Unconventional Operation


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Scene Title Unconventional Operation
Synopsis Teodoro Laudani and his sidekick-for-hire set out to rescue a damsel in distress from the big bad chimera holding her as an unconscious captive. Their tools of choice? A little bit of hair color, some false papers, and a lot of sheer audacity.
Date January 25, 2010

Two Days Earlier

Summer Meadows

Every ninja knows that if you're going to break into a home, recruit a white woman into your cover. If, however, you're going to abduct a white woman, you recruit a little kid into your cover.

"One hundred before, two hundred afterward."

Teo looks like Hell, which is fairly — normal, these days, and possibly contiguous to his cover as well. People don't generally look their best and brightest, going in and out of St. Vitae's Hospital, though granted he isn't supposed to pass for the patient in this exercise. The shadows of sleep-deprivation smudge dim, thumb-sized circles under his eyes and his hair's a ragged mess down his brow, his beard barely clipped to manageable around the twisted skew of his ripped-out cheek. He's clad in work clothes this evening, its navy blues and browns toned by the same shade of dust that covers so much of Summer Meadows these days. Camouflage.

"For your hazard, though I don't anticipate getting caught and if you do I probably have enough favors owed to get you out, and you're a little kid. I'll cover the cosmetics costs, provide the false identification."

Water drip-drops sporadically from rust-notched spigots, and a weed waves its cautioning at Mouse from the crooked egress between wall bricks. Dusk turns their faces blue, and makes the ramshackle complexes and tarps alike in inscrutable silhouettes and lopsided geometry. Teo's leaning on his shovel, casually as if he's discussing the weather, but the cash is probably on his actual person somewhere. He acts like he's heard enough about Mouse to know the cash up front is going to have to be exactly that: up front. "Morning after tomorrow.

"If it goes right, the Ferry gets her cybernetic guardian angel back, and you stick it to the big man." Casual slang verbiage never comes easily to Teodoro unless it's fucking or shitting or such standard-issue curse words, dispensed as neutrally as 'color' or 'water.' When he says 'big man,' he sounds oddly theoretical. Some terrorist. "And you're three hundred dollars up on crack or pot or whatever the kids are into these days."

Mouse has no shovel; that's entirely too much like work. His hands are shoved into his pockets, where they can't be coopted into pouring concrete and moving dirt. Crossing his ankles, he leans against the corner of the nearby house, loose gray sweater indistinguishable in color from the dust that seems practically beaten into the fabric's weave.

The kid doesn't answer right away.

Pale gray eyes level on Teodoro, a direct and unrepentant stare whose tone is set by a dubious, disbelieving expression. Did he just— ? Any impression that Mouse is actually shocked or bothered by the Sicilian's bargain, however, dies a sudden and complete death when the teen's characteristic insouciant grin returns in full force.

"Man, you have got to learn how to pitch to your audience," he informs Teo, head shaking slowly.

Ankles uncross and Mouse's lean frame straightens, his full height being only a bare inch less than that of his older companion. Admittedly, his mass is much less. "Hazard — sneaking into the Hangar storerooms, that's hazard." Mischievous flash of a grin. "The man…" One hand flicks to the side in a throwing-away gesture. "I ain't Ferry, and I ain't Phoenix." Thus, the man isn't a concern of his.

"Mind you, I'll take your money," the kid assures Teo with a bob of his head. And that mischievous, devil-may-care smile. "Just — don't try and guess what I'll do with it, 'kay? It's not flattering in the least.

"For you."

"Excuse me?" Teo's right brow pries upward, frames a certain amount of Adult Indignation particularly at the last two words to cross the whelp's lips — but Adult Indignation doesn't suit his features very well. "I'm a very wise spender." There's an intake of breath through his teeth, then a gust of white when metabolically-heated vapor eases back out in tendrils for the sky. It's cold today, crushed down by clouds no more sanguine than the air over Antarctica.

There's muttering. Teo sets the shovel's shaft against the wall and pops the collar in his jacket, sticks a densely gloved hand into the lapel to root around for the money in question. He inhales through his nose, loud, like a dog. "If this isn't a hazard," he says, unrolling the wad of twenties under a thumb, "what's the term I should be using, eh?"

His grin is if anything broader at Teo's apparent offense, the muttering and indignation. Mouse steps forward as the bills come out, plucking the five that comprise the first part of his fee from the Sicilian's hand. A pace and a half backwards returns him to his original position; and that mischievous smile reappears. "This?" he echoes, gesturing with the bills towards Teo — and then folding them to be tucked into his own pocket.

"This is going to be fun."

One Day Earlier

A Safehouse on Staten Island

Plastic and bleach, adhesive and laminant, thin knives that insinuate themselves between layers of paper and holograms as easily as the compounds of dye penetrate the cuticle layer of Mouse's flaxen hair.

