Coma, coma, coma, coma chameleon,
Zero Glasgow! Zero Glasgow!
Yeah, I have no idea either.
Anyway, the fic! I'm not sure where this should go in the timeline exactly, so right now I'll just put it as the most recent. This is a list of all the Pape and Danforth vignettes, more-or-less in chronological order:
Side Effects May Include Sleep Problems
The Girl in the Kitten Toque
Boots or Hearts
The Old Man at the Window
The Nesquick and the Dead
The Old Lady and her Dog
Stealing Costs Everybody
Pape and Danforth
Title: Coma Chameleon
Length: 2,658 Words
Rating: R (for language and description of violance)
HC_Bingo Square: Coma (Bingo card is here.)
Summary: "You're the one making it up," Mike said completely seriously. "You probably have brain-damage." He didn't even look like he was enjoying himself, just delivering grim information.
Charles woke up because Mike was kicking him; annoying taps of his steel-toed boot against his thigh. "What?" he mumbled, groggy and irritated.
"You're an idiot, that's what," Mike said. He was talking around the cigarette in his mouth, so that smoke mixed with the thick mists of air from his lungs. "You're gonna freeze to death like that."
Charles pulled a hand out of his pocket and rubbed one of his eyes. He didn't remember falling asleep. "What time is it?"
Mike sniffed and checked his watch. It looked new. Charles wondered if he'd stolen it; another blow for the underdog via a shoplifted Timex. "Little after six," Mike said. He took a long drag on his cigarette and then used his thumb and forefinger to pluck it out of his mouth. Glowing ash fluttered to the pitted concrete. He turned his head to scowl at the rectangle of darkness outside the loading dock and Charles was startled that the sun was already gone. The low night sky crushed the glow from the store's outside lights like a wall they could barely hold back. "Fucking truck ain't here yet."
Charles blinked. "I've been sleeping since five? How come you didn't wake me up before?"
Mike shrugged. "Thought you could use it. You look like death warmed over, eh?"
Charles blinked again. "You just said I could've died."
"Yeah, well, you didn't, did you?" Mike asked like that was the entire point. He sniffed again then stuck his cigarette in his mouth so he could wipe his nose with the back of one gloved hand. "Here." He held out the same hand. "Get up before you finish freezing your nuts off."
"Thanks." Charles made sure to grab Mike's wrist, so he wouldn't get any of his fresh snot on his fingers. His hand shook and he realized dully that he was shivering. He hadn't been cold until Mike mentioned it, but now he could feel it like something seeping through him from the inside out. His butt and legs were freezing from sitting on the concrete floor. His legs especially were so numb that they almost gave out on him. He swayed against the wall and would have slid right back down to the floor if it wasn't for Mike propping him up.
"You okay there?" Mike waited until he saw Charles's nod, then slowly eased his hands off the death-grip they had around each of Charles's upper arms. He took another drag on his cigarette then held it so he could flick the butt with his thumb and drop ashes onto the floor.
"Thanks," Charles said again, too muzzy to even feel embarrassed about nearly collapsing into his coworker's arms. He stayed leaning against the wall with his arms wrapped around himself, trying to work up the energy to stamp his feet. "We should go inside."
"Probably," Mike said around a blast of smoke and ice crystals. He sucked his cigarette between his lips again so he could pull his dark green watch cap down lower on his head. It ended up lopsided so that only one of Mike's ears was really covered. The other one had gone red with the cold. "What's wrong with you, anyway?"
"I'm fine." The words were automatic, but even as Charles said them he looked down at his trembling hands and wondered why he was bothering with the lie. "I'm just tired," he added, which was a good way of admitting something was wrong without actually admitting anything.
"You're tired," Mike said, mocking Charles's voice by turning it into a ridiculous groan. He snorted. "No shit, Sherlock. I kept you from freezing to death, eh? I know you're tired. What I'm asking here is why you're so damn tired that you're pulling a fucking Franklin Expedition in the loading docks?"
Charles stared at him. "Franklin Expedition? How do you…" The words shriveled in his mouth under the heat of Mike's glare. Charles cleared his throat. "Why are you so pissed off, anyway?"
"'Cause you're stupid," Mike said. He yanked the nearly spent butt of his cigarette out of his mouth and snapped it onto the concrete where it died in a tiny orange explosion. "What kind of an idiot sits down and goes to sleep when it's minus forty outside?"
"I wasn't trying to sleep," Charles protested. "I just sat down, for Christ's sake!"
"Yeah. On the floor!" Mike thrust his finger down to point at the concrete they were standing on. "When it's forty fucking below outside!"
