It was Levi’s fault. To start with. It was more directly the spider-monkey’s fault. Ryan could even stretch to saying it was a little bit Akmazian’s fault. It was a group effort in making Ryan Dalias’ day worse than it had already been.
On the bright side it wasn’t a plant. On the bad side the spider-monkey was more mobile. But it was, thankfully, not a monkey-spider. It was in fact neither spider nor monkey. But it looked a lot like a monkey, and it acted a lot like a spider. Spider-monkey.
And yes, it was very much very loose on EOS 10. Because why wouldn’t it be?
Ryan had never seen anything like it before. He had now seen a lot more of it than he cared for. It was grey, a kind of grey that made it really really damn hard to see. It didn’t have fur as much as some sort of soft scales that it could raise up around its body like an agitated cat. And it had sticky hands, paws, claws, whatever. It could climb walls and hang on ceilings and jump onto people from pretty much any direction. Oh, and it had a poison barb in its tail that it used to paralyze its victims.
The paralysis seemed to be there in order for it to have time to use its nasty and sticky spit, like actual spit, to stick its victim in place.
It was a very nasty and unpleasant creature, big and strong and nasty.
Ryan had all this newfound knowledge about it because it had been kind enough to demonstrate its abilities on him as he had crawled into an abandoned corridor to meet a totally-not-an-actual-terrorist Akmazian. So that part was Akmazian’s fault.
Granted, when he had gotten there Akmazian had already been visited by the nice little spider-monkey and was securely stuck.
“I see you got my lil’ message then.”
“Yes, wow, thanks. Was this your brilliant plan? Because, if I’m going to be honest… it sucks.”
“T’was not. My plan involved the creature not finding me before I found it.”
“Your plan failed.”
“That’s very observant of you, doc.”
Akmazian had the fortune to be sitting up. His hands plastered to the ground on either side of him, his shoulder stuck to the wall, his legs to the floor. The things spit was some grey sludge, very sticky, that quickly hardened, and it was strong. Very very strong.
Ryan was awkwardly slumped against a pipeline running from the floor into the ceiling, just beside the maintenance-shaft he’d come in through. The spider-monkey had dropped onto him from above, stung him in the neck and it was apparently rather clever because it had spit on his shoulder and pushed him against the wall. If he hadn’t been angry and tired he’d been more impressed by how efficient it was, how quick and efficient.
“How long have you been here?”
“Not long, started feeling my legs when you came rushin’ in.”
“I did not rush. Can you give an approximate time for the venom to wear off?”
“Weeeeell, some ten minutes or so? I can move by now, or I would’ve if I wasn’t, you know, stuck.”
“Great. Just great.”
“Awe, don’t be looking so gloomy now, won’t your friends be joining us?”
“They know you’re here, right?”
Ryan was having a really bad day.
“Doctor, they do know you’re here… right?”
“And why in the ever loving hells would that be?”
“It’s possible that we’ve been dealing with paralyzed people all over the station and chasing a certain spider-monkey. And it might have spit Levi in the face and, not that he doesn’t deserve it, but trying to convince him that we’ll get it off and he’ll be fine and be able to see and all… and Jane found a gun, very quickly, I don’t even want to know how and I think she’s having some sort of break-down. So when I asked for your help and you said you had a plan I might have, hurried out of there and not really stopped to tell anyone where I was going?”
“Well, this is a sticky situation indeed.”
“Can I blame you for getting me tangled up in it?”
“We need a new plan, to get us out of this… stand still.”
“I hate you.”
“Darlin’, don’t get your feathers ruffled. This is salvageable.”
“Feel free to tell he how whenever. Take your time, I’m not going anywhere.”
“Now that’s the spirit. So either someone’s gonna be missing you soon and come looking for you—”
“I’m sorry to break it to you but the first thing they’ll come up with is not: ‘Well, Ryan must have gone to visit our personal terrorist in his cosy little cargo bay’.”
“Hush now, we’ll get ourselves out of here. Wait, what about your coms?”
“You mean the thing I can’t reach because I’m stuck to a wall?
“Yeah, that thing. So how long do you think we have to sit here before anyone thinks to come look then?”
“Longer than I’d care for?”
“Oh, come now, dear doctor. The, what did you call it, spider-monkey, left, so we got that going our way.”
“Maybe it’s just waiting.”
“Well, I for one think we should… make use of the situation, for some, let’s call it bonding time.”
“You’re lucky I can’t move or I’d try to murder you about now.”
“Tell me, what got you in such a murderous mood today, doctor?”
