Border, KS

Isn't Kansas a little northern for Southern Gothic? (Updates Tuesday and Thursday)

9.1 Scientific Methods

“Jesus,” Siobhan responded, moving over to the bed. Antigone would have thought it silly—it wasn’t like Siobhan had any medical training, and normally one did best to stay away from creepy looking young women who proclaimed they had been waiting for you—but it was Siobhan. She processed nervousness through movement and action, so of course she would go right toward the strange thing. “Do they know you’re awake? Have you talked to a doctor yet, are you OK?” After a moment of seeing nothing terrible happen, Antigone and the others moved to join Siobhan around the bed.

The girl blinked owlishly at Siobhan, apparently taken off-guard by the sudden maternal—or sisterly, Antigone supposed—instincts. It took her a long few moments of consideration to respond. “I…yes. The doctors have been in here and they’re pretty sure that I don’t have any brain damage because of my nap. But you know what I almost was, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, Vampire, whatever,” Siobhan offered with a wave. Antigone laughed, while Lacey and Monica started at that—as did Scotty. They hadn’t exactly been brought up to speed on the whole vampire situation, and Antigone hadn’t exactly known when to bring them up to speed. Well, they’re up to speed now, she thought wryly. “Do you need something to drink or eat? We can raid the candy machine.”

“I’m not used to seeing you this…solicitous, Bonnie,” Monica offered as she looked at the pale girl. It almost looked like she was resisting the urge to reach out and touch the girl’s hair to see if it was real.

Antigone smiled fondly at her sister. “Bonnie has a hidden caring streak. When Ryan had his tonsils out, she played nurse for two weeks. She was with him almost constantly; we almost expected her to arch her back and hiss if someone came by.” Siobhan, prompted, arched her back and hissed slightly. “She’s very protective of the people she cares about.”

The girl looked baffled at all of them, and finally shook her head. “I don’t know why, but I knew you two would come back. I dreamed it when I was unconscious, I think it was the drugs they gave me. There is some weird shit in there.” She paused for a moment, leaning back against her pillow for a moment and then sighing. “My name is Sally, by the way. Sally Smith, and you’re not allowed to make comments about how it is alliterative.”

Siobhan held out her hand. “Siobhan and Antigone Richards, nice to meet you. These are Monica and Lacey, but their last names are being withheld to protect the innocent. And Scotty Rivotti, whose name is already plastered over YouTube, so he gets what he gets.” Sally and Siobhan shook hands, and she looked back at her friends. “I mean, our names were in the paper; no need to let bad guys doxx you if we don’t have to.” Scotty shrugged at that, apparently having known what he was getting himself in to when he put his last name on the internet.

“I have had people egg my house because they didn’t like my videos,” Scotty confirmed.

“Can you tell us what happened to you?” Antigone asked curiously, working to steer the conversation back toward something useful. “We found you in the woods near our house,” she offered, by way of explanation. Sally nodded at that, sighing and closing her eyes as she considered her words.

“I was at a party, and oh my god the rest of this is going to sound like an after school special,” Sally sighed, rolling her eyes. “I took some drugs that I was given, and I had a reaction. I think, from what happened, that was the point; they were either testing different strains to see what worked, or looking for people with a sensitivity to it. Or both.”

“I mean,” Siobhan commented, “That wouldn’t be a very good study, that many unknown variables…”

Antigone rolled her eyes. “They’re vampires, not the Curies. Also how are you struggling in Chemistry if you can poke holes in other people’s studies?” She then sighed. “And that’s also not the point. What happened next?”

“Our teacher is criminally under-qualified and probably lied on her resume?” Siobhan answered. “Also, too cool for school, all that cliche nonsense.” She offered the last bit with an artless shrug and roll of her eyes, to shoot for maximum cliche carelessness.

Siobhan had an almost limitless talent to derail conversations, and the other three took her bait with an ‘ooh’. “Oh that’s right, you have Ms. Easter. God, isn’t she terrible?” Monica asked with a sigh.

“Focus!” Antigone didn’t growl, because growling would have been counter-productive and mean to her friends. It was just that she was more used to dealing with Siobhan’s ability to run people off the rails, and knew it took a jolt to bring people back to where the conversation should be sometimes. Really, that was it. “What happened next?” She asked Sally, who smirked at her before growing more sober again.

“I woke up in some…facility, I don’t know where. But they were experimenting on us, trying to get us to become like them. They really liked me—something about my blood or my…soul, I guess, made me more valuable for making it. But I was also resistant to it; even when they were getting good results with other people, I wasn’t turning. They gave me what they expected to be the production model, and that’s the last thing I remember before I woke up here.”

“You were found with someone,” Siobhan asked gently. “A guy. Did you know him or his name? Was he taken with you?” Sally shook her head, and looked like she might be on the verge of tears at that. She reached up to scrub her face defiantly, to try to keep the tears on the inside and not break down.

“No, I don’t know his name. Maybe he told me and it was lost in a drug haze, I just know he had been there as long as I had—and he tried to protect me. I tried to protect the others,” Sally continued, “And he tried to protect me. I hope he got away, and that he didn’t end up back with them.” She looked at Antigone and Siobhan, focusing on them perhaps because they had been the ones doing the talking. Or because she had dreamed of them, which was shiver inducing in a way Antigone didn’t want to think about.

“They aren’t going to stop,” Sally said, swallowing. “I’m something they want, although God I wish I knew why. They’re going to try to bring me back. You know they’re coming for us, right?” She asked, her voice cracking with suppressed fear bubbling to the surface.

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9.0 Inside a Yellow Room

Chapter 9: Meanwhile…

“I haaaaate this hospitaaaal,” Siobhan grumbled from the back seat of the minivan as they pulled in to the parking lot. “I got jumped by death and we had to shank a demon in this hospital and it was scaaaary,” she continued to whine, kicking the back of the driver’s seat in a surly fashion. Antigone, seated beside her sister, watched with a smirk at the antics.

“One, that sounds like the most metal thing that has ever happened to anyone,” Monica pointed out as she parked the car neatly in a spot, “So why are you complaining about it? Second, you’re the ones who called us to go to the hospital. We were happily hanging out at my house doing homework when we got your call. We all could have stayed home. Second, stop kicking my goddamn seat.”

Siobhan paused in thought at the first part, and then shrugged. “Alright, when I describe it that way it is pretty metal, but we were freaking terrified when it was happening. Like an Ozzy concert, but he was trying to bite off my head instead.”

“We are all of us too young to know what an Ozzy concert is like,” Lacey pointed out mildly as she unbuckled and opened her door.

“And my lady-like posterior you were ‘doing homework’,” Siobhan finished teasingly as she launched herself out of the side door of the car, drawing indignant noises from the two girls who had been in the front of the car and a laugh from Antigone as she too exited. Antigone leaned over as Siobhan came around the car as if looking for something or examining something in great detail, before she shook her head.

