Part 1: Memory
Well, here I am. Malachi Brogan sat in the 'great room' of the XSWAT Director's Residence, along with over a hundred other wedding guests. No wonder Jama moved outa here—the place is friggin' huge! Malachi smiled inwardly as he recalled conspiring with his son nearly three years earlier to re-furnish Jama's old apartment without her knowledge, so Mitch could surprise the Director on her birthday. Getting anything like that past Director Renuka was next to impossible, but they'd managed.
And Jama had briefly wondered if XSWAT was really safe with two Brogans in its ranks. She was also, however, delighted with the apartment—Mitch fired three decorators before it was finished—so they finally got her to quit the Director's Residence and live somewhere she could be comfortable. Since then, Jama had been much happier with her living arrangements, and the Director's Residence had been set aside for official XSWAT functions—such as Madam Director Renuka's wedding to Lieutenant Brogan's son, Mitch.
Malachi regarded Officer Mitch Brogan, standing at the altar, awaiting the Director's entrance. He's come a long way in three years. Of course it had been Malachi's idea for Mitch to join XSWAT as Jama's driver—he was the right man for the job, but the boy was asking the wrong kind of questions, so he had to be brought in where they could keep an eye on him. There were a few people in XSWAT who wondered, however, if Malachi had also been planning this marriage from the beginning! But if they knew the truth, they'd never take me seriously again... so let 'em wonder....
I ain't here to hold you when you cry, I ain't here to hold your shaky hand
I ain't here to look you in the eye, Or beg for you to understand
When Mitch joined XSWAT, three years earlier, both he and Malachi knew their first face-to-face meeting would be difficult, after everything they'd been through in the last few months. But several weeks later, they had finally agreed to talk, in person. Lieutenant Brogan had expected his son to be shocked at him, not the other way around!
They stood there in the conference room, looking at each other in silence for several long seconds before Malachi's face erupted in one of his trademark 'horrorshow' excuses for a smile. "Damn, you look good, son."
Mitch's grin was a bit more reserved, possibly even forced. "You look like hell, Pop."
"I know. Without the shades, I could probably warp the paneling. Forget about it." It was a weak joke, but Mitch's smile widened, became more genuine just the same. His Old Man hadn't changed so much after all. "I take it Jama told you what happened to me?"
"Yeah—we talked about that. Dad... I understand now, why you couldn't tell us anything, but Trish and Mom are both still in the dark. It's no good."
"I know. Maybe someday that'll change, but for now... How's your Mother?"
"Uh, well... she's mad as hell about all this...." Mitch wasn't too comfortable talking about Paige Weinrank-Brogan, after their last encounter.
"What's this I hear about you giving her a hard time at work?" Malachi knew all about it—he wanted to hear it from Mitch now.
"Dad... I just wanted her to come over here, maybe try and see if they'd let her talk to you. But she wouldn't even consider the idea, and I..."
"...and you couldn't leave bad enough alone. Then what happened?"
"You know how she is, Dad. She knocked me flat on my ass!"
"We both know how she is—you should have known better, Son. Serves you right. You seen her since then?"
"No. She doesn't want anything to do with you, me, or anyone else from XSWAT."
Malachi just shook his head. There was no help for it now—the cover up when he 'died' had been absolutely necessary at the time, but Paige wasn't a forgiving woman. "Never lie to your wife, son. Even if you're dead. Somebody might bring you back, and make you regret it."
Mitch wasn't sure what to make of this bizarre advice. "Uh... I'll remember that, Pop."
"And how's your sister?" Malachi smiled again at the thought of his daughter, Patricia.
"Trish is kind of... depressed. Old Beowulf's looking after her, though." Mitch remembered when they were both teenagers, and his sister had first been diagnosed. Their father had gotten Trish the cat as part of her therapy. It wasn't a cure, by any means, but it helped.
"She still has the cat? I'm glad to hear it. He must be... what? About eight years old now?"
"Yeah, about that. So... I take it Jama was having trouble when Cadbury mysteriously showed up?"
Malachi looked slightly guilty for once. "Well... it worked before, so I figured it might help."
Mitch nodded. "It did. She means a lot to you, doesn't she?"
All Malachi could do was shrug. "Son, I don't have the words. All I can tell you is—everyone at XSWAT is counting on you to do one thing: keep the Director safe when she's traveling. Don't try to do anything else heroic—she's reckless as all hell and you'll get yourself killed trying to keep up with her." Mitch nodded—he'd seen more than a little recklessness from Jama on his first day!
Malachi went on, "I heard what happened your first day on the job—that was pretty good work, Son. You probably deserve a medal or a commendation for that, but Madam Director's taking a page from Hemelshot's book and treating it like it was just part of your job. Jama takes good care of her people, though—I'm sure she approves of you, and she'll find some other way of rewarding you." He noticed Mitch stifle a laugh. "What?"
Mitch could hardly keep a straight face when he heard this—could the Old Man be that oblivious? "Uh, Dad... about Jama... I mean, Director Renuka and I...."
"Is there a problem, Son? Look, I heard Tyger threatened you at the practice range... don't worry about him. He's just being over-protective. Jama means as much to him as she does to me, you know."
"No, Dad... I just can't believe you haven't heard what everyone's talking about...." Mitch sounded incredulous.
Malachi put a hand on Mitch's shoulder, and used his best 'fatherly advice' tone of voice. "Oh, that. Don't worry about those rumors, Son! I'm surprised Jama hasn't already warned you—denying them only makes things worse."
"Uh, well... actually, Dad... what I'm trying to tell you is... I'm not denying them—I'm confirming them."
Mitch took a step back. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea....
"Jama and I are... well. It's true." Mitch wasn't exactly sure how to describe his relationship with the Director yet. No, they weren't denying the rumors, but they weren't officially confirming them at that point either. During the day, he was her driver. He drove her home from work, and sometimes he spent the night. It was an open secret.
"So how long has this been going on, Son?" Malachi quickly calmed down and focused on getting caught up.
"About four weeks, now." Mitch knew sleeping with the Director was a bad idea!
"Son, you've only been here four weeks. Are you telling me this started...."
"...yeah, Dad." Mitch's eyes rolled, at maximum rpm's. "Not that either of us were expecting it." He shrugged. "It just kind of... happened, after the assassination attempt and everything."
"That was your first day! You little son of a bitch." Malachi looked embarrassed. "I've been doing 'damage control' trying to discourage all these damned rumors for a freaking month, and it was a complete waste of time."
"I hope you're not mad."
"Mad? MAD??? Hell no, I'm elated! We're gonna celebrate. But don't tell Jama about this—I'll talk to her first."
"Okay, what are you up to, Dad?" Mitch knew that tone of voice.
"Don't worry, Son... everything'll be fine."
