The phone rings, waiting for Regina to pick up, as I slap-flop my way down the hallway in my ridiculous shoes. After the third ring, it’s answered.
“Doctor Simmons!” Regina’s voice sounds relieved. “I was worried about you.”
“Hi, Regina,” I say, bracing myself for the abuse. I am not disappointed.
“Dan! Scumlicker! What’d you do with the doctor, you human sewer?”
“What’d I do with the doctor? Nothing, she’s fine. She’s helping me out, on account of us being friends.”
“Put her on, then.”
“Put! Her! On! If you’ve hurt her, I’ll sear the flesh from your bones! I’ll fry you alive! I’ll–”
“Whoa, chill, I’m getting her!”
I hurry back down the hallway and knock hastily on Doc Simmons’s door before sticking my head in. “Doc? Regina wants to talk to you. If you could maybe put in a kind word for me, that’d be awesome.”
The doc takes the phone from me. “Regina? …Yes, obviously I’m fine. …He has my phone because I lent it to him to help sort this out. …I would assume that he wasn’t able to get it back from the police after you helped throw him in jail this morning.”
There’s a longer pause, and Simmons’s tone is sharper on her next reply. “He and I are working to fix this, while you are out gallivanting around like some easily-controlled airhead. No, don’t act stupid! I don’t care how you feel, stop and think about it for five minutes and you can work your way through this. And if you can’t, come in here so I can sedate you like Brian.”
She thrusts the phone angrily back in my direction. I can hear Regina talking, but can’t make out the words until I get it to my ear. “–okay though, right?”
“What, Brian?” I ask, leaving the room again. I hear a sputtered hiss on the other end of the line, and roll my eyes. “Are you doing the same thing he did? Fine, I won’t pollute his name with my mouth. Your boyfriend who shall not be named is fine. The doc’s taking care of him. And as long as you don’t start lobbing lightning at the hospital in an attempt to get to me, neither one’s in any particular danger.”
“Are you saying you’ll hurt them if I come after you?” Regina spits.
“What? No! I’m saying that if you start calling down lightning, YOU’RE going to hit them! I’m not threatening my friends!”
My only answer for several seconds is labored breathing. Finally, Regina says, “You can’t imagine how hard this is.”
“It’s not really great for me, either.”
“No, you can’t imagine it! It’s like you’ve currently got a gardening trowel stuck in my side, like you’ve slashed it through blood and muscle and organs. And you’re standing here in front of me and pretending nothing’s wrong, and I’m supposed to agree with you because why would you do that? Only you DID and I can FEEL IT and it’s KILLING ME!”
“Okay,” I say. “Okay. That sucks, unimaginably sucks, and I’m sorry and I’m on my way to stop it. Do you believe that?”
Another lengthy pause. “Yes.”
“You know that we’re friends? Logically you know that, if nothing else?”
“Yes.” The word sounds like it’s been wrested from her mouth like a tooth, leaving her hurt and bloodied in its passing.
“This is going to be a lot easier if you can work with me. Can you do that?”
“Don’t patronize me! Don’t act like I’m beneath you!”
“I’m not doing that. I’m just trying to stay calm here.”
“Why, so you can pretend to be the sensible one while I’m the hysterical woman?”
“No, because I’ve got to be calm to reduce my magnetic attraction and make me less vulnerable to lightning.”
Regina starts to laugh. It’s got a bit of a hysterical jag to it, but it sounds like a release of tension, and I take it as a good sign. I reach the bottom floor of the hospital while she’s still laughing, start to exit the stairwell, and then realize something important. I move the phone away from my mouth so I can sigh without offending Regina, and clomp my way back up the stairs.
Regina’s laughter subsides as I’m on my way back up.
“Do you even have any powers at all right now?” she asks.
I hesitate. She sounds friendly enough, but probably that’s a temporary thing. I saw how quickly Brian lost control and turned on me again. Should I really confess to someone that’s trying to kill me that I’m basically defenseless?
On the other hand, she pretty much already knows that. She saw Ichabot take my powers this morning. So I might as well trust her.
“Nothing but the remnants,” I admit. “Little bit strong, little bit smart, little bit of everything.”
“And a little bit screwed,” she concludes. “Man. And you’ve got both me and Brian after you now?”
“Yeah, and Vince.”
“Huh. So probably Mr. Tanger too, then.”
“Yeah, though he’s keeping his distance so far. He was always more of a hands-off guy anyway. Puppet master type.” I reach the door to Doc Simmons’s lab and knock again. She looks up and makes a gesture of annoyed inquiry in my direction.
