In a room at the far end of the main hallway of Mt. Sinai's Cybernetic Prosthesis Surgery wing, there's a large private room, playing host to a human head.
The head in question has clearly seen better days. It's battered and bruised, its eyes are red and nearly sightless, and its skin is turning black from frostbite in spots. But then, after spending so long in a vacuum, it's a wonder it's not worse off.
The doctors have managed to pull off a small miracle, just getting him conscious, again. Tubes and hoses snake in and out of the head at its neck, nose, and ears, bringing much-needed warmth, nutrients, and electricity to the human brain within it. In such fashion they could keep him alive indefinitely, thanks to the myriad modifications to his physiology.
But the will to live, itself? Anyone could tell you that must come from within.
And, as far as the hospital's dedicated staff can tell, this guy's a fighter.
* * *
Straffer cocks an ear and looks to the door as he hears SPYGOD coming down the hall. It's getting to the point that he can tell when he's on his way, if only because he can hear the doctors getting out of his path, not to mention a gunshot or two.
"Afternoon, handsome," SPYGOD says as he walks into the hospital room, a huge, overly-cutesy floral arrangement in his hands.
"More flowers?" Straffer asks, trying to smile as he looks at the table across from his bed, which is practically filled with vases.
"Ah, room needs some !@#$ing color," he says, putting it along with the others and sprucing it up a bit, maybe defensively.
"Or you're not sure what to do, for once in your life."
SPYGOD sighs, and looks over at his lover, trying to smile: "Yeah, I think you !@#$ing got me there. Never !@#$ing liked hospitals. Not since my mother..."
Silence, then. If Straffer could nod, he would, but he looks over at the chair SPYGOD's been parking his !@#$ in, these last few days, and his man gets the message.
His "man"? Is that the best word for it? Would boyfriend be better? Are they boyfriends, now that they've finally said all the right things to each other? Or are they just lovers, even if it's been way too long since they !@#$ed, given all the crazy things that have happened since then?
(Man, this love thing is !@#$ confusing.)
SPYGOD sits down, looks at what's left of Straffer, and gingerly runs his hand through the man's hair, as though he were just lying down, rather than propped up by a couple dozen tubes and cables. And Straffer closes his eyes and smiles, happy for the touch.
"So," he says, after a time: "I caught you on TV, this afternoon."
"Oh, that !@#$ about the TU and their !@#$ing bull!@#$ offer?"
"Yeah. Quite the eloquent speech. I don't think I've heard a better disabusing of international relations since the time I stumbled into a John Birch Society meeting, back in college."
SPYGOD snorts: "Well, that's what they !@#$ing get for ambushing me on my way to a perfectly decent lunch."
"Not at a French restaurant, I take it?" Straffer teases.
"Eh, close enough."
"How'd you guess?"
"Oh, god," Straffer moans: "Food, (REDACTED). Real food. I floated through space for ages, and all I had to eat at Alpha Base Seven was the !@#$ they'd been able to salvage from their hydroponics section. I kept thinking of real food, all that time. Real meat, cooked on a real stove, with potatoes..."
"What about me?" SPYGOD asks: "Don't I rate above a steak?"
"Meathead," Straffer winks: "Of course. You don't think I want to eat alone, do you?"
"I didn't think so."
"That and I kept thinking of that meal we had, that one night at Per Se. The one you owed me?"
SPYGOD smiles at that: "I remember. That was... we skipped dessert, didn't we?"
"We were dessert."
"Oh yes," SPYGOD says, closing his eyes and remembering: "First rocket ride."
"One of the best ever."
"I bet you say that to all your boyfriends."
"Well, only if they're worth it."
SPYGOD smiles: "Music to my ears. Alright, then -- let it be resolved, as soon as you're out, you and I are going insane with food."
"Oh !@#$ yes," SPYGOD says: "Here to Pluto and back, at least."
And for a time, there's happy silence.
