Border, KS

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

ASN 3.3 Connections and Calamari

Ashland had brought sufficient evidence with her to convince them of her claim, and they spent most of the rest of the morning going through it. A lot of it was speculation—references to other odd drug outbreaks going back at least twenty years, which had potentially been misidentified as other kinds of narcotics. Tainted crack, a new form of meth—in the nineties there had even been something that had been labeled as a Thai drug called ‘Yaa baa’, which Walter had needed to look up; and all of it was a potential outbreak of what they now called Salvation. They had a lot of leads to potentially follow; they also had pizza they ordered.

“Well,” Walter offered philosophically after washing down some pizza with a splash of soda, “at least we’re not starving for information this time.” He looked at the piles on the table in front of them. “I’m not saying the other side is much better, mind, but…”

Alexander smirked. “But at least it’s different? If only it made much of a difference, instead of just being different.” At that the older man sighed, and put down a report he had been reading. “But whether you’re in a desert dying for a drop of information or drowning it, the end is the same. Like this report…I’m the reporting officer, for Christ’s sake, and I remember it. Marshal Herrera assigned me to look in to what we thought was a batch of tainted heroin, because she had no leads. After about two months, I didn’t have any leads either and then we had a more important missing person.”

Andre Alexander, Walter’s partner wearing the dark green Border PD dress uniform from a visit to a local elementary school, leaned forward. “Was that when the Mayor went missing, back in the 90s?” He asked curiously. He picked up the file underneath the tainted heroin, and nodded. “Yep, here it is. Liam McElroy, Mayor of Border, mysteriously disappeared from the locked Mayor’s house, without a trace.”

Leah Silverman, Walter’s other partner also in the green dress uniform, blinked a little bit. “Do you think they’re related? I remember when that happened, it was big news. Everyone thought the Deputy Mayor must have done it on account of her being his ex-wife, but she was acquitted,” Leah explained to Walter, who was starting at them in startlement.

“The Mayor of Border was kidnapped? Was he ever found?” Walter asked curiously, leaning over to leaf through the file as well. Even Ashland looked interested, drawn out of her shell of smugness to watch as they looked over the papers. “Never found. Holy shit, Border, how do you lose a mayor?”

Morgan coughed delicately from the corner. “There were rumors he was engaged in some…salacious activity that caught up with him,” she offered. And then with a raised red brow she shared a very meaningful look with her sister for a moment, before looking back to Walter. At his very questioning look, she continued the facial communications with a look that clearly said I’ll tell you later.

“Needless to say they tore down the new Mayor’s mansion and went back to using the old one,” William Alexander said with a sigh. “Since it was the second time in fifty years a mayor went missing in the new on. New being relative, since it was built in the 50s.”

“I…” Walter offered slowly, shaking his head from side to side with a little laugh. “I’m not entirely sure how to process a town that loses two mayors in half a century. So why don’t we just move back to the data. Are there any patterns in what we’ve got, besides ‘stuff happens, weird drug involved’?” He picked up three of the files up from the table. “What’s the oldest one we’ve got?”

Leah picked one up between slim fingers and considered it. “I think this is the oldest case that might be connected. It’s from the sixties, and I haven’t seen anything older here,” she offered. Everyone at the table shuffled the papers ahead of them, and one by one shook their heads. “Ok, so that’s our starting point. How often does it happen, is it regular?”

Andre considered the papers in front of them and sighed. “Nope. And they involve different people—I remember two about black gangs, one about a Latino gang, and then some college students. Different ages too, and different times of the year. If there’s a pattern here then it’s not one that I’m seeing, boss,” he offered to his uncle the Marshal.

“No, there’s something,” the elder Alexander responded. “If Ashland is right and these are related to Salvation, there has to be a rhyme or a reason. We just don’t know what it is. But that means we need to get to wearing out shoe leather, and run down these cases.” That brought a general silence to the green carpeted room, as the detectives considered the amount of work before them—and no doubt the civilians tried not to be noticed and ‘volunteered’ to help.

“Can we change first?” Leah asked wryly, looking down at the military-style buttoned wool coat with standing collar. “Or at least get some bottles of water?” At Alexander’s laugh and nod, everyone began to filter out of the room. Ashland collected her papers and proffered a very lazy salute in Walter’s direction and a wiggle of her eyebrows at Ryan. Finally the room fell to quiet again with just Walter and a recently red-headed coroner and Faerie Queen.

“Did Tania murder the Mayor of Border after sleeping with him or something?” Walter asked, after a long beat. Morgan blinked, and then couldn’t stop a peal of laughter from escaping. It was, Walter reflected, very much like a giggle.

“Oh no, is that what you thought that look was? I mean…we killed the shit out of him, to be sure,” she offered in continued amusement which only grew at his horrified look. “But he was part of a cult trying to summon a squid god into the town.”

That drew another series of blinks, choking noises, and an elongated silence from Walter as he processed it. “That’s…quite a little word picture, for a simple couple of sentences. Would it have worked?” He managed to ask as he stood up, and began to walk with Morgan out the door.

“I don’t know, but we went out for calamari afterwords and took great relish in chewing it…vigorously afterword,” she confessed.


ASN 3.2 The Briefing Room

The main conference room at the Border Police Department Headquarters was elegantly done, if somewhat in need of updating. It had the classic boardroom style of dark wood for the table, chairs, and walls. The floor was a dark green carpet that held up well despite obviously having been installed in the 80s or 90s—and thinking about carpet from then needing replacement made Walter feel very old himself. The chairs were plush, and the table long and bowed out in the middle to create the impression of an oval or at the very least a rectangle that had let itself go.

Oblivious to the glares it drew from the officers, Ashland had marched herself to the head of the table and sat beneath the wall with the Border Police seal on it. She looked quite at ease in her little power play, although none of the people who knew her seemed surprised and Marshal Alexander didn’t seem bothered. The Marshal took the seat next to her with great equanimity while the rest of the officers and spectators filled in to their seats. Morgan remained standing, taking a back wall near Walter, while Tania blithely took the other seat next to Ashland and opposite Alexander.

“Forgive me, Marshal Alexander,” Ashland began in a polite tone, turning gimlet eyes to Morgan and Tania in turn. “I’m not sure this is necessarily appropriate to discuss with non-police employees. Frankly I’d even prefer to keep our mission quasi-confidential from the rest of the Department…” She let it trail off as if the rest were self-apparent, and she felt a little embarrassed at having to point out the obvious to him. He matched her tone with a grandfatherly smile of his own, as if he were taking her concern and embarrassment for him as wholly serious.

“I do appreciate the concern, Agent Ashland. But this is my briefing room, in my police department, in my city,” Alexander said very evenly. “Doctor Winters and…Tanya have proved to be very useful in previous cases—the Doctor for her medical knowledge, and her sister as a community interface.” That Alexander could label Tanya so smoothly as a community interface when she tended more toward an abrasive pusher of her own agenda impressed Walter, and reassured him that the man could keep up with Ashland.

