Tangible Schizophrenia


Ghost Line V: Goodbye Is Never Easy

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: Dean has to exorcise his own brother. He’s a little nervous.


The first thing Sam thought once he’d gotten his bearings was that that hadn’t really hurt as much as he’d thought it would. The second thought he had, after using his bearings to actually figure out what had happened, was that technically human minds weren’t supposed to be able to do that. At least, that was what all the implant-psychs claimed. Machine and brain were separate entities, and no matter how smooth it was, an interface between the two was always necessary.

Of course, if that were strictly true, he wouldn’t have been able to box himself off in one section of the implant hard drive inside his skull. And he wouldn’t have lost control over his body as he’d done that. He still had a pretty good idea of what was going on outside, but that was because his section of the drive included the software for running the ocular and aural implants, not because he could actually sense what was going on. Which was kind of creepy.

“…else do you have in there?” Tifa, maybe.

“Save the curiosity for later, all right? How’s Sam doing?” That would be Dean, sounding so tense he must be a hair away from snapping his teeth under the pressure. Assorted bangs and clanks told Sam his brother was digging deep into the trunk, which was another sign of Dean’s mood. If Dean was protective of the car, he was downright paranoid when it came to hiding Dad’s database.

“He’s stable,” Zack said. “Wait—fuck! Sorry, that was…the other thing. But Sam’s vitals are fine.”

Dean banged stuff harder. “Fucking great. Sammy, I’m so going to kill you once we get that thing out of you. Like I haven’t told you a million times that you plug into everything, and sooner or later your mind’s going to get sucked out.”

Oh, like Sam had done it on purpose. But good, it sounded like Dean was making progress on his end of things. It was time for Sam to do a little careful reconnaissance and get to work on his end.

Whatever it was that had snaked into his head, it wasn’t doing much now other than blocking off certain areas of Sam’s brain and implants from his control. He had the feeling he still could get in there, but he wouldn’t be able to do anything. Yet. He wasn’t about to try that till he got a better idea of what he was up against.

He skirted the edges of “its” zone, occasionally sending in little bits of code to see how it’d react. They were all pretty harmless, the equivalent of using a ping signal to make sure a server still knew you were connected, and they all seemed to go through fine. Maybe it was sleeping.

No, he knew better than that. Maybe, he grimly thought, it was watching him for the same reason he was watching it: to figure out how the other side worked so it’d be easier to take it down.

“But you said back in the bar you can exorcise it. So why are you looking it up again?” Tifa asked. “Or do you not know how to do it?”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. This is my baby brother here, okay? I don’t want to screw up.” Clinking sounds, plus some sloshing. What was Dean getting out? Wasn’t he only consulting the database? “Besides, exorcising an inanimate object and exorcising a person’s two completely different kinds of spiritual hacking.”

Dean took a breath, then muttered, “And that was before people started putting chips in their heads so they fell into both categories. With all the hardware in Sam’s skull, I’ll be winging half of it.”

He sounded nervous, and for pretty good reason, too: exorcisms were one of the most dangerous rituals that could be performed. One wrong inflection of one word and the person to be exorcised might die; one wrong pause and they might end up dying in mind, but their body would still be around for the spirit invading it to use, free of charge. Sam shivered.

Well, he did whatever passed for the equivalent of shivering when one didn’t have a body. Then he got back to work scoping out the intruder. Since it wasn’t responding, he stopped trying to make it and instead tried to find a way to figure out what it was without actually getting near it.

It took some thinking, but eventually he realized that it wasn’t just taking up memory space—any baseline program was running processes all the time, even when it was “sleeping.” Computers had their antivirus software constantly scanning their drives, people kept on breathing…and this thing was drawing power, so it was doing something. Sam poked around on his side and found the data on power allocation. He couldn’t get very detailed info with what he had, but he got enough to compare it with his vitals.

The thing wasn’t drawing very much, but it was enough to slightly increase how much blood his heart pumped. On the other hand, once he’d figured out how much power that translated to in terms of watts, it was way too low to support any virus or worm or Trojan horse he’d ever heard of. Not to mention malicious code typically tried to use up as much power as possible as quickly as possible while simultaneously attempting to spread fast and wide.

“What kind of worm are you?” Sam muttered to himself.

“Who are you?”

Sam froze. Then he slowly turned his attention back to the thing sharing his skull.

* * *

Dean straightened up and took a good look over his set-up. Zack had sneaked them into some office building and they were in a server room. It was devoid of anything except the big, humming machines standing in the middle, but it was fairly roomy so they could stretch out Sam on the floor by one of the servers. Tifa was on her knees next to Sam’s head, lighting the circle of candles around him, while Zack hastily reprogrammed the server for a worm-elimination routine. They weren’t going to jack Sam in until the supernatural bit was well and truly gone, but Dean wanted as little lag time as possible in between.

