2008-09-15: The Right To Bear Arms

Starring:

Niki_icon.gif Peter_icon.gif Christa_icon.gif

Summary: A chance meeting at the wrong place in the wrong time sets off a whirlwind of events.

Date It Happened: September 15th, 2008

The Right to Bear Arms


New York City

Very recently, there have been memorial services across the nation. The reasons are obvious - no one seems to have any qualms about mentioning them, all in the name or respecting the dead - or selling flags, or whatever it is that people have reached out for. It's brought more people to New York lately. More people are about, the streets - crowded on a normal day - are even more packed now.

Freedom Festivals are predominant in front of municipal buildings, around schools. There's a large carnival set up on one of the city's many parks with rides and midway games, plenty of food, and fun to be had for all. It's pretty hard to miss, actually. And with the New York City police patrolling around on foot and on horseback, surely it'll be a safe time for everyone here. The sun's starting to set, and there's talk of fireworks that'll be going up as soon as the company is ready, and the sky is dark enough. People rolling carts around are selling glowy things - necklaces, glowsticks, even light sabers, because no good fireworks festival should go without a Star Wars reference, apparently.

As she cuts through the festivities, trying to sneak her way through the Americana memoriam in one of the city's parks, Niki, in the surreal glow of a nearby cart of red, white and blue glowsticks and other shinies, has a frazzled look about her. It's a familiar look that says it's been one of those weeks: wisps of blonde are escaping from her long ponytail, the expression in her eyes is faraway, on a fixed point far away from here. But it's at odds with the summer dress she wears; pink, soft, a relic from her closet that she wears with flip-flops and a long, purple sweater that continually falls off one shoulder.

She's persevering; she's not worn down. Things are good. Looking up. One foot in front of the other. …Now if she could just remember where the nearest way to Brooklyn is.

There's a lot of people, so it's likely that Niki didn't even notice the young man who stands with a carrier bag over his shoulder. Dark blue shirt, jeans, no jacket. It's warm enough today to go out without one. With her eyes up and looking ahead and not at her feet, she probably does see him when he moves around someone and turns, facing her. Peter looks very different than he had in the hospital bed. On his feet, healthy skintone, no sign of the burns that had marred his face. No bandages needed, either. Those scars the doctor had talked of don't even show up.

Eyes blink in surprise, the carrier bag is pulled closer against him. "Sorry— um." What does someone say in this situation? "Hi." No, that's not quite what he meant, but…

In all this commotion, no one notices any one single person meandering through the crowd. And some people don't really need a reason to hurt others, which makes them scarier than average. No plan, no reason - the only thing this one wants is to break up this gathering that shouldn't have happened in the first place. City politics - bah. All this money spent on a celebration, when there are still people living in blight and poverty? Tax dollars could have been better spent elsewhere.

So the answer, of course, is to carry around a handgun.

He's nervous, though, standing just out of the view of a couple police officers on horseback. He's reconsidering, finger around the trigger of a weapon held under a coat that's draped over one arm. All he has to do is pull the trigger. Start something. Get the hell out of here.

He focuses on a well-dressed blonde. She's talking to someone. A decent target.

Niki's purposeful — if distracted — long-legged strides come to a stop that is slow at first, wandering, and then sudden. Efficiently jarred out of her thoughts, she takes in the sight of the newly healed and unexpected man with astounded eyes. "Peter— " Choked and a little clipped by surprise, she tries something more human, starting to smile. Just a bit. She's definitely unaware that she's in the sights of anyone but Peter; definitely not anyone with a handgun. "You look … all better."

There are a lot of people around, it makes blending in easy. Fate intervened and kept either of them from blending in, though, especially from each other. And scary crazy men with guns. "Oh, yeah, I— made sure I got better. I don't need to be a burden on anyone anymore," Peter explains, stammering a bit as he glances away and hesitates some. He doesn't even look in the right direction, down and to the side, watching someone's feet before he looks back up at her. "Are you— um… looking at the booths?" The last conversation between the two of them had been awkward. This hasn't changed.

This man isn't crazy! He's exercising his God-given right to bear arms and shoot people with them.

Right. He's got a couple seconds to sight, and fire. He allows the coat to fall off his arm casually, but with so many people here, that doesn't stop people from noticing one simple fact.

