New Haven State Hospital.
Connor, and Sebastian.
Though the melancholy expression on Connor’s visage revealed a less than sublime experience, his treck through a hospital riddled with the unfortunate victims of a catastrophe put his situation into perspective. Indeed, the boy was cursed for his nature, but the stage he now found himself on spoke of actual suffering. No mean words, or false accusations, but rather, ripped limbs and torn spirits. Gripping the strap of his shoulder bag, Connor’s obsidian gaze traced itself across a lobby of murmurs, and tears. A Variant caused this, all of it. A Variant was the reason for so many eyes fixing themselves on the ‘Monster’ upon his entrance into a filled hospital.
Tensing, Connor’s sharp teeth clenched at the thought. It was just like back at school, as if he was in that cafeteria all over again. ”I’m here to..,” the boy tried, speaking to a receptionist with the occasional glance spared those accompanying him. ”Mom works here, Claire Everest,” he continued, ”I brought her dinner,” the teenaged Variant finished, raising a paper bag into view of the clerk.
“Do you know which floor she works on?” A question arose, clearly indicating that the receptionist was a new addition. Connor was not a person easily forgotten, his appearance and presence offering a more memorable repertoire than most.
”Yeah, the ER,” Connor informed.
“Alright, you know your way around, then,” the receptionist stated, her fingers dancing across a keyboard, “it’s pretty hectic right now, so you will have to excuse the stress.”
”Yeah..,” the Variant returned, a quiet mention before he started towards a constantly moving elevator. Little more than a single button-press brought him closer to the boy’s mother, but with every consecutive step, the aftermath of what had transpired in Midtown made itself very clear.
Stephanie sat in the nurse’s lounge to take a quick breather between patients. She had thought that transferring from the ICU to the ER would be a nice break from the constant pressure of managing patients in critical condition, but then the city fell apart and those hopes were dashed. She stared into space and tried to and tried to remain steady, absently smoothing the thin fabric of her scrub bottoms against her thighs.
The past two days had been the most tumultuous emotional roller coaster of her life. She was still trying to process the events of her brother being wheeled into the ER barely alive, and sitting with him on the recovery ward yesterday still felt like a dream. That gut-wrenching feeling of watching his motionless body get pushed passed her, while she screamed hysterically, returned to her full force as she replayed it in her mind. Stephanie knew that he had started working with a new department in the FBI, but he never talked about the specifics of his job. She figured he was just helping catch criminals, flashing a badge around in a suit and tie just like in the movies. And during the couple of times she had met his friends, telling them to take care of him had been more in teasing than out of real worry.
They were the scariest thing she had ever seen come through those ER doors, wearing all of that gear and armed to the teeth, and looking like they had just been through hell. Was that the reality Sebastian faced every day? She could not wrap her head around him being part of such a team. The memories she had of her brother were of a kind man with a good heart, not a dangerous killer. At the edge of her mind was the realization that in the many years he had been away, Stephanie could not remember a time that she actually knew what he was doing other than serving his country.
Trying to make sense of all of this, and thinking of what it meant for him after he was out of recovery, upset her all over again.
Stephanie had not noticed the entity appear in the door of the nurse’s lounge at first. However, she finally caught the shape out of the corner of her eye and involuntarily looked in that direction. The sight before her was confusing, but at first she didn’t know why. It was a boy, though as the seconds past it became obvious that it was no normal boy at all. He was pale, whiter than Stephanie had ever seen, and he was peering at her through black, pupil-less eyes that were unnaturally large. He was carrying a paper bag, but it was not gripped by human fingers but by black claws that resembled spikes.
Stephanie stood slowly, unable to look away from the boy’s unnatural eyes. She was the only one in the room, and she did not think that he could have possibly come to see her. She pulled her two long, light brown braids over one shoulder and fidgeted with them nervously.
“Hi,” she managed to stammer out. “Are you… lost? Or… can I help you?”