"You were right there!" Charles said. He was more bewildered than angry but felt like he had to keep the same level of volume so that Mike wouldn't assume he'd won whatever this was. "If you were so worried about me, why didn't you wake me up before?"
"Because you were tired." Mike shook his head. "Jesus. You don't listen." He turned abruptly and walked to the other side of the loading dock, still shaking his head as if Charles had pushed him beyond comprehension. Mike leaned against the far wall and crossed his arms, mirroring Charles. "You know what your problem is?"
Charles stuck his hands in his jacket pockets; they were cold anyway. He scowled. "What is it this time? I'm not committed enough or I'm just a bystander?"
"You don't listen," Mike went on smoothly. "I'm standing here talking to you and,"--he made a whistling noise and ran a stained index finger in front of his eyes--"in one ear and out the other. I'm just wasting my time."
"I don't listen?" Charles demanded. "That's what you think my problem is now? First I'm not 'committed' or whatever crap you want to call it, and now I'm not listening?"
"That's what I said." Mike nodded slowly.
"Yeah. I heard you the first time," Charles snapped. He was actually angry now, as opposed to just sounding like it. "You want to know what my real problem is, Mike? You know what it is? I see dead people! I see them all the damn time! That's why I can't sleep anymore! Because everyone around me is dead!"
Mike blinked at him a few times and Charles smiled thinly. "Yeah, that's what my problem is," he repeated. Maybe he'd just given his biggest secret to the one person he liked least on the planet, but it was worth it just getting Mike to go fish-faced for a minute. "How's that for commitment, eh? Is that committed enough for you, Mike?"
"If you're talking nut house 'committed', sure," Mike said, though his face was all scrunched up in confusion now. He came back across the loading dock so he could stand right in front of Charles. "You see dead people. Seriously."
"Like, in the movie." Mike didn't make it a question.
"No," Charles said. Then, "I don't know." He sighed, letting the last of his anger escape with the rush of air. "They…I think they know they're dead, if that's what you mean. Most of them don't talk, either. They're just, there."
"Huh," Mike grunted. He scratched his chin. "How do you know they're dead, then?"
"I just do," Charles said. It was a strange kind of relief to be telling this to someone, even if he had no idea if Mike believed him or not and wasn't even sure what would be worse. "Well, most of the time, anyway. Sometimes it's hard to tell, unless you can see how they died or something. Like, blood and stuff."
"Sure," Mike said. He leaned against the wall next to Charles this time and started fumbling in his pockets for another cigarette. "So, you're seeing ghosts now." He said it like this was a new hobby Charles had picked up. "That's why you're not sleeping? 'Cause they keep you awake or something?"
"Or something," Charles said. He shrugged. He was still shivering, but being angry or just standing up had warmed him a bit and it wasn't so bad anymore. "Shouldn't the truck be here by now?"
"S'probably not coming," Mike said. He flicked his lighter under his cigarette and sucked on it while the paper flared. His skin looked pale yellow in the flame, the lines on his face deep as canals in a desert. "How come you're so sure they're real?"
"That the ghosts are real?" Charles shivered again, one that had nothing to do with the temperature. "I just do."
"Maybe you're just crazy," Mike said. He let out a deep, satisfied puff of smoke.
Charles closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. He was so tired he wondered idly if he could actually fall asleep standing up. "I'm not crazy," he said, but he knew his voice was too weary to sell it.
Mike seemed to think about that. Charles heard him inhaling around his cigarette. The entire loading dock reeked of smoke by now; it got into everything, like bacteria. "When'd it start?"
"Um." It was hard to think back that far. Charles didn't have the energy and it felt pretty much like forever at this point. "A month? A month and a half? Something like that. It's been awhile, anyway."
"Month and a half." Mike repeated it like he was mentally travelling through time. "What happened a month and a half ago? That when you got hit on the head?"
Charles opened his eyes to look at him. "I never got hit on the head."
"Sure you did." Mike breathed out more smoke. "Whole box of Libby's beans dropped on you, remember?"
"That wasn't me. That was Husain."
"Sure," Mike said like he didn't believe him. "Thing is." He pinched the cigarette out of his mouth, exhaled a slow line of smoke like he was going for drama, "Maybe you're the one that's dead."
Charles stared. "I'm dead. So I see dead people. Because a box of baked bean tins fell on Husain's head."
Mike shrugged and looked at Charles like what he'd just said was the most reasonable possibility. "It was a heavy box. I nearly put my back out trying to lift it afterwards." He took another drag. "Okay, you're not dead, then."
"You're in a coma," Mike said with finality, "and you're dreaming all this up, like the ghosts and everything."
