Date: December 27th, 2009
Amrit's search for his mother leads him to someone in need.
"Avenger Turns Healer"
Mount Sinai Hospital
The holidays are always a busy time in hospitals. Mount Sinai is no exception. Beds are scarce, residents overworked and the emergency room overflowing with a constant stream of injuries and ailments, both serious and not so. Wealth does have its privileges, however. Anais Frazier has her own suite on a quiet floor, and is tended round the clock by some of the best the medical profession has to offer.
They have all been baffled. The philanthropist remains unresponsive, in an apparent vegetative state following her dramatic collapse in a Starbucks.
In her room, it's as quiet as a whisper, broken only by the steady beep of the heart monitor, the whoosh of the ventilator. Anais lays motionless beneath a blanket, her eyes closed, unmoving. Every hour a nurse enters to check her vitals but nothing has changed since last week. It's a medical mystery.
But beneath the quiet and the stillness, wrapped snug in the center of her mind, is the roar of flames and a woman's steady, dying screams. It's an insane loop of pain that her brain has tried to protect her from, by shutting the body down.
Dressed in long coat and fedora, an Indian man enters Mount Sinai Hospital. This is nothing spectacular. And amidst all the other business going on, one man dressed for the same cold weather that everyone else is enduring is easy to overlook. Even when he starts wandering the halls of the hospital, there is little reason to comment. He could be a visitor. He could be a doctor. He could be anyone. It is not until he approaches a receptionist in the patient registry and files area that he draws attention to himself.
"Good afternoon," he greets the lady, his English slightly accented by his origins. The woman glances up from her work, and asks, "Can I help you?" She doesn't see an identification badge on the man's coat or shirt, nor does she recognize him. He probably shouldn't be in this area without a reason. "I hope you can. I need you to check and see if there has ever been a patient with the name Asha Gandhi treated here, and if so, all the information in her file." The receptionist furrows her brow, and asks, "And you would be…?" The man smiles and says, "Forgive me for not saying before. I am Amrit Gandhi. Asha is my mother."
The lady says, "I'll need to see some identification and I need a release form for that kind of information." Amrit purses his lips and asks, "A release form? Where would I obtain such a thing?" The woman says, "The front desk can help you with that." A doctor comes up and makes a request for a file as Amrit leans back to look back the way he came. He does not have time for this.
Once the receptionist is done helping the doctor, he focuses his gaze on her, and she feels compelled to look into his eyes. They are oddly reflective… Amrit says, "I am clearly her son." The receptionist says, "You are clearly her son." "Nothing bad could come of me borrowing her file briefly. You are busy, so it would take less time to just give me the information than to deal with forms and such." "Well… It'd be okay if you borrowed the file briefly. I'm busy, so I'll just print you out the information." Amrit smiles and says, "Thank you. We should just keep this between us. Such an un-important conversation as this is likely to slip your mind when I'm gone too." The secretary nods, looking confused, as she goes to operate her computer and get printing.
A little while later, Amrit is looking through the file for an address. But, what's this? It seems that there's an Asha Gandhi being treated at the hospital right now! Excited, he takes the elevator to the correct floor, and heads to the right room… Only to find some white woman lying in a bed, instead of the woman he was expecting. This can't be his mother. Even if his mother had been caucasian, this one is too young. He looks around the suite as though expecting to find something hidden, but there's just the one patient, who seems to be sleeping.
Sighing, he checks the file again. There must have been a mix-up. That or he just missed her. Or maybe he got the room wrong. Is he even on the right floor? Frustrated, he turns to leave, when he thinks he hears a scream. He pauses, and then leans out into the hallway, before hearing it again. Then he… Smells smoke? It's faint, but it's coming from… Back in the room! He turns around, to look at the woman in the bed. In his own head, he catches a flash of fire and screams, but it's not the whole image. Amrit closes the door to the room, and then walks closer to the bed. Looking at her sheet, hanging on the foot of the bed, he sees the woman's name… 'Anais'. He's not a doctor, and can understand less than 10% of what's on the papers attached to the clipboard, but it seems she's… In a coma. He considers for a moment the possibility that this Anais might know his mother, but it's more likely that he is just in the wrong room. Still… She might know something useful. And even if she doesn't, he has the power to help. He has never entered the mind of someone in a coma before. Sleep, yes. But not a coma. He doesn't know what to expect. He might get trapped in a coma too.