Those white walls accompanying a sterile interior had elevated themselves to a second home for the young Variant. He could still recall his earlier days, where he at times waited for his mother to end her shift, all the while killing time in the employee lounge. Six years had passed since that development, and many of the nurses had moved on to other venues throughout the years. The few who still recognized Connor’s presence afforded the boy tender smiles, in between hurried movements.
It was heavily contrasted, however, once the ‘Monster’ had stepped into a less hectic location. Though scarce in decoration, and with humble furniture, the employee lounge was designed to allow for safety, and a moment’s breath. Beyond a single door loomed a battlefield, a buffet for the Grim Reaper. ”Ah, hey,” Connor spoke, his obsidian orbs meeting a young woman who was clearly a new addition to the floor. At the very least, it seemed like the New Haven State Hospital was acquiring more staff, and it took little to realize that the healthcare system was critically underfunded. There was a time when Connor himself considered following in his mother’s footsteps, but a simple gaze across those clawed digits would quickly dispell the notion. He was not built for this, literally. The Variant would sooner cut someone, than aid them in their plight.
”I’m Connor,” the boy spoke, raising his hand to offer a faint wave. She appeared tired, and somewhat disheveled, this young woman who otherwise displayed a pretty visage. She had been through the grinder, more so than many of the other nurses, which was evident from a moment’s consideration. ”My mom works here,” Connor continued, ”Claire Everest, she’s.., been here for a while,” came a quiet chuckle, the boy’s ghostly voice trickling past his pale lips affording a mixture of his teenaged self, and something else entirely. ”I brought her dinner,” Connor revealed, his claws clicking against the fridge handle before he pulled it open to slip the hard-working woman’s food into its confines, before closing it shut. The act, in itself, exposed his familiarity with the locale. ”Maybe I should have brought some for you, too,” Connor joked, his shark-like teeth laid bare before a playful grin. ”You look pretty beat up, are you okay?”
Stephanie managed a nervous smile when Conner introduced himself. He mentioned that the senior-most ER nurse, Claire, was his mother, and by the way he seemed right at home in the nurse’s lounge Stephanie suspected that he visited often. The unearthly nature of his voice as he spoke was unsettling, and somewhere in the back of her mind the word ‘Variant’ seemed to give her pause, more out of curiosity than anything else. She remained outwardly neutral, though, so as not to offend him.
“Oh, I know Claire,” Stephanie told him. “I’ve been working with her for a week now.”
She watched Conner put his mother’s dinner in the refrigerator and smiled sweetly as he mentioned that he should have brought her some as well. “I appreciate the thought,” she offered.
But ‘beat up’? The comment had taken a moment to sink in. Stephanie shifted around self-consciously. She supposed she probably did look quite a mess. Her eyes were puffy and she wasn’t wearing any makeup. The weariness and emotional strain likely made her look as much like a zombie as she felt. At least she had the mental wherewithal to grab the appropriate sized scrub top today, unlike yesterday, when she had been trying frantically to stuff herself into an extra small and had a complete nervous breakdown when she couldn’t pull it over her. Claire had had to calm her down and hand her another top.
“Your mom is actually on another floor with my brother,” Stephanie told Conner. She clenched her jaw at the thought of Sebastian and everything that had happened, but she was determined to keep some semblance of a smile on her face. “She’s making sure all the charting was transferred. He got… hurt.”
Claire had told her to stay off the recovery ward while she was on shift. There were other people who needed help, after all, and she needed to stay focused on her job. Stephanie pulled her phone out of the back pocket of her scrubs and looked at the time (even though she was wearing a watch). She had a few minutes to spare and a perfectly acceptable excuse to go see him now.
“I can take you there, if you want,” Stephanie said smiling and hoping that she did not seem overly eager. “I’m sure she would love to see you, and you can tell her that dinner is waiting.”
Another family member confined to the walls of a crowded hospital. Connor’s heart sank into a pit in his stomach at the mention, and his unnatural eyes lowered themselves to the floor in regret. Not everyone had found themselves on the surface of a medical bed due to Subject Seven’s attack, but considering Stephanie’s composure and her obvious discomfort, acceptance of the situation had yet to sink in. As had been established, Connor had very few skills, and fewer abilities he could consider useful, but the young painter was perceptive. This nurse had been through a lot, and behind those black, unnerving orbs resting above Connor’s small nose, sympathy was abundant. A single Variant had caused the chaos which now echoed through the New Haven State Hospital, and several terrified expressions meeting him from unfortunate patients were not lost on the boy.
