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Shell Shock (IC)


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It had been "one hell of a first day" for Zöe. In the last 12 hours, her life had been turned completely upside-down. But she had rolled with the punches and landed on her feet. She was already beginning to build a new life here. She had a "new" school, some part-time work already lined up, a new band, and possibly even a boyfriend. Tomorrow, she would get her class schedule and textbooks, and begin her first shift at the Claremont dining hall. Everything seemed to be coming together just as quickly as it fell apart. And that's how Zöe did everything - quickly.

But eventually, even Zöe couldn't outrun the sheer fatigue. Long after most of her classmates had already succumbed to The Sandman's siren song, Zöe finally let herself drift off into sleep. But it was not a restful sleep. She tossed and turned and moaned and screamed as the images she spent the entire day blocking out of her mind came rushing back up to the forefront of her mind like a typhoon.

Alex and Mike found their own minds plagued by some of the same images. Their regularly-scheduled dreams were preempted by vague and broken re-enactments. An epic battle between the forces of good and evil. Triumph turned to tragedy. A spectral demon of blue light, crying out in some unknown language. His insane, sadistic laughter echoing across the city. The explosion, moving in slow-motion, obliterating everything in its path. Buildings, trees, people - all incinerated as the wave of nuclear force washed over them.

They could also hear what was beginning to become a familiar voice whispering I'm sorry...Mom...Dad...I'm so sorry...I'm so sorry... They could hear screaming, and pounding, and sobbing. Then their eyes shot open, and they realized that they could hear it outside their heads as well as inside.

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The door to Zöe's room was unlocked. Anyone who stepped inside could hear her sobbing behind her bed.

Anyone who walked around to investigate could see her curled up in a ball, leaning against the wall near the far back corner of the room. A few inches away, on the perpendicular wall, a series of dents and holes had been pounded into the wall. Zöe's knuckles and forehead were covered in blood and tiny chunks of drywall. A small puddle of fresh vomit and mucus lay on the floor a couple feet away.

She rocked back and forth, crying so hard she was gasping for air. "...Mom...Dad...I'm sorry...please don't leave...I'm sorry...please don't die...Mom...Dad...oh god...please...I'm sorry...I'm sorry..."

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So he wasn't supposed to be in the girl's dorm at night. Big whoop. Like that was the worst thing he ever did! But wandering outside the door, he'd heard and smelled something significantly wrong. A new person's scent, vomit and blood. Lovely combo. With a though, he'd vanished, reappaering in the hall. It was a simple matter to tell where the noise was coming from.

He pushed the door open, looking in. "Hey, what happened?" Obviously, the 'are you ok' question was a stupid waste of time. He stepped forward, resting a hand lightly on one shoulder. He was concerned but really had no idea who she was or what had happened.

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The images leaking across the psychic link drifted seemlessly into Mikes dreams. He tossed and turned confused by the strange images but unable to wake fully.

Then the screaming started and he bolted awake, driven on an instinctual level he was up and out of bed running for the sounds of distress before his sleep fogged brain had even fully proccessed what he was hearing. Moving at startling speed Mike was through Zoe's door in a matter of seconds. He took in the scene and hurried to Zoe's side pulling the slight teen into his arms effortlessly holding her close to his chest as he took a step back from the worst of the mess. Gently rocking her as he did so, while murrmuring what he hoped was comfort across both the psychic link and verbally and looking to James pleadingly, "Should we get her to a doctor? What happened?"

'Alex, somethings wrong with Zoe.' He pleaded across the link effortlessly in the moment of the crisis.

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Alex came awake abruptly and scooted off the bed before she was even fully awake. Her bare feet never hit the ground as she floated through the doorway.

Zoe! Zoe! We're here. Mike? Alex sent down the bond as she accelerated down the hall to the other room. Alex cut the flight before she careened into James. She stumbled at the landing and skirted around him. Although peripherally aware of the room, she was focused mostly on the crying girl as she cautiously made her way over and took up a place on her other side. She reached out to brush her fingerips against the other girl's face, warm against her clammy skin, "She's grieving, Mike. Oh, Zoe..."