The safehouse Teo elected to use happens to be on Staten Island, halfway between the initial meet at Roosevelt and the final destination at Bayonne's St. Vitae. The safehouse is not entirely unacquainted with rare cosmetics efforts of individuals not typically prone to trying them. Actually, Hana had left her earrings on that bathroom shelf before, and had her makeup scattered across this sink's clay breadth, though you can't tell by now, of course. It's been scrubbed, neglected. The house has been broken into twice since her last birthday, and the lock on the front door is very obviously new, but it's fine. Everything is fine. There's running water, buckets, glassed (and boarded) windows, a loaf of bread, canned corn and pineapples in the cupboard, an area heater running off a car battery some dozens of yards of rubber-insulated wiring away. You can actually feel the processed air radiating out of the heater if you're within about six yards of it.

Teo had even thought to supply the child a towel, soap, and slippers. The disposable variety, white but plushy, imprinted inexplicably with the Ritz-Carlton Central Park's elegant iconograph.

"I just need your photo." He's waving a reasonably cheap digital camera around above his shoulder without looking up. Probably, if he doesn't sit up at some point in the near future, his neck is going to succumb to permanent hunchback realignment stooped over the forger's workbench like so. "When you're done. Are you done? Did you have trouble reading the bottle?"

"Geeze, man," the kid says, with exasperation that isn't quite offense, "give me a little bit of credit here."

Stepping out of the bathroom, Mouse is dressed from the waist down, discounting the socks and shoes he isn't wearing. His hair's still all but dripping wet, which is why he's busy scrubbing that white towel through its now chestnut-brown strands. "Remember, you asked me to do this. Not the other way around. So have a little confidence in your pick, right?"

The woman who once did her makeup here probably would've just hit Teo in the head with said (empty) bottle.

"I'm done," Mouse continues, as if that weren't self-evident. He even dyed his eyebrows, carefully, so their paler color wouldn't give the game away. The teen spreads his arms, striking a facetious pose — the kind that should be delivered in a bound out of the bathroom door and with the accompanying exclamation Tada!.

"Unless this is the kind of picture you have to have a shirt on for," Mouse adds as an afterthought, grinning cheerfully.

The new sobriety of Mouse's hair color seems to serve only to highlight the contrast with his bombastic brightness in every other part of his lifestyle. How Teodoro is going to manage to pass off this child as his own or Hana's is somewhat beyond him. Perhaps it is just as well that Hana is knocked out cold, though she'd probably hit him over the head with a bottle, too, and the insinuation she couldn't manage a smile for disguise's sake.

"A shirt would be good," Teodoro answers, unsure of what this expression is acheing through the macabre twist of his jaw until the lank lines of his thinking-face finally crack into what feels like an actual smile. Walter probably would have got along with him. "I'm not a senator, you know." Hanging crookedly over his shoulder, he fiddles buttons. The wafer-sized camera gives a creaky bell-tone, a shutter chime, and he twists his head over to check that he did not accidentally blow up the device.

No, he turned it on. Wonderful. The display glows blue up his shaggy profile. "G'wan, or you'll catch your death."

"Aw." The boy lets his arms fall. "Spoilsport." Spoken in a good-natured tone that in no way dims his cocky, cheerful smile. Mouse ducks back into the bathroom, towel landing in a heap on the counter with a muted thwap audible in the room outside. "Careful you don't— " Pitched slightly louder, there's almost a suggestion of echo to the words, reverberations from the walls of a smaller, confined space. He sticks his head back out around the door, dark blue shirt with thin gray and amber horizontal stripes now obscuring the sight of his torso. "— drop that thing or whatever. Pretty sure it doesn't bounce well!"

Unlike Mouse, who probably rebounds from everything fine.

"At least not, you know, until after the pictures." Two steps out into the room, and Mouse finds a likely-looking white wall to put his back against, shaking wet hair away from his eyes and attempting an expression with less inherent kinship to the Cheshire Cat's grin. It mostly works.

"Okay, so take the picture already. Then I can do yours!"

One can hope that such resilience is going to pay off when it comes to facing off against—

—whichever small army of private security or Federal agents are bound to be standing sentinel around Hana's healing chamber. Peculiarly, it's exactly this braggadocio and indomitable good cheer that jabs in Teo a pang of worry. If Mouse were scared, uncertain, or desperate for the cash, Teodoro could merely reassure him, barricade himself behind second thoughts, bring more guns. But Mouse's boundless spirits inspire an altogether different sort of protectiveness.

Click-ting. He snaps one photo off, cants his head slightly and refocuses the lens with a careful half-squeeze of finger on button, adjusts exposure speed. Click-ting. And then a third shot, after he takes a breath to still his hands. And there he is: Eric James Vogler, as writ on the gray paper of his learner's permit, the face assigned to the name.

"I probably shouldn't ask about your parents," Teo observes, in a voice so dry it seems to sap the suspended water molecules left by Mouse's hair-care exercise out of the very air. He turns the camera around, wriggling the cord out of his wrist; hands it over and steps forward to switch places.

Somehow, the boy manages to stand perfectly still through all three snaps of the camera shutter. That's one impossible feat, already completed. "Oh, parents," he says, dryly dismissive. A wave of his hand both scorns the question and picks the camera out of Teo's hand, brings it around to where he can stare at the buttons on the back and flip through the pictures that have already been taken. "Mom skipped town a few years ago when Dad paid off all his back child support all at once — he got the money out of granddad's will, see. Figured she wouldn't see another cent out of him, and since no one's seen hide or hair of him since the Bomb I guess she was right. Aunt Carol ought to be registered or whatever in a convent, since she certainly lives like a nun; and I didn't want any part of that. Man, there is no such thing as a good mug shot, is there?