Later that day, as he had about a month before, Lieutenant Malachi Brogan let himself into Director Renuka's office, after bypassing her staff. "Ninth Squad business," he'd told them, and as usual, they cleared the way, no questions asked. At least this time she's not on the phone. Brogan hadn't been back to her office since that day, and there had been a few changes. Her desk and chair were both new, and sized more appropriately for her. Brogan noticed the floor on the Director's side of the room had been subtly raised a few centimeters. The overall effect was to make the Director look somewhat less diminutive, relative to the rest of the massive office. There was nothing in her manner or in the office which said new boyfriend, however.
Obviously, in spite of the fact that everyone was talking about her and Mitch, Jama was carefully avoiding doing anything which would confirm anyone's suspicions. No picture on her desk, nor any other mementos of any kind were in evidence. Brogan almost felt guilty about what he was about to do, but he had a reputation for shamelessness in the face of opportunity to uphold....
Jama sat at her desk, plowing through a morass of paperwork, pretending not to notice him, although he knew quite well that she had. Without preamble, he sat down and spoke, deadpan. "So, Jama. It's been a while. How's the new driver working out for you?"
Corporal Cadbury had been napping on a high shelf in the late afternoon sun by the window. At the sound of Brogan's voice, he looked up and rolled over, inadvertently dumping himself off the shelf in the process. He made several frantic attempts to catch himself on the way down, taking a number of folders and papers with him. He landed on his feet amidst the heap of paperwork with a look which said, not too convincingly, That's exactly what I meant to do. No, really!
Jama paused and stared at the kitten (who was now much larger than when Brogan had seen him last) with an expression that mixed equal parts of disbelief with amusement. As for Cadbury, he settled for industriously washing his face and ears. She then turned to look over at Malachi, setting aside a stack of papers but not bothering to remove the symbolic wall formed by several free-floating monitor screens.
"I presume you heard about the attempted hit by the Keno-gumi?" She didn't even bother to wait for a reply (not that she needed one—everyone in XSWAT had heard about that mess), but went on ahead. "Officer Mitch Brogan proved he was everything you said he'd be." She laced her hands together and rested her chin on the resulting platform. "But I think he's even worse than Richard behind the wheel."
Brogan affected a look of mock-indignation. "I'm shocked! Madam Director, how could you compare my boy to that... that maniac! As I understand it, he's gone a whole month without crashing a single spinner, even the one that got all shot up, or your new limo, for that matter."
He grinned wickedly. "Speaking of the Spirit of California—that's a sweet ride you've got there, Jama. Hope you're both enjoying it."
Jama grinned back. "Yes I am. Officer Brogan knows his vehicles, I must say. It's quiet, secure, and spacious." In fact, Mitch and herself had 'enjoyed' the spacious passenger area just last week—not that she was going to tell anyone, especially Malachi Brogan, that.
I'll bet you are, Jama. Brogan smiled and nodded innocently. "Ah, very good. That's better. But you're not traveling all the time—what about when he's not driving? You having any trouble keeping him busy?"
The Director paused and cocked an eyebrow. "Nooo... no trouble there." She gave Malachi a small smile. "He takes Corporal Cadbury for regular walks, for starters."
Still playing the innocent, Brogan blathered on. "Well, that should do him some good..." Then he lowered his shades, just a little, and cocked an eyebrow of his own. In a lower, much more serious tone of voice, "Wait, that sounds like a punishment detail, Jama!" At this, Cadbury gave him a look of sheer indignance. "Has he gotten himself in trouble already? Made inappropriate advances or anything? If you'd like me to talk to him, I'll get him straightened out!"
"Inappropriate advances?" What is he getting at? Jama sat up straight. "Officer Brogan has never been anything other than courteous and polite!" she announced strongly.
Malachi got up and began gathering the folders Cadbury had scattered on the floor, with Cadbury exuberantly 'helping' him. "Well, I'm very glad to hear he's such a gentleman, Madam Director." Malachi sounded relieved. "Especially after all these rumors that've been going around...."
That took the wind out of her sails. "What rumors?"
Malachi put the folders back on the shelf and sighed. "I should have realized. Jama, you've always worked hard to keep in touch with the 'rank and file' throughout XSWAT, but it should've occurred to me this wouldn't have come to your attention. We really should talk like this more often." He sat down and took out his flask. "Brace yourself, Ms. Renuka. It seems the hot item at the rumor mill this season is you and my son, your new driver."
That caused her eyebrows to go up. "Should I even bother to ask what they are saying? Or can I guess?"
Brogan shrugged in bewilderment. "It's beyond me where they get this stuff. Some say you started seeing him before you hired him, and that's the only reason he got the job. Others think it was all my idea—that I arranged the whole thing. Preposterous!—arranged marriages are a thing of the past even in your country, aren't they? As if you'd agree to any such thing! Some of the others are even wilder... you didn't really cast a spell on my boy, did you Jama?"
"Ahhh... no," Jama shook her head. "No I didn't. And just what... wait... 'started seeing him'? What do you mean by 'started seeing him'?"
Malachi held up a hand in protest. "Hey, you asked me what they're saying, Jama. I'm just telling you what I've heard." He took a gulp from his flask. "I must say, Mitch is taking all this rather well. Following your advice almost one hundred percent—hasn't said anything to confirm or deny any of it to anyone. Except, of course, me." The grin on Brogan's face as he finished explaining this was pure evil. He knew everything, and any second, Jama was going to figure that out. He put away his flask and double-checked his escape route.
"And what has..." Jama stopped as she saw the look on Malachi's face. "I see." All of the virtual monitors vanished instantly. "I presume you have some opinion on the matter?"
Brogan stopped grinning, rubbed his chin thoughtfully and made a show of choosing his next words with extreme care. "Hmmm... well, if my opinion on this actually mattered, I'd have known about it much sooner. However, you've made it clear that you don't care what anyone thinks, so I'll presume that's a rhetorical question." He returned Jama's stare as best he could. "Rhetorically speaking... I mean, just for the record... Jama, this is the best news I've heard all year."
"Is it." Jama wasn't sure how to take that. She'd heard Tyger's response. Well, to be more accurate, Mitch had passed Tyger's comments on. And now Malachi was having virtually the same reaction, just in less profane words. It was like all of the 9th Squad was exchanging hand-shakes and back slaps while telling each other 'Our little Jama is all grown up and having sex. Isn't that wonderful?' "To be honest Malachi, the rumors would have been the same no matter what your son and I did. So no, I don't care what anyone thinks." She paused. "That said, why exactly do you think this is such great news?"
Brogan smiled sadly, shook his head, and paused for a bit before he spoke. "It's not exactly a normal life is it?—for any of us? We all keep telling ourselves we belong here, Jama, and for you and I, it's true—but XSWAT still does its best to chew us up and spit us out. Now out of the blue, something unequivocally good happens to you—of course I'm happy for you! And Mitch. Why shouldn't I be?" Brogan crossed his arms and scowled at her. "Any more silly questions, Madam Director?" The look on his face didn't leave much room for argument. Shut up and be happy, dammit!
