"Dad, but you're... you're dead!" Tim protested. "Oh God, that must mean..." he trailed off, eyes wide.
"I just told you, don't be stupid boy," the long dead man said with a smile. "If you were dead, do you think they'd be talking about a coma?" Dad waved his hand, and the darkness parted enough for Tim to see Doctor Parish talking to someone he didn't know.
"But if I'm not dead, I mean... what are you doing here?" Tim asked, confused.
Dad sighed. "That's not really what I'm here to talk about."
"Then what are you here to talk about?" Tim asked. "My health?"
"I never really had a chance to get to know my grandson," Dad said, "and it's about to get worse. I'm here to prepare you for that."
"Prepare me? For what?" Tim was thoroughly confused by now.
"Walk with me, son," Dad ordered, and began moving into the darkness. Tim tried to follow, but no matter how fast he ran Dad just kept growing more distant. "Son, that's not working," Dad finally said, stopping. "You can't move like that. You have to put your will behind it."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Tim snarled.
"It means that 'here' isn't a physical place, and trying to move yourself physically is a great big waste of time," Dad snapped back. "Use your head! And I mean that both figuratively and literally. Think!"
"That's really useless," Tim whined. Dad stepped up close and glared into Tim's eyes.
"You really need to learn this," Dad warned him, "and you do not want me to teach it to you the other way. Now try!"
"Other way?" Tim asked, trying to step back.
"We aren't going to discuss that except as the option of last resort. If I do it that way, I'm not going to be able to do half of what I want to," Dad told him. "Now, stop trying to move and move!"
"Quoting the Matrix at me isn't going to help your case!" Tim snarled angrily. "What the hell do you want me to do?"
"I want you to stand up!" Dad snarled. "Stand up and take hold of your own destiny!"
Tim snapped and grabbed his father by the shirt. "What the fuck do you mean?" he shoved the man away angrily.
"Like that!" Dad snapped. "Do that again!"
"What, grab you by your shirt?" Tim asked, reaching out. Much to his surprise, his hands passed right through his father.
"I'm dead son; physical contact just doesn't bother me," Dad smiled. "You put your will behind it. Do that again, only use it to move."
"I don't..." Tim shook his head and tried to concentrate. This time when he tried to touch his dad, he felt it. A place in his mind where something wasn't quite right. He pushed at it, and almost managed to connect. When he reached out, it felt like he'd brushed by his father, rather than just waving his hands through thin air.
"We don't have a lot of time, Son, you need to move," Dad said urgently, looking off into the distance. "Move, move now!" he ordered. Tim tried, he pushed as hard as he could and suddenly he was flying. His feet were firmly planted on the ground, but he felt is as the world moved around him and suddenly he was... elsewhere. "Not quite where I had in mind, but it'll do," Dad said. "Look!"
Tim turned around and watched in awe as dark, pulsing red lines appeared out of nowhere off in the distance, back where he'd been. They wrapped around and around and twisted grotesquely, in a pattern that made Tim feel nauseous. Whatever they were, they were wrong. Evil.
"Another fraction of a second, and I would have just grabbed you," Dad sighed in relief. "If you'd gotten caught up in that..."
"What was that?" Tim asked, horrified.
"You really don't want to know," Dad told him. "Walk with me. There are some things you need to see."
"Dad, what is going on?" Tim asked, finally fed up. "This isn't exactly like any near death experience I've heard of!"
"That's because, unluckily for you, this isn't a near death experience," Dad sighed.
"Luckily, you mean, right?" Tim asked.
"Nope," Dad shook his head. "Walk with me."
"You're starting to scare me," Tim said nervously.
"You should be scared," Dad sighed, and then started walking. Tim followed, and the scenery flowed around them.
"What the..." Tim asked, shaking his head. Dad turned around and came back.
"Without your body, you don't have to travel linearly through space; you have the option of choosing a goal and simply moving right towards it," Dad explained. "Much quicker, but it can be a bit disorienting for those not used to it, like us."
"You seem to be handling well," Tim told him, stifling a gag reflex that he probably shouldn't have if he was out of his body.