”I’m.., really sorry,” Connor began, his claws quietly fiddling with one another as the teenager attempted to think of what else he could say to perhaps ease the situation. Naturally, there was nothing he could manage which would even dent the misery spread throughout. Today, he had been blamed for this whole disaster, because as far as Connor could tell, he was the only visible Variant in the immediate area. Of course, there were others. One of them destroyed a massive part of Midtown. However, it appeared far more common for Variants to present themselves as completely human, where Connor would sooner fit into a fictional setting. ”Sure,” the boy forced a smile, his clawed digits moving towards the strap of his shoulder bag, which they proceeded to gently grip. ”I’d appreciate it, uhm.., if it’s no bother,” he tried. Bringing a Variant to someone who had, presumably, been hurt by recent events, could backfire drastically. However, this nurse didn’t seem to mind Connor’s nature. Indeed, his appearance came as an unexpected addition to anyone viewing him for the first time, which he held against no one. Though, so far, Stephanie, who remained unnamed, had been polite and courteous, despite obvious distress. If she was ever interested in what this specific Variant could do, New Haven State Hospital was where the teenager had been registered, and his information was clearly available, more so than in any other institution. Connor was aware that if she decided to have a look at his documents, the next time she saw him, her forced comfort would likely crumble. He could be the source of this chaos, just as much as Subject Seven, and he was certain that such a glaring fact would be held against him more than once.
”I’ll stick close to you,” Connor stated, before placing a hand on the doorknob, ”I don’t want to scare any of the others,” he finished with a small chuckle, but there was no jest in his statement.
The first thing Sebastian noticed when his visitors arrived was his sister’s smile brighten up the entire room as she came through the door. He met her gaze evenly, but only for a moment. With all of the sedative and pain medication finally out of his system, he was himself again. Sebastian was back in reality, where he didn’t deserve the way such a smile from her made him feel. He knew she had a million questions that she was too afraid to ask. He knew that even if she asked them, he wouldn’t want to tell her the answers. And so he averted his gaze from Stephanie’s beautiful face, and instead regarded the second thing he had noticed.
A Variant had come in with her. He took in every detail of the scene unfolding in the room with total scrutiny. It was a boy. He heard the nurse who had been working on the computer in his room call him Conner. It was her son. He had brought her dinner and had met Stephanie in the employee lounge of the ER, who had then brought him to see his mom.
In his mind, Sebastian rapidly rifled through dozens of Variant profiles that he had memorized, the SRHRT ‘hot list’ of those Variants that needed to be taken down on sight and with extreme prejudice. Short, ghostly white, claws for hands, unnaturally large and black eyes- none of it matched the description of any Variant on the list. He considered that N.O.V.A. may have him categorized in their database, but he didn’t care what they thought.
His intuitive nature took over when the technical evaluation was done, and he realized that the boy, Conner, was clearly not a threat. In fact, he seemed more afraid of the people there than they were of him. Sebastian noticed the way the other staff looked at him. He noticed that it made Conner uncomfortable.
This was something they had in common at that very moment.
He looked at Stephanie again, but she had stepped over to the other side of the room and was in the middle of a conversation with the nurse who had been checking his chart, Claire, the Variant boy’s mom. It sounded like his sister was being admonished for coming to his room again. He shook his head. He couldn’t keep inconveniencing everyone like this.
Not only that, but there was work to be done, injuries be damned.
He looked Conner again, who was waiting politely for his mother to finish her conversation. Sebastian decided that it was refreshing to make contact with a Variant that didn’t involve him having to shoot at it. There was true evil in the world, both Variant and human. However, there was also true innocence among them all. This was the other side of the story that he always reminded his team never to never forget.
“Hey,” he called discretely to the boy to start a plan in motion. He gestured with his head for him to come nearer. He did, though he was very precautious.