She waved one hand in a gesture of surrender. "No further questions."
Brogan smiled, as much as the wreckage of his face would allow. "I always knew you were wise beyond your years, Director Renuka. There was one other reason I was glad to hear about you and Mitch, though...."
I knew it! Jama's eyebrow went up once again as she turned back to face Brogan. He's impossible, really.
"It's about time someone got him away from that god-awful lab tech he used to date." Brogan spoke with genuine relief in his voice. "I really owe you one for that, Jama!"
"Oh... her." Malachi decided it was a good thing Erin wasn't in the room, else Jama's tone of voice would have resulted in her being hauled away in a closed casket.
"I see you've met."
"Yes, we... spoke." Jama shook her head and looked over at Cadbury. "If she's ever in my office, you have my permission to shed all over her." Cadbury nodded in response.
I did not just see that. Malachi gave Cadbury a wary glance. "Well, that must've been... interesting. Jama, don't under-estimate her, okay? She used to go to the practice range with Mitch's mother. Up until I joined XSWAT, that was the scariest thing I'd ever seen."
"I'd rather not deal with her at all, if it is possible," Jama replied. "And I have yet to hear any more from her. But..." The Director fixed Malachi with a stern look, "If she takes it into her head to interfere with one of my officers, she'll find there are other 'scary things' out there as well."
"Yeah, we've got two of 'em right here." Cadbury jumped in Brogan's lap and began purring loudly. "Hmph. Two and a half. Anyway, it sounds like Mitch is in good hands." Literally, I suppose. "When I joined XSWAT, I didn't think I'd ever see him again, Jama. So, whatever happens, I'm grateful to you for bringing him here. I just wanted to say thanks."
Jama actually managed to look slightly embarrassed, but hid it quickly. "It was your idea, if I recall. And... and I think he deserves to be here. He's intelligent, capable, and knows his field." She paused and looked at Malachi directly. "He's also worried about you. What you've become and how you got there. He understands more, now, and accepts it, but... he misses you, Malachi."
Brogan nodded, "Well, now we can work all that out, thanks to you." Okay, one more try..."But for some reason, since he arrived here, my son's been too busy to talk to me, Miss Renuka!"
For a moment, a long moment, Jama felt like either banging her head on her desk or sinking though the floor. She wasn't sure which. The insinuation was bit much, even if it was somewhat true (she and Mitch were spending a lot of their off-hours together). There was also the realization she was talking not to Malachi Brogan, fellow officer, but Malachi Brogan, father of her lover. It put a surreal twist on things to say the least.
"Ahhh..." Oh great, now she had no idea what to say. Wait... let's see if I can turn the tables here. She punched up a virtual screen and took a look at the schedule. "He's in the motor pool... checking over my limo..." She looked up, "Why don't you go see him?" There, see how you handle that.
"I was planning on it, actually. And if you're about finished here," he gestured towards her desk, "you ought to come along, too. Dinner's on me tonight. Mitch is driving."
You win. "Give me a few minutes to shut everything down and I'll meet you downstairs."
I ain't here to tell you what you need, I ain't gonna take a noble stand
I ain't here to look you in the eye, Or beg for you to understand
Brogan snapped out of his reverie as Cadbury once again jumped in his lap, three years and nine kilos later, with a resounding THUMP! Malachi had entrusted Cadbury to the newest member of his 'Entity Busters' unit, seated behind him, but the Director's cat wouldn't settle for the company of a lowly minion.
He looked up at Brogan. Trrrll? "Oh, I'm fine, how are you, Cadbury?"
"Sorry, Lieutenant...he got away," Cartwright whispered and started to get up. Next to Brogan, Master Sergeant Tyger shot the young Corporal a vicious look. "As you were."
Brogan just looked at both of them and shook his head while subtly giving the hand signal for 'radio silence. Not here, you two. Cartwright sat down, and Brogan gave him the 'all clear' signal. Cadbury purred and hopped up on Brogan's shoulder for a better view, forcing Cartwright to crane his neck and watch the ceremony over Brogan's other shoulder.
After leaving Sentinel Watch, Cartwright had inexplicably signed up with XSWAT, and for three years straight, he had attempted to join the elite entity-hunting unit led by Brogan and Tyger. Malachi finally relented—he knew dedication when he saw it. What had seemed laughable three years ago actually made a bizarre sort of sense today. XSWAT had lost a fifth of its numbers in the Gurzorath disaster, and 'normal' attrition, transfers, and the all-too-rare retirement of older officers continued to add up.
Today, nearly a third of the force had even less experience than Cartwright. And there was a rumor that he alone among Sentinel Watch had the guts to try arresting Malachi Brogan back when Hart declared him an 'Enemy of the State.' He actually got a lot of credit with the new recruits because of that stupid stunt! So who said legends had to make any sense? Sure, he can kill entities, but he can't wrangle one little Maine Coon. Very sad.
While everyone's attention was focused on the groom, Malachi risked a glance over at the other side of the aisle, towards Mitch's guests. Seating arrangements for Malachi Brogan had presented a problem. As the father of the groom, he normally would have been sitting with the groom's family, but that would mean sitting next to his ex-wife/widow, Paige Weinrank-Brogan, which was quite impossible. Malachi had elected to attend as a guest of the bride instead, and sat in the second row with rest of 9th Squad, behind Jama's immediate family, who had flown in for the occasion.
Paige sat up front with Mitch's sister, Patricia ('Trish' to just about everyone), pointedly ignoring everyone on Jama's side of the aisle, most of whom wore XSWAT dress uniforms. The rest of the family were there as well—pretty much all regular Angelus PD, and many of Mitch's former coworkers from the forensics lab. And—Brogan did a double-take—Detective Erin McCarthy? She didn't look thrilled about it, but there couldn't possibly be a mistake; this event was by invitation only. So, for whatever reason, Mitch and Jama wanted her to be here. That was interesting... it explained why Mitch had asked him to bring a certain item to the wedding.
I ain't gonna watch your every move, I ain't gonna dog your every step
I ain't here to shape your every mood, I ain't here to keep your secrets kept
Jama hadn't lied—after their first encounter, Erin had steered clear of the XSWAT director. But she hadn't given up on Mitch. Erin knew what was going on between him and Jama, and she was fully prepared to use that information against him. The whole thing came to a head when Jama found out about it—she was furious at Erin, and only slightly less angry at Mitch for not telling her right away. She was ready to go and deal with the issue personally, but Mitch dissuaded her.
"Jama, trust me on this—I know Erin, and I know how to handle this." She looked at him in disbelief. Mitch had never shown the slightest inclination to stand up to that woman.