"Anyway — not really much to tell, I guess. Basically don't have 'em. Can't complain 'bout it, either!" A pause, as Mouse turns the camera sideways, the better to look at the picture currently displayed on its screen. "Wow, I didn't know she could be pretty. Or that she ever wore a dress."

She was also very drunk, to let there be a picture.

"What— give me tha— Mouse." Teodoro can't very well grab the camera back or even honestly insist. His breath expels lukewarm in the chill air of the bathroom, exasperated; his hand recoils and he hangs a sleeved arm around his nose, sighs, leaning back on the wall like half the power's suddenly gone out of his legs and bones, leaving his spine in an insipid question-mark curl. "It was her birthday.

"People get drunk on their birthdays. When they're old enough," he's quick to add, his pale eyes sharpening underneath the ragged, dirt-colored thickness of his hair. Because, obviously, underaged drinking is the worst that the abandoned child has to contend with. Teo straightens his shirt with a yank of a splayed-fingered hand, straightens his shoulders and makes impatient flippers out of his hands. "Come on, come on, let's do this thing. I—

"Do you know Hana?" he asks, suddenly, very much struck and surprised.

Mischievous grin, and the boy dances back a couple of paces, the better to ensure he's well out of Teo's reach. No camera back for you, not yet. "Funny. People get drunk when they're not old enough too, you know."

Mouse steps up to where he had been standing before as Teo straightens into picture-pose again, this time cueing the camera into active mode. He pauses before lifting it up, however, brown-dyed eyebrows raising at the Sicilian's question. "Well, wander around enough Ferry ports and you run into an awful lot of people. Never met her, really. But she makes an impression."

The camera comes up in front of Mouse's face, aims its lens at Teo. "Big black wolf in the middle of the forest that wouldn't say no to a mouse-sized snack kind of impression," the teen concludes, even as he starts taking pictures.

Click-ting. Teo manages to restrain himself from answering or blinking before the first shot goes off, despite that there's an unbirthed answer widening in his lips and an incipient reach riddling through the callused fingers of his hand. He's wearing a sweater, a shirt underneath that, maybe two, doffed his jacket and his coat because he's — indoors and heated, now, though his fear of cold remains as obvious as a hedgehog's defenses.

He had meant to compliment Mouse on his eyebrows, but he's quite distracted now. It's all he can do to keep his mouth shut, obfuscating the twisted ruck of the scar tissue, severed skin and naked teeth with the fibers of his beard. Two shots in, and he finally ducks his head in some reflexive sentiment or simple fatigue, exhaling through his long nose. "Terrorist-sized snacks are her preference, I think. You don't have to worry." Finally, he extends an expectant hand. Camera, please.

"Though you're not that little, despite the nickname," Teo observes, blinking in the stale fluorescence.

"Hah. You say that when she's looming over you and maybe I'll believe it." Looming over, for all that she's shorter than even Mouse. He hands over the camera this time without fuss or games, padding barefoot around the table to look at Teo's handiwork — the ID cards waiting for their brand new pictures. Look only, not touch; Mouse's mischief has its bounds.

"Hey, mister. Don't knock the name."

There's a purring squeak of a MIDI as Teodoro reels through the taken photographs, zooms in with a thumb on the bar, scrolls side to side. This takes the entirety of his concentration. Ostensibly, anyway. He keeps the boy's bare toes in his peripheral vision, wonders why he didn't use the slippers, and tries not to fret about tetanus; remains peculiarly unconcerned by the possibility that Mouse might touch, as well as look.

"I'm sorry about your mother," he says.


St. Vitae's Hospital, Bayonne, New Jersey

There's a cedar with fronds and boughs like a leafy castle out in the parking lot, or would have been had winter not stripped its bark of its verdant plumage and beaten ice and a sugary frost riming into the striated texture of its bark. Behind it, the hospital seems an alien structure, made ugly by its minimalism, blocky and white and its windows spaced with cruel regularity. The boughs draw shadows like cracks on Mouse's face.

"One for you, one for me." One for Hana, makes three Voglers, photographed, named. The Visitor's pass is presented with due aplomb, its string long enough to seat it pendant-like comfortably around the boy's neck. The folded sheet of his learner's permit is already wedged somewhere in the whelp's wallet, to go with the deceptively authentic driver's license already weathered and tar-chipped in the back of Teo's own trousers.

The upholstery in this car smells bizarrely new.

"You're not going to see anybody die today," the Sicilian informs the boy, popping his seatbelt. At some point over the past eleven hours, he'd clipped his beard; less wild man, more haggard father. "You can pretend to look fuckin' relieved."

Promptly picking up the plastic-cased pass and studying its glossy surface with all due ceremony, Mouse snorts at his older companion, regarding him from the very edge of his vision. "Remember why we're here, old man. Somehow I don't think relief fits a kid whose mom is unconscious in a hospital bed, am I right?"

