The longest story I’ve completed since NaNoWriMo, it’s a little long for a short story (depending on your definition). I wrote a slightly shorter story that’s a prequel to this, might upload that here too (Some other day though). I’m…mildly happy with this right now, but fuggit, it’s 2-something am right now and I’m sleep deprieved (but happy).
I…dedicate this to Hannah, who is the inspiration for it and the characters of Gil and Douglas.
Zouriel was familiar with the expression, “speak of the devil”. Not so much from his childhood as his mother had been very strict on speaking the Lord’s name in vain and she had been sure to include excessive mentions of the Devil as well. But that was the expression that came to mind right now and he wondered if he really had brought this on himself in some way. He should have just pushed the incident with the watery lab-freak far into a far corner of his mind, forget all about him. Instead he’d popped into his head now and then, unbidden, especially on wet and dreary evenings, trudging home through the rain, when he found himself suspiciously glaring at every puddle in every dark corner until he was safely home. But even so, as he now told himself, what reason would that damn thing have to come back and bother him. Zouriel considered things to be squared away and settled between them.
So why in the name of God and all the bullshit he’d ever pulled with him did he find himself forced up against his bedroom door, with a watery arm pushed up against his windpipe? He supposed he should be ashamed that the bastard could catch him this unawares, though there was no way he could have known the damn guy had learned to climb up the side of an apartment building like some goddamn Spider-Man reject. A wise man might try and reason his way out of this, but Zouriel was not a very wise man. Instead he squirmed slightly, managing to loosen the grip on his throat enough to speak.
“What the hell do you want?” he hissed, narrowing his eye. “Needed someone to keep you warm at night?”
Unsurprisingly, he was rewarded with a hard shove and a punch in the gut which knocked the rest of the air out of him.
“You asshole, I should kill you for that!” the man hissed, narrowing his own solitary eye, as Zouriel crumpled to the ground. Even as he slowly pulled himself upright rubbing at his throat Zouriel fully expected, steeled himself for another punch to come. But what happened instead was more jolting than any act of violence. The creature backed away slightly, something that could be uncertainty flickering in is eye.
Silence fell over the bedroom, the seconds stretching out into an eternity; the tension was almost too much for Zouriel to bear. Should he try something? Push the thing out of his room, out of his apartment and out of his life again? Before he could do anything, the water creature let out a growl of frustration, gave him a hard shove, hard enough that stars flickered before Zouriel’s eye for a second as the back of his head slammed into the door.
“You need to come with me!” the water thing snarled, grabbing his shoulder hard, his unpleasant watery touch making Zouriel shudder slightly. He found himself pulled forward, his nose almost touching the watery shape that served as a nose for the thing in front of him. (Does he even need a nose, looking like that, he wondered.)
“No. You *will* come with me and free my brother!” the creature continued, his fingers able to grip rather hard for something that looked so insubstantial.
“And why would I do that?” Zouriel said, his eye flickering from normal to infra-red, surprised to see that the thing in front of him actually could produce some heat. The watery human-shaped blob had a strange glow in infra-red, almost like a moving piece of magma. His temper certainly matched that of a volcano.
“You will do this because you lied to me!” the man-thing said, shoulders tense. “You said you made them believe I was dead.”
He paused, but before Zouriel could say anything he found himself shoved back again, surprised and disgusted when he felt the creature shower spittle on him with every exclamation.
“But when I got to the place they kept my brother, there were traps!” the water thing continued. “Traps designed just for me, to keep me away or destroy me!”
Even stranger was it to hear the thing made of water actually make a teeth-grinding sound.
Once more the silence dragged on as they eyed each other and Zouriel realized the thing was expecting a response this time, so he figured he should be obliging.
“Well, I said what I said”, he said with a shrug. “It’s not my fault if they weren’t convinced, I would have been. Could be the assholes just don’t trust me anymore. Still…I don’t see why that means I should help you.”
He eyed the thing carefully, steeling himself in case there would be violence. The water thing let out a hiss and began to stalk the full length of the bedroom, muttering and rambling to itself.
“You will do this!” it finally said, stopping in front of Zouriel and jabbing him hard in the chest with a finger. “Or else I will kill you!”
Zouriel smirked and crossed his arms over his chest. “If you kill me, I can’t help you either.”
“Shut up!” the thing said and gave him another shove, though this one Zouriel was prepared for, letting his body go soft and he felt nothing. The creature continued to pace and Zouriel was fast growing tired of his face and this ridiculous situation. He hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep in a long time and this bastard was making him lose more of that rest he craved.
How strange that it wasn’t any threats of violence or harsh words that finally made Zouriel crack; it was just a combination of boredom, weariness and being sick and tired of that thing pacing in his bedroom, rambling to itself.
“Fine”, he muttered, throwing up his hands. “I’ll see if I can help you, if you just get the hell out and let me sleep.”
“No, we have to go now!” the man said, grabbing his arm, his eye giving off a soft glow in the dim light.
“Seriously, I think your brother can sit tight wherever he is for one more damn night”, Zouriel said. “I’m tired and will be going back to bed once you’re out of my face.”
