Border, KS

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

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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8.0 Transport and Logistics

CHAPTER 8: SPEAKING EASY

 

“So what does one wear to meet vampires?” Walter asked as they pulled in to his driveway. Most of the drive home had been spent in a silence absorbing the the events of the last hour or two. It hadn’t been a tense silence, but a silence of processing and moving on—the kind of silence that helps rather than hurts. Walter might have been tempted to call it the unique silence of dealing with having decapitated someone, but he neither had nor desired enough of a reference pool to call it that for sure.

“Well, given we’re meeting them at a 1920’s speakeasy themed bar they own, we’re probably going with suits,” Morgan answered as she pulled herself out of the car smoothly.

“Why am I not surprised that Border has a speakeasy themed bar? For that matter, why am I not surprised it’s actually owned by vampires?” Walter asked with a sigh. He was about to join them outside when the police radio in the SUV crackled to life.

“All nearby officers in sector N-7 for BFD at Hamilton and 2nd Street; Code 3 and possible shots fired,” the radio operator broadcast, using the codes for ‘assist fire or other emergency services’ and ‘smoke and fire in building’ respectively. Walter looked out to the others. “Hamilton and 2nd, is that close to here?”

Morgan and Ryan shared a considering look for a moment before shaking their heads simultaneously. “Across the city. Not a great neighborhood either, but you’re by no definition a nearby officer.” She shrugged. “Besides, we have a meeting with vampires to go to. I need you to go get dressed up and armed.”

That became somewhat more difficult as he walked in the door, and was immediately mobbed by his children. “Did you really kill someone with a hatchet?” Siobhan asked, her voice torn between eagerness. Antigone’s voice, a moment later, was definitely more concerned than it was eager.

“Are you OK?” She asked, giving him a quick one over that was becoming increasingly familiar. Border, he reflected, was making his family far too used to checking each other for injuries. Walter nodded reassuringly, and reached out to pull his daughter in to a hug. He looked over to see his son Ryan standing there with a raised eyebrow. Chuckling as he squeezed Antigone, Walter nodded to his son—who took that as the confirmation he needed, and turned to go back to his video games.

“Yeah, Annie, I’m fine. And no, I didn’t kill someone with a hatchet. It was a knife,” he explained with a sigh. “And no, I don’t want to talk about it. We need to get going…” Walter looked over to Morgan. “How are you going to get dressed? Or Ryan, for that matter?”

Morgan gestured to his pantry, and Walter scowled. “Ryan can ride back to my apartment, and my wardrobe is linked to Tania’s Narnia style.” She stated this last fact in complete casualness, and then looked sheepish when the entire Richards clan turned to her at that. “It’s convenient, since otherwise we’d just steal clothing back and forth anyway. Our wards have trouble telling us apart.”

Siobhan laughed, although Walter couldn’t tell if it was because she recognized the sisterly clothes stealing or because of Morgan’s response. “We’re not boggling because of why, Morgan, just how.” She shook her head. “And Uncle Ryan has clothes at Tania’s apartment because…”

“Of all of the normal reasons an adult male has clothes at the apartment of an adult female,” Morgan responded evenly, walking to the pantry and opening it. Ryan and Walter both gave her a side eye at that, and she shrugged. “You want to keep it a secret, don’t have sex on my couch.” She was stepping in to the pantry when Siobhan reached out and grabbed her arm; she looked down at the hand on her arm with a raised eyebrow. Siobhan didn’t pull her hand back, but she did look a little bit sheepish.

“Can you teach us to teleport? I want to get my Nightcrawler on, like, something fierce,” Siobhan asked and then explained, her eyes flicking to the pantry hopefully. Morgan laughed, running a hand back through her hair as she considered it. She did look over to Walter, and he shrugged—a question he was completely unprepared to answer.

Finally, after a moment of consideration, Siobhan shrugged. “Eventually. Not now, because we’re in a hurry and because you’re not ready.” She held up her other hand to forestall any argument, having met Siobhan before. “I’m not talking about responsibility or giving teenagers a hard time crap, I mean literally you can’t manage the power output yet. It isn’t easy, despite looking like it is. Trying to use it isn’t like running before you can walk,” she explained, “It’s more like trying to build a 747 before you invent the wheel. But we can discuss it as your powers grow. Now then…” she trailed off, looking to Walter. “I’ll see you back in fifteen. Ryan, get in the pantry,” she gestured, and the elder Ryan shrugged and walked in to it. It wasn’t really big enough for both of them, and he barely managed to close the door when Morgan walked in. There was a flicker of the light inside, and when Walter opened the door again there were two raven feathers fluttering down to the ground.

“Our lives have gotten really weird, because that isn’t the strangest thing I’ve seen today,” Antigone offered with a sigh. “Daddy, we need to go to the hospital while you’re out.”

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7.4 Justified

“Bullshit,” Ashland pronounced with a decidedly annoyed air. It was a little over an hour later, and Walter and Ryan had both just finished simultaneously giving their statements to the police officers who had arrived as backup at the lab. They were cleared, and based on the statements the head of Border Internal Affairs had called their actions justified.

