Tangible Schizophrenia


Ghost Line IV: Evil Plans Have to Be Complicated

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Dean/Tifa, some Sam/Zack.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: These aren’t my characters.
Notes: Advent Children/Supernatural crossover. AU. Insert your generic Japanese cyberpunk dystopia as a background. Free-standing series.
Summary: Plans for fighting evil also never make it from drawing-board to practice without changes.


It actually was incredibly easy to get Tifa out of the way so Dean could consult his father’s notes. When they showed up at the café, the manager came out to meet them and she and he promptly got into a heated discussion over marginal costs on cleaning services, whatever those were. Dean just…failed to interrupt and mention that they should be moving along.

He ambled around to the back and popped the trunk, then double-checked around himself. Nobody was watching, so he bent over so his head and most of his upper body was inside the trunk. It took a little longer than Dean had been expecting to clear away enough stuff to see the bottom of the trunk, but that was fine. The racket he made was great cover for what he did next: pop up a panel in the bottom and reveal that his trunk also held a database that technically, private citizens shouldn’t be able to own.

It contained all of Dad’s, Dean’s and Sam’s research, plus notes on their experiences and on the experiences of a few of their friends, who happened to be in similar lines of business. Worst ever came to worst, the knowledge inside the glowing panel of chips that Dean was looking at probably could tell him how to end the world. Not that he’d ever want to do that; he’d never get another chance at a girl if that happened.

Speaking of, Tifa almost managed to sneak up on him, and Dean barely got a length of cloth over the database before she leaned over the trunk. He spun around in time to watch her give the trunk’s other contents a long, thoughtful stare. “Checking out the arsenal?” he said.

“For personal reference, not for action.” Ouch. She still was in a burning mood, apparently. “Do you need all of those? I just told him to close up early. If we’ve got to write off the café too, I think it’d be polite to give him warning.”

“Well, if everything goes according to plan, the café should come out just fine.” Man, was she stuck on certain ideas. Dean was beginning to think Tifa was with restaurants the way other women were with their creepy little custom-designed pets. “I’m just sorting a couple things out there. Go on inside.”

Maybe he’d said that a little too fast, considering all the small talk he’d tried to make on the way over. She shot him a look, then rested her hip against the car. “Can I help with anything?”

“Thanks, but that’s okay. I like to take care of my weapons myself,” Dean said, sticking his head back in the car. He pushed around a couple of stakes and poked at a portable mag-field generator to make it look good. “You know what’d be really helpful? Can you go ask the guy if we can modify his firewalls? I’m going to need to put in custom wards for a little bit. Thanks.”

“Typical.” Now that was just harsh. Tifa seemed to be a practical woman, and she probably didn’t like other people messing around with—actually, scratch that. She clearly didn’t like other people messing around in the businesses she managed, and here she was making a big idea over Dean and a couple guns?

He would’ve given her a piece of his mind, but when he glanced over his shoulder, he found that Tifa had already gotten as far as the café door. Dean sucked in his breath, reminded himself that there was a monster on the loose and he was allowed to be as pissy as he wanted to it, and cleared everything back so he could jack into the database.

During one of his insomnia spells, Sam had taken what had used to be a stream-of-consciousness collection of files and drastically reorganized them to within a micron of their bits. Consequently, it took Dean five minutes longer to find the relevant notes than it would’ve if Sam had just…stuck in a nice VR vid or something harmless like that.

He flicked through them, occasionally cut-and-pasting a section he thought might be helpful to the clipboard on the left side of his vision. Overall, it was nearly as bad as he’d remembered: no happy endings in past confrontations. On the other hand, the most recent of those had apparently happened nearly sixty years ago, and technology and software had advanced a lot since then. Plus Sam probably knew a lot more about melding magic and macro-routines than any of the people that’d tackled daimon worms before had.

Dean gave Sam a poke, but just got an irritable brush-off. Which annoyed Dean, but that was Sam for you: give him a new system and enough time, and he was gone. At least that meant Zack wasn’t bothering him that much.

“Then again, those two seem to get along way too well,” Dean muttered. He unplugged himself and gave the database its usual pat. When Dad had still been with them, this would have been where he’d give Dean and Sam squeezes on the shoulders and tell them they were going to figure out how to put this bastard away…but he was elsewhere, so the pat had to do.

