1965-08-24 - Debridement
Summary: A very difficult conversation over beer.
Related: Chain Reaction, Blood of the Covenant, Silver Bullet
Theme Song: None
elmo halgrim 


The fall semester is nigh, and Halgrim has become more and more scarce around Mutant Town, and has warned it will only get worse, at least until October. But this evening he forces himself to leave, if not at a reasonable hour, at least a less ridiculous one than has been the norm for over a week now. He pauses outside his building, though, once he's there, staring up at the array of lights and listening to Leonor scold her daughter in Portugese, to Mr. Ortiz's little dog bark at the tabby cat across the alley who likes to sit on the fire escape and taunt him, to the pigeons Darius keeps on the roof coo as they fly in to bed down.

It's not too late. They're not likely to be asleep yet; they don't seem the kind to be in bed before ten. So he deicdes to finally do the thing he's been Not Doing for almost two weeks, and walks to Mutant Town, where he hopes to find Elmo at the garage.


At least someone's awake. Lights are burning in the garage proper, and in the apartment upstairs. Don't these guys ever sleep? One of the bay doors is open. Elmo is at the workbench, tinkering with something—he's literally always tinkering with something if he's not outright doing repairs. He's yawning, though, as Halgrim approaches. He's looked tired, and now he looks REALLY tired, like he hasn't slept in a week.


"I see I'm not the only one working myself into an early grave," Halgrim observes as he approaches the open garage bay. He can't talk; between the two of them their sleep debt would collapse the economy of Nod. He glances at the workbench, at Elmo's exhausted expression. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything important. If I am, this can wait." Because what two exhausted people should have is an exhausting coinversation.


Elmo grunts, not looking up at first, really, really needing to get that bit of wire tweaked juuuuust so. "Yeah, well, wanna make somethin' of it?" He's not serious, and now glances up at Halgrim with a tiny hitch of a smile. "What're you doin' here at this hour, pal?" His eyebrows go up. Halgrim wants something from him. "What's up?"


Halgrim is already hesitating, leaning back the way he came. But he's come this far out of his way, and that makes him stay. "Not more work, or anything like that. Just something I wanted to talk to you about." He gestures at the workbench. "But it doesn't have to be now, if you need to finish this and," he clears his throat, "get some sleep."


Elmo, a little surprised, says, "Sure," and sets his gadget down. "Well, c'mon, you didn't walk all this way to tell me it can wait." Once in a while, Elmo accidentally perceives somebody else's state of mind.


Now Halgrim is trapped. That might be a good thing, though, because he was perilously close to using any available excuse to not do what he came to do. He nods in agreement, and steps into the garage proper. He seems like he's going to start pacing, stops himself with a wince. "Vitale," he says, looking away for a moment. "How is he doing? How's his leg?"


Elmo gets up and stretches. Vertebrae pop and he winces, then sighs in relief. "Damn workbench ain't the right height for my short ass. Keep meaning to adjust it." He grabs a couple of folding chairs from where they lean against the wall. The X-ternals do a lot of socializing in their garage, after all, and Elmo believes in being prepared. He opens them up and sets them down. "Vitko's doin' okay." He glances at the stairs leading to the apartment. "Feel bad for yellin' at him. He scared me real good, though. Screaming from them nightmares, bleedin' all over. He's doin' better now. You wanna beer?" Because beer is very important for awkward social situations.


Halgrim distracts himself from everything Elmo is saying by settling himself in the chair, murmuring a thank you. Despite the fact that his stomach is tied up in knots which would hold a tent down in the face of the fierest blizzard on Mt. Everest, or maybe *because* it is, he says, "Yes," to the offer of a beer, and swallows. "That's, good. That he's doing better." He wants to ask about the nightmares — he should, Strange should know about them — but there's a limit to what he's capable of in this moment.


Elmo gets a couple of bottles from the cooler that lives under the workbench. Beer, also important to mechanics. He pries the tops off with a bit of metal bolted to the underside of the workbench for that exact purpose, passes one to Grim. Slouching down on the folding chair, he stretches his legs out, propping the heel of one boot on the toe of the other. "Yeah. Thank God, right?"


"Yes, praise to them all," Halgrim says, and takes a drink. A really long one; it's just as easy to imagine him doing this with a boilermaker as with a simple cold bottle from a friend's refrigerator. He laughs at something, bitterly, and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I have to apologize, this is something I should have told you some time ago—that day I brought the instruments, I should have told you immediately after that." He sighs, toying with the bottle. "And, I'm sorry that I didn't. But, Jay already knows, and I can't expect him to keep this sort of confidence. That's a burden I've no right to place on him. Or anyone, but, not one someone you're close to."


Elmo tips the beer back and listens with eyebrows creeping ever higher. "Uh," he says, a little nervous now. "Okay?" Trying to imagine what Halgrim could possibly have to tell him and failing. "Jay, knows, what?"


