* * *
surrender then start your engines
you'll know quite soon what my mistake was
for those on horseback or dog sled
you turn at the bend in the road
i hear she still grants forgiveness
although i willingly forgot her
the offering is molasses
and you say...
* * *
As in many places, rush hour traffic in downtown Utoland City is dreaded by every commuter who has to brave it. At the best of times, what would normally be a ten-minute drive can often stretch into thirty or forty minutes or more if the lights are against you. The closer it gets to five o'clock, the worse the congestion at every intersection will be as office workers fight their way out of the city while restaurant and hotel staff try to fight their way in.
It was 4:54 p.m., and the crunch was just beginning to get ugly. Horns sounded left and right as a sleek, dark blue car wove an erratic but steady path through the street, cutting off those trying to make those elusive left-hand turns, dodging around slower vehicles, and seeming to prove once and for all that, to a particular Sicilian at least, a yellow traffic light is a signal to put the pedal to the floor.
Joe muttered a few choice curses as he circumvented yet another cluster of gridlocked commuters. "Damn judges took their own sweet time. I had that race won."
Miya didn't say anything in response. Joe was in a foul mood and she wasn't about to do anything that might provoke him. They were supposed to be at the train station to see Ryu off, and his train left at five, which according to her watch was about three minutes from now. She secretly believed that they couldn't possibly make it, but she wasn't going to share that opinion with the man at the wheel.
A flash of movement caught her eye, and she looked up. A round white ball bounced in front of the car, rebounding off the hood. She jumped, half-expecting it to explode, but something worse was about to happen.
A child--a young boy, probably about eight or nine--dashed out into the street directly in front of Joe's car.
"Joe--abunai!" Miya yelled. Joe was already slamming on the brakes, twisting the wheel, trying to avoid hitting the child. His reflexes were phenomenal, better than an ordinary person's, and if anyone could have avoided what was about to happen, Joe Asakura would have.
The thud of impact was sickening. The child flew into the air, his thin limbs flailing, and fell hard to the asphalt in front of the halted car. Joe threw open his door and was out of the car before Miya could draw a breath.
The boy lay on the black asphalt, face down, his arms outspread. He wasn't moving, and blood from a nasty scalp wound was matting his hair. Joe dropped to his knees beside the child and checked for a pulse. For a horrible moment he couldn't find one, then he found the carotid--weak, rapid, fluttering like a trapped bird's wing.
"My baby! My baby!!"
Joe's stomach wrenched as he looked up. A young woman with chestnut hair was running out of the park, heels clacking on the pavement, her eyes wide and very dark in her white face.
Keeping the boy's head and neck motionless, Joe lifted him up. No ambulance could get through this traffic quickly enough. He didn't know for sure how badly the boy was hurt, but he'd been hit pretty hard, and it looked like he'd hit his head when he fell. A small pool of blood had collected on the ground, and more blood streaked the small, pale face. Joe knew from experience that scalp wounds bled fairly freely even when they were minor, but it looked like the boy's skull had actually been dented on impact, and the implications of that were not at all pleasant to contemplate.
He looked at the woman. "You're his mother?" A frantic nod. "We've got to get him to the hospital right away. Come with me, please."
The woman swiped at her face and nodded. Joe turned towards the car, pausing only a moment when he heard the clock tower in the square begin to strike the hour. Five o'clock. Damn. Sorry, Ryu...looks like we're not going to make it.
Miya came around the car and opened the door, shoving the seat forward so the woman could get into the back. With utmost care Joe laid the boy down on the back seat, his head in his mother's lap, his body straight. "Keep his head still," he told her. "I'll get you there as quickly as I can."
"Thank you," the boy's mother sobbed. She looked down at the boy's still white face. "He...he's all I have..."
Joe quickly turned his face away, wincing as though he'd been struck. Without a word, he got behind the wheel, barely waiting for Miya to take her place in the passenger seat before starting up and roaring off. His mind was working in overdrive as he struggled to remember where the nearest hospital was. Damn, he hated hospitals, but now was not the time to consider such things. It was his own damn fault the boy was hurt, and if the child died, the blood on his hands would never wash clean.
They pulled in front of the emergency room at five after. Before the car had properly stopped, Miya was out the door and running full-tilt towards the large glassed-in entrance. Joe got out and leaned into the back. "Stay still," he told her. "Let the doctors take it from here. We don't want him injured anymore than he already is." Any more than I've already hurt him. Dear God, did I just kill an innocent boy?
Attendants in green scrubs rolled out a gurney, and Joe waved them over. He stood back as they lifted the boy from the back seat and strapped him down securely. Joe went around to the other side and helped the mother out. She kept tight hold of his hand as he walked her into the lobby.