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Eddie had been sound asleep when he heard the crying. He sat up, and rubbed his eyes. He looked across the room. Due to his eyes still adjusting he couldn't tell whether or not Chris was still asleep, or just not there.

At fist he thought he had dreamed the crying, but when it continued after his eyes were good and rubbed, he knew that was not the case. Okay... Something's up... He thought as he pulled on a pair of pajama pants. The night blue pants and guitar design went well with the ratty old Motley Crue: Generation Swine t-shirt he usually slept in. He got up quietly and slipped out, not wanting to wake Chris just in case he was there.

As he left the door to his room, Mike breezed past him. "Woh! Mike! What the hell?!" That was as good of a wake up call as any. Eddie couldn't remember the last time he had seen his friend move that fast. Someone must really be in trouble. He quickly scanned for a late-night rock show on the air waves and bolted after mike.

He arrived a little after Mike, and saw James. Then he saw who's room it was. "Oh god...Zoe!" He dashed into the room and slid to a stop in a crouch in front of Zoe and Mike. At the risk of being redundant he decided to ask anyway, "What happened?"

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A cursory examination revealed that Zöe lacked any serious injuries. She had done a lot more damage to the wall than the wall had done to her. She'd probably have some nasty bruises in the morning, though.

Zöe buried her face in Mike's chest and clawed her fingers into his back hard enough for even him to notice. She wasn't any threat to him, but she was a lot stronger than she looked. She continued to sob and mutter for several minutes, seeming almost oblivious to her surroundings.

"...I'm sorry...I'm sorry...I wasn't fast enough...oh god...please...Mom...Dad...I'm sorry..."

Mike's shirt quickly became drenched in a veritable milkshake of bodily fluids - sweat, blood, mucus, even saliva. If Alex had been less distracted and more callous, it would have occurred to her that getting a usable DNA sample from Zöe would be pretty easy at this point.

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"Long story." Alex said remarkabally abruptly for her before she started providing direction. "James, I need you to divert anyone else coming down here away. We'll handle this. Mike, she's shockey and flashbacking. Pull her up tight and keep your breathing calm and steady. One hand at the back of her neck."

Alex leaned over to increase the contact, placing her fingertips at Zoe's temples and pressing lightly as she opened the psychic link and lowered some of her mental shields to provide some anchor. Zoe. It's okay. It's going to be okay but I need you to slow down and breathe. Can you do that for me? Just breathe for a moment, nothing else.

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Mike did as Alex instructed pulling Zoe in tighter against his chest as he went through some calming excercises slowing his breathing and heart rate. Despite that he still seemed a little lost by the whole situation. He almost subconciously continued to murrmer it was all going to be ok down the psychic link with the rock steady sureity he used to help Alex throught he worst of her nightmares with.

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Eddie had run out in a hurry, looking worried. Chris hadn't been halfway out of the window yet, so luckily was still in jeans and a t-shirt. Running around the dorms in a Geckoman costume would be... awkward.

So he rolled back and chased after his friend, arriving in the doorway of the room. "Oh, crud. Hold on, lemme take a look at her." He kneeled down, ripping his shirt up as he went. "Hmmm... she looks worse than she is. Head and hand cuts bleed more than they hurt, she's done a real number." He made some makeshift bandages from his t-shirt. "I'll just wrap those cuts up and they'll be fine soon as you can say, well... bandage. OK, hun?"

When he was done, he sat back on his heels. "The vomiting obviously isn't related to the injury, however." He looked the girl in the eyes and tried to reach her. "We can rule out lupus. Something's scared you bad, and it just hit you now. What happened?" He held up a hand to silence anyone, even though nobody was actually trying to speak.

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James raise an eyebrow but stepped back into the doorway. Not at Alex, it made sense after all. But more at the oblivious nature of some people's concern. Just listening to her voice and her words, it wasn't hard to discern a rough idea of what had happened without knowing who she was. Whoever and however her parents died, the new girl was obviously feeling it and maybe even responsible for not being there.