Ashland, for her part, merely pursed her lips for a moment and then offered an apparently nonchalant shrug. “It’s your department, Marshal Alexander, I’m only here to assist. I cannot, of course, insist my advice be taken,” she offered, in a tone of voice that made clear she thought anyone who didn’t listen to what she had to say was an idiot. “But there are certain things, as we…evolve our relationship, let’s say…that I will want to keep secret for operational security.”

Ryan let out a snort. “OpSec, you mean like in Islamabad?” Ashland’s eyes may have narrowed at the interruption and the reference, but they were back to bland vagueness so quickly Walter wasn’t sure if it had been real or imaginary. “Or what was it…the second time in Kabul?”

“Second time,” Walter confirmed. “I don’t care about your OpSec and you don’t even really scare me any more, Ashland, so cut the shit and get on with it before I message Doodle and tell him you’re here. He’s still awfully salty about that money he never got,” Walter offered with an oblique smile of his own. That got a little bit of stiffness from her for sure, and a surreptitious glance at her cell-phone. Doodle could work wonders from distances measured in the thousands of miles, and she knew it. She gave him a steady glare but made an ‘as you will’ motion with her hand.

“The FBI, and certain resources they have had tasked to them,” Ashland allowed sourly, with a little bow, “have been focusing on the Salvation trade for the better part of a year.”

Tanya smirked. “That seems to me like a job for the clergy, not the FBI,” she offered in amusement. Ashland didn’t bother to hide the scowl she gave the journalist, before she looked over to Alexander.

“I can either give my briefing or I can trade witticisms with your pet civilians, Marshal. I’d really prefer not to do both,” Ashland offered in a tone of faux-sweetness. At Alexander’s quelling gesture to Tanya, and her return scowl to Ashland, the alleged FBI agent continued. “Salvation’s spread didn’t follow normal drug patterns, and for a long time even the FBI had difficulty in figuring out exactly what it was. It isn’t an opioid, a cannabinoid, or an amphetamine. Certain strains have had those cut in, but at its heart its source and its mechanisms were unknown. Well, recently, the FBI figured out on of them.” She paused, Walter knew, for effect.

“Still don’t know what it is but you know it comes from Border?” Walter guessed in a tone of pleasant helpfulness. She scowled as the moment for her dramatic revelation was stolen out from under her. “It’s disturbingly common, I’m finding out. So you tracked the source and the creation to Border, and somehow conned the FBI in to thinking you’re one of them to investigate?”

Ashland continued to scowl as he beat the dead horse of her cover, but she shook her head. “Would you like to call my Bureau supervisor, Walter? I guarantee he’ll answer.”

“Whatever FBI agent whose family you kidnapped can stay uncalled for now,” Walter shrugged in response. “So what great wisdom have you brought us, and when can you take our disinterest with you back to Washington?” Now it was Alexander who gave him a slightly sour smile—his baiting might have gone on too far, he thought.

Ashland’s smile wasn’t sour at all, which also gave him pause. “We’ve discovered Salvation may be much older than any of us ever believed. Maybe by a few decades. And,” she offered, giving the room a falsely beatific smile, “the FBI has assigned me to stay here and give our help to you all until we can solve where it came from and how it is distributed.”

“Shiiiiit,” Ryan opined from the back.


ASN 3.1 The Whole Crew

Alexander looked unamused. “Walter, you bought a lot of credit with last year, but—” he began, before Walter shook his head and sighed.

“She doesn’t work alone, she never works alone. I don’t care if she rolled some FBI agent for his badge, she has at least a couple of people with her. I guarantee it.” Walter’s eyes didn’t move off of Ashland as he spoke to his boss, and his tone continued to be in a far more commanding tone then he ever would have normally used with the man who was his superior and friend.

He could tell Alexander was watching him, weighing the current situation versus his trust for Walter. After a moment he gave a nod, and looked over to where Ashland stood waiting without worry or care. “Agent Ashland, if you could call in whatever other men you have with you, I would appreciate it.”

Ashland considered for a moment, sucking on her teeth—a habit Walter knew meant she was thinking. After a moment of consideration she shrugged and nodded. She tilted her head slightly to apparently speak in to her shirt collar, but Walter knew that she preferred to keep her microphone there and she was obviously relaying orders to her team. Once that was done she leaned against on of the building’s pillars, hands folded casually in the classic bodyguard posture—one hand grasping the other by the wrist.

Less than thirty seconds after she spoke, two men came in through the door that looked like they had responded to a casting call for physical opposites. The first one couldn’t have been more than five-foot seven, but was so broad of shoulder he almost seemed like he was wider than he was tall. He moved with an unexpected lightness, and he had buzz-cut short hair on caramel colored skin. The second one was three or four inches taller than Walter and had pale skin and dirty blond hair. Walter didn’t recognize the second newcomer, but both he and Ryan started at the sight of the first one

“Sergeant Major, it’s been a while,” Walter offered in a tone of adopted neutrality. The man was wearing a suit that had to have been custom tailored to fit his shoulders, and he gave a grin when to Walter and Ryan. Ryan didn’t take the tone of neutrality, but strode out to embrace the wide man in a hug.

“Taito, you bastard, what are you doing with this psychopath? And you got a promotion?” Ryan asked in delight. They went through the standard man-hug ritual (handshake to hug, two slaps on the back, and then out), before stepping back. Ashland only scowled slightly at being called a psychopath.

“You know how it is, brother. You do the good work, and you do it with the people you’ve got to do it with,” the wide man responded. He gave a nod to Walter. “Playing it cool, Major?” He offered with a wry grin, and a little finger salute.

“Anyone spending sufficient time with Ashland is somewhat suspect, Taito,” Walter offered, but give him a slight smile. “Who’s your friend.”

Ashland took that as an invitation to rejoin the conversation, walking forward. “Gavin Neill, formerly a Captain with the Air Force 21st Special Tactics Squadron,” she introduced the tall blond man. “Captain Neill had a distinguished career before joining the Bureau and my team,” she explained.

The three of them began walking toward the conference room Alexander had indicated. The Marshal didn’t stop them, but did turn to look at Walter with a raised eyebrow. “Well you were right. I take it you know the Sergeant Major from your army days, Walt?”

Walter and Ryan both nodded. “Sergeant Major Taito Hernandez was one of the best men and best Special Forces operators I ever met. He was a Ranger, a Green Beret sergeant, and later spent a lot of his career in Delta,” Walter explained. “He taught Ryan and I a lot when we were puppies.” At the use of that phrase, Taito gave a wolfish grin that carried him in to the conference room, along with Ashland and Neill.