“How about being stuck to a wall because some monkey spat on me and the company I get is Akmazian, Destroyer of Stars!”
“Well, don’t go sparing my feelings here.”
“And there’s an infirmary full of patients that need me and I am fucking stuck! Oh and wow, I can’t actually remember the last time I slept. I—I just can’t be here, right now… I… I have to feed my cat.”
“I’m starting to get my movement back and now I think my arm is cramping.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just very tired.”
“You know, I’m not an expert, but I think you need a break.”
“Yeah, I’ll take one once all of this is over.”
“You’re not referring to just this day, are you?”
“This whole thing. The alliance, the lies, the people trying to kill me, you. All of it. If I’m still alive when it’s over I’ll take a really really long break.”
“And you’ll deserve it.”
“What was your plan anyway? That I came here for.”
“It involved using his royal saucier and the nurse as bait. Now that I’ve gotten a closer look at the creature in question I’m not sure it would actually work.”
“Can you come up with a new plan, please?”
“I’ll try, darlin’.”
Ryan figured it could actually be worse. The spider-monkey could have killed them, or he could have been stuck with Levi, or… the quarter-master, or, someone worse than Akmazian. At least there was a chance that Akmazian could come up with a way for them to get away. A slight chance.
“How has cargo bay life been lately anyway?”
“Cold, echo-y, bit boring, bit lonely. The usual. No one’s tried to blow us up or anything so that’s been nice.”
“If you got a disguise that wasn’t Robin Hood you could probably sneak out more.”
“But what’s the fun in that, doc?”
“Oh, I don’t know, getting out and about?”
“Worried I ain’t getting enough exercise?”
“I’m a surgeon and not a psychiatrist but I’ve heard humans are a social species.”
“Ohhhh, worried I ain’t being social? Me, the alleged terrorist, not making new friends!”
“I don’t want you to get too… weird and eccentric from isolation and as I said that I realized it’s probably too late and never mind.”
“No, I think you’re right, I could do with some company now and then.”
“I’ll send Levi your way when I need him out of my way.”
“I’d rather have the good doctor himself visit.”
“That’s not a no.”
“If you want my company find a better disguise.”
“… So I can come visit you?”
“Yeah, why not. There’s no possible way that could be a bad idea, right.”
“This might actually make scrapping Robin Hood worth it. Any request as to what disguise I should use?”
“I think I’d look good in green, brings out my eyes.”
“But I do need to cover up my face. Life of the famous and all.”
“I know a plastic surgeon, I could ask him for a favour and we’d get you a new face.”
“That’d be a worse crime than any I’d ever been accused of.”
“Is that vanity talking?”
“I can’t boost of being as pretty as the doctor but I got a good thing going here, shame to ruin that wouldn’t it?”
“Suuuuuure. You know what would make your visits even better? If you maybe told someone about them before or just announced yourself like a proper person and didn’t pop out of some shadow like some cape-clad ghost.”
“You want me to have no fun at all?”
“I want to not have a heart-attack.”
“Fine, that we can agree on.”
Ryan tried to find a more comfortable way to stand, which was close to impossible. But he could move his right arm a bit; he could roll his shoulder slightly. And he could almost shift his weight from one leg to the other. It didn’t do much to ease the pressure on his left shoulder.
Akmazian looked far more at ease. It wasn’t at all fair.
“How strong can this stuff even be, I feel like I should be able to break it.”
“Give it a try. Then you can come save me.”
“I hate this spider-monkey.”
“To be fair it don’t seem very fond of you either, darlin’.”
“Maybe this is just its way of showing affection?”
“The possibility is there.”
Maybe he could weaken it by putting it under strain? He could move a little, he could use that movement.
It felt futile and stupid but Ryan figured it was better than doing nothing.
“What will you do when you’re free?”
“Shot that monkey?”
“… That’s good. But not what I meant. I mean after cargo-bay-life is over, when you’re name’s been cleared? What will you do?”
“Working on the assumption that my name does get cleared and I’m not executed before it? I ain’t sure. Find a nicer cargo bay? Go into exile?”
“You’d just continue to hide?”
“What else could I do? Some court presiding me innocent won’t make anyone forget. And even if I get cleared of the crimes I didn’t commit there’s enough left that I actually did to still make an honest and carefree life hard. And in the end I’d still be Akmazian to the universe, wouldn’t I?”
“But you didn’t do what they think you did?”
“Too late for that to matter. You don’t think everyone’s going to be like yourself, do ya? Most people I’ve met don’t forgive and forget that easy.”