“Conner, right?” Sebastian said quietly. “You know, I noticed that you’re not a real big fan of this place. I’m not either, if I’m honest. To crowded. And the people? Can’t stand them. Present company excluded, of course.” He nodded toward his sister and Conner’s mother.
He didn’t have much experience talking with young people, but he was trying to be relatable and get Conner to relax a little, so he turned the next part into a little game for them.
“So here’s the deal,” he said directing Conner’s gaze toward his hand. Sebastian was holding all of the wires from his telemetry device, which he had disconnected, and the catheter from his IV, which he had removed himself.
“What do you say, you want to help me bust out of here?” he asked with a friendly wink.
”Hey,” Connor offered, his clawed hand rising in a friendly wave, the boy revealing a small grin in unison. Someone who wasn’t afraid of him? That made a handful, at this point, but it was always a refreshing addition. Sebastian was the man’s name, and his athletic, clearly battle-hardened frame confessed to an active life-style. Throughout Connor’s young existence, he had learned a miniscule amount about bodily damage, and basic life support from his mother. Nothing to actually consider a useful skill, but enough to pinpoint a vague assessment of a man’s injuries. Sebastian hadn’t fallen down the stairs. That much was obvious. ”It was.., nicer..,” Connor answered, ”before Midtown was attacked,” he proceeded with a short sigh, the teenager’s unearthly voice trickling past a blanket of quiet noise filling Sebastian’s room.
Managing a slight grin, Connor’s sharp teeth revealed themselves along with the silent chuckle soon following, ”I kinda’ expected you to bail, the first chance you got, Chris Redfield,” the teenager finished. He enjoyed video games as much as the next kid, and this man gave off very specific vibes.
Connor turned his attention towards his mother and Stephanie who both left the room following a short exchange. Not enough nurses, far too many patients. Most would feel sorry for them, and Connor most definitely did. He couldn’t recall the last time his mother was home long enough for a movie night, or game session. With a slight breath, Connor was unable to hide that growing smirk on his face. Warm-hearted, polite, and laid-back, indeed, but he was still a teenager, and it would be foolish to write out mischief from the Variant’s repertoire of desires. ”Fine..,” the boy feigned exasperation, a dainty, clawed hand extended to help Sebastian from his bed. ”But if we get caught..,” Connor stated, mimicking the man’s playful wink, ”I’m your hostage.”
“You kidding me?” Sebastian said taking the boy’s clawed hand carefully when the two nurses had left. “I’m going to tell them the whole thing was your idea.”
He wasn’t sure why Conner had called him Chris, but it was of little consequence. With Conner’s help Sebastian got to his feet. He almost toppled forward on his unsteady legs, but he forced himself to stay on his feet. He gritted his teeth with an audible grunt of pain and his hand went to his side where the bandages were holding him together. But Sebastian had suffered similar wounds in environments much less hospitable than a recovery ward, and lived.
And he wasn’t about to stop now.
“Let’s move,” he said, and it felt good to hear himself give the command; he was still in the game.
They made their way to the door. Sebastian leaned out to clear both sides of the hallway as if he were about to lead a stacked team down a corridor full of hostile combatants. Nobody paid him much mind. Nurses didn’t care about any patients except their own.
They both walked out together and made their way to the nurse’s station.
“Mr. Albright, you shouldn’t be-“ the charge nurse started to say.
“Give me an AMA form and my patient bag, please,” he interrupted her as politely as he could, expertly concealing any amount of pain he felt from showing on his face or in his voice.
“I don’t think-“
“Just do it,” he interrupted again not so politely, and the look in his eyes withered away from the woman any further resistance she may have wanted to give him.
As she got up to comply, however, there came a frantic voice from behind them.
“Sebastian, what are you doing!?”
It was Stephanie. She rushed the nurse’s station, dividing her attention between her brother and the charge nurse. “What do you mean AMA, have you – do NOT give him that- have you done this before or something?”
“Get the form,” he told the nurse who was looking at them wide-eyed and confused. Then, to his sister: “Hospital’s aren’t really my thing. Got work to do.”