By the time Dean got in, the café was almost empty—and it was halfway through peak business hours. Pretty impressive on Tifa’s part.

“I thought you’d need time and space to set up.” She’d been jacked into the servers and probably double-checking expenses to judge from the pissy expression on the manager’s face, but when Dean came in, she got off. Tifa couldn’t help betraying a little curiosity at the various bulky packages Dean had in his arms.

He looked around, but instead of tables there were those annoying floating counters. He really hated that trend, but it’d been around for a good five years now, so it looked as if it was in it for the long haul. With a sigh, he got one over in front of himself and dumped all his stuff onto it; the counter emitted clicking sounds and sank a couple inches beneath the strain. Cheap shit.

“Good thinking,” Dean said. He’d completely meant that as a compliment, but Tifa warily held herself back as if she wasn’t sure. He was beginning to think she was just a lost cause, but…ah, damn it. Her figure was so good, and when she wasn’t looking irritably at him, she had a melancholy shadow to her face that made him want to cup her cheek. “So, know much about fighting?”

The manager coughed loudly, but looked terribly innocent when Dean and Tifa turned his way. He flicked his fingers towards the door. “See you tomorrow, Tifa. I’ll just put everyone on a half-day, just in case.”

“Thanks, Wedge.” Tifa gave him only the most cursory of glances, which apparently wasn’t the norm for her. But hey, if a girl wanted to check out Dean’s armory, then he wasn’t about to call her on manners. “I know a few things. What are we going to do?”

“The game plan is to force the worm back into the system before it can hurt anyone. Sam says it might have a hideyhole in an old server of yours, so if we hurt it enough, it’ll retreat. Then we can trap it, destroy the server and that should take care of the worm, too.” That was sufficiently vague enough so that Shinra couldn’t just kill Sam and Dean and do it themselves, but Dean thought he’d delivered it in a tone matter-of-fact enough to keep Tifa from asking questions right away. If she did, that’d be a bad thing because Dean wasn’t quite sure how to trap a daimon worm. Dad’s database had been frustratingly lacking in details on that point.

Well, Sam should be coming up on ideas on that angle. The whole reason he’d gone with Zack hadn’t been so much to get more info on the anomalies, which was useful but not essential, but to get a feel for Shinra’s system. And to find out something on the Jenova angle, which reminded Dean.

He handed Tifa a modified EMP-gun, some batteries and a case of specialty chips. “Here, reset this for microwave range.”

“Isn’t that too low in energy?” she asked. She still took the stuff and started getting to work with quick, deft movements of her fingers. It seemed like her duties with Shinra might not be just limited to the entertainment business sector.

“If we were trying to kill it, yeah. But high-wave would fry everything else around here. The thing’s traveling partially on the microwave frequency, so hitting it a lot should at least disrupt its movements.” Emphasis on the ‘a lot’ part. While Dean had gotten a rough fix on the worm’s frequency, that still wasn’t going to improve the odds much.

Dean’s theory on why no one in the other place had managed to slow it down was that they’d concentrated on hitting it with as much power as they could. The problem with that was that because the EM waves were higher-energy, they went all the way through the worm faster and so it was less likely they’d run into a daimon wave that was perfectly out of sync with them. If that didn’t happen, no destructive interference would be created and the worm had a better chance of getting away before a second shot could be taken. Slowing it down meant the wave could bounce around in the worm longer and have a better chance of creating internal interference. Of course, slow meant lower energy and less bang for the buck per shot.

Either Tifa had figured out all of that on her own, or she just didn’t like asking about things she didn’t understand. Somehow Dean had the feeling it was the first one. Something about how she nodded and asked whether setting the café wards on “bottle” would help.

“You…you can do that? What the hell else do you do here, hold important final meetings for people you don’t like?” Dean blurted.

Tifa paused, then shook her head the way you would at a parent that couldn’t control their kid. A couple strands of her hair fell over her eyes. “I can’t turn off all the security monitors, you know.”

“Oh. Well…” Dean straightened up and slowly turned around “…just for everyone’s reference, that was a joke. Joke. Joke zone, right here.”

“Do you take anything seriously?” Tifa asked. By the tone of her voice, she’d already made up her mind about the answer to that question.