"I don't blame you," she told him. "I've told him again and again that he should be careful, to look both ways, to never run out into the street, but he's such an active boy, he's not afraid of anything...he broke his arm when he was five climbing a tree in the backyard..." She covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a sob. Regaining some control, she shook her head. "It wasn't your fault. It was mine, I should have been watching him, every minute, I knew something like this could happen..."
Joe squeezed her hand. "Don't worry about that right now. You mustn't blame yourself. It was an accident." An accident I caused. If I hadn't been going so fast, if I hadn't been in such a goddamned hurry, I never would have hit him.
He left the mother giving information to the desk nurse and went to sit down in the waiting area beside Miya. She didn't touch him, didn't take his hand or try to comfort him, seeming to sense that it wasn't what he wanted. She didn't even look at him until he spoke.
"If he dies..."
"We don't know anything yet." Her response was immediate. "You've done everything you could. It's up to the doctors now."
"I ran over a kid, Miya."
"He ran out in front of you. No one could have stopped in time."
"I shouldn't have been going so damned fast."
"You had no way of knowing this would happen--"
"I should have. I knew there was a park there, I knew there would be kids around. I was mad at the damn judges and mad at Ken for yelling at me and I wasn't thinking about anyone except my own damn self."
"Joe." She put a hand on his wrist, and he tensed, but she didn't pull away. "Anyone on the street could have hit that boy. Traffic was bad, it's always bad on that road around five o'clock and you know it. I've heard you complain about it a dozen times. Any other driver could have hit him, but any other driver couldn't have gotten him to the hospital so quickly."
He gave her a sidelong glare. "Are you saying it's the kid's fault?"
"I'm saying it's no one's fault, and laying blame isn't going to help anyone right now--not him, not his mother and not you. Castigate yourself later if you must, but right now you've got to hold it together. For both their sakes."
Joe shut his eyes. Damn her, she was right. He sighed and put a hand over hers.
He heard footsteps approach and looked up. A man in a dark blue uniform stood before them. "Are you the driver, sir? I need to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind."
Joe stood up. "Of course."
The police officer took Joe's name and driver's license number down on the clipboard he carried. "When did you first see the child?"
"When he ran out in front of me."
"What steps did you take to avoid the accident?"
"I hit the brakes and tried to swerve to avoid him. But I couldn't."
"What did you do when you realized the boy had been hit?"
"I got out of the car and went to check on him. I could tell he was hurt, and in that traffic I knew an ambulance would never reach him in time. The mother came up and I brought them both here."
The officer looked directly at Joe, his brown eyes softening a bit. "You were probably right about the ambulance. If you hadn't brought the boy in, he'd be dead now. I've seen accidents like this before. That's a bad stretch of road there--they ought to put a fence up around that park. This isn't the first time a kid's run out into traffic." He lowered the clipboard and adjusted his cap. "A lot of people would have just driven away."
"He's not that kind of person," Miya protested mildly. It wasn't like her to speak out to strangers, but she seemed to feel the need to defend the perceived slight on her lover's character.
The officer nodded once to her. "I've already got witness statements from the scene. I'll need to talk to the doctor when he has a moment. Thank you for your time, Mr. Asakura."
The boy's mother returned just as the officer was leaving, clutching a handkerchief, her eyes red, her face ashen. Joe immediately feared the worst. "Is he--?"
"The doctor's with him now." She sat down on the sofa as though her knees were about to give way. "Oh, God...my poor baby..."
Joe sat down again, hands resting on his knees. "Do you need to call someone?"
She shook her head. "There isn't anyone to call. We lost my husband a year ago. He was on a business trip, and...and there was a terrorist attack...they said it was Galactor. Five hundred people killed." She buried her face in her hands. "Th-they never even found his body..."
Joe shut his eyes tight and turned his face away.
Miya looked at the woman. "Let me get you something to drink. Would you like some coffee?"
She swallowed hard, raised her face and nodded. "Yes...thank you. I'm sorry...I'm just so scared..."
"Don't apologize. You've every right to be upset." Miya glanced at Joe. "You want anything?" Joe shook his head severely. Awkwardly Miya patted the woman's shoulder. "I'll be right back."
After she was gone, Joe and the boy's mother sat in uncomfortable silence. He honestly didn't know what to say to her. She said she didn't blame him for what happened, but how could she not? Her silence was in itself an accusation. He would almost rather she scream at him, curse him, lash out at him. He would deserve it. To have her just sitting there, five feet away from him, making no sound except a quiet sniff from time to time, weighed heavily on his conscience. Galactor killed her husband. And now maybe her son, too. I was born a Galactor. If it weren't for them, none of us would be here now. Damn them. And damn me.
The door opened, and a tall, thin man in a white coat came out. Immediately the boy's mother stood up. "Doctor?"