There's another metallic snik heralding the release of 'Eric's' seatbelt, a rustle of fabric with shifting weight and the heavier thunk of the car door opening. Mouse pushes it open and steps out onto the scraped ice of the hospital parking lot, the tread of his boots handling its surface readily enough for what the boy plans to do next. Gray eyes slant sideways, mischief glinting at Teo from the narrow window of overlap between vision's edge and a half-open car door.

The door slams shut, and Mouse charges pell-mell for the hospital's main entrance, stray end of a blue-and-white scarf flapping in his wake as if to wave goodbye.

Good-bye indicates a degree of separation that is unacceptable to Teo's 'master plan,' as it were. The plan is not very masterful, but simple enough; this isn't the first time he's broken into a hospital on a Gitelman-related agenda, but of course things are complicated considerably, this time, by security and the fact that the big black wolf is— comatose.

"Hey," he says. One moment, he's inside the car; the next, the door's clapping shut and he's jolting rapid steps after the boy. Teo is suddenly cold inside from nerves the likes of which neither Ghost nor frinkle-Teo had experienced for years, aggravated to let him out of his sight, horrified of failure, his voice all gruff with comrade-fear, nerves xylophoning the blood pressure in his head and the air pressure in his lungs. This is somebody else's son he's dragging into the fray, whose pinestraw hair and bone-perfect limbs owed their design to the template of some genetic legacy, whose obnoxious temperament was either the handiwork of teaching or the subject of exasperation. Possibly both. Hypothetically, he was pretty once, too. Someone's son, also. "Hey." Teo catches the kid by the jacket, is flippantly slapped in the arm by the scarf for his trouble. "This is a hospital, Eric.

"No running."

There should be a sign that says so. Instead, stencilled steel letters and tea-brown windows rear up ahead of them.

An ambulence lies in a basset hound's limp repose in front of the plateglass doors, its back open and driver's seat empty. Metal detectors frame the entrance, a burly guard with a round, hard face the complexion of pork standing sentinel over the gray plastic baskets into which cameras and keys are supposed to go. His small eyes land on the adult, first, skimming past the sobriety of his bearded face to make a brief study of the three-day visitor pass, before skewing— as if magnetizing, naturally, homing in on the more probable locus of in-facility trouble, between the two of them— on Mouse.

Mouse almost slides out of his jacket when Teo grabs it; it's a deliberate afterthought and courtesy that he doesn't. He twists back to face 'Dad', gray eyes wide in his very best sad-puppy-dog expression. Mouse has a lot of practice at that — and, seeing it, one can almost forget his tendencies towards mischief and chaos. Just for a moment.

Of course, what he says to Teo, in a softspoken hiss, bears no relationship whatsoever to that expression. "You want to get past them?" the boy whispers. "Have a little faith." One eye closes in a conspirator's wink, before Mouse shrugs his jacket free of the older man's grip, and shuffles towards the metal detectors in a more subdued pace.

He offers the guard a sheepish smile, carefully refraining from fiddling with the badge around his neck, and tamely deposits both loose change and loose key into the topmost plastic bin. "Sorry," the boy says, convincingly apologetic, innocently eager. "Mom's finally checking out today. She hasn't been home in weeks!" The guard won't know the difference. Passing through the detector without incident, Mouse reclaims his little metal objects. "Which direction do we go to get to room 217?"

The guard doesn't stand a chance, of course. Pitting the perceptive powers of your average rent-a-cop against Brandon 'Mouse' Murphy's capacity for artifice is like leaving a particularly small catnip mouse at the mercy of a tiger.

Features worn into a state of permanent irritation by awkward shifts and overcaffeination soften fractionally, and the guard turns to indicate the way with one dense-knuckled hand. "To the right," he says, blithely overlooking it as Teodoro slides neatly through the detector's gray frame behind the boy. Snatches up his keys, wallet again as quick as a dogbite, folds his arm back down over the bulk of a second down jacket deflated and hidden inside the fold of his own coat. The guard's voice comes in at a dieselly register that seems to have been emancipated from the ambulance parked outside. "There's an elevator. Up, then it's down the hall to your left to get to the private rooms. Discharge should be handled right there at the second floor desk.

"Lucky day for your mom, son. Sir," he adds, glancing up at the Sicilian, finally. There's no recognition there, of course. Fortunately. There had been a shift change at some point between this morning and Teo's drive-by technological skullduggery that's been addling a few of the cameras through the hospital last night, or maybe that beard would've instigated a pang of recognizance. The guard nods his head, touches chunky thumb to the brim of his hat, supposes inwardly that a week's separation from a hospitalized wife would compel a man to let himself go like that.

Teo offers him a smile, a civil nod, from the good side of his face. Sits a hand on Mouse's shoulder and stumps haggardly off toward the elevator as he pitches a glance down at the boy, peripheral. She isn't in room 217, but 317 is a good match to Mouse's story for all the obvious reasons, and it isn't more than a second before he hits the button with his thumb. It lights up orange. "You like the word 'faith,'" he observes, dryly.