“What’s bullshit?” Walter asked, shrugging on the windbreaker that one of the other cops had handed them. He had surrendered his department issued sidearm and rifle, since it had been used with permission as part of his department kit, and shrugged out of the body armor. “It was justified.”

Ashland snorted and shook her head, rounding on Walter. From somewhere—presumably her car—she had produced her own windbreaker emblazoned with ‘FBI’ in gold letters on the back, so no one would doubt her authority to screw with them if she wanted to. “Even in the CIA I had to go through more hoops than that the one time I decapitated someone, and the CIA specializes in ugly and bloody. I got a bunch of high fives after, but I was still closeted with an admin goon for hours.”

Ryan shrugged. “You think I could con someone out of their windbreaker? I feel like I’m missing out here not having one that says ‘DUDE’ on the back,” he asked Walter with a grin. Now it was Walter’s turn to snort. “Remember, Border sees a lot of crazy crap, Ashland, and we’re the middle of the Salvation epidemic.”

Ashland looked sour but Walter nodded and continued his train of thought. “It was either that or try to find a shotgun again, and the knife seemed faster. It’s ugly, and a whole new set of merry nightmares to wake me up at night.” He shook his head, considering the bloody rooms behind him for a moment before sighing. “Regardless…”

Ashland considered him for a long moment, before she shook her head in turn. “I’m not sure I expected you’d have many things left that could give you nightmares.” She looked around. “Is this really the first time you’ve decapitated someone?” She asked, with a hint of blase that Walter didn’t think was forced at all.

“Manually?” Walter asked, a little shocked. “Yes, that’s a new one for me.” At the sound of something behind him he turned with the others, and raised an eyebrow as he saw the flaming red hair of Morgan coming in attached to the rest of her. She was wearing a lab coat and carried gloves and booties with her, for preserving evidence at the crime scene, but she wasn’t wearing them. Walter got the feeling that she wasn’t really here to do much investigating herself, and that the accoutrements were just a show.

“Walter,” Morgan greeted him, with genuine relief in her voice. She gave a polite smile to the others, although it was a genuine smile for Ryan, before she turned back to him. “I heard you were in an incident, and they just let me through to see you. Are you alright?” Walter couldn’t help but smile at the concern in her voice, and the relief that had been there when she saw him. He nodded.

“It was ugly, but we’re still on this side of the dirt,” Walter confirmed with a shrug. “Nothing but some new psychic trauma for our troubles, and some bruises from getting thrown around.” Morgan gave him an appraising look, as if she could divine the extent of his injuries—physical and mental—at a glance. Apparently deciding she couldn’t, or that she had the information she needed, she nodded.

“I told the Marshal that I would come get you; you’re needed,” she explained. “Tania also asked me to grab Ryan. If you’re cleared by IA, let’s roll?” She held out a hand in gesture to the door, which Walter reached out to take as if she had been offering it to him to hold. She looked surprised but also pleased, so Walter didn’t let it go.

“Want me to grab the other one so that we can swing you between us?” Ryan asked, raising an eyebrow curiously. Morgan’s smile from Walter taking her hand shifted, becoming both more amused and more edged.

“Remember that I have access to knives, sedatives, and ice, and that you have supremely sell-able kidneys,” she pointed out evenly. Ryan casually but purposefully took his hands and shoved them in to his pockets, before beginning to whistle. Walter looked to Ashland as he, Ryan, and Morgan began to walk back to their cars.

“We’re fine getting our own way back,” Ashland said with a wave, guessing his question. “If you’re corrupt ass podunk cops say you’re fine for decapitating someone, then who am I to judge.”

It was when they got all the way back to where they had parked before they started asking questions. “You decapitated someone?” Morgan said, slightly stunned and slightly impressed. “I could smell vampire on you as soon as I came in, so that answered the question of why…but damn,” she concluded..

Ryan nodded. “It was the only way to take him down. But the fucked up thing is he wasn’t a vampire when we met him, shot him, and arrested him. Somehow between being zip-tied and when he came back to the party, he became one.” Morgan went still considering that, before she started walking toward Walter’s car once more.

“What is it we’re going to” Walter asked. “I notice you didn’t say the Marshal is the one who needed me. And are we following you? I brought my car out here.” Morgan gave a little bit of a sheepish grin, as she pulled a black raven’s feather out of one of the pockets of her labcoat.

“I took the Faerie express. I figured it was the easiest way to get to you and not have an extra car,” she explained. At Walter’s blank look, she smirked. “What…you thought Ninja Grandpa could do it but I couldn’t?” She waggled the feather.

Walter shrugged slightly. “I never thought about it. I mean, the ability to instantly transport across the city makes your driving make a lot more sense; trying to recapture the speed.” He looked to his car. “So if you can sufficiently advanced science yourself around, why are we taking my car back?” Oddly, Ryan shuddered at that question. “And where are we going?”