He glanced at Sam. His brother’s eyelids hadn’t closed on their own so Dean had had to push them down, but other than that, Sam looked surprisingly peaceful. He looked like he was just sleeping. It didn’t reassure Dean at all; Sam always had been a restless sleeper and he should have been tossing around. That would’ve been normal. This definitely wasn’t.

Once this job was over, they were getting the hell away from Shinra. Then some time later, they were coming back, only it was going to be on their terms and Dean was going to have some strong words with whoever had okayed this whole deal. Sure, he and Sam regularly put themselves in danger, but that was them doing it. This time, it’d been someone else and nobody did that to his brother and got away with it.

“Salt, candles…oh, Zack. Did you turn off the smoke and heat alarms?” Tifa said, sitting back on her heels. She lit the last candle before slowly easing herself between a pair of them so she was on the outside of the ring, next to Dean.

“Yeah, that’s done. I don’t know if you want to wait for me. This programming’s taking a little longer than I thought it would. Reeve or someone’s been fiddling with the security parameters again.” The other man spoke distractedly, all his attention focused on the glowing screen floating before him. His fingers never stopped moving. “I should be done in another ten minutes.

Ten minutes…Dean did a quick estimate. He paged through the printouts he’d made from Dad’s database while he did, trying to also cobble together a hybrid exorcism ritual. Technology was a great thing, but it had its drawbacks. Like, if Dean wanted to get some goddamn angry spirit out of Sam’s head, he had to make sure the stupid spell wouldn’t exorcise it from Sam’s flesh but leave it in Sam’s implants. “No, we’ll wait. I want everything ready before we start.”

Zack paused. “Is it okay to leave it in Sam for that long?”

Dean had a hard time not gritting his teeth. This guy was going to question Dean’s expertise? Way to show he cared, but it was a little late for that. “You only get one chance with this kind of thing. It’s not doing anything to him now, so let’s make sure that when I’m pissing it off, it doesn’t have time to catch up.”

For a second, it looked like Zack was going to forcibly correct Dean. But he must have realized that since Dean was in the right, he in fact had no way to do that or else he’d be wrong. He sucked in his breath, tightened his jaw, and went back to programming.

Something jabbed Dean’s arm hard and he looked up to see Tifa giving him a disapproving face. “We’re only trying to help,” she said.

“Yeah.” It was a nice, noncommittal, multifunctional word. Dean left it at that and went back to rearranging Latin phrases. He got stuck on the section that was supposed to make it so Sam’s flesh and implants were treated as one being; Latin having been an ancient language when computers had first been invented, inventing ways to talk about current technology got very complicated very quickly.

He called up his Latin dictionary/grammar and spent nearly a minute trying to figure out the right goddamn circumlocution for “mini internalized external bio-hard drive” before he realized Tifa had been talking. He’d missed what she’d said entirely, but luckily, his ear implant had been set on ‘record’ so he could play it back.

He’ll be fine.

“No, I don’t know that, but it’s easier to concentrate if you assume the best, isn’t it?” she said before he could reply. She wasn’t talking like an over-optimistic airhead, or like she was trying to convince anyone out of desperation. She was just speaking practically, trying to…well, calm Dean down.

“Assume nothing,” Dean told her. He managed a slight smile. “I’m roasting that bastard.”

“Bitch.” Zack made one final adjustment before shutting down the screen, so presumably he was done configuring the server. He stared down at Sam with a weird expression on his face, like he really was sorry about things. Then he noticed Dean and looked over. “Female. Jenova was female.”

Tifa tensed up and glanced at Zack. “Can we…”

“Well, that much is common knowledge. And it won’t help or hurt, so I don’t see why not mention it. I swear, we need to sit down some of the admin heads and get them talking, or this shit’s going to mess us up worse than—right, can’t talk about that.” With a sigh, Zack handed Dean the server jack. Then he dusted off his hands and started walking towards the door. “Speaking of, I’m going to keep watch in the hallway.”

“I thought you said you got permission,” Dean said.

The other man paused, then grinned in a half-sour way. “I thought you said this had to be here, and that you don’t want interruptions.”

Dean waited a beat, then nodded. He still wasn’t all that fond of Shinra, but he supposed he did appreciate the efforts of these two members of it. “Thanks.”

“Just let me know when you’re done,” Zack called through as he was shutting the door.

A sarcastic snicker escaped Dean. He made a couple quick last-minute changes to the ritual he’d cobbled together. “Oh, you’ll know without me telling you. Hell, I hope this works. Okay, Tifa, stand over there, and…”

* * *

“Who are you?” Sam countered.

