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Chapter 6

Utter silence from Ser or Alison or anything else to do with Piaculum follows for the next couple of weeks and Aaron is beyond relieved for the break, Alison’s anger haunting him even as he turns his focus completely to work and his writing. Somehow the argument had fueled something within him, breaking the writer’s block he’d been suffering for far too long. He’s not sure what exactly will happen the next time he sees Alison, hoping that the time apart will ease her anger towards him and his worry about her health. With time he’d seen it a little clearer from her point of view, remembering just how badly he’d reacted whenever someone tried taking control of his own health, and he hopes likewise that she could try to understand he’d just been trying to keep her safe.

Of course his personal anguish hadn’t been helped that much when he’d had to go to Louis and Reno’s the following night and apologize for not making it to their house for supper. Even with hours spent behind a cash register or bagging things to just think, he hadn’t been able to think of a good reason why he hadn’t called or... anything. The best he could come up with was he’d been more exhausted than he’d realized after work and had passed out, sleeping until almost 4 AM. Which is what he wants to do this night, because he’d sat up, watching Alison sleep and just thinking over her words, unable to find any kind of peace in the hospital. Not that that had done him any favors either, but it is what it is...

Reno’s suspicion had been obvious and, although Louis was blatantly wounded by being stood up, he’d tried to understand and convince Reno to just move past it. Aaron hadn’t heard much from Reno since then, although Louis had called a time or two to check on him or just talk briefly about this or that, but another invitation hadn’t been forthcoming. He doesn’t blame them, almost relieved because he really has no idea what his schedule will be like day to day anymore, between writing and the possibility that Alison will come for him again.

Finally that day comes, a weekend where Aaron is doing nothing but losing himself in his writing, loud music vibrating through his earphones as he focuses on the words filling his computer screen. He’s just about through another chapter when he notices something out of the corner of his eye, a hand quickly yanking the ear buds out of his ears, the sudden loss of music leaving him floundering and confused. “What the--?!” He freezes upon coming face to face with an emotionless Alison, swallowing. “Oh. Hey.”

She stares down at him with no lack of displeasure. “There’s a new mission.” Before he can say or do anything, her hands are on his face and...

He’s lost.

Standing in the middle of a large street, surrounded by tall buildings on either side, he gapes from side to side. “Where am I...?” he whispers, shaking his head. “Thanks, Alison.” He rolls his eyes and looks for anything out of the ordinary, finally spotting a girl venturing to a nearby mailbox. She pulls out a stack of envelopes, a small box at the very bottom of the pile, and turns back to the apartment she’d left just a moment earlier. She’s only just entered the doorway when there’s a faint click from her hands, her eyes widening in confusion before a loud explosion rings through the air, pieces of paper and debris from the apartment raining down upon where he’s standing. He stares on in shock and horror before turning to look around. There’s a person watching from a nearby car and he walks closer, relieved that he’d never been visible in these visions before and could do a little snooping.

“It’s done, boss,” he overhears as he gets closer. “Yeah, the building’s pretty shattered. I can check if ya want and--”

Before hearing anything else, Aaron opens his eyes and finds himself back next to Alison, the street they’re now on once more calm and peaceful, the exactly opposite that it’d been from his vision. “Another explosion,” he tells her vaguely. “Letter bomb, it looked like. Maybe... the mob?”

Alison nods dully. “Keep an eye out then. I’ll be nearby if you need me but I’m sure you can handle it all on your own.” As she walks off, he rolls his eyes at her, wondering if the tension between them will ever fade away or if he’d completely ruined things after the house explosion, but quickly turns his attention back to the street ahead.

He may not be able to fix things with her, but he can at least try to stop his vision from happening. As he looks around the street, he spots the car he’d noticed before, trying to memorize what he can without knowing exactly how much time he really has or seeming too suspicious to the man inside. He’s quickly distracted by this when he hears a door open and shut with a click, the girl he’d seen in the vision venturing out towards the mail box.

“Hey, excuse me,” he calls out, catching her attention as he jogs up to her. She looks uncomfortable but holds her ground, blinking up at him curiously.

“Can I help you?” the girl wonders, rubbing a hand up her arm.

“Yeah, I think I’m a little lost,” he admits. “How do I get to the highway from here?”

“Oh, um, turn at the end of the street and--” As she continues telling him various directions to get him out of this part of the city-- which he’d only realized a couple of minutes earlier had to be somewhere close to Chicago, if not the place itself, when he realized just how many Cubs and Bears signs there are around-- he keeps an eye out for anything weird happening, but everything seems calm enough. Even the man in the car down the street looks undisturbed by everything, though it’s obvious he’s keeping an eye on them.

Once she’s done, he tilts his head. “Huh. Alright, well, thanks. I think I can find it-- you said left on--” Making sure he gets the directions wrong so she’s forced to continue trying to help him, he watches as the enforcer in the car shifts boredly. “Look, I hate to ask this of you but could you by chance write this down for me? I have a horrible memory so if you could...”