"Guys, she's hurting. Haven't you guys ever had a tragedy or nightmare from, uh, hell? Hers must be a doozy. Give her a break," he said softly. He thought for a moment of throwing a little mojo down to calm the girl but since Psyche was there already, it seemed covered if necessary.

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When Alex placed her hands against Zöe's temples and widened their psychic link, Zöe reached up and grabbed one of Alex's hands, pressing it even harder against her head. She continued clutching Mike's back with the other hand as she sobbed into his chest.

Eventually, Zöe's breathing slowed down, though occasional tears still streamed down her cheeks. She didn't acknowledge Chris as he inspected her or when he bandaged her wounds, but she didn't resist him, either. The room was deathly silent for a few moments. Then Chris spoke up again.

"We can rule out lupus."

Zöe started laughing loudly, then the laughing turned into coughing. "Wow, Chris. Glad to see some things never change." Without looking, she took the t-shirt that was offered to her and began wiping her nose and mouth. "I...I couldn't get it out of my head." She glanced over at the holes in the wall. "I can fix that. My...my Dad showed me how." New tears started falling.

She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the wall. "This is all so farked up! I watched you guys die, but you're not dead. I've known you guys my whole life, and I'm a stranger to you. My whole farking life just up and got taken away from me, and a whole new one just got dropped in my lap. It's like I woke up one day and suddenly the sky is red and Sentry Statue has Centurion holding an axe instead of a sword, but everything else is the same. Oh, except the part where I don't exist."

She looked down at the floor and rubbed her eyes one at a time. "Mr. Summers wants me to see a counselor. In fact, he says 'my scholarship is dependent upon my participation.'" She mimicked his deep voice. "Guess I should go do that after all."

She turned to Alex. "I'm...I'm sorry I was such a dick to you earlier today. I know you were just trying to help. You were always just trying to help." Then she turned to Mike. "And I'm sorry about your shirt. Shirts. I'll replace 'em when I get my first paycheque, I promise. And I'm sorry I woke you guys up. I know it's late..."

She finally looked up and saw Eddie kneeling before her, shirtless. She looked at him, then back down at the shirt she was holding, then back up at him again. Her eyes lingered on his torso for just a second too long. Her face turned bright red, and her mouth hung open for a few seconds. "Eddie..." She looked down, shook her head, and gave a half-hearted chuckle. Then she buried her face in her hands for a couple seconds. "Of course you're here to see all this." Without looking at him, she reached out and touched Eddie's hand, hesitantly, tentatively. Her skin barely brushed against his. Like at any second he was going to pull it away, and she was trying to avoid that moment for as long as she could.

Zöe looked up and scanned the room, taking in all the friends she was surrounded with. "When I was little, I was always climbing up stuff and swinging and jumping off of stuff. There was this Memorial Day BBQ when I was five. You guys were all there. I climbed a tree in the park when no one was looking, and I fell and broke my arm. You guys all huddled around me, holding me and consoling me and patching me up just like this. Mom and Dad spent half the day and half the night at the hospital. I totally ruined everybody's day, but you guys were all still so nice to me. Just like now. This is the first time all day I've actually felt...at home."

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She's really not making sense. She must still be disoriented. Poor Zoe...

Eddie did move his hand. But it wasn't to pull away. Instead, he grabbed Zoe's hand and pulled her closer so that he could hug her. "Look, I may not know exactly what's going on..." He let her rest her head on his shoulder, blood or no blood. "But I'm not about to leave and make you have to deal with this on your own. I'm here if you need me." His smile was as radiant as ever.

Beyond Zoe's shoulder, Eddie could see Alex with that sympathetic look on her face. Woh... It's like they're the same person... If the weren't so different I could swear they were sisters...