The creature fidgeted and rippled slightly, appearing as if it was having a grand internal struggle, barely suppressed by its strange physique.
“Fine”, it finally hissed, half walking, half slithering towards him, pushing him to the side so he could yank the bedroom door open. “I’ll be waiting!”
Then Zouriel found his own bedroom door slammed in his face and all was quiet again. The faint sounds he could hear through the door told him that the damn thing was intent to wait things out in his apartment. If he got damp stains on any of his furniture, there would be hell to pay.
But for the time being, Zouriel pushed it out of his mind and finally crawled back into bed.
The bright light of morning filtering into his bedroom finally stirred him from the best sleep he’d had in weeks. That feeling of contentedness was quickly crushed by what he was faced with as he opened his eye.
Hovering above him like some sort of ghoul was the water-man, dripping lightly on his sleep-crumpled blankets. A huge grin, stretching from ear to ear (or where ears would be on a normal man) was plastered on his face.
“You talk in your sleep”, he said, more than a touch of amusement in his voice.
“What the hell?” Zouriel snarled, shoving away the blankets and water-creep both.
“You were talking to someone”, the other continued, without even flinching at being pushed away. “It sounded like this woman was kicking your ass.”
The grin somehow got even wider and Zouriel struggled to keep his composure, he would not allow this thing to see him flustered.
“Well, at least I don’t creepily stare at people when they sleep!” he said, perhaps a smidge louder than he’d intended. “But maybe staring at guys sleeping is the only thing that gets you off in that form.”
The thing went from Cheshire cat amusement to spitting incoherent rage in three seconds flat and before he knew it, he was tumbling around on the bed with the water-man grabbing for this throat and trying to claw out his eye. He’d certainly hit a sore spot for the thing’s rage kept him so unfocused that Zouriel could easily hold his own against him, unlike their first encounter underground. Eventually it sunk in that, much like a snail, that creepy bastard was actually slowly soaking through his sheets and he knew he had to put a stop to this little playtime before he had to get a new bed.
“I thought you had decided I was more use to you alive than dead”, Zouriel managed to get out between gritted teeth, as he shoved away another punch aimed at his face. At first it seemed like the man hadn’t heard him, but then his eyes seemed to dim and he kind of…flowed away from him to huddle in the far corner of the room, face still dark with suppressed anger.
Zouriel left him there and instead went to have his morning coffee. After a helping of eggs on toast he sat leisurely by the kitchen window and surveyed the morning sun highlighting the smudges on his unwashed window (he should really do something about that before Cass came over and gave him hell over it). He was almost finished when the thing slithered into the kitchen, still glaring at him like a child bearing a grudge.
“I didn’t stare at you all night”, it muttered sullenly. “But it’s your own fault, your apartment is boring as shit.”
It then slithered itself into one of the empty seats and gave him another angry glare.
“I want coffee”, it said, giving Zouriel’s mug a jealous stare.
Zouriel raised an eyebrow, taking a sip from said mug. “So pour some coffee beans into yourself. You’re all the water you’ll need.”
There was a sharp hiss and Zouriel yelped, nearly dropping the mug as the water-man lashed him across the fingers with a thin whip of his own watery body.
“It’s not the same!” he growled. “Maybe you should throw away your kitchen knives and just use those damn claws you have!”
Zouriel glared back, but part of him could see the point the thing was trying to make, but he wasn’t going to apologize or be nice because of it.
“Make your own damn coffee, the machine is right there”, he just said, taking another sip of his own coffee.
The water-man opened his mouth as if to say something, but then just snorted and went over to the kitchen counter. Zouriel tried to ignore the noise and grunts as the thing fiddled with the coffee measure and filled the machine with water. Zouriel made a point to keep his gaze firmly locked on the world outside his window. Look at what a nice morning it is, look at those little birds fly, look at the lights flickering and the loud yelp as the damn guy electrocuted himself and shorted out everything in the kitchen.
In a second he was on his feet, and yanked out the plug to the coffee maker, wincing as sparks of electricity singed his fingers, an instant before the fuse in the kitchen blew out. Cursing under his breath he had to shuffle off to the fuse box and set things right, hopefully there would be no lasting damage. When he returned to the kitchen he found the creature huddled up in a kind of fetal position under the kitchen table. Or…it looked like a fetal position; it was hard to tell really. That one eye looked at him blearily, blinking in an exaggerated manner every few seconds. Zouriel had to crouch down to get a better look.
“…Tried to kill me…” the thing finally croaked. Its shape rippled and now his arms looked more defined, hugging his sides tight. “Hurts…”
Ah, yes. That did kind of make sense, Zouriel mused. Water and electricity was a bad combination.
“That coffee maker was kind of old and crappy”, he said. “Guess it’s about time I toss it.”
The thing glared at him, but said nothing.
“Hey, I didn’t know it would do that, alright”, Zouriel said, narrowing his eye. “Though it did give me an idea…”
“Fff….you”, it hissed, trying to reach out an arm shaped tendril to grab him.