He lets the hand stay there as they make their way towards the elevator, giving each of the staff, visitors, and patients they pass an insufferably cheerful smile. The kind that causes instant smiles in response, even before the person on the other end consciously realizes they're being smiled at. Mouse slides into the elevator, peering at his reflection in the mirror-shine of closing doors; runs a hand through his peculiarly dark hair.

"Well, I'd tell you to trust me, but— " The green numeral to the upper right of the doors ticks over to 2. "Funny thing," Mouse continues, lips stretching in a sly grin. "People get all suspicious when I say that." Lifts a hand, thumb and forefinger pinched together. "Just a little."


Snagging the cuff of Teo's jacket, Mouse drags him through the elevator door and around the corner, plants him next to a prettily shaped artificial bonsai tree and admonishes the Sicilian to "Stay here. Just for a minute, honest!" He backpedals down the hall, outstretched hands further punctuating the instruction. "Time me, even!"

The boy ducks back away from the corridor containing their destination, disappearing into another passage. Meanwhile, three steps sideways would put Teodoro in position to look right at room 317 — or at least its entrance.

So close and yet — if he really waits, so far away at the same time.

"You know, I have— " — superpowers for this sort of thing, Teo was going to say, but before he can get further than that hyphenated false start the boy has vaporized out from under his Fatherly Hand and will-o'-wisped around the corner and point discerning eyes into enemy territory.

Linoleum and plaster gleam up at the child, overlaid by the blocky shadow of a man garbed in black seated beside the door. Another, made alike by clothing and stoic expression, stands a dozen yards down the hall, where it bends toward the waiting area and central elevator. Corkscrewed comm wires loop around their ears. They have guns, but of course they have guns: the big black wolf metaphor ends when facetious talk of zookeepers, safari khakis, and colorful brochures begin.

Three doors are allotted to this segment of the private wing, and 317's small window shows the same dull blue ambient lighting in the middle as those on either side. It isn't immediately visible from the outside, whether or not the rooms are occupied, or by whom. It's quiet here, the trickle of gurney wheels and orderlies' brisk gaits insulated by distance and walls.

A glass knife glints briefly under Teo's thumb, hefted once, before it's folded promptly away back under the hem of his sleeve. He whispers— mouths, really: "There's another one inside."

Fifty-six… fifty-seven…

He has flowers. A narrow, round plastic vase nearly hidden beneath the dozen ruby-red lilies it contains, petals peeled back from yellow-dusted anthers and nodding in time with his steps.

Mouse approaches from the far end of the hall, in what might be a pincer attack for a more military-minded person; to the teenager, however, the operative word is more likely to be distraction.

"Three thirty-one… three twenty-nine…"

He reads off the room numbers in an audible mutter, brows drawing deeper and deeper in as they decrease. The boy stops, chews idly on his lower lip and stares at the nearest offending numeral plate: three twenty-five.

There's no one official-looking in the hall except the guards, the closer one (to him) and the one actually by room 317. Gray eyes alight on the closer guard with all the subtlety of a vivid light-bulb suddenly clicked on.

"Hey, excuse me, sorry, I — kinda completely got turned around," Mouse admits sheepishly, scuffing one foot against the hospital's pristene white linoleum and ducking his head a little. "All these halls look the same and — well…" He hefts the flowers a bit. "I don't suppose you know where room 354 is, do you?"

What a nice young man. With flowers, moreover. Mouse has all the right bells and whistles to pull off the appearance of being precisely what he's not, and a young face for his age.

Though this guard is of a different caliber than the metal detector's beefy manager downstairs, a hard stare into the child's elfin features leaves his wiretrap paranoia unsprung. "Well," he says. "The numbers are increasing that way." He doesn't say obviously aloud, but the implication is clear; he lifts a hand, suit cuff extending along knife-creases, exposing a thick silver watch just like the movies. "If you lose your way, there's a floor map in the waiting area, through—"

There's no shout of agony, no grand windmilling or gymnastic breakfall; his eyelids flutter and joints spasm, before the man proceeds to slough down to the floor like a felled sapling, coming dangerously close to flattening Mouse in the process. Of course, down the hall, his cohort is quick to look up, alarmed, stepping forward. "Orson?" Not loudly. The need for stealth is a double-edged blade. "Are you oka—"

Teo's elbow comes down on the back of his head at the end of a vicious arc, rebounds with a fluffy thump of bone, skin, hair, and cloth connecting. The Sicilian catches the man by the back of the shirt the next moment, an arm tight around his throat lest the initial blow wasn't enough to short-circuit his consciousness entirely. There's a flutter of the man's eyes above his arm, his jaws flip-flopping in the monosyllables of a gasping fish only twice before blackness eats out his sight in big brutal bites.

Teo's left in an ungainly squat, one man half in his arms, craning his head down to check after Mouse's wellbeing. His heart is going like a drum.

There's something about trust, or faith, or naivete that leaves Mouse standing tall and still — aside from a highly inelegant sideways dodge of the falling man, at any rate, which sends flowers sloshing in their vase, triangular red petals bobbing. He looks down at Teo, mischievous grin undiminished compared to its prior appearances; if anything, it might just be wider.

Almost flattened or no, Mouse seems to be distinctly unperturbed by the downed men, the moment of sudden violence, however restrained and (comparatively) civilized.