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For a bare moment Mikes eyes flashed darkly as Eddie pulled Zoe away from him but the upset was gone as quickly as it had come. Mike gently but firmly pulled Zoe back to him as her hug with Eddie drew to a close and wrapped a protective arm around her shoulder, "You're gonna be ok." He said confidently, "It just takes time and you have plenty."

Few of the others had ever seen Mike quite as rattled as he seemed to be he even managed to forget to be pessimistic for once. He was usually standoffish at best especially with strangers. Maybe it was just his own past that made him more sympathetic though the way he initially butted heads with Erin seemed to cast doubt on that theory. Later Mike himself would wonder why he felt so protective of this stranger but something in her screams had struck deep for him right now he was running more on instinct than thought.

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Zöe hugged Eddie back, and as Mike pulled her back down, she resisted for a moment. She reached up, grabbed Eddie's cheek, pulled herself level with him, closed her eyes, and kissed him on the lips. Then she let herself fall back into Mike's arms. As she sat back down, she kept holding Eddie's hand. She smiled weakly. "Good to know."

"It just takes time, and you have plenty."

Zöe laughed. "You have no idea."

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...But, we didn't meet Eddie or Chris until this summer! Not when we were five...

Alex stilled, her troubled gave going from the girl who looked so alike to the dents in the wall. Finally she glanced back as Mike hauled Zoe back to his side. Glancing from one pair of blue green eyes to another, Alex finally said, "I think all of this has been noticed. Why don't you guys see if you can put the room in order while I take Zoe to get cleaned up. I'm pretty sure that's my RA watching."

Alex reached out to lightly stroke Zoe's hair soothingly and she left the connection open for whatever comfort it gave her and sent the feelings that any hurt was forgiven and forgotten. If Zoe accessed anything beyond that she would find a vague distraction as Alex's brain worked on the question of Zoe's identity as well as a slight disgruntlement at Eddie's earlier shirtless snuggle.

Deeper buried beneath those was a much more primal sentiment that rippled below her active thoughts as she finished tucking Zoe's bangs back. Something protective and possesive.

Alex smiled gently at Zoe, Its okay. We'll take care of you.

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James watched with one raised eyebrow, looking on quietly as the tug-of-Zoe went on. What the heck was going on? There was some rather uncharacteristic behavior going on over the new girl. She'd just gotten here really. Heck, he didn't even know she was here until a few minutes ago. Given his nature, James was rather suspicious. He didn't think she was using any mind powers, not with Alex sitting right there. But something was definitely off, besides the fact that she looked a lot like Alex. He wasn't sure if they'd been manipulated or what. It didn't make her necessarily a bad guy or anything, but he was more than a little suspicious.

He shrugged one shoulder. He hated ultimatums and wasn't exactly trusting of authority figures, even ones with Mr. Summers' rep. "Nothing wrong with counseling. But it doesn't work if forced you know. If you want to stay here, and you're worrying about the scholarship thing, then you stay. I think we can safely say your tuition will be taken care of. You can talk to a counselor when you're ready, on your own time." He needed to place some calls to his financial advisers anyway, see how his investments were growing. He didn't know her so he really wasn't doing this for her. But, on the off chance Alex and Mike and all weren't being messed with and the sudden affection wasn't faked, then they'd want her to stay. And they were his friends. It was only money after all. And if it tweaked off Mr. Summers, so be it. James had bigger problems anyway.

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As Alex and Zoe left the room, Eddie's eyes just followed the pair of girls. I should say something he thought. But he found that no words came to his mouth. All he could do was watch her go. A few hours ago back in his room, he couldn't imagine being happier. But now he could only feel worried.

Soon as the girls were out of the room, Eddie sat up on his knees. "Alright, guys, lets do like she says. We should get this place cleaned..." His eyes fell on the spot where Zoe had vomited on the floor. He then remember that she had just kissed him. His face made a sour expression. "Ugh...Really?" He wiped his mouth off on his arm.

"There anything we can clean the floor with? Chris, what do you usually use to clean up all the blood when you come home some nights? Maybe we can use that?"

