Shadow Unit


"Wireless Girl - by Emma Bull and Stephen Shipman

"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Houston, Texas, December 10, 2010

When Stephen Reyes finally walked into their temporary command center in police headquarters, Esther Falkner wondered who the next thirty minutes would be hardest for.

Chaz Villette would be asked to play jailer, interrogator, and overseer to his sister-of-choice. Daphne Worth would have to imagine the suffering of her two closest friends. Hafidha Gates would, as a result of what happened here, have freedom dangled in front of her; then, if she followed orders and did well, be caged again.

And Reyes would have to make it all happen.

Falkner gave up on picking a winner in the horse race of awfulness.

"I'm sorry I kept you waiting," Reyes said, with a long, grave look around the room.

Chaz, who'd just emptied two packets of hot cocoa mix into his coffee, grabbed a spoon and skidded sideways into a chair. Daphne bounced her gaze from Chaz's cup to Chaz, which made Chaz grimace in return. Whatever dialogue that exchange replaced, it was opaque to anyone else.

"Falkner gave me a rough outline of what you've learned," Reyes continued. "Between that and what Lekeesha Burke said about her son's disappearance, we may have a new handle or two."

"Marotta gave consent to a laptop search." Chaz sounded doubtful, almost disapproving, and Falkner sympathized; it wasn't something she'd advise a friend to do under most circumstances. She doubted even Sol Todd could have framed a request for a warrant that a judge would sign off on.

Daphne nodded, sharp and sensible. She was following the evidence, nose to the ground. If asked, she probably would have said that in this case the truth couldn't hurt anyone except their quarry. "And said laptop is already on its way overnight to the techs in D.C."

Reyes raised one eyebrow and the opposite corner of his mouth. "Unfortunately, Burke no longer has the computer she used three years ago. And is understandably reluctant to hand us her passwords to online services she might have used then."

Worth opened her mouth, frowned, and closed it. Then she said, "Oh, hell. And this only gets worse the further back we go, doesn't it?"

"Six years," Falkner said, because someone had to. "Nine years. In Internet time, we might as well be dealing with a century ago."

Chaz looked from Falkner to Daphne; after a moment, he shifted his gaze to Reyes.

He's already there, Falkner realized. He just wants to see if anyone else is.

Reyes laid his palms on the tabletop and leaned forward straight-armed. Falkner could only guess why he'd chosen not to sit down. "The technical analysts in Cyber Crimes might be able to recover the records of Shawna Cover's and Tara Schutts's online presence. We'd need warrants, and a great deal of time. Our tentative profile suggests Josh Marotta may have three years. But that profile is based on damned little solid information."

"In other words," Daphne said, "we don't know if he keeps the boys. Or why or for how long. Or even if he's a 'he.'"

"Typically women abduct infants." Chaz's comment was to the point. Falkner had to admire his ability to make sense while waiting for the conversation to catch up to him.

Reyes swept them with a look. "In statistics and in real life, Josh Marotta's danger increases every hour."

Falkner tried to imagine Bekk or Deb in the hands of a stranger, even a kindly one--a little girl snatched against her will, frightened, alone. It made her stomach churn.

They had no idea if this gamma inflicted physical abuse. But they had plenty of evidence of his emotional cruelty. Reyes was right. They didn't have the luxury of time.

Daphne's shoulders rose and stiffened; her widened eyes fixed on Reyes. She won't say it. For Chaz's sake.

"Hafidha." Chaz's voice was hoarse with emotion, though his face was calm.

Reyes, who always had something to say, only nodded.

"You're not serious," Daphne said, still looking at Reyes. It was a measure of how much had changed since she joined the ACTF that she neither blushed nor seemed to think she ought to.

"Suggest something else. Please." And another measure, that Reyes was genuinely begging her for ideas.

"More manpower and processors. If we put a whole department to work on it--"

Chaz shook his head. "Nobody would approve it without a warrant, even though we're not going to bring charges based on what we find."

"We get away with violating people's privacy because no one notices we're doing it." Reyes's mouth twisted, as if the words were astringent and unripe. "And because the alternative is unthinkable. If either of those ceases to be true, even I won't approve the search."

Falkner cleared her throat. "And because we make sure those violations of privacy do no harm." She watched them stop, and remember: That's why Hafidha's in Idlewood.