“Yes, definitely getting you one of those electric dog collars”, Zouriel continued, getting up from the floor, brushing dust off his knees. He saw the watery wisps grabbing for his ankles, but there wasn’t enough strength to hold him fast.
Zouriel let his gaze wander from the thing huddled under his kitchen table, to the coffee maker and chewed his lip lightly. He continued thinking as he took a shower and dressed in the fatigues he’d dubbed his work clothes. When he got back to the kitchen the thing was still sitting under his table, though his shape was more defined now. The water-man’s knees where pulled up against his chest, arms hugging his legs to him, the fat braid-like tendrils obscuring his face. Zouriel thought he could hear heavy breathing, but that seemed kind of unlikely.
Finally Zouriel let out a sigh, fingers digging through his still damp hair. And then he made some more coffee, without being electrocuted. When he placed the steaming mug on the floor he could see the thing raise its head, revealing its one eye, large and round, surprise written plain on its face.
He didn’t linger to see the water-man consume the coffee; some things were best left unseen, Zouriel felt. Instead he sauntered into the living room, reminding the thing why he was here pestering him in the first place.
“Whenever you feel like it, we can try to work out a plan”, he said lazily. “…Unless you want to stay under that table the rest of the day.”
The only response was a wet slurping sound and a loud snort.
The coffee table was a mess of hand drawn maps and notes, with rings from a coffee cup marring the corners of them. One thing had become abundantly clear early on; the water-guy was about as good an artist as Zouriel was which meant…not very. What had saved them was Zouriel’s own knowledge and his keen memory of any place he’d visited once. And as it turned out, to his dismay, it seemed this captured brother was housed in a military installation. The water-man had quickly caught his hesitation after this realization.
“You scared or something?” it said, tilting its head to the side slightly, his braids slapping against the side of his face, watery hands wrapped around that coffee mug as if it had become an integral part of him.
Zouriel frowned, flicking a broken pencil nib at his watery houseguest. “These are the people I work for, you idiot. They won’t appreciate me sauntering in and fucking up one of their experiments.”
“My brother was never supposed to be one of their damn experiments!” the thing snapped, slamming the cup down on the coffee table with enough force that the last dregs of the dark liquid splashed in their faces, though he didn’t so much as flinch. “I never said they could use him too!”
Zouriel gave him a curious look. “I could have told you these scientist-assholes can’t be trusted. Not the ones working in this place anyway.”
‘That’s the place I came from’, he could have said as his gaze lingered on the crude blueprints he’d sketched up, of much too familiar hallways and rooms, but he didn’t. He didn’t trust this guy enough to divulge such private information. He was curious about the other one though, had the caffeine loosened his tongue enough for details? (How he metabolized the coffee was another mystery to him.)
“As someone who didn’t exactly volunteer to be a scientist’s pet project, I have to wonder how you ended up in their clutches”, Zouriel said, barreling straight ahead to satisfy his curiosity, gesturing vaguely to feign disinterest.
“None of your damn business, tin can”, was all he received in response. It was short, curt and to the point. Well, Zouriel wasn’t entirely surprised by that, but what he could read from its body language was interesting enough. There was a mixture of regret and guilt written plain on the water man’s face, with barely suppressed anger making his gelatinous body quiver slightly. Was that anger directed at something else though, or towards himself?
“Anyway…This isn’t going to be easy”, he said, changing the subject quickly. “Taking into account the mechanics blocking you from the lab containing your brother, there will be guards all over the place. Probably more than normal since you’ve already tried to bust in there.”
Zouriel tried to give the water man his most serious look, raising his eyebrow again. The water-man just shrugged, like this was something that couldn’t be helped.
“If the guards scare you so much, I’ll just take care of them the way I did last time”, he said nonchalantly. “What I want help with is getting past the shit they put up in that lab, keeping me from reaching my brother.”
Zouriel ran his hands through his hair and sighed. The guy was making it sound like the easiest thing in the world, like the guards might not be more prepared this time and the fact was that the attacks that could harm the water guy could cause a good deal of hurt and pain for Zouriel too. He had to do a good amount of soul searching to remind him of why he had agreed to do this.
“So are we ready to go them?” the water-thing said, eying him intently as he slithered into what passed for an upright position, his face eager and excited. He leaned over the table, dripping softly on the papers scattered on it. Zouriel carefully pulled them aside, before the ink would smear and run.
“We’re not doing this until it’s good and dark outside”, he said curtly, rolling up the maps carefully. “We both work best in the dark and I have one big advantage on those guards; I’ll be able to see in the dark.”
The water man clenched his fists, but said nothing. He did settle down to wait obediently after Zouriel put on a fresh pot of coffee, they’d both need it to make it through the rest of the day.
The trek across town seemed longer than it normally did; even taking into account that they were on foot and every time they stopped to make sure they remained unnoticed Zouriel had to ask himself why he was putting himself in danger like this. He was pretty sure this would be counted as treason and if he was caught in action the life as he’d known it thus far would be at an end. Part of him wondered if that would be such a bad thing, he’d no longer have to kill people for a living, he could have something that might resemble a normal life…if that was possible for someone like him. But there was also the possibility that his very life would be at an end, period. He had to shove away the dreary, dark voice in his head mused that perhaps that would not be such a bad thing either and instead focus on the task at hand. He was not going to get caught.