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"The trick is to mop it up before it dries. That, or replace the flooring before anyone notices," said Chris, wiping the tattered remnants of his shirt over the flooring. "Ick. Girl can puke." He looked about to make sure Zoe wasn't in the room, before leaning in close. "I'm no expert, but I think she has what Erin has. Post-Traumatic Stress Something. "

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Eddie's expression blanked for a second before becoming rather serious. "Oh. That's not good at all is it..." He looked down at the floor and sighed for a second. In silence, he rose, crossed the room grabbed the trash can and returned with it. He placed it down next to Chris so that Chris could throw out the messy rags in his hands.

Eddie then squatted next to Mike. Mike wasn't sure the last time he had seen Eddie go so long without having that smile on his face. The kid could really worry sometimes. "Mike, you and Alex obviously know Zoe. Which was news to me before now, but if you know what's going on with her, can you please tell me? She was pretty vague about it when I met her earlier today. And by vague I mean we didn't talk about anything like her parents or anything. We just talked about the band. I really need to know what's going on..."

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Mike frowned slightly at what he took to be the flippant treatment of Zoe's obvious trauma. He glanced down from where he was trying to clean the walls. He stared at Eddie for a long moment, "I don't know alot more than you do honestly." He said plainly.

"We were downtown at the library and those freaks from the baseball game were pulling somethign with the computers there." Mike explained, "We got into it with them out front by the courthouse, Zoe came out of nowhere and took one of em down."

He stopped with the rather fruitless attempt at getting the wall clean and elaborated, "She knew all of us right off the bat, which was wierd, then tried to explain the whole thing." He shrugged not sure how much to tell Eddie but given it was Eddie better he know than not and accidently set her off or something.

"Anyway," Mike continued, "She thinks she's from like a alternate dimension or something, she knew all of us there we were friends and stuff, Alex was like her sister or something but she wasn't telling the whole story." Mike didn't want to say she had been lying but there were alot of holes in the story. "She did say something about a bomb going off, everyone there being dead, I think that just kinda hit her again now that she slowed down enough to let it. Supposedly she told Summers the whole story, Erin went with her." Mike left it at that he didn't really want to pry too deep into what was going on with Zoe she'd tell them when she was ready he figured.

"Eddie," He looked down in concern as he spoke softly, "I think you should just let it go till she tells you whats up, she'll get around to it I'm sure when she's ready." Mike knew the last thing he would have wanted was Eddies good natured 'help' it'd only be slightly less irritating than Mark saying it was all going to be fine now.

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James noted no one else was approaching, so technically his 'job' was done such as it was. Zoe and Alex had left after his offer so they knew it was out there. He did nod, listening to Mike's explanation. It wasn't his place to pry. But the girl was coping with some rough stuff. And given that everyone left in there was busy cleaning, he wasn't really being noticed or needed. It was time to go.

He took a step out into the hall and started away. If they needed him, it wasn't like he was hard to find or call. So he headed out, lost in his own thoughts once more. A thought occurred to him though as he went down the stairs. If she was from a different dimension and all of them were there, he wondered if there was a 'James' there and if Zoe knew about him. So far, he'd kept that mostly quiet but it wouldn't last. Nothing ever did. He shook his head, dismissing melancholy thoughts. He needed to go have some fun.

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Eddie Acknowledged James's leaving with a wave before turning back to Mike. "Well that certainly explains some things. When she met me earlier today, she was kissing me before I knew it. Not that I minded, but I just didn't expect it. Maybe we were boyfriend and girlfriend in her world as well or something and kissing me was just a natural reaction." Eddie shrugged. It didn't matter. He liked her well enough that he was not going to complain about it.

"But more importantly, you were right earlier when you said she just needs to give it time. And so do I. I'm sure if it's that important she will tell me about it eventually. The best thing I can do for her now is to just stick around and be supportive," He looked at Chris, "PTSD or not." Eddie Smiled again, finally breaking his somber expression, "I mean what kind of guy would I be if I gave up on a girl just because she had a nightmare?"

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