"I've had the training I'm giving you already, that's all," Dad shook his head. "The person who trained me would already be there. Come on, things to do and not enough time to do them in."
"Could you please actually explain what's going on?" Tim griped.
"On the way," Dad told him. "Here we are..."
Eddie leaned back against his bed, thinking. Galen had pointed out a few options, but none of them were really any good. Oh, calling home was a good idea, and it meant waiting for a few minutes alone when he could get at a phone, but it wasn't really going to help him get even. The idea of calling CPS and making sure they were aware of the sexual harassment that had occurred at the airport was, again, a way towards get even with that idiot who sent them to the wrong hotel, on purpose.
Eddie figured he could manage both of those sometime soon. The call to CPS wouldn't even be difficult, because they happened to have a 1-800 number to call, and Galen had been nice enough to provide it. He'd even offered to provide it again when the time came, but he'd suggested writing it down in case he was 'busy' somewhere else. Calling home, now that would be difficult. It turned out he didn't need just any phone, as the RECC had anticipated the possibility that he might try to call home. They'd set up all the phones he was likely to be able to access to prevent long distance calls without a special code. The fact that they didn't want him calling home strongly suggested that he should, but they'd done a pretty good job at keeping him from doing so. He didn't have any change for a payphone, though that was something that he might be able to fix in time. And he couldn't really think of any other options. He'd joked with Galen about Galen 'stealing' the code, but apparently Galen wasn't allowed.
Eddie wished he could figure out the dividing line between 'allowed' and 'not allowed'; Galen was more than happy to provide phone numbers, but not the codes that would let him use them. Galen was more than willing to provide advice and some limited assistance, but he wouldn't even tell Eddie how his parents were doing! It was... frustrating.
Eddie frowned as someone knocked at the door. Just what he didn't need. <There's one thing I didn't mention earlier...> Galen broke in. <The boy is just about ripe if... well, lets just say that you could really rock the boat, a lot more than you think, if you talk to him some. Just talk.>
Eddie's eyebrow rose. <Oh?>
<Talk to him. You'll see,> Galen instructed, then fell silent. The slight 'presence' in Eddie's mind vanished, leaving him alone again.
"Enter!" Eddie said, raising his voice to be heard.
"Hello," Hector said softly, opening the door slowly. "My Mom told me to come up here, see if you wanted to play a game." He held up a couple of board games by way of explanation. "I haven't had a chance to play in a while, but... it might be fun.
Eddie smiled, almost against himself. "Yeah, I suppose... whatcha got?"
"May I come in?" Hector asked, still carefully on the other side of the door.
"Of course!" Eddie told him, laughing. "I just told you to!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch it," Hector said, frowning.
"Of course you did, I said I'd like to play some games!" Eddie laughed. There was no way Hector had missed that.
"Yes, but you didn't tell me I could come in," Hector smiled. "Can I put these on the bed?"
"Yes, of course- you need me to tell you that you can, don't you?" Eddie asked, suddenly understanding.
"Of course!" Hector responded, shocked. "It would be rude to just barge in and use your space!"
"Pity your dad doesn't know that," Eddie snorted.
Hector gasped and covered his mouth, dropping the games he was still holding. "What?" Eddie asked, surprised.
"You just... you..." Hector shook his head. "You just bad-mouthed an adult!"
"So? He isn't here to hear!" Eddie snorted. "And you're not going to tell him, are you?"
"I... I..." Hector shook his head. "How can you! That's sinful!"
"What's sinful?" Eddie asked. "I made a comment about you understanding something your father didn't, that's hardly sinful."
"But... but he's an adult!" Eddie protest. "And he's my father! Of course he's right!"
"What do you mean, of course he's right?" Eddie asked, confused.
"He's right," Hector answered simply. "As in, not wrong."
"So he doesn't make mistakes?" Eddie asked.
Hector frowned, confused for a moment. "He knows better than I do, always."
Eddie shook his head. "Does he make mistakes?" he asked again.