"GUN. He's got a— "

That's all the time he gives them. A shot rings out, directed at the blonde woman. No hard feelings, but he needed a target. He can't just fire off a shot and hit nothing.

Niki's hands dive into the deep pockets of her sweater jacket. It's a warm night, but she's glad she has it on — it's a distraction. She peers around, though not in the right directoin either, lips pursed, while she gets her bearings of how exactly this conversation should go. "No, I was just… taking a shortcut." Then she remembers: "Oh," she digs in one of said pockets and wields a scrap of paper. "I meant to— "

Meant to get shot?

Not really.

First, her words are cut off when she whirls around at the warning — GUN! — but she barely comprehends where it's coming from before a half-shout, half-cry escapes her and she's falling in an awkward twist, toward Peter, toward the ground, just— down. The blonde's legs buckle, the right very suddenly red at the knee.

A short cut via the emergency room. The sound in the crowd makes Peter blink, startled, and the gun that follows after doesn't stop that reaction at all. There's nothing he can do for the moment except blink, even as she buckles and starts to go down, toward him. Arms reach out and grab onto her, looking past her as he goes down with her, reaching to look at her, checking to see where she's been hit.

"Christ, Niki— I— You're going to be okay, I promise," he tries to assure, even as he splits his attention in two directions. Accessing the wound, and making sure whoever fired doesn't get a second shot.

A gathering this big there must be police. A gathering this big also means they saw her get shot, the blood's far too obvious.

There's another shot, but this one isn't from the gunman - it's from one of the police officers. The bullet rips into the attacker's thigh, and the gun falls from his hands. It's not too long before the officers have the weapon and the man secured.

But the results were exactly what the gunman wanted. Panic, chaos, people running away from the scene and even toward it. "I've called nine-one-one!" someone shouts. Another person yells, "The police are already here!" One of the officers whips out his radio - two civilians down, one armed, requesting backup and a medical team. Somewhere in the distance, the ferris wheel stops, and people are left on it, screaming, waving their hands. One of the officers nudges his horse toward the crowd to do some damage control.

And sure enough, one of those officers is next to Niki in a heartbeat. His hand hovers over the knee, then he asks, "Were you shot anywhere else?" He only heard one shot, but people started screaming soon after. There might have been more.

The chaos is a blur. It's probably a good thing she can't comprehend most of it through the searing bullet wound. She grabs blindly onto Peter as well as random clumps of grass and dirt, knitting her face into tight consternation and gritting her teeth through a rather primal cry of pain. "What— the hell— just happened? Nnh!" She blinks up at the new face — the police officer — and manages to shake her head. She scrapes her feet along the ground and regrets it. Through choked, uneven breaths, she answers, "No. I don't— I don't— think so."

Well, that'll make fixing this the quick way difficult. Peter has blood smeared on his hand by the time the cop speaks, but he hasn't had enough time to do more than apply presure to her leg. Healing isn't instantaneous as he might wish, and now that someone's standing right next to them… "I don't see any other wounds," he says, grimacing even as he looks at her face, her clenched teeth. Then back up at the police officer.

"I don't think it's that bad, doesn't look like any major arteries were hit, she's not bleeding enough, but she's going to need to get to a hospital." He looks back at Niki, that grimace back. It's almost an apology, really.

Niki stubbornly stifles a few more cries and groans of pain, throwing her head back and closing her eyes from that blur of crazy going on around her. She's toughing it out. But that doesn't mean she doesn't grab for dear life onto Peter's forearm … probably several times too hard. It's rare that her ability goes out of control; it's usually so straight-forward, only there when she needs it, now that she knows she's strong enough to use it, but… there's a lot o adrenaline pumping erratically through her system. Sorry, Peter. She doesn't even notice.

"Hey," Niki aims for an out-of-place smile, pained and manic. "It's okay. It's not— " Remember to breathe. " —the first time I've been shot in the leg."

"All right, you'll be fine." THe police officer speaks as if he's trying to assure himself, and he seems quite happy when the sound of the ambulance and the red lights start slowly, painstakingly making their way through the panicked crowd. At a distance, they just throw the truck into park and run the rest of the way there - a couple men with medical supplies, and another couple with a wheeled stretcher. Another ambulance is right behind that one - for the gunman.