But he doesn't hesitate to put one hand on Anais's forehead, and then close his eyes, concentrating solely and trying to project his consciousness into her head.
What the man will find once he has placed his thinking mind into hers is the interior of a Starbucks cafe. It is gloomy and almost empty in a way that such cafes rarely are; there is no barrista behind the counter, no caffeine-hungry patrons in line or seated at the tables. The windows look out on a New York City that is dark and deserted, pale wings of snow filtering down from an unseen sky. And pressed against the base of the door, writhing in a nest of flame, is a woman.
Or rather, what is presumably a woman.
The heat is intense, so intense that even here in another person's mind, the waves of it can be felt blistering the skin if one were to approach too closely. Anais is unrecognizable as such, charred as she is by the flames. But her voice remains the same, lifted in a piercing wail that rises and dies away.
But as Amrit arrives, the fire dies down and so too the screams. There is stillness then, but no peace; the stench of burning is thick on the air, and there is an almost inaudible whimpering that comes from what used to be a woman. Here and there a limb twitches as if she were in pain. That movement leaves little smears of soot on the tiled floor but the ground is otherwise unmarked by the inferno that raged just seconds before.
Amrit has been in a Starbucks cafe once before. It was very different from this one to say the least. He just stands where he is for now, waiting until that fire goes out, and then watching. He doesn't know what this is about, but though his outward self-image is of a cold and calm appearance, inwardly this is too similar to what he has done to other men in his past. He has used this exact form of torture on the minds of wicked people. But never a woman, and never to anyone he didn't sincerely believe deserved it. Does this woman on the floor deserve it?
He doubts it, and interrogating this individual in such a pained state would be pointless. Instead he heads over to the counter, walking around the burned body on the floor. When he is behind the counter, he searches for liquid of some kind, and maybe some napkins or paper towels. He thinks he can help this woman if he can find the right tools, but he isn't sure. This isn't his head he's inside of, so he can't just change everything to suit his needs. He has to work with what he has been given, and work gradually to change the situation.
If Amrit finds what he is looking for he returns to the woman and kneels down on the floor next to her. He would set down his tools — the paper and the liquid (preferably water, if he could find it) — and then begins to talk. "I do not know if you can hear me, but if you can, please just listen. You are in pain because you have tormented yourself. Whether this was your desire, the will of another, or the result of trauma, I do not know. I do know that because you believe you should be in pain, you are. It is hard to break free of beliefs. Belief is a powerful thing. But I want you to try to fight the pain. Believe that you do not deserve this suffering. That you can heal and move on, to brighter, better things. Allow yourself to believe that, even if it takes time…" He would then take the water/beverage he found, and try to bend the image to his will. To try to impose his own vision of what it should be on the substance. Then he tries to imagine what this woman looks like without the burns on her skin. Pristine and white like snow, smooth and clear, and free of pain. "…Both sins and suffering can be washed away with forgiveness." He would then up-end the Water of Life, infused not just with pity, but with an honest desire to see this woman healed and the belief that underneath the burns there is still something good and whole, onto her body. He hopes this works. He has never tried to help someone's mind before.
To Anais, the Starbucks is real, just as the fire is. Therefore it is stocked with everything the barristas and customers might need: paper napkins, rolls of paper towels, clean cloths to wipe up spills, bottled water in a refrigerator that begins to hum when the door is opened. And, most encouraging, when the man kneels beside Anais' ruined body, the lights overhead begin to flicker. Steady light instead of the flickering fluorescents Amrit's presence had initially been greeted with.
But when he begins to speak, her mind rejects the message at first. Flames lick again over that charred surface, spurring fresh moans. And when she answers him, her voice is as cracked as her skin.
"Kill me. Please. Kill me, I should be dead."
It is only after Amrit introduces the Water of Life that Anais begins to respond in a way that doesn't reject the second chance being offered. The fresh flames flare up briefly before subsiding again and somehow she finds the ability to open her eyes. The whites are startlingly bright in the ruin of her face, the irises a soft and fertile brown behind the sheen of tears. When they shift upwards and find the man kneeling there above her, she blinks slowly. Mild surprise wins through the torment.