Hector looked at Eddie like he had grown a new head. "I don't... I..." his eyes grew distant. "I can't..."
"Have you ever seen him make a mistake? Turn left when he should have turned right?" Eddie tried. "Grabbed cabbage instead of lettuce at the store? Say something he didn't mean to?"
Hector's gaze grew thoughtful. "I don't... I don't think so... He and Mom are adults, it's not for me to question them!"
Eddie was starting to grow frustrated. He was beginning to understand what Galen had meant by rocking the boat here, but how he was going to do it... Suddenly he felt Galen's presence back in his mind. <You've planted seeds that might grow,> Galen told him. <Not much more you can do, except... hrm... One second.>
<One second?> Eddie asked, annoyed. <One second what?>
<Give me a moment!> Galen said, irritated. Eddie wasn't sure, but it almost felt like Galen was having some kind of conversation with someone else, a conversation Eddie couldn't quite hear. <Ask him about his parent's arguing, or disagreeing. It might help,> Galen suggested.
Hector was glaring angrily at Eddie by the time the side conversation had finished. "You're trying to turn me against my parents, aren't you?" he demanded.
"I'm just following up on something weird that you said," Eddie answered, somewhat honestly. "Now answer one more question. Have you ever seen your parents argue?"
Hector's mouth opened for a moment as if he was going to say something. He held that position for a moment before his mouth clicked shut. Staring at Eddie, he thought for a moment. "Yes," he admitted.
Eddie wasn't sure where to take it, and he paused for a moment to think. Hector took it as an invitation to continue. "When you got home, Dad wanted to talk to me..." the entire conversation came pouring out of Hector, complete with the confusion and angst he felt. And the key Eddie had been searching for.
Eddie understood exactly how to turn that key, too. "OK, I'm going to go down a chain of logic, stop me if I loose you," Eddie told Hector. Hector nodded, eager for anything to make the situation make sense. Eddie ticked his points off on his fingers, "Your parents were arguing. They believed two, different things. They can't both be right. Therefore, at least one of them has to be wrong."
Hector looked at him like he'd gone insane. "But they can't be wrong!" he protested.
Eddie opened his mouth to argue further, but some instinct prompted him otherwise. "Why don't you just think about it for a while?" he suggested. "For now, why don't we play one of these games?"
"Clever boy, Eddie," Tim whispered. If he'd had real eyes, he wouldn't be able to see through the tears in them.
"Very clever," Dad agreed. "If he keeps up like he's begun, Hector's programming will crack like an egg."
"Programming?" Tim asked.
"Hector's mother had a run in with a Guardian -- a very powerful Guardian, at that -- while she was pregnant. The Guardian was rather miffed over the entire situation, so he decided to teach her a lesson," Dad laughed. "What he didn't realize was that threat he was making was being made real. It was an accident, a 'random' alignment of energies that normally wouldn't have meant anything."
"What's with the finger quote thing?" Tim asked. "It wasn't random?"
"The Light has a habit of masking It's dealings as random chance," Dad shrugged. "This time, the mask was a bit thin if you ask me."
"OK, but what does that have to do with anything?" Tim asked.
"The threat was towards the unborn child," Dad explained. "I don't know the exact words, but the end result is that the boy is now destined to turn against his parents, one way or the other. To truly know right from wrong... and in that moment, turn on them."
"Ouch," Tim said, shocked. "I knew the Guardians played for keeps, but... ouch!"
"They turned it into self-fulfilling prophecy," Dad turned and started walking. "They decided that, to prevent the prophecy from ever coming true, they would raise their child 'in the Lord', and controlled his every movement, every thought. The older he grew, the more independence he craved, the more they controlled and punished him."
"Eventually, he was bound to rebel," Tim nodded in understanding. "Even without the curse, a boy will only take that for so long."
"In all likelihood, sometime in his late teens, the controls would have snapped," Dad nodded. "If they'd been just a bit more relaxed, they would have created the perfect little soldier for their little Army of God, but they went just an inch too far. Their pastor is actually quite upset, now that he's begun to understand the true depth of how controlling they're being. They might have actually let up on their own. But now... things have been set in that are motion beyond their understanding. Your presence here, now, isn't an accident."