Charles kept staring. "Nothing fell on me, Mike."
Mike inhaled pityingly. "Yeah, well, it's not like you'd remember it, eh?"
Charles leaned his head back and looked up at the dark ceiling. "I can't believe we're even having this conversation. This is insane."
"You're the one making it up," Mike said completely seriously. "You probably have brain-damage." He didn't even look like he was enjoying himself, just delivering grim information.
"This is insane," Charles said again. "This is completely insane." He wrenched himself away from the wall then turned so he faced Mike. "I'm not in a coma, I'm not dead, and I'm not having this conversation with you. I'm going inside." He stalked three steps towards the door back into the supermarket but then spun around to face Mike again. "If I was in a coma, do you really think I'd be dreaming about having a stupid conversation with you in a freezing loading dock? Don't you think I have better things to dream about?"
"S'your brain," Mike said, unmoved. "I don't know nothing about people in comas."
"Exactly!" Charles exlaimed. "So how can you stand there and tell me that I'm in one?"
"Well, I ain't here, am I?" Mike said.
"Yes you are! Because I'm not in a coma!"
Mike watched Charles calmly. He inhaled more of his cigarette and then spoke around it by gripping it in his teeth. "You seem pretty sure about that."
"I am. Pretty sure. About that." Charles bit each word out. "Believe me--if I was actually lying in the ICU of Toronto General, the last thing I'd dream about would be talking to you."
"All right. So what'd it be, then?" Mike asked like he really wanted to know.
"I don't know! Not this!" Charles snapped.
Except he did know. Except the first thing that burst open in his head was an image of Josh lying on icy pavement, half-naked and covered with bruises of boot prints; an indelible map of what killed him with the indifferent lights of John Street beating down.
Always the aftermath, never any clue how to prevent it, or any hope that Charles even could.
Mike's eyes widened. "That bad, eh? You're shaking."
Charles swallowed. "I'm cold."
"You should wake up, then," Mike said.
"I am awake," Charles said. And he was: sitting on the cold concrete floor with Marjorie kneeling next to him, so close that he could feel the warmth of her breath on his face and smell the antiseptic mint of her gum. Her very pregnant belly was pressing on his stomach like an air bag as she shook him.
"Charles!" she said breathlessly, though that might've been the enormous baby constricting her lungs. "What are you doing out here? You could've frozen to death!"
"Um," Charles said, blinking. He rubbed his eye with a hand that felt like a jointed block of ice. He glanced at the dock entrance where the huge garage-style door was closed, just a thin line of grey daylight visible at the bottom. There was a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich in a shroud of plastic wrap, freeze-dried on top of the box next to him, and an open bottle of orange juice crusted with ice. His thoughts ticked like rusty gears. "I was on break."
"Why didn't you use the staff room?" Marjorie chided. She hauled herself up with a little groan of effort. "Oh, sweetheart, you must be freezing!"
Marjorie had a preschooler as well as the kid baking and she called everyone honey and sweetheart, but for once Charles felt weirdly like she meant it; her eyes were so big with worrying about him. "Sorry," he murmured. His lips were cold and his nose was stuffed solid with frozen snot.
He hadn't used the staff room because it was down the same corridor as the public washrooms, and he couldn't tell if the woman waiting patiently outside was dead or not. He kind of liked the loading dock because it was private, anyway. At least it had been before Mike showed up.
Charles climbed to his feet like he was pregnant too, but that was because he was too cold to do anything else.
Marjorie put her hands on either side of Charles's face. "Good God, you're freezing." Her palms were impossibly warm, like branding irons. "You go right inside and get yourself a hot-chocolate in the staff room and stay there until you warm up, okay?"
Charles nodded. "Thank you." He didn't want her to take her hands off his face, but he obediently lurched towards the door. "Where's Mike?" he asked. His nose was too cold to smell cigarette smoke.
"Mike?" Marjorie blinked her big, doe-eyes at him.
"Nothing," Charles said. "Never mind." He lurched through the door into the assault of noise and slap of artificial heat. He was still freezing but there was no way Marjorie would outpace anyone for at least another two months, so he made it into the staff room before she could ask him who Mike was, if she was going to. Right now Charles was only fairly sure that Mike was real.
The same woman was waiting in front of the bathroom when Charles walked by. She turned and smiled sadly and yes, she was dead too, just like he'd thought. Unless he was just dreaming her, or dreaming everything.
Crazy, coma, or dead, Charles thought. His grin felt cold and sick on his face. Dead, coma, crazy. Like 'rock, paper, scissors' from hell. But hell was probably warm.
He was possibly imagining it, but the hot chocolate was pretty good anyway.