"You aren't her. She…who are you? Where is she? The girl."
Amrit is somewhat discouraged by her initial response. But he doesn't give up, and keeps pouring out the bottle of water, until the woman starts to show signs of recovering… Or at least obtaining awareness of something beyond the pain. "My name is-" he considers for half a second giving a false name as he usually does to people he intends to remember him when they're done speaking. Instead he follows his instincts and tries honesty for once. "-Amrit. I do not know what girl you speak of, but I am here to help you wake up from this nightmare. To do that, you must see the truth. Let us begin at the beginning: What do you remember before finding yourself here?" He takes a sheet from the roll of paper towels, and dampens it with what remains of the special water. He doesn't use it yet, though. More work is needed before he can start to peel away the layers of pain with hand alone.
"Amrit." With the acknowledgement, her eyes close again and the woman shudders at the pain that rips through her. The water sloughs some of the char from her skin, but there is so much. So much. And it hurts so badly. When Anais shifts to seek a more comfortable position against the floor, her body crackles and fresh ash falls away, revealing the residual glow of embers beneath where the water hasn't been able to push back her belief in being roasted alive.
But she is breathing now, instead of whimpering, drawing deeper breaths into lungs that fill with air instead of fire.
"Amrit," Anais repeats. "I was…I don't know. There was the girl. The girl with red hair like mine. Everyone left and I was alone here with her. She hurt me." It takes a long, long time for the woman to share that much; each word escapes slowly, slurred over cracked lips. "She wanted me to…" But she can't remember what the girl wanted. Not yet. The fire is in her head, its roar drowning out the message she'd been given to carry if she survived the torture.
Anais moans and the arm Amrit had cleaned of char reaches for him now, hand grasping at the hem of his coat. There's strength enough in her fingers to bunch the fabric against her palm. "Don't leave me, Amrit. Don't…I don't want to die. I didn't…I just wanted coffee. After work. The Senator…oh please, tell the Senator I didn't tell her. I didn't tell her where his children are."
Amrit finds these words very disturbing as they are uttered. The last part, at least. The ony time before he was in a Starbucks, he met a man who he later found out was this 'Nathan Petrelli'… A Senator, hmm? There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who believe in coincidence, and those who do not. Based on Amrit's life experiences, he is the latter type.
He gently takes the hand that Anais reaches for him with, as she grasps at his coat. Whoever did that was strong… But he thinks the job done on Anais was not done thoroughly. It was rushed. The cruel whim of a moment, rather than a planned destruction of a human being's mind. He has enough experience with both to tell the difference. "She hurt you because she was weak. She knew you were stronger than her, and would not tell her what she wished to know. She tried to punish you for your strength, with burning death. Yet you are still here, and still alive. Why? Because you refuse to give in. Your willpower is strong. You can tell that what she tried to do was the act of a coward. Further, you can tell that you did nothing to deserve this pain. You were loyal to those who trust you. That is true strength, not this illusion of agony she has ensorcelled you with."
He just speaks as the words come to him. He is not nearly as self-assured and all-knowing as he sounds, with his steady voice. But just forcibly reshaping this woman's mind so that she is not burned anymore would either: A) Not work, or B) Be too hard for him to accomplish with his inexperience. He has to help Anais to shed the pain on her own. She didn't have his ability to do this with at first, so he is sharing it with her now. Her will, his ability. He surrenders his gift to her, and tries to help her see the truth.
"They are waiting for you even now, Anais." He whispers urgently. "The Senator, and the children. Everyone is waiting for you. Look!" He turns his head towards the door of the Starbucks, over-focusing his mind like he never has before. In the hospital room, his nose has begun to bleed. But here, he just tries to convince Anais that something good is waiting for her outside of this building. "Do you see the sunlight? The green grass? The people who trust you and care about you? They know you have the strength to get up from the floor, and walk out of here at any time you choose. If you can do that, you will have shown the girl — and everyone else — that you will not betray those close to you. They can not simply torture you into giving them what they want, and if they try again, they will fail just as they did now." He then rises to a crouch, and attempts to help Anais up, aware that most of her is still burned, willing to touch the glowing embers and be burned himself, taking on her pain and her burden, in order to get her on her feet again. "Come on. Everyone is waiting for you outside."