The water-guy, or “Gil” as he’d brusquely informed him after Zouriel had openly called him “water-guy” four times in a row (what had been said had been more like “fuck you, stop calling me water-guy you asshole, my name is Gil damnit”), seemed far more excited by the prospect of what they were about to do, he was positively glowing. If something made out of a gelatinous substance that was a lot like water in a solid form could be said to “glow”. At least Gil’s elated emotional state didn’t prevent him from keeping a low profile, slithering in and out of shadows, using puddles where they appeared and all around looking as creepy as he’d done when Zouriel had first had the misfortune of literally bumping into him.
Zouriel came dangerously close to missing the familiar neighborhood, when the buildings thinned out and their target loomed up in front of them, a six floor glass construct whose innocent appearance was a stark contrast to what Zouriel knew went on inside. Hugging the side of the office building next door he quickly spotted the exterior cameras littering the façade of the government lab installation, both the obvious and the hidden. As expected there were a number of guards posted outside, trying to appear as innocent as the building they guarded, even in the middle of the night.
“They’re carrying tasers”, Zouriel remarked in a low voice, the second he spotted the objects hanging from the guards’ hips.
Gil ground his teeth and spat out a curse, this was obviously a new development. It seemed the whole breaking-in part wasn’t going to be as simple as he’d first made it seem and it took all of Zouriel’s willpower to not whisper an “I told you so.” The glare Gil shot back at him served as a response to that unspoken statement though.
Zouriel took a few moments to observe the movement of the guards; a couple remained by the entrance, while the other three patrolled the courtyard in front of the building. He wondered if they were fools enough to leave the rear unguarded, if there was a way to try and find a way in by scaling the back wall, he knew Gil could pull off that stunt. His thoughts were derailed when a group of three new guards exited the building. They stopped to exchange a few words with the ones posted at the door, then they crossed the courtyard and disappeared behind the building. Not a few seconds later a different group of three guards appeared from the back and Zouriel saw the guard exchange continue with the front door guards disappearing inside, along with one of courtyard guards. The remaining courtyard guards took up the vacant position by the door and the back guards began to patrol the courtyard.
Zouriel wondered how often this exchange took place and what this meant for their strategy. Would it be best to approach during the guard swap or at another time? Perhaps…Right after, that would buy them the most time inside without any of the other guards catching on. They just had to figure out how often fresh guards arrived from inside the building. A tug at his sleeve made him glance over at his companion.
“Are we going in now or what?” Gil hissed, impatient as ever. Clearly he was prepared to take on those guards, tasers or no. Was this jumpiness just a sign of caffeine withdrawal, or was this a reflection of his concern for the brother trapped inside? Either way, going in half-cocked would probably end badly for everyone involved, especially Zouriel.
“Hold on”, he shot back, focused on observing the guards movements. “I want to see how often they change the guards. Tasers fucking hurt and I don’t want to serve myself up for target practice.”
“Well, if we can time ourselves just right we might catch them by surprise”, he added quickly. Well, more like, they might catch them at their most relaxed, which didn’t mean they wouldn’t be prepared when they made their move. Zouriel needed to make sure Gil stayed put though…
Amazingly it seemed to work. While Zouriel huddled in the shadows watching the guards, filing every movement away in his head, Gil stayed put for the most part, occasionally pacing a step or two before falling in next to Zouriel again.
The guards at the door were chatting amiably, Zouriel noticed fairly quick, even sharing a smoke at one point. That definitely seemed to be the weak spot; they were obviously focused on the next exchange when they’d be allowed inside. The ones covering the front courtyard were those packing the most heat, not just tasers, but also conventional weaponry, making them the main obstacle which he made sure to tell Gil. The water-man nodded, surprisingly thoughtful, his brow furrowed in concentration, though his impatience made his frame quiver slightly. Something would need to happen and soon.
On the one hour mark another change happened, Zouriel clocked it in his head, comparing it with his watch to be sure. It happened just like the last time, new men from inside moving to the back and the rest shuffling forward to their new positions. One of the new men at the door stretched and yawned, receiving a cuff on the head from his partner. Yes…
“We move in right after they do their next exchange”, he whispered to Gil, who snapped to full attention, clenching his fists into hard watery balls.
The timing of this would be crucial, not too early, when the exchange was still happening so the guards that had just entered the building could double back and give them extra men to deal with, but not too late either, when the guards had settled into their new positions and were the most alert and focused. Zouriel tried to assess how long it would take for the relieved guards to reach their stations inside, five minutes maybe? Also, it was vitally important that none of the guards got to their walkie-talkies, alerting the guards inside or at the back to what was going on.
The minutes seemed to drag on, nervous sweat beading on his brow, Gil who was incapable of such things seemed just as tense though, like a greyhound coiled up inside the starting gate or a cat ready to spring on an unsuspecting mouse. Occasionally he stretched his watery body, like a water snake curled up inside a small enclosure or an octopus approaching its prey.