Morgan gestured to the car, and he unlocked it. With a glance at Ryan and a smirk, she claimed the shotgun seat. “We’re taking the boring way because I want to preserve my energy; while I could bop around the city with passengers while we get ready, it would be a drain. My stores are considerable, but not unlimited.”

“Also,” Ryan added when she paused, “Going along as a passenger feels like someone trying to pull your stomach out through your asshole, and taking all your organs along for the ride.”

Morgan nodded. “And that. As for where…I think the time has long past come to visit us some vampires.”

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7.3 Not Quite

Walter and Ryan moved in to the next room smoothly, with Ryan moving in an almost crouch and Walter coming in over his shoulder. From behind them they heard the angry, pained grunting of the man they had left zip-tied in the hallway. But the room they had come from, with the files and the writing on the boards, was clear. Walter reached up to his jacket, and to the radio that he kept there—it was tied to the police band, and Ashland had a radio that would receive it.

“10-31, Officer involved shooting, five miles north of County Road 15, near the creek. Unknown number of suspects, all suspects signal 1. One suspect is Code Red, send a bus. Ashland, watch your six,” Walter rattled off in to the radio. A 10-31 was an emergency call, with all units standing by to respond; signal 1 meant the suspects were armed and dangerous, while code red was referring to the gun shot wounded man. Like many police departments, the Border PD used repeaters throughout their service area—they immediately began receiving acknowledgments. Walter waited, and then heard a double click that he knew was Ashland signaling her own receipt of information without transmitting over the radio.

“Work our way back to the front from our side, so we have the exit at our back and can’t be circled,” Walter murmured softly to Ryan, who nodded. They began to advance through the room, their rifles shouldered and ready. As they reached the door Walter heard a snap behind him, and stopped and turned quickly. He waited there, sighting the reflex sight to see what moved; Ryan stayed watching the door to the next room, trusting Walter to cover is back. Walter was prepared if it was someone trying to come behind them, or if there was a threat in the room they had missed.

He wasn’t prepared for when the door flew off the hinges, slamming in to the wall next to Walter with a clang that could probably be heard from space. A figure started to step through it, and Walter only took long enough to make sure it wasn’t (improbably) Morgan or Tania before he began squeezing the trigger on his rifle and firing at it. In the span of a heartbeat Walter had landed three shots into the heart, and none of them had apparently done any good.

“Ryan, incoming!” Walter shouted as the man charged. In the instant before the man got to them with almost impossible speed, Walter saw it was Handgun. Something had happened to his face—it was sharper, more angular somehow, and twisted in to a fierce and almost feral look. Blood was no longer coming out of his leg, and his wrists didn’t appear to be cut up at all from breaking out of the zip tie.

Then Handgun was in front of him, and Walter threw himself to one side in a roll. Ryan, trusting the warning, did the same the other way and spun to bring his own rifle up. He blinked, and cursed. “Pure Border,” Ryan grunted. He stepped forward and reached out in a way that Walter recognized from Morgan and Tania—and Siobhan—summoning their own Faerie swords. He filed that one away for later. After a few heartbeats there was a three foot long sword in his hand that looked almost like a Roman gladius, but made entirely out of a shimmery gray/silver material that all of them seemed to be made out of.

Walter fired a quick three shots in to Handgun’s throat and jaw, which sent him reeling and distracted him, but didn’t kill him. Walter watched as the gaping wounds that the 5.56 NATO rounds blew in his head filled in with bone and flesh and sinew; like watching the first Indiana Jones movie in reverse. It was, Walter had to admit, one of the most disturbing things that he had ever seen.

Handgun started to turn to him, but then Ryan was on him with his sword. He lashed out in a vicious slash designed to decapitate the man, but Handgun was damned fast. Not that Ryan wasn’t—he had been damned fast last year during the fight at the High School, and seemed faster now—but the other man was easily his match. Handgun jumped back and only suffered a cut on the chin as a result, but interestingly this one didn’t heal immediately. The man hissed and brought a hand up to his chin, as if surprised.

“Yeah, Broseph, welcome to Border,” Ryan taunted, moving to engage again. Once again Walter fired off a couple of shots to distract Handgun and let Ryan get in, this time two bullets hitting Handgun one per knee. It caused the man to slump a bit, but he turned it in to rolling his body forward and closing the to Ryan to get under his slashing blade. Ryan surprised him again by how strongly he pushed back against the charging man. Walter cursed and, lacking the ability to summon a definitely not magical sword from thin air, pulled his own knife out of his sheath.

While Ryan and Handgun grappled, Walter jumped forward and tried to ram the KA-BAR in to the fighting man’s heart, but he moved at the last second and Walter ended up stabbing him in the side of the stomach. Blood spurted out, but less than Walter would have expected—it seemed thick, like it came pre-coagulated. “Oh come on,” Walter grunted, as he tried to work the knife up. Instead he took a pained backhand from the man to his ribs that sent him sprawling and gasping for air; if Handgun had been in a better position, it probably would have broken ribs or a collapsed lung. “Shit,” he groaned, rolling over and pulling himself up.

