There might be one thing I don’t remember. I don’t remember waking up. Not when I sleep, and not when I get knocked the fuck out by a massive explosion. All I can recall is my body hurting, my arms hurting, my chest hurting. Everything was hurting, but especially my chest.
I managed a feeble groan. It was almost a given that I’d broken a few ribs. Maybe all of them. Then again, if I was lucky, maybe some of them would just be cracked. I tried moving.
… nope. Not happening.
I tried slowly lowering myself back into the sitting position I’d woken up in. I had to be careful, otherwise I could really hurt myself agitating my injuries. Then again, that may have already been irrelevant.
As I laid back, I realized I’d somehow crashed into a fence, which had now bent into a shape that would accommodate my frame. Kinda like a seat, except a lot harder on account of it being made of steel and all.
The vision in one of my eyes was tinted red and growing steadily redder, and I realized I might have a serious head injury in addition to the literally innumerable bruises and broken bones I’d wake up to tomorrow, assuming I lived that long in this state. Briefly I recall Nayeli’s own wounds, how I could see her skull split open like an egg last time I’d seen her. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to be thinking just then, but all I could muster up about that was a feeble ew, gross.
I tried moving again, this time just parts instead of my whole body. Something had to be working, because otherwise I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of saving myself, much less Nayeli. I’d been blasted so far back I’d taken the fence with me and careened into a back alley, wedged between two overturned dumpsters and well out of sight. I had to let people know where I was so I could get out of here, and move on to more important things.
Like for one, stopping Mickey.
A bit ambitious in my state I know, but you know what they say, it’s never too late to hope. I tried moving a few fingers with some success. A bit too ambitiously, I went on to moving my arms and got nothing out of it but an unpleasant grinding sensation and mind-numbing pain in my rightmost extremities. Okay, broken arm too. No biggie. I remembered something else they said about hope.
Hope in one hand and shit in the other and see which fills up first, motherfucker.
So getting myself out of this wasn’t an option. Had to place my bets on someone else saving my skin then. Never the best option, but often the last. If we were gonna go down that road though, I had to get someone to notice me. I couldn’t move or make any kind of signal that would point people in my direction, so I had to do something pretty dumb.
Yell for help at the top of my lungs in New York City and hope whoever stopped didn’t decide to just take my wallet and leave me for dead.
I tried to yell for help but instead I just coughed violently right after the first syllable. Small flecks of red land on my white suit. That’s blood. Great.
I tried not to be too negative about it. It could just be from my mouth. I had to have shaken something loose in there that was bleeding after being sent flying like that. Yeah right. Okay, so diagnosis currently remains at broken arm, dislocated and/or broken leg, and either cracked or broken ribs that were, at best, uncomfortably tickling my lungs. At worst… well at worst, my broken ribs had perforated my breathing bags and I had serious internal bleeding, which meant one of my lungs was slowly filling up with blood.
“I hear something.” Oh my god no fucking way. “If you’re Allesandri or Pescatorre, make some more noise! We’re coming to help.”
I tried violently coughing again to get their attention. The voices got closer, and to more of my relief than I will ever be able to explain to anyone else, Marq and Sostene rounded the corner into the alley.
“I see feet, I see feet!” Sostene exclaimed dramatically. Yeah, no shit sherlock. Get over here already and help me up.
“Oh shit, Al…” I hear Marq whisper softly. I try my best to respond.
“Yeah… good to see you too, asshole.” That was all I could manage before I started coughing again. Taking it slower, I tried saying, “What took you so long?”
“Don’t talk you fucking idiot!” Marq said, his bedside manner harsher than mine. “You look like hell! You have any idea how fucking worried we were about your sorry ass?!”
I tried not to laugh. It hurt too much.
“Well, unless you know a really good doctor, you might wanna keep worrying, ‘cause uh… I’m pretty sure like ninety percent of me is busted to hell. I was an aspiring doctor, y’know. And right now,” I coughed, “I’m pretty sure my prognosis is, to use a clinical term, ‘fucked’. Unless of course you know someone with enough mojo to refit about… three dozen broken bones. That and a ruptured lung.”