Alexander paused at the door, considering both Walter and Ryan for a moment. He rested a hand on the dark wood of the conference room doorway, rubbing at the weathered room with what seemed like an equally weathered ebony finger. “You both had a much more…interesting career than any record I could get to would indicate, I take it.” He spoke it less as a question than as a statement, and one he didn’t particular expect an answer to. When neither Walter nor Ryan confirmed, he shook his head. “And now somehow it’s all rolling up in my town. Just…keep me informed of anything that could get all of us killed, if you would be so kind?”

“We’ll do our best,” Walter offered with a shake of his head. “With Ashland in town, it could be up in the air. But we’ll do our best,” he offered, looking over to Ryan. “Come on, let’s go see what kind of shit show she’s brought this time.”

“As if she’d tell us the truth,” Ryan offered cheerily as he walked in to the conference room. Walter couldn’t stop himself from sighing, but he also couldn’t disagree with the sentiment. As the rest of the involved Border PD team filed in, including Morgan and Tania, he shared a meaningful look with Morgan. After she entered he let out a deep sigh and entered, closing the door behind him.


ASN 3.0 Of All the Police Stations in the World…

By Monday morning, Walter was thinking that Lacey might even have been right. There were apparently some leads in the murder of Troll, some drug dealers who he had crossed a few months before that might be vicious enough to tear him apart. It was a long shot, because Walter still wasn’t certain that what had happened wasn’t from Morgan’s side of the street, but it was something.

He was seated at his desk at 8:30 AM, working on paperwork. The Deputy Marshals, what Border called detectives, all had desks clustered together by team on the main floor. The teams were further broken apart by division, with Homicide having what were considered the prime seats: Straight back from the front desk, near the break-room and with a straight shot either back to the employee parking lot or front to the front doors. His desk was actually against the back wall, and gave him a clear line of sight to the front door and the back exit. After the attacks the previous year he had requested that specifically, and in light of everything that had happened it had been an easy request for Marshal Alexander to grant.

Walter could hear Tania and Ryan talking to the Marshal about some security matter for an event Tania was throwing, and he was waiting for Morgan to come back from the copy machine with the autopsy results. As a result he didn’t see the woman enter until he heard the desk sergeant say his name, and point back to where he was. He looked up to see a woman coming for him. She was of middling height, thin but whipcord lean with what looked to be well-defined muscles, and ash blond hair kept in a close crop around her head. Her eyes matched the gray suit she wore, and the expression on her face was a kind of neutral boredom that bordered on the arrogant; like nothing could possibly trouble her.

Her eyes caught his in that moment, and he saw the familiar sly smirk in them. His lips were in a snarl without realizing it, and he was moving. He stood up, chair sliding back from him to hit the wall, and by the time he had risen he not only had his gun out but he had finished racking a bullet in to the chamber. The sound of the slide slamming into place on the Border PD standard issue .45 brought all activity in the room to a stop.

“You’ve got thirty seconds to get the hell out of here before I follow up on my promise to put two into your skull, Ashland. Thirty…” Walter all but shouted, his voice angry and his counting staccato and firm. “Twenty-nine…”

Ashland smiled sardonically, shaking her head from side to side. “Walter, Walter, Walter…Major, is this any way to greet an old friend?” She walked toward him unconcernedly. Walter saw someone going in to the Marshal’s office out of the corner of his eyes, but he kept his focus intently on the woman in front of him.

“If we were friends, I wouldn’t be twenty-eight seconds away from saving a war crimes tribunal from having to do their job,” Walter answered. “Twenty-seven…” The end of the Springfield Armory 1911 didn’t waver, the sights putting his aim directly between her eyes.

Morgan stopped in the other corner of his vision, stacks of paper in her hands, and he could tell she was taking stock of the situation carefully—trying to decide if she needed to start using her powers, or if it was handled. “Now now, I thought we at least had an understanding. At least me and the puppy did. Do you still keep in touch with him?” She asked with a wry smile.

Marshal Alexander chose that moment to step out of the office to investigate the incident evolving on the main floor of his police station, along with Tania Summers and Ryan Aquino. “Ah…” Ashland’s smile took on a decidedly lascivious turn at the sight of Ryan’s tanned and handsome face. “There’s the puppy. I wonder if I can get you to play fetch for me again?”

Walter and Tania both blinked, although only the woman turned to look at Ryan. Ryan, meanwhile, looked stunned beyond action for a moment, his mouth open in shock as he stared at the woman thirty feet away from him. “Tell me you didn’t screw the crazy, Ryan…” Walter asked almost pleadingly. “Twenty-five,” Walter counted, skipping twenty-six since time had passed.

“Walter, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Alexander demanded, his voice a drill sergeant’s bark. “Put your weapon away right now!” But he was forced to do a double-take when Ryan, spurred in to action, also drew a gun in a smooth motion; all he did was turn off the safety, his own personal weapon a double-single action that could be kept with a bullet in the chamber and the hammer down, because pulling the trigger would pull the hammer back as well as drop it and fire the bullet. “Aquino, put your fucking weapon away right now. I will not have another shootout in my station! This woman is an FBI liaison the Bureau sent to help us with the Salvation dealing problem.”

Walter shook his head quickly. “Bullshit. If she’s an FBI agent I’ll eat this whole station. Her name is Ashland, and she’s CIA. Not just CIA, but Special Activities Division, and the third deadliest person I know alive on the planet.” Walter didn’t have to look over to know Morgan had gotten that last hint about how highly he ranked Ashland; she tensed up suitably, since she could be reasonably sure that she and her sister were in the first two slots.

Ashland sighed, leaning against a desk and shrugging. “Trying to blow my cover, Walter? That would be a shame, it would have only lasted what…five minutes?” She laughed, but it was only a cousin to something actually mirthful. “But if you look, I am wearing the badge on the outside of my suit, so I wouldn’t even have to reach in to my jacket to pull it out.” She wiggled her shoulders a little bit. Tucked in to the breast pocket of her suit was a badge jacket, with an FBI badge hanging from it.

“NOW!” Alexander shouted, and Walter’s face locked in to a grimace while Ashland just smirked. Walter thumbed the safety on and holstered his weapon, leaving it more unsafe (because the hammer was back and could theoretically drop and fire if he dropped the gun) because it was also more quickly ready to fire. Ashland was worth the risk. He saw Ryan doing the same, and looking about as happy about it as she was.

“Let’s all go in to the conference room and have a sit down, so we can decide whether I’m going to fire Walter and ban Ryan from my station, or if there is some merit to their accusations. And brandishing of weapons,” he continued with a glare at his officer and guest. Walter started to comply, but then he paused—never taking his eyes off of the woman.

“Have her call in her crew, before we all go chat.”


