That's because the next thing I saw was Dovey, looking just as fifteen years old as she had the last time I had seen her cold dead body, leaning over me and giving me a rather concerned look.
Now, I'd really like to be able to say that I came up with something witty and fired it off without batting an eyelash, but again: this is me, and I'm not some pretty-boy action hero, always with the perfect quip. I mean, I quip quite often, but it's never appropriate. So instead, I just lay there and stared at her in gape-mouthed astonishment. Her concerned look changed to a concerned frown. “Are you okay?”
“I think I'm rather dead,” I managed to mutter. And then I swore to myself that enough was enough, and I was no longer watching anything vaguely resembling British television, because really? The hell was with that? And also what the hell was with the song “Leader of the Pack” playing softly in the background? Not exactly the musical choice I had been expecting to welcome me to – uh, whatever afterlife I'd wound up in. Which speaking of, fuck, because if the afterlife was anything like conventional religions assumed and preached, I was completely screwed.
“Don't worry, you're not dead yet,” Dovey interrupted my ponderings, smiling softly.
“'Yet'? So you know when I will, then?” I asked, all suspicious.
“Well, not exactly. But you will one day. I mean, from the day we're born, we start dying, right?”
I stared at her for a long minute and then shook my head a little. “How about we skip the philosophical discussion for now and get to the what the hell's going on part?”
She gave me a highly ironic look at that, as talking to dead people generally either had a bit of crossover into philosophy or Bruce Willis's cinema career, and I sure as hell wasn't Haley Joel Osment despite my boyish good looks. Which, man, she sure was a hell of a lot more sarcastic these days than when we were all half-starving out on the street. She decided to humor me, though, and explained.
“You're in a coma right now.”
“And, what, I have to figure out who tried to kill me before I can return back?”
“No. You have to wait and hope that medical help and your own stubborn body fix it up enough for you to return.”
I stared at her, but she seemed dead serious. Oh, hah, I crack me up sometimes. “I get to just freaking float around and hope for the best? Really?”
She tilted her head to the side. “Well, you can watch other people. And you don't have to sleep.” She paused. “Yeah, that's about it.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked, curiosity finally overpowering my self-centrism. “Is this what happens when you die? And if it is, wouldn't it be more crowded?”
She shrugged. “I dunno what happens when you die for most people. I wanted to stick around, and was able to because my killer never got brought to justice.” Dovey gave me a sort of apologetic look for the dramatic speech, but evidentially couldn't think of a more accurate description.
But wait. I frowned. “But I thought Max- I thought he killed Fireboy,” I said, stumbling over my words. Even talking to Dovey about it, I couldn't help the shiver and half-shut down of my brain. I was like that with any strong emotion – I don't really know how to deal with them, so I just ignore it as much as possible and then have a panic attack whenever I do, actually, have to deal with it. Probably not the most efficient system, but it usually works for me.
Dovey shook her head. “Nah, just beat the shit out of him.” She gave a flash of the feral grin I had long ago associated with her as strongly as I'd associated little Kit in her arms, and it then faded into an odd expression that was a little too tender for my skittish self to be comfortable with. “I saw what you both did for Kit, too. Thank you.”
I knew she wasn't just talking about us bringing him to the hospital. None of us had talked about our family situations much – me, mostly because I felt a little ashamed and guilty about being on the street when I had a perfect happy, loving home life, but the others because they actually had something to run from – but from what Dovey had shared over the months, I had built up a pretty good picture of her home life, and it was one of extreme abuse, and was fairly certain that Kit's father was her step-father, and that it wasn't consensual in the least. I hadn't pushed at the subject, because even at fourteen I was not comfortable with emotional things. But I had remembered this when I was scribbling Kit's name on a scrap of paper (because I didn't want to just leave him with no name, that was how this one kid from school wound up being named Boston Atticus, and I wasn't into child cruelty like that), and because I had remembered that, I hadn't written down Dovey's real last name over fear that her step-father would somehow track Kit down. Instead, I had remembered a conversation we'd all had one night, to distract ourselves from our empty stomachs.
“If you could have any name in the world, what would it be?” I said out of nowhere. Hey, it was a common topic of conversation amongst teenagers, and we were teenagers, whatever else we were.
Max gave me an ironic eyebrow over my choice in conversational subjects, but answered anyway. “I think,” he started slowly, “I'd shorten Maxwell to just plain Max, and then I think I'd take your last name, Ry.” He gave me a serious look, which made me way uncomfortable – this wasn't a topic I thought would be serious, after all. “Your family is nice. Better than nice. I wouldn't mind being a part of that.”