Joe got to his feet. "How is he?"
The doctor sighed and motioned them to sit. Neither of them did. "He's stable right now. We've ruled out internal and spinal injuries. What we're most concerned about is his head. He has a bad skull fracture where he hit the pavement after impact with the car. Bone splinters were driven into his brain. He isn't able to breathe on his own, so we're going to have to operate immediately."
A gurney wheeled out into the corridor, with a small white-draped form. The woman rushed to the boy's side. "Oh, my poor baby...!"
Joe watched her for a moment, then looked at the doctor intently. "The operation...it's difficult?"
The doctor shook his head. "Not at all. The X-rays have shown us that the damage is minimal. Once the bone fragments have been removed, he should be fine."
Miya returned just then, carrying a styrofoam cup of coffee, but Joe didn't even glance at her. "There's something you're not telling us," he said to the doctor.
"Only that...I've spoken with the investigating officer, and according to him, that boy should have never lived to get to the hospital. Several witnesses at the scene described how he ran out into rush-hour traffic--it was inevitable that a car would hit him. By all rights he should be dead now. It's a miracle that you got him here in time, but after the operation he should make a full recovery. Our only concern now is whether we have enough type-specific plasma for the operation. The attendants are checking our blood supply now."
"Is there anything I can do for him?" Joe asked. "If you need blood, you can take mine."
The doctor hesitated only a moment before nodding. "Do you know your blood type? No? I'll have a nurse draw some, then. Please come with me."
"Excuse me," Miya ventured. "I'm O negative--universal donor. I'll contribute too."
"Thank you, miss, but we have plenty of O-neg on hand. It's type-specific we need."
Joe turned and put a hand on Miya's shoulder. "Wait here for me. I'll be out as soon as they're through with me."
Miya nodded and sat down, the cup of coffee seemingly forgotten in her hand, as Joe followed the doctor into the elevator.
* * *
Joe's blood typed as AB, which was fortunately the same as the injured boy's. He was taken into an examination room and a slim, fresh-faced nursing attendant set about the business of putting a needle in his arm. She chattered brightly, but Joe didn't pay much attention to her words. He lay back on the pallet and closed his eyes.
They took two pints from him, leaving him a bit dizzy, but he didn't care about that. He'd lost more blood from battle-wounds in the past, and come home with them still open and weeping--he'd cope. The needle was out of Joe's arm and he was holding it elevated with a gauze pad pressed to the puncture site when the boy's mother came in to see him. She pulled up a chair and sat down.
"How are you feeling?" she asked. She looked better; she'd obviously washed her face and gotten herself under control. She was still noticeably tense, but the doctor's assurances had apparently eased her mind somewhat.
"I'm fine." Joe listened to the bustle of footsteps outside; he caught a few words in the babble of medical-speak that suggested an eight-year-old boy had been taken into surgery. "I guess the operation's started..."
The mother nodded. "Yes..."
Joe lowered his arm and looked at her, with an attempt at a reassuring smile. "Don't worry. Remember, the doctor said it wasn't a difficult procedure."
"I know. I'm sorry." She scooted closer and put a cool hand on his forearm. "We've put you to so much trouble, with you getting us here, and giving blood..."
"It's not a problem. I'm glad I was able to help. Lucky your son and I have the same blood type."
"Yes, it was. You're an angel. I don't know how I can thank you enough."
"When your boy's okay, that'll be all the thanks I need."
And then the lights went out. The woman gasped, and Joe sat up suddenly.
"What's happening?" She looked up as the ceiling lights flickered on, but dimly, not as bright as before. "Oh, God, what's going on?"
Joe swung his legs off the pallet and stood up. He felt a little light-headed, but nothing he couldn't handle. "Stay here. I'll try to find out what the problem is."
He met an orderly on the way out of the examination room. "There's been a power outage," the dark-skinned attendant explained. "Nothing serious, but we're moving non-critical cases out into the waiting area for now."
"No power? But there's an operation--"
"The doctors are doing everything they can for patients currently in surgery. If you'll please come with me...?"
The orderly collected the boy's mother and escorted her and Joe out of the exam room. Miya was still in the waiting area, and she stood up as soon as Joe appeared. "What...?"
"Power outage. I guess the hospital's running on emergency generators now." Joe sat down on the edge of a chair. "Nothing we can do now but wait."
"What about my boy?" The woman settled uneasily on another chair, hands clasped. "Are they still going to be able to help him?"
"I'm sure everything's fine," Joe said with a confidence he didn't feel. "All we can do now is wait."
They didn't have to wait long...unfortunately. The doctor came out of the bay doors, and Joe was there to meet him right away. The boy's mother followed close behind him. Miya hung back, not wanting to be in the way.