“I ain’t some petty thief, doc, I am the Destroyer or Stars. There’s no clearing my name, or the rest of me for that matter. My only chance would be to go somewhere they’ve never heard of me, and never will, and then I’d have to go damn far. Even if I’m proven innocent, even if some people actually believe that they’ll still see Akmazian when they look at me. There’s no escaping that.”
“I think you’re wrong.”
“That’d be nice. But hardly plausible. Even you, who stands up for me, who has told the world you think I’m innocent, and who actually believes that, can’t say it doesn’t bother you, right.”
“It’s really not like that.”
“No. I mean, you’re not wrong. Your past, even the untrue parts, will stay with you. But it doesn’t mean people will see that as you. Sure, it’s hard to affect the ones you never interact with, but us that know you can look past all that.”
“’Yeah, I think he was a terrorist, but he’s not been anything but nice to me, so I think he’s fine.’ like that? I don’t think I want that anyway. If I ever get away from this I’d like to be no one for a while.”
“So you plan to leave?”
“There’s few reasons to stay around.”
“Few aren’t none.”
“They’re not very good reasons. And what would I do here? Maybe Levi can get me a spot in his kitchen. But no, I don’t want to have people look at me and think I murdered billions, or was accused of at least. Feels the same now.”
“If that’s what you want. But I think you’d be surprised by how easy people disregard your past, no matter how bad it might be.”
“So you say.”
“So I know. I understand, I really do. The not wanting to be judged based on second-hand information, the need to go where people won’t know you. I get it, it’s not nice. But it’s also not an excuse to hide away. No one should have to do that, especially not you. Like sure, I made bad decisions, but I did it, it was me, all me, I’ll have to own up to that, every day, I have to take it with me without letting it weigh me down.
You didn’t even do anything wrong. You’re accused of a made-up crime! And if anyone wants to be shitty to you because of that it’s their problem and not yours. So just move the fuck on and prove it.”
Akmazian scowled. Because apparently that was the kind of reaction one had. Ryan rolled his eyes.
“But fine, we’ll get this sorted and you can go live on a moon and brood away the rest of your life.”
And now there was an itch on his cheek. Best. Day. Ever.
Akmazian was quiet, still scowling away at him. Ryan used the quiet time to try to make his itch go away by sheer force of will.
“I… I don’t think I have your patience.”
“I think I’d shot someone in the face before I’d proven anything. And that’s a bit counterproductive?”
“Yes… I think so.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to reach my shoulder with my cheek.”
“You look like you’re trying to break your own neck. Hey!”
“Somethings moving above you. I think—”
“Don’t say spider-monkey.”
“Yeah, It’s the spider-monkey.”
“What is it doing?”
“Not much, oh...”
The spider-monkey dropped onto Ryan’s head and he tried to stay as still as possible.
“What. Is. It. Doing.”
“It’s just smelling you, I think. Damn, that thing is ugly.”
Ryan could feel it sniffing at his hair. It stepped onto his shoulder and he could just see it out of the corner of his eye.
“Go away, monkey.”
“I think it likes you, doc.”
“Please stop. What the hell! Did it just lick me?!”
“Oh, that’s so gross. Why…”
“Hey, monkey, what are your plans for the good doctor?”
“Stop licking my face, you monster!”
“Be nice to it, maybe it’ll let you go.”
“That’s easy for you to say, it’s not you it’s licking.”
“Apparently it has good taste.”
“Get it off me!”
“Sorry, can’t do. I would’ve if I could.”
“It stopped, what it’s doing? I can’t see? This is really not cool.”
“It’s examining the spit. Oh…”
“Oh, what? Ah! What is that! Oh no, no no no no. You did not just pee on me!”
“What the fuck is wrong with this thing!”
“Is it just me or is that spit-thing melting?”
“What the fuck?! I can move my arm! I can— Shit!”
Ryan stared at the floor and counted to ten. His shoulder was loose, his feet were not. The floor was now much closer than it had been before. It was kind of imminent.
“I’m going to murder that monkey.”
“I think you made it angry, doc.”
“And why’s that?”
“It looks very angry, aaaaaand there it is.”
“Why? Why did you get me loose from that wall just to glue me to the damned floor? Is this fun to you? Is this some sort of game?”
“Of course it is. And here I am, on the floor, covered in spider-monkey pee.”
“Yeah, but you have one arm free.”
“For all the good that does me. I can reach what, your leg? Please tell me there’s a knife in your shoe, you’re a shoe-knife kind of person, right?”
“Sorry, no. I’ll keep that in mind for the next time.”
“So… now what?”
“I don’t know. Any ideas?”