In the hospital room, the monitors' steady beeping begins to pick up in pace as, in her mind, Anais finds herself pulled up into the man's arms. It hurts, it hurts so much and she whines at the pain, resisting at first. Her feet are too broken to take weight, her arms too weak. But between the push of Amrit's mind and her own will to live, the will that kept her from simply dying at the end of "Julie's" vision, the woman finds herself able to stand. Every movement causes another flurry of ash to flake away from her skin, leaving the pale expanse beneath unbroken, untouched. The snow outside has stopped falling, the night touched with a growing light. As Amrit speaks of them, people do appear on the other side of the window; they look in, cupping their hands against the glass and smiling at the pair inside. Some might be familiar to the man. Senator Petrelli is there, flanked by a pair of women, one with pale red hair, the other with dark. Others too, stamped by common blood. Family members, her father, her sister, her brother.
But Anais isn't looking at them. As light floods the Starbucks, she tilts her head up to look Amrit in the eye. She isn't smiling. She looks awed. "Who are you?" she asks, just before the sunlight grows so bright it blots out everything.
And in that quiet hospital room, the monitors now sounding a frantic alarm of activity, the pale woman in the bed suddenly thrashes and reaches up to pull the tubes that had been passed through her mouth, her nose. She is choking, gagging, struggling to breathe on her own.
Amrit feels weakened as he gives more and more of himself to Anais. His strength starts to falter, as his hands sting from the glowing embers. He refuses to lose contact, however. He just lets her see the people waiting for her, and then turns to look at her when he realizes she's looking at him. At her question, he answers, "I'm an Avenger. And I suppose now… A Healer too." Then he is suddenly snapped out of Anais's head as she achieves consciousness. Thrown back into his own body, he staggers and nearly falls over. His head is pounding, a rhythmic painful beat that mimics his rapid heart rate. His eyes feel like they're about to explode out of their sockets. And on top of that there's blood running out of his nose and has dripped all over his shirt and the sheets and the floor.
But Anais is awake. He did it. Or rather… SHE did it with his help. If she had given in and wallowed in misery, there would have been nothing he could do short of rewriting her mind so that she forgot she ever encountered this mystery girl. And that could have been very bad down the line. He moves forward and scrabbles at the tubes and such at the same time she is, wiping his nose with one sleeve, and then putting both hands to work trying to make sure she can breathe properly.
The tubes fall away, leaving Anais coughing but breathing under her own power. As her eyes open, her hands find his and seize them, clinging with desperate strength. The same awe shines in that gaze as before, mixed with fear, concern and confusion. But she sees him, and she recognizes him. "I'm not dead," she croaks before her mind processes the fact that Amrit looks half-dead, himself. "Are you alright? Oh god…Nurse? Nurse!"
It was only a whisper, that summons, her throat abraded by the tubes. But already in the hallway, the thump of soft-soled shoes can be heard approaching at a rapid clip. The monitors read to the nurses' station, and the staff has been alerted. They're coming, quickly.
But before they arrive, Anais grips the man's hands. Not intending to prevent his escape. She simply has something else to tell him. "Thank you. Thank you so much. Amrit."
Amrit just breathes hard and fast, yet smiling at Anais's affirmation. "I'll be fine," he tries to assure her as she whispers fiercely, trying to call for help. Now that he's not focusing on one thing anymore, though his head hurts, he can hear the thoughts of incoming nurses. They're not taking their time, either. He starts to prepare to leave, when Anais takes his hands. He could just brush her thanks off and get out of here in time, but he wants to make sure that the job is done right. "No, Anais… Thank you for letting me help you. And never let go of your own strength. Never stop believing that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. If you can hold onto that, then that is all the thanks I require." His words end shortly before the nurses arrive, most likely. And whenever they do arrive, they would probably find Anais alone, with blood on the sheets and floor, but no sign of any injuries. Amrit himself is just going to wait for the nurses to pass by him as though he isn't even there, and then walk out of the room, file in hand. Once he has recovered, he'll investigate the street address given.
One might not always get what one wants, but sometimes one gets what one needs.