ASN 2.6 Gobshite

Siobhan stormed out of the gardens, shaking her head angrily. She reached up to run a hand back through her hair as she turned to her family and friends. “Well that was a goddamn dumpster fire. Why did we invite that horse’s ass again?”

Monica didn’t look much happier, but she took a deep breath before she spoke—and Lacey reached out to squeeze her hand before she continued. “Ignoring the fact that Franks kept opening his mouth, there was actually a lot of good information. Gethsemane and St. Paul agreeing to provide counseling and a safe place could be really important.”

There was a low murmur of conversation as they all made their ways to their respective vehicles, as people left the meetings. Most of it seemed to be along the same lines as what they were discussing, about the way Franks had behaved; but there seemed to be at least a number of them discussing the actual information ad the point of the evening.

Reverend Morrison had apparently taken a few moments to detach herself from the crowd, but when she managed she jogged over to meet them. Her elegant face seemed more lined then it had before the meeting, and she spoke directly to Monica and Lacey first. “I am so sorry, girls. If Reverend Burgess hadn’t gotten the flu it would have been better; he’s about the only one who keeps Franks in line.”

Siobhan scowled. “If that trumped up jackass Franks wants to pretend to be a religious leader in this weird freaking town, he shouldn’t get to act like a petulant five year old.” Having met Burgess, a kind man with white hair and an easy smile, she didn’t doubt he could have kept Franks in line. “He shouldn’t need a handler, especially from another church.”

“I know, and I am sorry,” Morrison apologized, and sounded sincere. Siobhan softened a little bit because she could see the genuine regret in the woman’s face, and she just sighed. “I do think there is a lot of good that will come of it. We have people in the community talking about how Salvation is spreading, and that’s important—maybe we can keep it from getting too bad.”

Walter offered a smile in return, both to Monica and Lacey and then moving over to Morrison as well. “And besides, you certainly did enough work to get an A, regardless of what that…” He paused, trying to come up with the right word to describe him.

“Gobshite,” Morgan supplied helpfully.

“Gobshite did,” Walter finished automatically, and then blinked a little bit as he looked over to his date with a raised eyebrow. “What did I just say? It doesn’t sound like something I should be saying this close to a church.”

Morrison regarded Morgan curiously, while Siobhan leaned in eagerly—sensing a new curse word that she could add to her already astonishing repertoire. “Gobshite is Irish slang for an idiot, which I think he definitely qualifies as.” Siobhan nodded, mouthing the word to herself and committing it to memory.

Walter shook his head. “You’re a bad influence, I think. She doesn’t need more tings to say that will get her kicked out of class,” he offered wryly. Naomi, meanwhile, finished giving Morgan a considering look and apparently had come to a question.

“You’re Irish?” She asked curiously. Morgan gave a smile that was only a little bit a smirk, more warm then wry—but still with a teasing edge to it.

“It does seem to fit with the red hair, green eyes, and being Catholic, doesn’t it?” Morgan asked, one red eyebrow cocked. “Inevitable next question, why don’t I have an accent?” She supplied, which drew a nod from the Reverend. Morgan’s smile didn’t fade, but there was a twinkle in her eyes. “My family is from Ireland,” she explained. Walter noticed she never exactly said she wasn’t from Ireland, or confirmed that she was—she implied heavily with her words and the tone of her voice, without offering any more information than before. But Morrison seemed to buy it, nodding and clearly taking it to mean ‘My family is from Ireland, but I’m American.’

“Well, either way…” she turned back to the young women. “You all did a good job arranging this and helping set it up, and thank you; I hope you’ll keep doing things for the community like this even when there isn’t a grade on the line.” She looked like she was going to say more when they heard raised voices behind them, including Reverend Franks. Morrison sighed and shook her head. “I’ll send the letter to your teacher about the project so you get credit, and we can talk about it later this week.” At that she shook her head, and started back toward the church.

While the Richards and Morgan turned to watch her go, Siobhan saw Lacey turn to Monica and lean in. Monica asked softly “Where are you going tonight?” That caused Siobhan to blink; it was said in a tone that suggested it was not an idle question about evening plans.

“My dad is back in town,” Lacey whispered softly. Monica winced, but took the shorter woman’s hand in hers and squeezed it tightly.

“Everything OK?” Walter asked, causing Siobhan to jump a little bit; she hadn’t seen her father look over at the two girls, nor had she realized he noticed the interaction. She wasn’t surprised on reflection, but it still startled her.

“Yes, Mr. Richards,” Monica answered, while Lacey appeared to be deciding what to say. “Lacey’s going to crash at my place for the night, so we can get to school early and write up our report about the project.” Walter gave the dark skinned young woman an even look, but she didn’t back down from his gaze or look away. After a moment of considering her, Walter nodded.

“Alright. But if something is up…” he let the words trail for a moment. “Let me know, alright? I have lots of ways to make things better,” he finished with a reassuring smile. Siobhan didn’t think he knew what was going on anymore than she did, but she loved him for offering to help the two young women who were her closest friends.

“Of course,” Lacey offered softly, smiling. “And you’re right. Things get better,” she offered, squeezing Monica’s hand.


ASN 2.5 Well-Heeled

Reverend Morrison caught up with them by the drink table, after Walter had taken Morgan’s arm again and both of them occupied their other hands with a glass of wine. Walter had also carefully supervised Siobhan and Antigone getting cans of Coke, remembering what happened the last time one of his twins drank at a party.

“I’m sorry, Detective Richards. Franks is…well, he’s a horse’s ass sometimes,” Naomi began, before amending it quickly, “Most of the time. Probably all of the time.” She sighed a little bit.

Walter took a long sip of wine and considered the garden, slowly filling with people from the community and local students in a clash of business casual and just plain casual, before he ventured a response. “And yet you put up with him.”

“He owns the land the garden is built on. The terms of his lease are very generous, but it does allow him to…” She paused to chose her words delicately. “Involve himself in things that he thinks he should be involved in, because of his generosity.”

Walter and Morgan shared a raised eyebrow for a moment before he turned back to Morrison. “I think it’s fascinating he gets so much influence in the garden of Gethsemane for what turns out to be an amount of silver, Reverend Morrison.” His voice was gentler than it could have been, softening the barb into more of a playful jab.

Naomi gave a little bit of a smile, reaching up to push back some of her graying auburn hair. “Now you’re teasing me. Franklin Franks is not Judas Iscariot, if only because no one would ever fail to see the betrayal coming.”

Morgan had been quiet, letting the two of them speak, but at that she let out a soft laugh and shook her head, sending her curls of red hair tumbling. “I rather thought the point was that Christ did see it coming, Reverend. ‘Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me’ and all that, from Matthew.”

Morrison considered Morgan for a long moment with searching gray eyes, considering the words more carefully then Walter would have thought an off-hand comment deserved; although knowing Morgan, and that she had quoted chapter and verse, it was probably not that off-hand. “You aren’t wrong, Doctor. If I can do so without offering further offense to Detective Richards, what is your religious background?”