"Don't stop there, someone will walk by," the boy hisses as his grin dims, realities of sneaky, cunning plans kicking in. He doesn't do the ninja thing, but raiding storerooms and playing pranks are distant cousins in the regard of plans, concerns, and considerations.

Which may have something to do with why Mouse's next move is to walk brazenly through the door of room 317. Or… maybe not.

"Hey, catch!" he says, lobbing the vase towards the remaining security guard in an underhanded toss. It would, indeed, be easy to catch: moving slowly, pitched right at a convenient hand-height, more or less top-up and bottom-down through its flight.

Inside the hospital room, there's a curtain drawn around a bed, a middle-aged man with a coffee cup. Muscle-memory fetches the man up onto his feet and then his hands into the air when the vase is tossed; he catches it. Realizes what it is, much to his irritation, and hurls it angrily to the floor, stepping forward to seize at the collar of Mouse's jacket with a snarling rictus of professional irritation on his face.

"What the Hell do you think you're doing up here, kid?" His accent locates its origin squarely in Brooklyn, an odd contrast against the piano-simplified crispness of his shirt and black suit. There's more muscle in his arm than the average man his age contracting within the narrow seams, wrenching at Mouse to shove him hard into the wall just right of the door's rectangular frame. He cranes his head at the door to call out.

The regular, patterned beeping of an EKG attests to the life still in the body hidden behind a curtain, unremarked upon and disregarded by both of its current ambulatory occupants; where ambulatory has less to do with actual capability to walk. Being pinned against the wall makes that rather less feasible.

"Aw, seriously, mister? What'd you have to go and waste a perfectly good bunch of flowers for?" They're naturally less perfect now, crushed beneath the heavy tread of insensitive guard's feet, loose petals lost and forlorn away from their anchoring stems. "It's visiting hours, don't you know? And my sister, she got a list from the staff. All the rooms that don't get visitors. Thought it'd be a nice thing to bring flowers. Brightens up the room a bit. Boring as hell to be stuck by yourself in a bed in a plain white box, don't you think?"

How the boy managed to fit so many words into air compressed when he was bodily whacked into the wall, the agent has no idea. Aborted out of raising alarm, he turns his peppery head down to deliver a scathing scolding, or the first question of an appropriately harsh interrogation. This time, however, he is interrupted not by Mouse's rollercoaster of verbiage but a punch in the face.

Teo, poking his head in, as it were. Under matted scar tissue and the hang of beard and dirty blond hair, the color's higher on his cheeks than it's been for weeks. His knuckles knock teeth into gums and subdermal haemorrhages through the frame of the man's lips, calluses taking the worst of the edge off the inadvertent bite the agent almost crunched into his hand. When the older man staggers back, scarlet flooding his tongue, the Sicilian follows him in, an arm noosing his neck again and a squeeze administered with a constrictor's torque at the same time he steps down on the ligamenture of his calf.

The agent crumples, Teo with him. "Can you drag the other one in?" he's asking, twisting his head out of the way as his victim's blunt fingers come scrabbling up to needle at his eyes and mouth. "He's just outside. I'll get the one down the hall if you can start getting clothes on her."

Punches in the face, on the other hand, are never boring. Perhaps especially when it isn't you on the receiving end.

Mouse finds warm wet spots splattered across his face when Teo nails the man who had been looming over him; grimaces for it, but just scrubs a hand down Scandinavian-derived features and turns them into thin red smears. It'd take a mirror to get them off. "Thanks. Not sure what I would've done if he set out on a lecture," the kid grumbles. "Superglued his radio to his hair, maybe."

Seriously? Maybe so.

"Yeah, I can do that," Mouse affirms, suiting actions to words and slipping out the door to haul the unconscious guard in. He's heavy, and his boots scrape obnoxiously across the linoleum; huffing, the boy drops him just far enough in to clear the door. Straightening, he looks sidelong at Teo, a not-quite-convinced expression. "Long as you've got the clothes," Mouse allows. "And promise not to tell her about it!"

Apparently that was quite an impression she made.

"I promise," Teodoro answers, in a tone of voice that similarly fails to acknowledge the bizarreness of this entire situation. Yet another body falls dead weight from his arms.

Uprooted from under his jacket, Teo tosses a bag underhand at Mouse. A down jacket is squeezed down to size inside it, along with a pair of woollen socks and simple flats. Pants might have posed a problem if Teodoro weren't pragmatically setting about relieving the slimmest of the guards of their neat black slacks.

Somehow, that's going to suit the severity of Hana's looks better than any pair of scrappy jeans he could have towed out of his own drawer. In a matter of moments, there are three men assembled loosely on the floor of Hana Gitelman's room, one of them without trousers, the starch of his shirt splayed clumsily between stretched-taut buttons, fishbelly white, and Teo is squinting out of the window one last time before he turns to look at the boy's progress. He almost regrets the momentary lull: it shows into sharp relief the liquid thunder of his own blood through his ears.


Catching the bag with a rasp of skin on nylon, Mouse moves over to the bed and rattles the curtain aside. He studies the monitors and machines for a moment, toggling off switches and tugging the IV drip out of the unconscious woman's arm.

