugh.

“Can you fix it?” Ed asked.

Ducky glanced up and was taken aback at the expression on the younger man’s face. It wasn’t his usual suspicion or antagonism. It was expectation and hope, which told Ducky that Ed was terribly desperate.

He gave him a crooked grin and said, “I used to spend my summers in ‘Bammy with my dad. His, um… hobby… didn’t always pay enough to afford a mechanic to do rebuilds on car parts. I can rebuild trannies, carbs and starters with my eyes closed.” He held up his hands to show Ed the pale criss-crossed lines of small scars all over them. “It took weeks after getting back home to get all the grease out from under my fingernails and for my knuckles to heal.” He bent his head back down to concentrate on the small parts in the forearm, using the smaller tools to pry them loose with minimal effort. “Dad also taught me how to drive,” he said with a snicker.

Hughes flipped a chair around and straddled it as he watched. “Your dad used to race?”

Ducky glanced up and smirked. “You could say that. Wasn’t any racetrack he ran on, though. The county he lived in was dry as a bone.”

Hughes chuckled, but Ed looked from one man to the other, confused. “I don’t get it.”

Ducky went back to working the rest of the parts loose. “Dad ran ‘shine, Ed. Moonshine. Illegally distilled liquor. The county he lived in didn’t allow alcohol at all. Not even three-two beer.” He coaxed a gear out of its adhesive prison, and held it up to give it a closer inspection. “It takes skill to outrun them Revenuers and Local Yokels, boy,” he said with a very pronounced Deep South accent.

He turned his attention to Hughes. “Reilly’s got at least one galvanized bucket in the shed; and considering what a space cadet she can be, I’ll bet you good money she has two. Can you get them for me? Oh, and a strainer of some sort.”

The older man nodded and headed out the back door. When he left, Ducky went back to inspecting the parts that had been yanked out of the arm before he got there.

“Automail isn’t exactly car parts, Ducky,” Ed said.

“True,” he said. “But from the looks of it, the principle’s about the same. Gears, bearings, springs…” He fingered the wires sticking out of the arm curiously. “…wires…” He glanced back at Ed. “How do these hook up, by the way?”

Ed patted at the empty right sleeve and said, “They connect to the jacks in the port.”

“P-port?” Ducky felt his stomach lurch.

Ed gave him a slight smile. He thought a moment, hesitated, then peeled the tshirt off.

Ducky felt his jaw drop and the blood start to rush out of his head. He took a couple of deep breaths, regained his composure, then blurted, “Jesus fuck, Ed! Is that thing… bolted to you?!”

Ed nodded. He lightly touched the bolts on the front. “Collarbone, a couple in the rib…” he reached up, and tapped at his shoulder. “…shoulder blade.”

He shifted in his seat and turned the open port to give Ducky a better view. “It’s bolted on the inside, too.”

At the sight of the wires hanging out of the port and the other bearings and gears, Ducky began to feel a bit light-headed. Sure, Ed had told him the damn things were wired to him and that was how they were articulated; but he never really thought about it much. He chose not to think about it, in fact. It was harder to digest now that he could see how the limbs were actually wired. To Ed. Literally.

He was stunned to notice that Ed’s torso was all corded muscle; he’d always thought the kid was just a skinny little shit. Makes sense though, he thought. The weight of all that steel caused him to burn off any bit of fat he possessed. Bet cold weather kicks his ass, too. He didn’t miss the huge scars peeking out from under the port, either. “That musta hurt like hell,” he whispered.

“Heh. Especially when the wires were fused with my nerves.”

“F-fused?” Ducky stammered as he mentally fought back the black spots that were creeping in at the edges of his vision. Okay, too much information, he thought. I really didn’t need to know that.

Ed smirked. “Can’t use a general anesthetic during that part of the procedure.”

“You mean you were… awake?”

“Well, yeah,” Ed said, as if that should have been perfectly obvious.

The last thing Ducky saw as he pitched forward was Ed’s startled look.

0o0o0


The first thing Ducky thought when he opened his eyes again, was that Reilly seriously needed to paint her ceiling. The second thing was that he wasn’t on the kitchen floor. He was on the couch in the living room. Which made him wonder just how long he was out.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” he heard Hughes say from somewhere near his feet.