“Work!? You have a few stitches between you and bleeding out, you can’t possibly-!”
“I’m not staying,” he told Stephanie harshly. “This?” He held his hands away from his body to let her see the bandaged surgical site. “This is what I do. There’s a lot of people here who get to live normal lives, and feel sorry for themselves when they get the sniffles or stub a toe. You should probably go see if any of them need a glass of water or a nice warm blankie while they lay in bed wasting taxpayer money.”
The look on Stephanie’s face and the tears that rolled down it broke Sebastian’s heart, and he knew that he had just pushed away the only thing he still cared about. But he couldn’t let himself remain her burden. What was done was done.
“Fine,” she whispered, and disappeared down the hall crying into her hands.
“Just sign me out, or whatever you people do,” Sebastian told the charge nurse. “I’m out of here.”
He turned to Conner. “Shall we?” he said and began dragging himself toward the elevator still dressed in his hospital pajama bottoms.
The tough guy was also an asshole. That wasn’t unique, nor completely unexpected, though Connor knew better than to get in between Stephanie and her brother. There was clearly far more beneath the surface, and Connor would require time, and insight for that to be revealed. After all, people were like paintings, and every brush stroke was a purpose, a desire.., or a regret. Lowering his obsidian gaze to the floor, the teenager, maintained his silence. Even if a stranger’s interjection was welcomed, this was most certainly not the place for that. Equally so, he wouldn’t have been taken seriously, especially not by Sebastian.
Did Connor agree? In a way, yes. Some people didn’t have the luxury of feeling sorry for themselves, because a moment’s doubt could very well lead to another’s demise. However, the way this was handled could be compared to furious strokes across an already torn canvas.
The teenager followed along, seeing how elevator doors slid to a close after they were encased by the metal box. Naturally, only one floor would suffice, the entrance. ”Soldier,” Connor guessed, and correctly so. ”No-Bullshit attitude, nerves of steel..,” the boy spoke as they waited for those doors to open, once more. ”Duty above your health..,” Connor continued, his claws gently clicking against the metallic wall of which he leaned against, ”you’re a soldier,” the teen stated, an assessment, more so than a question. Sebastian’s body surely helped in the assumption. ”I’ll have outlived my usefulness as a resource in about.., ” the Variant paused, considering a thought, ”five minutes,” he mused. ”What’ll happen, then?” Tilting his head, Connor studied the older, battle-scarred male. Indeed, the teen was unlike most. He was quirky like few, and the Variant’s ability to simply go with the flow was evident. He didn’t seem troubled, or stressed, but rather curious. Recent events had caused discomfort, without a doubt, but his core state of being was yet to be damaged. ”Am I the annoying kid, pestering the hero, right now..?” Connor asked, a question aimed mostly at himself as a dainty claw rose to gently tap his chin. ”Damn. I don’t want to be a cliche,” he sighed.
Whatever Sebastian was considering would leave him in far worse shape, that much was obvious. He could barely stand, and those stitches resting beneath bandages begging to be displaced would likely tear, and he’d find himself in the middle of conflict again, before the day’s end. That’s how these things went in the movies, and sometimes, fiction reflected reality in perfect detail. ”Ah, right, I didn’t scare you,” Connor noted, tracking back towards his previous statements, ”another point to the ‘Soldier’ persona,” came a playful, sharp-toothed grin. ”N.O.V.A? Mh.., no,” he shook his head, eyes narrowed, ”they’re all mysterious and agent-y,” a word he had made up, but it certainly worked. ”Army? It’s the army, right?” Connor finally decided, just as those elevator doors opened to allow for a long awaited exit.
The elevator doors closed. Sebastian hated himself for how he had talked to his beloved sister. But he knew he would hate himself even more if she got close and hated what she found there. It was an act of mercy for both of them, by his estimation. Maybe when the world was a safer place, maybe when he was a better person, she would understand and forgive him. As much progress as he had made in turning his world perspective around, Sebastian realized that he still didn’t know who the hell he was.
