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December 21, 2011
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'Take off your shirt.'


'Shouldn't you buy me dinner first?'


Light from the lamp flashed over Christian's glasses, illuminating a glare. Gaz only grinned up at him from his seat on the sofa in response. 'Come now – I thought that was common decency.'


The Ringleader sat huddled back against the cushions of the sofa that seemed to swallow his thin frame, arms folded loosely over his stomach. Christian had brought him back to the manor; a choice he would otherwise have been against. He had always been vague about his background with the Ringleader, and was truly quite content with himself being thought of as nothing more than another working-class civilian. It was refreshing.


When he found the Ringleader bloodied and bruised in that alley, all concerns for his personal image had evaporated like smoke. Christian had a small suspicion in the back of his mind that Gaz, with his never-ending array of knowledge on most everyone he laid eyes on, might already be aware of his aristocracy. Instead, after being questioned irritably as to why they were making their way through the upper city, followed then by an uncharacteristically surprised "that's your HOUSE?", Christian quickly discarded the notion.


Thankfully, Gaz had not yet brought the subject up once more or demanded an explanation. Even if he had, there were more important matters at hand.


As a chemist, Christian dealt with such things quite often. Most of the wounds he treated were inflicted upon the mechanics in Mercia Fortress as they worked with steam engines, airships, weapons, and all other things that Christian had a persistent aversion to. Of course, it only fuelled his desire to fix what those mechanical monsters inflicted. Every time Cog was called down to fix something in the crevice of a machine that those usual burly mechanics could not reach, Christian was always at his heel with a first aid kit and fluttering over him in paranoia as he worked.


Though such injuries were only so few and far between; his time spent as a chemist was often assuring the fortress residents that they were not dying from a common cold. He simply hoped he hadn't lost his touch.


'It's quite chilly in this mansion of yours, Scientist,' Gaz said with a wry smirk as Christian pulled over a velvet hassock to work upon. 'Have a word with your fireplace and I might just lose the shirt.'


'Just take it off,' Christian insisted firmly, turning to his medical supplies rather than the Ringleader who still had the capacity to be so ... carefree. It frustrated him.


'Ah, so forward ...' Gaz muttered with a smirk, beginning to shrug away his battered coat. 'I do wonder what your women think of you, Scientist.'


There was a harsh clatter of vials falling against eachother as Christian slammed down his box on the nearby coffee table. 'Gaz, this isn't a joke!'


The Ringleader's coat fell with a soft scuff of material, revealing an ugly bruise along his bare forearm. 'I never insisted that it was, my dear.'


'Then would you stop ...!' Christian trailed off, holding his breath as he gestured earnestly toward Gaz. 'This!?'


'Please, I thought scientists were supposed to be intellectual,' Gaz responded, his brow knit in such a fake expression of distress that it made Christian seethe. His eyes were so bright, his grin so genuine – but dried blood and bruises still covered his face, his neck, his collar, his arms – what was he playing at!? 'You could not think of a better word? Not that I fancy myself an easy to describe person, although-'


'Shut up!' Christian snapped so loudly it startled himself. No one ever drove him to raise his voice. That in itself placed a severe weight on his words, and Gaz fell silent. 'Just shut up and take off your damned shirt!'


After a few moments of stunned, cloying silence, Christian let out a hard sigh and thudded to his knees beside the table, wrenching over his first aid box. He quickly began to realise just why anyone in The Catacombs – anyone at all – found it nigh impossible to lend Gaz a helping hand. His heart went out to Alice and Caelan who looked up to him so dearly, who only wanted to ease the punishment that Gaz had taken for them probably countless times before, only to be pushed away with that arrogant smile, that dismissive tone.


A part of him was glad that Gaz was here instead of down in The Catacombs. Even if he were to accept their help there, Christian didn't place too much faith in the makeshift bandages and "home-mix"s that they used to treat injuries. At least here Christian had clean bandages, proper mixes to sanitize wounds and numb pain, however much he just wanted to backhand the Ringleader right now.


As Christian plucked a vial of clear fluid from his box, he noticed Gaz's thin fingers working at the edge of his shirt.


Progress.


Orange light from the lamps outside poured in through the large window panes that spanned the entire wall, arching over the unlit fireplace and casting ornate patterns on the dark carpet. This ... room – it was far too big; practically the size of a hall. Christian had always found its lavish extravagance unnecessary while he lived here alone. In the presence of the Ringleader, he simply found it embarrassing.


'Agh-!'