Ryan managed to get a better grip, shifting his arms and twisting his body to throw the man to the ground. He followed the throw by pouncing, moving to the kind of ground work frequently seen in Mixed Martial Arts—or Army Combatives. “Get the knife,” Ryan grunted as he fought with the man to try to get him in to a lock. “Cut off his fucking head!” Walter grabbed his KA-BAR and moved over just as Ryan managed to get the man in a lock, every muscle in both of their bodies bulging as they fought for control.

Walter brought the knife down in a brutal chop to the back of Handgun’s neck, and bit bit deep. The man screamed, crying out in genuine agony and fear for the first time since the fight had begun, and it was a terrible sound that Walter figured would add to the litany of his nightmares. Even worse, as Walter brought the knife out to do it again the wound began to heal again. He put all of his strength in to the next blow and got most of the way through the mans neck. He torqued his shoulder in to it and began to saw, in a horrifying rush of dark blood and squishing sounds that he never wanted to hear again. Finally, with a horrifying wrench of strength and spray of blood on the both of them, Handgun’s head fell away and fell to the ground.

Ryan grunted, flopping back and breathing heavily as the energy seemed to flood out of his body; Walter did the same, and shook his head. “What…” he began, before they heard the rush of footsteps which heralded the arrival of others.

“Jesus Christ,” Ashland’s voice called as she came from the hallway the whole fight had fought in. “What the fuck did you two get up to?”

“He was…” Ryan panted, “Not quite dead the first time.”

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7.2 Tough Crowd

Things swiftly went from bad to worse. Walter and Ryan rolled in to the hallway to find themselves facing another gun, this one a handgun held by a tall and beefy man with a confident look on his features. He was backed up by two other men, all of them wearing dark and vaguely tactical clothing. The handgun man gave him a broad smile as he looked at the two kneeling figures in front of him.

“Just like fishing,” he proclaimed, motioning with his gun for Walter and Ryan to stand up. “You’re the Deputy,” Handgun offered to Walter, before looking to Ryan. “And you’re not on my list. So tell me who you are, and I’ll let you know if you get to live.” Walter and Ryan shared a look, followed by Ryan looking incredulously at Handgun.

“You’ve got Walt on a list, but you didn’t shoot both of us right away—so that means you’re not someone we pissed off before. You’re pointing the gun at him and don’t know who I am, which meas you’re not someone we pissed off last year,” Ryan ticked through a list, actually holding up his fingers.

Walter got involved, rolling his shoulders a little bit to keep them loose but covering it by looking like he had just hit the ground hard. “You brought pretty standard goon load-out, so you’re not expecting anything particularly tough,” Walter said, keeping his hands out to the sides and away from his rifle. Wouldn’t do to make the man just outright shoot him. “And you’re wearing a vest but none of your goon squad are, so you’re not military or paramilitary. So you’re just…” Walter looked at Ryan when he got to the end, as if asking if he was missing anything. When Ryan shrugged, Walter looked back to Handgun. “Normal guys?”

Handgun snorted. He had a good shooting stance, and was keeping a decent amount of distance given they had basically run in to one another, and seemed to know what he was doing. So Walter wasn’t surprised by his response. “These boys are some pretty tough pipe hitters and I’m Army Ranger, Keystone Cop.”

Walter made his eyes go wide and he looked at Ryan; despite the frightened look, he kept track of the men behind Handgun, who were relaxing in ‘bodyguard pose’—which coincidentally put their own handguns out of quick use.. “Oh shit, Ryan, this guy was an Army Ranger? You know what that means?” His voice was panicky and breathy, and Handgun started to puff his chest a little bit.

Ryan matched his look, gasping. “He’s been to Fort Benning?” Walter nodded. “And was probably pissed off when they switched beret colors?” Walter nodded again, but then let his face relax. “And probably wasn’t in the regiment until after we were?”

Walter nodded a final time, rubbing his chin. “Probably, although if he was in the Regiment and not just qualified then we might have overlapped. I mean, thats a lot of people.” He shrugged. “Going to have to try harder to be intimidating, man.”

Handgun shook his head from side to side. “Bullshit,” he declared. “You think I’m going to believe you jokers? We got the drop on you, and you’re trying to play with us to stall so the other two can come around.” His eyes moved from Walter to Ryan and back again, belying his words—he was clearly annoyed pertinent information hadn’t been given to him. He had a list, and it should have said if they were just random cops or not. He opened his mouth to say more, but Walter saw his eyes quickly flit to Ryan again. Walter sprung, trusting Ryan to handle the shotgun wielding men behind him.

He lashed out and slapped the handgun to the side, his other hand moving to the rifle on a sling at his side. He brought the barrel up and fired a quick shot in to Handgun’s knee, dropping him and causing him to drop his handgun. Continuing the motion Walter had the rifle up halfway to his shoulder when he fired two shots into the first man’s throat, and he had it fully shouldered when he fired two shots to drop the other bodyguard poser.