“Gil…” Zouriel muttered at the time drew near, the next guard exchange taking place in front of them. “I’ll try and draw their fire, especially the tasers, but I can’t stress enough how important it is that they never get to their walkie-talkies. If any of them so much as reaches for it…”
“I take their hand off”, Gil said with the widest grin he’d ever seen. It might have unsettled him, if he hadn’t been so focused on what was to come next.
At the last possible second, Zouriel pulled the mask he’d prepared over his face. There was no way he could deal with the cameras and the guards at the same time. If he had any real value left with his superiors, he’d have to make sure they couldn’t identify him here. A mask seemed silly, but it might just be the thing that saved him if things went sour.
“If you can, kill the cameras”, he said to Gil, keeping his voice low while pointing out the ones you could plainly see and where hidden ones lurked. The water-man nodded, grin still plastered on his face. Then Zouriel gave the signal to move.
The first guard Zouriel neutralized himself easily with a hard elbow to the head and he went down without so much as a grunt. Gil moved in to take care of the second guard before he could reach his taser or his walkie-talkie, Zouriel couldn’t quite see which, but by that point the third guard had his taser out and ready to fire while one of the guards at the door was going for his walkie-talkie. Zouriel did a barrel roll on the ground, ducking under the tendrils of the taser as they flew through the air, slicing them off with a neat stroke with his claws as he went, then as he righted himself he threw a short blade at the door guard, making him drop his walkie talkie with a yelp as the blade sliced his hand and possibly cut off a finger or two. It might not have been entirely kind to maim the guard, but there had been no other way and as long as he could avoid killing any of them…
He had to reach the other door guard before he snapped out of his shocked stupor and tried to call for help himself. Could Gil deal with the third guard on his own? Zouriel glanced around quickly to see the guard, who’d dropped his now useless taser, leveling his machine gun at him. He had approached on his left, his blind side, which explained why he hadn’t heard him. This took priority over the door guard and he had to throw himself to the ground as the gun let out a muffled sound, the bullet fire muted by the silencer. He felt the fabric of his jacket tear as a few bullets got much too close for comfort.
“Gil, the guy at the door!” he yelled, all thoughts of stealth forgotten as he tried to prevent himself from being riddled through with bullets. He ducked and rolled to avoid the fire, fumbling with his stash of hidden blades, finally freeing one from its sheath and throwing it straight at the guard. It flew past the guard’s face without even breaking the skin, but it startled him, making him raise the gun, enough for a mad leap for him, claws first. Zouriel managed to knock the guard to the ground with a pained grunt, the claws sinking into the guard’s chest. A metal fist to the face and the guard was out cold.
Heart beating hard in his chest from his brush with death he turned towards the door expecting some form of disaster, but what he saw was Gil, perched on top of the two unconscious door guards. To Zouriel’s shock and horror, Gil was waving a dismembered hand at him, clearly wrenched clear off.
“Took care of it, just like you said”, Gil said as Zouriel walked up, eyeing his impromptu partner in crime. “Got the cameras too…At least, I think I did.”
The water-man looked thoughtful, still waving the spare hand lazily. Zouriel quickly snapped up the hand, tossing it to the side in disgust. He if anyone would be familiar with how it felt to lose a limb, though maybe they’d give this guy a spare just like his. Zouriel snorted.
“He had the walkie talkie in hand and everything”, Gil said defensively, frowning. “I had to do it.”
Zouriel sighed, realizing he should cut the guy some slack; it wasn’t like he’d done worse things in his life. He lifted his head to glance around, taking in the grounds with the unconscious guards littering the ground and the cameras peering unresponsively at him. He could only hope it would take a while for the ones watching them to react. More importantly, much to his relief, there was no sign of guards arriving from the back.
“We have less than an hour to find your brother and get out”, he stated matter of fact. “We probably have less than that, unless the ones watching the cameras are all asleep.”
Gil nodded. “I’ll show you where they’re holding my brother.” The water-man’s face darkened with suppressed anger again, his body tensing up. Zouriel found himself tensing up as well, he’d managed to forget that this had been the easy part, the hard part awaited them inside, in a lab protected by trickery designed specifically to keep someone with a nigh invulnerable water-based body away.
They moved inside as silently as possible, every footstep on the sparkling linoleum made Zouriel wince, every squeak and echo as loud as a bass drum to his ears. At least Gil had the advantage that his movements were near soundless, sliding across the ground more than actually stepping on it.
The hallways had that same unpleasant tinny smell that Zouriel remembered not so fondly, the dim lighting not exactly enhancing the experience. On the other hand, the time of day meant there were no scientists on premises, unless one of them was working overtime to complete their next atrocity to be used by the army in the future. Most of those assholes knew Zouriel on sight, mask or no, so stumbling over one of them would blow his cover completely. He couldn’t help but notice Gil seemed a little agitated too by his surroundings, most likely recalling how things had ended for him last time.