Christian's head snapped up at the cry, just in time to see Gaz double over with one hand clutching at his left rib. He wanted to smack himself; stretching to take off a shirt was no easy task when wounded. He was over him in an instant. 'Where does it hurt?'


'Go back to your playthings, Scientist,' Gaz hissed through grit teeth, the corners of his mouth twitching in a strained grin. He managed to discard his shirt through the pain. 'However unnecessary they may be.'


The bruise along his thin ribs said otherwise. There was a cut along the length of his flat stomach – not deep, but one that definitely needed cleaning. Christian furrowed his brow.


'Give me your arm,' he said evenly, lowering himself to sit on the hassock before the Ringleader. It took a few moments of glaring, but Gaz finally gave him that wry smile and extended his wrist. Anything Christian might have said was almost certainly going to be met with more arrogance, more dismissal. Instead, he opted to remain in that stern silence he hated placing himself into, reaching over for that vial of clear water.


To his relief, Gaz remained oddly quiet as Christian upturned the vial onto a piece of cloth, easing it over a cut that spanned from the man's sharp knuckles to his wrist. He was never really silent. He was always talking, always flittering away and mumbling, and even when he was calm he was humming odd tunes to himself. It was, in a strange way, what Christian liked most about the Ringleader. In the tense prison of silence Arcadia trapped him in, Gaz was there to barrel through it and shatter everything in his path.


'Quite the place you have here, Scientist,' Gaz mumbled with a sly smile. Christian didn't answer; only frowned at the boniness of Gaz's hand and wrist. He always wore those fingerless gloves, that loose coat – he hadn't really noticed how thin the man was. Under the dried blood and bruises, Christian could see the line of the man's ribs, the hollow dip of his stomach – his shoulders had a usual masculine broadness, but they were so slim. His entire body was thin, bony, bruised – this wasn't right! He was the Ringleader. Those who had fallen from society worshipped the ground he walked on – aristocrats who manipulated that society paled at the very mention of his name.


'It's my mother's house,' Christian replied thickly, trying to focus on the wounds.


'She lives here, no?'


'No. She lives with a friend. She can't look after herself.'


'So it is your house.'


Christian made a face. 'Yes. But it's not my home. I don't like it here.'


'Hmm ...' Gaz looked around a little. 'It does seem rather spacious for one little scientist. You must get awfully bored.'


'Bored ... eerrrrline crazy,' Christian finished with a huff. 'I like visiting my mother. But every time I come back here I just want to jump on the first airship back to Mercia.'


Gaz simply grinned. 'Ah. I think I am losing my touch, Scientist. I had no idea you were rich.'


'I don't doubt your knowledge,' Christian answered with a short laugh, his eyes flickering up to the Ringleader's face for a moment. 'I don't like telling people. Wouldn't like to be associated with all that, uh ... "conceited, arrogant scum upon the crown of this world", eh?'


Gaz's fingers flexed in his grip. 'To my knowledge - that you place so much faith in - you seem to spend most of your time in this city, ah ... within it.'


Christian raised his head, reaching blindly for a thin roll of adhesive bandaging. 'What?'


The Ringleader flicked his wrist, pointing to the window on the wall behind them. Christian turned, noting the view of the city. Yes; if he could pick out a tiny, miniscule thing that he might like about this place, it was the view. The upper city, for all of the haughty nobles residing within, looked down upon Arcadia. Christian could see countless lights amongst the dark blanket across the city, the soft glow of waterfronts – he could even see Arcadia Fortress looming over the capital, colossal with its tall towers, its vast and intricate windows glowing in the dark.


'We are on the crown of this city,' Gaz started with a sinister smile, bringing him back. 'The highest reaches of Arcadia, where its aristocracy can look down upon us all. You are a gem, Scientist, fallen from that crown and into the clarity of those that live within Arcadia – not those who would stare down greedily upon it.'


His fingers flexed once more, curling into his palm. 'The fact that you brought me here in hopes to administer that kindness of yours is ... jarring in regards to the aristocratic way, no?'


Christian remained silent. Gaz just grinned knowingly.


'You worry too much, Scientist,' he said. 'The fact that you carry with you even an ounce of compassion sets you apart from the rabble.'


'Are you complimenting me?' Christian asked stupidly. Gaz was a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a lack of sanity. He didn't know what to think.


Gaz just smirked. 'In a way. Your kindness will be the death of you, Scientist.'


