Who: Billy and Aura What: A dream Where: In Aura’s head When: During the coma Warnings: None
The dream was cold. Cold enough that ice lined the window in the hospital room, and cold enough that slush lined the doorway. The anesthetic greens and grays of the walls were covered with specs of white, piles of snow in the corners, pristine and unsullied. It was cold in the dream.
The dreamer was not in the hospital bed. She was not even in her room, though the dream had begun there. The dream began there for anyone joining it; in the empty, cold room that was devoid of life. The door was open and the hall outside was lit, clearly indicating the intended path for the walker to travel. The hall was lined with doors, but they would not open, and the arrow at the end of the hall indicated the nursery. In fact, no matter where you went within the dream the nursery would be your destination.
It was not often that Billy had an excess of sensation in his dreams. He felt the cold in his fingers first, particularly in the bones of his knuckles where they wrapped tightly around the cane that (nearly) substituted for the bad leg and hip. He stared around. His own golden glow was starting to be uncomfortably familiar, though it appeared to give off no heat, for the snow nearest him didn’t thaw. In a natural inclination, he moved out toward the light,away from the solitary bed that was even more familiar glow.
The hospital made him nervous, and at first he didn’t see anyone, and that made him more nervous. Some of his worst memories were not of things happening, but of ennui, a total absence of movement or action, in which all he could do was lie there with his own thoughts and try not to let them drag him down into their spiraling depths. He didn’t try any of the doors that were closed, in fact being sure to avoid going too close to them as he tottered, shuffled and limped down the linoleum.
In front of the nursery window, Aura stood in hospital scrubs with Away Team Member in clear print across the back, her arms crossed. She did not look injured or upset, and she was not crying or angry. She was just looking into the window, her head cocked to the side curiously as she looked at the tiny babies with their kicking feet and their tiny fisted fingers.
He didn’t recognize Aura at first, but he was relieved to see someone else there in the cold hospital with him, so he joined her at the window. He looked at the little figures beyond first, frowning and wondering if it was as cold in their little room on the other side of the glass, before he turned his head and beheld Aura. He blinked, but didn’t recoil.
She was looking at him as he looked into the nursery, as he looked at the babies with their happy pinkness. He glowed, as he always did. She didn’t, because she never did. She watched him until he blinked, and then she smiled. “The hospital isn’t for you this time, flyboy,” she said, giving him a ‘told you so’ kind of smile that disavowed all knowledge of how this kept happening. Then, immediately, “what did you see in the mirror?” No questions about Simon, no explanations, no crying or gnashing of teeth. Just that.
As in many of Billy’s dreams, he lived very much in the moment, and it didn’t occur to him to ask her any of those things, not just yet. In the way of dreams, they would float to him when it was a good time to speak of them. He was not dismayed to hear that the hospital was not his kind of hospital; quite the opposite. “I see myself, like this.” He smiled at her, a truly Billy smile, an easy, relaxed smile that encouraged her to be easy and relax at the same time. “With a bad bleach job.” He pointed at his hair, which at least here, had a normal color.
She glanced at his hair when he pointed, and then back at his glowing features. “I wonder what that means?” she asked, and it was a question, because maybe he knew. Someone had to know what it all meant. She looked back at the babies, and she smiled. “This is why people have to die, you know, so this can happen.” It was said with a sort of soft-reverent awe. She grinned a moment later and she gave him a sidelong look. “Still not your time, flyboy, before you freak out on me.”
He had started to look distinctly uncomfortable when her favorite topic came up, but not enough to step away from the window. He looked past the glass and frowned a little. “It seems cold for them.” Looking the way he had come. “And there’s no one here to take care of them either.” He shifted, rolling his weight on the cane and toddling a bit to turn and face her more fully. “You’re not lonely?” He would be lonely, thinking about what “that” meant and nothing more.
“In my dream? No, I’m not lonely,” she said with a smile. “When I’m awake, a little. I pissed you off pretty good, huh, glowworm?” She smiled, just because it was so easy and casual and normal to make fun of him again. Well, no, to just be around him. It had been too many years of dreaming like this for it to just disappear like it had. “You heard about Simon?”
His expression seemed to say that yes, she had pissed him off quite a lot. Billy didn’t get pissed very often, but he certainly was male enough to be defensive, and after truths were revealed, he felt betrayed and frightened and quite defensive enough to get very angry indeed. He felt as if he had revealed things to her he might not have revealed if he’d known about her, and now he couldn’t know if that was true. He braced himself with one defined hand on the windowsill, forehead inches from the glass. His breath steamed on the surface. “I heard.”
She turned to face him, her shoulder propped against the same glass he was steaming with his breath. “He’s hurting, Billy,” she said calmly and rationally. “It wasn’t a thinking thing.” And then, just as quickly as she’d brought it up she smiled again. “Who’ve you been driving crazy since you declared eternal war against my away team?” It was a curious question, the sort you ask when you haven’t had anyone to tell you about their day in a long while, the kind you ask when you just want to listen to another human’s voice and thoughts, the kind when the actual words don’t matter so much as having the conversation. “Playing any? Being stubborn?”
