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Dayshift 43: Waiting Room / Lobby 2 [4th Shift]
Denial, Not Sulking
contentincloset wrote in damned
"Now you just have a seat and wait for your visitor like everyone else."

As the nurse went away from him, Kurogane huffed out some agitation but refused to have a seat. Hearing that he had a visitor had been one of the last things he'd expected. It was always the magician who got one, not him. And who the hell would want to visit him anyway?

During his first protests, the nurse had been telling him to behave since it wasn't nice to be sour to girls, so he knew it had to be a girl that was visiting. There were a few of those Kurogane knew could show up as a "visitor" for him, all of which were annoying. Some were worse than others too. He could probably handle if Sohma showed up, and maybe Amaterasu, but when it came to Tomoyo-hime... she was already hard to handle normally, no matter what world she came from. The Piffle version had been pretty much the same, just raised differently. If he saw her, even a fake her, she would probably be just the same and he'd have to at put up with it no matter what.

Eventually he chose to take a seat, knowing that he would not be leaving any time soon. Of course, he picked the one that was furthest into the corner to avoid unwanted conversations. He would already have to deal with a visitor; he shouldn't have to deal with anything more.

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The nurse had caught the Scarecrow off-guard when she found him still in the Sun Room and announced he'd be having a visitor after all. Excitement and trepidation hit him simultaneously; he had a visitor. He warned himself not to get worked up- after all, that woman had warned him that visitors looked and sounded very much like friends, but they believed what the Institute told them. None of his friends would be so gullible, would they?

The nurse interrupted his thoughts to lead him to the Waiting Room so as not to keep his visitor waiting. She found him an empty table and left him in one of the seats, reminding him to be courteous. He fiddled with his hands, the worry on his mind apparent. They wouldn't send one of his friends here, not even to visit him. Surely they'd send someone who'd rile him- wasn't that what had happened to that woman he'd spoken to? What if it was the Witch? Oh, he hoped it wasn't the Witch. He hoped it wasn't one of his friends even more.

Dorothy felt shy and small, returning to the Institute, but it was important to show Hunk that recovery was possible. She wanted so much for her friend to be able to come back to the farm. Not only did she miss him, but there was always a lot of work to do: Uncle Henry, Aunt Em, and their other employees needed his help.

She stepped meekly into the Waiting Room, looking around, before spotting Hunk sitting at a table, fiddling with his hands. Smoothing the skirt of her blue and white gingham sundress, she approached the table. Her smile was tentative but genuine, and she waited for him to notice her.

With his eyes still on his hands, the Scarecrow could see the edge of the blue-and-white gingham step into view. He turned his face to meet hers, his mouth agape- he'd really tried to ready himself for anyone they would possibly send to visit him, but of all his friends and acquaintances, it was her. Surely this wasn't some figment or cruel creation of the Institute. Surely!

Still genuinely surprised and realizing he'd forgotten his manners entirely, he stood quickly, banging his knee on the table as he did so. He clumsily caught the wobbly furniture, wincing at both the injury and slight embarrassment, before turning to her again.

The former king stood awkwardly for a moment as he couldn't think of anything good to say- nothing smart or witty or even minutely intelligent came to mind. He decided to go with his gut instinct instead, wrapping the girl in a tight embrace. The real Dorothy or not, she certainly was better than nothing at all.

She looked surprised and concerned when he banged his knee on the table, but then, after a moment of hesitation, he hugged her. Her arms went around her old friend -- really more like an uncle to her than anything -- as she returned the hug.

"Hey, Hunk! How're you doing? I know they're treating you good here, but how do you like it?" Her voice was still girlish, although she had had a growth spurt since her own stay at Landel's.

Then, she was smiling at him and finding her own seat at the table.

He paused as she found her seat, his mind still clinging to her words. She'd called him that other name, the name the Institute had given him. That was discomforting- why would she use that name?

But she seemed so like the Dorothy he knew! Maybe it was a trick, something to fool the nurses? She was a clever girl- she wouldn't believe what the Institute told her, surely!

The Scarecrow found his own seat, being careful not to knock the table over or trip on his feet or the like. He wasn't sure what to think at this point, aside from the notion that maybe he was over-thinking in general. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, and what good was thinking without his brains? He gave her a smile, his fingers twiddling again.

"It's... er, different is a good way to describe it, I suppose," he answered honestly. "The nurses are lovely, though nighttime is less than pleasant. How's your aunt and uncle? They doing okay?"

"They're all working real hard. The farm still isn't doing all that well, and...." She trailed off without finishing the sentence: ... and they don't have enough hands. There was no point in making Hunk feel bad about being sick. The important thing was for him to get better. "They're just fine. When I get back, they'll all want to know how you were. Toto misses you, too."

Something he'd said caught at her attention, and she returned to it. "What do you mean about nighttime? I remember it was boring, but you're right, the nurses are real nice. I made some friends here. The food was good, too -- do you like the food? I guess it's not as good as the food at home, but I liked it." She found that she was talking nervously, so she made a point of pausing, and smiling again.

