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Piecing things together.



Southern Hospitality

Paul Wilson's hospital room:
    After some time, Sam looks up from his father's bed. He doesn't look angry so much as tired, very tired.
    "Ma'am, could you tell me what happened here? All I know is that Father came down to work with Dr. King, and then Fred, Reverend Shuttleworth, called about him being in the hospital. What happened?" Mrs. King's eyes open, and she looks up at Sam, something regal and yet common shining in her face. "You must be Sam," she says. "Paul speaks highly of you. He says you are a righteous man who works hard for our people." She smiles warmly.
    Sam casts his eyes down, "I'm not sure about that. But there's so much work to be done."
    "I wish I could tell you what you want to hear. No one knows exactly why Paul went out into the woods by himself. He was told not to go, but Paul always does what he thinks is right. The only thing he said was that he'd been informed that some men who work for Mr. Connors were planning something in those woods. We think Paul went out there to try to find out what."
    "Which woods, ma'am?"
    Mrs. King pauses, looking thoughtfully at Sam. She nods slowly. "You have a right to know," she says, probably more to herself. "He was in Johnson's Wood, out the north side of town. There isn't much there except a few farms, mostly owned by Negroes."
    Sam stands, "Thank you, ma'am. And thank you for watching over my father. It would mean a lot to him, to both of us."
    Walking towards the bed, Sam begins talking to his father in low tones, "I don't know if you can hear me, but I have to be going for a while. I, I just hope you're still proud of me after all this is done."
    About that time Sam Stern reaches the first floor and exits the hospital quickly, attracting more than a few stares from the curious staff. Outside, in the oppressive heat of the Alabama summer, Stern begins to feel the tight knot of rage shrink in his chest.
    Adrian catches up with Sam outside the hospital, accelerating his stride to quickly cover the distance between them. "Sam, are you OK? I know this is upsetting, but..."
    Upsetting? Stern asks himself. Am I upset? I don't know what the hell is happening to me! he screams internally. Pulled here. I know something drew me here, but what it was...has something to do with this Dark Angel character.
    "Sorry," Stern finally says, his voice low, much like a little child. His tone was embarrassed, hesitant. "I don't know where that came from. It--it wasn't me." He realized how stupid that sounded. "I'm not making sense, am I?"
    Unsure whether to nod or shake his head, Adrian stood there confused for a moment, then moved smoothly in front of the taller man, in case he started striding off again. He could full well understand Sam's anger and reaction—the urge to do something when confronted with such naked injustice spoke well for him, but the circumstances were confused. Adrian wanted to avoid lecturing the younger man on the courses of action available to them that won't hurt the civilians more than the opposition, so he stops, and lays his hand on the westerner's shoulder and sees the concern, almost fear on his face. "Do you want to talk about this?"
    "It's nothing," Stern said, realizing how vulnerable he was sounding, and that just wasn't fitting for a man like himself. "I...I'm not used to how the blacks are treated down here, that's all," he lied. "I normally just treat everyone the same, y'know? But this Wasp character is pushing it and making me angry." Seething anger and hatred emanated from him in tiny, fibrous tendrils, much like smoke rising from a dying fire.
    Inky, snaking tendrils curling into the air.
    Stern was lost in the rage, his hands balled into tight fists--
    The only thing that kept Toomes from jumping backward at this display of power is his cybernetic suit, but it does nothing to prevent the sensation of his skin crawling at the sight of solid, writhing black tendrils joining the hear shimmers in the Alabama sun. _Mother of God. I really have no idea what he's capable of, or where the power comes from, do I?_
    --and then, just as suddenly, the inky tendrils of Darkforce vanished just as quickly as they had appeared. The tension left Stern's hands, relaxing them, the fingers uncurling.
    Passivity returned to his face. "See," Stern said to Adrian. "All better." He smiled an empty, hollow smile. "Let's go back inside before anyone thinks there's something wrong, shall we?"
    Adrian nodded, his face slightly ashen "Ahem. Yes, right. We wouldn't want anyone to think that."
    "Just remember that as 'Sam and Adrian' we have to keep a low profile around here. We'll gather some information o what's going on, and then tonight we can act as a little more than 'Sam and Adrian'. Trust me that we should find more than enough places to vent any righteous anger." The pair return to the hospital, and Adrian blinks as his eyes adjust to the light difference between the outdoors and the whitewashed corridors. He refrains from trying to see if the his companion even noted the change.