Ducky blinked and lifted his head. He found the older man sitting on the arm of the couch, giving him a bemused, lopsided smile. The hacker rolled his eyes and let his head fall back onto the cushion. “Man, how embarrassing. How long was I out?”

“About half an hour,” Hughes said. “And don’t worry about it. I don’t think Ed suffered any permanent trauma.”

“Huh?”

Hughes chuckled and clapped a hand down on Ducky’s shin; then he held it out to him. The younger man reached out, grabbed the offered hand and let Hughes help him up.

“Not many people can handle hearing the particulars of automail surgery, Ducky,” Hughes said. “Ed’s so used to being around people who can, he sometimes forgets.”

He heard the toilet flush; then a moment later the bathroom door opened and Ed’s uneven gait could be heard coming down the hall. He looked up when he heard him stop at the entrance to the living room.

Ducky gave Ed an embarrassed smile. “Now you know why I’m my mother’s biggest disappointment.”

Ed gave him a puzzled look and asked, “Why?”

“She wanted me to be a doctor. I couldn’t even get past dissecting a frog in high school biology.”

Ed looked mildly disgusted at that. “I wouldn’t want to either.” Then he nodded toward the kitchen. “Can you…”

“Finish putting your arm back together?” Ducky’s brows shot up, and he shook his head with a befuddled smile. “God that sounds so bizarre when I say it; but yeah. Just don’t ask me to reattach it.”

Ed grinned and gave him an odd, one-shouldered shrug. “That’s no problem. I’ve reattached it myse-- Shit! Don’t pass out again, damnit!”

Ducky leaned forward and put his head between his knees when he felt himself get woozy again. He waved a hand and said, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be just dandy.”

0o0o0


Three hours, countless cusswords, and several runs through Ducky’s favorite playlist on his MP3 player later, the arm was back in one piece. All preliminary tests showed that all the parts were where they should be. He certainly hoped so, after the clusterfuck of getting some of them back in there. There just wasn’t enough room in the cramped space of the steel forearm for two hands, let alone three or four; but there were moments that he needed those extra hands. Especially with the springs.

Ducky was now outside, leaning against the back bumper of the Ninjavan and waiting for the yells. Ed warned him that reattaching the arm would hurt like hell; so outside seemed like a really, really good place to be. However, he was fairly certain that just being outside wasn’t going to be enough. He knew how loud Ed could yell. What he needed was something else to muffle the sounds.

He pulled his MP3 player from his back pocket, selected the loudest playlist he could, shoved the earbuds in and cranked it.

He had his eyes closed and was happily rocking away into blissful oblivion, when a tap on his shoulder startled him enough to make him shout. He opened his eyes to the amused look on Reilly’s face. He yanked the earbuds out, and snapped, “What’re you tryin’ to do? Kill me?”

She snorted. “Your hick is showing dear. Rough day?”

Before he could answer, a guttural, anguished growl filtered through the open windows and he saw Reilly go pale; then she nearly landed in Ducky’s lap when she swayed. “What in the Holy Hell was that?”

He caught her before she could topple over into his lap and said, “It’s okay. Ed’s just putting his arm back on.”

She managed to get her feet back under her, and just stated at Ducky. “Do… what?”

Ducky gave her a weak smile and patted at his right shoulder. “Apparently the arm is literally wired to his ner—ooohhman…”

It was finally more than he could deal with. He leaned forward and vomited between Reilly’s feet.

She jumped back out of the way, and said, “Oh yeah. You’ve had a rough day, all right.”

She waited until the flood had passed, and helped him to his feet. “From the sounds of it, you weren’t the only one having a hard time today.”

“Jeeze, I’m such a wimp,” Ducky said with a slight laugh.

“It takes a real man to be able to admit that, love,” Reilly responded with a light hug around his shoulder.

Ducky grinned and laid his head on her shoulder as they headed for the house. “Aw gee, Reilly. Does this mean we’re going steady now?”

“Don’t push your luck, asshole.”

0o0o0


“Wait a minute! You mean he’s all metal underneath the skin?”

“Yeah, he’s a cyborg. Kinda like you, only more advanced.”

“Coooool.”