He wasn’t listening to the questions. He was looking through the glass; or perhaps, at his subtly burning reflection through the steam. “Not a thinking thing. No, he wouldn’t be thinking. Or feeling, either, if he could hurt you like that.” Billy didn’t get pissed very often. He sounded resigned, almost, as he had already experienced this anger and let it run its course, and he thought he had it put away.
She reached out and nudged his shoulder. “I asked you things, flyboy,” she reminded. The nudge was friend and familial and very much like the kind she would give Merc or another one of the huge clan she came from. “You have to help him get over it, what he did. For me.” It was a simple statement, but everything around them chilled, emphasizing the importance of it. She knew what Simon would do to himself over this. “And keep your dad from having him killed.” Pierce would, and Aura well knew it.
Billy shuddered through he ice forming on the raised hairs of his arms. “I don’t know if I can talk to him.” He gave a crude little snort of laughter when she talked about dad having somebody killed. She thought he was joking, though it was a close joke, because Pierce did tend to take things extremely personally and his business rivals called him a blood-sucking snake with absolute gravity. Billy, however, hardly thought he was capable of murder.
“You can,” she said surely. “It’s why you glow.” It was a throwaway comment of simple truth. He was better than the rest of them, and anyone could see that, even Aura with her non-existent temper. The scene around them warmed, and the walls changed to a soft and soothing cream. Chairs appeared, soft and comfortable chairs, and there was soothing music being piped in around them from somewhere. She plopped down into a chair, very familiar with the place, which was obviously another medical facility. “Now, the important stuff. Tell me all the rest.”
Billy was surprised by the change. He associated Aura’s dreams with places of stillness, coldness and damp. This place wasn’t much like that. It was, he found, a lot easier on the pain, though. “I don’t know what glowing has to do with it.” He limped to a chair, looking around for the source of the nameless music. After taking a seat, he glanced at his arm. He seemed to glow a little brighter even as the colors around him brightened, like their warmth made him warm.
It was one of the family rooms at the Hospice, but she wasn’t going to tell him that; even in the dream she knew better. She reached for the remote control on the table, and she turned on the television at the far end of the room. When Twilight Zone sounds filled the air, joining the music in some sort of oddly harmonic way that could only work in a dream, she looked at him again, glad he was more comfortable here. It was made for comfort, this room, and she settled into the familiar chair. “Good things glow,” she said, and she almost rolled her eyes at him, a playful thing. “You’re impossible about letting someone live vicariously through you, flyboy. Dates? Exciting adventures? Trips to the park?”
He shook his head. None of those things. He was used to her asking how he was, asking what he was doing and whether or not he had got any exercise, or if he’d been too tired to do any moving that day. He was used to being blunt, to telling her things he wouldn’t say for fear that people might think he was wallowing in self-pity. Billy was used to just saying things around Aura without worrying what she would think of them. “The mirror thing scared me and I skipped some meds, so it messed me up and I haven’t been able to get up,” he told her, seriously. Old habits die hard.
She smiled, because that confession was familiar and warm like a childhood blanket. She rested her head on the back of the chair, and she regarded him. “Me too,” she said, no embarrassment or saving face. “The mirror scared the shit out of me, even if I pretend it didn’t. I don’t scare easy,” she added unnecessarily. “You thought it was the meds doing it, hallucinations?” she asked, because medicines did make people hallucinate. Granted, some of the things people thought were hallucinations weren’t - liked loved ones at the foot of the bed during times of illness. The medicines, she thought, made it easier to see beyond the layers of living and life and death and not-death. She didn’t say that, though. He was talking to her again, and she didn’t want to risk him withdrawing.
He nodded, oblivious to her line of thought. “Yes. Some of the strong ones I’ve had bad reactions before, but not like this.” He lifted his hand and slowly dipped his fingers toward his palm one by one. “The meds aren’t supposed to get in my head, so I freaked.” A little wince. It seemed stupid now.
“Meds make people hallucinate,” she said, and it didn’t sound validating so much as a simple truth. “Freaking is normal, and like I said, I just about peed myself. I didn’t just see myself with a bad frost job. I saw something half-” she stopped, not wanting to use the word dead again with him. “not human.”
He looked into her face, searching, curious. “Really? Not human? Like a mermaid, or something?” The world ‘half’ had thrown him in the direction of mythological animals and things like fairies. He had a difficult time imagining Aura as a fairy, and smiled suddenly.
She took the smile to mean he didn’t think she could be a mermaid, and she laughed, even as she threw a chair cushion at his glowing head. “Just because I don’t want to brush my hair with kitchen forks and give my voice up to an octopus to find love doesn’t mean I can’t be a mermaid, flyboy.” It was easily said, laughing and not at all offended, and once she’d stopped laughing she just chuckled one more time with softly-remembered mirth. “I miss you, idiot.”