Janet folds the paper under her arm, takes her room key, and with a smile on her face, begin the walk down to meet Eric in the restaurant. She finds Eric at a booth, waiting for her. Without a word, she sits down, and opens the paper, showing Eric the front page. She can barely contain her laughter. She says quietly, "It's Henry. The Wasp, it's Henry." She turns the paper around again, looking at the bug eyed man. "Do you think he got that projector disk thing working? Maybe that's why he calls himself the Wasp. Maybe he can control bugs." She giggles to herself, handing the paper to Eric to read. _Henry can control bugs, and I can control dirt, what a pair we would have made._
    Janet gets a hold on herself. "It says the Wasp and some guy called Fasces, whatever that is, are deputies patrolling the streets, but somehow, I don't think they are trying to control the peace."
    Eric shakes his head in obvious distress, "Fasces sounds like Simon. He and my father were always lovers of ancient Rome and it's imperial traditions. Somehow we've got to stop them before they tear the country apart."
    "Do you know what a Fasces is?" Janet asks, "And how would you suppose we stop them? I mean, what if Henry did get his experiment to work, maybe that silly looking suit is more than just something to hide behind." Janet orders a club sandwich and iced tea.
    Eric toys with his fork, not looking up as he speaks, "Fasces were a bundle of sticks with an axe-head in them. They were carried by a group of men called lictors before ancient Roman magistrates and were symbols of imperial authority. It's also the root word for fascisim, a philosophy my father and Simon always believed in. In other words, Fasces is probably my nazi worshipping brother Simon."
    He drops his fork and looks up, "I have no doubt Simon and Henry are more than simply wearing ridiculous costumes. They're committed to an ideal that frankly disgusts me and I will do my level best to stop them before it spreads. Janet, you might want to leave Alabama before things get...nasty. I can order the jet to take you back later tonight."
    Janet politely smiles throughout Eric speech. _How cute, he wants to protect me._ She speaks, not in a condescending tone, but quite matter-of-factly. "I appreciate your concern Eric, but I am a modern woman of the 60's, and quite capable of handling anything you can." She smiles, _At least Duststorm can._
    When she speaks again, her tone is a little less forthright. "I'm here for as long as I'm needed. Now, since that is settled, we need to decide how to proceed. I'm sure I could have Henry here in minutes with a phone call, but I don't think that's the best thing. We need to decide if we are going to oppose Henry, the Wasp, or both." She takes another sip of her iced tea. "I am assuming that since the Wasp is the one in the paper, Henry is acting as the leader, and that Simon is following along."
    Eric nods in admiration, "Ok then, I won't mention your leaving again. But I do have one question for you. How are you going to oppose Henry and Simon. I have certain weapons at my disposal, but I'm concerned for your safety." At least the Ghost Rider is prepared to bring what he has to bear here, Eric thought.
    Janet looks at Eric very seriously for a moment, before saying. "Did you invent a giant bug zapper?" A grin creeps across her face. "I honestly hadn't given much thought yet as to how to best oppose Henry. I suppose we should find out a little more about what he does as the Wasp, I mean, does he fly around town preaching his views, or does he sulk in dark corners? That would give us the best idea of what to do. Its not like we are going to find him, and beat him up and take his lunch money."
    Eric grins widely, "I've got some items that might be of assistance, though no bug zappers. Sorry. But I agree with your notion. We'd best go find out what Henry does as Wasp and see if we can find Simon at the same time. I guess the best place to start would be at the next nazi rally their holding. I imagine we could find that without any problem."
    Janet shudders slightly, "As much as I despise the thought, of going to a rally, you may be right." Janet flips through the paper again, looking for some indication of the next time they are likely to catch the Wasp. "I don't think we should attend openly though. If we recognized Henry so easily, he may recognize me, and Simon may you. We wouldn't want them to think that we agree with them."
    Eric nods and looks out into space, "We'd probably better separate and agree to meet again here. The two of us together might be conspicuous." Plus, Eric thought, Ghost Rider does his best work on his own.
    Janet finishes the last of her tea. "I agree, we will meet here again for breakfast, and hopefully will have had a chance to find some information." She stands and opens her purse, removing the money for her meal, and a generous tip.
    Eric nods, pays his bill with a large tip and leaves the hotel, intent on looking for the latest rally.