Now it was Morgan’s turn to return a considering look, although she spared a quick glance for Walter. Walter offered a small shrug, disclaiming his place in the conversation—although he couldn’t keep a little bit of curiosity off of his face a well. “I was raised Catholic,” Morgan explained after a moment, apparently having debated how much she wanted to discuss it. “But like Walter the specifics of my job took some of the specifics of my faith from me. I would now broadly call myself Deist.”

Morrison processed this for a moment before she nodded, as if something had passed her internal intellectual muster. It struck Walter a very natural look for the woman, inquisitive and intellectual—she looked like she would have made a good teacher or professor. “You’re a doctor and the coroner, that’s right—I think I must have seen you around before. Having you been doing that for very long?” She asked curiously, looking at Morgan as if trying to truly weigh or get a sense of the doctor. Morgan raised a red eyebrow.

“Long enough, it seems like,” Morgan offered in response, a polite smile on her lips before she took Walter’s arm. “If you’ll excuse us, I think Walter and I will take a little walk in the garden before the discussion starts.” Morrison gave a gracious smile and nod, and Walter let himself be lead away by his date.

“Did you mean your job as Doctor, or Queen of Winter?” Walter asked as the headed in to the twinkling gardens. “Also, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise you were Catholic,” he added as an afterthought as their footsteps took them on to a low and winding path that led meanderingly to the fountain in the sunken gardens.

“Both, to be honest. My mother was an apothecary and midwife—before she died I’d help her bring life in to the world. There’s a lot of miracle there, but also a whole lot of biology,” Morgan offered, crinkling her nose. “And no, the fact that an Irish girl born in the 14th Century would be raised Catholic, even if she is the daughter of the King of all Faeries, isn’t surprising; I predate Protestantism. I can still say all my prayers in Latin if you want. Pater noster qui es in coelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum…”

Walter snorted. “Please stop, I don’t want to have visions of nuns if we decide to head back to try to steal some time before the kids get home. Not that we actually saw nuns, not being Catholic,” he offered with a shrug. “But the pop culture gets to you.”

Morgan laughed merrily as they made it down to the garden. She stepped out of her sandals to walk on the grass to the fountain. “Ah, my mother would be so disappointed, I’m dating a Protestant. I mean, she’d be disappointed after I explained to her what one was.” She motioned for the seat next to her on the edge of the fountain, and Walter went to join her. The fountain had a long rectangular pool around it, stretching the length of the most sunken part of the garden and built out of solid red stone that still retained some heat from the day.

“My father would be somewhat disconcerted to learn I was dating a Faerie Queen, after I explained to him what it was,” Walter allowed with a smile. “Given what those words can mean to the rest of the world he would be very surprised until I clarified.”

Morgan laughed again, shaking her head. “Sidhe might be better to lead off with, rather than Faerie.” She considered him for a moment, meeting his eyes—hers were shockingly green, although he know they could have also been any other color possible she wanted them to be. But they were her real eyes, like a central casting call for ‘Irish woman’, and they watched him intently for a few seconds. “You don’t talk to them much, do you. Or Rhiannon’s parents.”

Walter sighed, resting his hands on the fountain and leaning back slightly. He looked up at the deepening night beyond the muted lights of the garden, and finally shook his head. “No.” He looked down, kicking his shoes for a moment, which he knew was a habit he knew Siobhan had picked up from him—looking down and considering his own shoe laces when considering something unpleasant. “You know, there’s nothing quite so unpleasant as realizing your own father doesn’t like your choices.” He could see the question in her eyes, along with the concern, so he continued. “My dad was a Colorado farm boy. Well…ranch boy. He knew how to shoot a gun, but for hunting or for when coyotes showed up. Never wanted to use it for anything but that. So of course, his draft number was going to be called for Vietnam—so he enlisted rather then being drafted. He was always angry about that, and apparently his time over there was not pleasant. So when I joined the Army…” Walter let it trail off, giving it a non-caring shrug that had taken years to be truthful.

Morgan nodded slowly, reaching to squeeze his hand. “I’m well acquainted with disappointed fathers, Walter. You killed mine, if you recall,” she offered wryly. When Walter smiled, she did as well. “I hope I won’t have to return the favor.”

Walter shook his head, smiling and leaning down to kiss her hand. “No, but you might get dragged to a supremely awkward Christmas. We’re due. You can meet my sister, which will be similarly…’fun’.” He looked out to consider the gardens, and its occupants. Frank Franks was giving them a very wide berth, and he grimaced. “He’s going to be annoying tonight,” Walter offered.

Morgan nodded, her expression matching his. “God help us, the man is trying to set himself up for a run for the State House next year. Normally I’d say anyone who wants to willingly go work with the Governor in Topeka is welcome to the unpleasantness. But fortunately there is a group of well-heeled investors who have no desire to see his brand of bullshit morality in the capital.”

Now it was Walter’s turn to raise an eyebrow, directing it at the woman at his side—who happened to be one of the wealthiest women in town. “Would that be you and Tania?”

Morgan grinned wickedly, and kicked a leg out. “Am I not well-heeled?” She asked, wiggling her toes. With a snort, Walter stood and held his hand out to her to help her up. Taking it and rising gracefully, she looked over to the open area where the talk was going to be and nodded. Sliding her arm through his once more and stepping back in to her sandals, they went to join the growing group.


ASN 2.4 In the Churchyard

“Do we really have to go to this thing?” Siobhan asked with a sigh as she and her friends slid out of Monica’s van and began to walk toward the church. “I mean, churches really aren’t my thing.” She sighed and reached down to brush down her black slacks, even though they were fine. She matched it with a black button-up shirt and, for some visual differentiation, a black blazer.

“Worried about bursting it in to flame?” Lacey asked with a grin as she came around to join them from the other side, with Monica sliding out and locking the van a second later. “This church is pretty cool, you don’t have to worry about it. And since it was my civics project for AP Government to do this, yes you do. Also since you’re here, and your father will be here, you might as well.”

Siobhan sighed, leaning her head on Antigone’s shoulder as they walked. Antigone just gave her sister a smile and a pat on the head as they passed the sign naming the church. “I think it’s a great project. A night for the community to talk about fighting Salvation.” She paused as she caught sight of the name of the church. “Huh.” The sign proclaimed it Gethsemane United Church of Christ. “That seems a little bit…on the nose for a church with a garden,” she pointed out.

Monica shrugged. “Try to keep the existential crises to a minimum, that’s so last semester,” Monica said with a standoffish shrug that she softened with a smile, taking Lacey by the arm and walking with her toward their project.