I felt like telling him that he was pretty much already part of the family, but that was getting into far too truthful territory for me, so I kept quiet as Dovey spoke dreamily, rocking Kit back and forth. “Dove Maddox,” she said, eyes far away. “Maddox means lucky, you know,” she said, still dreamily. “Maybe if I changed my name, I could change my luck.”
We were quiet for a long moment, and no one asked me what I'd want to be called. Which was okay, since I was completely fine with Ryan Galloway. After all, Max couldn't call me Ry if my name wasn't Ryan, right?
When I had remembered that, I knew exactly what to put down as his name. Kittredge Maddox was what I scribbled down in my shaky, far too out of practice penmanship, with a slight hesitation before I put down 'Ryan' as a middle name out of pure narcissism (and, okay, maybe some other feelings that I still don't want to examine too closely, thanks to my emotional squeamishness).
I gave Dovey an uneasy smile and half-shrug, hoping she'd leave it alone. Thankfully, living four months with somebody under harsh conditions tends to make you aware of their personal “do not touch” areas, so she dropped it pretty quick.
“How do you get different places, then? Do you have to walk, like real people? Or is there a trick?” I asked her.
“There's a trick to it, alright. But it's kinda hard to explain. I'll show you, and you just pay attention, okay?” She grabbed my arm, and there was a sickening sideway lurch that felt sort of like someone grabbing my brain stem and yanking it up and back while someone else grabbed my stomach and pulled it forward and down, and then flipped me inside out and back again before I could fully notice. And just like that (hah, 'just') we were standing in the parking lot of the bowling alley, part of which was completely soaked in blood and had some scattered chunks of things that, my brain told me, was... well, me. Christ. It looked like a war zone, not the scene of a hit-and-run. The rest of me was nowhere in sight, and indeed the only people around were some cops interviewing the rowdy kids who were now incredibly subdued and a bit terrified looking – and Tommy, combing over the area for any forensic evidence with an unusually serious look on his face. Huh. Maybe the guy really did like me, in spite of my technological stupidity.
I shot an inquisitive look at Dovey, who shrugged. “You probably already got taken to the hospital,” she explained. “Why don't you give it a go and take us there?”
I took her arm gingerly and closed my eyes, reaching out with a sort of invisible sixth sense (not the one to see dead psychologists who didn't know they were dead, sadly) that I just knew I hadn't had before getting hit by a screaming death machine, and just yanked.
And suddenly, we were at the hospital, standing practically on top of a hysterically sobbing Tina. I yelped and jumped back, but Dovey just rolled her eyes and waved a hand directly through Tina's head. I whimpered at that, even though it had no effect. I mean, seriously. It's pretty freaking creepy! “Knock it off!” I said, smacking at her hand, and then motioning her to be quiet as a doctor approached Tina.
“Miss Smith?” Tina gave a hiccuping sob and then nodded at him to continue. “We've got Mr. Galloway stabilized, but I'm afraid it doesn't look too good. We've contacted his next of kin, but you may want to call anyone else and let them know.” With that, the doctor promptly turned on his heel and left, oblivious to the fact that Tina had pulled herself out of hysterics long enough to flip him off and mutter at him ominously in a mixture of Norwegian and Chinese curses.
After a while, she pulled herself together long enough to walk outside and pull out her cell phone. She stared at it for a long moment, as if trying to figure out who she was supposed to call. I practically screamed, “Call Max!” at her, but she obviously didn't hear me. It occurred to her soon enough, though, and she quickly dialed the number to my home phone. I'd told her, of course, that Max was staying at my place.
I made a split-second decision and yanked myself out to my house, where Max was staring moodily at an old Benny Hill rerun on the television. Dovey arrived a second later, giving me an exasperated look but staying quiet as the phone rang and Max snatched up the phone faster than I could blink.
“Ry, where the hell are you?! You were supposed to be back, like, two hours ago!” he snapped into the receiver, and I was a bit taken aback by the venom in his voice.
He paused, and paled suddenly as, I imagined, Tina introduced herself and started to stutteringly tell him what happened. “Oh. Okay. I'll, um, be down as soon as I can. His family's been told, right? And work? Okay. Bye.” He hung up the phone and stared into space for a long moment before standing, turning off the TV, and slowly going up the stairs like a sleep-walker. He went to Zack's bedroom, checked on him and found him completely fine except for a worrying habit of sucking his thumb, and then went back downstairs. And then down even more stairs, as he sleep-walked into the basement, where we kept some workout equipment, the pool table, and some extra storage spaces.