"Somehow, that makes a certain degree of sense," Tim sighed. "I could have done without the coma, though. And why does God always need humans to do his work for him?"
"I never said that it was the Light -- that it was God -- who set things in motion," Dad said grimly. "The oath was most definitely the work of forces aligned with the Light, with good, but what's going on here..."
"I'm not going to like this, am I?" Tim asked.
"Nope," Dad shook his head. "The conversation we're about to have is why I had to get you away from that spell," he explained. "You need to know certain things. The rest of this, visiting my grandsons and seeing Frank-"
"Grandsons?" Tim asked, emphasizing the plural. "Grandsons?"
"Grandson," Dad corrected hastily, "I said grandson!"
"No," Tim shook his head, "you said grandsons. Plural. More than one."
"Nonsense," Dad evaded, "you only have the one child, and no siblings to give me others."
"Grandsons. Plural," Tim said flatly. "What are you hiding?"
Dad sighed. "Son, all will be made clear-"
"What," Tim said. His tone made it clear, he was giving an order.
"I'm not going to answer that," Dad said tersely, "but if you think about it, an answer presents itself. Not the details, not the journey -- and it is the journey that matters -- simply a part of the destination."
"We're going to adopt Hector," Tim said, shaking his head. "Why would we- How could we?"
"It won't be a legal adoption," Dad gave in. "Eventually, you'll just... take over as his parents."
"I see..." Tim said. "Care to give me any more information?"
"Yes," Dad said. "I need you to carry a few messages. That's why I couldn't let those spells wrap you up. The first set only locked you in sleep, which used to be enough. The... Acolytes of the Dark who are doing this didn't expect modern medicine to be able to detect the difference between sleep and comas. While a number of them are fairly young, the ones with real power are rather old, and don't always listen when they should to people who are more familiar with science. The second set of spells was a patch, to make it really look like a coma."
"Acolytes of the Dark," Tim said, working his jaw. "Do they have any relationship to the... what was the name of the group..."
"The Acolytes stood behind the uprising, but they stayed in the shadows. The Guardians never fought them. That was left for... others," Dad said uncomfortably. "This battle is an old one, going back thousands of years. We're in the endgame of this particular battle, the final tipping point towards Light or Dark as... certain events unfold."
"Endgame," Tim said. "This is the same fight. The Guardians never defeated their foes, did they?"
"The Guardians did what they were meant to do," Dad said firmly. "They shielded the Arch, and when the time came, they ended it. That's all they were meant for. That's why three of them just quit at the end. Only one more was needed. Just one."
"Wait, three? One more?" Tim asked, eyes growing wide. "Do you mean-?"
"Paul Koken is going to come have a talk with you," Dad told him, "and he's going to break the spells holding you. When that happens, you must give him a message. The rest of this conversation is going to be hazy and confusing, but you need to give him a message."
"What message?" Tim asked, as they finally reached their destination.
"The Dark is distracting him from the real fight at home; the newborn Saint must be protected, at any cost. At any cost! Even his own son, or my grandsons."
"You have to be kidding!" Tim said, aghast. "You'd just-"
"If Jeremy Young dies, they're dead too," Dad said, "and if he doesn't die... if he's turned... then death will be a mercy compared to what will happen. Remember: at any cost."
Suddenly Dad was gone, but that single message was burned into Tim's mind indelibly. At any cost.
"All rise," the bailiff intoned. The judge walked in and sat at the podium, not even bothering to glance over at Frank. The usual legal mumbo-jumbo proceeded as the court was called into session, the charges read, and motions asked for. John Murphy tried to have the judge recuse himself 'on the grounds of his religious beliefs preventing him from being impartial.' For his efforts, he was slapped with a hundred dollar fine for contempt of court. Next he tried having the charges, most of them, being dismissed as 'ludicrous on their face' and with 'insufficient evidence', earning another four hundred dollars in fines. Finally they moved on to bail.