Chaz drew a swift, audible breath. "Even if we could draft everybody in Cyber Crimes, Daph, I don't think they could do what she can." He massaged one wrist with his thumb. "It has to be me, doesn't it?"

"I don't see a way around it," Reyes replied softly.

The look that he and Reyes exchanged chilled Falkner all the way to the heart.

"Wait-- Oh, no." Daphne shook her head; her growing-out bangs swung into her eyes, and she pushed them back roughly. "No. I understand the stakes. But goddamn it, no."

"Again, give me something else. Because right now the only other choice we have is to work this case until in about three years the gamma takes another boy."

Falkner gathered herself to speak, to take the edge off the heat in the room. Before she could do it, Chaz brushed the back of Daphne's hand with one finger, then straightened in his chair.

"Keeping the mirror up full-time would probably squeeze me like an orange. But I don't think I'll have to. She's been doing pretty well on cognitive therapies and antianxiety meds. And we know how to talk to each other."

"She knows how to get to you," Reyes warned.

"That's okay." Chaz lifted his chin and met Reyes's eyes. "I know how to get to her, too."

Reyes scrubbed his fingers over his face, which, Falkner reflected, was a handy gesture for breaking eye contact. "If Hafidha can just find us something to work from. Something these women have in common, maybe an interest. Hell, even a phrase they may all have used. Something that might attract the gamma's attention."

The silence was awkward; it sounded like the four of them adjusting to the idea that they really were going to do this.

Daphne shifted and sighed. "I had an idea--sort of an idea. Maybe more of a hope. What if the abduction of William Schutts wasn't the gamma's first?"

"We haven't found any other cases of a mother forgetting her child," Falkner reminded her.

"But what if the gamma wasn't a gamma yet?" She hunched forward, elbows on the table. "We know the kidnapper in the Schutts case left no forensic evidence and no sign of forensic countermeasures, avoided being seen by the neighbors, and has managed to hide William or his body all these years. For beginner's luck, that's pretty good."

Reyes's eyes narrowed, and the scar on his chin formed a furrow as his lips drew together. "If something went wrong with his first abduction, the trauma might have triggered his conversion."

Daphne slid her chair back. "Shall I talk to Jackson? Houston PD can team with the local field office to sift through child abductions before 2001."

"He might not have been local," Reyes warned.

"We'll just keep throwing the net. Until we have a better pond to fish in, anyway." Her eyes went to Chaz again. Then she rose and headed for the room full of desks and detectives.

Chaz unfolded from his own chair. "I'll go find myself a flight to D.C." He flashed a crooked-toothed smile, strained but genuine. "This whole federal-agent-flying-armed thing makes it a lot easier to bump some poor taxpayer out of a seat."

He was following Daphne's path to the door when Reyes said, "Villette."

Chaz stopped. Reyes tossed something that flashed and clinked, and Chaz caught it at the opposite end of its arc. When he held it up, Falkner could see it was half of a separating key ring with two keys. Chaz raised his eyebrows.

"To my office and my desk," said Reyes. "In case you need them."

Chaz flushed, but that was it. He pocketed the keys and left the room.

"Will he need them?" Falkner asked.

"I trust him to use them if he does." When Falkner kept silence, Reyes added, "Don't look at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like 'Who are you, and what have you done with Stephen Reyes?'"

She smiled in spite of herself. "I wasn't that obvious."

"What, did you think I'd ask him to do this and still not trust him? And if you say anything about pulling teeth, I'll fire you for cause." Reyes gave a sigh that was half groan, leaned back in his chair, and put his feet up on the table.

That he could joke about the aftermath of the Hope Mitchell case was progress, even though he was doing it to prove he could. Bravado served as practice, and practice made grace, if not perfection.

Reyes's socks showed between his immaculate gray trouser hems and his black grained-leather oxfords. The socks were slightly glossy, textured, and unmistakably purple.

Has Celentano seen those? Though what their unit chief would do about them if he had, Falkner couldn't imagine. From the outside, neither he nor anyone else could tell coping strategies from simple eccentricity. Solomon Todd carried his keys on a ring with a miniature devil ducky fob, and didn't hesitate to pull it out in the presence of high-ranking strangers. Reyes wore purple socks into police headquarters in Houston.

Did she have an equivalent weirdness? Maybe hers was that she didn't have one.

It wasn't until she looked up that she realized she'd been staring at Reyes's ankles while she thought. He twitched something smile-like at her.

"Hafidha made them," he said.