The thing didn’t immediately answer, choosing instead to do something to the software controlling his hand implants. He dimly heard Tifa exclaiming that a finger had twitched and had to bite down on his impulse to just lunge at the damn thing. This was his body, thank you, and it could go play puppet with someone else.

Speaking of which, he remembered a bit of his earlier conversation with Zack and pulled a hunch from it. “Jenova?”

That got a reaction. If they’d had actual forms in this space, he would have said it recoiled, then humped itself up in the corner. “I am of her. Where did you hear of her? Do they still speak of her outside? They must—Shinra still lives in these nets of lines that I travel.”

“You told me about her,” Sam cautiously said. He covertly prepped the firewalls he had available on his side, just in case it was going to get violent. “When you killed those people.”

“Kill?” There was a whirring noise, and Sam got the oddest feeling that the thing was trying to understand the concept. Then he got annoyed, because it had to be running its computations on his brain-chips. “Oh. Yes. Shinra must be eliminated. Shinra was eliminated.”

The ocular implants told Sam the light levels had changed: they were flickering. So Dean had started an exorcism ritual, which meant Sam had to hurry up. “No, Shinra’s still going pretty strong. You killed a lot of people that weren’t associated with them at all.”

“Shinra must be eliminated.”

Something about the thing’s flat tone told Sam he wasn’t talking to any kind of ghost, or anything that had ever had a hint of its own consciousness. This worm was just a jumped-up piece of viral code. “Jenova…made you?”

“Jenova made me. Jenova is returning,” it said. Electrical pulses slowly began to oscillate from it into Sam’s body and then back. They ran up against some of the automatic security measures he’d had in place and accumulated till he thought the worm was going to try and fry the barriers out of the way. “You don’t have Shinra’s marks in you. But you know her name. And you know something of her; I have found the information in your memory.”

“Like I said, you told me.” Sam started to pull up the firewalls around his vitals, but left the ones around his brain down. Once he had those up, he would have absolutely no idea what was going on, and he didn’t want to risk that yet.

Of course, leaving his mind exposed was a risk too, but he wasn’t hooked up to any system so the worm couldn’t go anywhere, and so it couldn’t permanently damage him yet. If it did that, it’d destroy itself.

“There were others. She wants them, but she can no longer find them. I destroy those who pretend to be them so the search will be easier.” The pulses briefly stopped, then started up again, with the difference that this time, they moved along specific channels and not outward in a random pattern. The worm seemed to be aiming at taking over the network jacks, the stuff that let Sam surf computer systems. “I have spent too long here.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure,” Sam muttered. He figured he’d heard enough now and retreated to go about taking back his body. Going by what he could hear outside, Dean was just about at the section where things started to happen.

The worm suddenly—crazed, shattered apart as the exorcism ritual forcibly tried to remove it. It snapped back together angry and ready to strike back, only since it couldn’t get at Dean, that meant lunging at Sam. Sam’s heart abruptly stuttered as a wave of electricity shocked it, and it was all he could do to supercharge the implants he could control so all that energy would get burned off.

He didn’t know if his heart would recover, but thankfully, it seemed to. He had just a second to be relieved before the worm came after him.

It rushed him head-on, mauling hardware and flesh with its erratic, incredibly strong pulses of EMP; Sam instantly slammed up everything he had, but he still…his vision went fuzzy. Except of course in here, he didn’t really have vision and that told him something about how hard that strike had been. But stunned as he was, he knew he had to shore up things while he had the chance.

He was still trying to do that when the worm made a second try. This time, it got through so it just grazed Sam, and he could feel himself beginning to fly apart when the thing suddenly slackened. A desperate push saw it out, but he knew it was only weakened.

“…Spiritus Sancti! Spiritus Sancti!”

“Hurry up, Dean. He’s going into cardiac arrest!” Tifa snapped.

Just then, a seizure rattled Sam’s body from his feet all the way to where he was. He scrambled to brace his firewalls anyway. The effort almost put him out, but it was worth it because the worm chose right then to attack. Its strike was weaker this time, but it still did a lot of damage. Even if they did get the thing out of him, he was going to be wobbly—most optimistic outlook—for the next few weeks.

Sam snarled to himself, then abruptly made up his mind. He was sick of this. He hoped Dean was ready, because this thing was coming out and coming out now. He wanted his body back.

* * *

Dean screamed out the last word. They were deep inside a building, but nevertheless the air was shrieking around him, Sam and Tifa and he could smell the harsh tang of ozone. Every time the wind slashed over his skin, it stripped out water and left him feeling mummified.