“Nope, it’s about as lady like as all the rest of you,” Antigone proclaimed, and now it was Siobhan’s turn to make indignant noises and the others to laugh. Siobhan glared, and then leaned down to re-tie one of the laces on her boots casually.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I am the very picture of feminine grace,” she responded, turning a little pirouette that was more impressive because of the footwear. Rather than responding, each of the other girls just clapped and then started walking toward the hospital. “And we couldn’t stay at home, not when Annie had a vision.”

Monica and Lacey shared a look, which the sisters were almost universally coming to interpret as ‘the look people get when they reflect on how strange it is that their life includes visions now’, before sighing. “And was it vitally important that we be here, or were we just the transportation? Are we going to find notes with our names on them again?” Lacey asked. It was a relevant concern, as the last time they had been involved in nighttime extra-curricular activities it had involved breaking in to the shop of a not-psychic and being attacked by terrorists.

Siobhan shrugged at that as they stepped up to the door of the hospital. “We don’t even know where Gabriel is, since the battle of the High School. And the way Annie described the vision it was a little more…impressionist than realistic?” She looked over to her sister for confirmation.

Antigone stopped in the doorway, shivering suddenly. The vision hadn’t been specific images, but it had come to her in a sudden wave when she was laying in her bed reading a school assignment. Fear, absolute terror that made her gasp for air and break out in a cold sweat, and the knowledge that something bad was going to happen. After she was able to breathe again, she had known deep inside of her that it was going to happen at the hospital. And that it would be worse if she wasn’t there.

“No, I didn’t get specific images,” Antigone breathed, walking forward again after a moment and reaching out to rub her arms for warmth. She sighed, pausing with Siobhan to look around the entrance to the hospital and shaking her head. “We do need to at least get people taken to other hospitals though, why shouldn’t we get to have traumatic experiences at every hospital in the city?”

Antigone knew where they were going without bothering to ask, because they had been there earlier in the day and they knew that was where they had to end up. A room off of pediatrics, which had so many fantastic memories for them both, in a yellow room where a girl was slumbering. They walked that way in silence, not even Siobhan popping off comments as they did. A tension continued to rise in Antigone’s shoulders and spine as they walked, tightening and clenching to see what sort of horrible thing would await them, when she stopped suddenly in the hall. Siobhan stopped too, and a moment later so did Lacey and Monica who were following a step behind—they hadn’t been to the hospital earlier in the day, so they didn’t know where the room was.

“Scotty?” Antigone asked, blinking owlishly. The young man was coming out of a room in the same wing they were headed to, and she would have sworn she saw a look of surprise flicker over his features before they settled back in to his habitual grin. Self-proclaimed World Class Hottie and alliteration enthusiast Scotty ‘The Body’ Rivotti walked toward them and offered a melodramatic little bow when he got close.

“The hero of the city, and entourage,” he offered before anyone else spoke, before he laughed at Monica’s raised eyebrows. “Squad? Partners? Co-conspirators? What are you all doing here so late when I know there are tests in just about everyone’s future?” Antigone considered him for a moment, noting how quick he had been to take control of the conversation. She wasn’t going to say anything, and fortunately for her she could always rely on Siobhan to say something just as quick.

“Giving condolences to a victim of backyard wrestling?” Siobhan asked with a smirk. As the not actually self appointed King of their High School, Siobhan had an almost contractual obligation to poke some fun at him—even though they actually got along well every time they interacted. Scotty matched her smirk with one of his own, shrugging.

“You know how it is, a throw goes a little bit wrong and you have to give your buddy a visit in the hospital,” Scotty bragged, shrugging. And bring them flowers? Antigone thought, noticing him surreptitiously palming a petal from his sleeve and tucking it in to his pocket. “And now to provide an honor guard to wherever you’re going, so I can ignore my own homework.”

Siobhan shot her a look, and Antigone offered an artless shrug. Scotty had been there the night they went to Gabriel Shepherd’s shop, and the athletic young man had been a help; plus he was enjoyable to be around. Fear gnawed at the pit of her stomach at the thought of involving even more innocent people in to what could be a terrible evening, but she couldn’t find the words to say no to him.

“Thank you, Scotty,” she offered instead, holding out her arm for him to take in escort, if he recognized the gesture. He apparently did and took it with another overly gentlemanly bow, as they walked toward the room they intended to visit. It hadn’t changed from the outside, but the moment they stepped in they saw something had indeed happened.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” the pale girl on the bed spoke, her voice hoarse but her eyes open and alert.

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8.8 Dire Deeds and Petty Insults

Walter wasn’t sure he had ever seen Morgan more still, and he knew that he likely resembled statuary himself. Once again he was considering several different responses, but unlike before he wasn’t considering whether to be vulgar or not; he was considering whether or not to respond with immediate, unthinking violence.

“Right now,” Nadezhda continued in the brief silence, “There is a great deal going on in the city, Major. There are major attacks in multiple quarters of the city, there is a great deal of arson, and more armed men like you so ably dispatched are making their way in to the hospital. There they have orders to get in to the room of the young lady that you rescued this morning, and retrieve her. And anyone that gets in their way…” She let the statement trail off dramatically, and offered an artless shrug to punctuate it.

Walter’s vision swam red, and he started to move around the chair to come at Nadezhda. His body was moving in that automatic way that it did when it was moving purely by instinct, his limbs going to the right places to inflict great violence without needing to be told. The only thing that stopped him was the sudden appearance of Morgan’s hand on his, cool and firm. She caught his eye when he looked down at the hand, as if stunned at its presence, and shook her head quickly. He realized his other hand had gone to the sheath with the orichalcum knife in it and half drawn the blade out.

“You can probably attack me, Walter,” Nadezhda offered. “But you don’t have the time to do so. My men are going to be attacking any minute, and even if you get some assistance,” she offered with an even look at Morgan and Tania, “And even if you are every bit as skillful and resourceful as you seem to be, you can’t both kill me and get to them. And that is ignoring two things,” she continued. She reached out to tap the table with the green crystal, “I have what I believe you refer to as an Oberon crystal and know how to use it, and my men aren’t just attacking the hospital right now.”

She snapped, and a man stepped forward with a radio. The man was dressed all in black and appeared to be made of sides of beef, and Walter instinctively identified him as a goon. The goon turned on the radio, and the room was instantly flooded with the controlled panic of police officers under fire. Apparently things had gotten much worse in the time that they had been discussing politics with Nadezhda. “All of these are my men, and when you were shown in they started pressing. Your men are under fire across the city, Major, and very few of them know how to respond to the supernatural.”