Christian just tore a strip of adhesive bandage from the roll, smoothing it over the thin cut on the Ringleader's hand. 'It's what keeps me from going insane. If I don't have the will to help people, then shoot me. There's nothing left inside.'


'I promise,' Gaz responded, flashing him a wide grin. Christian felt an odd coldness in the pit of his stomach when he realised that pledge was genuine. 'That day might come sooner than you think, Scientist. Kindness is expendable. You should not be wasting it upon those who do not want it.'


'You'd be surprised how many people don't want it,' Christian said simply, clearing dried blood from the man's forearm with the cloth. 'People hate feeling vulnerable. They'll feel even worse if they wrap themselves up in it and refuse help.'


Another rip tore the silence when Christian reached for more bandage. 'So I ignore that. Some people might not want help-'


He gave Gaz a stern look, flattening another strip of bandage across the gash on his arm. '-But they still need it.'


'You are stubborn.'


'You're no better.'


'I didn't say that was a bad thing.'


Christian glanced up, and Gaz simply withdrew his arm with a wry smile to inspect the wounds. 'The world needs more people like you, Scientist. A diamond in the rough. I do hope the day where I have to kill you is quite far away.'


Thin fingers eased across the small bandaging. 'Compassion runs out eventually. There are other people you should be tending to, no?'


His mother. Cog. Alexander. Christian just frowned. 'Not at this very moment. Why deny help so much?'


Gaz opened his mouth to speak, but Christian simply shook his head and handed over the damp cloth. 'It doesn't matter. We both know I'm going to help you anyway. Clean yourself up and I'll have that word with my fireplace.'


'Ah! Finally,' Gaz responded, thudding back against the sofa once again. 'I'd like to see you get shirtless and try to endure the chill of this place, Scientist.'


'You should try sleeping here,' Christian sighed, getting to his feet and sidestepping around the table. 'It's like trying to sleep in a frozen lake.'


'Your bedroom does not have a fancy shhhhmancy fireplace, no?' Gaz asked, raising his voice a little as Christian crossed the wide room. The scientist grimaced as he snatched a day old newspaper that he'd dumped into the umbrella stand by the hearth, wringing it between his hands. He'd known he'd eventually grow cold enough that simply lying on the sofa in a blanket would no longer work.


'I never really get to my bed,' he answered, tossing a crunched up fistful of paper onto the slightly charred wood of the fireplace. He averted his eyes from the Ringleader as he cleaned the blood from his abdomen. 'It's on the third floor, and ... well, I'm terribly childish when it comes to extreme temperatures. I just curl up on the sofa.'


'Fair enough, Scientist,' Gaz answered. There was a soft creak as the Ringleader gave it a test bounce. 'Comfy! Could do with one of these in The Catacombs, yes.'


'Yeah, your nest of rags doesn't look too comfortable,' Christian replied with a frown, tossing more crumpled strips of paper into the fire.


'It does the job, yes?'


It took Christian a moment to locate the basket of kindling hidden around the side of the hearth, placing it upon the newspaper and trying to ignore the sudden rush of nostalgia. He tried to imagine sleeping on such a mess of material for so long, and the very though made his back hurt. 'When was the last time you slept in a proper bed, anyway?'


'Ah ... never have, Scientist,' Gaz answered simply. There was no wallowing tone in his voice. Christian just grimaced, opting to finish sorting out the fire in silence. Gaz might not particularly care about his own welfare, but Christian wasn't about to bring up any other miserable aspect of his life. He seemed to be discovering more of these aspects the longer he spent with the Ringleader, and he just couldn't understand it. Gaz was so ... happy. He didn't understand what went on in the Ringleader's head. Part of him didn't want to, but his concern outweighed that tenfold.


He heard Gaz make a contented "heee" when the glow of a fire began reaching throughout the room. Christian simply straightened up and nudged everything out of the way with his foot, ignoring his mother's voice in the back of his head telling him to tidy up properly. Tomorrow, maybe.


'You look tired, Scientist,' Gaz told him as he sat down once more, pulling the first aid box closer. Christian just shook his head.


'Less tired, more ...' he gestured as if the correct word were floating around close. 'Weary, I suppose.'


'Isn't that the same?'


Christian motioned for the Ringleader to move onto his back, shaking his head. 'There are few things I hate in this world, Gaz. One of them is staying in Arcadia. This ... solitude – it's absolutely draining.'


'What are the other things?' Gaz asked with a curious grin, folding his hands over his chest when he'd settled against the arm of the sofa.


Christian paused, shuddering hard. 'Spiders. Hate spiders.'