Conner had said a bunch of stuff, he just realized, and began reconstructing the words in his mind that he had been too lost in thought to hear the first time. His comments about having a no-bullshit attitude and nerves of steel struck a dull chord of humor somewhere inside him. He certainly would not have described himself like that. He was just a guy trying to do the right thing.
“You’re not annoying me,” he started out with. “Thanks for being my accomplice. You’re not a resource, you’re now an ally. There’s a big difference. Maybe you understand that.”
He sighed. “What you saw back there, with my sister; it’s complicated. I know it probably makes me look like a bad guy.”
He looked at the boy, hoping that Conner could possibly understand the remorse he felt for talking to Stephanie in such a way, that he didn’t truly believe the patients in that hospital were a waste of time or money. He had dedicated his life to protecting them and every other citizen. The words were meant to serve a purpose, and they had succeeded. Other than his sister Sebastian did not care one bit what anyone thought of him, but for some reason being on the receiving end of Conner’s judgment was unbearable. He represented everything he existed to protect. The feeling he had was something to the effect of, if he had failed in Conner’s eyes, he had failed completely.
But it was what it was.
“Good eye, though” Sebastian said taking a deep (and painful) breath and trying hard to sound nonchalant. “I’m definitely not N.O.V.A.” He wasn’t about recount his service history in an elevator, however. It was just too long and difficult of a story.
“I was in the Army, once,” he said simply. “In another life. FBI, now. Part of a special team that deals with Variant trouble makers. But, if I’m honest, most of the problems we’ve had have been with good ‘ol fashioned humans.”
His eyes flashed darkly as the events leading up to his hospitalization, and subsequently him meeting Conner, replayed in his mind. She had been a little younger than Conner, he guessed. It occurred to him with no lingering doubt that he would have done the same thing if it had been Conner in that office instead.
The elevator doors opened on the ground floor and they walked through the lobby, drawing all manner of looks from the people they passed, until they were outside.
“Tell you what,” Sebastian told him as they stood in the chilly air. “If you want to help an old soldier out, now that we’re allies, do me a favor. When you come to see your mom here, check up on Stephanie for me. I’m the last person she’s going to want to hear from for awhile. And if you ever need anything, you can call me. I’ll come running.”
He tried to smile, but it just wouldn’t come out.
He looked at his bare torso and feet. “Oh, and one more thing; can I use your phone?”
An ally. It most certainly sounded better than ‘resource’, even though the statement was somewhat odd. Connor had never thought of that statement in reference to himself, or anyone. Ally, it was rather official, and reserved for situations of conflict. However, there was something else which quickly confiscated the boy’s attention. ‘Variant Troublemakers’. At the mention, Connor paused, his posture visibly faltering, if only for a brief moment. If Connor ever took leave of his sanity, someone like Sebastian would come for him. Someone battle-hardened and with a finger ready on the trigger. Yes, it was supposed to be like that. Variants were far too unpredictable and blatantly dangerous. The world needed order, and such critical organization was hindered by emotional turmoil. Though the boy wanted to answer, there was little he could offer in regards to the statement, while walking a half-naked man out of a hospital. It was an interesting discussion, however, one Connor had considered many times, in the past.
Time was not left wanting before Sebastian and his accomplice felt an evening sun gently blanketing their frames. One of them clearly found it less comfortable than the other. ”Here,” the boy stated, handing his phone to a battle-hardened soldier he never before expected to come across. A single call introduced the upcoming waiting game, where Sebastian’s friend eventually arrived in a car to spirit the wounded soldier away.
”Sebastian,” a ghostly voice trickled through the evening air, obsidian eyes meeting the soldier’s, as he entered the car. ”I’ll check up on your sister when I visit mom,” he began, a short pause lingering before the teen continued, ”but I don’t think you’ll ever convince yourself..,” the Variant stated, his expression unwavering. ”You’ll always be the first person she wants to hear from,” a tender smile crossed the boy’s slender lips, ”because you’re her brother, and you always will be.” It was a powerful statement, one which Connor was unsure accompanied appreciation. However, with a soft wave in the direction of Sebastian’s ride, the boy started on a straight path home.