Walter stared at Nadezhda, Morgan’s hand still on his arm in a reassuring and restraining fashion. “Why?” He didn’t articulate more than that, because he wasn’t sure he could without trying to pull himself from Morgan’s grasp and fling himself across the table. Every inch of him was burning to get out, get to somewhere he could help—help his kids, help the police, help his kids again. That one kept coming back, loud and clear.

“Because you went from nothing to very close to ruining everything,” Nadezhda answered simply. “You spent all of today finding too much too fast, and we need time.” Her tone of voice suggested this was the simplest and most rational thing in the world. “So we’re taking the time to move our resources out of the way, and ensuring you don’t have a chance to follow along and find them. A tactical and temporary withdrawal, while you all are kept too busy and off balance to respond. By the time you’re done dealing with all of those things, we will be safe.”

“Those are people—those are people’s lives you’re talking about!” Walter sputtered in anger. Now his other hand did reach back to pull out the orichalcum knife, which seemed to gleam in the low light of the room. It had a warm glow to it, like a fire that had reduced down to just radiating coals.

“They are—on my side too,” Nadezhda responded. “You’ve never sent men in to a fight for a rearguard action, Major? You’ve never tried to preserve your mission even if it costs lives? Especially if it is the enemy? Having seen your full record,” she purred, “I’m certain that isn’t true.”

Walter shook his head angrily. “These aren’t enemy soldiers, thee are civilian peace officers you’ve baited into traps!” He was nearly shouting now, and almost shaking. Right now his anger was raging red hot, even though he recognized he needed to be doing something with it besides yelling. He was starting to be a little annoyed, underneath the anger, that no one else in the room was having a similar reaction when Tanya slammed her fist on to the table n front of them. If Walter had done the same it would have served as a punctuation of anger, but when Tania slammed her fist in to the table it sent cracks running out in the expensive woods.

“Those are our people, Countess,” Tania said angrily. She stood, leaning over the table with an aura of menace. Walter could see little flames starting to lick at the edges of her knuckles. “I know,” she continued, “Attacking the policce is not enough to bring us in fully, but if we cannot take this as a declaration of war then I promise you we are taking it as a declaration of intent.” She turned to look at Morgan, and Walter’s eyes followed hers. Walter realized Morgan hadn’t been quiet, but had gonee glacially still. She could have been carved from marble—or ice—except for her eyes, which smoldered with rage. She wasn’t unfeeling about the situation, she was just keeping her anger more under control.

So do the same, Walt, Walter told himself angrily. “We’ll see how your retreat goes, Nadezhda,” Walter offered, with a flippant little bow, before he turned to Morgan. “How fast can you get me to the hospital?” He asked Morgan and Tania. Morgan stood evenly, and cast her eyes around the room like she was looking at the broader building.

“I’m afraid you’ll find our maintenance closet is a little overstocked,” Nadezhda offered with a smirk. For some reason, that drew Morgan’s ire out even more and she outright scowled. Standing, the Queen of Winter reached down to brush her dress smooth as she met Nadezhda’s gaze evenly.

“We never forget petty insults. And a Countess does well to remember how outranked she is by a Queen, girl,” Morgan told her, her voice just above a whisper and laced with icy daggers. She spared a look over to Walter, and smirked. “Hold on to your everything,” she murmured. From nowhere Walter could see a wind rose around her, and tendrils of frost began to spread out around her. The tendrils crept along the ground as if pushed out by a pulse, and Morgan reached out to take Walter’s hand. She smirked at Nadezhda. “As if I need a closet,” she spoke softly, and then a pulse of energy burst out from her and Walter felt like he was being turned inside out.

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8.7 The Goat

Nadezhda went supremely still for a moment, considering the four of them, before Walter saw her shake her head and smirk. “I didn’t expect that all of you would, although I knew that the Major did,” she offered. Now it was Walter’s turn to go very still and raise his eyebrow. The other’s caught on after a second, and the gaze from the two Queens almost could have burnt through the table in front of them.

A number of different responses went through Walter’s mind, tumbling one after another. The cliche would be You seem to have me at a disadvantage. His natural instinct was What the fuck do you know and how do you know it? He settled for keeping a poker face and keeping his eyebrow raised, while responding mildly. “Why did you know that?”

Nadezhda gave a little bit of a smile, leaning back in her chair. “Mr. Richards, you cannot imagine how frustrating you’ve been to us today.” She reached out a hand and pulled out a folder, which she opened in a very police-esque style to reveal the pictures inside. “You’ve been everywhere important to us, and it’s caused us to be very concerned.”

Walter smirked, and he saw a somewhat proud look on Morgan’s face at the revelation of his capabilities for annoyance and concern. Tanya’s look, on the other hand, could be best summed up as See, someone else feels my pain. “It’s hard for me to feel too awful about it when they’ve involved attacking my children, attacking myself, and I didn’t even know I was doing it.”

The vampire woman leaned back, considering him again. Maybe she had thought it had all been part of a brilliant master plan—maybe Walter should have let her keep thinking that, except he had no idea how he would have kept that high wire act going if he had been called on it. “You found our…unfortunate lost ones this morning, then you were working with a doctor at the Hospital to try to figure out what was wrong with the poor lost lamb,” she offered, managing to sound sad—although whether at the young woman’s plight or at having lost her, he didn’t know. “Then even worse, you were talking with the Reverend, and somehow even worse than that you were at the research facility. For not knowing what you were doing you did a very good job of it—I’m impressed.”

Morgan couldn’t help but speak up now. “We’ve always thought he had great potential as an accidental ruiner of evil schemes. In High School he was voted ‘Most likely to accidentally save the world,’ unanimously.” She smirked.

“Mmm,” Nadezhda replied, glancing to the Faerie Queen circumspectly. Walter noted both sides were careful not to make direct eye contact, and resolved that he should do so going forward as well. “Is there anything that I could do to convince to stop opposing us in this?” She asked, plainly. Every one of them on Walter’s side of the table reacted with some form of muted, poker faced surprise. None of them had expected her to come out and speak so plainly.

“Weren’t we supposed to obliquely dance around for a while?” Walter asked, stalling for time to think. “I remember that from endless staff meetings, at least.”

Nadezhda smirked at that, albeit briefly. “Why? Eternity is filled with too many opportunities to waste words. I can promise you we are not actually trying to destroy the Border or the world. As a wise man once said, that’s where I keep my stuff. And all of the lovely people who taste so delicious. We are trying to win a war, and this is a part of it.” She scanned his face for a reaction. “Have they told you the differences between ourselves and our brethren on this continent?” At his blank look, her smirk returned. “We create more of ourselves, but the very act of creation weakens us—and the more children you create in a short amount of time, the weaker they are. Vampiric diminishing returns, so to speak. Our American kin make them so rarely that they are far more powerful than the majority of European vampires. So we stale mate, and exist in a kind of cold war you would be very familiar with, from your record.”

