'What were you thinking?' said Stella to a very pale Gregor. The four of them, Stella, Gregor, Hook and Vine, stood in the rotunda of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Three of them waited for Gregor's answer.
The bio-mech shook his head. 'Thought I could help. Thought I should help.'
Hook and Stella stared at him. 'Not your job, mate,' said Hook. 'You pull your weight. No worries on that score. You don't need to be running about taking on deads.'
'You don't need to be running about,' Stella added not unkindly. 'Look at the state of you. Heart attack'll get you before the deads.' She laughed gently, trying to ease Gregor from his panic.
Vine lumbered forwards. 'You should listen to your friends. Your heart rate is elevated, you are sweating and trembling, you are not listening properly, which means your ears are probably ringing, your breathing is shallow, your mouth is dry and, if it isn't already, your throat will soon be sore.'
Gregor stared at the angel, his eyes wide with terror.
Stella sighed at Vine. 'Thanks, machine man.' She turned again to Gregor. 'Just try to relax. It'll be okay.'
Vine interrupted Stella again. 'Your body is flooded with adrenaline. It would be best if you walked around.'
Stella and Hook stared at Vine. Hook shrugged. 'Makes sense,' he said, begrudgingly.
The two of them helped Gregor to his feet and walked him around the large ringed desk. Gregor's breathing echoed into the high roof but it was gradually slowing. They walked for five minutes, Stella and Hook staying with the tech, assuring him, placing comforting hands on his shoulders.
Vine watched them for a while and then turned his attention to the angel parts stacked on Gregor's work benches.
Stella watched the angel, carefully.
Gregor pushed her gently away. 'I'm okay,' he said. 'Go check on your new friend. Make sure he isn't stealing anything.'
Moving inside the circular desk, Stella approached Vine slowly as if she didn't know what to expect. As if his right arm might suddenly rise and point and shoot a hot red laser.
'You don't need to worry,' said Vine. 'I wouldn't harm you and I can't harm you.'
'I like that you said wouldn't first,' Stella replied.
Vine nodded. 'Trust is difficult. It always was but now even more so. You're taking a big risk by letting me in here.'
Stella shrugged. 'We save the ones we can.'
He looked over at Gregor and Hook. 'Not everyone agrees.'
'We save the ones we can,' Stella repeated. 'What's the point otherwise?'
Vine nodded in agreement. 'They follow you,' he said pointing at Hook and Gregor, 'because you're right and they don't want to have to make difficult decisions. You say you're not the boss...'
'You really have been listening,' said Stella, cutting him off. 'That is very creepy, you know? And where were you when we were fighting those angels? Could've done with some help there. That would've a pretty good way to earn a bit of trust.'
Vine shrugged. 'You're too fast. And I didn't think you would charge them. They were no threat to you, so you could have stayed out of sight.'
'Apparently not from you though.'
'I couldn't think of another way to assess whether or not you were safe for Tash and me.'
'When do we get to meet her?'
'I'll get her this afternoon.'
Stella nodded. 'I'll come with you. See where you've been hiding. And I need to pick up the dead angel we left yesterday. Don't suppose you've got any batteries?'
'No,' said Vine. 'I'm afraid not. You use them to power your 'thumpers'?'
Stella nodded. 'We're running low and Gregor's wasted another one today.'
The tech glanced over. 'Sorry,' he said. 'I am really sorry.'
'It's fine.' Stella waved away his apology. 'Heart in the right place and all that. But next time, don't, okay? Just don't.'
Gregor nodded and came back into the circle. He stepped carefully around Vine, staring up at the giant's stony face.
'You don't need to worry,' said Vine.
'I'm not worried,' said Gregor, trying to sound casual.
Vince leaned a little closer. 'You look worried.'
'Nope.' Gregor shook his head.
'I wouldn't want you to have another attack. You are safe around me. I wouldn't harm you and I couldn't harm you anyway.'
Gregor nodded. 'Good to know. Don't worry about me; I'm fine.'
Stella laughed out loud. 'He's teasing you, Gregor,' she said. 'Don't let him blow your cover as a miserable old man. People will start to think you're human.'
Gregor grumbled his reply and set himself to work at the benches.
'You don't have to do that now,' said Stella. 'Take some time.'
'Yeah,' said Hook, hefting the sword that Gregor had taken outside with him. 'You need a rest after using this thing. It weighs more than my grandma! What made you choose this?'
Gregor shrugged. 'I thought it looked like it would hit hard.'
'Only if you can swing it hard,' said Hook.
Vine laughed, a deep rumble of a chuckle.
'Woah, toasters can laugh,' said Hook. 'Well, frak me.'
'Robocop to Battlestar Galactica?' said Vine. 'You do jump around the references.'
'I could jump around on a lot more than references,' said Hook. Stella heard the poorly veiled threat in his voice.
'Threatening me is pointless,' said Vine. 'I cannot hurt you.'
Hook shrugged. His face was a mask of suspicion, his eyes never leaving Vine's face as the angel returned the stare, his own face impassive.
'Where's Jared?' said Stella, trying to break the staring contest. She turned to Vine and started to explain how they had found Jared but the angel cut her off.
'Mr Jenks,' he said. 'You brought him yesterday.'
'Still creepy,' said Stella. 'Did you listen to us in here as well?'
'No,' said Vine. 'That would have seemed wrong.'
Hook snorted. 'A toaster with manners. Now there's a novelty.'
Stella turned on Hook. ''Manners burned in the crash,' remember?' she said, quoting Hook's own words back at him. 'It'll be nice to have someone around who doesn't do as they like whenever they like.'
'What's that supposed to mean?' Hook challenged, his voice rising.
'That you don't stick to what we agree.' Stella raised her voice to match Hook's. 'I didn't need you coming to the museum like some knight in shining armour. I had it under control.'