Halgrim takes in a slow breath and lets it out. He could go to the trouble to put together a sentence which would make a single modicum of sense and not be an awkward jumble of words. Or, he can simply show Elmo some convincing evidence. The later wins out; wordlessly, he gently tugs on the omnipresent, hand wrought, metal chain around his neck to pull the amulet on it out from under his shirt and let it fall against his chest.

It's far smaller than Elmo's seen before, maybe one third the size. Still, there's no mistaking that rough, unpolished, wine red gemstone with the metallic inclusions. Halgrim watches Elmo while he does this, staying perfectly still.


Elmo blinks at the amulet. It takes him a moment to recognize it. Then he leans forward, frowning, hand out to—almost, but not quite, touch it. "That's…ain't that the same as… I've seen that before. It was hanging on the neck of that monster Vitale healed. Like a wolfman with feathers." His eyes suddenly go wide. "You know her!" He looks up at Halgrim, astonished, beer forgotten.


Halgrim lets out the breath he was holding. He wants to laugh and is desparately quashing the desire to do so, because if he starts he may not be able to stop. "I don't — I don't *know* her," he says, and looks down at the necklace. His expression is a study in resentment. A little more quietly, he says, "I *am* her." He uses the same gender without thinking; after all, the beast could be anything, for all he knows.


Crack! The beer bottle drops from Elmo's hand to the concrete. He curses vividly, scrambling for a shop rag as the beer spills and foams everywhere. Luckily it didn't shatter. He sets it upright. Mopping up the spill, he says, "Okay!" in quite a startled voice. "That's you? You're the wolfman? You're a…uh, a werewolf, like in that movie?" He's not looking at Halgrim, instead concentrating way too hard on the puddle of beer.


The sudden noise and motion surprise Halgrim, and he startles noticeably. Fortunately he's managed to drain his beer bottle low enough that it doesn't spill anywhere. "No, not—I mean. Yes. It's me. But I'm not a werewolf. Or, not entirely. The moon isn't involved, and there's appanrelty much more to it than a wolf." Well, Elmo hasn't evicted him from the garage while shouting in Yiddish, so it's best to get on with the explanations before he does. "We're not one being. We don't share memories, and we can't….entirely, control one another. So I don't know what it does and it's not aware of what I do."


Elmo just kind of plops back on the concrete floor, staring at Halgrim with wide dark eyes. There's no shouting (yet), but there's a definite hum of static in the air. Feels like a dry winter day when touching a doorknob is taking your life into your hands. "You're. Her host. She told me, she lives in a host. That's YOU? …And Jay knows?!"


"Host? Is that what she calls me?" Halgrim does laugh now; it's a desparate, unhappy sound, and he forces himself to stop. He has more of his beer. "Yes, I suspect he found out from Jebediah, who's known for some time." He swallows, seems about to say something, thinks better of it. "Elmo please understand, if I'd had any idea you'd encountered it before, I would have said something. I didn't know, until…" He ducks his head, rubs at his eyes. "Until Vitale explained, about his injury. That was when I realized, that…that you'd already come across it."


"Jeb knows you're a wolfman?" Elmo's entire face does something weird, squinching up. "What the hell? …I guess he likes Morbius. …And he's kinda in love with—nevermind, ain't important." He's just not up to tackling that challenge. "Okay, uh. One second." He climbs back on the folding chair. It discharges when he touches it with a loud POP and a smell of ozone. Elmo doesn't even seem to notice. He paws his hair back from his face. "Yeah, I, yeah I actually, kind of know her. After Vitko got so hurt, I went to find her. Thought she was doing it, hadda make her stop. But she told me she didn't and she didn't got no control over what he took. She told me her name." His eyes flick back to the pendant. "…Shit, Grim, I hardly know what to say." But he's not angry. Just bewildered as all heck.


Halgrim eyes the chair warily when it pops, but Elmo's own lack of a reaction prevents any from him. As Elmo talks, Halgrim's tension eases, despite the potentially awkward situation of who Jeb's into. His brow furrows at the description of Elmo's conversation with Fjorskar as he tries to puzzle it out. He gives up and shakes his head. "You don't need to say a single thing. I didn't come here expecting, reassurance, or anything of that sort." He turns the beer bottle around in his hands. "I wanted to tell you, because if you're trusting me, as you have been, then you have a right to know what — and who — you're really dealing with. That way you can make a properly informed decision, as to whether or not you want to."


Elmo, eyes on the pendant, makes an extremely Jewish sound of dubious acknowledgement through his nose— 'eeennnnnhhhhhh?'. "Yeah, uh. That's fair. So, you don't…you can't control her? She does what she wants? That sounds right. Lines up with what she told me. She lives in that?" He points at the pendant, looking up to meet Halgrim's eyes.