Dean finished up assembling everything that needed to be assembled, but kept on playing with the parts on some of the EM pulsers he was going to stick to the walls. His feet were starting to hurt, so he looked around for a chair, but like the tables, those were nothing more than floating planks. He really wasn’t one for the weird bobbing sensation that always accompanied sitting on one of those, so he decided to just keep standing. “My car. Work. Getting Sam a life. You ever take anything not seriously?”

She tensed up like he’d stuck her with a needle. Her eyes went narrow. Then she calmly put down the gun, which she’d just finished putting together, and walked over to the big slab of metal that passed for a bar. She gave it a slam and the seamless wall developed a drink tube, plus a panel with nice big buttons so no matter how smashed you were, you could still dial up for more.

“It’s not very safe to do that. I have roots here; I can’t just pick up and leave if something goes wrong,” Tifa said. She tapped her hand on the wall again, a little more gently, and it gave her a cup. Then she got herself some coffee.

“You know, if I had a wulong for every time somebody said that to me or Sam…” Well, she wasn’t watching anymore, so Dean didn’t feel the need to pretend this part was more work than it was. He looked around a second time, finally gave in and got himself one of those damned floating seats. “Why does everyone assume living on the road’s so much easier? If you’d seen half the things I’ve had to see, living like that—”

Surprise, surprise. Tifa got Dean a cup of coffee, and even walked it over to him. She sat on her chair with a lot more poise than Dean did on his. “But it’s not like anyone is making you do that, is there? You could stop.”

“Yeah, if I was willing to shell out for a complete memory rewrite. With what I know, I couldn’t sleep at night pretending that things aren’t out there, killing people, and that I can’t do anything about it when I actually can.” Not that Dean expected that to make any headway with Tifa. She seemed like a reasonably good person, but one that had her feet firmly on the ground and self-preservation at the top of her priority list. “Don’t you want this worm gone? Well, if Sam and I didn’t do what we do, then who’d you call?”

She didn’t answer right away, preferring instead to blow on her coffee. She made it look natural instead of like a blatant stalling tactic, but Dean still had to call it one. “You’re sure you know what you’re doing? I—”

Dean sighed. “Look, I’m not going to promise this place won’t get a little banged-up, but we’ll do the best we can, and obviously we can’t damage it nearly as much as the worm can. Okay?”

“I’m not worried about the café,” Tifa snapped. Her coffee got a great work-out as a device for covering up the awkward silence that followed. Awkwardness all being on her end, of course, since Dean was just plain fascinated by what she looked like when someone managed to get under her skin. The little patches of red in her cheeks were cute. “I…damn, I need to check something in the back and I forgot. Can you come help?”

That had been a hell of a one-eighty, even with how Dean liked to drive. He blinked for a couple seconds before he noticed how she was pointedly jerking her head towards the door and realized that was just an excuse. Ooooh.

Probably not that, but a guy could still dream.

* * *

The back actually was interesting as hell. They had some whacked-out mods on their garbage disposal systems, which made Dean think that maybe his comment about this place doubling as an assassination spot wasn’t so far-fetched after all. Just in case, he shut down all his network connections.

“They figure people wouldn’t stay back here long enough to say anything important because of the smell,” Tifa muttered, pinching her nose. She’d shoved in her air filters, but apparently they weren’t strong enough.

Neither were Dean’s implants, because he had them turned up as high as they could go without actually asphyxiating him and he still could smell the stench. Gross. “Totally understandable. We’re going to make this quick, right?”

“Don’t get the wrong idea. I just wanted you to come back here because I need to explain some things.” Tifa wrapped up whatever she was doing with the switch panel in front of her and turned around to eye Dean. She was holding one hell of a wrench, so Dean obligingly put up his hands where she could see them. For some reason, this amused her, but only for a second. “Look, Shinra is…less than stable right now. We have internal problems, very high up, and this daimon worm is only making things worse.”

“So what, you’re worried that you’re going to lose employment?” Dean said. He kept an eye on the wrench, but otherwise didn’t worry too much. The one good thing about here was that whoever’d been designing the place had had some brains and had put in plenty of move-around space in the utility area.

She pressed her lips together, then decided to keep trying explanations instead of just hitting Dean. But she did put down the wrench. “It’s not just money—it’s safety, too. I’ve been here awhile and the other Houses are even worse. If they knew what was going on, they’d leap at the chance and it’d be like the Mako street-war all over again.”