She tried to control her startle reflex, and thought she'd succeeded. "Huh. She doesn't make me socks."

He blinked like an owl. "She probably doesn't think you need reminding."

Oh, Stephen. Ouch. But he could be right, for all that. "You know," she said, changing the subject shamelessly, "this may not be the tree with the possum in it. If the Internet isn't the connection between these women, you're risking Hafidha to no good purpose."

He laced his fingers behind his head and pretended to relax. "And Chaz. Don't forget him."

"I see your cattiness. Don't make me raise." And stop trying to make me regret feeling sorry for you.

"What else have we got? More-or-less single mothers with nine-year-old sons. I know, we're starting with our last resort. It's insane. But I'll say to you what I said to Worth: give me something else."

And Esther Falkner, God forgive her, couldn't think of a thing.


"I don't like it," said Doctor Casey Ramachandran.

Chaz respected Ramachandran too much to shrug. So he said, "I didn't think you would. But it's up to her, isn't it?"

Even after dark, Ramachandran's office in Idlewood Psychiatric Institute was cheerful, warmed with the light of the desk lamp shining on the spines of books on shelves and the leaves of plants on the radiator. Ramachandran himself was grim, and his face seemed hollowed out with weariness. Maybe Chaz's phone call had dragged him out of bed. Maybe it had just been a long day.

"That depends," Ramachandran said with great care, "on whether she's competent to judge." He took off his square-framed glasses and squinted at them, then put them back on his nose.

"Is she?"

"Sometimes." Relenting, he added, "Most of the time. But you know the cyclical nature of the neurological issues, the self-identification problems. When her anxiety peaks and the paranoia takes over, no. Then she can't make good decisions for herself."

Chaz felt a big roiling ball of anxiety in his own stomach. But he asked, "Where is she in that cycle right now?"

Ramachandran reached for the earpieces of his glasses again, stopped himself, and folded his neat, small hands on the desk in front of him. "She didn't have a good day," he said at last.

Chaz knew what that meant, or at least, what it had meant in the past. Word games, mind games, perfectly aimed verbal knives; cruel tricks and physical attacks. And self-harm. Mustn't forget that one.

"May I talk to her?"

Ramachandran sat silent for so long Chaz thought he was trying to find a convincing way to say "no." "I guess you're as qualified to evaluate her condition as anyone," he said at last. Which made Chaz smile one of his not-amused smiles; that was Ramachandran saying, "You could take a risk on this, but I'm making you responsible for what comes of it."

Chaz was already perfectly aware of his responsibility.

The guard/valet at the outer door of Hafidha's burrow was one Chaz hadn't met. Her head came up to Chaz's collarbone, but she was wide-shouldered and muscular in her neat orderly's uniform. The soft black frizz of her hair was short all over, and her dark eyes seemed to smile at the corners, though her mouth didn't.

"Special Agent Villette," she said with a nod. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Cathy Raleigh." She collected the few metallic objects he hadn't left behind in Ramachandran's office, and wanded him to make sure she had them all.

Beyond Raleigh's observation post, on the other side of the second door, Hafidha stood waiting. Raleigh would have told her he was here and coming to see her. But the language of Hafidha's body, so still and taut, nearly on tiptoe, said things about need and fear and hope and unhappiness that he hated to read there. Like a dog that wants to be loved, he thought, sick with the idea, but that expects to be hurt or ignored.

He had to remind himself it wasn't Hafidha who believed that. Not his Hafidha, at least.

She didn't speak when he pressed his fingers against the copper-hazed acrylic panel of the door. "Hi, sis. Can I come in?"

"Did you bring me cake?"

"I came straight from the airport."

She shook her head and drooped theatrically. "The honeymoon is over."

Before Ohio, before North Dakota, that's all it would have been: theater, teasing, banter. Now there was an edge of resentment and accusation in the words. You put me here. At least you could bake for me. He was supposed to feel guilty, and he did.

"All right," she said on a sigh. "I am at home to visitors."

He looked back over his shoulder at Raleigh. "Let me in?"

Raleigh hesitated, clearly running a checklist in her head. No electronic devices, no metal, no weapons, nothing that could be used as a weapon... Hafidha stepped back from her side of the door, and Raleigh worked the mechanical bolt.

Chaz knew he was the only person on the team who went unafraid into Hafidha's burrow. Unafraid for his physical safety, anyway. Unless she got the drop on him, she couldn't overpower him.

