Disclaimers: Render unto Joss what is Joss'.
Spoilers: A New Man, sort of.
First line courtesy of the lovely Branwyn.
Pain like that only leaves the body at tremendous cost.
Ethan has known this since he was a boy, and Chaos was the lurking presence over his shoulder he was too proud (knowing, *knowing*) to call an imaginary friend.
Still, the weakness is a shock. His legs, when he can feel them, are as wobbly as a fawn's. His fingertips are numb with a cold that has nothing to do with the environment. His head...
It doesn't ache so much as *promise*, like the descriptions he's read of incipient migraines, all ghosts and dread.
But it had to be done.
He is no longer bleeding, his bruises will heal, and... he is free.
He smiles to himself, trusting more than feeling the muscles in his face shifting to accommodate the expression he hasn't used in what feels like ages.
He steps over the white-coated body directly in front of his cell, pauses before the camouflaged one still twitching in the abominably white hall.
The soldier is as young as any of them, and has a face memorable only for the twisted ness of his expression. Pain and confusion.
"Felt my aftershock, did you?"
The soldier groans something unintelligible and makes a weak, abortive motion toward his gun.
"Oh, I don't *think* so." Ethan kicks it away and settles on his haunches. "Not when things are finally looking up."
"Will... catch you. Kill you."
Ethan forces his arm to move, and swipes a disappointingly shaky hand through the sweat on the boy's face. Brings it to his lips, less tasting than *absorbing*. A bit of lesser chaos, and it makes his body *sing* with hunger. "*I* don't hear any alarms."
"Won't... get out... alive..."
And the hell of it is, the boy is almost certainly correct. Pain comes at a cost, yes, to the giver as much as the receiver, and while he is *out* of that little white box, it will take any number of boons from Chaos to go much further.
Well. Fortune favors the bold, and all that.
He presses his palm to the boy's face and forces overworked muscles, numinous and not, to fire back to life. "Dream," he says, and stumbles backwards when the boy starts to convulse.
He can smell fresh urine and sweat. Part of him regrets the sacrifice, but he couldn't really expect Chaos to offer him anything if he didn't make an offering of his own.
Ethan stumbles to his feet and walks down the hall.
And quietly, desperately hopes.