Walter considered that, nodding. “And this is a way of changing that. Of making as many as you want with some kind of strength parity. Win the war because now you can out-breed them and not increase the power differential.” Now it was Nadezhda’s turn to nod, and Walter shook his head. “So here are the problems with that. First…your science project tried to kill my children today, and if I read our conversation right you tried to kill me today with mercenaries. So I’m not inclined to give you any benefit of the doubt. Even if I was, second…” Walter trailed off, considering his words, before he shrugged. “Like my old Drill Sergeant used to say, you can’t un-fuck the goat.” Nadezhda, Tania, and Morgan all blinked at him, while Ryan was apparently used to th idiom.

“And that means exactly what?” The vampire woman asked.

“It means even if I believed you, once you know how to mass produce blood suckers there’s no way that’s just used for this war. Same as nukes—once something like this is out there, it doesn’t go away,” Walter explained. “You don’t use it for that, someone else will. Whether now or later, once you can put vampires together out of the medicine cabinet someone is going to use it and try to take over the world.”

Nadezhda’s gaze moved from Walter to Morgan, Tania, and Ryan in turn, looking for somewhere she could go next. Eventually she gave a simple shrug of her shoulders, and looked back to Walter. “I expected it wouldn’t work, but it never hurts. Now then,” she continued, pulling a slender green crystal out of her desk and putting it on her table. “Let’s talk about what’s going on right now at the hospital.”

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8.6 So Say We All

The door they walked through lead in to a large hallway, rather than directly in to a room. It was decorated like an office rather than a club, well lit in contrast to the bar behind them. The sheepish looking guard escorted them down it, passing two doors on their left that were signed as staff bathrooms, and a couple of doors on the right leading to offices. The door to accounting was dditionally barred and locked, in addition to having a key-card reader next to it.

“I almost prefer it when the bad guys have sprawling mansions and dungeons. Offices seem so boring,” Ryan offered with a sigh as they walked toward the door at the end of the hall. It was nicer wood, and also had an additional lock on it.

“Our last big fight was at a High School,” Walter pointed out. “I’m pretty sure an office is moving up.”

“Your last big fight,” Ryan corrected with a grin. The guard ignored their banter, as did the two Queens. “I got to mix it up with a drunk Valkyrie in February, and that was pretty intense.” He rubbed his face. “Kind of hot, too, come to think of it.”

“Uh…” Walter offered, shrugging. “Sweet?” He tried to think of something else to say, but then they were ushered through the door by the guard. They walked in to a dark paneled room set up more like an old school office or library—Walter thought it felt more like something an attorney would sit in for an advertisement than the main office of a club. It was softly lit but obviously by electric lights—no candles, just someone turning down the dimmer switch. There were three people seated around a large desk in the back.

A large man loomed out of the side of the room, coming right at Tania. He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder. “Who the hell do you—ARGH!” He started out so well, before Tania reached up to grab him. The generally taught method of removing a hand from the shoulder involves reaching over to peel the hand off by pulling from the outside pinky finger, which naturally turns in to twisting the offending arm behind the offending person. Tania didn’t bother with such subtleties, however—she reach over and grabbed the man’s wrist, squeezing so hard that the bones snapped audibly. That was what prompted the man’s scream. In one easy motion she yanked the man’s arm around behind his back so strongly and severely that his shoulder clearly dislocated, and then she planted a foot on his ass and shoved him to sprawl in the center of the room.

“Queen of Faerie, no touchey,” Tania answered, and in a moment she was literally wreathed in fire—bright and flickering softly, and also singeing the carpet. “Next time one of your dogs touches me, Nadezhda, I won’t leave him one arm.”

One of the figures behind the desk was a woman, who stood up enough to lean over and make sure that the whimpering man was in fact still alive. Se sat back down, sighing. “If I apologize for my man, will you stop ruining a very expensive carpet? He acted without my knowledge or permission, and if you want to kill him or take him for recompense that is on him. But I like that carpet.”

Tania considered it, and Morgan leaned back to whisper softly to Walter. “By claiming his actions were his own, she’s throwing him to the wolves but saying it wasn’t her unless we have proof it was.” She paused for a moment. “We’re the wolves, in this scenario.”

“Yeah,” Walter whispered, “I got that. So we can’t use this as an excuse?” He asked softly.

“Not unless you want to look like giant assholes to the rest of the supernatural community,” Nadezhda answered from where she sat. “We can all hear your whispering.” She motioned to the seats in front of the desk. “Have a seat, and we can discuss this civilly; unless you want to finish off my guard first?” Walter started to glare, but then he noticed that Morgan didn’t look upsset—whiich meant that she had known that they would be overheard. He let the sisters take the two seats, and moved to stand behind Morgan.

“So,” the woman identified as Nadezhda leaned forward on her elbows. “I believe my next line is ‘To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from Mab and Titania?’” She looked to Ryan and Walter then, and added. “And who are these charming gentlemen, unless you’ve brought me a snack? I do love them tall, dark, and obviously ex-Military?”

“This is Sir Ryan Aquino, a knight of Our court,” Morgan answered, with the capital ‘Our’ audible even to Walter. “And Deputy Marshal Walter Richards of the Border Police Department, representing the mortal population of the city. We’re here to discuss how Salvation is apparently turning people in to vampires.”

Nadezhda had been completely still before, and so her stillness in the face of that information didn’t tell Walter anything. After a moment she turned to consider him. “We don’t normally bring mortals in to this, your Majesties. Are you sure that you can guarantee his safety, in case of emergency?” She smiled, with too many teeth.

“You’re concern is touching,” Morgan responded sincerely. “But not really your concern. Given it is the police who are fighting the Salvation, his presence is relevant. Speaking of, let’s turn to the drug trade, shall we? We have been as patient as we are required to be, unless you’re planning on repudiating your treaty with us?”

Nadezhda leaned back in the chair, and spoke casually to the man behind her in flawless if somewhat archaic Russian. “Is everything in place?” The man nodded, and responded affirmatively in Russian. “I’m more than happy to discuss anything your Majesties want…”

“We all speak Russian,” Walter, Morgan, Tania, and Ryan all answered simultaneously in Russian.

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8.5 Lucky Man

They ended up waiting for a little under an hour, with Walter checking his phone with increasing frustration as the night wore on. He was getting text messages from Andre and Leah about some of the situations developing in the city, and none of them were particularly good.

“Every tactical unit in the city is deployed right now,” Walter informed the table with a grunt. “Pretty sure that’s not good.” He reached over to take a sip of his bourbon, and glanced at Morgan. “You guys didn’t order an apocalypse without telling me, right?”

Morgan shook her head. Tania looked like she was about to say something, but Morgan jumped in first. “I know you’re worried, but this is important too. If the Vampires really are related to Salvation, this could do more to help stop it in a night than anything you could do out there,” she offered reassuringly, reaching out to squeeze his hand before letting it go.