The effort it took to string that many words together uninterrupted strained me enough that I hacked up another phlegmy wad of blood onto my suit. Marq frowned.
“I don’t, but… I might have the next best thing.”
He carefully reached into his coat to grab something. His grip was ginger and delicate, like he was handling stained glass. Turns out, it was something better. What he held in his hand was liquid miracles. He noticed the smile I’d unconsciously started to make, and couldn’t help grinning a bit himself.
“As luck would have it, I brought some ambrosia I’ve been hoarding for a few years. Lucky coincidence, huh?”
“Luck my ass. If there really is a God, he should be licking your feet right now, you fucking saint. Seriously…” I smile in earnest. “You do me more good than I’m worth, Marq.”
He didn’t bother dignifying that with a response. Instead, he went back to what looked like fucking surgery as he went about opening a bottle that was probably more valuable than the combined property values of this entire street. His motions were precise to the point of being robotic. I got the feeling he’d practiced doing this just in case of an emergency.
He untwisted the cap on the tiny little glass bottle, and stuck a dropper in it. He squeezed the rubber bulb just enough to get one drop of the golden liquid into the tube, and then took it out, making sure it didn’t drag any more than that one drop out of the bottle. I eyed it warily. Even going by the hype, it didn’t seem like enough to amount to much.
“Is this all you’re giving me?”
“It’s more than enough, trust me. My father would strangle me if he knew I was using this to save the lives of soldatos, especially ones from the Pescatorre family. It’s worth literally cannot be overstated, especially on the black market. If they could, some people would sell the moon for this stuff.”
I couldn’t blame them. Ambrosia was a miracle medicine, one of the rarest substances in the world behind adamantine and the three alchemical ideals. It could heal any and all injuries and even rejuvenate the body enough to fight off illness. For a time at least. Supposedly, if you drank enough of it you could become immortal. What else would you expect when making it required you to distill ichor, the blood of gods? That kind of task was beyond impossible. Not only was the brewing process incredibly difficult and liable to go foul with the slightest mistake, but the most basic component was so rare pursuing it was borderline suicidal.
I had no idea where Marq or his father had gotten this. The only guys I’d ever heard of who had this stuff were people who’d sold their souls to demons for it. That and people like Nayeli, demigods and special mortals who had the gods on speed-dial. It wasn’t something you just had lying around is my point. And it definitely wasn’t something you could let go to waste.
“Now I’m only giving you enough to mend your aches and pains and set your broken bones. No more internal bleeding, and you’ll be able to walk again once it fully sets in. But that’s it. Once it’s done, it’s done. With only this much, the stuff you broke is still gonna be as fragile as stained glass for a few days while your body finishes fixing you up. You take a good punch anywhere, and your bones are gonna snap like twigs.”
“So that means no strenuous exercise?”
“No strenuous exercise.”
“And no going after Mickey Donahue to punch my ring into his motherfucking face?”
“Especially not that. Look, Al, you’re not gonna be anywhere near well enough to do anything until you rest up. Taking on Mickey is a pipe dream in your state.”
“Nuh uh. Fuck that.” I coughed again. “I’ve gotta help out somehow. Sitting back in some hospital bed while everyone else gets to have all the fun? That’s gonna fucking kill me, Marq. Besides, I owe that bastard Mickey for what he did to us back there.”
Marq frowned. “Us? You mean…”
“Yeah, boss-man. He got to Nayeli.”
Suddenly everything about him changed. There it was again. The business face. Eyes dark, pupils slit, and an expression that didn’t need words to tell you what he was thinking. Someone was gonna pay in blood for this. Even Sostene seemed afraid of him when he was like this.
Marq squeezed the dropper into my mouth, and I immediately feel it taking effect.
“Alright, you want to help me you dumb bastard? Tell me where to find Nayeli.”
The ambrosia worked ridiculously fast. I could feel a warm, numbing sensation block out all the pain I was feeling, while my bones started moving around in ways that would probably otherwise be extremely painful as they fit themselves back together in their rightful places. The bleeding stopped, and I could feel myself breathe normally again, and finally when the numbness started wearing off, I could wiggle my toes and bend my joints and just, well, move.