Though sad to hear her home wasn't as well as she'd hoped (and after they'd worked so hard to get her back to Kansas!), the Scarecrow brightened when the topic came around to something he did like. "Oh, food is fantastic! I had no idea how great it would be, you know, since I really didn't need... " He trailed off with frown, noting something strange about her demeanor. She seemed happy to see him, but she somehow seemed so sad all at the same time, and he really couldn't put his finger on why.

"I'm glad you and the others aren't here, frankly," he said with a weak smile. "This place gets dark and there's all sorts of weird somethings out there at night. I don't know why. I just know that's sort of how it is. I'd spend all my time worrying about your well-being if you were in this place."

He made a vague hand gesture as he talked about the Institute and tried to find the nicest way to word the situation. He didn't want to give the girl any more woes. "Instead, I've made some new friends and spend my nights worrying about their well-being."

She gave him an earnest look. "Everybody needs to eat, Hunk. Maybe when you know you need to, that's how you'll know you're better."

She listened to him describing the place at night, insisting on its strangeness, and it made her look serious, almost as if she was concentrating hard. "But I was here. Don't you remember... when I got sick after the tornado? Doctor Landel even waived the fees to help out Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. He was so nice to me."

After a moment of hesitation, she continued, "I'm real glad you've made friends, but when I was here, it wasn't like that at all. There was nothing weird at night."

It seemed his recovery wasn't going as well as she'd hoped.

"Y- you were here?" he asked, honestly surprised. "Surely they wouldn't send you to a place like this? It's dangerous here! No place for a young lady like yourself."

He put more thought into that statement. "Well, it's not now, anyway. Maybe it wasn't like this when you were here. But why were you sick? Did the trip home make you ill somehow?"

-- Not nearly as well. Dorothy began to look a little bit uncomfortable.

"You can't remember it at all? I came here because of -- "

She hesitated, again, this time because she didn't like to think of how delusional she had been -- how she had imagined her friends as a scarecrow and -- well, sort of a robot, really -- and a lion that could talk, how she had thought that the glitter-encrusted red party shoes Aunt Em had bought for her at Wal-Mart for her birthday could do magic. How she'd tried to change her own life into a fantasy, like Alice in Wonderland, to make her feel more special. Kansas could never be a wonderland.

"Because I couldn't remember where I should be after I got hurt in the tornado. I was real mean to Miss Gulch, too."

"You couldn't remember?" he asked, now both confused and a little worried. Surely this was Dorothy! She was acting a little strange, but she seemed so much like her in every way. Well, almost every way. It was bizarre that she was treating him like he was the one with no brains when she couldn't seem to get her facts straight.

"Have you not got a brain in your head, Dorothy?" he asked. "You knew where you needed to go after that twister- you needed to go home to Kansas. Heck, that's why we went through all that trouble to get you home!"

She stared at him, a surprised, sad look. Her fingers tapped on the tabletop, showing her nervousness.

"I never left Kansas after the twister except to come here when the Doc thought he could help me. You know that. I was just talkin' a load of nonsense because I was sick."

"Sick?" he asked again as he leaned across the table, now visibly agitated.

He leaned back, wishing he could think more rationally, but to see one of his dearest friends acting like his homeland was some sort of make-believe due to an illness was beyond heartbreaking. "Why, this is the biggest load of nonsense I've ever heard. You're acting like we don't exist or something! Like the Oz and the Wizard and all of us never happened!"

Dorothy's gaze dropped to the table, and her hair swung into her face.

"But it did never happen. I mean, you and Zeke and Hickory exist, but all that stuff I made up with the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City -- of course I know now that it wasn't real." She sounded stubborn about it, as if she didn't want to be convinced that it was real -- she'd spent so long trying to convince herself that it wasn't that she didn't want to be confused again.

Maybe letting Doctor Landel fly her out here to visit Hunk hadn't been the best idea.

The Scarecrow frowned, not sure what to say. What could he say? She'd been forced to come here and was thoroughly convinced that her adventures had just been some figment of her imagination. Not only that, but they were apparently figments of his own creation as well? This just wasn't adding up.

"But how could it not be real, Dorothy?" he asked after a minute, trying to look her in the eyes. It wasn't going so well with the hair in her face, so he leaned across the table and brushed the stray strands back himself. "I mean, it'd be one thing if you were the only one to have imagined it, but I know I didn't imagine my entire existence. If that were the case, I would've surely put myself somewhere better than on a pole in the middle of a cornfield where I could be laughed at by crows."

When he brushed her hair back from her face, she looked up again; it looked like she was going to cry.

"I'm real sorry you believed my story, Hunk... maybe it made you sick, too... but your life is in Kansas on the farm with all of the rest of us. It always has been."

Her voice got quieter, as she tried to calm herself. "If you keep listenin' to Doc Landel, maybe you'll remember soon. Then you can come home."

Seeing her in this sort of a state was much, much more heart-wrenching than anything he'd experienced before. Not only was she talking about Oz in such a way, but now he'd gone and made her cry. His eyes glued themselves to his fiddling hands, unable and ashamed to look at her like this.

