black_cigarette (black_cigarette) wrote,

Aftershocks 38.1: The Green Fuse

TITLE: Aftershocks: A Story in Shattered Pieces
SUMMARY: "And that's why it's a bond that can never, ever be broken."
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: Details the aftermath of events in Bad Company, a rough, violent story. Aftermath isn't always pretty; may distress some readers. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: The pieces of this shattered story are numbered. The first number signifies the number of days that have elapsed since the original event in Bad Company; the second number signifies when the fic occurs during that day.

The Green Fuse

Martin takes his usual seat at La Belle Aurore and looks around. The little cafe is virtually deserted at this odd hour between lunch and dinner, so he settles deeper into the plush velvet armchair by the front window and smiles at Marla, who smiles back as she approaches.

"The usual?" The usual is Papua New Guinea coffee, fresh, mellow and black.

"Naturally." He removes his hat and places it alongside his book, on the small table in front of him.

The early evening sunlight is turning the tops of the buildings orange and gold, and throwing the entry to Greg's place into purplish shadows. Incredible how easy it's been for Martin to sit right here, in plain sight just two doors down, across the street. For almost two weeks now he has come here to sip coffee, read, and observe. If only life were always this pleasant.

He smiles a little at the sight of the workmen, their ladders propped against the side of Greg's apartment, their tools scattered around on the sidewalk. It looks like they've almost finished installing security bars on the windows.

It doesn't require too much deductive reasoning to know that it's his little joke, two days ago, that prompted this defensive measure.

He'd sat in this very spot, watching it unfold ...

Forty-Eight Hours Previously

Greg should be home any time now.

He's pleased with his latest gambit. The appearance of the newspaper in Greg's apartment had quite an effect; he'd walked away, smiling, at the sound of crashing objects, of panic. It's been almost an hour since then, and he's spent most of that time in the little bookstore adjacent to the cafe, browsing -- and watching through the windows.

He'd walked out today with an antique first edition of the writings of Marcus Aurelius. He pulls the slim volume from his coat pocket and inhales that divine scent of old paper, worn leather, and fresh coffee. Marla appears with a mug in hand, setting it gently before him.

"Thank you, my dear."

He opens the book and leafs through the first few pages, then forges ahead, scanning sentences at random. The words of the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher seem to leap off the yellowed paper.

Be content to seem what you really are.

Death is a release from the impressions of the senses, and from desires that make us their puppets, and from the vagaries of the mind, and from the hard service of the flesh.

Life is neither good nor evil, but only a place for good and evil.

He takes a sip of coffee and hisses softly at the heat.

From across the street, the roar of a motorbike announces that Greg has come home.

Martin takes another sip and continues to read, glancing up from time to time.

He notes the arrival of someone else -- a young man, blond hair, and after a moment he puts a name to the face.

Robert Chase.

And now ... what's this? Greg is leaving -- carrying a bag which he straps to his bike.

His body language is angry, dejected, stiff. Frightened.

Instinctively, Martin starts to rise from his seat, and it's at that moment that his cell phone rings.


It's Jenny, Mr. Reno's secretary, with the itinerary of his next business trip. Martin takes abbreviated notes on a convenient napkin.

l'Espace Affaires
5:40 pm AR

By the time he ends the call and clicks the phone shut, Greg is gone.

He sighs and pushes up his cuff to check his watch, then stops. Peeking out from under the leather strap of his Raymond Weil is the telltale white thread of a very old, almost invisible scar on the inside of his wrist. Martin stares at it, swept back by the clarity of an unexpected memory.

It was the summer they met, when he gave Greg the microscope.

Greg was twelve, Martin seventeen, and the boy had been so excited over the gift. The microscope, all sleek and burnished metal and glass, with small knurled knobs for inquisitive young fingers, had been Martin's when he was Greg's age.

They'd taken it outside, into the morning sunlight. Greg had lifted it, carefully, almost reverently from its wooden case and had set it gently on a large flat rock near the pond. Insects had been buzzing, and birds singing ...