Four weeks and change imprisoned, three and a half weeks comatose; there's a definite wear, now, edges and lines softened by sleep, by inactivity. She could be someone else, less the lioness, or even imagined to be that strangest of things — a tame lion. It isn't so much of a reach with her eyes closed and limbs stilled.

A living body is still dead weight when its consciousness is absent, those limbs anything but cooperating while Mouse grumbles over the clothes and the difficulties of dressing a doll so close to his own size that the difference is entirely meaningless. Closing the final piece, the heavy winter coat, around Hana's torso, hands under her arms holding her body half-upright, Mouse looks down at the woman, over at Teo… by the window? Out the door; back to Teo. Gray eyes squint suspiciously.

"Don't tell me you were planning to carry her out of here like this."

The Sicilian's brows hike on his forehead, some mix of annoyance and curiosity. He has a ring, suddenly, its slender wink of silver aimed neatly at Hana's finger. Something else she should be informed about upon waking, no doubt. Just for awkwardness' sake. "Princess carry wouldn't work?" he asks. "I thought we'd look kind of adorable."

The laminated tag sporting Hana's face and another German name is shaken loose from its twisty wad. Slipped around her neck on a careful tug of long fingers, nudged into the unzipped breast pocket on the puff jacket's quilted surface. Curious, almost timid restraint and deft pragmatism mingle oddly in the maneuvering of his hands around her frame. He ruffles her hair loose over his shoulders.

Tries not to scowl at the toll that atrophy and sickness have taken on her. Rebel hadn't been wrong. The squiggle of her EKG shows stable sinus rhythm, and the tags he rips from her wrist color-code nothing greater or less than complete sensory deprivation. She's less than she was, and his jaw sets against this painful revelation, but Mouse is talking like she's going to wake right up, and God knows he's been talking like she's going to wake right up to every Ferry contact he's needed to involve in the course of preparation the past few weeks.

The longer you pretend. "You have a better idea." It isn't a question.

"Adorable," Mouse echoes, most dubiously. Gray eyes peer down at the woman whose hair color isn't so very dissimilar from his current one — no doubt why Teo chose that particular shade of dye. "I suppose that's one way to put it."

He lowers her limp form back to the bed, moves around the piece of furniture with its associated curtain. Steps carefully over the disabled guards in their assorted states of involuntary slumber, and also avoiding the puddle of water which would make squeaky-clean and antisepticized linoleum a hazardous surface even for his boots. The lilies are given only a brief glance.

"Also conspicuous as hell and likely to get us stopped and questioned at least twice. Not to mention all the crosswise looks. You…" The boy stops, turning back to regard Teo directly. "…wait here and…" A vague wave of his hands that Colette would probably empathize with. "…clean up the evidence or whatever ninja-type people need to do about that." He definitely doesn't live on the same playing field as Teo and Hana, accomplice in this operation or no. "I'll be right back."

For which Mouse first has to leave; he does that.

Ninja? Teo glances down at himself, his plaid and jersey and coat. Looks up again, but by then the kid's already gone by the time his vertebrates have stacked back to vertical. He pushes his knuckles through his hair, hovers a dubious eye on the window, a moment, before stepping away from the bed. Within the twist and eddy of rumpled sheets, Hana lays prone on the left half.

It's one of the guards he'll haul up, now, in a princess carry limited to the courtesy and care one would show a sack of reasonably important potatoes. Centers of balance carefully captured, levered over the edge of the mattress until he slings down the loose pile of raw-boned limbs into the scooped-out hollow of the mattress. The guard's head rolls empty and loose as an unshelled nut on the pillow, and Teo moves to shuffle layers of cotton over his suited frame, reattaching the thumb-clip monitor though he allows the parenteral nutrition tubes to snake loose in empty air.

There's little evidence to dispose of, really, merely the convenience of having the hospital's computer network feed bio-electric stimulus back to monitors and give cursory glances through the door window nnnothing at all to be concerned about. There's nothing at all to be concerned about, in here. Putting his back to the wall, he closes his eyes, ignores the clockwork stridence of his heart in his ribs.

His psyche stretches phantasmic contours out, further afield, searching for the boy with Hana's hair.

The boy in question is currently two corridors and three rooms away, hands on the handlebars of a wheelchair, glibly talking his way past a rather bemused-looking thirty-something woman in a volunteer's candy-striped outfit. She lets him walk away with the equipment, shaking her head in evident puzzlement. The jaunty wave and cheerful smile Mouse casts over his shoulder doesn't seem to alleviate that any, even though she smiles warmly at his display of verve.

He rolls the wheelchair out of the room it was in and back down two corridors, not quite running but not much shy of it either; a non-volunteer kid pushing an empty wheelchair is not exactly the most routine sight here — usually it's a worker's job to fetch the chair — but youth and a ready grin smooth over surprisingly many things.

The left-hand wheel squeaks a bit, although when Mouse has to heft it over the two bodies still on the floor that becomes rather less obvious. A sharp push sends it half-skidding towards the left side of the bed, where it'll be easiest to maneuver Hana into its confines.