So he was glad she'd never tried.

"Sorry to come so late. I just got in from Houston."

She stood where she was when the door opened. Her back was straight, her feet in their embroidered slippers seemed to grip the floor, and her hands hung loose at her sides. In cropped black leggings and an orange sweater big enough for Brady, with her hair hauled back from her face and confined with a piece of yarn, she looked like a little girl in her mother's clothes. "I can always fit you into my busy schedule, little brother."

She could say things like that and make him feel warm and safe, even while he smiled at the sarcasm. She could also say them like the first move in hand-to-hand combat. This was one of the latter.

"Dad and Mom and Daphs are still in Texas. I came because I had to talk to you."

She cocked her head. It felt like lying, this calculated drawing-in. But he had to get her to slip past the doorkeeper in her head, the thing that held her prisoner and used her like a weapon.

She took a step toward him. "What about?"

"The case we're working."

She looked down at her toes. She was so fast he almost didn't see her hand swing.

He understood what had happened mostly because he staggered off balance, the right side of his face burning with the force of her slap.

At the corner of his vision he saw Raleigh move forward--so slow, compared to Hafs--reaching for the panic button at her post. Before she could press it, his fingers had closed around Hafidha's arms below her elbows.

"Don't," he snapped half over his shoulder at Raleigh. He didn't check to see if she obeyed.

Hafidha looked up into his face and laughed.

Anger shot hot and cold through his brain and his muscles, as if someone had pushed a plunger on a syringe full of it. She could have broken my goddamn jaw. She thinks that's funny. He felt the bones of her arms under his fingers, through soft skin and flexible muscle. Little brother. No respect. Pop, radius. Pop, ulna. Would she still laugh?

He swallowed bile and rage, and focused on his hands. Strong but loose, flexible. Think yoga. Mountain Pose. Let it go. But he shook with adrenaline.

"There, feel that?" she asked, grinning. "That's the Bug inside you. It knows how to deal with people like me."

"No." He had to clench his teeth to keep them from chattering.

"Bullshit. You know you could do it. Start with the monsters, baby brother. Then the ones who could be monsters if they felt like it. Then the ones who pretend they're better than the monsters."

Joshua Lynch, with the ligature buried in the meat of his throat. Then Viv Paliotto, likewise. Someone was pretending to be better than the monsters. Was that who Hafidha meant?

No, too abstract. Too nearly painless. She was talking about someone much closer to home.

His anger sank to nothing, driven out by reason, by his sensible, hardworking brain racing to solve the puzzle of her thoughts before she got to them. Thank you, little neurons. "That sounds like a lot of work."

"It wouldn't be hard for you. Who'd be the toughest? Brady? Come on, you could step up behind him and snap his neck. Boom."

She looked and sounded the way she had when she and Daphne teased him about picking up girls: her smile making almost-dimples in her thin cheeks, her eyes bright behind her cat-eye glasses.

"I couldn't do that." Leave it to her to decide if he was objecting to the act or the method.

"Sure you could. What about the rest of them? Little Lau, the Energizer Bunny of the FBI--if there was ever anybody needed electrocuting, it's her. For Falkner, a nice military execution. Blindfold? Cigarette? No? One to the head, then. And Reyes--drowning, maybe. Cut off the air to that big, busy brain. You could do it in a bucket." She tossed her head. Chaz had the feeling she'd like to pace her cage, but he still had hold of her arms.

He heard something different in her mention of Reyes. Irritation, the kind that had led her to making up nicknames for him. For an instant she'd thought of the real Reyes, not the symbol whose murder she planned.

"What about me?" he ventured.

Hafidha frowned. "What about you?"

"I'm one of them, aren't I? Either an eventual-monster or a better-than-a-monster."

"Don't make me do your job for you." She raised one eyebrow, then lifted her chin and turned her head. This close, there was no way he could avoid looking at the scar from the puncture wound on her smooth brown throat. "When I signed on to hunt monsters, sweetie, I made a lifetime commitment. Didn't you?"

"How would you feel if I--" He almost said, "if I did." But no, better to say the thing. "If I killed myself?"

Across her face, a half-flinch, half-frown, and for the first time she pulled back against his grip. "Is that what you came all the way from Texas to ask me? Is this an opinion poll?"

"You'd be unhappy, wouldn't you?"

"Would it shut you up?"

He shrugged, and felt his lips flatten and stretch in the expression that used to annoy Daphne. "Pretty much forever."