I got up, and dusted myself, looking Marq in the face.
“Central Park. Let’s hurry.”
Finding Nayeli wasn’t difficult. Central Park was always pretty much abandoned these days, but no one in their right mind was setting foot in it after what happened in our big blowout with Mickey. No, my concern was what kind of state she’d be in once we got there.
We found her exactly where I’d left her when she’d brought the hammer down on all of us. She was lying flat on her back in the middle of a gigantic crater, blood pooling all around her. You’d think a single, solitary crater would be hard to find after what she’d already done to the place, but this fucker was big.
“Nayeli!” Marq jumped right in with no mind for anything else, sliding down the wall of the crater on his ass just to get to Nayeli. “Nayeli!”
I grimaced as I watched Marq try and shake her awake, like he thought she was just going to wake up. I’d had my doubts about getting here in time after all that had happened, or whether she would even be in any shape to save. I didn’t know much about demigod physiology, but taking that much damage had to kill someone.
I jumped back a few inches as Nayeli started gasping for air, coughing just like I did. Okay, maybe not.
Marq breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “Oh thank god…”
“Boss…?” Nayeli said, still coughing pretty hard. “… what’re you doing here? You’re supposed to be stopping Mickey.”
“That clown can burn five New Yorks to the ground if he wants. You come first.”
Nayeli smiled, embarrassed. “Ah cripes… how many times have I told you, boss? I can take care of myself.”
Marq returned the smile, even though it was plainly obvious he didn’t believe it. “Yeah, sure. I know.”
“Uhhhhh, not to interrupt this happy moment or anything, but you really should be dead,” I interjected. They both glared at me. “… you cut through both of your carotid arteries and got your head split open with an axe. This is a legitimate medical question, how are you not dead?”
Nayeli scowled, lifting the ludicrously heavy axe off her chest like it was only just a nuisance. “Maybe it’s because I’m not some kinda pansy-ass like you, you fucking-“
Marq shushed her. “Demigods are a lot tougher than you’d think. They’re built different than us.” That earned him a look from Nayeli. He quickly blurted out, “In a good way! Now if you could both stop harassing each other, Sostene and I are gonna work on finding us a good hospital so we can get you two some proper medical care.”
“I ain’t going to no hospital!” Nayeli blurted out, pulling away from Marq. “And what the hell’s wrong with him, he looks perfectly fine.”
“Oh don’t start with this now, Nayeli…”
“I agree,” I said, surprisingly. “I’m not going to a hospital.”
Marq groaned. “Not you too, Al. Can’t you use your common sense before your fucking pride just this once?”
“It’s not that. I’m not going to a hospital because I’m not risking bumping into my little sister when I’m at work. She gets regular house calls from the doctors to help monitor her condition, and today’s her monthly checkup. I’m not setting foot anywhere near Kings County today. No way.”
“Then we’ll find a different hospital-“
“And what if we run into one of the doctors from Kings there? You know how those bastards bounce around between clinics, I’ve told you about it a thousand times when I was in training. We go to any hospital in or near Brooklyn and we risk blowing my cover.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, get over it you sister-complex-“
Marq shushed Nayeli again, and she reluctantly shut her mouth. “Alright then Al, if every hospital within ten miles of here is off limits, then what do you suggest we do?”
I got real quiet when he said that. It’s true, I didn’t really have a plan, selfish as it was for me to prioritize my private life over Nayeli’s. But there was no way I could let my little kid sister find out about what I did for a living. That was something I could not allow.
“Uhhhhh…” Sostene said, interrupting the silence. “I think I might know a guy…”
That’s how we found ourselves in the hands of the good Dr. Evans down in Queens. Pescatorre turf was an unfriendly area for us even during this period of momentary cooperation, but we had a few safe zones here and there we could hopscotch to and from to make our way around the borough. Turns out thanks to Sostene, we could add another.