'So Arcadian spiders.'


Christian snorted. 'Fancy Arcadian spiders.'


'I don't really like spiders either ...' Gaz muttered with a disgruntled look, staring at the ceiling as Christian flattened thin gauze over the wound on his abdomen. 'Shifty little things, yes.'


'So aristocrat spiders?' Christian said without thinking.


Gaz actually laughed. 'Spiders with top hats and brandy.'


Christian had absolutely no clue what they were getting at, but he found himself laughing too. It probably wasn't the most tactful thing to do when smoothing a bandage over the long cut spanning the Ringleader's abdomen, but it was better than the silence. Gaz didn't seem to care. Thin fingers traced the edge of the bandage when he'd finished, and Christian sat back.


'Are you cut anywhere else?' he asked.


Gaz's hands moved to fold over his stomach. 'Just bruises left, Scientist. You may save the rest of your charity for your dear mother.'


'I'll judge where my charity is best spent at the moment,' Christian answered firmly with a small frown, returning to his feet. 'I'll be back in a second. Don't ... escape through the windows, or anything.'


'Couldn't if I tried, Scientist.'


As Christian walked to the archway leading to the dining room, he watched Gaz scrutinize the wide windows on the other side of the room. His mind was suddenly awash with images of Gaz trying to find a hatch, failing, and approaching the delicate windows with a log from the fireplace in hand. It was enough for him to pick up his pace to the basin and snatch a glass from the countertop. If his mother returned home and found a shattered window, Christian had a feeling that "a hobo did it" wasn't particularly going to fly.


After returning with a glass of clear water, he was relieved to find his windows still intact and a Ringleader still seated on the sofa. Gaz had pulled himself up to sit and drawn his coat over his shoulders. It was still quite cold, regardless of the fire still flickering away under a few logs.


'Drink,' Christian demanded, pushing the glass toward the Ringleader's hands. He grappled for it lest it be spilled over his lap, looking a tad more discontented as Christian sat down once more. Christian ignored him. 'You haven't eaten or drank today.'


Gaz just grinned. From the light of the fire, Christian noted a cut on the man's lip. 'I'm fine.'


'Drink,' he repeated resolutely. He could have writhed at the sound of that word. Gaz just huffed, thumping back against the sofa like a defeated child as he took a slow sip. 'You don't like being looked after, do you?'


'No,' Gaz answered shortly, offering a smile. 'Pointless, yes. There are people who need help, Scientist. People in the Catacombs. I am not one of those people. I am fine.'


'You're a mess,' Christian retorted. Gaz faltered, lowering the glass from his lips.


'I can take a beating, Scientist,' Gaz responded stubbornly, touching the bandage across his stomach. 'The whelp? Blondie? They cannot. None of them can! Life is bleak enough for them down there. I shan't send them to get battered by that pudding man and the others on top of that!'


He grinned widely, tipping his glass in Christian's direction. 'Not when I can shrug it off in about two minutes.'


'You don't let Alice or Caelan help you, do you?' Christian asked with a sigh.


'Why worry them?' Gaz asked earnestly, as if he were trying to explain the simplest concept. 'I am fine. I will always be fine. They have enough to worry about down there, my dear. Why encumber them with what is truly nothing? A pause in my step, if nothing else.'


A look in those eyes – something amongst the verdant brilliance – it made Christian swallow hard as Gaz raised the glass to his lips once more. 'You didn't honestly think the rabble could knock me down, did you? You have the clarity they do not, no?'


He grinned slyly. 'You know who's really pulling strings.'


Christian paused, faltering. 'Then ... why-'


'Because they can, my dear,' Gaz told him. 'The pudding man, the others – they know I take the place of my clients when they seek reprisal. Such an opportunity, no? I know things they don't want me to – why not administer a taste of what they have in store for me should something ...'


Gaz dragged a long finger down the length of the glass with a smile. 'Slip?'


'... Aren't you scared?' Christian asked, rubbing the bone of his wrist anxiously. 'That one day they'll just – they'll come with more than their fists? Gaz-'


'Heavens no, Scientist,' Gaz shook his head, smiling as he tapped his nose. 'I shan't indulge. That is my little secret.'


What in the world did Gaz have besides his knowledge? Knowledge was a powerful thing, but – don't ask questions. Christian grit his teeth.


'Don't worry your pretty little head, Scientist,' Gaz hummed, sitting up once again. 'Your concern is best spent elsewhere.'