"And just what, exactly, are you going to do about this, Mitch Brogan?" The temperature dropped noticeably as she spoke.
Mitch gave her his own ice-cold stare in return—the look he usually only got when he was behind the wheel and completely in control. "The last thing she expects; play her own game, and beat her at it."
He had insisted on meeting Erin alone, which Jama hadn't liked at all. Nor did she like the fact that Mitch wouldn't tell her what happened after that meeting, other than to say Erin wouldn't bother either of them, ever again. But Mitch was definitely catching on to the XSWAT credo—results are what really count, in the end, so Jama was satisfied.
Malachi had the whole story from him afterwards, when Mitch handed him a memory chip. "She tried to blackmail me, Dad. So I turned the tables on her. If anything on this chip comes to the attention of certain people, she's off the force. Keep this safe, and if she makes any more trouble, you know what to do." Later, Malachi looked it over, and found it rather appalling...and impressive. He didn't think the boy had it in him! It turned out Mitch had been assembling a 'Pearl Harbor file' on Erin the whole time they'd been dating, just in case. He had never really trusted her. And as Mitch requested, Malachi had kept the thing safe for the last three years. In theory, that would no longer be necessary after today....
I ain't here to hold you when you cry, I ain't here to hold your shaky hand
I ain't here to look you in the eye, I don't want you under my command
He'd have to deal with that mess later. The music was changing, and Jama was making her entrance, with her Father at her side. How many thousands of kilometers had he flown to do this? Jama looked stunningly beautiful—she had opted for traditional Indonesian bridal wear. Malachi was impressed, but mostly he felt relieved that it was finally taking place. Few people in the room knew as well as he did how close this had all come to not happening. Mitch's former XSWAT squad were all here, seated somewhere behind him, but they weren't talking. (Damned kids!) And Malachi suspected Jama knew the whole story, but he'd never gotten it out of her. For a while, Mitch had left her, and Jama nearly had to kill him to get him back....
I ain't gonna walk you thru your dreams, Walk you thru this life that we all know
I ain't here to listen while you speak, I ain't here to heal your broken soul
All he knew for certain was that one day, Mitch was gone. Jama wouldn't discuss the matter with him at all, and hid whatever grief she felt behind her usual impervious facade. It was obvious, though, that she was hurting. It took both of them to keep Tyger from making good on his threats—he was ready to go out and hunt Mitch down, as he had promised he would if Jama got hurt because of him. She finally warned him off explicitly, "He's been reassigned to a regular squad, with my approval. I'll remind you just once, Master Sergeant Tyger, that Mitch Brogan is still a fellow XSWAT officer. Assaulting him will get you kicked off the force. At least temporarily, maybe even permanently. Is that clear?"
Malachi was furious. "Tyger—what the hell are you thinking! You're not just jeopardizing your career... in case you've forgotten, that's my son you're talking about!!!" He took his shades off, wrenching them from his face so hard they escaped his grasp and shattered against the wall. Malachi knew Tyger wasn't afraid to look him in the eyes, but nor did he enjoy it. "You couldn't pick a worse way to get kicked out of XSWAT—you won't be safe anywhere, Tyger, not even Rho Sector. Just... let it go. It's not worth the trouble."
Eventually, they got Tyger somewhat under control, with Marcy's help, but Malachi still wasn't sure what exactly was going on. He finally got Mitch on the phone the next day and demanded an explanation. "Dad, I've been reassigned. To a regular XSWAT squad. And yes, the Director approved it."
"Yeah, I got that part, Son... but WHY?" As far as Malachi could tell, Mitch had everything he could've wanted in his old assignment, and here he was, throwing it all away....
"You recommended me. Jama hired me. I wouldn't even be in XSWAT except for my connections with 9th Squad, and everyone knows it." Mitch sounded bitter—more than Malachi ever remembered. "It's time I did something on my own, without help from the 'old guard', so everyone knows I've actually earned my place here."
"Mitch, that's insane. You've got an important job to do at HQ, and Jama needs you."
"Dad, do me a favor—don't try to help me. It just makes things worse." Mitch's voice was tired—he sounded like he wanted to come back, but he wasn't going to. "I'll be back when people stop calling me 'Brogan's kid' or 'the Director's boy-toy'. I can do better than that, and it's time I proved it. Just tell Jama I... I'm coming back as soon as I can."
"She knows, Son."
Several months later, Mitch did return to Jama, being carried by his squad-mates. Malachi found out what happened later—at the time he was 'under the knife' at Angelus General, following a run-in with a pair of class III entities. Mitch was in even worse condition than his father, the victim of a Yakuza mahotsukai's curse. Mitch's squad-mates didn't know who else could help him, so they took him to the Director.
Seeing Mitch so close to death, Jama was almost too afraid to use 'True Sight', as she remembered looking on Nathan Carpenter's body when he lay dying after the fall of Gurzorath. But she had to do it, and to Jama's relief, she found there was life in him yet, although it was being strangled by the curse of the mahotsukai. And knowing what she must do to free him, Jama nearly despaired—Why us? Why this? Are we both strong enough to go through with it?
While Mitch Brogan's squad-mates held him immobile, Jama's kris flashed as she called upon the Void, stabbing into both the evil curse and Mitch's body with equal precision, here, and there... and there!. Mitch's blood welled up profusely from the wounds, along with... something else, smoky and cloying, as Jama drove the curse out of him. Mitch regained consciousness when she was finished, badly wounded but alive, and the first thing he saw was Jamadigni Renuka's face, splattered in his own blood, holding her still-dripping-wet kris over him. Mitch was in shock from losing so much blood, and badly confused. He looked up at her and asked weakly, "So... you're still mad at me for leaving?" Staring down in disbelief, Jama looked at him, and her kris, and suddenly felt like using it just one more time....
Mitch got his head together and proposed to Jama the following day, after Tyger visited Mitch in the hospital and explained a few things to him. "It's 9th Squad tradition—somebody damn near kills you, then you get married."
Oh, but if I held you in my arms, If I could squeeze you till we cry
I don't wanna lose this love I feel, I don't wanna lose this fight tonight
Malachi didn't half-way understand the ceremony. It was a mixture of Indonesian and XSWAT traditions, which ended up looking like a complete mishmash to him. Eventually they got around to 'I do' and 'You may kiss the bride' which, as far as Malachi Brogan was concerned, were the only really important parts of the whole thing. Best wedding ever. Almost as good as ours. Looking across the aisle, he thought maybe Paige would agree with him, for once.
I can only hope you feel your tears, I can only wish you'd feel the hope
I can only hope that I can see, out beyond this skin that covers me
I can only tell you what I've seen, I can only tell you how it felt
While my heart was crushed so bad inside, Till I felt the hatred slowly melt
Part 2: What's Happened to You
What's happened to you? You used to look so tired.
Now there's a spring in your step, and your words are on fire.