Hughes chuckled and took another sip of his beer. He and Reilly were sitting at the kitchen table enjoying the relative calm after the day’s excitement. He’d cleaned up; himself and the kitchen. Now he had less of the mad scientist about him and more of the old Maes Hughes. And the day hadn’t been a total loss. The latex was fine. In fact it was damn near perfect; in the way it was pieced together, the color, and even the formula. It was the adhesive they’d had a problem with. Hughes made a mental note to use less; and to only use it on the pieces of latex, rather than the automail.

Ed and Ducky were in the living room having a ‘Terminator’ marathon and for once they weren’t antagonizing each other.

Hughes could almost… almost… relax. If it weren’t for the fact that Reilly kept nervously peeking out the window. And the rather depressing news she had to give him.

“They probably won’t move right away,” she said. “But the account is frozen.” She stared down at her bottle, running her finger through the condensation. “The bank , said it was just a computer problem.”

“You don’t buy it?”

She glanced up. “Would you? Considering the circumstances?”

“So how much did you get?”

“About seventy-five.” She shrugged. “I suppose it’ll cover our asses for a little while.”

“’Our’? You mean you’ll run, too?”

“Can’t exactly send him on his way and pretend I don’t know anything.”

“So you’re prepared, right?” Hughes asked. “To run at a moment’s notice?”

She nodded and stared back down at the table. “Packed and ready. I even have all recorded evidence and my research burned to DVD.” She laughed once; a short, sad sound. “I even picked up a fairly good digicam a couple weeks ago.” A smirk tugged at her lips. “I’ve been driving Ed crazy with it, too.”

“I want a motorcycle like that.”

“Good luck finding one in your size.”

“WHO’RE YOU CALLING SO SMALL HE CAN ONLY RIDE A TRICYCLE?!”

“You, Terminator-boy,” Ducky said with a giggle that bordered on crazy.

Hughes tensed, waiting for the impending sounds of all-hell-breaking-loose; but it got very quiet suddenly. Which was more disturbing, in his opinion.

Then, very softly… very dangerously, he heard Ed say, “Keep it up asshole, and I’ll pin you down and go into the gory details of automail surgery.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Equivalent Exchange… Bitch.”

Hughes blinked, and stared over at Reilly. “I’m beginning to think this society is having a bad influence on him.”

Reilly just snickered.

“Yeah, but I’m your bitch…” Ducky said in his worst hick accent. “…and you sure got a purdy mouth.”

“You might wanna duck, Hughes,” Reilly said.

“No shit,” he said through his laughter.

“GAH! GET THE FUCK OFF ME YOU PSYCHO PERVERT!” Ed bellowed over Ducky’s insane cackling.

Reilly sighed. “I knew the cease-fire wouldn’t last.”

“You’d swear they were related,” Hughes said.

“Aww, I thought we really had something between us,” Ducky said with badly feigned heartbreak.

“STAY ON YOUR OWN SIDE OF THE COUCH, OR YOU’LL BE EATING AUTOMAIL, DAMNIT!”

Before there could be an explosion that would bring the house down around their ears, the phone rang in the living room.

“Phone!” Ducky called.

“No shit, noob! You’re closer, you get it,” Reilly said.

“Hey, I don’t live here,” he called back, but the ringing stopped. “Joe’s Wedding Chapel and Mortuary. You marry ‘em, we bury ‘em.”

“Coulda fooled me,” Reilly muttered.

0o0o0


Ducky recognized the voice on the other end of the line immediately; which was a good thing, because there was no way he was getting a word in edge-wise to ask until Heist ran out of steam. He rolled his eyes and sighed as she rattled on at about warp ten, running all her words together and never stopping for breath.

He knew this was going to take awhile and there was nothing he could do but wait patiently. He flopped down into the desk chair and shook the mouse to kill the screensaver; then he shouldered the phone and fired up the browser. He started at Google, typed in a couple of keywords, and began to pull up several pages of news stories. He quickly scanned through them; all of them different perspectives of the explosion that rocked the hospital in Wichita. There was a lot of speculation about what caused it. None of it based on hard facts. At least, not ‘hard facts’ per the definition of the major news sources. Of course, he wasn’t looking for logical explanations, either.