Though I have to say, his friend did not look happy to see us.
Sostene waited outside the room away from the window and the blood bags, Marq was tending to Nayeli’s bedside manner. Figuring I’d make myself useful as well, I started looking around the office to see if there was any way for me to put my knowledge of pharmacology to use. Not many herbs or plants to be found here, but that just made it a little more difficult to work with is all.
We all worked in silence for a while, Marq wrapping Nayeli’s bandages because she wouldn’t let the doctor anywhere near her. I imagined he was getting tired of just standing around doing nothing when he was supposed to be tending to the patient (I know I would’ve), so finally he gestured to Marq to come talk with him outside in the hall.
Since I was curious, and because I was kind of afraid to be stuck alone in a room with Nayeli, I decided to listen in and pretend to be busy.
“You’ve fucked me on this, Sostene. You know that? You’ve fucked me. Are you gonna take responsibility for that?” Silence. “You and your boss here better hope word about this doesn’t get out. If people get the idea I’m running the kind of operation that accepts demigods, I’m going to be swimming in these these fucking wunderkind by the end of the week. You know how often these guys are in ‘mortal peril’? At least once a week! At least once a fucking week! And we got just under a few dozen of ‘em in New York alone!”
“Come on doc, it’s not that bad. Back in the day you used to let me in here all the time when I needed to dump off my uh…”
“Bringing in your bite vics for some bed and breakfast in my clinic is one thing. I put up with it because you’re a real saint of a man, Sostene, and because as far as vampires go, you keep yourself out of trouble. But this? Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t operate on these guys! My tools always break! I’m gonna be outta picks and bonesaws and up to my balls in lawsuits in under a month! And for what? Because your boss here couldn’t take his squeeze to a regular hospital?!”
“With all due respect, doctor,” Marq said, clearly losing his patience, “non-privatized clinics aren’t an option right now. Besides, you know as well as I do federal hospitals are just as ill-equipped and understaffed to provide medical care for people like her. ‘Patient priority’ says we’re just as likely to get turned away at the door.”
“Then fucking let her! Everywhere these guys go, trouble always follows! They’re cursed, the lot of them! Why would you bring that down on my head, huh? I don’t care if you’re a capo or a copper, you have no right to ruin a man’s livelihood like this!”
“Dr. Evans, the oath you took clearly states-“
“No, fuck you. Don’t you ever try that shit with me. I have rights!”
I pulled away from the door. I didn’t want to hear what was going to happen out there. It would make it easier to deny my involvement.
Sighing, I decided to suck it up and take Nayeli her medicine. I’d mixed together a coagulating agent that would stop and slow the flow of blood around her wounds, but she seemed to have no real shortage of blood to lose, so I’m not sure how effective it would be in helping her.
She eyed me warily as I approached with the tray of swabs and medical tools.
“If you try poking me with any of that shit, you’re a fucking dead man.”
I sighed. “It’s just an herbal mix my teacher showed me how to make. It should help with your bandages. Here, lie back.”
She didn’t. I sighed again. “Fine, be that way.”
I sat down next to her and started dabbing a cotton swab in the thickener. I applied it to the bandages on her head very carefully, trying not to do anything that could get her to snap at me. She squirmed.
“Don’t touch me like that.”
“I’m barely even doing anything.”
“Yeah, well do less of it. It’s bad enough I gotta look this way in front of the boss, I don’t need you molesting me and poking around in my brain-meat.”
“Why would I even… nevermind. Just hold still.”
We sat in silence for the next few minutes as audible thumps and pleas to a higher power went ignored out in the hall. I would dab a new swab, she would try her best to be as uncooperative as possible, and treatment was in general slow-going.
“There. Done. Finally.”
“You’re a fucking nosy bastard, you know that? I don’t get what Marq sees in you…”
Taking that as my cue, I gingerly ask, “So you and Marq-“
“’Boss’ to you.”
“… whatever. Are you and him, y’know…”
“You sure you wanna go down this route?”
“Look, all I wanna know is if you two are an item or not. I’ve seen the way he looks at you. He doesn’t do that for anyone else. So what is it? Are you two just friends with benefits, or are you… you know? Lovers?”