The sound of voices approaching made him tense up and without thinking about it too much he reached out to grab Gil by the arm, suppressing a shudder as his hand near went through the arm, before it solidified on him. Fortunately Gil caught on and copied Zouriel’s movements and pressed himself back against the wall.
Two guards, approached at a leisurely pace, but not without purpose and Zouriel had to strain himself to pick up what they were saying. Unconsciously he reached out a hand to cover Gil’s mouth as the guards came within earshot.
“I’m telling you, it’s nothing. The tech guys will come by in the morning and tell us we just need to reboot out systems. Those damn cameras glitch up so often it’s a wonder they haven’t gotten rid of them.”
Gil quickly shoved the hand away with an annoyed glare and spat out a quick “I’ve got this.” before he slithered around the corner.
“Don’t kill…” was all Zouriel could get out before he heard a muffled scream, the sound of running water, something smashing on the ground followed by two dull thumps.
Hesitantly he peered around the corner and found Gil in the process of trying to tie the guards up with their own canvas jackets. He’d torn strips of fabric off to gag them both first. The water man peered over at Zouriel with a look that was frighteningly close to approval. Zouriel had to admit he was impressed with the speed and ingenuity of the trigger hair tempered creature in front of him and mumbled something lame about a job well done. There was almost a bounce in his slithery step when Gil continued to guide him down the hallways.
The appearance of the guards did spark some concerns, if they had been sent over to check up on the security cameras someone would be sure to notice when they didn’t come back. The clock was ticking and he had no idea how long it would take to bust into the lab they were looking for. He was about to ask if they were anywhere near the place when Gil finally stopped, his face scrunched up like someone who’d just smelled something incredibly foul. Zouriel on the other hand actually felt a little relieved. He didn’t like working overtime without getting paid for his troubles.
“It’s there”, Gil announced, voice laced with anger, his entire body bunched up like a fist. Zouriel peered over at the nondescript door and wondered why that thing had caused so much trouble for the water man. He’d expected lava moats and crossbows with electric wire hanging from the ceiling. Then he took the time to truly look and saw the barely noticeable dots of light lining the walls, floor and ceiling around the door. Frowning, he removed a battered handkerchief from his pocket let it fly at the door. The moment it drifted within that square of light a kind of steam shot out from all of them, freezing the piece of cloth solid in a microsecond. The frozen handkerchief fell to the ground with a dull clang.
“Well, I can see where that would be trouble for you”, Zouriel remarked, tilting his head to the side. “An instant icicle, or should I call it…Gilcicle?”
“Fuck that, I barreled at that door so fast it only froze my feet”, Gil said, ignoring to taunt for once and merely crossing his arms. “I left them behind and then went on. It’s the next thing that screwed me over.”
Trying not to dwell on the fact that Gil happily left part of his body behind, Zouriel instead focused on how he might reach this horrific thing that lay beyond and approached the motion detectors, prying up the metal paneling around them carefully without setting them off. That done it was just a matter of unhooking the connections to the liquid nitrogen containers in the wall.
“You trained me too well, you assholes”, he mumbled to himself as he worked. Gil hovered just behind him, bouncing from one foot to the other, or what passed for that kind of movement, considering the lack of real feet to be seen at the moment. Some tension seemed to go out of him when Zouriel announced that they could open the door without any part of them being flash frozen. Zouriel could only assume that even if it was possible for Gil to live with being partially frozen it hadn’t been a particularly fun experience.
Carefully Zouriel pushed the door open with his feet. When he saw what awaited them inside his gut twisted unpleasantly and he let out a hiss between clenched teeth. Those scientists were nothing but a bunch of sadists, though sadists intent of keeping their playthings to themselves. Inside the room a large piece of equipment whirred into life, its sight painting a pattern of dots on Zouriel’s chest. He was familiar with flame throwers, had encountered them in action, but this had to be the granddaddy of all flame throwers.
“Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire”, Zouriel mumbled, eyeing the dots on his chest with a horrid fascination. He suspected that if he moved even a fraction of an inch, that thing would activate and there would be crispy Zouriel fritters served up in the lab cafeteria for breakfast. Gil anticipated it when Zouriel threw himself backwards and very tactfully slithered to the side, allowing Zouriel to smash into the ground head first. At least Zouriel had succeded in that only part of his bangs had been obliterated by the burst of fire spewing from the machine.
“Thanks”, Zouriel said bitterly, as he watched the little birds fly around his head.
Gil gave him a confused look in response, then his brow furrowed slightly, perhaps wondering if Zouriel was mocking him…Which he was, but he wasn’t going to wait for that penny to drop.
“Your brother had better be very fucking grateful after this”, Zouriel hissed, as he pulled himself into a sitting position, brushing away the ashes of his hair, wrinkling his nose at the smell of it. And so should you be, he almost added, but Gil had another queer look on his face, an expression he’d caught on his own face in the mirror when he was younger, the realization that there could be people in the world who were not out to make your life more difficult than it already was.
“So, it appears that thing is going to torch us if we make any kind of movement within its range of operation”, Zouriel said, moving as close to the door as he dared.