Ducky had years of experience and a lot of practice in picking out keywords when Heist was on a tear. Most of what she said he discarded instantly; but there were a few things that caught his attention. It was one of those things that led him to the blog someone had written concerning the explosion.

Or more appropriately, the aftermath and clean-up. He grinned hugely and snapped his fingers at Ed in an attempt to get his attention. The younger man just scowled at him, gave him a metal one-fingered salute, and went back to watching the movie.

Ducky growled low and yanked Reilly’s pillow out from behind him. He hurled it at Ed, smacking the boy in the face quite nicely.

“Hey!”

Ducky gestured for him to get his over to the computer, now. When Ed was looking over his shoulder, he pointed at the blog and highlighted a paragraph in particular. He watched as Ed scowled, then comprehension dawned.

At that point, Heist actually took a breath, and Ducky dove in before she could get started again. “Got it. You have a number for this guy?” He paused, nodding as she started rattling on again. “Wait… Okay, have him call my cell. I’m headed for home to pack now. You sure you can talk him into this? Sa-weet! Later, Gator.”

As soon as the call was disconnected, Ed blurted, “You found Al.”

“Maybe,” Ducky cautioned as he got up. He noticed that Hughes and Reilly were both in the living room now, anticipation as plain on their faces as it was on Ed’s. “Got a lead, and maybe a job. That explosion at the hospital screwed the computer system up, and they’ve contracted a friend of Heist’s to go in and do a recovery.”

“So you’re headed to Wichita?” Reilly asked.

Ducky nodded as he collected his tools and laptop. “She said she can talk him into bringing me in for the duration. That’ll get me inside and maybe then I can confirm if Al’s there.”

“So how long are you going to be gone?” Hughes asked.

Ducky shouldered the case and dug in his pocket for his keys. “Two weeks at the minimum. Could be a month or more.”

“A month?!” Ed said with about as much dismay in his voice as Ducky had ever heard. He could see the younger man’s distress and genuinely felt for him. This waiting is killing him, he thought.

He rested a hand on Ed’s shoulder. “Sorry, Dude. I can’t walk out in the middle of the job. It’d raise too much suspicion. I’ll keep in contact, though. I promise.”

With that, he sketched a sloppy salute and headed out.
 
 
 
 
 
 
"The bank , said it was just a computer problem."

no comma after bank.



"Equivalent Exchange… Bitch."
hhahah is that totli a reference to VGCats??
VGCats, the "real" Ducky, Comments hurled back and forth over IM amongst the three of us.... ^^;;
(be forewarned, the weird moooooooood continues...)

First paragraph, not just a line: She never showed anything in her face; and while she wasn’t exactly winning, she wasn’t losing, either. Oy with the semi-colons! Two things: either keep it and ditch the "and" following it, or drop the semi-colon and replace it with a comma.

Fifth paragraph down: "I really should apologize he thought." *GASP* Missing comma! Comma should be between "apologize" and "he".

When Ducky walks in to Maes trying to fix Ed's arm: Gears and bearings and wires and other bits and pieces that were not immediately identifiable were spread out on newspaper all over the table; and all of it was covered with a smelly, sticky, gooey mess that may or may not have been latex. You know the drill with the semi-colon...*wink*

Further down in the same section: Ducky didn’t even want to attempt to contemplate just how much adhesive was used; but watching Hughes stab at the parts still glued inside was becoming painful. semi-colon good, "but" bad. The but must die!

Further down, same section, Ducky talking to Maes: “Reilly’s got at least one galvanized bucket in the shed; and considering what a space cadet she can be, I’ll bet you good money she has two." semi-colon good, "and" bad. Kill the ands with the buts, have grammar goulosh!

First sentence in the section right after Ducky faints for the first time: The first thing Ducky thought when he opened his eyes again, was that Reilly seriously needed to paint her ceiling. Two ways to play this with the commas: either add a second comma between "thought" and "when", or drop the first comma altogether.