"There we go. People get wheeled out in these things all the time; that's why hospitals have a whole fleet of 'em," Mouse remarks, ostentatiously dusting his hands off. Smirk. "I'll even let you push — 'Dad'."

If Teo's face got any more quizzical it would probably implode irony out of use forever in this plane of reality and summarily genocide the entire English people as well as much of literary humor. Why, how generous. Son. "Glad I'm getting my money's worth," he answers, stooping low over Hana's prone frame to slide his arms underneath her.

This is both familiar and not. In the bright future, they'd worked together long enough that this— had happened once, somehow, a memory without context, but his mind is different and her body is weaker. Cognitive dissonance puts a shadow on his face that has nothing to do with the low nap-time lights. He lays the long axis of her back into the wheelchair, first, before setting her feet onto the corrugated metal pedals before the wheels.

There is something a little foolish about the way he tries to rearrange her head, next, a thumb on her cheek and rough fingers pushing dark tresses back from the curve of her ear, easing the curve of her pale neck this way, then that, before he carefully dips her chin into the chubby collar of her coat to rest against her collar-bone, and her hands curled in sleeper's symmetry on her lap. He stops for a moment to stare. Incipient reach squirms through his fingers, twice, but he has no more adjustments to make. In the end, he circles around behind the wheelchair to push it past the derelict corpuses laying on the floor.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Arms folded across his chest, Mouse watches Teo arrange the woman they came to rescue in the wheelchair, faintly impatient expression suggesting very little assessment or judgment is going on behind those youthful gray eyes. He doesn't urge Teo to hurry up, for all that the toe of his right shoe taps quietly against the linoleum. Walks out the door in advance of the Sicilian, waiting for Teo to go past before closing the entrance to room 317 — the better to delay prying and curious eyes just a little while longer.

Gray eyes slant sideways at Teo's question, the youth giving a scornful snort as long strides carry him down the hall.

"What part of all this makes you think I have any plans to grow up?"

Something about unavoidable circumstances, maybe. Teo looks at him sideways, keeping the wheelchair, navigation, its contents the center of his focus. Hana's skull tipped forward, her scalp showing in a sleepily fuzzed line of pink over the curve of her head. "Shit happens. You come across it more than most men your age." Men. It's Ghost who applies that word to a seventeen-year-old, with his higher expectations and rather dreary outlook on childhood in general.

Linoleum scrolls past underfoot, brown patterns on a white background. The wheelchair is a good and sturdy make. Its screws don't rattle or squeak nor its wheels protest the turn around the corner, taken beneath the blinded sloe-black eye of a camera set high against the ceiling. There was a time when he'dve stopped to wave. Back then, Hana could walk and talk and fight for herself. "S'pose the question is: what makes me think you haven't grown up already." He cracks a smile at that, eyes going crow-foot at the corners.

He glances up at the analog clock swinging by, an inch above corkboard announcements and influenza warnings. Sixteen minutes. It's been sixteen minutes.

Mouse has big feet; he's a big kid. They're kept conscientiously away from the wheels of the chair, where no collisions can add more complications to this, the easy part. Just walk out the door behind the shields of authentic-looking visitor's badges and a prefatory remark to the guard on duty; climb in the car, drive across state lines. There's probably another two or three crimes somewhere in that part.

Rubber squeaks against linoleum as Mouse pivots around to face Teo, half a step out of line with the wheelchair. Brown eyebrows arch as he looks down the angle of his nose at someone taller — it's about the tone of expression, not actual direction. His smile echoes Teo's, reflects it; a little distorted in its dry humor, maybe, although the sideways quirk of the boy's lips is even a fair match for the Sicilian's newest scar.

"Careful, Dad. Some people might call that a challenge."

'Dad's response is equally wry, perhaps befitting of the ruse; one would imagine that a proper blood relationship would have lent his voice that same odd (and wary) brand of amusement. Even the family resemblence aside. How else is one supposed to handle a teenager, if not with irony? "You're not 'some people,'" is his rather flimsy but gallant argument. Backhanded praise, mingled request Mouse leave off being coy. "'Some people' don't earn two hundred dollars in a fuckin' hour."

He was like that as a kid, too. Maybe. An inferior version made out of cheaper materials, his design less refined to its purpose before the combined pressure of tragic error, exploding men, and miscellaneous other 'shit happening' reshaped him. Thickened his armor, quickened his tread, sharpened his wit and gave leaden weight to his purpose. Despite this knowledge, despite that it's obvious the kid's been through worse and that he's survived greater himself, his heart is still racketing in his ribs like the pounding dirt of a racetrack hot under the stadium lights. The sky throngs oppressively with cloud-cover outside. They're not out of the woods yet. They're not out of the woods yet.

Not yet. Long after the wheelchair's discarded and Mouse is reminded to fasten his seatbelt, long after he starts the ignition and the engine's sleeking the vehicle across the Bayonne bridge, he's still thinking that. Not out of the woods— not even when Staten closes her broken sidewalks around them and blacks out the possibility of pursuit behind a skeletal wintry treeline, swallows up the trio, false license plate and emancipated car and all.

Caught and preserved in the rearview mirror, Hana's face reminds him. She's thin and her eyes are closed. She's deaf, blind, and white as a ghost.

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