Max walked over to the punching bag, contemplated it, and then proceeded to beat the shit out of it, pummeling it over and over with a single-minded intensity that rather shocked me – and scar me a little.
“Raise your incorporeal hand if you think this is weird,” I said, trying to ignore the awkward and a bit frightened feeling I was getting from Max's little display.
To my surprise, Dovey looked at me with something resembling complete and utter pity. “You really don't see it, do you?”
“See what?” I asked blankly, probably proving her point (if it was even valid one, anyway).
She just shook her head at me. “I'm going to go, there's some things I need to check on now that you've got the hang of traveling.” She patted me on the shoulder, and I found that she was surprisingly corporeal, at least to me. Dovey gave me another look of pity and then yanked herself out to wherever she had to go in such an urgent manner.
I, meanwhile, stuck watching Max beat up the poor punching bag until he started noticing his ripped up fists were leaving streaks of blood on the tough surface of the punching bag. He stopped with a huge sigh, and then fell forward, resting his head on the punching bag. “Goddamn it, Ry,” he whispered harshly.
I started to feel uncomfortable again, like I was watching something I shouldn't (which, weird, this was Max, I'd known him back during the days he'd been obsessed with 21 Jump Street to the point where he insisted we go as the McQuaid brothers for Halloween), so I split, and headed instead to work.
For the rest of the day, I shifted between the hospital, where my ego got a boost by the amount of people (mostly family, but still) who cared enough about me to stand around at a hospital (I hated hospitals; have as long as I can remember, and probably always will) waiting for word on my condition; and work, where people were shockingly almost sad and worried about me getting run over. It had been determined pretty fast that this was completely intentional, not accidental in the least, which duh. But they hadn't been there, so I supposed I could give them some slack on it.
My partners (sure, I was technically only partnered to Adessi, but give the amount of time we both worked with Ethan and Rivera, I had decided it was just simpler to call them all my partners) arrived a little later to work than the others, since they were pretty much on desk duty this week, catching up on paperwork. The captain caught them before their permeable hides could absorb the latest office gossip, so the shock and worry they got on their faces when the captain told them in short, nearly apologetic sentences what had happened and why he didn't know when they'd next see my smiling face (I believe he used slightly different adjectives, but the sentiment was the same) was pure and unblemished. Boy, I should go into life-threatening comas more often, it sure made me feel good.
Tommy managed to match tire treads burned into the ground near the chunks of me to a rare brand of tires, which gave the department a pretty substantial lead to investigate. Tommy continued to work diligently, processing every single damn thing from my scene – and boy, did that feel weird, 'my' scene when not referring to a crime I was investigating personally. Everyone ran off to track down my not quite killer – seriously, what the hell was I supposed to refer to him as? I wasn't dead. My assaulter? My put-into-a-coma-er? Whatever. Attacker, probably, but that was far too simple an answer for me, really.
My partners stopped by the hospital as soon as they could, and were rather shocked to see Max cradling a toddler that looked like a midget me (minus all of the things currently poking out of my rather broken body, of course). I might have enjoyed their gaping mouths, but by that point I was too freaking bored to bother caring about anything. If this was what really happened when you died, I was going to live forever out of sheer survival instinct to run screaming the other direction from this doing nothing but watching people for all eternity. I didn't care if that wasn't possible, I'd never paid attention to things like what everyone else does.
When Dovey finally came back from her urgent business (she was probably having a sketchy liaison with another member of the yet-to-be-avenged/in-a-coma clan), I was floating above my real self in the hospital room. I had my arms crossed underneath my head and was attempting to sleep – unfortunately, Dovey had been right about the ability to sleep in this in-between place, so I wasn't actually doing anything except thinking about various things. And again, I'd like to say that I played the part of the typical hero, and had been thinking about my life and had had a sudden epiphany that made me want to change my life around, but we've already established that I'm me, and Ryan Galloway wasn't the kind of guy to change his position on just about anything, because he is a stubborn-ass bastard who takes pride in that fact. No, instead I'd been thinking about things I could do in this boring landscape I was stuck in. I had one big suspicion, but I needed to ask Dovey a question to confirm my suspicions.
“Dove, can ya travel to other times here?” I asked her.
She seemed a little surprised, but pleased. “You're a quick study. I must have been here for a couple of years before I figured that out.”
I frowned in concentration, closed my eyes, and reached out with that sixth sense I'd developed recently, but in a slightly different direction than I had to do to travel distances. And sure enough, when I opened my eyes, I was standing in the old conference room of my first station.