First paragraph when Ducky and Ed are watching "Terminator", from Maes' p.o.v.: gaaaaaak, semi-colons have multiplied!
-First one: He’d cleaned up; himself and the kitchen. Possibly change to "He'd cleaned up, both himself and the kitchen."
-Second one: In fact it was damn near perfect; in the way it was pieced together, the color, and even the formula. Replace semi-colon with a *gasp* dash, aka: "In fact it was damn near perfect - the way it was pieced together, the color, and even the formula.
-Third one: Hughes made a mental note to use less; and to only use it on the pieces of latex, rather than the automail. Drop the s-c completely, no need for punctuation at that point.

sannask pointed this sentence out (when Maes and Reilly are talking): “The bank , said it was just a computer problem.” Drop the comma and make sure spacing is correct.

A few lines down: She laughed once; a short, sad sound. *pets the pretty semi-colon, loves the pretty semi-colon* Nothing wrong, just liked the pretty sentence.

Third paragraph down, when Ducky's on the phone with Heist: Most of what she said he discarded instantly; but there were a few things that caught his attention. replace the semi-colon with a comma. Seize the semi-colon! Throttle it's kewtness! Mwhahaha!




Things that I want to hug, squeeze and call George:

At the thought of Roy, Hughes felt his heart ache and his good mood started to slip away. aaawwwww....*pout*

MAES!!NNNOOOOOOOOO!!!! Don't pull away from Reilly! Damnit! *angrypout*

The whole kissing scene - priceless. Reilly and Maes sharing a look, knowing what the other's thinking, but neither ready to do anything about it. *angstysigh*

Ducky using the phrase "Dear Goddess!" teehee, he sounds like...me...? Don't know if I should admit a resemblance to Ducky or not (btw, I *always* think of Jon Crier when I hear the name Ducky, that's what being born in the late 70's will do to you!)

Ducky's fainting spells.

DUCKY FOUND AL! Or...wait...HEIST FOUND AL! *dances*
Hell, so much of this gets written out of sequence and has to be saved until we can use it, it isn't even funny. Just wait until Arc Two. buahahahahahahaha

If the idea of no Hughes smex with Reilly pisses you off now... wait until next chapter (It's almost done... really!)

Keep in mind Reilly's little "talents", too. The mentioning of it isn't all that in your face, because the "talent" isn't all in your face. ;)

Ducky/Goddess... Ducky is a Pagan. ;)

When we worked out character profiles, religion was also included, but not alot has been made of any of it, except for Reilly.

*snerks* Ducky is certainly not Doctor material, is he? ^^;;
If the idea of no Hughes smex with Reilly pisses you off now... wait until next chapter (It's almost done... really!)

LOL! I want 'em together because I looooove both charachters and they both deserve to have orgasms not caused by themselves! Plus, I've had a crush on Maes since he first showed up in the anime. Green eyes, glasses, hint of stubble...yum.

And, oh yeah, I would NOT underestimate Reilly and her powers. The fact that she not only recognizes Shadows but has dealt with them for what seems like a number of years shows amazing strength and power. I'm very lucky; my house and property are clean, no spooks or shadows here.

Yay for Pagans! *happynakedwitchdance*
Got my glasses back today and suddenly I can see ... everything. Which for some reason translates into a boatload of comments on a chapter that I enjoyed very much. Ahoy!

“It’s… green,” he said when he saw the guacamole. Apparently that didn’t phase him as much as he let on, because he put most of it away by himself.

One of my favorite lines from ST:TNG (right up there with "Good tea. Nice house." :-) But "phase" should be "faze" (from Middle English "fesen", to drive away, and no relation to Greek "phainein", to show. Yes, I'm a language geek.).

The group was now quite a bit more mellow in comparison to earlier. Not that it was saying much.

Awkward phrasing, this; possibly better as something like: "The group had mellowed since the drama of the water fight -- although not by much."

The only one around here who never seemed to bristle for any reason, was Tom. Nothing seemed to rattle the man, nor did anything ever seem to piss him off.

Too many seems.

He caught her glance his way, and noticed her face was still flushed.

That's one long flush, since our last time point for it was around sunset and it's now nearly midnight. I suspect Reilly is flushing "again" rather than "still".

He honestly didn’t deliberately leer down at her chest earlier ...

Tense consistency: "hadn't leered". I'm also not sure that "honestly" and "deliberately" aren't too much for this sentence. They certainly would be if it were narrative, but I ride more lightly over syntax oddities when they're closer to internal monologue. People don't always use English as she ought be gespoke.