He smiled still, having dodged the cushion very well for a man that spent most of his time in a chair, and looked content. “When are you waking up?” he asked, earnestly.
She shook her head. “I can’t see my own time, Billy. I don’t know. If you find someone like me out there, they can tell you though,” she said it as if there had to be a million people just like her, because she had no aggrandized opinion of her own worth. If she could do what she did, so could others. “So you have to take care of Simon.” She paused, and her expression went serious. “But don’t get close enough for him to swing at you.”
Billy’s jaw went tight. “He’s welcome to try it. Then I might not feel bad hitting him back.” It was hard to imagine Billy hitting anyone, and it didn’t have anything to do with the bad legs. It had to do with the look in his eyes when he looked at another person, like even if he didn’t know what made them tick he still somehow understood who they were. It could not be denied, however, that just then he was dead serious.
“No,” she said. One word. No. It wouldn’t make him feel any better, and it wouldn’t make Simon any better. “He can’t think everyone hates him, or he’ll just get worse.” She knew that somehow, knew that Simon needed acceptance in a way she could never imagine needing. “Help him find his birth parents, help him get help. Help him, flyboy. Don’t let your fists fly. And for the love of Rod Sterling, keep Merc in check.”
Billy frowned and looked at the ceiling. The birth parents. Right. He wasn’t supposed to know anything about that. And Merc, he was supposed to keep Merc in check. Right. Merc was in a rage, and he would probably be angry that Billy wasn’t in a rage too. Billy couldn’t help it. He just didn’t rage at people. He could be angry, and he was, but he didn’t rage. He didn’t say anything and twitched his fingers along piano keys that weren’t there, thinking about how not lying was probably not the same as opening his mouth and actually doing it, right?
“Billy,” It was a cautionary word, a questioning thing. It said what are you hiding from me?, and it said it loud and clear.
Guilty start. “What?”
“What?” she repeated.
“What what?” Blink blink.
“What aren’t you telling me?” she asked, because Billy was as terrible at lying as he was at not glowing and being all whatever it was that he was.
Billy just looked guilty and shook his head. Can’t tell you.
That made her curious, so very curious, and she tipped her head. She didn’t want to make him lie, because he was Billy and Billy didn’t lie. But there was something there, something he wasn’t telling her. “You know something,” she said, without going so far as to ask what.
“I know a lot of things?” he asked, hoping that was an adequate response.
She sighed at him, but she left it. “You aren’t going to tell me,” she said, because he wasn’t. She frowned thoughtfully, disliking the secrets between them, because there had never been any before. She mourned the passing of openness, and she motioned to his legs. “You’re going to get back up once you’re awake, aren’t you?”
The frown made him feel even worse, and his fingers twitched more. “When the meds start working again,” he replied, offering the reply out like an olive branch.
The twitching of his fingers made any displeasure she felt melt away. He was entirely and wholly himself, and that’s what made him special. “I’m not going to make you narc, flyboy,” she told him, her tone fond. “Relax.”
More twitching. “I just don’t like it,” he said, frowning at the situation as a whole. “This whole thing with you and with Simon. It doesn’t make any sense. I thought I knew him.”
She settled back in the chair again, because this she’d thought about long and long and long. “He feels like everything hates him, Billy. The world dislikes him, and he is alone. He feels guilt for his brother, and he feels responsible for his parents abandoning him, and he feels like he doesn’t fit anywhere. He’s angry. He’s so very angry.” It was true, and she’d realized it early on. “He feels as much anger as he does love.”
“He didn’t seem like that to me,” Billy said, honestly.
“Because you see the good in people,” she said easily, with utter simplicity. He did. “You, flyboy, are the kind that goes down with the ship. You’re the one that stays on the planet when the away mission goes sour. You’re good. It’s really a pain in the ass, and you should think of stopping,” she said, but it was with a smile that contradicted her words. She thought he was pretty fantastic, and it showed.
For his part, Billy had no idea what she was talking about. He didn’t feel particularly good. He felt petty for being angry at her for being herself, he felt guilty that he wanted to hit Simon, he was annoyed that he hadn’t seen the things in Simon that Aura had seen, and he was worried that Aura wasn’t going to wake up at all, and they were going to keep meeting like this until it drove him crazy what they weren’t saying. He rubbed his forehead and didn’t reply, just gave a tired little shake of his head.
“You’re thinking too hard,” she told him, because she could tell he was from all that silence and from the way he rubbed his forehead. “Get back into your own head, and once your meds are back to normal, go do something music related... with lyrics.”
“You push too hard about the music,” he said evasively. “I’ll get there when I get there.” He was worried he wasn’t going to get there, and if he tried too hard and failed, it was just going to prove it. That was one thing, however, he didn’t want to talk about. “If you don’t wake up,” he said, pushing himself out of the chair, “I’ll just end up coming back.” He took one step, but it was a bad step, and he fell--and woke up.