"Frank Wallace possesses significant financial resources, and with no roots to this community is a strong flight risk," the prosecution argued. "Bail should be denied and he should be held until trial."
"Your Honor," John argued, "his husband-"
"Frank Wallace has no wife," the prosecutor interrupted, "and his so-called marriage is one of the charges. You can't argue that his spouse will hold him here!"
"He is legally married in the state of-" John began.
"You should know better, councilor," Hunt growled. "You will cease and desist attempting to insinuate that this man could possibly be married to another man in violation of the law of this land."
"There are cases before the Supreme Court already arguing this, Your Honor, and there is no doubt that law will be struck down," John argued.
"Again I am charging you with contempt of court, councilor," Hunt snarled, "another five hundred dollars worth!"
"On what grounds?" John asked.
"I've had it up to here with your deliberate disrespect of the law!" Hunt thundered, gesturing over his head. "The Marriage Protection Act has been signed into law to protect this great state and its constituents, and your deliberate efforts to undermine the fabric of our society is intolerable!"
"Your deliberate effort to criminalize normal behavior is beyond intolerable!" John snapped back quickly.
"Being a fag is hardly 'normal' behavior, and your effort to call it so just cost you another thousand dollars," Hunt said nastily. "Want to try for an even larger fine? His so-called marriage is out!"
"As, I suppose, is his adoption of-"
"You're honor, his supposed 'bond' to the boy in question is the very reason he's on trial in the first place," the prosecution broke in. "It is one of the reasons he is a flight risk!"
"Agreed. Bail is denied," Hunt said, slamming his gavel down. "Now, I understand this special session was brought because of some additional charges?"
"Your honor, the subject sneaked a knife into his cell and used it to brutally assault a fellow inmate," the prosecutor explained. "Because of this grievous violation-"
"Your Honor, the facts of who brought the knife to the fight are in question," John broke in. "My client has a black belt in martial arts, which he will freely admit to having used to defend himself against his cellmate when the man in question attacked him with the knife."
"You cannot expect this court to believe this man over this..." Hunt flipped through a folder. "Robert Fenster. Robert Fenster's credibility is far, far better even without the corroborating evidence from the guard," Hunt sneered. "What does the State want?"
"Permanent assignment to solitary confinement, pending the completion of trial, your honor," the prosecutor announced. "Thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling, individuals not yet convicted of crimes require a court's approval before they can be so reassigned."
"Motion carried," Hunt told him.
"I'm not even going to be given the chance to argue?" John asked. "Such punishment is cruel and inhumane, and hardly necessary when the jail in question-"
"There isn't anything you can say that can argue away the broken bones poor Mr. Fenster is going to be healing for the next several weeks," Hunt told him. "Now shut up."
"Then the fact that the camera was deliberately turned off by the staff has no bearing on the credibility of the guard in question?" John asked.
"I told you to shut up!" Hunt snarled. "Bailiff!"
"How about the fact that Fenster was placed in my client's cell when there were dozens of empty, available cells? How does that not stink of a deliberate setup?" John tried again.
"Bailiff, arrest that man!" Hunt thundered as the media in the back began to go crazy.
"This entire trial is a travesty of justice! My client was arrested on the flimsiest of grounds without a single shred of conclusive proof! Every so called piece of evidence can be easily explained and wouldn't hold up except in this deliberately crooked court!" John had turned and was talking to the media. "Look at the State's own information, it's all there if you dig!"
The bailiff finally managed to grab John Murphy and start dragging him off, while his assistants carefully 'escorted' a smiling Frank. "I thought the idea was to not tick them off," Frank asked when they were bundled into a cop car.
"The idea is you don't rock the boat," John explained. "Me? I get the media stirred up to a frenzy and gain national attention on this crock of shit."
"And I can't help?" Frank asked, faking a whine.
"Nope," John happily. "This is all me, and my family."
"Family?" Frank asked.
"My father is having a few issues with the people we think are behind this," John smiled. "They are going to learn, one way or the fucking other, that you do not mess with a Murphy, much less the family as a whole."