"Call ahead, tell 'em we're gonna have a couple gunshot wounds," one of the men says, leaning over Niki. They don't try to shove Peter away - perhaps assuming that he's either related to Niki, or in a relationship. Besides, the woman looks like she's holding onto him with enough force that separating them would be much more dangerous. "We're just going to wrap this, then get you to the ER."

Actually she's holding on to him with enough force to snap bones. Likely no one can hear the cracking sound that happens, and Peter only clenches his teeth tight, eyes narrowing. Knowing it will heal is one thing, but it won't heal as long as she squeezes, "Hey— hey— loosen up. You're going to be fine, you just— you'll be fine."

Even without the clenching, he's moving right next to her, even assisting the paramedics. The outfits they wear get a long look from him.

Through narrowed, moist eyes, the blonde seems to register what she's doing with Peter. Belatedly. A sound that starts off like it might be a curse is promptly cut off by a hiss as she's forced to persevere through the paramedics' fussing. "Sorry," she manages instead, wincing, her apology all the more obvious when painted over features that are already in pain. Determinedly, she loosens her clawing vice grip and tries to relax as the paramedics and Peter do their thing.

And when the paramedics note the fact that this guy seems to know what he's doing, they're definitely not shoving him away. It's not too long before they're loading Niki into the first ambulance. The gunman remains on the ground at the moment, though, because, unlike Niki, he was shot through a major artery, and a bit more care is required to get him into better shape for transport. "You comin'?" one of the medics says with a New York accent, holding out his hand to help Peter into the back of the ambulance.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," Peter says, accepting the hand up with a smile. Despite the fractures that made him clench his teeth, by the time he's pulled up into the ambulance to sit down next to the blonde woman, it's already healed itself. "You're going to be fine, Niki," he continues to assure. Nevermind there's some kind of wall between them that makes this next statement awkward, "I'll be with you as long as I can."

Niki is in just enough of a surreal state that the walls are blurry. As the paling blonde looks from the ceiling of the ambulance over to Peter, half-lidded, she mumbles, just a few stages away from incoherent: "Where've I heard that before."

* * *

Mount Sinai Hospital

The emergency room is set into small partitions, with a few private rooms at intervals where the sicker patients are kept. Niki will find herself in a curtained-off area, lying on a bed, with her leg heavily bandaged and elevated in traction.

Being shot is a traumatic experience. Even if people have gone through it before, it's hard to tell what effect it's going to have on any one person at any particular time. Blackouts are common. Memories shut themselves off and vanish completely. It's that reason that Christa's assigned herself to this case. There's always a possibility of finding those buried memories - if any - and helping someone cope with trauma in the best way possible. Remembering.

She pushes aside the curtain, entering into the partition and heading over to Niki's side. "How are you doing?" is the first question.

Niki has been fighting this whole time to keep awake and alert. No blacking out for her. Please. Okay? After everything she's been through, it's instinctive to fight against unconsciousness; and at a time like this, sleep is impossible. She's feeling a lot better than she was, attributed completely to drugs, but the woman nevertheless seems unsettled when her eyes land on the doctor. "Mmh." That means something. Honest. "Better," she manages with a dry voice.

As soon as the curtain is pulled back, Peter stands up, turning to face the beautiful woman doctor. "She's doing okay, as far as I can tell. Aware and responsive, even with the pain medication. A little dulled, but better than most. She's strong." So strong she broke his arm again without meaning to. And his hand. But that's okay. He's forgiving. He also whispered more than once that all she had to do was make it out of the hospital and he'd make sure her leg is better quickly. He just can't heal her until it won't be obvious…

She knows the name of the patient, of course, but she's only heard mutterings of the man's name. Holding out her hand to him, she says, "You're Peter, right?" before turning her attention back to the blonde woman lying in the bed.

Christa can't imagine that being shot is in any way pleasant. She watches Niki's eyes carefully, resting her hands on the bedrail for a moment, before taking a small pen light out of the pocket of her coat and shining it into those eyes. It flicks away now and then to test reaction time, and re-adjustment to the lower light. "I'm Doctor Morris. I'm a surgeon. Me and my team are gonna see if we can get that bulet out of your knee. They should be bringing in the x-ray shortly, but since movement's limited, we're going to assume it's right in the joint. We're going to keep your knee from moving for now so we don't do anymore damage."