“Oh, of course,” she nods, looking like she’d do anything just to send him on his way. “I don’t have paper with me, but if you give me a minute, I’ll go get some from inside.”

“Thank you,” he calls out as she leaves. He feels like a bit of a heel for doing this, but the way Alison’d been treating him, he almost doubts she’ll mind. Besides it’s not like he’s abandoning her here since she too can use Ser’s abilities to teleport herself home. And he only really sees one way out of this anyway. Dashing over to the mailboxes, he runs a finger along the various nameplates until he spots the one that the girl had opened in his vision which reads Joan Foster. It only takes a little force to tear the locked container open and, ignoring both the letters filling the box and the sound of squeeching tires, he gingerly pries the box out, desperately thinking. Ser... Ser!

He’s gone in the blink of an eye, holding onto the box as hard as he dares. He’s not back at his apartment, deciding instead to go to an empty spot on the outskirts of town by a road just in case he screws up and sets the bomb inside off prematurely, not wanting to cause harm to his neighbors or anyone else. If I survive this, I’ll notify the police of what was going on at that place... Hopefully they can help that girl, but I’ve done all I can for now. Or maybe if it’s not her being targeted by the mob, and she was just unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’ll find a more concise way of dealing with who they really want to.

He closes his eyes and, eyes locked on the send-to label with Bader Illinois scribbled upon it, wonders if that had been where he was at, and why exactly this girl had been the unlucky one to receive the package. Trying desperately to keep his hands steady, he lays the box down in the grass slowly, each second passing him by feeling like fresh torture until the item is down and he’s able to walk a safe distance away. Wondering now how to detonate it without harming anyone or anything, he glances around for something, anything, to toss at it.

Finally noticing that his best guess would probably be his boots, he winces. Dammit, I really like these boots... “Ok, fine. I guess it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.” Pulling one off of his foot, his sock covered toes digging into the frozen ground, he turns towards the box and holds his breath, tossing almost blindly as he ducks back just in case. The shoe landing just a few inches off from its intended target, he winces and stares down at his second shoe. “Well, damn.” Tugging that one off too, he takes another shot and-- lands it, the box blowing up into small pieces and leaving a sizeable dent in the ground, his body stinging once more as he falls back at the force of the explosion. “Damn,” he repeats, collapsing back against the ground. “Yeah, that hurt.” He’s not sure where his other shoe went, and he doesn’t really care.

Digging his toes in the dirt again as he stands back up, he takes a deep breath and looks around. “Well, then.” Once more concentrating on Ser and his desire to return home, he takes a few more lengthy inhales and exhales. Ser.

Once he’s back in the comfort of his own apartment, he sinks against the worn carpeting and closes his eyes. He smells like whatever that bomb had been comprised of, his ears are ringing again, and he just plainly hurts. “Two missions involving explosions in a row, I guess it’s just that time of year.” Forcing himself to move slightly, he finds his cell phone and is relieved to find that it’s still in one piece. He’d been considering buying a spare one just in case something should happen on a mission but so far he hadn’t had the time or inclination.

A quick web search later, he finds the number for the police department nearest to Bader and dials it. “Hello, I spotted something earlier and I found it suspicious so I thought I should notify the authorities... I’d rather leave my name out of it, please. This is just an anonymous tip...”

As he explains what he’d seen to the female police officer on the other end of the line, he’s unaware as, down the hall, Reno stares out of his apartment window and shakes his head, still pondering Aaron’s attitude the last few times they’d seen him. He doesn’t even wait for Louis to say anything as he wraps his arms around him from behind, resting his chin on his shoulder. “I know something’s going on,” he tells his boyfriend. “Aaron never acts like this, and now all of a sudden...”

Louis smiles faintly and brushes teasing fingers along Reno’s abdomen, unsurprised when he’s swatted away by a protesting hand. “Maybe you’re just off-balance by it all because it’s you who’s usually a little standoff-ish and hard to read. Now that Aaron’s suddenly acting a little more closed off, you don’t know what to do with it.”

He rolls his eyes at his deduction but he knows he can’t really argue against it, knowing that every mention of his anti-social attitude had been true. Being with Louis had softened him a little, but at the end of the day, he’s still much happier home alone with his boyfriend, a pizza and some beer, than out at some overpriced restaurant or raucous event in uncomfortable clothing and unable to just be because of all of the eyes on him.

Aaron had fit in well with both of them-- containing Louis’ enthusiasm for creative endeavors like writing, but also with his own need for personal space now and again so he’d never overwhelm Reno with a determination to bring him out of his shell. But personal space had never been against them, until now anyway. He’s not sure what changed, why Aaron never really comes around any longer, but he doesn’t like it. Reno Olmstead doesn’t have many friends, and those he does, he’d rather keep than have to adjust to new ones.

“Do you think it’s us?” he wonders quietly, pressing a hand to the cool window pane separating them from the outside world. A strange look crosses over his face as he peers over at the wall dividing them from Aaron, tilting his head.