“Is it working?” Tifa yelled over the chaos. She’d had to straddle Sam by the waist in order to hold his thrashing body down, but she was doing pretty well considering her slender build. When Sam’s heart had started to go, she hadn’t missed a beat: Tifa had rocked backward to let his spasms bring him up, then had punched him on the breastbone to get it back in the right rhythm. “He’s—”

“I know!” The crazy idea that maybe Dean could start over popped into his head, but before it could do more than sit there, the wind suddenly snatched his printouts from his hands. He couldn’t have repeated more than a third of the ritual from memory, and he definitely wouldn’t have remembered all the alterations he’d made.

So he dropped to his knees and grabbed onto Sam’s wrists. His brother wasn’t an idiot or the kind of guy that’d take getting invaded lying down, their current positions notwithstanding. He’d better beat the crap out of the worm after all the help Dean had given him.

Sam’s face stretched into a pained grimace. Then he tossed his head abruptly to the side and went slack. Dean stared at him, then looked up just as a pale, strained-looking Tifa glanced his way.

“Is he…” she started.

“Dean!” Sam croaked. He arched up, then fell back. “Oh, man, I…oh…ow…oh, my head--”

He twisted hard, trying to throw off Tifa. His mouth worked in an attempt to tell Dean something, but all that came out was a hurt whine. Sam yanked furiously at his arms and got a hand free, but instead of striking out at Dean, he clutched at his ear. His…

Dean dove for the jack, which was miraculously still plugged into the server, and jammed the free end into Sam’s temple socket. Then he scrambled to his feet and quickly keyed for the server to eliminate the worm, which might now be just another ordinary computer nuisance, but which could still put Sam in the hospital with corrupted implants if it wasn’t stopped in time. “Come on, Sam…”

His brother was still twitching, but his movements gradually diminished till he was lying still. Tifa kept him pinned for another second just in case it was a fake-out, then climbed off. She suddenly took a sharp breath and Dean realized that he hadn’t breathed in nearly a minute. He took one, too.

Sam blinked, slowly. Then he rolled over and groaned. “Next time you’re going in the system, Dean. I’m sick of always getting the crazy girls.”

Dean was so relieved he couldn’t control his reaction, which went on autopilot. He grinned like an idiot and squeezed Sam’s shoulder. “Hey, I can’t help it if you’ve got crappy magnetism.”

Then he winced and stared at Tifa, who was carefully blank-faced. “He can’t punch you, so someone had to,” she matter-of-factly said. She got up and walked unsteadily towards the door. “I’m going to get Zack.”

Sam laughed weakly. “I like her.”

“Yeah,” Dean snorted, getting his hands beneath his brother’s arms. “Come on, up.”

* * *

Zack flipped the datascreen around so both Sam and Dean could see. “Since you didn’t want a credit transfer, your pay’s been converted into the supply list you gave us. It’ll be here in a few minutes, and then you’re free to go.”

“Hallelujah,” Dean said. “No offense, but I’m not interested in cleaning your house for you.”

Sam winced, but Zack seemed to take it good-naturedly. The other man shrugged and tipped back to stare at the ceiling. “Yeah, I can get that. I’m not looking too forward to it myself.”

“But what did it mean by “others”? And she lost contact with them?” Tifa rested her chin on one hand and scratched at the table-top with the other one. She drew random swirls for a few seconds, then abruptly got up. “They’re taking forever with our drinks. Dean, can you come help me?”

“Huh?” Then Dean got the clue and trampled on Sam’s foot while hurrying to get out from behind the table. “Oh, right. Sure.”

Zack snorted to himself, but refrained from laughing too hard until after they’d left. Then he casually scooted around to sit beside Sam, stretching out his legs to rest them on what had been his seat. “So she likes him a little, after all. I’ve known Tifa for years and I only just started getting good-byes from her.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ve got plenty of others waiting to fill her spot,” Sam said. He fiddled with his fingers, not really sure how to end this. Because the conversation did have to end, and frankly, he was happy that it was, but he did think Zack was a decent person. All considering. “So—”

He was cut off by a warm mouth. A second later, Zack was standing up and giving Sam the more usual clap on the shoulder. “Have a good trip,” he said. His eyes darkened slightly. “And don’t come back till we’re clean. I’m serious. If it’s half as bad as I…see you around, Sam.”

“Yeah…” Sam watched the other man go to the doorway, where a business-like woman was standing; she probably was the person dropping off their stuff.

He glanced across the room and spotted Dean and Tifa, but they didn’t seem to be quite done yet. Ducking to hide his smile, Sam eased his way out of the booth and headed outside. He was ready to hit the road.