Did you hear some great secret? Did the words ring of truth?
Did you rise from the ashes? What's happened to you?
After a brief discussion with his son, Malachi joined everyone else at the reception in the back yard. When he found out 'the kids' were planning an outdoor reception in Angelus, of all places, his immediate reaction was to write off the idea as hopelessly optimistic. But then he remembered the bride-to-be was the Defender of Angelus. If Jamadigni Renuka-Brogan wanted nice weather for her wedding reception, the rain-clouds would just have to go elsewhere....
So it was a nice, sunny day, Malachi's oversized dark shades weren't terribly out of place for once, and he could watch the crowd discreetly while catching up on things with Scanner. They hadn't spoken in over a year, and she seemed genuinely glad to see him for a change, although the veneer of amused disdain never completely went away... he wrote it off as the influence of the entity within her, reacting to the same within him. As always, he could feel his own 'rider' responding to her presence. Down, boy! Wow, I can't take you anywhere, can I?
Jama was working her way through the crowd, making sure everyone was happy, until Paige caught up with her and told her to quit working and go enjoy herself, at which point she and Jama's mother jointly took over the job of co-hostess. Jama threw the bouquet, and it was a toss-up between Detective Erin McCarthy of the APD and Corporal Cephus from XSWAT. Cephus edged McCarthy out by centimeters, despite being a head shorter—McCarthy was pretty sure it was magic, but being surrounded by XSWAT personnel, what did she expect? Mitch shot the garter straight to his best man, Dave Cho. (The fix was in.)
Brogan continued to keep an eye on things as he chatted with the 'retired' contingent from 9th Squad, and their families, just like old times. In the middle of introducing them to the latest officers to join his 'Entity Busters' he noticed Cartwright was missing. Okay, NOW what's he up to....
Malachi spotted the kid out on the dance floor, gyrating slowly, if not gracefully, locked in the foreboding embrace of Erin McCarthy. Oh crap, that's bad news. Time to go to work, Brogan. He excused himself and made his way over to the dance floor. He hadn't danced since his accident—was this even possible? Only one way to find out! Malachi stepped out on the floor, tapped Cartwright on the shoulder, and said, "Sorry to pull rank on you here, son, but I'm cutting in."
Cartwright hid whatever resentment he might have felt. Brogan was no competition for him when it came to women! In fact, this was the first time he could remember seeing Brogan dancing with a woman, so maybe it'd be interesting... he walked off the floor and stood by to watch.
Erin hadn't actually been face-to-face with Malachi since his accident—the last time she'd seen him up close, back when she and Mitch were dating, he'd looked sort of like an older version of Mitch. Now... he looked like he'd lost an argument with a pyromaniac. Badly. And he wanted to dance? She gave him her very best fake smile.
Malachi knew that smile, saw it, and raised it a cadaverous grin. "It's been awhile, Erin. Staying out of trouble?"
The smile went away. She put her hands in his and began moving to the music. "Of course, Lieutenant Brogan."
Malachi took a few tentative steps, and found it felt pretty much like it used to. "You can still call me Malachi. I haven't changed all that much, Erin."
She looked at him incredulously. "I had no idea cyborgs could dance, Malachi. Anything else I should know about?"
He suppressed a laugh. "And you haven't changed, either, I see. Yes, Erin, there's something you should know. I've got something for you." She almost recoiled from him then, and he released one hand, but the other he held onto, and his grip was much too strong for her to break free. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a memory chip, and pressed it gently into her open hand. "You're free, Erin. There's nothing you can do to them, now. But we still need to talk."
Erin stopped struggling, almost before she started, once she realized what had just happened. She tucked the chip into her uniform and resumed dancing, asking him quietly, "About what, Malachi?"
Also very quietly, he told her, "Mitch and Jama are done with you, but I'm not—I kept a copy of that chip."
For three years, evidence which could destroy her career had hung over Erin's head, to keep her from exposing Mitch's affair with the Director of XSWAT. Now, for all of ten seconds, she had believed that nightmare was over, only to have this monster tell her otherwise. She was close to tears, for the first time that Malachi could remember.
"Erin, if you ever try to hurt my children in any way... well, you can ask everyone while they're here. 9th Squad will all come out of retirement to bring you down. There'll be nothing left of you but a footnote in Mitch's 9th Squad scrapbook. Count on it."
"Malachi, I wouldn't...." The rest was cut off in a small sniff.
"Yes. Sooner or later, you would." There was no malice in his voice, just certainty.
He very gently lifted up her chin and wiped a single tear from her cheek. "Don't cry, my dear—all you have to do is behave yourself... until you retire. It won't be so hard. Now calm down and dance. We don't want to make a scene, here."
"You have changed, Brogan. You're a mean old cyborg who ought to be scrapped." She gave him a dirty look, then put her phony smile back on and kept dancing.
"I know, I'm horrible. It's a miracle anyone puts up with me. One more thing... stay away from Cartwright, will you?" Brogan thought for a moment. "Actually, it's be best if I don't see you with anybody from XSWAT at all, Detective McCarthy. Understood?"
Erin nodded. "About that guy... Cartwright. Did he really try to arrest you once?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, back when he was in Sentinel Watch." Brogan wondered how three years had gone by so fast.
"So... what was he thinking?" She was still curious about Cartwright, even after Brogan's warning.
"He just never knew when to quit. Sort of like someone else I know." He grinned at Erin meaningfully.
Then she noticed someone behind Malachi and her eyes went wide. "Uhm... Lieutenant Brogan..."
Just then someone tapped Malachi on the shoulder, as if to cut in. He'd have thought Erin would be relieved to have someone cut in, but she actually looked nervous! In fact, there was only one person here could A) make Erin nervous, and B) want to dance with him. Jama?!
Malachi paused, and without turning around, exclaimed in delight, "Is that who I think it is?"
The last voice in the world he expected to hear answered him. "Probably not, Malachi." It was Paige.
He froze for a moment, then turned around, stone-faced. She looked just about the way he remembered—medium height, slightly stocky build covering a surplus of muscle, short red hair framing her sharp 'don't mess with this' face. Her brown eyes flickered back and forth between Malachi and Erin while both of them tried to figure out what to say.
Finally, she got tired of waiting and broke the silence. "Erin, you look lovely—I didn't expect to see you here. Have you talked to Mitch yet?" The hint was pretty hard to miss....
She actually blushed, and stammered, "So do you, ma'am... no, not yet. Uh... might as well go say 'so long' to the one that got away." She turned and started to walk away.
Paige called after her, "Erin!" The younger woman stopped and turned around to look at her questioningly.
"You're the one that got away, dear. Remember that."
"Thanks, Mrs. Brogan." As Erin walked away, it seemed like she'd gotten about a foot taller. And five years younger.
"That's Weinrank!" Paige turned back to Malachi, saying to no one in particular. "Poor kid. And I had such high hopes for her and Mitch...."