"What's wrong?" Joe demanded, seeing the look on the doctor's face as he removed his surgical mask. "Is there a problem with the power?"
The woman swallowed hard. "The operation...how is my son doing?"
The doctor sighed and shook his head. "It's the backup generator...it can't produce enough power for the respirator and the other machines required for the operation. We can't continue at this time."
The mother gasped and turned away, hands going to her face.
"How long..." Joe cut his eyes to her, then looked back at the doctor. "How long will you have to wait?"
"Hopefully the power will be restored quickly. Right now the boy's stable, still under anesthesia...but if it takes too long, there may be complications. We'll just have to wait and see."
* * *
Wait and see.
The minutes dragged by. Joe paced the waiting room, unable to sit still even though his head was still spinning and he felt like he might throw up if he'd had anything in his stomach. Miya stood against a wall, keeping her distance, knowing there was nothing she could say or do to make anything better for anyone at the moment. The boy's mother sat in her chair, hands folded, eyes closed. Her mouth moved from time to time in quiet prayer.
Joe had long since forgotten how to pray.
No one spoke out loud. No one even looked at each other, beyond the occasional shared glance of mingled fear and desperate hope.
It was perhaps an hour after the doctor's announcement--certainly no more than two, when there was a bright flash that made Miya jump visibly and even gave Joe, his nerves frayed to the breaking point, a sudden start.
The mother looked up at the track lighting overhead, now at full illumination. "The power's back on!" she gasped. "Oh, thank God..."
At that moment, Joe discovered that he could thank God, too.
* * *
The morning dawned bright and clear. The sky was the deep, high blue that promised a long, pleasant afternoon ahead without so much as a hint of overcast.
"It's a beautiful day," Miya murmured as she stepped outside. She looked up at the clear sky that mirrored the color of her eyes.
Joe put a hand on the small of her back. "You go on to the car," he told her. "I'll be there in a minute. And...thank you for being here for me. And being so damn patient with me."
She looked back at him and smiled. "I didn't do anything...but if my being here was of any help to you, I'm grateful for it."
He watched her as she walked off towards the car. You were more help than you know, cara. If you hadn't been here...I don't think I could have made it through this alone.
The doctor and the boy's mother came out of the main doors of the hospital behind him. He turned and gave them a warm smile. "I'm going to head out," he told them. He nodded to the woman. "I'm glad your boy's going to be okay."
She smiled and clasped his hand. "Thank you so much...thank you for all you've done for us."
"I'm sorry it was necessary. I'll come by and see him when he's feeling better."
He turned away and headed for the car quickly. Behind him, he sensed the woman starting to call him back, but he got in and started up the G-2 before she could say anything else to him. Joe wasn't usually one for drawn-out goodbyes. Not at the present time, anyway.
He drove in silence for a while, Miya quiet beside him. When they got to the bookstore, he pulled into the alley behind the building and stopped. Then he turned to look at her. "You know I'm going to catch hell from Ken for not being there to see Ryu off."
"If you didn't catch hell from Ken at least once a week, you wouldn't be fulfilled. Besides, you could always blame it on me."
He shook his head. "I don't hide from my mistakes, cara. I almost killed that boy."
"'Almost' doesn't count, and it was an accident. Anyway, everything turned out all right."
"Except that boy's got a long recovery ahead of him. It's not going to be easy for him. He's going to have to be tough."
The voice of experience speaks, Miya thought but didn't say. "You know, we don't even know his name. His or his mother's. We never got around to introductions."
"We'll have to rectify that later, I suppose. Want some breakfast?"
"Love some--but I'm cooking. I don't eat fish soup."
Miya snorted as she got out of the car. "There's nothing wrong with a good bowl of miso."
"Nothing except that it's not eggs and toast." Joe followed Miya up the stairs to her loft. He paused on the landing and looked at the horizon, out across the rooftops, towards the nearby seacoast. There some kind of mist or haze hanging over the water, but the sky itself was clear. Miya was right--it was going to be a beautiful day.
With a weary half-smile, he followed her inside.
i guess i'm an underwater thing
* * *
so i guess i can't take it personally
i guess i'm an underwater thing
i'm liquid running
there's a sea secret in me
it's plain to see it is rising
but i must be flowing liquid diamonds
--Tori Amos, "Liquid Diamonds"
Endnote: Thanks to Mari Fujimoto and Alara Rogers, for translating the script to Gatchaman #94, "Angler, the Electric Monster", the transcript of which was relied upon extensively for this fanfic. Alara Rogers' excellent script translations can be found on her website. Yes, I'm aware that we didn't see anyone with Joe during the episode in question--but then, the redhead has always been notoriously camera-shy. ;)--eq
* * *
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