“I said neither.”
I sighed. “You can’t be neither, Nayeli. You’re either a couple or you aren’t. What’s so hard about that?”
“It’s not that easy! Look… it’s a lot more complicated than that.”
That seemed to have struck a nerve. But she didn’t lash out at me. Well, not much. It was clear to me this was more of a sad anger than a mad anger. I decided to offer some help.
“Alright then, if it’s complicated then explain it to me.”
She didn’t respond at first. In fact, it took her about two minutes of silence before she admitted, “… it’s my parents, okay?”
“Parents? What, you mean like crappy in-laws?”
“Is that supposed to be some kind of fucking joke?”
“I dunno, was it funny?”
She glared at me.
“My mom’s an Italian, like you and the boss. My dad is…”
“Not from around here.”
“I was gonna say ’Greek’, but I guess that’s one way of putting it,” she said, sounding irritated. “And you know it is with the families. If you’re not full-blooded Italian, you can’t get made. You don’t get to be a part of the family.”
“And why’s that a problem?”
“Because Marq’s a capo, dumbass. Even if we wanted to be together, we couldn’t. He’s gotta save himself for some important political marriage with some chick from the government, otherwise his father’s gonna go ballistic. And if it wasn’t her, it’d be somebody else respectable, somebody who’s full-blooded Italian with prospects for the future. For the family’s future. Not some mutt demigod he rescued off the street. I don’t have a future, understand? I could never be his… wife. The best I can settle for is to just be his mistress…”
For a moment I felt a profound sense of pity for her plight. To have someone you love but not be able to be with them because of how you were raised… that’s some real Shakespearean shit right there. It’d almost be sappy if it wasn’t happening to someone I knew.
… Okay, scratch that. It was still sappy. Just not in a funny “haha” kinda way.
“I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do for you two…”
She scowled. “Don’t start with this now. You’re not fucking sorry. And don’t be. It’s none of your damn business who we’re fucking on the side.”
“I don’t think you should be so dismissive of it like that.”
“… so do you two have like a ménage à trois type thing going on here, or-“
I didn’t get to finish because she punched me in the back of the head hard enough to rattle my skull. And something else. Something in the back of my mouth next to my jawbone… what the fuck is that?
I coughed a few times and hacked like I was vomiting, trying to get it loose. Eventually it moved far enough into my gum line that I could reach it. It was really sharp and pokey. Felt like metal. I reached for it, wiggling it out. My gums bled a bit for it, but eventually I managed to yank it out.
What I had in my hands was a small rectangular piece of metal. It didn’t look new by any means, and the way it was shaped made it look like it had come off some industrial equipment. The chemical plant Mickey was talking about, maybe? I had no idea why it would be that, but it was the only relevant answer in this situation.
More pressing question was, when and how did it get in my mouth of all places?
I thought back to that morning, starting from when I’d brushed my teeth and eaten breakfast. I didn’t remember putting anything into my mouth that could have concealed a sharp, small piece of metal. Nothing during lunch either. The metal bit was a few inches long and at least an inch wide, there was no way I could have eaten it without noticing. So when did it…
Then I remembered our brawl. The homunculus. She punched me in the face, and hard. Was it possible she’d slipped it in there and I just hadn’t noticed ‘cause of everything else that was going on? It made sense. If my mouth was numb and I was already in panic mode, it wasn’t too likely I would’ve paid the metal bit any mind even if I did know it was there.
I turned the piece of metal around in my fingers. There was a series of small numbers written on one side. It looked like a serial number, or an address. No indicators that would give us any clue what specifically it was referring to though. And on the other side, someone, maybe the homunculus, had left a message.
Marq and Sostene walked back into the room with Dr. Evans in tow, roughed and bloody.
Marq checked his pocket watch and took out a smoke. “Byron just briefed me from his hospital bed. What’s our plan of attack?”
I turned the piece of metal around in my hands, memorizing every detail. “I don’t know, Marq. But I think I do know where we can start…”