One of the two bodyguard posers managed to get his gun up and fire off a shot as Walter dropped him—the other did not. The bullet hit Handgun in the back where he was on the ground, thrown wide by his imminent death, and Handgun fell forward with a gasp of pain as the bullet flattened on his vest and laid him out on the ground. The sound of gunfire behind him, and the fact that it wasn’t a shotgun firing reassured him. When he looked over, he saw Ryan fine and lowering his rifle with a shrug.

“Do you think that we have too high a threshold for being impressed?” Ryan asked curiously as he moved to check on Handgun. “Nice shot, you didn’t hit the vein, and it didn’t shatter his kneecap.”

Walter sighed. “What if I was aiming for his knee-cap? I could be slipping. And…” Walter considered the hallway around them. He took a zip tie out of his pocket, and leaned down to pull Handgun’s arms behind his back and zip tie his wrists. “Maybe we are a little hard to impress,” he admitted. “Come on, let’s go see if he’s got any other guys. And give them a chance to stand down, please, this was ugly circumstances.”

Ryan nodded, and shouldered his rifle as the two of them started back down the hallway. “Still,” Ryan offered, “It’s nice to be fighting just…guys, you know?”

Walter nodded. “Amen.”

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7.1 Dark and Governmental

The interior was darker than it seemed like it should be from the outside. The hallway was only mildly decorated, as if someone said that it should be decorated for guests but then realized that there weren’t going to be any at the secret government research facility hidden in the woods. So it had been kind of half-assed, was the impression Walter got from it. It was done in a sterile green, and there was a little sofa in front of a receptionist desk.

“Got a lot of visitors,” Ryan commented. Ashland and Hernandez took the front, with Walter and Ryan coming up behind them with the rifles. In the event of being attacked, the front two would drop or get to the side to clear up the firing line for the rifles. The four of them moved easily, with long practice. “Where’s the new boy, by the way?”

Ashland didn’t look up at the heavens to pray for operational silence, but she looked from behind like she wanted to; Walter sympathized—Ryan was always slightly easier to handle when you could actually order him around then when you couldn’t. “Working with your Ms. Silverman; she seems to be quite the agent. Should I recruit her?”

Walter grunted. “Like hell. Even if you were the actual FBI I wouldn’t want to lose her, and there’s no way I’ll be OK with you taking her to Langley,” Walter said with finality, referring to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. “She’s a grown ass woman so she can do what she wants, but if you convince her to be a spook I’ll key every car you ever own forever.”

Ashland laughed, but let it go at that. At the end of the hallway there was a door that looked like it had once been secure, but now it hung listlessly on its hinges like it had been thoroughly wrecked. The keycard reader next to it was deactivated and sad, like a little electronic face waiting in the dark. They walked through it carefully, wary of any residual traps, but found nothing. Beyond that door there was a wide meeting or production area—there were some cubicles along the walls and some long meeting tables running down the center of the room between them. There were papers left haphazard on the tables and in the cubicles, as if they had been evacuated in a hurry but not in absolute chaos.

“Alright, let’s start fanning out; it looks like the complex branches out from this room,” Ashland commented, gesturing with the flashlight to two doors at the other end of the room. They did seem to lead to different sections, and the four of them naturally broke in to two groups of two—Walter and Ryan, Ashland and Hernandez. It may have made more sense to split the weapon groupings up, but they team choices were long habit. They moved slowly through the room, carefully looking at the papers as they went. Most of them seemed to be administrative memos, none of them particularly catching their eyes as being important. It seemed like the room might have been some kind of administration section with an early prototype of an open floor-plan office environment. Walter did notice that some of the memos were addressed to sub-units of very Federal departments.

“Do we know if there’s a back entrance?” Walter asked as they made it up to the second set of doors. “If not, then if you find one turn around and meet up with the others.” All three nodded the affirmative, and they tried the doors. Hernandez and Ashland found theirs opened, while the lock on the door in front of Walter and Ryan apparently still worked.

“You got it?” Ashland asked, and Walter snorted. He pulled a set of lock-picks out of his pocket, and knelt down. “Alright, if you don’t have it in thirty seconds you have to let Ryan do it instead.” Hernandez gave a little bit of a salute, and the other two made their way down their branch.

“So what do we think is going on here?” Walter asked softly as he worked the picks. All of them knew how to pick a lock, and it was a good way to pass time and make bets when they were bored. Walter actually wasn’t the fastest at this particular game—Ryan was damn good at it, as was Hernandez—but he didn’t think he was going to lose the speed trial here on a lock this old and rusted out.

“Well, there’s good odds that the vial had something to do with salvation. I mean it could be something else,” Ryan allowed with a shrug, “Because this is Border and weird shit happens ll the time, but I shudder to think we have that many random boutique narcotics floating around.”

Walter nodded, getting the lock picked and pushing the door open. Ryan moved through quickly with his rifle, while Walter brought his up to fall in behind him. “Yeah, it seems like we’re going to find something here, but I just don’t know what it is yet,” he agreed. The hallway beyond looked more like a jail then one in a science laboratory; two other hallways branched off, one straight ahead without much more security, and one off to the left with another security desk and a locked door with a bullet-proof window in it. Ryan moved over to the secure door, glancing through it and wincing. “That’s…unwholesome. Looks like cells back there.” Walter winced, but motioned.