They'd been over all this before, and it was obvious Malachi didn't want to hear it. "Paige..." he said testily, "...I will not get into an argument with you at our son's wedding."
She looked at him and shook her head. "Damn right, you won't. Are you going to ask me to dance, or not?"
WTF?! "Do I have any choice?" And will all the other crazy women here please form a single line? No need to push, ladies, it's still early!
"As a matter of fact, no, you don't. So let's dance." She decided waiting for him to ask was pointless and pulled herself to him—but at least she let Malachi lead. "You've looked better, Mal."
"So I'm told. You look great." He smiled, not too widely, so it wouldn't scare her. As if she'd get scared! "I'm glad you're here, Paige. Hope you and Trish are having a good time." Well, I'M scared!
She gave him that you're joking, right? look he knew so well. "Malachi, our son's married a sorceress—the Defender of Angelus, and the Director of XSWAT. I'm not sure what to think—I just can't get my head around it, somehow...."
Malachi put a hand on her shoulder, and to his amazement, she didn't recoil from him. "Paige, she's all of that, but... that's not why Mitch married her. She's also a person, Jamadigni Renuka—and if you got to know her, you'd understand what she means to Mitch, to me... and everyone else who loves her."
"Mal, I know." Paige deftly removed his hand and put it back at her waist. Damn, she's still strong as ever! "I've met her in person. And it's hard to reconcile the... personality with all those titles...."
He laughed softly. "She's never what you expect. And when, exactly, did you meet Director Renuka?" Brogan was very curious to hear about this!
"At the bridal shower. Afterwards, she talked with Trish and me for hours, about... all kinds of things. You know—girl talk." Paige smiled and shrugged as she looked up at him.
Malachi contemplated that image for a moment. Oh, dear God and Gurzorath, I'm doomed, aren't I?
"Hours, hmm? Must've been quite a conversation." No point in prying when Paige obviously wanted to talk, but it wouldn't do to act disinterested either. Always such a fine line to walk. "And how do you like our new daughter-in-law?"
"Is it true she nearly stabbed Mitch to death the night before he proposed?" Out of the blue. Deadpan. No warning.
Dammit. Blind-sided again. "Well... how much do you know about sorcery?" This wasn't going to be easy to explain.
"Enlighten me." With no anger in her voice at all, Paige implied a dire threat with those two simple words.
"Paige, he was dying. A Yakuza sorcerer—they're called mahotsukai -- put a curse on him, and Jama had to cut it out, the hard way, before it killed him."
"But you didn't actually see it, did you, Malachi?" She still wasn't convinced it had been absolutely necessary.
Brogan thought for a moment, remembering a day three years ago in the City Center. "I'll tell you what I have seen. If it would have helped Mitch, Jama would've taken that knife herself. I've seen her do it, Paige, when we were fighting Gurzorath. Summoning that Angel wasn't easy—she bled herself half to death. And then she went into battle against Masada."
Paige sounded confused now—everyone knew this story, or thought they did. "But all those people who saw her call that Angel..."
"...are liars, Paige. Nobody was there but Jama and me. You can ask her sometime, if you like."
"She didn't tell us any of this." Paige sounded genuinely shocked that Jama would omit details about herself—hadn't anyone told her how modest her daughter-in-law was yet?
Now it was Brogan's turn to look confused. "Okay, so what exactly did you spend 'hours' talking about then?"
"Well..." Paige looked slightly embarrassed for once, "...you, actually. Jama said now that Trish and I are family, she can tell us certain things we weren't allowed to know about before. We've been granted clearance by the Director."
Malachi stopped in his tracks, right there on the dance floor. "You mean after all this time...."
"Yes, Mal. She told us what's happened to you."
"I need a drink. Now." Jama, you could have warned me... or was this meant to be a surprise? Paying me back for all the times I embarrassed you over the years, just a little bit? Maybe it's overdue, but this is a bit much, Madam Director!
There was nothing at the reception save champagne, but Brogan knew his way around the Director's Residence—he went back inside and found the liquor cabinet. Paige decided to join him, following silently until he'd had a little time to think. He opened something expensive and poured it straight. "Bar's open, Paige. What'll it be?"
She wondered if he remembered... "The usual."
He looked around for a bit. "They don't stock it here. Got something better—X.O."
She took a tentative sip and nodded her approval. "X.O.? What's that mean?"
"About an extra $150 a bottle. Enjoy." He turned and headed back outside. "So, what were you saying? Jama went and told you everything? That was nice of her. Uh, how did Trish take the news?"
Paige shook her head. "Not so well. She almost didn't come today, knowing you'd be here. She doesn't understand what's happened to you, Malachi. Oh, hell, neither do I... but she's scared. She wants you back to normal."
Saw that coming... she wasn't ready, Jama. He lifted his glass, took a long drink, looked around at all their friends enjoying themselves while they pretended not to notice him getting drunk with the woman he'd abandoned three years ago. "And you, Paige? You understand now, the reasons I couldn't come home—couldn't even tell you why."
She looked at up at him, and just for a moment, her face hardened with rage. "Yes, I do. And you understand why I was so angry."
"Of course I do." He smiled sadly. "It couldn't be any other way. I'm so very sorry, Paige."
"I know." She nodded, took another drink. "Mitch said he wanted to tell me all this years ago—you both did." She looked back up at him, this time without anger. "It's alright Malachi."
He couldn't speak. Brogan had been carrying this weight so long he'd forgotten how heavy it was, until it was lifted off him. And yet, that secrecy had become part of his life, and suddenly losing it made him feel terribly exposed.
He nodded slowly. "Alright. Paige, nothing's really changed, you know. I'm still legally dead, and in some sense of the word, I am dead. There's no coming back. You understand that?"
Paige gave him an impatient look. "Malachi, Jama explained everything. I know what happened—what you've become. Sort of." As she said this, she stepped behind him, taking his hand and turning him around to face the house, away from all the wedding guests. Then she put down her glass and reached up for his shades....
He put a hand up to stop her. "Paige, you don't want to..."
"Yes, I do. Now, calm down, Malachi." She firmly removed his hand, then slowly lifted his glasses off and looked into his lifeless, shark-black eyes for several long seconds. She didn't flinch, or show any sign of fear. Paige simply stared into those eyes long enough to be certain there was no trace left of the man she used to love. When she was satisfied, she put Brogan's sunglasses back in place. "Gurzorath did this?"
Brogan was stunned. For years, nobody had looked into his eyes for that long—seeing Paige up close again like that overwhelmed him completely. Is that how other people feel when I give them 'the stare'? "Uh... yeah. Occupational hazard, I guess... Entity death curse."
"Jama told us about that business, too, Malachi. You did good." She nodded with approval.