"Please don't cry, Dorothy," he pleaded quietly, still not looking at her. "I don't think I'm sick. I don't feel sick, though I'm not really sure what being sick is supposed to feel like, to be honest. I didn't even know what being hungry felt like until a few days ago."

He stole a glance at her, only to return his eyes to the table. "I don't know of any life in Kansas. It's not like you, who came to Oz knowing where you came from. There's just Oz for me. What is it exactly I'm supposed to be remembering?"

She gulped, trying to hold back the tears. It was even worse now that he wouldn't look at her.

"Nothing about Oz is real, Hunk. You're not a scarecrow; you've been workin' for Uncle Henry and Aunt Em since before I came to live there. You came here after you had a stroke -- you really don't remember any of it?

"Oz was just what I dreamed up when I was sick myself. I don't know why you remember the things I said when you don't remember the real things that happened to you."

There was a time when she would have been overjoyed that someone believed her; now, it was just discouraging.

This entire conversation was hard to swallow. Part of him desperately wanted to believe her, knowing she wouldn't lie to him- not intentionally, anyway. There was a chance this wasn't the real Dorothy, but she certainly seemed like her, enough that the Scarecrow himself couldn't tell the difference. It was more likely she'd been tricked somehow, or maybe enchanted to believe Oz wasn't real.

Another part of him didn't want to throw himself into any more doubt, though. He'd had quite a bit of that since he'd arrived at the Institute. He'd thought himself someone who was a clear-thinker, but he'd not been thinking well since he'd lost his diploma. He knew he should want to go home to the Emerald City, since he had duties and responsibilities, but he was admittedly enjoying the change of being human.

The thought that he might have been human all along was a little disturbing.

"I don't know anything about your aunt and uncle, aside from what you'd told us in Oz. Certainly don't remember stuff on my own. And I'm not even sure what a 'stroke' is, to be honest. But what you're saying is that you told me and the rest of your family about your... er, dream, and we believed it?"

She knit her hands together on the table and stared at them for a moment before gulping again.

"Yeah, I guess so. Nobody believed me at first... I never thought anyone believed me at all... but I guess now since your stroke it's all you can remember.

"When you got sick, they told me that a stroke is when things go wrong because your brain isn't getting enough blood. Maybe you won't walk right, or maybe you'll talk funny."

Her voice dropped to a level barely above a whisper.

"They told us you were real lucky to be alive and you'd need a lot of physical therapy. But Uncle Henry and Aunt Em want to hold your job until you can come back. They won't even hire a day laborer."

"Well, that... that would explain some things, wouldn't it?" he said nervously, his brain wandering back to the what-if-what-she's-saying-is-true tangent. "I do have a lot of trouble keeping on my feet, but I'm not used to being so stiff an all. I'm surprised Tin Man can move stand it at all."

He finally managed to bring his eyes to meet hers. "I really don't want your relations to go through any trouble on my behalf. Didn't you say things weren't going so well? I mean, if what you're saying is true and all, I may be in here for a long time. None of what you're saying is even vaguely familiar." Well, except for that part about something being wrong with his brain and him not walking right. Those parts were definitely close to home.

"It's brain damage, Hunk, but it should be real minor. If you can remember your life, they told us you'll be most of the way to recovery. Then it's just the physical therapy."

When he met her eyes, she gave him a stricken, earnest look, eyes shining with unshed tears. "It's no trouble. We all just want you to get better. I bet if you believe in yourself and listen to the people here, it won't take much time at all."

Brain damage sure didn't sound minor, judging by how easily he'd managed to get hurt already, but he decided not to voice his opinion there. She was already extremely worried about him- she really didn't need to hear about any of his injuries. His hand made its way to his shoulder- that wound was still quite sore.

He regretted meeting her eyes- that sad look made him want to stop defending himself. Maybe that woman who'd tried to warn him about the visitors had been right: the Institute sent someone who could and would affect him, whether she was trying or not. He was starting to wish they had sent the Witch after all.

"I guess I could give listening to the nurses another try," he said with a small smile. "Please, just don't look at me like that, okay?"

"All right. Like what?"

She was happy to see the smile, but then she frowned, biting at her lip. She missed Hunk, and even missed the Institute, but the visit itself was making her want to go home. Apart from all the familiar things around her, she wanted to hug Toto.

She'd noticed the hand going to the top of his arm. "Is somethin' wrong with your shoulder?"

The Scarecrow returned his hand to the table immediately, hitting the surface with a dull thunk. "Nothing's wrong- just... uh, just... " He paused as he honestly couldn't think of what he was trying to say, or what to say that wouldn't alarm her. He broke eye contact- that made fibbing a little easier. "Sleeping. I slept on it wrong."

He stiffened as he returned his eyes to her, seeing her still frowning. "And it's that look. You look so danged sad. Don't be! You said I was going to get better, right? Go home and see your aunt and uncle and Toto and whatever the other two's names were, right?"

He snatched her idle hand from the table. "Well, if you say I'm going to get better, I'll trust you."

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