“The Major was never good sitting here when there were teams in the field,” Ryan offered in amusement, “Which is why it was such a shame they let him take the field-grade lobotomy, because it meant doing it a lot more. How bad is it?” He asked, his concern coming through despite his flippant commentary; he had spent a lot of time with a number of those officers, after all.

Walter looked down at his phone, flipping back through the text messages. “In addition to what we heard earlier apparently there is a gang shootout, a hostage situation, and there somebody threw a pipe-bomb at a gas station. Border has a good number of tactical teams, but apparently we’re hitting the limit. We’re rolling out any officer who can shoot a rifle,” he rattled off. He put the phone back in his pocket, and reached out to take anoother sip of bourbon. “At least I don’t have any texts from Antigone and Siobhan, so they have a chance at a normal night tonight.”

Tania frowned a little bit as she considered. “Ok, so that does sound like a lot of things happening tonight. Abnormally large?” She asked, and Walter nodded. She frowned a little bit, and shook her head. “I don’t know, but if I wanted to do something, wouldn’t you want to do it while everyone was distracted? Only question is…who is doing it?” Walter blinked a little bit at her, and she smirked. “Yes, let’s forget that we were general in battles and wars for centuries before you were born.”

Walter acknowledged the point with a little bow, and then looked back across the room to the door. “How bad is it going to be, diplomatically, if I just go kick in the door and start shouting at people in my best cop voice?” He asked curiously.

“Well,” Morgan responded after a moment of thought. “First, that is going to get you ridiculously killed—as in not just killed but killed in a ridiculous manner. There will probably be body parts in the ceiling. But beyond that…” She looked to her sister. “We grant the other supernatural entities in the city an embassy. The Border is technically neutral, because it is the Border, but it is owned and administered by Faerie; in order for us to act against one of the officially recognized groups they have to be working against the stability of the city, or against Faerie. Oberon was an internal problem, so we could do whatever the hell we want, but if we’re going to attack the Vampires it needs to be legitimate. So if you do go do that then you’ll pretty much be acting on your own,” she finished.

Walter weighed it for a moment, but it was only a moment; he was good, but nobody was that good. And nearly all of his potential backup was out in the field. “Is there any way that you can be super offended they’re making you wait so long and go drum up some management without going right to ‘Walter’s intestines bedeck the light fixtures’?” He asked finally.

Morgan and Tania shared another look, but this was less one between unfathomably old and powerful people than it was the exact same look Siobhan and Antigone would share before doing something unexpectedly fun. “Yeah,” Tania said, reaching out and shooting the rest of her scotch in one fluid motion, before doing the same to Morgan’s. “We can do that.”

“Hey!” Morgan protested. “I was going to drink that,” she complained as Tania slid out of the booth. Morgan followed her, as did Walter and Ryan.

“Too slow, we’ll get some more later,” Tania declared. “Come on, darling, let’s be divas.” She held out her hand, and Morgan reached out to squeeze it, before they both began to wal across the crowded club.

People respond to body language, even without realizing it; whole classes were given on the use of body language in interrogation. But Morgan and Tania were putting on their own class on movement as they stalked across the room toward the door. People shifted out of their way even if they didn’t really see them coming—the people they were near shifting was enough to cause them to do so as well. And the people who did see them coming had no desire to be in their way when they saw the looks on the two sisters faces. They had a completely unencumbered walk across the club as waitstaff, patrons, and even one security guard got out of their way. That still left a guard standing in front of the door to the manager’s office, however—apparently one had seen them coming and knew what his job was, unlike his colleague.

“Move, or I’ll put you through the wall,” Tania said simply as she pushed right up in to the man’s space. She was shorter than him, so she had to look up at him, but it didn’t seem to be a disadvantage—the man stepped back a half step up against the wall, and his eyes went wide.

“I…” he began.

“Can’t let us in or you’ll be killed,” Morgan offered with a nod. “Understandable. But!” She offered, and the way her face moved was only a distant cousin to a smile—it had way too many teeth. “If you don’t let us through we will rearrange your bones into a more pleasing structure. So why don’t you bump this up the chain and go ask your bosses if they’re ready to be done wasting our goddamn time, because all of this brick is so flammable when my sister is bored?” She offered this last, terribly disturbing part, with an almost saccharine sweetness that was undergirded by sheer menace. The bodyguard nodded, turned and badged his way through the door, and disappeared.

“Can you really burn brick when you’re bored?” Walter asked Tania in a whisper.

“Bored, angry, horny. There’s a whole range of emotions associated with me burning things to the ground,” Tania offered cheerily, as the door opened in front of them. “Excellent!” She offered, as she and Morgan entered.

Walter stared at Ryan for a moment, and then clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re a lucky man.”

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8.4 The Black Rabbit

The moment Walter opened the door to the Black Rabbit the music hit his ears. He had been braced for the kind of aural shock that most clubs portended, and was pleasantly surprised when it was only audible rather than bracing. It was some kind of jazzy number, with a woman singing words he couldn’t quite make out. The door opened in to a long hallway that went down, hit a little landing, and then went down further. The hallway was covered in dark green wallpaper and lit by peridic flickering electrical lights. He thought maybe they were designed to look lie gaslight, but he couldn’t be sure.

“That’s one thing they never get right about the past,” Morgan offered conversationally as they walked down the stairs. “Hollywood never shows anything really dark, it’s all kind of blue—but the past was really dark. I remembering growing up, candles were expensive. We made our own or bought tallow, but a lot of the time when the sun went down it was just dark.”

Tania nodded, smiling faintly at her sister. “I remember when we started getting Border wired for electricity. Turning on the lights for the first time…I’m not sure it was any less amazing than the first time we used magic. Probably more so, because it was something external and new to the world.”

They continued to walk in silence after that for a few seconds. “It is mind boggling sometims to think about what it means that you’re as old as you are,” Walter commented after considering the words to make sure they weren’t going to sound the wrong way. “Did you ever consider going Interview with the Faeries and telling someone about all the things you’ve seen?”

“No,” both women answered at the same time. “We continue to disagree about how much we should tell you,” Morgan explained. “Sometimes just knowing about things can make them notice you—because you react to it, or even because you see it when you shouldn’t. The world we move in has an incredibly steep learning curve, and there’s a lot of corpses of good people at the bottom of that curve.”

“I’m not sure that’s how learning curves work…” Ryan pointed out wryly, drawing a glare from both women. “Comment withdrawn.”

“Speaking of potentially fatal pieces of knowledge,” Walter asked as they passed the first landing and continued walking toward the bottom of the stairs. “What’s the plan once we get here? Presumably we’re not going to hash out if they’re all evil drug dealing monsters in the middle of the club?”