At least he hoped she hadn’t; but that could be the only explanation he could come up with why she seemed so nervous and embarrassed whenever their eyes met. Well, he corrected himself, there is another reason.

Tense and mood consistency problems here. I'd emend to: "At least, he hoped she hadn't, but that was the obvious explanation why she seemed so nervous and embarrassed whenever their eyes met. Well, he corrected himself, there could be another reason. That would be the same one ... "

Except he knew she wouldn’t be having the same battle of conscience he was.

Good repetition of same from the previous sentence (I don't always object!). Also a nice move to have the entire interior argument in the second person: different parts of Hughes's head speak to his ego, which remains silent for the moment, not yet reconciling these conflicting impulses into a stance for the "I" of him.

“Nice hand,” Ed said, but his smile was showing a bit of fang.

Watch the fangs; this is a strong enough idiom to stand out as repetitive when many different people use it, particularly people from backgrounds as different as Ray's and Hughes's.

Reilly’s coughing fit suddenly became more violent and Hughes worried she was about to hack up a lung. He was also worried about the possible fall-out and moved his seat back further. / Ed jerked his wrist free of Ducky’s grip and looked highly offended.

A bit seems to be missing between these paragraphs to justify Ed looking offended now, rather than back at his line about being accused of cheating. Probably what happens is that Ducky says something else; maybe his "You tell me" line actually occurs here?

Ducky stared down at the cards in shock for a moment, then picked one up.

Shock seems out of place; he's already suspicious. I'd just have him stare down at the cards and let the reader infer his state of mind.

Ducky stared after him in stunned silence, then he blinked and vaulted over the table, scattering chips, cards and drinks all over the place.

One too many "stare"s at this point; also two "over"s in the same sentence. I'd emend to, "After a moment of stunned silence, Ducky blinked and vaulted over the table, scattering chips, cards and drinks everywhere."

Further comments below ...
Without thinking about it, he’d just laid a hand on the frame right over her shoulder, and he was suddenly very aware of the closeness. He glanced down, caught her giving him a knowing look, and felt his face get very warm. He jerked his hand back as if the doorframe was suddenly on fire and started to stammer an apology, but her smirk stopped him.

Tense consistency, again, and some awkwardness in the prose, possibly emendable to: "Without thinking about it, he laid a hand on the frame just above her shoulder and glanced down. Reilly returned him a knowing look and Hughes suddenly became very aware of their closeness. He jerked his hand back and started to stammer an apology ... " Caveat: I'm very much a less-is-more person when it comes to writing romance; it helps to keep the clichés to a minimum when one has to consider the value of every word.

Damnit, why the hell did she suddenly look so cute?

Possible tense consistency problem: italics indicate internal monologue, which would be in the present tense (why does she look so cute? ), but you can leave it as is if you take the italics out -- feelings reported in the narrative present get the simple past.

Hughes found himself leaning against the counter right next to her. He hadn’t even thought about it, but his body moved all on its own. Somehow, it felt just fine to him. He took a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling. He realized that there were a lot of things that were starting to feel ‘right’ lately.

Again, I'm leaning a little harder on the prose here. Hughes's lack of thought is verbally repetitive with the previous moment at the doorframe (it's a psychologically valid point; it just needs to be written differently); conversely, is "right" in the final sentence a typo for a parallel "fine" (or vice versa)? Possible emendations: "Hughes found himself leaning against the counter next to her; somehow, that felt just fine/right. He took a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling, realizing that a lot of things were starting to feel 'fine/right' lately."

[Normalcy is overrated.]

Good dialogue here, neatly interspersed with noises off. I'm also a delighted spectator of any argument between Ed and Ducky. :-)

He crossed his arms and just stared down at the floor for a bit. Then he felt a warm hand on his arm. He looked up to see Reilly much closer and giving him a look of such compassion and understanding it seemed to make him hurt all the more.

"Stare" is getting a workout this chapter; also "just" as a modifier -- the usual caution applies. "Much closer" is a little vague; I'd prefer to see Reilly in motion here: first Hughes feels the hand on his arm, then he looks up, then she slips closer (hips just touching, maybe?) while regarding him compassionately. (Watch the repetitive "look", btw.)