The basic premise had been simple, and yet the community had responded with surprising enthusiasm. With a growing problem with Salvation addiction in the city, and usage spreading among teenagers, an evening discussing strategies to address it between community leaders and high school students seemed like it could be helpful. Monica and Lacey had confessed that they expected it to be a very small affair at first, but it had quickly ballooned—fortunately the church in question had volunteered its spacious gardens to be the site of the event, and the weather had held up.

“I’m not sure seeing Dad here tonight is an argument for it,” Siobhan said with a sigh as they walked. Antigone grinned, dressed much more normally in a floral spring dress that swished as she walked, and sandals.

“But him not seeing us here would have caused a lot of questions,” Antigone pointed out as they came up to the arched entryway of the gardens. The church was built in what had to be a consciously older style, large and tall and stone. A large stained glass window was set above the main entrance, and another looked from the church into the garden. The gardens themselves took up most of the rest of the lot that the church sat on, and the space served as part botanical garden and part community park. They were built in the style of a sunken gardens, with winding down a shallow incline to long and low fountains set at the base. Siobhan had seen them during the day, visiting to scout and set-up, and they were lovely; but at night they were beautiful. Luscious even early in the season, the twinkling lights on the sculptures and arches gave it an inviting warmth.

The first person who came over to greet them was their father. He was dressed in a dark suit with a sapphire blue tie that Siobhan was reasonably sure that Morgan had bought him, because it went with the dress she was wearing. “Good evening Monica, Lacey. This looks like it will be interesting.”

Both girls smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Richards,” Lacey said honestly. “We’re hoping something good comes of it, even if it just ends up being people talking.”

“Much good in the world has come because people were willing to sit in a room and discuss things, Lacey,” a voice said from behind them. The speaker was a tall woman dressed in a black button-up shirt and slacks. She was tall enough that Siobhan almost missed the white tab in the collar of her shirt, partially covered up by her graying hair. She looked like she was maybe ten years older than Walter. “Also probably much of the evil in the world, but we’ll ignore that for now.” She held out a hand to Walter, who shook it politely, before doing the same for Morgan. “Naomi Morrison, I’m the pastor here at Gethsemane.”

“Walter Richards,” Walter introduced himself. “Border PD. I’m here to make sure these two don’t cause too much trouble for the talks tonight,” he offered with a gesture at Siobhan and Antigone, and a smirk.

Naomi smiled gently at the two of them as they both glared back at their father with the best look they could muster. Apparently it didn’t live up to Army standards, because he didn’t seem put out in the slightest. “Nonsense, Lacey and Monica have told me how helpful they’ve been. You are very lucky to have such considerate children.” Walter regarded them with an eyebrow raised, as if trying to assess when exactly the pod people had replaced them, as Naomi went on. “I asked Monica to invite you all to come to services, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to meet you before now.” She softened what could have been a hard sell with a smile. Antigone suddenly found a loose thread to pick at on her skirt, while Siobhan shrugged unapologetically at her father.

“I don’t go to church much, Reverend,” Walter offered with a shrug, absent malice or anger. He looked like he was going to say more when another man strode up and inserted himself forcefully in to the conversation.

“Ah but Detective Richards, what thought have you given to the state of your soul!” The man who came up could not have been more different from Naomi if they had been specifically created as opposites. Short and with a shock of dark black hair slicked back with enough product to stock a barber shop, he had pale skin and a bright white suit—a gold cross gleamed in the lapel, reflecting the soft lights of the garden.

“Reverend Franks, how good of you to…join us,” Naomi offered tactfully. She started to say something else, but the man blew past her to reach out and take Walter’s hand and shake it non-consentually.

“I don’t believe in the soul, Reverend Franks,” Walter offered with less equanimity as the man assaulted his hand. Franks gasped, shaking his head and clucking his tongue like an overbearing nanny.

“Now that is a very serious thing to say, Detective Richards. Walter, do we not stand in the Garden of Gethsemane? Are we not blessed to be alive, and you of all of us. A warrior, doing God’s own work and clearly protected by the divine, or else how would you have survived so much?” He asked, his voice carrying. A small group around them began to turn and look at the brash man who was nearly shouting. Siobhan started to step forward toward Franks, but Antigone caught her arm and gave her a look. “At my church we would call it a tragedy for a man such as you to have shaken faith, when you have held the sword of St. Michael himself and vanquished evil. Was it not God who saved you in your time overseas, the shootout in Kansas City, and your heroics in our own humble town?”

He started to pull his hand back but Walter caught it, and though his lips were in the right position the look he gave Franks was only a very distant cousin to a smile. “I developed a need for men to not have souls, Reverend, about the time I became professionally responsible for sending them to investigate the matter.” His voice was quiet, low and flat, without even the faintest flicker of emotion. It was worse, far worse, than if he had yelled. “Now if you will excuse us, I think my girls want something to drink before the discussion starts.” He reached out to take Morgan’s hand and turned, Siobhan and Antigone hustling to follow.

“Perhaps your daughters will think of their souls even if you will not, Walter…it would be a shame for them to join you in damnation,” Franks called out, his pride clearly wounded by the harsh rebuff. Walter stopped and his shoulders went from loose to instantly tense. Siobhan’s hand tightened in to a fist and she knew she could be back to him in two heartbeats and break his jaw on the third. But it was Morgan who moved first.

She flowed like water rushing down a hill, crashing into Franks’ personal space like he was a rock that would very soon not be standing against that tide. She leaned in close, her flame red curls almost obscuring her face. But though they couldn’t see her lips move, everyone around them could her her voice—cold as the crackling ice of a winter lake. “Go. Away.” She enunciated every word with razor sharp precision. “Now.”

Siobhan didn’t know what he saw in Morgan’s eyes, but she knew what he heard in her voice—the most commanding command that they had ever been given. Even though it wasn’t to her, Siobhan felt like moving away at rapid speed—and Franks felt it too, as he turned in a huff and began bustling his way away. Morgan watched him go before turning back and giving Walter a bright smile, and Siobhan turned to follow—but not before she noticed Reverend Naomi Morrison staring at Morgan intently, eyes following her all the way back to the drink table.


ASN 2.3 Monster Manual

Walter slid back in to his SUV, settling behind the wheel as Morgan was pulling her seatbelt in to place. “If we got in to a car crash, would it even hurt you?” Walter asked curiously as he buckled in as well.

Morgan raised an eyebrow, glancing over at him. “Did you sneak in a couple of drinks while I wasn’t looking, or did you take out an insurance policy in my name?” She asked wryly, before she shrugged. “So there are really two questions there, right? Will it kill me, and will it be pretty awful to go through.”

Walter waited a moment as he turned the key, and then gave her a prompting look. She laughed a little bit, and then shrugged as he began to drive out. “Unless you crashed at a Hollywood level, where the car also exploded or we were trapped burning inside, I would probably survive. But it would hurt like a son of a bitch, and enough damage and even Tania and I have to take time to heal. Why?”