“You know how in a business meeting or an interview they’ll make you wait for a little while before bringing you back?” Morgan asked, reaching out to grab the nob to the door at the bottom of the steps. When Walter nodded, she smirked. “It’s like that, only we can be drinking while we do.”

The club beyond the door was dark, both in terms of lighting and decor. Dark polished wood chairs, tables, and booths made those pieces that did sparkle—gold and brass metal accents, the taps and bottles at the bar, the apparently custom made coasters—do so more brilliantly. It was way larger than Walter expected, with a long wrap around bar creating two sides and a front area. Each section had large tables on the open floor and many shadowed nooks and booths along the wall. Many of the booths had velvet curtains which could be drawn shut to offer those inside a bit more privacy.

“When we went to clubs in Eastern Europe that had those it was normally used for—” Ryan began, before he was interrupted by Tania.

“Substantially the same thing they’ve been used for here, from the smell,” Tania offered, wrinkling her nose slightly. “Albeit less often, and they attempt to clean more.” She gave Ryan an amused look. “I’ve been to Bucharest and Prague too,” she pointed out with a laugh. “This booth seems cleanest,” she gestured to a large booth in one corner that was unoccupied. The benches were well upholstered, and comfortable as they all slid down on to them.

The booth also gave them an almost unobstructed view of the entire large club. Walter could see in one corner was a woman on stage with a band, singing what appeared to be swing and big band inspired covers of modern songs; in the other he could see a couple of doors which appeared to lead back to offices or storage of some kind.

“Security back there, you think?” Ryan asked, his eyes having made the same circuit of the room that Walter’s had. Walter nodded.

“Yup, and management too, I bet,” Walter confirmed as he leaned back and considered the room. “If we’re going to have a meeting we’ll probably have it in one of the rooms back there.” He loooked back to the woman singing. “You know, they’re actually pretty good. Kind of like some of the things my kids watch on the internet.”

“I believe,” Morgan pointed out primly, “That you’re required to call it the intertubes if you’re going to sound that old. I would know,” she offered conciliatorily. Walter smirked, and was about to say something when a server came over, and asked for their drink orders.

“I’ll take a bourbon and soda,” Walter ordered. “Whatever your mid-shelf is.” He looked over to the others. Ryan ordered the same, and Tania ordered for both she and her sister.

“Scotch, expensive and old,” she ordered, before looking to Morgan. When Morgan nodded, Tania smiled. “And go back and tell your manager that Mab and Titania have come to discuss their treaty.”

The waitress blinked a little bit at that, scowling slightly. “Listen, if this is a LARP or something, we’re not playing and I’m not going to involve my manager…”

Morgan leaned in, and gave the woman a reassuring smile. “I know it’s strange, but you’re going to walk back in to your manager’s office and tell them that, after bringing us our drinks.” She put her hand on the woman’s arm as she said it, and met her eyes. The waitress blinked, but then nodded.

“Okaay…” the waitress offered hesitantly, before turning to go. Morgan smirked, and then shrugged to Walter.

“I figured we could have our drinks first, since they’ll make us wait anyway.”

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8.3 Shall We?

The club in question was called the Black Rabbit, and it was located—like so many other trendy establishments—in the Old Market. This at least was at the border of the district, basically the end of one of the red brick streets that constituted the vibrant evening destination. Beyond it to the west were normal streets and a mix of office spaces and lower end restaurants and bars, not yet revitalized by the money flowing a mere block to the east.

The sign on the plate glass window was a rabbit in a pinstripe zoot suit, reading a book. The fact that it looked like the store itself was a book store or library was apparently part of the charm. “You go through a door in the back,” Morgan explained as they pulled the car in to a parking spot half a block away. “To preserve the speak easy feeling they’re going for. It really did use to be a speak easy behind a book store—it just used to be more discrete.”

“Ok,” Walter offered as he took in the building from their vantage point. “It’s a bar, there’s probably a back door so that they’re not carrying alcohol down the stairs. It looks like the streets behind it are lower?”

Ryan nodded, leaning between the front seats of the car to point at an alley running next to the building, that took a drop. “The actual club is in the lower level that’s basically a walk out on to the lower street level. If we need to get out in a hurry we can get out that way.” Walter nodded, and pulled out his police radio.

“Do you want to bring too many mortals in to this situation?” Tanya asked with a raised eyebrow. “Seems like it is more likely to get them killed than save our skins, if we need them.” It wasn’t offered as a criticism but as a statement of fact for him to consider.

“Maybe, but we’ll make sure it’s ones who are clued in to what’s going on, because I’d rather have them and not need them,” Walter pointed out. He thumbed his police radio. “Requesting back-up at—”

“All units, shots fired at 22nd and Monaco, officers involved. SWAT and ERT teams respond immediately, hostages present-” The radio crackled to life, interrupting him. Officers began to respond to the call, and soon the radio was filled with the sounds of units coordinating a response. Walter blinked a little bit, but then set the radio to silent and put it in his pocket.

“Or we could do it without backup,” Walter offered with a shake of his head. “Bad night to be going to meet vampires, apparently. So what’s the game plan?” He asked as Morgan and Tania started sliding out of the car doors. Tania started to answer, but Morgan held up a hand.

“We’re going to go in and let them know that we’re here in an official capacity,” Morgan answered for her sister and the party. “Because we’re going to deal with the diplomatic niceties until and unless they give us a reason. And if that happens, we’ll beat the shit out of them,” she finished casually, shrugging.

Walter nodded as he adjusted his jacket, walking toward the door to the bookstore front of the bar. “Which we will accomplish because your power level compared to an average vampire is…” Walter trailed off meaningfully.

“So staggeringly and distressingly more powerful that it would pass beyond funny into seriously disturbing to watch,” Tanya answered. “We’re Queens of Faerie, for heaven’s sake, only the strongest vampires would even be a match for us.”

Walter nodded in consideration. “Alright, so let me try to do this before we go in. What exactly is going to screw us in here?” He asked. He got two sets of blinks from Tania and Morgan, and a smirk from Ryan. Walter was beginning to expect that to be the standard response to his questions, and kept rolling on. “There’s always a catch or a hitch, something that takes our brilliant and elegant plans and screws it up. No plan survives contact with the enemy,” Walter quoted, “So where is this one going to go wrong?”

Morgan and Tania shared a look, considering the situation. They paused just outside the door, and then both looked back to Walter simultaneously. He suppressed a shudder and resisted the urge to make a comment about hotels in Colorado. “We can’t interfere unless they attack our interests. If this is them, they haven’t done it yet—and if they don’t attack us, we can’t attack them.”

Walter opened the door, and they all walked in to the bookstore. “Ok, does attacking me count?” He asked curiously. “I mean, I’m working with you and we’re pursuing other extra-curricular activities.”