“Looks like a lab through here, and…” Walter reached down to try the handle, “And the door is open,” he confirmed. “Also way less depressing, and more science-y.” He shrugged, and Ryan returned the shrug and moved over to join him.

The next room had a wide array of cabinets and what appeared to be scientific equipment, the kind used to mix chemicals or determine what was in them. Walter was pretty sure he recognized a very old gas chromatograph, with some chemical formulas written on a white-board above it. On the other side of the room was another exit, the door completely gone, leading further in to the compound. He shrugged, and pulled out his cell phone to take some quick pictures of it and the other white boards around the room. Ryan did the same, both men letting their rifles rest on the slings around their shoulders as they made their way around until they were standing near the unexplored but open doorway. “Grab some of the files?” Walter suggested.

“We should have brought Silverman,” Ryan commented wryly. “We’re like bulls in a china shop here,” he said, while nonetheless stepping very carefully around.

“Bulls in a china shop with basic skills at avoiding contaminating crime scenes, I hope,” Walter offered in amusement before he blinked. “Did you—” he began, thinking he had heard something in the distance. Then he heard a crash coming from the direction they had come, and he and Ryan shared a look. They had just started to reach for their rifles when two large men pushed through the door. Each had a shotgun and a mean look, and they glared when they saw Walter and Ryan.

Walter and Ryan reacted by both throwing themselves through the door to the hallway with a curse as a shotgun blast impacted the wall.

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7.0 Green and Grays

The final phone call of the day had been, unexpectedly, from Ashland. Walter hadn’t actually given her his phone number, so that was definitely a surprise—it had come in as a private number which he had ignored, followed by a text message telling him to stop stealing oxygen from the people around him and pick up his phone, which was followed by a phone call he had actually answered.

“We found the lab.” Ashland had never much been one for salutations or other pleasantries, and Walter was perversely relieved to find that hadn’t changed. “We’re going in tonight so we can look around before some fumble fingered keystone cops break something. Get the puppy, I’m texting you the address.”

“So we’re going in to the woods of Border, to a presumably abandoned government facility, to look in to a super drug, almost at night?” Walter asked, reaching up to scratch his chin idly.

Ashland snorted. “Why do you do that?”

The grin was apparent in Walter’s voice as he responded. “I find a full accounting of the stupid things we’re about to do is helpful for the after action report.” He glanced down at the cell phone when he it dinged, and pulled up the map as he spoke. “Looks like I’ll be there about…forty minutes after I get Ryan. How are we going in?”

Ashland paused for a moment, considering. “Less than Prague, more than Sao Paolo,” she decided, before hanging up. Walter considered, then decided he knew what that meant.

Fifty-five minutes later he was driving through a dilapidated gate that looked like it had once been secure. The facility was deep in the woods south of border, with a dirt road that was decent if not particularly well maintained. All around them the forest shimmered with the dark greens of old growth, and the long and deep shadows of heavy woods as the sun got lower in the sky. It was beautiful, the rich browns of dirt and tree versus the variegated greens of moss and leaf, but it was also strongly indicative of a place humans didn’t go. This was the domain of the woods, and Walter felt like an intruder.

The facility that came up ahead of them seemed even more like an intruder, albeit one the forest was doing its best to reclaim. The gray stone was unnatural against even the other grays of the rocks, and the vines that had overtaken most of it didn’t do much to make it seem less so. There was a heavily rusted doorway at the front, but even as they approached Taito Hernandez was getting it open through what appeared to be a combination of lock picks and strong kicking.

“You’re late,” Ashland commented as Walter and Ryan got out of a Border PD SUV. Walter went around to the back and grabbed his active shooter duffel, opening it up to pull a rifle out. “Did you bring enough for the class to share, Mr. Richards?” She asked, in her best prim school teacher voice.

“Nope,” Walter offered cheekily. “This one is all mine.” What was all his was an FN-SCAR 16S, a matte-black semi-automatic rifle with a scope on the top. “If I’m not going to be able to afford college for my children because of my paranoiac gun collecting, I at least get to enjoy the fruits of it.” He grabbed some other gear, and pulled his way in to a bullet-proof vest from the department, before extending the telescoping stock on the rifle and pulling the strap over his shoulder.

Ryan snorted, as he pulled his personal M4 carbine out of the back of the SUV. “Like you didn’t get a law enforcement discount to start, and probably a personal discount. Don’t you know a guy?” He asked. Walter grinned.

“I always know a guy.” Wiggling his eyebrow, he went through the familiar ritual of carefully checking the rifle to make sure it was in good shape. Following that he loaded a magazine, and chambered a round. “You said more than Sao Paolo, less than Prague. So I didn’t see if I could find any grenades.” Ashland shrugged at that, and motioned to the facility.