That was about the highest complement in her vocabulary, as far as Brogan could tell after a quarter century as her husband. "Hmm... what didn't she tell you, Paige?"
Without warning, he'd stepped on another land-mine. "Malachi, the night you died... who set you up?"
All too quickly, he shook his head and said, "Nobody knows."
"Mmm... I'm empty. Can we go get a refill?" Only a complete fool would take the innocent tone of her voice at face value... she wasn't finished with him.
"Sure." Might as well have a drink and get this over with in private....
Back at the bar, Malachi refilled both their glasses and Paige tore into him, just like old times. "Malachi Brogan... what do you mean 'nobody knows'! Maybe you can fool all those kids at XSWAT, but we were married 25 years, and I can tell you're damned well hiding something!"
Malachi finished his drink in one long gulp and looked at her. Paige wasn't going to let this go—her husband had been taken from her three years ago, and she was going to find out who did it. For three years, Brogan had been covering this up, but now that she was back, it was going to come out.
"Paige, I've been keeping this secret for a reason—there was a time when I wanted to take revenge on him myself, but I had to let it go." He spoke to her as calmly as he could, desperate to avoid a shouting match.
"So, you do know who it was." She looked at him accusingly. "How the hell can you cover this up, after what you've been through?"
Brogan simply shrugged. "He's already serving a life term in prison. And after the Gurzorath affair, he was on the list of people under XSWAT protection." If Paige bothered to check, she'd find there was no such list... not officially, at least. "We needed him for the recovery effort, and I didn't even suspect him until the dust was settling... all along, I thought someone connected with XSWAT was responsible."
Paige couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Politics? You know who's responsible for destroying our lives, and you let it go because of politics?!"
He was losing her. "Paige, calm down." He topped off her glass again. "There was a war on—we all had to do what was best for Angelus—no time for personal vendettas. Carpenter made a deal with that bastard, and I had to back him up on it." He looked at her steadily. "But don't you think for a minute that I just 'let it go' at that."
"What did you do, Malachi? Who was it?" Paige wanted blood, she wanted vengeance, for her family's loss.
"He had a family, too, Paige. His son was lost in Omega, and his intention was for me to go in there to find him. But Alice Cadbury recruited me into XSWAT first, and that didn't happen. At the end of the war, Carpenter made a deal with him—in return for his help, we'd go in there and look for his son. It was hopeless, of course... the boy was surely dead. But... at the time, I didn't think I'd ever see Mitch again. So, I went in there and looked anyway."
She looked at him suspiciously. "Are we talking about who I think we are?"
"Probably. Have you heard that 'living well is the best revenge'?"
"Malachi, what the hell are you talking about? What kind of revenge is that?"
"I've kept in touch with him since he went to prison. I informed him we couldn't find his son—but mine had joined XSWAT. I helped destroy his career, but I kept him up to date on my own. Alice Cadbury recruited me out from under him, but I told him all about the exploits of our new XSWAT director. The man's life is a complete failure, Paige. The only way to make it worse is to shove everyone else's success in his face. Which I've been doing for three years. I can't wait to tell him about Mitch's wedding."
Paige put a hand on his and squeezed. "That's heartwarming... or something. I'd rather break both his kneecaps, Malachi, but I guess you've done enough. You'll tell him that, won't you?"
"Yes, dear. By the way, my ex wants to break your kneecaps will really make his day, next time I see him."
"You've changed, Brogan. That thing inside you might have a mean streak, after all."
"So I'm told. Shall we go back outside?"
"Yeah. Fill me up again—the Director has some good booze."
They arrived on the back porch as the band took a break, and the wedding party decided to go for a drink. There was an honest-to-gosh champagne fountain in the back yard, where they were all congregating to refill their glasses. Jama's maid of honor and sorcerer's apprentice, Elizabeth Carpenter was showing off, calling on the fountain's spirit, which made refilling a glass from it an 'interesting challenge.'
Suddenly the fountain erupted in a full-blown geyser of champagne, sending wedding guests running and shrieking. Mitch stepped in front of Jama, grabbed her glass and risked the deluge to refill it, along with his own. Tyger simply stood his ground with his mouth wide open, drinking his fill and getting a bit soaked, until Marcy pulled him back. Seeing this, David Cho tried to do the same, but he missed and got more champagne in his hair than his mouth. Then he went looking for a fresh glass and a towel, in that order.
The whole crowd got a good laugh out of their display, including Paige and Malachi. She looked up at him and asked, "She's teaching Carpenter's daughter, too? I don't know how she finds the time."
He nodded. "She makes time, for Elizabeth. The Carpenters almost lost her, once—that was before I signed up. When it comes to 9th Squad, Paige, we'd all do just about anything—and that includes family, as well. That officially includes you now, come to think of it, and it's long overdue."
"And while we're talking about family... Paige, you never did answer my question. What do you think of her?"
He'd caught his ex off-guard for once. "What? Oh...." Paige tried to come up with a noncommittal answer, and failed. "Mal, I can see why Mitch is in love with her. And what she means to you... she's been like a daughter to you, hasn't she?" ... since you've lost Patricia. Neither of them needed to say it.
Brogan put a hand to his chin, and his voice suddenly sounded very far away, "As if anything about us was ever that simple. We fought together against things I can't even describe, Paige. Jama and I nearly watched each other die, several times." Trish had nearly died once, and he'd hated himself afterwards for failing to protect his daughter, then, too... but how could he protect her from herself?
"Jama was the one who first realized I was possessed—and decided I could still be trusted. And—don't tell anyone about this—Gurzorath planned to make Jama his bride. I promised her I'd never let that happen." Paige looked at him with a mixture of disbelief and horror. "And I may be old enough to be her father, but she's always out-ranked me since I joined XSWAT. Especially since she became the Director. So, to say she's like a daughter to me... doesn't begin to explain things, really."
She gave him a sideways look. "And did you ever... ?"
"Of course not! Look at me, will you?" He looked upward with a why me? look on his face. "You sound like you've been reading one of those ridiculous old 9th Squad fan-sites! Women! Honestly, Paige, I can't even do that anymore."
"Okay, okay, forget it." She shook her head and took another drink. "Men! So, what exactly was the deal with you two? If you don't mind my asking?"
"Uh... well. Back in those days, Jama was kind of... reckless. Oh, hell, we all were! But we knew damned well, we couldn't stop Gurzorath without her. Sometimes, I was simply her bodyguard while she did the 'sorceress' thing. That's how I ended up alone with her when she summoned that Angel. Paige—I had to wrap her hands, after she cut herself. It was like Trish all over again, only worse."
"Damn. Sorry I asked." Paige didn't have anything else to say about that—it was a long time ago, and the whole family had moved on, or so she thought. Trish was doing much better, and they hadn't talked about it in many years.
"So, where does that leave us, now, Brogan?"