Walter shrugged. “Because I’m used to a world where if I shoot you in the chest and you’re not wearing body armor, you die. I’m trying to come to terms with what I’m dealing with here. Like…off the medical record, do you know what did that to Troll?” He asked.

Morgan frowned, watching the road for several passing moments. “You drive too slow, but you are squishy and made of meat so I forgive you,” Morgan stated as if she were making a great concession. “Honestly, I don’t know what it could be. Or more accurately, I know too many things it could be but no reason why it would be any of them.”

Walter turned left at a light, driving them back toward the house, on the theory that a grizzly murder was not worth ruining a day in the house by themselves. “Ok, so break it down for me. Because we can probably agree that if it was a human who did that they were seriously messed up. Like…Florida messed up.”

Morgan nodded solemnly at how messed up that would be, before she held up her fingers to begin counting things off. “There are a lot of things that could have the strength. A Faerie could have done it, but unless they’re crazy are much more likely to use a knife or sword even if they’re not a knight. Cause getting covered in sweaty drug dealer is icky.”

“Could it have been the Hound?” Walter asked, shuddering as he remembered the brief glances of the Faerie monster he had seen during the fight at the High School. “It got away, and if it wanted revenge…”

Morgan shook her head immediately. “No, these were done by things with at best sharp nails, not full on claws. And the Hound of Lugh tends to leave things in very specific…piles. And don’t get me wrong, some day we need to find him and undo whatever Oberon did to him, but this wasn’t him. For the same reason I don’t think it was a werewolf or vampire—both could have, but have no reason to have done it that way. A werewolf would have used claws, and a vampire wouldn’t have wasted so much blood. Plus it didn’t feel right for a werewolf.”

Walter nearly swerved the car into traffic when he jerked the wheel in shock at her casual revelations, and she gave him a sharp glare as he pulled fully back in to his lane. “So vampires and werewolves exist, then? Good to know,” he offered with a little bit of a startled laugh, sighing. “I don’t know why I’m surprised, really. I need you to give me a cheat sheet.”

Morgan laughed genuinely, running a hand back through her hair idly. “I’d love to, Walter, but the problem is there is too much of it. I’ve been dealing with these matters for seven centuries, so sitting down and trying to order it all for you is maddeningly difficult. Do I start with our myths? Do I start with the oldest pieces of lore we have as Faeries, or do I tell you what I suspect is the oldest bits of truth known to any of us? Give you a color coded list of other realms and what could kill you while you’re there?” She shrugged. “I will do the best I can to bring you up to speed as it is relevant, but I don’t think seven life times of information dumping is going to be terribly useful to you.”

Walter sighed as he made a turn, shrugging his shoulders in a show of overwhelmed confusion. “Fine, I guess…and I trust you to tell me what is going to become important as it comes up. But that means I’m going to ask a lot of annoying questions. Like…what do you mean it felt wrong for a werewolf?”

Morgan smiled at that, and held out her hands. “When there is a lightning strike you can feel it in the air. You can feel the prickling of the little hairs on your hands and arms, and you can smell it on the wind. Some people can feel when the weather changes in their joints. None of these are exactly detecting the event—the ozone is a result, not the lightning itself, and the joints are actually responding to things like pressure changes. But they still tell you that something has happened, right?” When Walter nodded, she continued. “Magic is like that. I can tell you that Werewolves have a feeling, a smell to them when they have shifted that lingers in the air if you are sensitive enough. The same way if you are sensitive enough you could tell when I’ve used my magic, and even differentiate me from Tania or someone else unless I’ve worked to cover my tracks.”

Walter nodded at that. “I’m going to renew my objection here that magic isn’t real, just a word we use for things we don’t understand, but table that in the hopes you’ll have sex with me when we get back to the house.”

Morgan paused, looking at the scenery outside as if in great thought for a long moment before she stated simply “Drive faster.”


ASN 2.2: Troll Slayer

Walter was always amused that deeply landlocked Border should run to quite so many bridges, the result of the river—a stream, really—having broken in to two different sections. The original settlers had decided to plant their nascent town right in the middle of the two forks—locals living there already notwithstanding—and had then grown out. The Market Street bridge was a decent example of the art of the bridge builder’s art, with an old style and a worn look to it.

The allegedly dismembered body underneath the bridge somewhat ruined the effect.

Walter stepped up to the police tape, beginning to reach for his badge before he was waived in by the patrol officer who was manning the perimeter. “You can go on through, Detective,” the woman, wearing a corporal’s rank on her sleeve, said.

“Thank you, Corporal,” Walter offered with a nod as he ducked under the tape. He gestured behind him to Morgan. “Do you know the medical examiner, Doctor Winters?” He asked, as Morgan drew out her own identification to hold up.

“Only by reputation, ma’am,” the Corporal offered, holding up the tape for Morgan. “Detective Richards, I just wanted to say…” the Corporal began hesitantly. “I was at the BPD building during the gang attack, and I remember seeing you. And my brother responded to the High School.” She let that hang for a little bit in the air. “Thank you.”

Walter reached up to scratch th back of his neck, offering her a little bit of a smile. “You’re welcome, I guess, Corporal…” He let the words trail off in an obvious invitation for her to fill in details.

“Corporal Fox, sir. My brother is Sergeant Fox, on SWAT,” she introduced herself with a grin, before looking back to the bridge and smothering the smile quickly. “I won’t keep you. Detective Shaw is under the bridge with the body—he was the first officer on the scene.”

Walter and Morgan nodded their thanks and moved back toward the underside of the bridge. It was drying from the recent rains but there was still a cold and damp feeling underneath, as if the warm tendrils of the sunlight dared not enter. Officer Shaw was standing next to one of the largest bloodstains Walter had ever seen, and he had become something of an unwilling connoisseur on the matter. The distressingly small pieces of various viscera trailing back in to the shadows did not bode well for whoever had been under the bridge.

“Julian,” Walter greeted, not reaching out to shake the other man’s hand because of the gloves he wore. Walter fished in to the pocket of his jacket to pull out his own pair; when Morgan came up to Officer Shaw’s side she was already wearing hers.

Julian Shaw was a tall, broad shouldered African-American officer who had been working the beat when he had happened to intersect with the Three Stripes investigation the year before. Technically he had stopped a Faerie terrorist from shooting Walter’s children, but that was neither widely known nor publicized. He was also wearing a BPD t-shirt and bright blue shorts with the University of Kansas Jayhawk on them.

Shaw noticed Walter’s glance at the shorts. “I saw the blood on my morning jog. I’ve got night shift. Guess I’m starting early,” Shaw muttered the last bit with a little bit of a scowl, but then shook his head. He scooted back a little bit so that Morgan could have better access to the…scene. “So what do you think happened?”