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind. But it does make it look a little bit less like you’re a cop, and more like you still want to be a soldier,” she pointed out sweetly. Walter snorted, and followed her as she walked toward the facility. She pulled out her Makarov and a flashlight, and Hernandez had what Walter recognized was an FN Five SeveN.

“Nah,” Ryan said with a sigh, as Walter and he turned on the lights mounted to their own rifles. “We just look like we’ve been to Border before.” Walter shared a knowing look with him as they walked toward the building. There was a sign on the door that read ‘Van Harlo Research Center’, and offered absolutely no information further tan that. “So…Aliens? Little green men with inexplicable fetishes for our anuses?”

Ashland snorted, pushing open the door. “You were always fun on the radios, Ryan, but maybe let’s treat this seriously.” She stepped in to the building, and began carefully scanning with her flashlight. “Besides, they’re gray,” she offered helpfully as she walked further in to the building. The entrance hall stretched out before them as the building burrowed itself in to the side of the hill.

“You know,” Walter offered off-hand, “It wouldn’t be the craziest thing I think we’ve ever seen.”

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6.5 Siblings, Moving

There was a not insignificant amount of unpacking and moving to do, and as a consequence Walter didn’t have to—or, if he was feeling more generous, had the chance to—speak to his sister for almost an hour and a half. He helped Samuel, Margaret’s husband, move in their piano and position it in their living room when he found Margaret falling in step beside him. He sighed inwardly, but nodded.

“So why exactly are you moving to Border, Margaret?” He asked, to preempt her questioning of him. She was always Margaret by choice—she hadn’t been one for nicknames, which wasn’t helped by the fact that Walter was an inveterate nicknamer. Siobhan had come by that habit honestly, at least.

Margaret snorted. “The only reason that people move to Kansas, Walt; I got a job good enough to make me move. Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Kansas, supervising the Border office. Apparently there is a lot of need for Federal prosecution in this part of Kansas, enough to make me come to the dark side of representing the State.” She quirked her shoulders. “Two years in, and I can probably swing at least a transfer to the District of Colorado, and probably not long after at least a state if not Federal judgeship.” She looked at him directly, with the same penetrating gaze that he knew she used to such good effect in court. Of course, he was immune to it not by dint of training, but by dint of being her brother. “Isn’t it a little…soon, or disrespectful to date the ginger doctor?”

Walter sighed. “I’m not sure how it would be, Peggy.” She was Margaret by choice, but that didn’t mean he was going to necessarily honor that choice, especially when she was needling him anyway. She scowled. “She left me, 18 months ago. A year and a half and I haven’t heard a word from her.” He didn’t tell her about the note, had never told her about the note, because it was intensely private and none of her damn business. “At some point, all of our lives get to stop being in stasis waiting for something to change.”

Margaret didn’t look particularly thrilled by that answer. “Walter, I don’t want to judge your choices—” she began, almost pro forma, before Walter interrupted.

“But you’re going to power through, I see,” he commented idly.

“But you need to think about the example you’re thinking for your children, and the community,” Margaret continued sourly. She didn’t comment on his comment—perhaps it would have been too meta, or she was too used to his sarcastic back-chatter. “And what it does to them to watch their Father dating in these circumstances.”

Walter walked with her out to the truck, passing one of the mentioned children and giving her a little hip bump as she walked by with Morgan. “Hey!” Siobhan said with a giggle. “Careful, we might drop one of the seven million textbooks,” she offered, shrugging the box that she carried. “What a terrible thing that would be.” They wandered on, and Walter waggled at his eyebrows at the furtive and curious look Morgan gave her.

“Clearly scarred for life,” Walter confided sotto voce. “I don’t know how she manages to keep soldiering on.” He sighed dramatically, shaking his head from side to side sadly.

“You could be slightly less smug about your daughter not seemingly overly scarred,” Margaret commented with a sigh as she reached for a box of books herself. “I didn’t think they’d be breaking down and crying in the streets, gnashing her teeth and ripping out her hair. But everything we do has an emotional cost, Walter, and you need to be careful.”

Walter sighed. “I am careful, Margaret. As careful as I can be, with them.” His thoughts turned briefly to the fact that perhaps the most dangerous normal human he had ever met was in town and had met his daughter, they lived in a town with a creepy government research station decades past that got people killed, and Vampires on the loose. As careful as I can be, he repeated to himself with a mental sigh.

“Are you?” Margaret asked. “Have you taken them to see a therapist, have you gone to someone yourself?” She asked. Margaret was that way, would outright ask about things like therapy—it was refreshing sometimes, and frustrating often. Walter had accused her of being a robot in the past, and when he had been a kid had wondered if he could expose her wiring.

“I took them to one right after Rhiannon left, but they wouldn’t go to a second session. Antigone and Siobhan went to one right after the High School, but wouldn’t go to a second session.” Walter sighed at that, shaking his head. “Trust me when I tell you that a forced therapist visit pretty much never results in actual therapy happening. I’ve made it clear that I’d be thrilled to take them, and I will if they ask.”