Stern didn't say anything as the two returned to the hospital room. He didn't feel nervous or uncomfortable for his outburst or his display of power. His face was set with a grim expression, as if he had a headache and was unconsciously squinting for the pain.
    Sam Wilson was waiting for them, "Gentlemen. I think we need to find ourselves some place to stay. Perhaps the Reverend can help us?"
    "I've already talked to him, Sam. He's setting something up as we speak. How's your father?"
    "Not too well. He was badly beaten and hasn't shown any signs of waking yet." Adrian nods at the information, expecting no better news. 'If you don't mind, I'd like to sit with him for a few minutes."
    Adrian quietly works his way into the hospital room, taking the seat that the younger Wilson had just vacated. Folding his hands in his lap, he stares at his old friend for a long time, taking some comfort in the steady, rhythmic motion of Paul's chest.
    _Where there's life, there's hope. I have to believe that. What you've started here, Paul, I'll see resolved. I'll find out what you were trying to find, and I'll see your crusade through. sometimes makes me feel small that I seem to keep following you on crusades—as if I don't know when to start them myself. But that will end. I have a new potential, and a new agenda, and you've shown me how I should direct it. Please wake up, Paul. I want you to be well. I want you to see what we can accomplish. I want you to be proud to have me as a friend. Please wake up._
    Toomes stands, knowing he should feel the weight of his years, and know that his technology is shielding him from it. _I'll see this through, and I'll keep your son safe. Get well, Paul. Get well._ Adrian nods to Mrs. King, then exits the room, rejoining his two companions.
    Shuttleworth excuses himself to make a few phone calls about lodging for the three visitors.
    "Has anyone seen today's paper? There might be information in it we can use."
    "No, I haven't. However, I have some idea of where my father was when he was attacked. I would like to suggest that as a likely starting point."
    Adrian glances up at this information, "Was he investigating something out there, or was it just the site of the crime?"
    "He was looking into something, although he might have been being set up."
    "That does sound like our best bet. Sam, I have to tell you, Reverend Shuttlesworth has already advised us not to stick our noses too deeply into this. I think he's afraid that whoever did this to your father might not hesitate to do it to us as well."
    Adrian looks around, making sure that there's no one close by before continuing in a near whisper, "Now, Sam and I have some special advantages that make that unlikely, but I don't feel comfortable with you getting too involved in this." Adrian holds up a hand to forestall the younger man's protests, "I know that your a superb athlete, and I know that you want to help us get the people responsible. I can also guess that you'll get involved even if I ask you not to. All I'm asking is that when the fighting starts, you keep your head down and let us handle it. I don't want to risk losing another friend today. OK?"
    Smiling slightly, "I understand your concern, and thank you. I'll try to keep myself from harm during this."
    Adrian nods, "OK. Now, I don't know about you two, but I'm a sixty-year old man who's been pushing miself way to far over the last 48 hours. I'm going to catch some sleep on that comfortable chair there. I think we'd be best served to wait until later in the afternoon before we start investigating the woods. If there's something out there, we'd like to have the element of surprise. Why don't you two either get some sleep or do some casual looking around—talk to people, read the paper, see if anything's happening. If anything does come up before, say, 4:30, or if Paul starts to wake up, please get me."
    "I'll talk to you more this evening, then."
    Sam then heads down stairs, hoping to find someplace to have a cup of coffee and something to eat. When that's finished, he comes back upstairs again, to sit by his father's bedside, wait, and possibly sleep.
    Adrian walks over to the aforementioned comfortable chair (which is something of a gross overstatement, but he's really too tired to care), sets himself down, and with a heavy sigh shuts the suit off. The slow down-powering prevents any shock to his system, but the gradual loss of energy brings back the fatigue of the fight in Asgard, the lack of sleep from the night before, and the flight down to Alabama. Even in the bright and noisy hallway, Adrian is asleep in a few minutes.
    Stern watched with mild interest as the older man sank into the chair and promptly went to sleep.
    He looked at each occupant of the room in turn and smiled at the older black woman. "We'll figure something out." He left the room and exited the building again. He had to get the smell of the place out of his nostrils. He wasn't prepared for this. He still didn't know why he'd come down here. It was like someone else was speaking for him, and he had not only not been invited in on the conversation, but the results were mandatory. Stern wanted to lash out at someone or something in his frustration, but who...or what? And even that wasn't him.

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