“Feh, I noticed that last time I came through here”, Gil snorted. “…And the second…and third.”
Zouriel raised an eyebrow. At least Gil had some perseverance.
“So, let’s figure out how to get past that thing”, he continued, narrowing his eye and flipping through his different modes of vision as if that would reveal some flaw in the fire-spouting trigger happy machinery inside the room.
“It don’t matter how fast you move, it gets you in the end”, Gil said, visibly cringing, his face wrinkling up with remembered pain.
Zouriel chewed his lip lightly. “But how many things can it track at once?”
Gil turned to look at him, eye widened, but then his brow furrowed again. “You mean we go in at the same time? You think that’ll work?”
“Not…exactly like that, but almost”, Zouriel said as he gestured for Gil to follow him, all the way to the open door. “Now…Hold out your arm.”
“What are you…?” Gil began, even as he began to obediently raise his arm. That’s when Zouriel brought out his larger wrist blade and sliced once, twice, three times, dividing Gil’s gelatinous arm into sections, sending them flying inside the lab like rubber balls. The machine responded as expected, going for the first, the second…
“Run!” he yelled, as he shoved Gil in, then followed himself, ducking to the floor as the machine torched the third globule of watery-mess, noting how Gil actually winced every time one of his dismembered pieces got hit. The machine quickly went for the next moving thing which was Gil. Not wasting any time Zouriel closed the distance between himself and the machine. Somewhere, in the far corner of his consciousness he registered Gil’s cries and the low whirr as the muzzle of the machine snapped around to target him. Then he showed his claws inside the machine, letting his arm sink in to the elbow. The machine made a horrible screeching sound as it began to smoke and shudder, then it went dead and still.
“Sorry about that”, he said, with gritted teeth as he pulled his left arm free from the wreckage. “It seemed like the only way to do this.”
Gil let out a wheeze, stumbling, limping to his side. “Well, thanks for the warning, asshole.” Then after a wheezing pause, he added miserably: “My mouth tastes like burnt hot dogs.”
Zouriel scanned the room, giving Gil the time to literally pull himself together. He couldn’t see anything immediately dangerous, but what he did see was a stained steel room with the words “Holding Area” written on it.
“I’m not a scientist, but I think that might be where they’d keep your brother”, he said out loud, nodding towards the door. Emboldened by how well things had gone thus far, he didn’t wait for Gil and approached the door on his own. He scanned the room one more time reassuring himself that this would be safe enough and then he grabbed the door with his left arm and pulled.
The next second his body began to convulse as God knows how many volts of electricity began to surge through his body. The door flew up in his face, knocking him to the ground. His jaws clamped down on his tongue and he could feel the tinny taste of blood fill his mouth and the back of his throat. To his shock and horror his vision started going all rainbow colored and weird. The last coherent thought spinning around in his head before he blacked out was a simple: “Oh, so that’s the last trap the fuckers set.”
He woke up to a feeling of disorientation, which was quickly replaced by panic. How long had he been out? He tried to sit up much too fast and was rewarded with another trip to the floor as he crumpled back down. When the ceiling had finally stopped spinning he noticed the blue blur that hovered above him as it slowly solidified into that by-now familiar face.
“Hey, tin man, you alive?” Gil said, as he poked him lightly in the chest. That might have been concern on his face, but it might just be concern for his own safety.
“Feel wonderful”, Zouriel gasped out as he finally managed to raise himself off the ground, slowly this time. “Guess I deserved that for letting you get torched…”
“You took it like a champ though”, Gil said with a grin, trying to poke him in the chest again, but Zouriel swatted his hand away.
“The door’s still open”, he noted, as he staggered to his feet, with a surprisingly helpful nudge from Gil. If there were guards rushing over here he wasn’t sure if he could deal with them. They had to finish the job and get out of here…yesterday preferably. When he staggered through the open door into the inner sanctum of the lab, he prayed that there weren’t any more surprises lurking inside. Behind him Gil followed without another word.
Inside was nothing but a large tank and a control panel.
The almost ethereal voice came from the thing inside the tank, a pale youth, not too many years older than 20, as far as Zouriel could judge his age.
“You shouldn’t have come back!” the youth said pressing himself against the glass of the tank. “It’s too late for me anyway…”
“Shut up, Douglas! It’s my fault you’re in here to begin with”, Gil hissed, slithering over to the tank, searching for any way to pry it open. Zouriel hobbled over to the controls, where he quickly spotted a button labeled “open hatch”. It sounded a little unconventional, but…
With a hiss an opening appeared in the front of the tank, cold steam pouring out, filling the room with a queer smell of ozone. The youth inside crumpled slightly, his face the very image of despair and then…he began to fade away.
“No! Douglas!” Gil spat, grabbing for his brother in a panic, but his hands closed on nothing but emptiness.
“This…This is what they did to me…” Douglas voice echoed sadly, reduced to nothing but a disembodied head floating in the air.
“They turned you into liquid and him into gas”, Zouriel mumbled, leaning heavily against the control panel. The cool air in the tank had kept him solid enough, but outside…
Gil’s jaw clenched and he made another lunge towards his fading brother. “Then pull yourself together! If I could do it…You could do it too, goddamnit!”
