Wild because the chips are down
Wild because there isn't anybody else around
Wild when the waves start to break
And God knows they're breaking in me now

Poe/Wild (Haunted/2000)

Feb 16th, 2123; Tuesday, 8:15 a.m.

Lieutenant Mitch Brogan, Angelus XSWAT, stopped dead in his tracks just outside the door at the Jungle's APD Vice office as several young plainclothes detectives stalked out in rapid succession, determined looks on their grim faces. One or two of them spared him a dismissive glance; the rest ignored him. Detective Erin McCarthy followed, looking as if she was on her way to someone's funeral, and if they didn't know about it yet, then she'd just make sure they weren't late....

Erin stopped briefly when she saw Mitch. "Are you lost, Brogan? We're kinda busy today."

Mitch crossed his arms and glowered at her. "I'm never lost—I knew where I'd find you, Erin. Got a case to talk about. What's all the ruckus?"

Erin smiled in anticipation. "Serving a warrant on a bunch of slavers. There's reason to believe they'll resist arrest."

Mitch nodded. There was only one kind of slavery Vice was concerned with—and there wouldn't be much sympathy for the perps if they got roughed up for 'resisting' during the raid. "Give 'em hell, partner. Talk to you later?"

Her eyes narrowed. "About an XSWAT case? You're joking right?" She realized by the look on his face that Mitch was serious. "Oh...kay. I'm swamped today, Mitch. We'll talk over dinner..." She had already turned to run down the hallway, catching up with her subordinates, "...I'll stop by at eight. Cook something simple!" Erin shouted as she turned the corner and disappeared.

Mitch stood alone in the hallway, thinking. He didn't even consider trying to get out of this latest mess. There was no help for it—Erin was coming over at eight, and he was cooking dinner. He tried to remember what she liked, back when he used to cook for her on occasion. Then it hit him—'cook something simple' was their old code for 'don't dirty up lots of dishes, so we can get in the sack right after dinner.' Nice try Erin, but I don't think so.

It was going to cost him, but Mitch started a mental shopping list for an elaborate meal—one that would likely result in the highest possible stack of dirty dishes to wash after dinner. Yeah, I think I'll make desert, too....

* * * * *

Feb 16th, 2123, Tuesday, 8:20 p.m.

Mitch began to get worried, then finally heard someone knocking, twenty minutes late. Erin stood in the doorway, staring at him with a blank look on her face. She had fresh bruises on her neck. Her right sleeve was cut almost to the shoulder, showing a surgical bandage. She was favoring one leg. Without emotion she leaned against the doorframe and looked Mitch in the eye. "Bad day."

He stepped out of her way, but didn't offer a hand to help Erin through the door into the living room—Mitch had seen her like this before, and he knew she wouldn't accept any help, but she might very well take his offer the wrong way. "Come on in. Sit down and relax." As she limped past him, she patted him on the shoulder affectionately with her good arm. He didn't press her for details—she'd hold it all in until she couldn't stand it any more, then let it out, one way or another. Mitch handed her his scotch to help the process along.

"Mm. Thanks." Erin sat on the couch—Mitch noticed one knee refused to bend—and drained the glass. She took a deep breath and shuddered violently. She'd not eaten for twelve hours, and lost a lot of blood; the alcohol hit hard.

Mitch refilled her glass before getting himself another. "Feel a little better?"

She looked at her glass, then at him. "I don't want to feel anything."

He hardly knew what to say. Like so many times before, Erin was falling apart, and now she wanted Mitch to put the pieces back together. But they'd been apart for so long, Mitch wasn't sure if he still knew how. He had to break the ice somehow....

He sat down next to her, keeping a bit of space between them, sitting forward, elbows on knees, drink in one hand, looking at Erin calmly. "I've got three officers in recovery myself—Thornhallow's out for a week and a half. We found 'Bloody Mary', but I'm not sure how to explain where. Bitch tried to eat my soul. Worst part was the flying monkeys. Oh, and Nico accidentally destroyed London Bridge so we had to pay Charon's toll to cross the river."

Erin listened and drank, the look of disbelief on her face becoming more pronounced with every word. "You gotta be shitting me! I warned you, Mitch—if XSWAT doesn't kill you, it'll drive you nuts."

Mission accomplished. Mitch leaned back on the couch, put an arm across Erin's shoulders, and looked at her meaningfully. "So what's it like in APD Vice?"

Erin's eyes met his, locked him in a stare he couldn't escape. "We've got child-killers too, Mitch. Those slavers we went after this morning killed everyone who might've talked... mostly kids; girls. Some of 'em weren't even teens yet. They used a knife, to save ammo. Mainly so they could shoot at my people. Flattery's in the ICU, I've got two others in 'guarded' condition, whatever the hell that means..." she leaned over to rest her forehead on his shoulder, "...and I'm a fucking mess. What's for dinner?"