* * *
"So what's bothering you?" Straffer asks after what might be an hour, or maybe more. It's hard to tell time in a room with no clocks.
"Eh, lots of !@#$," SPYGOD sighs, cracking his back as he sits up: "Trying to figure out what the !@#$ to do with the !@#$ Imago, other than flushing down the biggest !@#$ing toilet I can find. Worried about poor Myron, after what happened in the Lost City. Wondering if I should be worried about what the !@#$ Thomas Samuels is becoming, for that matter. And really wondering when the !@#$ Dr. Krwi is going to get back with me..."
He lets that slide away for a moment, before starting back up again.
"What's happening that you need his help?" Straffer asks: "Vampire problems?"
"Eh, I don't know," SPYGOD says, shivering a little: "There's... ah, this is going to sound silly-"
"If it's got you spooked, it's not silly. What is it?"
"There's something evil at the White House," he reveals, trying not to sound melodramatic.
"It's a feeling. I don't know... I mean, you deal with crazy aliens and !@#$ like that, but-"
"Oh, I've dealt with evil up there, before," Straffer says: "Things like what's coming? There are entities out there that might not be as powerful as the Preternaturals, but they're genuinely evil. The sort of things that, when you meet them, you just want to crawl under a rock and hide. And when they talk to you... well, you want to take that rock and beat your !@#$ brains out with it so you can't hear them, anymore."
"Oh God, love. It's like having !@#$ and honey dribbled into your ear. Some of the beings I've had to confront, up there? I'm still waking up in the night, worried that they might be coming back."
SPYGOD nods. He remembers holding him in the night, once, as a bad memory disguised as simple nightmare came and took him, leaving him shivering and incoherent until morning.
"So you've got evil down here?" Straffer asks, breaking the new bout of silence.
"Yeah. I can feel it in my bones. I'm not sure who or how, but there's something bad crawling through the hallways, over there."
"Any idea how it got there?"
SPYGOD nods: "I have an idea. Someone did something for me, not that long ago, as part of the ongoing plan. I'm thinking maybe it did more than I intended."
"Can you undo it?"
"No," he sighs: "Not without !@#$ing up that plan."
"Well, sounds like you better clean up the mess," Straffer says: "So if I were you, I'd get Krwi as soon as possible."
"Preaching to the choir, there," SPYGOD sighs: "But I'll give the old man his due. When he wants to go !@#$ing underground? He's gone. And now Wayfinder's dead, and I don't even think Doctor Power could..."
He thinks about that for a moment.
"You talked yourself into a plan, again?" Straffer smiles.
"I did indeed," he says, leaning over and kissing him: "Thank you. I knew you had uses."
"Wait until I'm up and running."
"I can't wait," SPYGOD says, getting up: "They let me look at the blueprints. I knew you wouldn't mind."
"Six billion dollars, if you can believe that?" Straffer sighs: "It was only one and a half the first time."
"Well, inflation," SPYGOD shrugs: "But you know what they say. 'Better, stronger, faster.'"
"I will kill you if you put me in red tennis shoes."
"I wouldn't dare," he says, and leans over to kiss him once more: "I love you."
"I love you, too. Be careful?"
"Don't I always?" SPYGOD chuckles, and then he's gone, again.
"Better, stronger, faster," Straffer muses, remembering. When he closes his eyes he can remember when he first opened them as a cybernetic organism, all those decades ago. He can remember the look on the doctors' faces -- all breathless with anticipation, worry, and fear.
And he can remember how relieved they were when he cracked a joke, as if that alone guaranteed that they hadn't made a monster.
No. He will be alright. They will remake him, and he will be better for it. He will walk and move, again. Go to dinner at great restaurants. See the world he'd spent all those years protecting. Spend time with the man he fought death tooth and nail to be able to see again.
And then, once that's all straightened out, he will go and get his old job back if it !@#$ing kills him.
Satisfied, he closes his eyes and wills himself to sleep, dreaming of hands, legs, and appetites denied too long.