“You were around for that?” Tifa looked about Sam’s age, and that whole deal had gone down about a year before he’d been born. Dean had only been three, but he and his family had been living in the country anyway, so the only memory he’d had of it was his father pointing at a burning car on the wall-screen and telling Dean that the city was a dangerous place.

“I lost my parents in it,” Tifa flatly replied. They stood around for about a minute while she stared over Dean’s shoulder and Dean felt a little like an asshole. Then she lifted and dropped a shoulder. “That Jenova thing…I don’t hear anything but rumors, and even they don’t say much, but what they do say is that it was even worse. I don’t want to see if that’s true or not.”

Nodding, Dean gazed idly around the area. “Understandable. We are going to beat this thing. The worm, I mean—I can’t say anything about your…internal problems.”

His eyes landed on a small, innocuous-looking panel in the corner. Unlike all the others, it had a clear cover instead of an opaque gray one so Dean could get a glimpse of some of the circuitry behind it. Most circuit boards were green on gold out of respect to the old photolithographic way of making them, but this one was green-on-green: the circuits were etched in a material that was the same odd glowing shade that Zack’s eyes had turned.

Tifa was saying something about…something, but she stopped when Dean waved his hand. He pointed up at the panel. “Weird-looking. Are you allowed to tell me what that does?”

“That…” She turned slowly around and tilted up her head, frowning a little. After a moment, she walked over and poked at the wall so a set of foot-ledges was extruded from it. She was up by the panel in a couple seconds, poking around the edges. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before…”

Something pinged in Dean’s head; he checked his inbox and found an info-packed message from Sam. He started skimming it, then sighed and filed it away for in a few minutes. His curiosity was piqued and he wanted to know what was up with that panel.

“No, I have seen it before. It controls part of the firewalls. But someone’s changed the cover, and the transistors are different…I’ve never seen one like this,” Tifa called down.

Dean put his palm flat against the wall and pushed it around, hoping for another set of ledges, but nothing came out. He glanced up, around, and then resigned himself to getting slapped.

The ledges were decently wide so he could get up by the panel without endangering Tifa, but if they both wanted to stand where they could see, they were going to have to squeeze. “Uh, listen…”

“Look at this.” Tifa distractedly grabbed Dean’s wrist and pulled him up so that decision was made for him. She paid more attention when he bumped up against her hip, but apparently decided she could live with that. “Was that an element-analyzer you had earlier? Can you take a sample of the cover?”

He could, and he did. The analyzer spit back an eyebrow-raising result a moment later. “Well, it originally was the same as the other panels, but someone’s gone and transmuted it.”

“You mean altered the crystal structure into that of a different allotrope?” Tifa dryly said.

“Whatever. I like how I put it better—more poetic.” Dean gave Tifa’s disbelieving look right back at her. “What? I can’t be a sensitive guy?”

She sucked in her lip between her teeth and glanced down, then back up. Her cheeks were still faintly red. “I think we should finish this talk in the other room.”

“You sure? You seemed all right with it a second ago—all right, all right. No need to hit me or anything,” Dean said, slowly backing off. Too bad; she’d finally been relaxing. But they did have the worm to consider, and this new information was stirring Dean’s neurons in interesting ways.

* * *

Dean winged a message back to Sam before he sat down and tried out his new theory on Tifa. “That worm definitely isn’t working on its own. The way that circuitboard was changed, the name, the pattern of anomalies…someone or something is controlling it.”

“You could’ve known that without the panel. What else did you just figure out?” Tifa actually grinned a little at whatever Dean’s expression was. “I work in bars. I can tell when someone thinks they’ve just gotten a bright idea.”

“Guess you’re also pretty good at squashing them,” Dean said with a little bit of ruefulness. He quirked up the corners of his mouth and was pleased to see Tifa’s lips almost do the same. She couldn’t get all stiff and cold-shoulder again quite fast enough. “So the difference between daimon worms and regular ones is that the daimon worm’s got extra power, right? Take that away and you’ve got your everyday piece of malicious code, and I bet your house systems would have no trouble taking care of that.”