Ryan smirked. “And yet when I did that with Tania you two were grossed out…” he trailed off meaningfully, wiggling his eyebrows.

“One,” Morgan held up a finger. “No, because we haven’t claimed you as a member of our courts. I can claim you as a consort, but there’s some…stuff that comes along with that you may not want to be involved in,” she offered with a shrug. “Second, I wasn’t mad you two were boning, just that you did it on my goddamn couch,” Morgan groused in annoyance. “The only Border PD officer who is fully under our protection is the Marshal.”

Walter nodded. “So if I’m attacked when we go in there you can’t do anything to protect me?” He asked as they made their way between stacks of books. The front actually looked like a nice bookstore, and Walter was tempted to ask if they actually did sell books during the day.

“We can decide to start the fight if they want to kill you too badly, but we’ll weigh that when it happens,” Tania explained as they made their way to the door in the back. It wasn’t guarded or watched by a bouncer, but Walter expected there would be someone to at least check IDs.

“Great,” Walter offered cheerily. “So if I get jumped as a mortal getting involved in freaky made up nonsense politics, then someone who only kind of wants to keep me alive is one of two votes to help me. I love my life.” He reached to open the door. “Shall we?”

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8.2 Because Reasons

“Dad,” Antigone said breathlessly as she followed them down the stairs toward the door. “I have to go to the hospital,” she repeated. “We need to talk about that before you go.” Walter turned to look at his daughter, sighing. She had changed after school in to sweat pants and a tank top, and didn’t look like she was bound for anything but a night in or possibly working out. “We…” she looked over at Siobhan. “We have a feeling that it’s important.”

Walter considered that for a long moment. He didn’t really like anyone going off on a feeling, but he considered her face and she smiled reassuringly at him. He sighed, shaking his head. “It isn’t like I can stop you from getting involved with the crazy crap in this town anyway. Just a feeling, or a full on vision?” He asked.

Antigone paused to consider for a moment exactly what it was, before she shrugged. “More than one, less than the other? It’s hard to quantify sometimes. It just feels all….oracle-y that we should probably be at the hospital. We’ll have Lacey and Monica, and bring our homework, and probably nothing is going to happen.” She offered a reassuring smile to that, and then quickly amended when she saw him about to say something. “And our pepper spray, and the Eisenhund and Bonnie’s sword in an emergency.” Both Walter and Antigone paused to consider how ridiculous that list had gotten recently, before shaking their heads.

“Wear shoes, have your cell phones charged, and text or call at the first sign of trouble,” Walter said with a sigh. He moved over to pull Antigone in to a hug. “At the very first sign of trouble. Things are getting even weirder, and you need to be safe,” he offered softly. He kissed his daughter on the forehead, and then let her go with a sigh. She grabbed Siobhan and went off to get ready, already puling her cell phone out to call her friends. Walter sighed again as he watched it, and turned to the others. Tania was standing there, and the sight of her shocked Walter into a startled laugh. “Christ Jesus, you people need to make some kind of noise when you’re going to teleport into my pantry.”

Tania raised a flame red eyebrow imperiously. “Do I? I think my actual appearance here means I don’t,” she answered simply. She was dressed in a dress that could have been the match of Morgan’s, except for being shorter and more daring and the exact same shade as her hair. She flipped her hair in a challenge, and then snorted when Walter rolled his eyes. “We’re taking your SUV, just as an FYI. And other three letter acronyms.” Following that pronouncement, she turned and walked toward the door, apparently ready to go. Ryan chuckled but then moved to follow her—apparently he was assigned to her for the evening. Which meant that he was likely on…

Morgan answered that by walking up to him, and smiling softly. He could tell that something was bothering her, and she didn’t have plans to hide it as she reached out to put a hand on his shoulder and frowned. “Walter…” she began, taking a long moment to consider her words. “You’ve seen Doctor Winters, and you’ve seen Morgan. You’ve even seen Aoife,” she offered wryly, shaking her head before growing serious again. “But you’ve never seen me come the Queen. It isn’t always pleasant, and it is not infrequently violent. Just…remember that the woman you know isn’t a facade.”

Walter met her eyes, and took her hand off his shoulder. He gently kissed the back of it, and held it as he spoke to her. “I understand, Morgan. Aoife,” he amended wryly, glad she had told him how to pronounce it before he had seen it spelled. “I really do. Ryan has seen me as Walter, and the Major, and…whatever it is you want to call it when things like Prague happen.” Now it was his turn to be lost for a moment, before he too shook his head to clear away the memories. “But the kids haven’t really seen that last one.”

Morgan cocked her head to the side, and raised an eyebrow, the very essence of curiosity. “Even when you were fighting Oberon?” She asked curiously. Walter ran a hand back through his hair as he considered it.

“No. That was so…desperate and crazy that I was just throwing everything I had in to it,” Walter explained with a little bit of a shrug. “I didn’t have the time to be the killer, or whatever. That’s when there’s a plan, and stakes that I actually feel like I can win.” Walter offered a little bit of a sheepish smile. “I didn’t think I was going to survive fighting Oberon, so it wasn’t the same.”

Morgan snorted slightly, sighing. She moved in to put her head on his shoulder. “I didn’t think you were going to survive either,” she offered. “I knew you probably thought you had something up your sleeve, but I thought I was going to watch you die.” She pulled back, and Walter was surprised to see a little tear starting to roll down her cheek. She wiped it away, and turned to grab something off the table that she had apparently left there. “To avoid that this time, or at least give you an edge.”

Walter reached out and took the black velvet box from her. It was heavy, or what it held within it was heavy, and he set it down on the island to open. Inside was a dagger in a style that looked similar to the leaf-bladed pugio worn by Roman legionnaires, albeit an incredibly well constructed and handled one. The blade was a rich golden copper color, as was the guard; over the tang there was a handle of rich dark red wood, inset with swirling gold lines forming acanthus leaves. Walter could almost see lines in the blade as well, slight variations in color spiraling like an unearthly version of Damascus steel. When he picked it up it had a heft to it, but was far lighter than it should have been.

“Orichalcum,” Morgan answered before he could ask. “True orichalcum, like only we can make. It’s the universal antidote of the supernatural world—it effects everyone the same. To a Faerie it acts like iron, silver to a werewolf, or gold to a vampire. And some others we are far less likely to encounter,” she offered with a wry smile. “It is incredibly rare, because it is very difficult to make. I had to barter with some of the grandsons of Ivaldi for that one, and it cost a pretty penny.” Walter took the blade and slid it in to its sheath, tucking it in to his belt at his back.

“Gold?” Walter asked. “Also…we’re going to have to put a pin on whatever the hell it is you just said, because I only tracked about half of it. How much are we talking about for the bartering?” He settled his suit jacket over the new addition, trading out the knife he had tucked in to his belt anyway—he figured it looked sharp enough to cut a human pretty good too in an emergency.