He looked pained—this was a difficult subject for anyone. "Paige, I'm not even human anymore—whatever we had, it's gone now. I know you don't want me back, in this condition."
She put a hand on his shoulder. "I just wonder where we stand, exactly, now that Mitch and Jama are together. And we're at least talking again."
He smiled. "If nothing else, we're still Mitch's parents. And now we're Jama's in-laws. They need us, Paige."
"I guess that's enough, for a start, Malachi."
Malachi decided a radical change of subject was in order. "So, does Trish like her?"
"I'm not sure... you know she takes a while to warm up to new people. I think 'Madam Director' intimidates her a little. But she adores Corporal Cadbury, so I think they'll be okay. Was the cat your idea, Malachi?"
He nodded. "Guilty as charged. The new job was getting Jama down, pretty bad, so I thought it might help."
Paige looked at him accusingly, "And whose fault was that, Brogan? I heard what you did—practically shoving a 24-year-old rookie into that position! How could she possibly be ready for something like that? I'm not even sure how you pulled it off, but you really ought to be ashamed of yourself for doing that to her."
"I know. And... I was." Malachi looked for Jama, and saw her back out on the dance floor. Everyone from XSWAT wanted to dance with the bride—now she was doing her part to keep Cartwright out of trouble. He looked like he was in heaven.
"What do you mean, 'you were'?" Paige had expected another argument from him.
"It should have been Hemelshot, but he disqualified himself. And Alice Cadbury chose Jama as her successor, just before she died. Jama and I both felt her choice should be honored. But I knew how hard it would be for her, Paige. So, I've done what I could to help her—sent Corporal Cadbury up there, and found her the APD's number one driver..."
He saw Mitch dancing as well. It seemed half of XSWAT and half his old lab crew wanted to dance with him, too. Malachi wondered how Mitch knew some of these people... was that Littlewing with him out there?
"...and that's worked out far better than I expected. Jama's not alone anymore. But there were times in the early days, Paige, when I really did worry about her. Nobody really knew if she could do the job—it was a leap of faith. But she did do it—for all of us. For XSWAT, and 9th Squad, and Alice Cadbury. She did it for Angelus, because it needed doing."
"But wasn't there anyone older available? I mean, look at XSWAT now—it seems like a third of the force are rookies, and most of the rest are just kids." Paige made a sweeping gesture towards the dance floor crowded with XSWAT wedding guests to prove her point. "Even the Director is only, what, 27 years old now? That seems awfully young, Malachi."
Malachi Brogan looked where his ex-wife was pointing, and there was no arguing with her. Jama and Mitch weren't the oldest XSWAT personnel here, of course, but the majority did seem to be younger than them. And an awful lot of those were 'replacements' added to the force since the Gurzorath incident, only three years ago. But they'd be alright—the Director would see to that. And Mitch would be there to help her.
Malachi looked at Paige, nodded, then turned to look at their children again. For a moment, he was lost in thought. This is who we fought for. And they were worth it.
"Oh, yes—they're all so very young. But then, that's how the future always begins."
What's happened to you? You used to be so unkind.
You used to curse at this poor world. So what changed your mind?
What stirred such compassion is a mystery to me.
I don't know what's happened, but I like what I see.
Epilogue: Everywhere I Go
Brogan and a few other guests stayed behind to help clean up. Of course they had him stacking up folding chairs in the great room, according to Tyger, "because we can't get a forklift in here." They didn't weigh much, not even in stacks of twenty. Or thirty... whatever. It had been quite a day, and the workout was a good way to get the alcohol out of his system, among other things. It amazed him that Paige had come around, but his daughter had succeeded in avoiding him all day. He had been hopeful that he'd get to speak with her, right to the very end of the party....
Just before everyone went home, they had seen the bride and groom off in style. The Spirit of California was parked out front. David Cho handed Mitch the keys, grinning like a maniac and saying, "She's all ready for your honeymoon." He and the groomsmen had scrawled 'Just Married' on every window, festooned the limo with streamers and... whipped cream? For the final touch, Dave had replaced Mitch's lucky dice on the rear-view mirror with a pair of hand-cuffs.
Mitch looked at best man, shaking his head in wonder. "Thanks so much, Dave." Jama was trying very hard, and nearly succeeding, in concealing her amusement. Mitch looked at her, and she looked back at him. "Yes?"
"Does this vehicle meet with your approval, Madam Director Renuka-Brogan?" He was trying not to laugh out loud.
"I'm not entirely sure, Officer Brogan. Who's getting the hand-cuffs?" She cocked an eye-brow at him.
"Well, if I'M wearing them, then I won't be able to wash this thing, will I?" He looked back at her suggestively.
"Mitch! You're neither handcuffing me nor getting me to wash this limo on our honeymoon." She crossed her arms in mock stubbornness.
"Oh, well, looks like Plan B, then. He pulled a fiber-optic cable from his tuxedo and jacked it into his interface. Momentarily the garage door opened, and the Director's Stozwind emerged, operating on remote. It parked itself next to the limo and its doors opened. Jama could see two sets of bags behind the seats. Mitch tossed the limo keys back to Dave and yelled "Have fun, killer! Clean 'er up before we get back." Dave couldn't believe what he was seeing. All that work, wasted!
Turning to his wife, Mitch suddenly got a devilish look in his eye. What he had done so many times in private, he could get away with, just this once, in public. Without warning he literally swept Jama off her feet and began carrying her towards the Stozwind.
"Mitch, what are you doing?"
"Where to, Chief?" He didn't really care, at this point, as long as they were together.
Jama looked at him and shook her head. "You're driving. Anywhere but Rio."
As they closed the doors and took off, Mitch wondered why everyone from 9th Squad was laughing so hard.
Brogan, of course, hadn't joined 9th Squad until after their little 'vacation' in Rio, but he'd heard all about it. And advised Mitch to take Jama to Cancun, instead. Then he went inside to start cleaning up.
He hadn't expected to end up as officer in charge of the clean-up, but he turned out to be senior, so people kept interrupting him with questions about what to do or where to put things, and the simple task of stacking up 100+ folding chairs in the closet was taking much too long. He was just about finished when he heard someone coming up behind him yet again...
Not one of his XSWAT officers this time—someone in civilian shoes, probably heels by the sound of them. Best be polite, then....
He began racking up the last of the chairs and said calmly, "Almost done here, be right with you...."
And once again, the last voice in the world he expected to hear replied. Brogan froze in shock for a moment, too terrified to turn around and show his face.
"Yes, Patricia... ?"
What's happened to you? You used to be so shy.
You used to hang your head down. You wouldn't look in my eyes.
Did you see some great vision? Did you finally break through?
Did you shake the foundations? What's happened to you?
Where the four winds meet, the world is so still.
The waves are not pounding, and the hungry are filled.
Our shadows have crossed here, where the sun touched the ground.
The gathered are singing, what a beautiful sound....