He nodded, unable to find his voice at that moment.

I'd delete "at that moment" as unnecessary.

He could never go back. There wasn’t a way for him to go back.

I might emend the second sentence to "There was no way back" to keep more of a hammerblow rhythm going, before the meter relaxes as Hughes considers the positives.

But he had Ed here, and Al was out there, somewhere. And Reilly was right here, and she was warm, and cute, and it felt so natural to just bring his arm up and wrap it around her shoulder, and pull her into an embrace …

The "here"s get a little repetitive; I'm sorry to lose the second one, but I think it's more easily emendable than the first (the contrast of Ed/here and Al/there is too useful). "Beside him" or "with him"? (Because I really want the last sentence to end "... and she was warm, and cute, and just the right height for him to wrap an arm around her shoulders and pull her into an embrace ... " in order to make a triad of predicate descriptors. YMMV on that, though.)

... after what seemed an eternity of conflicting feelings surging through him ...

"Eternity" is automatically a cliché in romantic situations. Think hard before you use it. :-)

More comments below ...
A Santa Maria's worth of comments ...

He gave her an apologetic look and shook his head.

I'm going to stop line-by-line-ing here and just mention that there's a fair amount of word-repetition in the next couple of paragraphs, as well as some excess modification, all of which is obvious matter for editing in the next draft. I'll close by saying that I like what's to do in this scene, particularly the way Reilly gives Hughes his out and his response; it's only the phrasing that's flabby. You've managed to make me root for this relationship right from the start: I like both of these characters and they seem well-matched. (Unfortunately, I suspect that such rooting is a doomed enterprise, but I'm interested to see whatever happens to Hughes/Reilly.)

[Reilly's "research"]

Lovely mood break: very amusing!

Reilly was the mischievous calm in the center of a raging Ed-storm, and it looked like Ducky was the sole victim as he leaned slumped against the doorframe with a most befuddled and happy look on his face.

I'd prefer to make the two sentences structurally more parallel, like this: "Reilly was the mischievous calm in the center of a raging Ed-storm, while Ducky slumped against the doorframe ... " (Ducky's response to being kissed by Reilly is a hoot, btw; and Hughes's shift to his professional hat as he maintains his interest in Reilly is a nice psychological touch.)

Ducky heard the two of them arguing before he’d even opened the front door; and between the shouting and the smell, he knew that there had been another failed latex experiment.

Good set of scenes. I like seeing Ducky in the spotlight: you give us exposition-that-doesn't-sound-expositive about his talents (which will certainly get a workout in the raid to come) and also some logical development to his relationship with Ed (which is very good prep in light of other upcoming events). Not forgetting, of course, that all of this rounds out Ducky as a character himself, beyond being just "the hacker dude". Well done.

Ducky was brought up short at the sight of Hughes bent over Ed’s automail arm; which was not only no longer attached to Ed, but the forearm was opened up and laying in pieces all over the table.

The "which" clause really needs to be its own sentence: "Not only was it no longer attached to Ed, but the forearm had been opened up and pieces of it lay all over the table." (Watch for two repetitions of "all over the table" in the next paragraphs.)

... the tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth in his intent concentration.

Concentration implies intentness; delete modifier.

The bright sunlight and gentle, fragrant breezes filtering through the cheerful yellow curtains had no business being paired with the Shelleyesque madman hunched over what equated to being a disassembled human limb at a very innocuous kitchen table in the middle of North America.

I'd emend to "hunched over the equivalent of a disassembled human limb" and delete what follows, since it dilutes the strong contrast with the first part of the sentence.

Ducky didn’t even want to attempt to contemplate just how much adhesive was used ...

Tense consistency: "had been used".

[Ducky takes charge]

Good stuff, this, as I said above. I just figured I should reiterate it after all the prose-whacking I've been doing.

It was harder to digest now that he could see how the limbs were actually wired.

"Digest" may not be exactly right. Given that we've just heard how Ducky tries not to think about Ed's prostheses, "harder to ignore" may be what's actually meant. His following comments about Ed's anatomy are well-taken, however: it's useful for the reader to get a visceral sense of what automail involves.