The fear and panic blazing across Gil’s face was enough to evoke feelings of sympathy deep within Zouriel, but then he heard the harsh clang of an alarm going off somewhere. “We have to get out of here now, Gil”, he said, raising his voice above the sound of the alarm. “With or without your brother.”
“Shut up! Shut up!” Gil spat, before pleading at the last remaining shreds that used to be his brother. “Douglas, please!”
Zouriel’s heart went out for him, ever so briefly, then he was up on the control panel, cracking open the air vent in the ceiling. They might be able to squeeze their way to freedom through it.
“I can…I will…” Douglas voice was nothing but a whisper, barely noticeable. “…Try.”
With a grunt Zouriel hauled himself into the air vent, a tight squeeze, but it was their only remaining option. Then he felt something shove him further inside, giving his ass a poke.
“Move out of the way, fat ass”, came Gil’s irritated voice from somewhere behind him. Zouriel would have made some remark on his fondness for men’s rears, but getting out seemed more important. (That and the disembodied voice in his head remarking that that would have been a “pot calling kettle black” statement.)
“I can look ahead…to make sure the coast is clear”, came another voice and Zouriel’s gut wrenched, nearly making his regurgitate his dinner as he felt something pass clear through him. It was Gil’s brother, he looked just as pale as he had inside the tank and he could see clear through him…but he was there and not fading anymore. There was no time to reflect on it because Gil gave him another hard shove from behind. Better keep moving and move fast, this was the end game and he was not going to let the opposing team win this close to the finish line.
They crawled through the vents, Douglas voice coaxing them in the right direction if they made a wrong turn until he finally announced that freedom laid just beyond the next vent. Zouriel gave it a couple of hard kicks with his boot and then they tumbled out on the gravel outside. As luck would have it, they fell practically right on top of the guard left to guard the rear of the building in case they tried something…well, like this. By this point Zouriel was too weary to protest when Gil smashed the guard into the wall, incapacitating him completely. Douglas let out a gasp, but didn’t comment on it either; he just slumped in a resigned way, as if he was all too familiar with this kind of behavior from his brother.
“Let’s…just get out of here…” Zouriel said. He wasn’t surprised that that announcement was accepted without complaint either.
The boy had been a bit unsettled by Gil, but had accepted Douglas and his state of being easily enough, ducking though him and over him and batting at him with soft cat paws. If Douglas took any offense, he didn’t let it show, but let the boy play with him.
Cassandra hadn’t said much when Zouriel had presented the unconventional brothers to her, but she was judging his sanity with every look she fired his way. She had listened to his bit of advice though and brewed a pot of coffee to placate Gil.
“I’m not dumping them here”, Zouriel said, in an attempt to smooth things over. “I just…felt it would be best to show you what I’m dumping in your neighborhood.”
“We’re not garbage you can dump wherever!” Gil groused as a sipped on his coffee, while at the same time peering at Oy playing with the fringes of Gil where he sat…or hovered on the floor. “You can’t tell us where to go!”
“Like I *told* jello for brains, he and his brother should lay low for a while and this forest is as good a place as any”, Zouriel said, cheerfully ignoring Gil’s existence. “They can hide up in the hills if they search for them here; let those military assholes waste all the time and resources they like.”
“Fine…As long as they don’t come barging in here like you tend to do”, Cassandra said, the slight venom in her voice making her sound angrier than she actually was. “You’re enough of a disturbance.”
With her spoken acceptance her countenance softened slightly, in a way that was barely perceivable and only to someone familiar with her moods. Oy galloped towards her, all cat, before flopping down at her feet in his human form. “Miss Cass, Douglas is fun! Can he come over and play again?”
She arched an eyebrow at him, then peered over at the gaseous youth, smiling shyly at her from the floor. “Maybe he can come back sometime, if he wants to…”
Gil snorted into his cup, but Douglas smiled and nodded. “We should at least come back and say thank you, right Gil?”
“Whuddever”, Gil said, but the look he gave Zouriel seemed to tell a different story. “You owe me too much for me to be able to just walk away”, it said.
As long as it didn’t mean a rude awakening with a choke hold on his neck Zouriel might actually be okay with the water guy shoving himself in his path again. “Cause any trouble with these two and I’ll murder you slowly”, he tried to convey to Gil with the look he gave him in return. Gil nodded mutely and finished his coffee, while Oy continued to play with Douglas on the floor.
“After these two slither off you have some explaining to do”, Cassandra whispered in his ear, pinching it playfully as she traversed the room to her easel. “You owe me”, she mouthed from behind the canvas, while Zouriel poured himself a cup of coffee before they ran out.
Even if this was far from a perfect picture, even if he was far from certain that he’d gotten away without anyone catching on that it had been Zouriel causing trouble at the lab, he allowed himself to relax, lean back…And just breathe. Breathe and be happy he was still alive and, as Zouriel peered over the rim of the cup at Gil and Dougas, perhaps a little less alone in the world.