Hafidha jerked her arms out of his fingers and stumbled back a step. "Oh, for fuck's sake. I don't want to care about you! Don't you get that?"

"Because the Bug can use that."

"Because I can! I pretend it's not me. But it always has been. Just like you've always been you." Her mouth twisted. "The good twin."

"It's not you, Hafs."

"I guess you never knew me."

He did, though. And he wasn't the only one. "You forgot somebody."

She scowled. "What?"

"On your list. What about Daphne?"

Hafidha took another step back; her calves pressed against the frame of her bed. "What about her?" But her voice shook.

"How do I kill her?" Chaz demanded.

"I don't... I don't care."

"Come on. How do I kill Daphne?"

Hafidha swallowed. "First," she whispered. "Her first. So she won't see it coming, and be scared." Her eyes shone behind her glasses; she blinked, and tears scuttled down her cheeks. "And do it really...really fast." Her voice cracked on the last word.

Chaz stepped forward and Hafs leaned into his chest, her breathing wet and ragged. He closed his arms around her. "Hey. Good to see you."

"It's not that simple." Her voice was muffled against his sweater. "Seriously. It's not. Everything in here is me."

"Alienation isn't like fairies," he said. "It works even if you don't believe in it."

He remembered Raleigh, and glanced over his shoulder at the door. The orderly/valet/guard stood halfway between her post and the inner door, knees flexed and ready to move. No alarm, no sympathy, no anger in her face; she was just alert and ready.

Mountain Pose. Strength in stillness. Accepting what is.

Chaz caught her eye and nodded. She relaxed, took a breath, and went back to stand at the outer door.

"I'm going to sit down now," Hafidha muttered. She dropped out of his arms onto the edge of the bed. He perched next to her and held her hand. After a moment, she said, "So what did you fly all the way here to ask me?"

"We need your help. On the case," he said, and felt his heart pinch as he watched the life come back into her face.


While they waited for Dr. Casey to arrive, they exchanged small talk. Well, what passed for small talk nowadays, in Hafidha's universe. Maybe out there Chaz still had the real thing.

"You know, last time I leaped to the defense of the children of America, I got rounded up and sent here. So it’s okay as long as El Gobernador orders it done?"

Chaz's straight dark brows pulled together over the bridge of his ridiculous nose. "That's a lot of spin for two sentences."

She sighed, which actually made her feel better. Maybe a little bit of the poison in her, the part that had gathered in her lungs, had been expelled. "Doesn't it make you wonder, though, if I might make a break for it if you dangle a kid-killer in front of me?"

He stared as if her face were melting, and he was waiting to see what was underneath. "We don't know that he's killing them."

"Oh, honey. You know the stats. The first three boys aren't coming home."

"Sometimes our stats are different. Maybe he just made them forget and turned them loose."

She patted his hand where it lay on her faux raw-silk quilt. "Whatever works for you. My guess? There wouldn't be enough misery in that."

That got her a sideways coyote-glance. She was saved by Doctor Casey arriving at the outside door, and, much as she hated being grateful to anyone in her present condition, she was glad to see him.

"May I come in?" he asked at the second door. Everyone kept up the illusion that this was her space and she had all the say over what happened in it. Someday she'd punch somebody for that. She knew about the outlets for knockout gas behind the ceiling grid, for godsake.

"Yes, Doctor Casey, dear," she sang out. Chaz elbowed her in the ribs, and she shot him an apology with her face.

Doctor Casey sat in her resin lawn chair. She had to admire the selection of that chair for a maximum-security cell: you could neither beat someone to death with the damned thing nor break a piece off and stab yourself with it, and it still managed to be fairly comfortable.

Not that Doctor Casey looked comfortable. He was a smallish man, spare, but not with the tensile strength she could see in, say, Todd or Reyes when she looked for it. She appreciated, though, that he didn't spend all his time noticing she could snap him like a twig. He could acknowledge the realities of the situation and move on.

"Chaz has filled you in on what he'd like you to do?" he asked.

"Yes. I can do it. I mean, I can do it and keep the Bug from messing with what I'm doing. And not do whatever else it wants me to." Oh, crap, she sounded desperate. Begging. Please, Dad? I promise I'll do the dishes for a week and clean my room and....

Doctor Casey turned to Chaz, who nodded and said, "She can do this."