Christian ran a hand through his hair, swallowing hard once again. 'You don't ... Gaz, has anyone ever looked after you? When you were sick, or – or hurt? Has anyone ever looked past your stupid ... disregard for yourself? Do you even know what it feels like?'


'Ah! I would not know,' Gaz said quietly, tapping the brim of the glass against his lower lip. 'To be looked after ... perhaps. In memories lost a lifetime over.'


Without thinking, Christian took the half-empty glass that was handed to him. 'But do you know what it feels like, Scientist?'


He spluttered, as if caught off guard. 'W-what?'


Gaz rested his chin on the back of a bandaged hand, grinning. 'When was the last time you let someone look after you?'


He hesitated. Where had that come from? What was he trying to prove? 'I can look after myself.'


'As can I,' Gaz flashed him a wide smile, baring his teeth. 'Yet you impose upon me your aid when it is better spent elsewhere. Are you really as perceptive as you think?'


'Yes,' Christian replied a little too quickly. 'You're an arrogant piece of work – that doesn't mean I won't help you.'


'Despite your current predicament!' Gaz said sharply with a smile, jumping up in his seat. 'Arcadia does strange things to you, no? But it does not simply weigh you down, no – it warps your mind, turns you into something lethargic and contemptible! Yes, it is a good thing my predicament snapped you back into shape.'


'... W-what?' Christian replied stupidly once again.


Gaz grinned, resting his chin on the back of his hand once more. Green eyes watched him, and Christian suddenly felt as though he wore the bandages – each one being unwrapped to unveil a distasteful part of himself that he despised – that miserable, lacklustre person that Arcadia turned him into. Gaz's eyes watched him – looked into him – and simply knew.


'You're a kind man, Scientist,' Gaz said, drumming his fingers against his thin cheek. 'That is most obvious. Feeling ... debilitated in lieu of your usual persona – it is crippling, no? To a man of such sentiment, like yourself. You live on emotion, no? You would rather I shoot you without it. It must hurt terribly ... being this Arcadian aristocrat that you hate.'


Nails clawed softly at the sore flesh of Gaz's lips as he smiled deviously. 'To coop yourself up in this house – no, this identity! But I know you. You would not impose your qualms upon other people, no? People hate feeling ... vulnerable, don't they? They'll feel even worse if they wrap themselves up in it ... and refuse help.'


Christian's mouth simply hung quietly. 'I ...'


'Yet!' Gaz interrupted, brow furrowed as he grinned. 'You would help me. You would help anyone. In all of your ... stupid ... disregard ...'


Gaz closed his teeth over a nail; that grin was positively childish, '... for yourself.'


The silence lasted longer than Christian cared to admit.


Gaz eventually leaned back against the sofa, and Christian was free from that almost hypnotic grasp of the man's eyes. 'You see, I am perceptive as well.'


Christian answered by taking a quick drink from the glass that had found its way into his hands. He didn't really remember it being handed to him, but his mouth felt oddly dry. The Ringleader's chronic grin finally waned into something almost genuine.


'We're quite similar, Scientist,' he mumbled. 'So terribly similar.'


Christian dragged the tips of his fingers down the side of his face, trying to find his voice and hoping it came with the right words. 'There're ... people who need you to be happy, sometimes. All the time, really.'


'Hnn ...' Gaz hummed with a nod, motioning for him to continue. Christian just pressed his fingers against his temple. It was cold – why did he feel hot?


'It makes me happy,' Christian persisted honestly with a small smile. 'Being that person. Y'know? Making people happy. Making sure that there's always someone there for them, whatever they might feel ... however stupid or insignificant it might be.'


He laughed out of sheer awkwardness. Was he really explaining this? It was stupid. 'Then I come here, and ... no one wants help. My mother doesn't. My cousin doesn't. My friends don't, and you don't either. I'm so used to pushing. To ignore that people don't want help, because I know they need it.'


'But Arcadia does not agree with you,' Gaz said, his voice oddly soft. 'Turns you into something-'


'-Miserable.' Christian rubbed at his own knuckles. 'It's juvenile. It's not who I am. This ... isn't – why am I telling you this?'


Gaz shrugged. 'Why not?'


'You already bear the weight of your client's failures,' Christian said wearily, grasping for the analogy Caelan had offered him before. 'This isn't necessary.'


'Why deny help so much?' Gaz retorted, using Christian's question from earlier. He tapped the corner of his lip with another grin. 'We could chase eachother in circles all day with this, Scientist.'


Christian held up his hands before Gaz discarded the issue completely. 'I-I had a point. Somewhere.'