“Well, rock-paper-scissor ain’t gonna happen. I spy? Twenty questions?”
“I’m not going to lie here and play some game.”
“Then what are you going to lie there and do?”
Turns out Akmazian was really good at twenty questions. Like scary good. So about an hour later Ryan felt sufficiently defeated and more than a little frustrated.
“This is a dumb game and I refuse to play anymore.”
“You should learn to ask the right questions.”
“You should stop being a freak.”
“You should be nicer.”
“I am nice.”
“See, not nice.”
“Yeah, it’s almost as if something is affecting my mood. Like I might just have a bad day.”
“Hey, my day ain’t much better, doc.”
“You didn’t get peed on.”
“… okay, that’s fair.”
“Still, could have been worse.”
“I could be stuck here alone. Or with, I don’t know, Levi.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment to my company.”
“Do that, if I had to be stuck in monkey spit with someone you’re a pretty good someone.”
“Awe, Ryan, I didn’t know you felt that way.”
“I take it back.”
“Sorry, no take-backs, darlin’.”
“Is it that hard to say nice things about me?”
“What? No, I say nice thing about you all the time.”
“Uhh, are you sure about that? Or am I not present for these?”
“What? I mean why wouldn’t I? It’s not like I actually dislike you.”
“Could have fooled me. Are we on the same page here? I, Akmazian, you, Ryan.”
Now this was a point at which Ryan Dalias had a realization. Akmazian was right. He was indeed more likely to speak well of him to others and maybe, just maybe, most nice things had been more thought than said… to anyone.
Now that was maybe not the perfect thing to tell someone.
“You’ve gone awful quiet, doctor?”
He had defended Akmazian to the world, that was one thing. He’d probably do that again, he might have to. But that was a completely different thing. It was still a nice thing, right? And he… yeah.
“What are you doing?”
“I can see that.”
“The why did you ask?”
“Because you’re being weird?”
“No, I’m not, and besides… uh no. Okay, fine. But you don’t honestly think I dislike you, do you?”
“Well, I hope not?”
“Good, I don’t.”
“You don’t hope so?”
“Okay, I get it, you’re still being very weird.”
“Can’t a guy glued to a floor with monkey-spit be a bit weird sometimes? Is that really too much to ask?”
“Fair point, and of course you’re right. Go ahead; be as weird as you want. I won’t mind.”
“Great, so can I ask a weird question?”
“Where did you get my cat?”
“Ah, but that’s a trade-secret.”
“Okay, so you know he sometimes… uhh disappears?”
“Cats do that.”
“Yeah, but he really just disappears. And he always watches me sleep and it kind of freaked me out at first but I guess I got used to it. He’s always there, when you open your eyes… watching.”
“I just want to make sure he is not from some weird experimental lab.”
“No, he’s just a cat. Very cute.”
“Yes, he is very cute.”
“Sure, the cat too.”
“That was low-reaching even for you.”
“I take what I can get.”
Ryan watched Akmazian try to shrug… and succeed. The spit gluing his shoulders to the wall cracked. For a moment they both just stared at each other, frozen in place from shock this time.
With a cracking crumbling sound Akmazian pulled his hands off the floor, a wide smile on his face.
“Hey, Ryan.” He had to force himself loose, but it was still pretty easy for him to stand up, pieces of spider-monkey spit stuck to his clothes, but free. “I can move.”
“I can see that.”
“Looks, it’s turned fragile. I can just crush it.”
“Must have had a time limit. Explains why it re-did you… not why it didn’t do me.”
“You don’t sound happy about this?”
“Hmm, no. Sooooo, could you, maybe, try and get me of this fucking floor now?!”
“I don’t know, you’re free, come up with something.”
“I have a knife, I can try to cut it?”
“I knew you had a knife.”
“I have three.”
“Yet, none in your shoes. I am beyond disappointed.”
“I am sorry. Now keep still.”
“… If you think you’re funny…. You’re not.”
“I could just leave you here.”
“But you won’t.”
“But I could.”
“Please, just help me?”
Turns out that with the right amount of force and leverage the spit could be broken. It was an uncomfortable and strenuous process. But it worked, and as soon as Ryan was completely free he stood up and stretched. It was glorious.
Akmazian remained on the floor, breathing heavily.
“Now, can we shoot that thing?” Ryan asked.
“That’d be lovely.”
“It would… But on second thought, I just want a shower.”
“If I see it I’ll shoot it, say hi from you.”
“Thanks. You know. We’ve been here for hours, and we’re no closer to solving this problem than before.”