Thirty-Five Years Ago

The first object they look at is a blade of grass; Martin shows Greg how to flatten it out on the glass slide and place the slide on the stage. How to tilt the small round mirror at the 'scope's base so that it catches the light and redirects it upwards, through the slide, the grass, and up the objective lens all the way to the eyepiece, where the green blade explodes in the boy's eye like a tiny emerald universe of chlorophyll and ribosomes.

The boy looks up, his face radiant with wonder.

"Mitrochondrion," Martin says. "Golgi bodies. And that's just in a plant. There's a whole world out there to explore, just waiting. And you can see it all."

After that Greg is unstoppable -- they examine an oak leaf, a blue jay's feather, the desiccated wing of a dead butterfly (the iridescent powder rubs off on their fingers like glittering fairy dust). A hair from Mrs. Tabatchnik's yappy little dog next door goes under the lens, then a hair from Greg's head, and one from Martin's.

At last Martin fetches a cup of water from the pond and uses his fingers to plop a fat droplet onto a slide. He flattens it out with a coverslip and clips the slide onto the stage. Putting his eye to the ocular lens, he adjusts the magnification until ... there, and the tiniest live creatures in the pond pop into view.

He turns his head, smiles at Greg. "Want to see something really cool?"


The boy looks, and stays looking for a long time. Martin knows what he's seeing -- nematodes and amoebas, diatoms and water bears. Mites of life, teeming in a drop of water.

At last Greg leans back.

"This is the best present in the whole world," he says, as if to himself.

And that, Martin remembers, was when it had all changed.

Martin frowns; the boy suddenly won't meet his eyes, and just a moment ago he'd been so taken with the gift ...

"Hey," Martin says softly. "What's wrong?"

Still the boy won't look at him, but after a moment he answers.

"I wish you were my real brother," he says.

Martin sits back. The sun is warm on his shoulders and the light reflects in dazzling splinters off the surface of the pond. For one of the very few times in his young life, he's at a loss as to what to say or do. Greg is hunched into himself, tracing a forefinger over one of the stage clips holding the slide in place, and with a burst of utter clarity Martin knows exactly what comes next.

"We can be ... in a way," he says, and there, the boy is looking at him again, those blue eyes wide with curiosity.


Martin pretends to scratch at his head, as if he's having second thoughts. "It might hurt a little bit."

Greg straightens. He's out of his hunch, his skinny shoulders back.

"I'm not afraid."

An oddly warm feeling suffuses Martin's chest.

"Brave boy," he says, and hides a smile as Greg's face flushes with pride. He straightens out of his own crouch so that he can tug his jackknife from his jeans pocket.

The boy's eyes widen as he watches Martin snap the small knife open.

"Remember in those books I gave you -- Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the Knights of the Round Table, Odin and Loki, how they were all connected, bound together even though they weren't born as family?"

Greg nods. His eyes are still fixed on the gleaming silver blade.

"They all had one thing in common, Greg. They were blood brothers." He moves the knife, just a little, so that the sunlight dances along the blade. "They mingled their blood and swore an oath that would last forever." Martin leans forward and whispers, as if imparting a great secret. "Even beyond death."

"Wow," Greg breathes.

Martin nods solemnly. "Wow."

"And ... it's better than being ... sibling brothers because ... "

Martin is silent, letting Greg work it out on his own.

"... because it's us choosing. To be brothers." The boy is practically wriggling now in his excitement. "That's it, isn't it, Martin? It's better, because it's out of our own free will, and not something we were born with!"

"That's right," Martin agrees. "And that's why it's a bond that can never, ever be broken."

"Wow," Greg says again, and chews at his bottom lip for a moment. When he looks at Martin again his eyes are clear and resolute.

"I want to do this," he says.

Martin snaps the knife shut, snaps it open again. The boy doesn't flinch at the sound.

"You're sure? Your mom might ask questions."

Greg shakes his head. "I'll just put a Band-Aid over it. She never notices anything anyway."

Martin doesn't contradict the boy. It's the truth. "All right, then," he says, and, gesturing for Greg to follow suit, arranges himself on his knees. He fishes his lighter from his pocket and flicks the sparkwheel, applying the flame to the tip of the knife. In seconds the tip is blackened, glowing faintly like a fragment of charcoal. Martin shuts the lighter and slips it back into his jeans. He holds up his left wrist, shows it to Greg. The boy swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat, then holds out his own left arm.