He rested his face against the top of her head for a moment, smelled her hair, spoke to her quietly. "Yes, you are. But you're gonna be alright, Erin." Mitch suddenly realized the huge dinner he'd planned wouldn't be necessary—Erin just needed to talk tonight. "I'll send out. What's your preference?"

Erin sat there thinking for a moment without lifting her head. "Steak-Out." Was she drooling on his shoulder?

Mitch made a call, and shortly, salad, meat and potatoes for two was on the way. "Done. Where were we?"

"Brogan, what's been going on with you lately? You're blocking my calls; I stopped by Sunday and you were out; now all of a sudden you want to talk. Why?" Erin sounded very suspicious.

Mitch decided he'd stick to the plan. "There's a Crash Team case I wanted to talk about. It's a Vice case, so I'd like to ask you...."

"That's not the point..." Erin cut him off, shaking her head impatiently, "...who is she, Mitch?"

HUH??? "Uh... who or what are we talking about here, Erin?" She'd really lost him this time. Crazy bitch!

"I know how you operate, Mitch. You transferred to XSWAT and suddenly you had a thing going with Renuka—now you've got the Crash Team and she's divorcing you... so which one of them is it?"

For just a moment, Mitch was furious. Then he realized this was just par for the course, and laughed out loud. Erin didn't look amused. "Excellent work, Detective McCarthy, you solved the case! But you got the wrong women. And the wrong man. Uh, they give you vice cops a trial for filing false charges, or just a field execution?"

"Ha ha, very funny... so where were you on Valentine's Day, lover-boy? Hook up with somebody at Ladies' Night and forget to come home?" Erin smiled at him accusingly.

Mitch shrugged. He considered whether it would be worthwhile to make Erin think there was something going on. Just about any of the Crash Team girls could deal with her, and then he'd have one less thing to worry about, but that was a lot to ask. And a jealous Erin was an unpredictable Erin. Never mind, then. "Nothing so exciting. I was depressed, so I went out for a ride. Alone. Want to check the log on my bike? I'm surprised you haven't downloaded it already—you're slipping, my dear."

Erin ignored the insult—acknowledging it would mean admitting he was right. She forged ahead undeterred. "Okay, let's look at the suspects: Thornhallow?"

Mitch shook his head. "...thinks I'm an old stick-in-the mud. I'm not her type; she's not mine. Not even close."

Erin's eyes narrowed. "What about Hemelshot? You seem to like celebrities...."

"No." He smiled. "Pyrokinetic. Too hot for me."

"Oh, we'll get to one that's 'just right' eventually...what about the mysterious Liz Yasha?"

Mitch laughed again. "She's an empath, Erin. Do you have any idea how nervous that makes me?"

"Well, I guess I could just ask her... she probably knows exactly what you're up to."

"Guess again. She has a hard time 'reading' me, apparently. Once she actually had to smack me in the face to trick me into letting my guard down."

Now it was Erin's turn to laugh, lasciviously. "Then she probably sensed more than she bargained for."

Mitch rolled his eyes; didn't she ever think about anything else? "Uh, no. The mood was all wrong."

Erin shrugged "If you say so. It always worked when I did it. Hmm... that just leaves the vixen."

"Vixen? Erin, Chrysine's a vulpine combat clade. You really should be careful how you talk about her."

Erin leaned towards him with a predatory grin. "No, you should be careful, Mitch. She's the first one you haven't denied being attracted to. And you're very quick to defend her. I think we have a winner!"

Mitch leaned back and let out an exasperated sigh. After all these years, Erin still drove him crazy. How can she be so completely wrong, and simultaneously so close to the truth, but for entirely the wrong reasons?!

"Yes, Erin, she's attractive, and of course I'm defending her—she's a highly respected officer." He stopped Erin before she could interrupt. "But there's nothing going on between us! The whole idea's ridiculous, okay?"

"Oh, really?" Erin sounded far from convinced.

"Yes, really. First of all, I'm still married—to the Director of XSWAT—and Chrysine's just a rookie. You think she's gonna risk her career fooling around with the Director's husband, even if there's a divorce pending? She's smarter than that. Second, she's too young for me, as you pointed out. Hell, she could be my daughter. Third, I'm her commanding officer. You know what kind of problems that could cause?" Mitch stopped to catch his breath, and Erin didn't hesitate.