Now Tifa got it, but she didn’t exactly share Dean’s excitement about the realization. “But you don’t know—if it’s who I think you’re thinking of, then that’s no help.”

“No, it is. See, you don’t need to know who’s controlling it to disconnect it from them. It’s like…it’s like exorcism. You can work it from the end you’ve got, and you don’t necessarily have to go to the source.” Dean reconsidered his own words. “Actually, it is an exorcism. We still have to get it pinned into one spot, but we’ve been going around the destruction part the wrong way. Everyone’s always treated it like the technological and the supernatural weren’t separable.”

“Except it was made of two parts, so you should be able to divide it again. Then you can exorcise the demonical part and the system takes care of the software part.” This time, Tifa’s smile was wide enough to show white teeth. Her eyes glowed. “I think it’ll work.”

“No thinking—it will work,” Dean said. “And if all goes well, you’ll be back at your bar by tomorrow morning.”

She hesitated, then ducked her head. Despite that, a little embarrassment was still evident. “I…was a little unfair about that. It’s just that that’s my work. It’s most of what I have.”

“A girl like you? You can’t be that lonely.” Except she was, Dean realized once she’d glanced back up at him. He suddenly wished he could take his words back, since nobody liked having that pointed out to them.

He started to, but Tifa had a way of looking at people that made them feel exactly how pointless that was; the words still had come out and been heard, so it wasn’t ever really possible to take them back. Dean shut his mouth.

Tifa glanced to the side, then back at him. One side of her mouth uneasily drew upward, as if to say it was not okay, but it was truthful and she was too smart to argue with that. She leaned forward a little bit, like she wanted to stare at her feet. Dean couldn’t really see his feet, but he found himself leaning forward, too. He was an optimist, but this really was more out of habit than any real expectation.

So color him completely surprised when Tifa abruptly pulled up so she really was about to—


“Sam!” Dean jerked back, then leaped for the door. He vaguely heard Tifa following while asking what was going on; he waved her off and went out just as Zack came in, a limp Sam thrown over his shoulder. “Sam!”

* * *

“You let it get in him? What’s wrong with you? What kind of jumped-up street monkey are you, anyway?” The rundown on Sam’s vitals finally finished scrolling down the left side of Dean’s vision. Everything important was okay, but slowed down as if Sam was taking a good long sleep.

But he definitely wasn’t. When Dean pried up an eyelid, he saw that Sam’s eyes were glowing green; the pupils also moved in minute jerks, as if he were in a VR sim. And he was completely walled off so no matter what Dean tried, he couldn’t get into Sam to check out the state of his brother’s implants.

“I did not let it get into him. It must have sneaked into the car computer, and when he plugged in, it jumped into him. I think we should move him to near a bigger server,” Zack said. He sounded like he was gritting his teeth. He tried to lean over Dean, but Dean irritably slapped at him and he backed off. “Look, I’m as worried as you are.”

“Yeah, really? Sorry, but I can’t for the life of me see why—I mean, the worm’s out of your system and in my brother, so why would you need to be concerned about us any more?” Dean snapped.

Someone else gently pushed at Dean’s elbow, but when he tried to smack them away, they grabbed his wrist in an iron hold and bent it away. Then they let go so he could rock back on his heels and rub at his numb hand. Tifa bent over Sam, then sat back. “He looks fine. It’s not chewing him up.”

“That’s not making me feel any better, strangely enough.” Man, that girl had some power in her arm muscles. Lucky for her, otherwise Dean would’ve been really tempted to sock her one, girl or no girl.

“If you want to help your brother, you should concentrate on that instead of yelling at us,” Tifa retorted. She waved her hand over Sam, then frowned. “Why isn’t it chewing him up like the others? It’s almost like it’s…saving him for something.”

Zack shuffled restlessly about. “Like I said, we need to move. This place doesn’t have anything we could use to get that thing out of him.”

Tifa started to say something, stopped, then swung around to stare at Dean. “Can you exorcise him? If we hook him up to a security server, it should be able to get the rest of the worm out of him afterwards.”

Best-laid plans…but she had made a couple good points. Dean stuck his arms under Sam and tilted his brother so Sam would roll towards him. Sam was really pale…and Dean did have to focus on something else. “I’d better be able to, because that damn thing is coming out of him, stat. Fine, let’s go to wherever.”


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