Watching and Waiting
by Laura Mason

The kid who shares this crappy room with me is finally awake. The nurses came running in at four this morning, followed by doctors and interns galore. I've never seen so many staff in the month he's been here -- or in the years before that.

The suits vanished, as did the guard outside the door. They think I don't know they were there. I'm just the old rummy musician. They don't know I was trained, once upon a time, to watch. Observe but never interfere. Wouldn't be here if I could have ignored that last bit, but even the booze never made me forget.

The suits were his only visitors while he was out, but now a set of parents show up and sit beside his bed. The woman is quiet and still while the man paces, his face tense and angry. No one talks; the kid tried but they wouldn't answer his questions. Two days of that and they don't come again.

He seems like a nice enough kid. Polite, quiet, doesn't talk much. The nurses talk to him, until he asks a question they don't want to answer. How can having an awake roommate be quieter than having one in a coma?

Next a girl visits, all in dark clothes, her eyes rimmed with black makeup. I'm happy for the change. She talks loudly and I can actually hear them both. I'm so fucking bored even this kid's problems seem fascinating.

"Casey, you're crazy. Pastels? And I was in love with the jock?" She laughs, tinny and false, but the kid tries to smile in return. Pretty pathetic attempt. "Ah, hell. It's okay. Everybody had hallucinations, you're just the only one who's severely allergic to higher levels of trichloroiscoyanuric chlorosulfate."

"Yeah," he says weakly.

"But when you almost die, you're supposed to see bright lights and tunnels, not dream about me kissing Stan!"

The kid -- Casey -- tires to laugh again, and the girl punches his shoulder and leaves. Her face is very different once she turns away from his bed. She's no high school kid, no matter what she's pretending. Just how long did they keep the kid? He still looks pretty damn young, even emaciated and all eyes. If he's older than 17--

Stasis? Did they have him in some kind of suspended animation? That could explain the guards, the suits, and the flock of doctors. There were government experiments...

Jeeze, what the fuck did this kid do?

That night, Casey has a nightmare. Quietly, though, as if he's afraid to let anyone know of his distress. But I'm awake, so I hear the rapid breathing and the jolt into breathless stillness when he wakes.

"You okay, kid?"

"Yeah," he whispers in the dark. "Just..." There's a long, quiet pause and his breathing calms. "Don't like hospitals."

"Who does?"

He climbs out of his bed slowly and walks to the window, dragging his iv stand. He's thinner than I realized, and he's shaking. Maybe from cold, maybe weakness. Or fear.

"Kid, take a blanket." I point him to the closet and he obeys silently, returning to the window wrapped in two of the thin blankets. He sits on the sill and stares out between the bars, and I watch him. Don't sleep much anymore. Apparently neither does he.

"You can tell me about it."

"You wouldn't believe me."

"You'd be surprised what I'll believe, kid." I laugh a little at that, surprising us both. It hurts after all this time, a real laugh, and his amazement only makes it continue. He hasn't heard genuine laughter from anyone else in here. "Do you believe in people who live forever unless they're beheaded? No, of course not. How about a secret society keeping track of them, recording their lives through the centuries and their battles?" I laugh again, then cough. "See? You can tell the crazy old gimp anything."

"What's your name?"

"Dawson. Joe Dawson."

"I'm Casey Connor." I nod, serious again as he moves close enough to take my hand. "They say the school was poisoned, an accident. But I remember the truth."

"Unless you want to be my roommate forever, Casey, you might be better off remembering the lie."

"You don't." He's smart. Jeeze, if I were still a Watcher I'd be bringing him in. And James would have yet another hostage to use against me. He's watching me, and somehow he's just seen it all flash over my face.

"I don't recommend using me as your role model."

"I won't be here much longer. I'm almost well." He stares out the window again.

"Who are you waiting for?"

Startled eyes back to me, followed by a slow smile. "You're good, Joe. But I'm not looking for anyone. I don't know what you're talking about."

Smart and cagey. He knows they might be listening, and that I might be a plant. But I'm not, though I can probably cause as much damage as if I were.

"Casey, what's your truth?" No reply, so I continue. "I almost died in 'Nam. A dead man saved my life, carried me back to the medics. They told me the pain and blood loss made me delusional."

Casey watches me again, listening carefully.

"But I saw Andrew Cord shot, I saw him die, and I saw him alive and carrying me."

"No one believed you?"

"Only those who knew the truth. They came for me, brought me into their ranks. I spent 25 years working with them." My voice breaks on that, and Casey doesn't push me to continue. Really nice kid. Like that will protect him. "Then they destroyed everything we'd worked to do."

I realize my voice has risen and stop myself. When I'm calmer, I continue. "They became killers, and their actions turned the immortals against humans. When I tried to stop them, they killed my friends, my proteges -- and I landed here, so doped up for a year that I couldn't remember my name."

"Why didn't they kill you, too?"

"Their leader, James, is my brother-in-law. We argued over this so much... I think he likes the arguments."

"He wanted you to suffer," Casey corrects, and I smile but he looks away. It's not a pleasant smile, not any more. I hope the kid really is gone before James' yearly visit rolls around.

His voice is whisper soft but I hear every word clearly in the dark room. "An alien tried to take over the school. We.. I stopped them. A lot of people died, and everything changed."

"Your friend said that was just a dream."

"They got to Stokes, before the end. Only two of us didn't have the alien inside--" Casey stops abruptly, touching the sides of his face with his fingertips, almost dreamily. "One of us, really."

"You think the aliens are still here?"

"No, everyone's normal. Too angry to be with the alien. But..." He looks at me hard for a few minutes. "You trusted people and they betrayed you, so maybe you'll understand." I don't move, don't say anything, just wait for him to decide.

"What if that alien didn't randomly land in Ohio? What if someone put her there deliberately? Maybe Herrington was chosen to be the place she could have, because no one would miss it. And we screwed it up by resisting." His voice has become softer and breathless, and he's sucking in air too fast. Afraid of his own thoughts, yes, but even more terrified to be telling them to me.

"You think the government sacrificed your town?" We sit in silence for a long time, and he stares out the window again while I consider it. Makes paranoid sense, as much as anything else that's real. Finally I break the silence. "Herrington must really be the ass end of nowhere, kid."

A startled giggle and a glance at me. "Casey," he corrects before his eyes drift back to the semi-darkness outside, full of amber streetlight spill. There's nothing to see, no stars. It's a long time before I speak again.

"You waiting, or worried?"

"Both," he replies without thinking, then glares at me. Yeah, I'll shut up, kid. I fall asleep watching him wait for whoever it is.

The next morning he's gone, and the surveillance cameras from the corners of the room are on the floor in pieces, the tapes gone. There are endless questions, but I really did manage to sleep through everything. They don't believe me, even though they're the ones drugging me day and night.

Once they're gone and I'm alone again, I think about how thin and weak Casey was. I smile. He didn't do it alone; he couldn't have managed it. Casey's knight came for him, after all, just as he'd been expecting.

I wonder what kind of difference it could make to have someone like that in your life, someone to trust. A person who'd walk into hell for your sake. A true friend, honorable and courageous.

Then I snort at myself.

I can't believe I'm still stupid enough to wish for happy endings and heroes. Instead of wasting any more time on such thoughts, I take my "medication" and fall asleep.



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