She smirked. "Brogan, your hypocrisy is showing. Getting involved with your CO caused you plenty of problems, but that didn't stop you. And if she's young enough to be your daughter, she may not be as smart as you think. It's interesting, though, that you think of her that way... this just gets better and better...."

Mitch's eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean, Erin?"

She smiled, batted her eye-lashes, and replied in a little-girl voice, "Nothing, daddy."

"You're sick, woman." He rolled his eyes. "Look, nothing's going on between us. Actually, I'm trying to get her a date with Dave."

Erin recoiled and pulled a face. "You think of her like a daughter, but you'd let her go out with Dave? Mitch, you remember what I said about you making a good father? Forget it."

"Very funny, Erin, but there you have it—if Chrysine is interested in anyone, it's not me." Mitch nodded and crossed his arms as if to emphasize his point.

She smiled impishly. "But are you interested in her? I'd still like to know. C'mon, Mitch... you can tell me."

There was no getting out of this..."I'll tell you this much, Erin. If I wasn't her commanding officer. If I was single. If I was a younger cop; a rookie like her... Dave would have some serious competition."

Erin's smile softened. "There... that wasn't so hard, was it Mitch? But if it's none of the above, why've you been so hard to reach lately?"

Mitch let out another exasperated sigh. "Because I didn't want you pulling a stupid stunt like this?" He shook his head, realized she was still smiling at him, tried not to smile back, and completely failed. "Really, you shouldn't be here, Erin. I told you last weekend, I'm just not ready to start seeing anyone. Besides, it might upset Jama... you ever seen her angry? Believe me, you don't want to...."

She cut him off before he got any more worked up. "Mitch, you worry too much. Okay, I confess... I had every intention of coming over here tonight and screwing your brains out. But look at me! You're perfectly safe—I've had the living crap beat out of me today, and I'm not the one who gets off on that...."

"Neither do I! You don't believe me, go ask Jama." Mitch made it sound like a dare.

"Yeah, right. In ten years, she never 'got rough with you' even once? I knew she wasn't your type!"

A guilty look crossed Mitch's face. "Uh, well... she taught me Pentjak Silat; we sparred two or three times a week. But that was... you know, serious self-defense training."

"Oh, I'll bet it was. And when you were finished sparring...."

We played as hard as we worked. "Uh... never mind."

Erin laughed out loud. "You haven't changed a bit, Brogan."

Mitch glared at her, feigning anger. "Neither have you, McCarthy. What am I gonna do with you?"

She looked back at him suggestively. "I don't know, I'm still waiting...."

He thought for a moment, then came to a decision. "I am going to have dinner with you, and then discuss a new case that I need your help with, Detective McCarthy. That was the plan, and I see no reason to change it now."

"Dammit Mitch, you're just no fun any more." Not even her very best pout could change his mind.

Dinner arrived soon, and they both tore into the meal without much conversation for a while. He noticed the juicy dregs of her filet mignon as they finished. "Blue rare? Is that even legal to serve any more?"

She shrugged. "Not my preference, but... doctor's orders. Gotta replace the blood I lost today." She pointed at the gigantic potato skin she'd cleaned out. "And lots of carbs, for energy. Not that I'll need it, hanging out with you." She glared at him accusingly.

He ignored the jab. "And the salad?"

"Oh, you know, got to keep my girlish figure...."

Mitch blinked. "Erin, you're figure's just fine, but you're every bit of 185 centimeters. That's hardly 'girlish'."

"But Mitch, you used to like tall women. Then Jama came along, and she's like, 150 cm?"

"She's 160 cm, and I really don't mind one bit. Uh, how did we get on this subject?

"You brought it up, genius. By the way, how tall is Chrysine?"

"Never mind... we've got casework to talk about, remember? Behave yourself, and I'll make desert later."

"Fine. Spoiling me will get you anywhere." After ten years, could Mitch possibly remember what she liked?

"Later." He tossed the delivery boxes in the trash, and slid a case file across the table. "The Yakuza have a new drug. I think." Erin looked at him in disbelief for a moment, then opened the file and started going through it.

"Mitch, what is all this? You've got Yamaguchi-Gumi recovering material from Omega, a suicide in evidence, a report from officer Tsanthos says this stuff causes 'euphoria, delusions of god-hood, and loss of time-binding ability'. Another report from Thornhallow says she heard about something similar at the Armageddon Clock." She closed the file and stared at him, mystified. "And you want my help with this XSWAT weirdness?"

"Thornhallow got a name at the 'Clock: Yokohana. Someone said he could 'get her in'. What's that sound like to you?" Mitch waited for Erin to think it through. This wasn't a normal drug, but she'd figure it out.