'Do go on.'


Christian scrubbed a hand uselessly through his hair. 'Look – I'm not – the burdens I bear are my own. And they're juvenile. A-and temporary.'


'Indeed,' Gaz purred, nails teasing at the flesh of his cut lips again. 'When you return to Mercia, you'll be right as rain.'


He nodded, swallowing again. It was difficult to find the right words. 'Alice, Caelan – the others – they have different burdens. You have different burdens. You may not want them to help you, but I can – I want to. Let me help you in their place.'


The cracks in the man's lips became obvious with another grin. 'You really want to help me?'


He hesitated. '... Yes.'


'Innkeeper's Special,' Gaz said, his voice light and simple as he shifted and settled onto his back. 'Tomorrow.'


Christian paused, air building in his cheeks as he held his breath. He had almost completely forgotten about that promise under the weight of today's incidents. It wasn't often he denied anyone, yet ...


'Pffffffttomorrow,' Christian breathed, letting out that puff of air. 'Tomorrow is ... bad.'


In this sudden ... "clarity" that Gaz's prying had instilled him with, he was beginning to feel a little more like himself. He needed to pursue the very reasons he'd come to Arcadia. He needed to ignore those claims people waved him away with. 'I'm visiting my friend, Cog. He's moved here for work from Merci-'


'Schmidtvaughn!' Gaz piped up, his eyes suddenly brighter as he held himself up on his elbows. 'You know Cogschmidt?'


'... You know Cogschmi – ah, Cog?' Christian asked weakly. He wasn't sure if he liked this information or not. Gaz was all good and well, but ... on a level of maturity he didn't place Cog on. 'How – I mean ... yes, how?'


Gaz grinned, settling snugly onto his back. 'I'm sure he would love to tell you over Innkeeper's Special, Scientist. I haven't seen Cogface in a while. As for you ... yes, you must be the clumsy neighbour he thinks so highly of.'


Christian was used to being praised for his generosity, although he was always quite curious as to what people had to say when he wasn't around. A pettiness he had never quite grown out of. 'Oh?'


'He loves you dearly,' Gaz said, closing his eyes as he shrugged against the cushions to get comfortable. 'The most generous person he has had the fortune of meeting, so he says. And I shall trust myself to admit – he does seem to miss you awfully.'


Christian smiled, although he felt such an immense rush of guilt. He hadn't visited Cog as much as he should have. He truly hated what Arcadia did to him, but it was no excuse. Cog was homesick. He knew that. He had heard it so clearly in his voice over that first phone call – he had immediately dismissed all of Cog's excuses that he was "fine". Why hadn't he this time? That wasn't like him.


'He's a good kid,' Christian said, mimicking Gaz's actions without thinking. He found his fingernails prying awkwardly at the softness of his lower lip. 'A really good kid. You won't find another one like Cog.'


He looked over at Gaz. His eyes had opened and proceeded to watch him knowingly. 'Look after him for me.'


'Already have you covered,' Gaz sighed, closing his eyes once again and nestling into the softness of the sofa. 'Tomorrow will be quite entertaining.'


Christian dropped his hand, laughing feebly. 'Yeah. But you look tired.'


Gaz nodded against the pillow huddled at the arm of the sofa. 'Oddly enough. I'll be out of your hair soon enough, Scientist. And I fully expect Innkeeper's Speci-'


'Don't be daft,' Christian interrupted firmly, getting to his feet and reaching over the ringleader. He gripped the knitted throw that hung over the back of the sofa, dragging it over the Ringleader's thin body. 'You might have poked a hole in my argument earlier, but I'm still a gracious host. Just crash here for the night.'


Strangely, he didn't receive much disgruntled dismissal this time. Gaz simply turned onto his side, yanking the throw up to his shoulders. 'Ah ... fine.'


It was the first time in a while he'd heard that word without his stomach twisting in frustration. Christian shook his head to himself, taking his first aid box and slipping it beneath the table. He nudged the hassock away from the sofa, cast a glance back to the fire still flickering weakly away, and decided it was best he probably made the journey to his own bed.


It might have been a gracious offer, but Gaz looked positively uncomfortable. Tired ... but uncomfortable.


'You've really never slept like this before, have you?' Christian asked quietly. 'In a bed ... on a sofa. Properly.'


'I can't say I have, Scientist,' Gaz responded, turning over with a huff onto his other side. Christian saw him frown. 'I will sleep "properly" when I leave The Catacombs.'