'You were making enough noise to wake the dead!'
Stella threw her hands in the air. 'Bit late for that!'
'You two!' said Gregor. 'Quiet down.'
'Gregor is right. It isn't sensible to make so much noise,' Vine added.
Hook ignored them both. 'It was a sloppy play. You put yourself and the rest of us in danger!'
'It's not a game, Hook. Get your head in the real world and out of the ring.'
'It's not me that's not taking this seriously. You're upset with me for coming to help? That's insane!'
'I didn't need your help. I was fine!'
'Yeah, you looked it, standing on the stairs with deads everywhere and an angel on the way.'
'It turned out okay, didn't it? And all you did was...'
'Turned out okay? Gregor could've died!' Hook shouted over Stella. 'He would've died if it wasn't for Metal Mickey. You're relying on luck!'
'No. I'm relying on me!' Stella thumped her chest as she said it.
'Is that what you think?'
'Yes!' Stella snapped the word at Hook, using it to whip him.
'Don't be ridiculous,' Hook replied, trying to deflect the word, but the hurt was obvious. 'Why take in every stray we find if that's what you think?'
'We'll be stronger as a group.'
'You're not making sense. You're on your own but you want to be part of a group. What is it, Stella, do you just need to save us and then keep us in here like exhibits? Are we trophies? It's not me that needs to get out of the ring, it's you. You're not the Cynosure anymore!'
Stella stared at Hook and laughed. 'You just slow me down. I'd have been out of that building and back here in two minutes if you hadn't shown up. You come when I tell you to come.'
'Quiet down,' Gregor insisted. They both turned to the older man. He was staring at them from behind his part-laden work bench. 'We all made it out,' he continued. 'We all live till tomorrow.'
'Like you said,' said Hook, turning back on Stella. 'You're no one's boss.' The two of them glared at each other, breathing hard through their noses like angry dogs. The moment extended, the tension between the two seeming to fill the space of the rotunda, while the noise of heavy breathing once again dominated.
'What's going on?' Jared was standing just outside Stella's gift shop bedroom. He was staring at Vine.
Stella broke off eye contact with Hook and turned to Jared. 'This is Vine. He helped us today. He's going to be joining us.'
Jared stared at Vine for a long moment. The angel allowed the attention, implacable under the other man's gaze. 'Okay,' said Jared.
'Sleeping in the day time, Captain?' said Hook. 'You feeling okay?'
'I'm getting there. Don't think I realised how tired I was.' Jared's eyes were shadows within shadows, like pools in a forgotten basement suddenly reflecting the tiniest amount of light.
'You've had a long apocalypse,' said Stella. 'End of the world'll take it out of you.'
Jared just nodded. He turned to Gregor. 'Thanks,' he said.
Gregor just grunted and concentrated even more fiercely on his work. 'You should rest,' he said without looking up. 'You're no use to us weak.'
'He's right,' said Stella. 'Get some rest. We'll wake you when it's time to eat and then you can rest some more. And then we'll see about a shower.'
Jared's eyes widened. 'Shower?'
'All in good time,' said Stella. 'For now, rest.'
Jared nodded and walked away, shuffling his feet like a dead.
Stella turned to Vine. 'Any of this any use to you?' she said, gesturing to the angel parts.
'It's unlikely that there'll be nothing I can use. But don't use your parts on me. I've been well maintained by Tash - she's a handy bio-mech. Knows a lot about tech as well.'
'Yeah?' said Gregor, looking up. 'Who'd she work for?'
'No team,' said Vine. 'I think her brother had something to with the Lynxes. She helped out, learned what she could, added it to her IT skills.'
'Polish?' said Gregor.
'Sounds too good to be true,' said Gregor.
'Usually that means it is,' said Hook.
'Sounds like someone who will help us,' said Stella. 'Gregor, you could use the help, and Hook, your flesh needs a bit of TLC. You've been smellier than ever this last week.'
Hook shrugged. 'Job gets done. Don't see how smelling nice when you do it makes any difference.'
'It does,' said Stella with a finality that stopped Hook's retort.
An hour later, Stella and Vine were ready to go. They had eaten together but without Jared; everyone had agreed that he needed rest more than canned food. Hook and Stella did not say a word to each other. Vine's appetite was immense and Gregor had commented that it was like having five new mouths to feed. Stella had waved this away, certain that Vine would be able to contribute more than he would take, adding that Hook ate just as much and that her own meals were far from small. Gregor had simply stated that that made his point. Vine took it all in and showed no outward sign of offence.
'I'm sorry about Gregor and Hook,' said Stella. They were walking the streets outside of the Victoria and Albert. It was still quiet as most of the deads in the area would be in Egerton Gardens. 'And I'm sorry you had to see me and Hook's little discussion. We need to blow off steam every now and then.' Stella had her tanto blade strapped to her thigh and Vine carried the two and a half metre bone from the Natural History Museum's blue whale. Stella continued. 'It's been just the three of us for so long that I don't think too much before I speak to them, especially Hook. And with Jared yesterday and you today, it's been a lot to get used to.'
'Don't worry about me, Stella,' said Vine. 'I know that I can contribute to the group, and that once Hook and Gregor get used to me everything will be fine.' He shrugged his massive metal suit. 'Why wouldn't it be? It wouldn't make sense to not have me around.'
Stella stared up at him. 'How much of you is left after the conversion?' she said.
'What do you mean?'
'How much of Michael Vine is still there when the machine gets bolted on?'
'All of him. All of me,' he corrected himself.
'Well, maybe you've forgotten just how much sense some people have. Especially men.'
'Gender has nothing to do with it. We're trying to survive. My inclusion in the group gives us all a much greater chance.'
Stella nodded. 'Very true and very sensible. Let's hope that sense prevails.'