"If it's not consumed with each use, they can't get repeat customers by selling it on the street. So, they have to keep it someplace secure and charge admission." She cast Mitch a worried look. "They've got a lot of this, don't they?"

He shook his head. "We don't know how much they've got. Nor do we know how many uses it's good for. Actually there's a lot we don't know. Thorny's good—she's willing to follow up on this, go undercover and check it out. But she'll need permits from Vice, money for the transaction...and backup. I don't want her doing this alone."

Erin massaged her temples and winced. "Oh, good God, Brogan, are you talking about us partnering up again?"

Mitch smiled. "Hey, stranger things've happened. Actually, I'm wondering if you've got anyone qualified to assist Thorny on the undercover side of things. And I do mean assist. It'll be her show, whoever she's working with."

Her jaw nearly hit the floor. "Brogan, you're crazy. Look, I can probably get your operation cleared through Vice—money, permits, whatever. But you want one of my people to play flunky to an XSWAT rookie on an undercover op? That's too much. I'll run it up the flagpole, but don't get your hopes up."

"Well, okay, thanks. Whatever you can do, I appreciate it. If nothing else, I'll go with her myself."

Erin looked worried again. "Mitch, you're not suicidal or anything, are you?"

He gave her a wicked grin. "Nope. If something goes wrong, you'll come and rescue me, right?"

"Don't push your luck, Brogan. You're not cut out for this." She pointed a finger to emphasize her warning.

Mitch's grin widened. "See, that's why I like Chrysine. Never talks back, and fights like hell when I'm in trouble."

Erin snorted. "So what? She was probably genetically engineered for subservience. No wonder you like her."

"Oh, right... I like servile women. That's why I hang around with you, Erin."

"But you don't hang around with me... I haven't seen you in over a week, and I had to invite myself over here just so we could talk about a case...."

"And you should've cancelled, in your condition. Thorny's in the hospital for at least another week, so this could've waited. I can't make a move on this without her."

"Mitch, is work all you think about any more?" For just a moment, Erin's usual facade cracked, and Mitch saw that underneath, she really was hurting. Because she was worried. About him.

Well, shit... now what? He got up and walked around the table, knelt down in front of Erin, and put a hand on her good shoulder, looked her in the eye. "The job isn't easy, and it's not going so well right now, Erin. But everything else in my life is... even worse. So yeah, I guess I'm trying to stay focused on work. It's just... easier that way. I'm sorry."

She sighed, then leaned forward until their foreheads touched, and put a hand behind his head. She spoke to him softly. "You can talk to me about it, Mitch. Anytime. Why don't we have desert and get comfortable, then we can talk about it, okay?"

Mitch thought it over—it was a reasonable request. Erin's voice sounded so nice when she wasn't being a surly bitch... and the way she kneaded the back of his neck felt wonderful. "I'll be right back."

Erin had, indeed, moved to the couch by the time Mitch returned from the kitchen. Her bad leg was stretched out—the other one dangled over the back of the couch. She was technically still dressed; she kept on her shirt and trousers, but 'getting comfortable' evidently meant ridding herself of her boots and bra. Mitch stopped hesitantly on the living room threshold with two large glasses full of something cold, green and frothy.

Erin's nose twitched as he entered, recognizing the smell. She propped herself up on her elbows and looked at him. "You mixed grasshoppers? Mitch, you're evil!"

"I know. It's your punishment for being too damn nice. Make some room." She sat up long enough for him to join her then lay down again with her head in his lap. "How you gonna drink like that?"

She looked up at him and grinned. "You'll figure something out."

"You're getting spoiled quick." He produced an extra-long straw. "Try this. See if I got it right."

He held her glass and she took a tentative sip, then a long, slow pull. "Mmm. Oh yeah. Haven't had one of these in years, Mitch. Thanks. Now what's getting you down?"

Mitch took a drink and set down his glass. His voice was emotionless. "I was at Sergeant Hanler's funeral today. And I've got three more to attend this week, Erin. All my Father's officers—the ones we couldn't save. Ryuzo used them as fodder for his damned Destiny Engine—and what they went through beforehand, I can hardly bear to think about. One of my officers took it on herself to euthanize two of them, and those were the lucky ones. The turned into Entities before we could save them. They had to be destroyed."

Erin didn't know what to say. She just took his hand and listened.

"Tomorrow they cremate Officer McElroy. But even in death, Erin, she still hasn't given up. She was protecting Bloody Mary's victims—at least three of those kids described a spirit who looked like her. And then we saw her—she helped us find Bloody Mary's lair. McElroy gives me a little hope." Mitch's voice caught, and he paused for a drink. "Sometimes an XSWAT officer finds a way to keep up the fight, even after death. Some of them may be just rumors; but others, like McElroy, and my old man, I know they're for real."