A nagging possibility tugged at the corners of Christian's mind. Gaz was a strange man, but he had ... influence. A terrifying amount of influence. That was really all anyone needed to move up in the world, wasn't it? Where did this thought come from? He watched Gaz shift on his back, and he couldn't quite dismiss it.


'You ... could do it, y'know?' Christian suggested faintly He wasn't sure what he was even getting at, or how offending he might sound to Gaz's own odd set of beliefs. 'There's something about you. You could leave so easily, couldn't you?'


'When The Catacombs are empty, only then will I feel fit to leave my kingdom behind.'


He had said it so firmly. There was no room for argument in his voice, but Christian knew the cold truth. It would never truly be empty. Gaz would always be subject to this life, as long as people continued to fall from the grace of society. Hybrids occupied so much manual labour; it was almost impossible to find work. Christian worked abroad and even he knew that. There would always be someone that needed help – someone that Gaz would take under his wing.


'That's never going to happen.'


Gaz just smiled. 'Then you have answered your own question, no?'


A thin, bandaged hand reached out from under the throw, nudging Christian's leg. 'Go to bed, Scientist. You look weary.'


Buying Gaz Innkeeper's Special tomorrow suddenly didn't seem all that noteworthy. He prepared himself for trying to wrestle more acts of kindness upon Gaz throughout their friendship, however much he denied him.


--------------------


Sunlight blazed in through the wide windows that arched over a long-dead fire. Christian winced against the morning glow rising over the crown of Arcadia's city, wrapped in an abnormally yellow bathrobe (a tongue-in-cheek gift from Alexander following the dyeing of his streaks, which he enjoyed immensely for that sentiment alone). Regardless of the light, the air was still cuttingly cold after a frosty night.


He adjusted his eyes to the brightness that bathed his sitting room, looking around for evidence of last night's occurrences. To his surprise, and relief, the Ringleader had not up and left the manor in the middle of the night, and remained positively comatose on the sofa. The throw still managed to cover him completely, save for one arm tucked under his folded up coat that seemed to serve as a pillow – most likely an effort to familiarize himself with the kind gesture of a safe place to stay. He had slept some, at least.


Christian tried to plan the day out in his head as he stepped between the sofa and the coffee table. He needed to visit Cog, and probably spend a few minutes to explain just why he was associating with Gaz. Yes, that was probably his over-protectiveness kicking in, but Christian never doubted his knowledge of these things. The thought of those two knowing eachother was still staggering, even after sleeping on the fact. It was like comparing pure chalk to borderline crazy cheese. Simply strange.


His small route to the dining room was stopped by a tug on his robe. Christian looked down to see a thin hand clutching the rim of the cloth, yanking him back a few steps. Ah, so he was awake.


'Scientist,' Gaz announced, his voice muffled by his coat. 'I-I think I'm in trouble here.'


Christian thought of the wounds, and immediately perked up. The first aid kit was still under the table – had he missed something? 'What is it?'


Gaz shifted, and Christian saw he was clutching at his bare stomach. The wound – it looked ... fine? Was it internal? His mind was still laced with sleep, and he could feel himself beginning to panic. 'Gaz, where does it hurt?'


'This's happened b'fore,' Gaz mumbled into his coat, shifting again. Fingers still clutched at the brim of his robe. 'T-there's only one ... thing that helps.'


'Tell me,' Christian demanded. He had no end of medical supplies. He was bound to have whatever it was.


'Sandwich,' Gaz sighed weakly, dropping his hand. It thudded dramatically against the floor. 'Before it's too late ... Scientist. Can't hold on ...'


Christian scuffed the man's tatty bed-hair sharply. 'You-!'


'With – with lettuce,' Gaz continued, reaching up and tugging at his bathrobe again. 'And tomato.' Another dramatic thud. 'Make haste, Scientist! I don't know how long I can go on for.'


Christian sighed, kicking at the sofa. 'Can you survive long enough for me to make tea?'


'Only if I get some, too.'


'Gaz-!'


'Scientist, the PAIN-!'


'Fine, argh!'

Part 2 of Silence.

Less boring secondary characters in this one!
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:iconstriatontriofan7:
StriatonTrioFan7 Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2014
The ending was cute! They have quite the peculiar friendship, Christian and Gaz. I really enjoyed this, nothing like a good read about your favorite comic :)
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:icondreamer0ftheday:
Dreamer0ftheDay Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I love this! And Gaz does not fail to make me laugh wholeheartedly. This is just pure awesome
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:iconniobesnuppa:
Niobesnuppa Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013
This was a sweet read. It's great to see how similar they really are, their friendship makes a lot of sense.
Also, the ending made me laugh. xD
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:iconaxelskitty:
Axelskitty Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
lol omg i love Gaz!
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:icondictatorofrandomosia:
"Cogschmidt" brought back memories of how much I love the relationship between Gaz and Cog too. Gaz. GAZ. GAAAZ you are the best.