Still more comments ...
Yo-ho-ho and the last few comments:

"Heh." ... Ed smirked.

I'd be inclined to take the smirk and chuckle out of Ed's dialogue and let him deal with Ducky straight, because I see this exchange as a shift in their relationship. Ducky has proven himself to Ed, moving from goofball-with-weird-skills to something more like engineer-I-can-deal-with, so Ed reciprocates with technical exposition that's also a personal revelation of sorts (the clothing thing again: Ed has a lot to hide under his clothes, both physically and psychologically, so when he takes them off and lets people see his body, it's a more significant gesture for him than it would be for someone else). In the same vein, I'd also like to see Ed offer Ducky some kind of apology prior to Ducky's comment about being his mother's biggest disappointment; Hughes's dialogue and Ed's walk down the hall appear to me to be setting up for it, and then it doesn't happen.

He looked up when he heard him stop at the entrance to the living room.

All the pronouns in this sentence get confusing; at least one of them should be replaced by its referent.

[Reilly and Ducky]

This coda to the previous scene works very well to round things off, as well as providing us with the amusing "Are we going steady?/Don't push your luck" moment.

“I’ve been driving Ed crazy with it, too.” / “I want a motorcycle like that.”

The transition back to the living room's dialogue doesn't quite work for me here; I'd like to have it tagged somehow (maybe with a sentence prior to Ed's remark about the noise of the movie).

“You’d swear they were related,” Hughes said.

Boy, would I ever. Just when you think Ed might have gotten the upper hand of Ducky at last, Ducky turns the tables right back 'round on him. Beautiful.

Ducky gestured for him to get his over to the computer, now.

I realize that "his" could stand on its own in this context, but there has been the occasional eyeskip error in these transcriptions, so I ask: is "ass" missing?

He could see the younger man’s distress and genuinely felt for him. This waiting is killing him, he thought. / He rested a hand on Ed’s shoulder.

More payoff from the development of Ed and Ducky's relationship, this time from Ducky's POV. Good.

Enough comments to sink the Bismarck (although that's not how they did it, according to C.S. Forester). Hope some of 'em can be retained as ballast after you've heaved the rest over the side.

Peace,
Liz
LOL! Ducky seems to be a very popular character (Which will tickle the -real- version no end). And the dynamics between the two just... work. They practically write themselves ^^;; (and future plans for those two will be... interesting)

And another HughesxReilly shipper! ^^;; Maybe the smex scene I'm writing just for
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LOL! Ducky seems to be a very popular character (Which will tickle the -real- version no end). And the dynamics between the two just... work. They practically write themselves ^^;; (and future plans for those two will be... interesting)

And another HughesxReilly shipper! ^^;; Maybe the smex scene I'm writing just for <lj-user="fictionalizedme"> will get posted in the "maintenance" journal ^^ (Just because she asked so nicely)

Question: Do you want me to send the revisions to you via email when we get them done?
LOL! Ducky seems to be a very popular character (Which will tickle the -real- version no end). And the dynamics between the two just... work. They practically write themselves ^^;; (and future plans for those two will be... interesting)

I have my own suspicions, based on throwaway comments here and there, but they involve a development/surprise I'm not sure you're planning. (Or that would actually work.)

And another HughesxReilly shipper! ^^;;

I enjoy a good romantic subplot (romantic main plots don't hold me as well -- I keep wanting the characters to go out and do something important, like defeat the bad guys or save the world, unless they're in a Georgette Heyer novel), particularly when the female lead is a strong character and there's a certain amount of Beatrice-and-Benedick-ing to the relationship. Have you read Emma Bull's War for the Oaks? The hero gets one of the best serious confessional moments I've ever read: the language, the imagery, the psychology -- it's all just right. I'm holding out for an SO who'll say something like that to me one day. :-) (That is, if I don't get the opportunity to pull an Ekaterin-in-the-gallery: "So much for that line of reasoning, Lord Richars. Twit.")

Question: Do you want me to send the revisions to you via email when we get them done?

As long as you think my criticism is going to do them any good, sure. I'd just ask that you hold off until I'm caught up with what's posted to the site. I'd like to finish reading forward before I head back -- it helps to have the context.

Peace,
Liz