See? That's how it's done. A model of succinctitude. Hafidha stared down at her lap, where her hands were busy mauling her cuticles. Maybe they were keeping the Bug busy.

Doctor Casey breathed in, breathed out. It didn't seem to give him as much relief as it had Hafidha. "All right. "

Her stupid heart gave a leap so big it should have detached all its plumbing.

But Doctor Casey was still talking. "We'll set up a monitor and a keyboard, and run a shielded line to a processor outside your room."

"No." He and Chaz both swiveled their heads to stare. It made her stammer, made her throat close up with fear. Now they'd change their minds. But she swallowed and made herself say it. "I can't do it that way."

Doctor Casey looked as if he were pronouncing over a dying patient. "This is an unprecedented concession--"

"I didn't say I won't. I said I can't." Slow down, girl. Breathe. "Okay, maybe I could, but not fast enough, and not well enough. In my natural habitat, I deal with a data stream like a fire hose. What you want to give me isn't even a drinking fountain."

"You want unlimited access. I can't do that, Hafidha."

"Oh, for fuck's sake," she spat. "You afraid I'm going to destroy the world? Mister Mento here will tell you what's going on in my brain."

Chaz went stiff and still beside her.

"Did you think I couldn't figure out why it was you who came back from Houston, and not Reyes?" she said to him.

He met her gaze, but couldn't stick it. It was his turn to contemplate his knees.

Could she feel him do it, the mirror-thing? She hadn't the last time, but things had been a little...busy. And the way he described it, he wasn't in her mind. Apparently every thought in her head shone out like a big damn neon sign, and all he had to do was open his third eye.

He hid it from me. I told him when it happened to me, but he didn't trust me when it happened to him. To be fair, he hadn't trusted anybody. But sometimes she didn't feel like being fair.

Well, if he was paying attention, he got that thought, too. I solemnly swear I am up to no good, she recited loudly and mentally. He didn't smile. Maybe it didn't work that way.

Doctor Casey leaned forward, frowning. "Tell me why you want so much to help with this case."

"Because superpowers are like a drug. I want my fix." The next bit she almost swallowed; she wanted to. She wasn't sure why she went ahead and and said, "There are very few people in the world I give a damn about nowadays. This is my team. They need me."

She'd thought they would never need her again.

"And to do it..." Doctor Casey probably hadn't meant the pause to yank her chain. She liked to think not, anyway. "...You wouldn't need access to a computer at all?"

"I would totally need a computer. I use its processor for the idiot work and save my jamming for the high-order stuff. There aren't enough carbs in the world--well, okay, there are, but I can't metabolize 'em fast enough to keep from starving to death if I do all the basic search functions and the data analysis in my head."

Doctor Casey gave Chaz an "If she vaporizes the East Coast, it'll be your problem" look.

"If Hafs is confident she can handle this, I want to go ahead," he said.

"I'll go make the arrangements," Doctor Casey replied. And just like that, he stood up, went to the door, and New Girl let him out.

She was about to turn to Chaz and exult, thank him, even, when she remembered the missing piece. "I need my laptop. It's customized for me. Shit."

That was real pain that cut across Chaz's face. "I don't know where it is. I'm sorry."

She couldn't help herself--she shot up off the bed and began to pace. She hoped New Girl wouldn't freak. "Shit, shit, shit. If I know El Terrifico--and I do--he's got it locked in his damned desk drawer."

The silence behind her made her turn. Chaz's expression was beyond description. "That's okay, then. He gave me the keys."

For a moment, all she could do was stare. Then she laughed, which hurt her chest and throat and brain. "Of course he did. Sometimes I think he's more all up in my head than you'll ever be."

Chaz opened his mouth to say something, and yawned instead. "Damn. Sorry, sis. We'll start tomorrow morning."

"Chazzie, tick-tick-tick. Missing kid."

"And I have to drive to D.C. and back and I kind of need a couple hours sleep before we do this."

Hafidha dropped into the chair. "Great. What am I going to do until then? Because if you think I'll be sleeping, honey, you're crazier than I am."

He stood and smiled down at her, just as sweet and open and baby-brotherish as he'd ever been back before he got his scars and she turned evil. "I'll go make you some hot milk."

"You're kidding, right?"

"With honey, cinnamon, and cardamom in it. Trust me."

This time when she laughed it didn't hurt so much. "Oh, hell. Sure. It won't kill me."

Maybe not the best choice of words, but he didn't seem to mind.

Part 4