“Gold,” Morgan confirmed. “Werewolves are symbolically and alchemically linked to the moon, so the moon’s metal—silver—hurts them. Vampires have a symbolic and alchemical link to the sun, so the sun’s metal—gold—hurts them. Faeries have a symbolic and alchemical link to the Earth, so the Earth’s metal—iron—hurts them,” she explained. “Then we get in to things like demons and ghosts which mess with things, but orichalcum will still stab them but good.”

Walter nodded slowly. “You said all of that like it made logical sense, but I just want to reassure you it did not,” he informed her, before sighing. “Nonetheless, lets go hit up a vampire night club because…reasons.”

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8.1 Sartorial Advice

There were, Walter reflected, really only so many different kinds of dark suits that a man could own before they started to blend together. His wardrobe could very much have been appropriate for the FBI, or for a sartorially conservative view of a politician. He had some black, dark gray, and dark navy suits; sure some had stripes and some didn’t, but that wasn’t much differentiation. He reached out to pull a black suit out of the wardrobe with a shrug. At least he had a really nice collection of colorful ties.

“You should buy like…two or three more light colored suits. Why do you only own dark suits?” Antigone asked from where she sat on his bed.

“A lifetime of conservative dress codes. Even when we weren’t in uniform we were expected to look professional,” Walter explained, shrugging. “And then I got to a point where I wasn’t wearing formal uniforms, but the places I was hanging out either called for fatigues and body armor or dark suits.”

“So…” Siobhan trailed off as she walked in. “Hitmen?” She ventured, and he wasn’t sure if her voice was hopeful or frightened of the answer. When he shrugged, she snorted. “You actually were in the military weren’t just a contract killer, right?” He reached for one of the hangers that his ties were on, and pulled them out along with a couple of shirt options. As he exited his closet, he pointed to his dresser.

“First, if I wasn’t, I couldn’t tell you. Second, pretty sure I didn’t fake all of that—or Army security is really dropping the ball.” The picture he pointed to was one of his favorites. It was him returning from one of his more recent deployments, wearing the camouflage Army Combat Uniform, embracing all three of his children at once. Rhiannon had snapped the picture before joining them in the group hug.

Antigone and Siobhan both smiled at the picture, in one of those moments where despite very different bearings and haircuts they were completely identical. “Fair enough,” Antigone allowed. “Still, a tan suit wouldn’t kill you.”

Walter laid out the suit, actually the suit he had worn for his interview with the Border PD and that had come from a very good and very inexpensive tailor in Prague, and considered it next to the ties and shirts. “You’d think that, but then people go crazy when politicians do it.” He hmm’d a little bit. “Do I wear a tie to talk to vampires, or do I go for the trendy open collar look?” He asked them.

“Do you now what Morgan is going to wear?” Antigone answered, focusing on the fashion aspect of it as she kicked her legs. Siobhan focused on more practical aspects, eying the tie.

“Does wearing a tie get in the way of pulling a gun?” She asked curiously. Walter raised an eyebrow, and gave a little bit of a smile to both of them at their suggestions.

“I don’t know what Morgan is wearing, although if she’s going in an official capacity I’m going to take a stab at blue or black,” Walter answered, shrugging. “Or both. And wearing a tie doesn’t normally get in the way of my draw, even with a shoulder holster; but I’ll probably go with a belt holster for speed.”

All three of them considered the clothing, before Siobhan pointed to an electric blue button up shirt that had actually been a gift from Morgan. “That one, no tie; it’s a club, not an assassin convention. And no one can choke you with it.”

Antigone was more considering as Walter peeled out of his shirt and reached for the button up. “Is this what it was always like for you, before you’d go out on a…mission? Operation? Heist?” She asked, struggling for the word. “I mean…not just picking shirts, but this kind of…I don’t know. Absurd little decisions in front of ridiculously terrifying ones?” She gestured at the clothing as Walter buttoned up his shirt.

He smiled, chuckling a little bit. “For the purposes of this conversation we can use mission and operation as synonyms. But…yeah, basically. A little less fashion—most of the time—and a little more ordnance choice, but it isn’t far off.” He paused, as he moved in to his bathroom to change his pants. “I remember we were going to be out in the field, back when we were still looking for people on playing cards, and the night before the biggest argument we had was over who should get what shitty MREs. When you’re terrified of what’s going to come, you focus on the little choices.” He shrugged. “And there is nothing quite so little as ‘should I wear a tie or not’,” he finished, coming it in the pants and shirt. “And for the record, veggie burger is the worst MRE.”

“Noted,” Siobhan commented. He went to get his personal pistol and holster, which he brought up before the fashion session had begun. The belt was the next to last piece, and then he flipped the jacket on to his body. Siobhan considered him for a moment as he settled it on his shoulders and buttoned it. “I don’t know, there’s something almost…harder about you in a black suit then even in your old uniform.”

“Yeah,” Antigone agreed, considering him critically. “I don’t know why. Maybe…its his shoulders? He stands differently.”

“That’s because,” a voice came from the hallway, which resolved itself in to Ryan Aquino. He was dressed very similarly to Walter save that his suit was a very dark gray and his shirt was a very dark red, “When he was in his uniform he was standing with the righteousness of the United States Army behind him. When you’re just a guy in a suit, you have to look that much more intimidating.”

Walter raised an eyebrow, and pulled back his jacket back to attach the clip on badge holder to his belt. “Still a uniform for me, and still not just working for myself,” he pointed out wryly.

“But it’s different, and you know it. Don’t tell me you don’t feel it. They don’t necessarily do you boys favors when they make you plainclothes,” Ryan pointed out. “Uniforms give you the feeling of an organization behind you, which gives you confidence; that’s why rental cops where them.”

Walter shrugged. “Sure,” he allowed. “But the badge does that too. And not wearing a uniform makes it easier to, you know, solve crimes.”

Another voice joined from the hallway. “Ryan also acts like he isn’t representing an organization,” Morgan explained. She stepped in the bedroom, and had gotten dressed as well. She was wearing a blue gown that almost perfectly matched Walter’s shirt, and looked like it was made of silk. It was done in a flapper style and ended at mid thigh with a fringe going down to her knees, where she wore blue heels with what Walter recognized as a short kitten heels only because he had teenage daughters.

“You look gorgeous,” Walter complimented, earning a smile from the Faerie queen. She had her long red hair done back in a braid held in place with a matching blue hair clip. “I expected something more…fight worthy.”

Morgan shrugged a little at the question. “I can go from zero to fighting in a hurry, I promise. Besides, as always there is more to the dress than there appears,” she offers with a mysterious smile. “And since this is allegedly a social visit, we’re matching the theme. And if it gets ugly,” she offered, her smile turning from the mysterious to the somewhat wicked, “Then we get to have fun.”

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