“You should check in with the others, maybe they have.”
“Hey. There’s… there’s this thing I’ve meant to talk to you about but I am honestly too tired right now to even care. But we should talk, soon.”
“We’ve literally only been talking for the last hours, doc.”
“Mhm, not the kind of conversation you want to have when glued to a floor, or wall, and covered in spit and pee.”
“But I’ll be around, I guess. I know where to find you. Probably.”
“And I meant it, you know. You could come visit, sometime. If you get tired of your cargo-bay.”
“Just no Robin Hood?”
“Ever heard the word inconspicuous?”
“Is that what they call it these days?”
“Those are some nice words you got there, Ryan.”
“Fine, whatever. Just, I donno. I’ll see you around. I guess.”
“Oh, you will.”
Ryan had a hard time being happy about the situation being solved once he got back. Jane and Levi launched into a dramatic re-telling of the capture of the spider-monkey that Ryan didn’t really listen to.
“Where have you been?” Jane finally asked.
“I had a tea-party with Akmazian.”
“Was it… nice?”
“Yeah.” He was already out the door; that shower a shining beacon in his future.
“Hey, where are you going?” Away.
Ryan had big plans. After his shower he was going to sleep. It was going to be glorious.
“Hi, Morphs.” The cat screamed at him, circling his legs. He seemed very keen on being picked up. “I will get to that soon, but if I pick you up now we’re both going to need a bath and I don’t think you want that.”
Morpheus jumped up on the bed, turned to stare at Ryan and meowed loudly.
“I agree, but soon.”
Oh, shower, wonderful shower. And clean clothes. It really was the small things. Now all that remained-
“Didn’t I just tell you to stop doing that!”
“Yes, but –”
“Not you. Morph.” Ryan glared at the cat, happily rolled up in Akmazian’s lap, purring and looking at Ryan while doing it, to make sure it was noticed.
“He was lonely,” Akmazian said.
“What are you doing here?”
“You said I could visit.”
“I didn’t mean now! And I said to stop with the—How did you even get in here?”
“The door wasn’t locked.”
“Fine. What do you want?” Ryan closed the bathroom door behind him and leaned against it.
Akmazian gave Morpheus a few last scritches before carefully placing him on the bed and standing up.
“You said you wanted to talk to me, and I really want to know what that’s about. And because I feel like we started a conversation somewhere and never finished it and it’s frustrating.”
“And this couldn’t wait until tomorrow?”
“Too bad, because I can’t even remember what I’m supposed to say to you.”
“You’ve been acting all sorts of weird lately, doc.”
“As said, it’s been a weird da—”
“Ain’t just today. Today’s just been extra weird.”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what?”
“Anything? What I’m supposed to say here?”
“Maybe you don’t.” Akmazian was slowly approaching and Ryan considered his escape routes.
“Maybe not. Then what?”
“That ought to be up to you.”
It was an effort, really, to keep his eyes on Akmazian when the floor was so interesting.
“I just have this weird… feeling, probably my imagination but then again, maybe not.”
“The thing is.” He really was far too close. “Now you ain’t stuck to anything, so you can choose, do whatever you want.”
“Is that so.” Ryan raised his hands between them, to make some sort of barrier, but Akmazian inched forward, just a tiny bit, and Ryan’s hands were on his chest and he didn’t remember what his motive for that had been and his brain back-fired and he couldn’t figure out what came next.
Push or pull.
“It is,” Akmazian said, although it was barely more than a breath and yeah he was really really far too close, or maybe not close enough.
Pull or Push.
Ryan stared at his own hands, splayed against the fabric of Akmazian’s shirt. He raised his eyes just a little bit and that bastard was smiling. This dumb alleged-terrorist with his dumb smiling, all scruffy and messy and annoying with no respect for personal space, that should by no means be attractive. No, not even a little. That was ridiculous.
Maybe. Maybe not.
He’d made plenty of bad decisions in his life, couldn’t be worse than that. Could be a lot better, could be great. Who know? Only one way to find out.
It was such a small movement, the slightest of tugs, a tiny tiny movement forward. There wasn’t much distance to close between them anyway.
One little pull and Akmazian’s lips were on his and his hands were pulling him closer and Ryan let himself be pulled. He threaded his fingers into Akmazian’s hair and it was nice, it was really nice. Until Akmazian broke the kiss to say, very smugly:
“I think that about says it.”
“Shut up.” Ryan’s mind was blissfully free of most thoughts, but he knew one thing: he was tired of talking, especially when one could do much better things, like kissing. So he got back to that. Akmazian didn’t seem to mind.