The way you write about Christian's needing to help people, and what it does to him when people refuse it and he's got no one to help-- that bit hits unnervingly close to home. This is the exact issue I've been wrangling with for the past year, so reading this was very... uplifting, you could say? jesus that sounds cheesy. But the way you write about Christian's psyche is right on the dot. He's a very real character, I think.
Anyway. Thank you so much for uploading these snippets of story. They're always a joy to read, and this one in particular was just what I needed. :)
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:iconkeltena:
Keltena Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2011
"In the tense prison of silence Arcadia trapped him in, Gaz was there to barrel through it and shatter everything in his path. I really like this. It's a good description of how they interact, not to mention how Gaz comes across in general, and it goes perfectly with what we've seen from Christian in this piece.

I'm not quite sure what I think of the part where Christian talks about his status with Gaz. I really like how he starts with the subject -- the nervousness and joking makes sense for him -- but I'm not so sure about what comes after. Gaz's reaction itself does make perfect sense, but I feel like the way it's written is almost as if we should be relieved like Christian, instead of expected Gaz's answer? I dunno, it's just a feeling I get, but for me at least Christian's worries seemed mostly unfounded, so there's no real tension about Gaz's response.

"'Your kindness will be the death of you, Scientist.'" Yesss. Possibly it's because I have similar tendencies, but I love seeing it pointed out that Christian's inability to turn anyone away can be a real weakness. The whole section of conversation following that is fantastic, mainly because they're both correct. Helping people is what Christian does and what helps him the most, and it will wear him down and lead him to disappointment. I like dialectics.

Ahh, the spider conversation is cute. It does a nice job of balancing out all the heaviness with the kind of banter these two have naturally.

Excellent job with the part about Christian's inability to do anything for himself. It's a pretty obvious trait, if not always to people who have it, but Gaz basically nailed it, and his using Christian's words was a nice touch. I think you did a good job making it believable as well; sometimes someone just pinpointing a person's character can be a stretch, but the way Gaz has been portrayed so far and the conversations that set this up make it work just great.

Pffft, that ending was amusing. Poor Christian, getting his worrying tendencies played upon... Ah well.

I really loved this. As might be obvious, my favorite part was the consistent focus on Christian's selflessness, posibly because I can really relate to it, but the story and everything we learned about Gaz in particular was great.
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:iconshadow-wolf892:
Shadow-wolf892 Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
These stories never fail to make me smile :heart:
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:iconanimekittykiko:
AnimeKittyKiko Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2011  Student General Artist
I just seem to want to keep repeating myself, but these two are fantastic.

Seeing their relationship more and more just gives so much dimension to both of them, especially to Gaz, since he seems like a major plot point and serves as a familiar connection to quite a few characters. And I don't think we would be seeing anything written from Gaz's point of view, for obvious reasons haha.
But I think the way they talk to each other is the best part of these two. Its like a veil of light-hearted friendship that covers up a ton of tension. Almost like a forced or sanity-symbiotic friendship. Everything is based on conditions, but it still works.
I hope this makes at least a bit of sense lol. Anyway, these two are always fun to read about. And anything with Gaz's shenanigans in it never really passes as boring ;)
Awesome writing as always save for a couple spelling mistakes.
I shall be waiting for more awesomeness in your writing :heart:
Feel better!
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:iconniffstral:
NiffStral Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2011
XD Holy crap, Gaz. As if I needed any more reason for you to be my favorite ever, that last section really takes the cake. But Jeeeeeez that was so good! Ignoring the voice in my head screaming (makeoutmakeoutmakeout) every minute or so, this was a really freaking amazing insight as to their relationship -34'd or otherwise- and how it begins to progress, and the way they play off each other... Oh man. It's amazing. What a ridic birthday present you gave to us! I need to start on yours. Soon. ...Ish. Eheheh. Anyway, enjoy your salad and tea while I sit here gazing longingly at my cheese log. Yes, covered in nuts. Do you even have to ask?
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:iconnatsukiayaka:
NatsukiAyaka Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2011
Oh Gaz, you will FOREVER crack me up. XD
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