Halgrim glances down, and takes the amulet in one hand. "Not just her. I think maybe some of me must be in this too." He lets it drop, and meets Elmo's eyes. Now that the hard part's over, he's pulling himself back together. "I can't beseparated from it by very far. It's, excruciating, if I try to, and when it comes back to me…" He lets the obvious result go unsaid. "And letting anyone touch it is not advisable." He grunts, smiling a little. "No control to speak of. I don't remember anything, either. Until recently, I couldn't even stop her when she wanted to, come out, if you will."


Elmo, also recovering from the shock, seems wary. He keeps glancing between Halgrim's face and the pendant. "Did you wanna be a host?" A simple question that will tell him a lot about how he's going to feel.


On a soft sigh, Halgrim says, "Oh, no," and shakes his head. "If there's a day in my life I could cut out of existence, it's that one." His eyes shift from Elmo to some point in the shop, and he shuts them for a moment. "I can't tell you how badly I want to wake up from that nightmare." He finishes the last of his beer.


Elmo sighs, too, shoulders relaxing. Unconsciously mirroring Halgrim, he shakes his head and takes a swig of beer too. He really wanted that to be the answer. "She ain't hurt nobody. Scared the bejesus outta me, but didn't hurt me. Didn't hurt Vitko, he did that himself healing her. We— " he means the team, "—went out helpin' Diz with these creepy cultists and she, ya buddy, was there and she fought 'em. Kicked the ass of this huge guy made of rocks. So, yannow. She ain't been so bad."


Halgrim seems genuinely surprised to hear all of this. The grief that was threatening him a moment before recedes, and he studies Elmo and the amulet by turns. "Has she," he says. "I went to see a sorcerer — " he glances up at Elmo, "Strange, maybe you know him? — and he suggested I…allow her more time to be herself, so that she would stop trying to use my every lapse in self control to wreak havoc on my existence." He runs a finger over the stone. "So maybe that's working after all."


"Yeah, I know the Doc. Met 'im through this guy I used to go out with." Elmo's looking back at Halgrim, a thousand thoughts a second racing by behind his eyes. "I mean, I know what that's like. I need a lotta time to be myself, too. You know, don't need to talk to nobody, don't need to try to act like a regular person, don't gotta touch nobody. Just hole up by myself and build stuff. If I don't get enough of that, I start actin' up and the whole team kicks me out." He quirks half a smile. "Kinda turn into a wolfman myself, the way they see it." The smile fades. "I'm gonna have to tell my team. At least, I gotta tell JP."


Halgrim manages a small chuckle at the analogy. He says, "It's good to have space, when you need it, and those who'll encourage you to give it to yourself." He looks like he's thinking of someone else just then.

He studies Elmo, the beer bottle in hands (or maybe the floor), nods. "The information is yours to do with as you see fit. I trust you to tell people who should know, and to not tell people who shouldn't. And, to know who either of those would be." He meets Elmo's eyes again, and adds, "And, if this…if…" He stops, and seems to force himself to say it. "If this means you, or the others, would rather I not come around. I understand."


Elmo drops his gaze as soon as Halgrim meets his eyes. "I'm gonna have to think about it," he says, blunt, but not unkind. "JP will make the call, but he'll wanna know what I think." He grimaces, scrubs his face. "And…I just dunno what I think. I think you're a great guy. She hasn't hurt anybody. She even came here, because she really needed to boss me around." Risking eye contact again, he adds, quietly, "But there ain't no doubt in my mind she wants to hurt somebody."


"Wants to," Halgrim says, then, quieter, "and has." Whatever he's thinking about, it's ugly; that's clear by the pain that flits through in his eyes. He lets his breath out slowly, sets his empty bottle down. "Thank you, for the beer. And for listening." He clears his throat. "If, you do want to talk, or, anything, you know where to find me. I might be a little busy, with school starting, but I'll make time." Carefully, he adds, "And I'm sorry, if this…" This time he can't finish what he wants to say, and just shrugs. "Anyways. Thank you."


"She ain't alone in that," Elmo says, still quiet. "I went away for it, you know?" Offering Halgrim a truth for a truth. Fair trade, the X-ternals way. "JP, too. He's done hard time 'cuz he don't go no off switch." Maybe it won't help. But maybe it will, to show Halgrim that there are other people in the world who have bloodied their claws. "Listen, you did the right thing, tellin' me. I appreciate it. Thanks, pal."


The admission does seem to help; some of the grief that's been making it hard for Halgrim to talk eases. He tucks the amulet back into his shirt. "You're welcome," he says. Of course, even though it was the right thing, and vastly preferable to Elmo finding out the hard way, it was also quite painful, and he needs time to sit and think himself. He gets to his feet, seems at a loss of what to say for several seconds. Finally, he settles on, "Take care."


Elmo stands, too, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Yeah," he says, uncomfortably. Social grace in unexpected conversations is not one of his strengths. "You too, buddy." He watches Halgrim walk off. Stands there for several minutes, thinking. Then he gestures and the bay door rolls closed. A moment after that, the lights in the garage turn off.


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