Erin sat up and pulled him down, until they were face to face. "Mitch. You are not going to die."

Mitch let out a long, slow sigh. "I hope you're right. The Crash Team's really coming together, learning to watch each other's backs, including mine, so I suppose...."

Erin cut him off. "No Mitch. Forget the Crash Team. You don't get to die until I say so. Got it?"

"Got it. You're impossible, you know that? Finish your drink." Mitch held up Erin's glass for her. As she drained the glass, he asked, "Does that pep-talk work with your officers at the Jungle?"

"Oh, they don't get that one. None of 'em spoil me like this. Yet. You got any more of that?"

"Yeah, be right back."

By the time Mitch returned, Erin was fast asleep on the couch. He shut off the lights, pulled a blanket over her, and went to bed.

* * * * *

A couple of hours later, Mitch heard a soft, husky voice in the dark. "Move over, Brogan. It's cold." Erin stood there, wrapped in the blanket Mitch had left draped over her.

"Huuhhn?" He wasn't quite awake. Confused, he moved towards her voice, rather than away from it.

"That's not what I meant... never mind." The far side of the bed was now unoccupied, so she carefully climbed over him and lay down, unfurling the blanket as she did so. Her bad leg wouldn't cooperate, and she nearly fell on him in the process. Mitch instinctively reached up to catch her, discovering she wore nothing but his blanket. He was wide awake now.

"If you're cold, I could've gotten you an extra blanket. This isn't such a good idea, Erin...."

She settled in next to him and got comfortable. "I brought us both an extra... see?" She took his hand and put it down on the blanket she'd spread out, practically daring him to try something.

He moved his hand somewhere less provocative and held her. "Great. I'll be nice and toasty warm while I ruin what's left of my life. You can have the bed, I'll be on the couch." He started to get up.

Erin took hold of his arm. "Mitch, wait. Just hold me. Okay?"

Oh, great. Now I'm a jerk no matter what I do. I could get out of this... but I'd have to tell her what's really going on. And the one person I can't afford to tell is Erin McCarthy! And what the hell is Jama gonna think?

Mitch stayed where he was, and tentatively put an arm around Erin. She turned towards him. "Mitch I just... oh, what happened to you?" She'd found the scar on his chest.

Well, this should be good. "Uh... my wife stabbed me."

"Okay... I'm missing something here...."

"Erin, dear... there were times you slapped me senseless. You even pulled a gun on me once...."

She giggled. "Yeah... I did, didn't I?"

Mitch ignored the interruption. "But Jama, she took a knife to me. Now that's love, darling."

"Oh, you are just demented, Brogan! But why'd she do it, anyway?"

"Yakuza death curse... she had to bleed it outta me. Stabbed me three times. Saved my life."

"No shit? Where's the other two?"

It was dark—she couldn't see anything. Mitch guided her hand. "Here." The second one was at his solar plexus. "And here." The last one was just below his waist-line, above the groin.

"Oh... that must've hurt." She explored the outlines of the scar with her fingertips. It wasn't pretty.

"Like a bitch. Kris knife blades curve back and forth to make their wounds more painful."

Erin sighed. "All we ever talk about is pain." Her hand moved, found what she was looking for, then began moving again.

Mitch groaned, more out of exasperation than pleasure, then grabbed her hand and stopped her. "Erin, you really shouldn't start this. Besides, you said you were too beat up to...."

"Mitch, I'm tired of hearing about what I shouldn't do. And I've still got one good arm... so let go of it, will you?"

"Oh, just knock it off, Erin."

"Is that what they're calling it these days? Cute. You telling me you don't need this, Brogan?"

Mitch realized there was no way he could lie to Detective Erin McCarthy when she had the evidence in hand. Oh, to hell with it! I'm probably gonna die, anyway. "This is gonna cost me, isn't it?"

"Not so much... just be a gentleman and return the favor."

"Of course."

"Getting my help with that case... that's going to cost you. Just you wait 'til I'm healed up, mister! Now relax."

Mitch complied, and Erin proceeded to show what she could do for him with one good arm.

She was right... he needed it.

Mitch put an arm around around her after he caught his breath. "Alright, your turn."

"Damn right it is." Erin reached for his other hand, guiding it in the dark.

A short while later, she made it loud and clear to Mitch how much she needed it, too.

And to all the neighbors, as well....

You've got a lot of nerve to come back
Plan your attack and I am still waiting
Did you want something?
You wrote the rules to try and contain me
You broke 'em No you haven't tamed me

Poe/Wild (Haunted/2000)