"People behind this?" Frank asked. "You traced them?"
"Not as individuals, but the RECC is all over this, and they actually tried to pump one of my Dad's clients for money using a rather shady..." John shook his head. "The bastards didn't leave fingerprints, or I'd call the feds that have already swarmed the local hospital and get them involved. Hell, since last night the military has been all over this area looking for God only knows what. I hear they actually tried to get a warrant against my Dad's client, God only knows why..."
Tim didn't know what prompted him. Perhaps some remnant of his Dad's visit, an instruction he hadn't heard but nonetheless obeyed. Maybe it was just pure instinct, a reflex. Or maybe he was just plain ticked and it looked like something he could do to screw someone -- anyone! -- over.
Regardless, when the black coil of energy streaked in from off in the distance, trying to reach either Frank or his lawyer, Tim stood up against it. Using his will he forged a blade of pure fire and sliced the coil into pieces. More came streaking in and Tim began to dance. He hadn't trained much with swords, but he didn't keep the sword. He reforged his will into a suit of armor that covered him, skin tight and gleaming with deadly fire. As the coils came in he danced with them like he would a foe in martial arts, grabbing them, blocking them, striking them. In this place skill wasn't important, it was will, and now that he'd grasped that he poured his will into the metaphor he desired. The coils of blackness changed, turning into black-masked ninjas that came rushing in to meet their demise. Their blows hammered uselessly against his armor, and his own blows shattered limbs and destroyed bodies.
Eventually Frank and his lawyer were split up, and Tim had to make a choice. For a few seconds he refused to make it, denying that he couldn't protect both, but then a trio of 'ninjas' distracted him long enough for a fourth to reach Frank. The ninja tried to strike at Frank, only to go flying backwards, body shattered, as Frank's soul responded violently. Frank was somehow protected, but Tim understood in an instant that his lawyer had no such protection. The protection his husband held came from who and what he was, from some deep fundamental layer of his husband's being, and the lawyer just didn't have it.
Tim could watch over his husband, but he could do his husband no good. His husband was even stronger than Tim was, and more than capable of protecting himself, even against these threats. It was the lawyer, Tim understood, that was the key. The lawyer couldn't protect himself from these attacks, and these attacks were meant to open up Frank's defenses in the real world, where Tim couldn't act.
Tim shifted to place himself squarely between the lawyer and the oncoming horde, who were already shifting to squarely attack the lawyer. Frank had always simply been a diversion for them; someone a little too close to the target. The lawyer... they wanted the lawyer in their control.
Instead, they faced Tim, tireless Tim who their masters had stripped of his body, freeing him to engage them on a completely different plane.
The acolyte could have cursed. He had corrected his master's mistake, changing Tim's enforced sleep into something the doctors would recognize as a coma. But now he couldn't seem to reconnect to the damned lawyer's mind; something was blocking him. He was already locked out of the one man's mind -- why, his masters had never deigned to explain -- but the lawyer should have been wide open to him. Paul hadn't even heard about the second plan, not yet. And this wasn't the Light; he knew the taste of the Light, and how to skirt around it's protections it placed on those it deemed worthy. This was something different, something mortal.
His masters were not going to be happy, not at all. This just didn't make any sense! If someone from the Council of the Light was aware of what was going on, they wouldn't bother simply defending, they'd hunt the Dark down with murder in their hearts. If Paul knew what was going on... but he didn't! And no one else had the power, not anymore, to oppose them. Hell, the block -- whatever it was -- didn't taste like either arcane magic, or Light-driven magic. It certainly wasn't Dark-driven, either, which left... nothing. Paul was the only remaining person with the power of the mystic, and this didn't feel anything like what the mystic arts were usually described as. It was possible that the acolyte had simply misunderstood those descriptions, and this really was the mystic he was sensing. He'd never actually faced the mystic before, after all. But... he'd studied every account, every scrap of info to be gleaned. This wasn't mystic, he would -- he was! -- staking his life on it. So what in the name of the Dark was going on?