Margaret sighed again, but she didn’t seem to have anything else to say in light of that. They were quiet for several minutes as they moved their boxes and placed them in the room that would end up the library. “Walter, I know we don’t really spend time together,” she offered, which was true, “But I am here, and we are family. So if you need something, I’m here.”

It was stiffly offered, and Walter wasn’t sure how much ‘something’ covered—although maybe he could hit her up for college fund donations, since she had made way more money in her life than he had. “Thank you, Margaret,” he offered sincerely, because it was a generous statement and deserved a genuine response. They did not hug, but their quiet as they carried books was at least somewhat more companionable, and that was a start.

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ASN 6.4 Personal Hell

“In case you ever wondered what hell looks like for me,” Walter offered conversationally, “This would be it.” He gestured to the scene in front of him, which to a lay observer probably didn’t resemble fire and brimstone in any sense. It was a relatively large house, certainly larger than the one that Walter and his family lived in, with a moving van outside of it and some people going to and from it. He was in his car, having driven it over from the church with only a brief stop to pick up Morgan. The Faerie Queen had consented to take back seat so that Siobhan could continue with her feet up on the dashboard, bowing to convention and comfort—and also probably buying brownie points with her boyfriend’s daughter. Which is weird to think about, Walter allowed.

“It looks fairly unassuming, Walter,” Morgan pointed out, leaning over the center console from the back seat to look at the decidedly suburban scene. The neighborhood was a nicer one, upper middle class and a few blocks away from one of Border’s other High Schools. It was across town from Walter’s house, but despite that he was well familiar with it. “And don’t—” she began.

“Exactly!” Walter punctuated, sighing. “This is my sister moving in to the same neighborhood that Benny and Analyn Aquino live in. It is people who don’t like me but I have to interact with because I love my children that will be living next to people who don’t like me but I have to interact with because of filial piety.” He leaned forward to rest his forehead on the steering wheel.

Siobhan sighed a little bit. “Lolo and Lola don’t hate you, Dad,” she offered, using the common Filipino words for grandfather and grandmother that they all preferred, although her voice sounded somewhat uncertain. “I’m just not sure they like you that much. Neither of you try to make a lot of time for the other,” she offered, her voice apologetic for the criticism of her father. He shook his head slightly.

“We tried when you were younger, kiddo, and before you were born.” He shrugged. “We all get along just fine, they just don’t like what I represent. Rhiannon ran away from Border to go to K-State, and she came back with a soldier she wanted to marry. I’m white, not-Catholic, was going to be deployed, and wasn’t from Border. I checked off all the boxes for them to dislike.”

Morgan looked out at the people moving boxes from the trucks in to the house. “And your sister…” she trailed off, raising an eyebrow.

“We’re siblings. I trust I don’t really need to explain that to anyone in the car?” He asked wryly. Morgan smirked and Siobhan grinned, and Walter waved his hands vaguely. “Margaret always took after Dad. I don’t know if she just decided his views were right, or if she decided them on her own, but she never liked that I went in to the military. She claimed that it was a waste of my talents. She didn’t seem to believe that I could have talents that were in almost exclusively destructive areas.”

Morgan leaned in to squeeze his arm, and Siobhan gave him a smile. “I don’t think you give yourself enough credit, Walter. I’ve seen you as a leader, as an investigator, and as a father. And I suspect that your sister knows it. It’s been a long time since you lived in the same city as one another, and you may be surprised at how well you get along with one another.” She took a long pause. “Also, shouldn’t we get out of the car and go help? Or risk looking like crazy people?”

Walter didn’t say anything, but he shook his head and reached to pull the keys out of the car. “At some point, I do have to wonder, if all my family members dislike me then is it really them—or is it me?” He asked with a little bit of a smirk. They all got out at that, leaving it unanswered, and walked toward the house. A woman turned and began walking toward them.

She was tall and slender, and the family resemblance to Walter was strong. She had medium brown hair that was tied in a short pony-tail behind her head, and she was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt with the emblem of the University of Colorado on it. “Took you long enough,” she said simply. “I called you yesterday to tell you we were coming.”

Walter nodded slowly. “Right, and normal people tell their family more than twenty-four hours in advance they need help moving. Also, why are you here?” He asked.

Margaret gave him an even look. “I tried calling you before, you don’t pick up my calls. And I’m here for the reason anyone moves across the country, especially to Kansas—I got a job offer.” She looked over, and had a genuine smile for Siobhan. “Hello, Siobhan; it’s good to see you.” Siobhan smiled back. “And who is your friend, Walter?”

“Margaret Richards, Esquire, meet Morgan Winters, M.D. She’s the local medical examiner, and we met on a case,” Walter explained. He debated not saying more than that and letting her wonder, but he looked over to her and saw her raised eyebrow. He did like screwing with her, a lot. With a snort, he continued. “And we’re also dating, and having enthusiastic-”

“NO,” Siobhan said quickly, shoving her father toward the moving truck full of boxes. “MORE TALK ABOUT MEDICINE AND LAW LESS TRYING TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL GROSS.” At that, at least, they all laughed.

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