The cuts are small, hardly more than deep scratches, but the blood welling from them is more than enough for the intended purpose.

Martin presses their wrists together, holding them tight with his right hand.

The boy's face is pale, but he didn't cry out when Martin cut him, and for that Martin feels another surge of warmth in his chest.

The sun is very bright now, directly overhead, and the youth and the boy cast no shadows.

"Blood brothers," Martin says softly. "Now and forever."

"Blood brothers," the boy echoes, and after a moment Martin releases their wrists. Greg stares at his own wrist, smeared crimson. He seems slightly dazed.

Martin busies himself by wiping his knife clean with a tissue from the microscope supplies, giving the boy time to recover.

And because he's not watching, not paying attention, he's taken completely by surprise when the boy's arms come around his ribs, squeezing tight in a fierce hug.

"Oof," Martin grunts, and looks down in bewilderment. What's he supposed to do?

"Hey," he tries, but Greg doesn't move. If anything, his arms tighten a bit more. Finally Martin puzzles it out, and, cautiously, he lays his own right arm across the boy's gawky shoulders. That seems to do the trick; the boy's grip loosens and Martin gently untangles himself.

"Look," he says. Greg looks up at him; his eyes are shining and Martin is nervous that he can't read the expression in them. "Look -- I'll show you something a lot more interesting than pond water."

He takes Greg's wrist; a few tiny droplets of blood are still bright against the tan flesh, and Martin picks up a clean slide and touches it to one of the drops.

"Here's what's inside of you," he says, placing a coverslip over the droplet. It spreads out immediately, a tiny red film.

"What's inside all of us."

Martin puts down a twenty for the waitress.

He's got to leave on Sunday morning, and that means he needs to leave Princeton now in order to be ready.

Business must come first. He could've taken the man that day, instead of just pushing a newspaper through the slot. He'd thought of it, but he had known it would be unwise. Dr. Wilson would have been a feast, a whole spread of secrets, of strength and fear -- far too sumptuous to have been abandoned after sampling only a little. It had taken all Martin's considerable restraint the first time, to hold himself back from savoring every twitch and shudder, every tear, every drop of blood until there was nothing left but scraps.

If Martin took hold of James Wilson again, he would not leave the table until the man was dead.

His body would never be found, of course, but the story -- the disappearance of the courageous Head of Oncology who'd previously battled his way back from the brink of death (Martin could hear Wolf Blitzer even now) would inevitably make headlines.

Georgie Reno would find out.

Employers don't care for contractors who go on personal vendettas. It's too risky to hire them; one never knows when their emotions will cloud their judgment. It's fun to tinker with Greg, to pull certain strings and watch him move around. But no one is worth the loss of Martin's carefully cultivated reputation. No one. Not even little Sherlock.

Martin stretches, and for just a moment he seems to hear the splash of water, the buzzing of insects in the grass, birdsongs.

He rubs at his wrist absently and wonders if Greg ever looks at his own tiny, faded scar. It's really a shame he won't be able to ask him. He'd watched yesterday, as Greg had returned home, shoulders slumped, looking, if anything, more hangdog and desolate than when he'd left.

He'd had every appearance of a man walking towards his own execution, and Martin had waited, eagerly, to see what happened. When Dr. Chase had left, he'd had every expectation of Greg following, kicked, once and for all, out of his own treehouse.

Let's see how Greg likes it.

But he'd waited, and sipped his coffee, and waited some more ...

And nothing had happened, and at last Martin had reluctantly taken his leave, still puzzling out what he had seen, and more importantly, what he hadn't.

Sighing, Martin places his fedora firmly on his head and adjusts it with a light touch, then reaches to close his book, still open beside the coffee mug. A single line catches his eye.

Confine yourself to the present.

He hesitates then, and smiles. The old Roman was indeed wise.

This is the end of this visit, but before he goes, perhaps ... just perhaps, he can find one last surprise for his old friend.


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