Louis doesn’t notice, shakes his head so hard that his soft blond hair tickles against Reno’s throat. “I doubt it. I think maybe it’s just he’s still tired after the holiday season. We know how busy retail can be during these months, and he’d told us he was fighting writer’s block. Maybe after Valentine’s Day passes, he’ll be more willing and able to hang out. We just need to give it time.” He smiles and pinches Reno’s side slightly. “Just relax, huh? He’s not going anywhere.”

Unaware of the conversation going on nearby, Aaron slips out of his apartment barefooted and leans against the railing overlooking the parking lot below, in desperate need of air after his conversation with the police. “Dammit,” he breathes, pressing a thumb to his forehead. Nothing is going right for him, Alison not talking to him-- and as far as he knows, she’s still stuck in Chicago and, if he’d been up to continuing the argument between them, he’d willingly go check on her, but... On top of that, he’d still not had the energy to go deal with Reno and Louis, who are also tense around him since he’d accidentally stood them up following that house explosion he’d gotten caught up in.

Who would’ve guessed being a Piaculum would’ve upended everything in my life? It seemed like such an easy, every day thing too, he thinks sarcastically. Once he’s had enough of the rapidly cooling night air, he returns to his apartment and stares blankly at the writing he’d left behind earlier when Alison had appeared in his apartment with no warning. The words still show promise, the plot seems as strong as it’d been when he was pulled away but whatever had fueled his inspiration hours ago had now faded into nothingness.

He presses a hand to his face and slaps the laptop shut with his free hand, grimacing. “God, what am I going to do?” Everything seems to be falling apart around him-- his friendships with Louis and Reno, Alison hates him, and now whatever he was accomplishing with his writing had fallen to the wayside. When the best thing you have going for you is a dead end retail job, that’s just sad.

“Ser,” Alison says slowly in surprise, her eyes fluttering open as his face takes over the old TV that fills the entertainment stand in her living room. Unfolding herself from the stance she had taken for some relaxation techniques, she faces him with no lack of confusion in her eyes. “Why are you here? Is something wrong?” She can barely keep the disdain from her eyes as she proceeds to the next logical question in her mind. “Is it Aaron? Did he do something?” She can just imagine the new Piaculum somehow figuring out how to access more of Ser’s powers and doing something stupid with them while she’d had her back turned.

He stares at her with a weighing stare before slowly shaking his head, dark hair going this way and that. “No,” he says simply. “It is not Aaron, not necessarily.”

She sighs and returns to the floor, sitting Indian style while she faces him. “Fine, then. What is it?” The anger that still lingers within her after Aaron’s digging into her personal business surprises even her sometimes but whenever she tries to think it through logically, she keeps getting stuck on that one pivotal point-- through it all, she hadn’t had a moment of hesitation during any of Aaron’s cases... and sure, maybe she’d not been a huge help in many of them either, but she hadn’t lost her ability to see cases through to the end, or help people. Just because she and Ser both held some worry that ultimately one day her body would fail at a bad time, it wasn’t about to happen this moment.

She’d wanted to impress Aaron, help him become the Piaculum she knew he could be. His attempts at protecting her had only made her feel weaker, more worthless than she’d ever had in the past, except for, perhaps, the moment she’d woke up in the hospital bed, struggling to breathe and figure out what was coming next... just to be told that her life would be forever altered from this moment on. Ser had always been the only one who didn’t judge her, or belittle her for her physical shortcomings. He’d always trusted in her, and she’d tried to repay him in kind.

“You should sense it as easily as I do.” He doesn’t move in the screen, stands in one place with his hands folded behind his back as he’d done the many dozens of other times they’d conversed in similar fashion. She closes her eyes and follows his breathing, which never seems to change in rhythm no matter what they’re discussing or what’s going on around them. It had been this she’d taught to Aaron, the Piaculum’s base connection with Ser being through mimicking his breathing, gaining at least a little of his calm. “It is getting worse.”

“Yes, I do,” she admits lowly, reluctantly. “Aaron’s cases...” Wincing as she says it, trying to ignore the bad taste just saying his name leaves with her. “They’re coming faster, becoming more serious. It wasn’t this bad when I was a new Piaculum.”

“Yes,” Ser admits lowly. “And not just him. All of their cases. His ideas are becoming more... ruthless with each passing day. I fear he is growing stronger as well.”

Her eyes squinting open slightly, she stares up at him. “Are you as well then? I thought there was a balance.”

“There is,” he says. “There always has been, there always will be. But he is impressive at working around it, you well remember this. No matter how even our powers remain, there are things I refuse to do that he holds no such qualms against. Dark things, cruel things.”

She nods, a soft tremor shuddering down her spine as she absorbs the inexplicable emotions lingering beneath the surface of his voice. “Yes, I do.” Steeling herself for even more emotionally draining orders from the man before her, she stares him in the eye. “What do you need from me?”

He barely blinks, doesn’t breathe, nothing. Just looks at her, dark eyes unfathomable. “Watch Aaron Fisk closely, do not take your eye off of him. Do all that you can to keep him safe.”

She had been afraid of that but, forever unable to deny the man anything, finds herself nodding despite her annoyance with the command. “Of course.”

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