Morgan pulled a light from her coat pocket and shone it back a little bit down in to the underside of the bridge. For everything she had seen, even she blanched a little bit at what was back there. “Well, Julian, I’d say that whoever this was either went through a blender or got torn to pieces. Clothes and all.” She leaned down to reach out with a pen and turn over what could only be described as a gibbet. “And then was partially eaten, which explains why there aren’t nearly enough chunks.”

Shaw fished a small notebook from his pants. “That would be one Richard Carter, although pretty much nobody called him that. Friends and customers called him Troll, because he liked to sell under bridges.”

Walter winced as the light Morgan held trailed back over a series of irregularly sized chunks spread over a large area. Walter thought he caught a glance of something back under the bridge, shimmering with the dark green-black slickness of an oil slick, but then it was gone and he could no longer spot it in the darkness. He shook his head as he looked back down to the body.

“I barely managed to stop the chief from doing this investigation himself,” Julian offered with a chuckle. Even as messed up as it is, he wanted in.” Walter raised an eyebrow while Morgan continued to take notes on the body.

“He was here?” Walter asked, blinking as he stepped over to the other police officer. Julian chuckled, although it was a weak chuckle as he couldn’t quite use Walter’s body to fully block his sight of the corpse.

“Alexander still tries to take at least a murder case every year, keep his boots out in the field he says. I think he’s just bored with all the desk work,” Julian offered with a shake of his head. “He was a pretty damn good cop before they put him behind a desk. Still don’t know why he took it.”

“Appointment as Marshal is not something you turn down, Julian,” Morgan said as she stood up, carefully picking at the base of one of her gloves to pull it off, before carefully removing the other glove to not get any ichor on her hands. “Preliminarily I can say that our friend the troll was torn apart manually, rather than being cut apart. How, I don’t know,” she continued to forestall their questions. “But it was not done with any knife or blade, and it wasn’t an animal either. Whatever happened, it looks like he was pulled apart by people.”

Walter winced, and Julian blanched, as Morgan began to pack up her kit. “Could it be more of the Three Stripes? Retaliation for the shootout at the High School or something? You guys said some of the bodies last year were ripped apart,” Julian asked. Walter and Morgan both shook their heads.

“That was…different,” Morgan answered with a sigh. “Not that I’m a connoisseur of chunky salsa, mind, but this is different. Something new has come to Border.”

Neither man could resist joining Morgan in her sigh.


ASN 2.1 Sweat and Silence

Antigone Richards wiped the sweat off of her forehead with a towel from her gym bag as she stepped out of the dance room. The large, wooden floored room was part of the Border Athletic Club that the dance company rented out while they were saving for their own studio. It would be at least another year before they hoped to find the space, but Antigone wasn’t particularly worried. She slung her towel over her shoulder and stuffed her tennis shoes in to the duffel bag, and walked out to join her sister in the chairs outside the studio.

Siobhan was waiting, wearing her gi and still barefoot herself, quietly reading a novel. Her dojo had started renting from the Athletic Club as well, partnering with another martial arts school to offer extra lessons and cross-training. Her classes started and ended half an hour before Antigone’s, but it still gave them the opportunity to ride together—either with their father or with a friend.

Antigone slung her bag in to one of the empty chairs and flopped down herself, leaning back and breathing deeply—it had been a difficult session, getting ready for their upcoming competition. She stretched her weary muscles a little bit as Siobhan marked her page in the novel and set it aside. Antigone met her twin’s eyes, and they shared a knowing look. With both of them having put their hair up in pony-tails but wearing the very different outfits of dance and martial arts, they looked like versions of one another from alternate universes.

“It’s still not doing it, is it?” Siobhan asked softly, idly tracing her fingers across the raised letters on her novel. “Still not feeling like we used to.”

Antigone sighed and brought her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin on her knees. “I was trying not to think about it too much, but…” she trailed off to think about it for a long moment, before shaking her head slowly. “No, we’re not.”

She looked out at the people doing their gym routines, working on machines in the distance or going to one of the rooms for practice. After dance class the fencers came in, and she could already see some of the early arrivals pulling swords out of hard cases. Not too many, and they soon left to use the facilities before their class.

“It’s been months,” Siobhan pointed out, shaking her head in frustration, her dark hair swaying from side to side at the movement. “We were supposed to start feeling better already. We’re coming up on the deadline.”

They had both realized something was off after the incident at the hospital. Things in their life, things they had previously enjoyed or used to blow off steam and relax, had started feeling…disconnected. They had separately realized they were enjoying them less, were less enthusiastic about them then they previously had been. Antigone had almost lost a solo in a competition and Siobhan had been required to talk to her sensei about testing to the next belt in order to do it.

Once they had come to the realization they decided to work on it, throw themselves back in to their activities and school to try to reconnect to what now seemed a very separate part of their lives. Try to get back in to the mindset and feelings of their fellow dancers or martial artists, who didn’t occasionally have mythic creatures or literal grim reapers trying to kill them.

Antigone shuddered a little bit, swallowing against acid flooding her mouth. She saw creatures coming at her through a terrifying door; she saw fire spreading across the walls and ceiling of a hospital, and heard the sound of thousands of lights and windows breaking all at once. The edges of her vision started to waiver as she closed her eyes, and then felt the warm hand of her sister on her shoulder.

“Breathe,” Siobhan commanded softly, and met Antigone’s eyes when she opened them again. She saw a little bit of sweat beading Siobhan’s brow as well, and knew that some of the same things were going through her head. She envied her sister’s apparent strength, although given their rooms were conjoined she knew when Siobhan’s nights were wracked with nightmares as well.

Antigone sighed, a long exhalation that carried with it some of the anxiety. She grabbed her towel again and wiped at her brow, staring at the floral design on the terrycloth for a moment to steady herself. “Thank you, Bonnie. We’ll…give it another week or two before we break down and talk to Morgan’s therapist. Ok?”

Siobhan settled back in her seat and watched the gym for a long, quiet moment. People went on with their mornings all around them, going to or from workouts. Some headed to the showers, some headed out to their families and the bright world outside. Their hallway was quiet and dim, cool and slightly private amongst the growing bustle of people. It was almost nice, their own little world together away from the people who had no idea what they had gone through. Finally Siobhan gave a sigh that matched the one Antigone had just let out a moment ago.

“We should go meet Lacey before she gets too antsy,” Siobhan offered after another quiet moment. She rolled to her feet and held out a hand for Antigone, which Antigone took gratefully and stood up as well. “It’s a long walk.”

Antigone considered her sister for a moment as they started to walk out toward the people. “But we’d walk it together, right?” She asked, her voice soft.

Siobhan blinked, and then gave her an impish grin that was all Bonnie and no sorrow. “Of course,” she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.