“Can I borrow your car?” I mouth, holding the phone with my shoulder and miming a steering wheel with both hands. Simmons looks disgusted, but tosses me a set of keys. I wave my thanks at her and back out of the lab.
Regina is saying, “So even with Brian out of commission, you’ve got the deck stacked against you. And you’re looking to take me out of play?”
“Well, I was hoping for something more positive, actually. Think there’s any possibility of being able to work with me?”
Another long pause, and Regina’s voice is significantly less friendly when it returns. “You cannot possibly understand what you’re asking of me.”
“Okay, stipulated! But can you do it? If not, let me know, but if you can, it really improves our odds.” I’m just opening the door to the stairwell when I’m struck by my own stupidity again, and turn back toward Doc Simmons’s lab again. The doc is standing in the doorway, a piece of paper held in her hand. Even from down the hallway, I can see she has one eyebrow raised and is looking sarcastic. I hurry back and collect the card from her, which lists her car’s make, model, color and approximate location in the parking lot. I try to silently convey “You couldn’t have reminded me to wait for this?”, but my miming skills aren’t that good.
“I can do it,” Regina says after long consideration. “I can keep this under control.”
“You sure? I totally understand if it’s not something that–”
“You don’t understand anything!” Regina explodes. “You’re asking me to work with the worst person imaginable, the equivalent of someone who murdered my whole family in front of me and framed me for it, and then saying ‘Hey, I get it if this is hard for you.’ Shut up! You don’t get it. I’ll work with you because I think you’re right and I don’t think this is true, but shut up and don’t make me listen to your smarmy filth mouth!”
It’s quiet for a moment after that, except for the thick slaps of my shoe-mats hitting the ground. I can’t really think of anything to say in response to that, and Regina seems to be collecting herself.
As I head toward the front doors of the hospital this time, I do a quick inventory. Keys, check. Knowledge of car, check. Phone for communication, check. Still no money or ID, but I’m doing a lot better than I was on the way in here. All I’ve got to do is find the doc’s car in the driving rain, and I’ll be mobile again.
I exit the front doors and scan the parking lot from the safety of the overhang. Doc Simmons’s car should be off to the right, but I haven’t taken more than two steps that way before I see a figure standing in the rain. It’s hard to make out anything but bedraggled blonde hair and a cell phone held to the side of the head, but that’s enough to send me leaping back for the overhang. I’m barely back under the metal roof before a lightning bolt suddenly crashes in the parking lot, just about where I would have been if I’d kept going. Half-blinded, I scramble for the doors, the smell of ozone and burnt asphalt stinging my nose.
I dash back inside, spilling onto the hospital floor. The duty nurse gapes at me, but I just wave a hand at her. “Regina?!” I shout into the phone.
“I’m not really ready to see you yet, Dan,” the phone replies.
“Yeah, I kinda caught that!” I pick myself up off the floor, throbbing all over from every injury I just reopened. “You couldn’t have given me a little bit of a warning?”
“That was a warning.” Regina laughs without humor. “That was nowhere near you, really.”
“It felt pretty near!” I’ve still got spots in my vision and everything smells a little burned, but I seem to be basically okay. “So…I need to leave the hospital. Are you going to let me?”
“I’ll move off to the eastern side, Dan. That was just bad timing. I didn’t mean to be standing there when you came out.”
“Why were you there, then?”
“To kill you when you came out.”
“That was before. I changed my mind. I’m going to work with you. I have to. I just don’t want to see you.”
“O…okay. You’re doing okay with the phone, though?”
“It feels like you’ve got a hand in my guts and are twisting your fingers into a fist.”
“Don’t ask me again if I can handle it, Dan. I’m doing it. You’ll know I can’t handle it when a lightning bolt cooks you alive, boiling the blood as it pours out of your twitching body.”
“Ah…check. You…you clear of the parking lot now?”
“I’m around the corner. Don’t dawdle. The temptation makes me twitchy.”
With my makeshift shoes filling up with water, I awkwardly sprint for where I think the car is, hitting the unlock button on the remote to make the lights flash and guide me in. As I spot the car, a sharp pain raps me on the top of my head. My hand flies to the spot, covering it, and is hit by several more missiles. It’s starting to hail.
With ice pinging painfully around me, I tear the car door open and leap clumsily inside, slamming it shut behind me. I’m surrounded by a metallic rattle, but it’s blissfully dry and safe inside the car. I start the engine and turn the heater on full blast.
“Okay,” I say to Regina. “Let’s make a plan.”