There's hesitation before she says, "I know you've probably answered this a dozen times already, but can you tell me what happened? Details, specifics. Whatever you can recall."

Niki smiles up at the doctor — or tries to, anyway. It's a little feigned, but it is sincerely hopeful… that she'll let her go. So Peter can cheat the healing process. So she can go home without calling home to worry anyone. She's in the midst of blinking spots away from her eyes after the tiny light was shone in them when her smile starts to fade. "Surgery?" She sounds as wary as she does skeptical. She almost seems as if she's going to protest, but — after a worried glance to Peter — dutifully answers the questions instead. "I— was just standing there. Someone shouted that there was a gun, and— that was it. I got shot, I fell. Twisted, maybe. That's it. It really doesn't feel that bad anymore."

"I— yeah, I'm Peter." It comes off a little awkward, startled, but Peter had to give his name and other things, even if he insisted on not leaving her side. She's married. Not to him, but he wasn't going to leave her side. And he can be very persuasive. He didn't even have to say much. "I caught her, more or less. There shouldn't be any head trauma or anything," Peter offers, reaching down to touch her hand even if there's talk of surgery. It's necessary to get out the bullet, which even his healing would have had a difficult time with. "It's nice to meet you, Dr. Morris."

So no holes in her memory. Nothing important to remember. A simple shot to the knee. "Surgery. It's fairly invasive, but there's an excellent recovery rate. You don't have to worry." With a smile, she reaches behind Niki's head - as if to fluff the pillow, perhaps - but cool fingers make contact with her skin, and an imprint is passed along. The tiniest sense of calm, unshakability, and confidence, overriding the fear. It won't last forever, but, with any luck, Niki will feel better about this upcoming surgery.

Christa withdraws her hand, placing it in her pocket. The disorientation that follows is minor, and the practiced stare as she recovers is something very few people notice. "It should take a couple hours. We're going to have to take the x-ray, estimate the tissue damage, repair what we can, and then do a soft tissue scan to see if there's anything we missed."

Niki doesn't want surgery, but after Christa's boost of confidence — so to speak — she gains a look of determination, her toughness toughening that much more. Invasive, x-ray, tissue damage, blah blah… "If that's what you have to do." She turns her head against the hospital pillow, chin tucked against the ponytail that lies there over one shoulder. She looks along the bed to Peter; his hand. Her own just barely moves, a light curl of a ringed finger. "You don't have to stay," she says with mixed sentiment, only half meaning it. "I mean, I could … call you." When she's out of surgery? To be healed? There's an awkward moment, partially because of who she's talking to, and partially attributed to the mundane meeting the extraordinary and fumbling.

There's a sudden twitch of Peter's head, shifting to the side like someone just plucked a hair off his eyebrows. Instead there'd been a feedback static in his head, a twinge of something. Like a radio signal in a bunch of white noise, or white noise in the middle of a signal. There's a confused and questioning look on his face, before he blinks and shakes his head. "I— won't be able to follow you all the way into surgery, but I'll stay as close as they'll allow. I don't think my nursing license is valid anymore, so I doubt they'll let me help. I think it expired in April." Again.

That's kind of a simple answer, almost practiced, even if he fully intended to stay just outside, as close as he could be without raising suspicions, but… he frowns at Christa. Did she do something?

"Would it be all right if I watch? I wasn't a surgery nurse, but I— I know when to stay out of the way."

She can't help noticing that look she gets from Peter - the discomfort, the shaking of his head. "Did you…?" she asks, but then eyes the thin, flimsy curtains that are surrounding them. No, here's not the place for that. She taps the brakes on the front wheels of the bed with her toe. "I'm going to take you to one of the private pre-surgical rooms. We can talk. Maybe I can get you in. For now, you can wheel along the IV." She points to the saline mixture hanging above Niki's bed on a hook.

"I can definitely wheel an IV. I did transportation for a few months while I was in training," Peter admits, the lopsided smile a little awkward, especially since he's not sure what'd happened there for a moment. A telepath? He's had telepathic feedback before— but there's maybe something else. Or maybe he's picking up something all together. "Thanks for letting me stay close for the moment. I'm sure you'll do everything you can." And if all else fails, maybe he can be persuasive?

TO BE CONTINUED...

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