The heavy night-time fog blanketed the Angelus city streets, diffusing lights to a faint glow and muffling noises to a bare murmur. The apartment building rooftop floated like a flat-bottomed barge among the thick haze. It was bare and unpopulated, except for the obligatory HVAC units, pirate satellite dishes and other assorted flotsam.
Elizabeth clambered over the fire escape ladder onto the roof and waited for Deidre to join her. She hefted the case of beer under one arm with deceptive ease.
A few moments later Diedre clambered over the edge of the roof breathing heavily and cursing under her breath.
"Oi..." *huff-huff* "I got meself shot today." She heaved herself over the edge and rolled out onto the roof. "I... needs to remember shit like that before trin' t'haul my arse up the frikkin' stair-way to heaven."
Elizabeth smiled and offered her hand in apology and to help Deidre back to her feet.
"I like to come up here sometimes. It's quiet up here. Not many people feeling out loud."
"I can't imagine how weird that must get. It must be like dis guy who's got X-ray vision and ain't able t'turn it off even when looking at fat old cronies."
Elizabeth grinned. "What a lovely mental image that is. Now I really need a drink."
She led the way, threading through the air-handler units, to a cleared area, where a pair of lawn chairs waited. Elizabeth placed the case between the two chairs and ripped the top off, removing two bottles and offering Deidre one.
The cool brown bottle displayed the label of a local brewery, proclaiming itself to be the best stout to be found on the island.
Diedre took out a knife and popped the top of the bottle with the back of the blade. "So, ah, I owe you an apology 'bout the people-eating thing. Sorry."
Elizabeth placed her thumbnail underneath the bottle top and flicked it off, snatching the disk from the air with her other hand.
She lifted the bottle in salute. "Apology accepted."
Settling down on one of the chairs, she continued, "Before we continue our lively discussion, I'd like to suggest a ground rule. If one of us makes a comment or statement that indicates an assumption about the other's philosophy or opinion, the other has the right to call the one on it. Agreed?"
"Agreed." Diedre took a draught from the bottle. "I'll start by giving an honest answer to your first question. No, me problem's not wi' you. It's what's in you."
Diedre took another sip. "Is like this: you drop a coin. It falls. You can do it a million times. You drop it again, an' it flies up... you're more likely to believe an error in your perception than anything unnatural. 'Specially when you drop it again; it falls."
Diedre sipped and shook her head, indicating her desire to continue. "Not you, it. I got me no doubts that the Entity within you will do what it did to Captain Brogan given the opportunity."
She paused and turned to Elizabeth, "Which begs the question now, how d'you get it?"
Elizabeth stared levelly at Deidre, her gaze neutral. She took a drink from her bottle, perhaps as a delaying tactic. Finally, she spoke.
"We're not going to get anywhere without trust. So I'll trust you with this.
"Figures the first thing right out I get to invoke the rule. You're making an assumption about me, not that it's your fault, really, you're basing it on what you know.
"Captain Brogan was possessed by an Entity. It... exists within him in some sort of symbiotic relationship."
Elizabeth sighed. "That's not quite what happened to me."
Looking openly at Deidre as she spoke, Elizabeth continued. "Back when I was a teen, I experimented with Angel's Blood. Yeah, it was stupid, but I did it. Never mind why.
"An Entity did try to possess me, to eat my soul and take over my body, and almost succeeded. I fought it off as long as I could for all the good it did. It was way out of my league, and it pretty much mopped the floor with me. But at the last second, I did the last thing it expected me to.
"I possessed it."
Elizabeth's jaw clenched in a mirthless grin as her eyes focused on a point far away in time and space. "Didn't know that could happen, did you? Well, neither did the little shit. I tore it a new asshole, and sent it back to wherever it came from without its prize. I'd saved my soul from being consumed.
"Unfortunately, it seems the bastard had the last laugh after all. I was alive, but my body had gone down the path too far to come back all the way.
"Deidre, I don't have an Entity riding me. I am, at least partially, an Entity. And, as far as some members of the glorious Order of Enoch are concerned, half of one is as bad as one."
Elizabeth leaned back in her chair and wet her dry throat with a swig. "So, that's why I'm not exactly buddy-buddy with the Knock-Knees. And why I was concerned about you."
Diedre took another drink and regarded Elizabeth with new eyes for a few moments. "That's... a bit different."
There was an almost imperceptible lowering of tension in Elizabeth's demeanor at Deidre's implicit acceptance.
Deidre cleared her throat, "Well, about that... guessin' I should start back t'before I got meself involved in the Order."
"Grew up an orphan. Not the kind you see on TV, cute an' begging for your charity. The real kind: stealin' me food to eat. Beatin' up kids to find places to sleep. When I got older I had to kill boys to keep meself from getting raped."
She swallowed hard as rotten memories began to surface. "One day they got me unprepared. Got stabbed and left fer dead in a dumpster."
She shuddered for a moment, closed her eyes, and then chuckled, "You'd be surprised what dying can do fer your faith. I prayed fer the first time then. I didn't know what I was doing then, but I do now. It was as if I had swung the doors to me soul wide open and screamed 'HELP! Anyone, anything, any price! HELP!' and me call got answered."
Diedre took a deep drink and continued. "Woke up wi' all me wounds healed an' a new passion for life. Everything felt new an' shiny. So I went off to kill the palmy bastards who left me for dead. Had them bleedin' out and begging for mercy at my feet I did when it started. The prickling. The nagging... anyway. I let them go."
She looked around, almost feeling guilty. "Three months later some nuns picked me up. That was about ten years ago now, I suppose."
She sighed, "The Order took me in and gave me clothing and food. Which was a good thing since I couldn't bring meself to steal anything. They gave me a remedial education, still just bein' a kid then, and put me doing some serious community service. Which was, oddly enough, the only time I got meself any peace and quiet at the nunnery.
"A couple of Donkeys later some important big-wigs at the Order came to visit the nunnery and almost exploded with excitement. Come to find out, I glow."
She looked at Elizabeth, who had arched a smirk. "No, not that kind of glowing, prick. It's a spiritual glow—well, more like a bonfire. They says t'me, 'You are possessed by an Angel. Would you like a job hunting monsters?'"
She took another drink to wet her throat, draining what was left in the bottle. "That's how I got meself involved. Gave me an opportunity to find out what was in me, how to control it (for certain levels of control), and how to shut it up. That and I got to do some serious ass-kicking."
She coughed, "I guess a lot of my fears for you are based on my own experience with possession. It talks, a lot. It pushes, it nudges, it makes demands. I've given in to its demands over and over again so often that I'm not sure where meself starts and it begins."
She turned to look off into the Angelus skyline, "I ain't got a Danny?'bout who I am anymore... and I was afraid you didn't either."
Elizabeth emitted a dry chuckle as she fished out two more beers to replace the ones they had polished off.
"Heh, I guess it's true, then. God is an iron."
Diedre stopped in the middle of opening her beer. Staring rather incredulously at Elizabeth, she let her jaw drop before continuing. "Wh... I... I ain't believin' it! What just game outta your mouth?"
Elizabeth looked at Deidre curiously. "What? If a person who commits a felony is a felon, or a man who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, then God is an iron. You gotta admit that it is somewhat ironic that we were both projecting our fears for what we are on each other."
"Well, yes, that's only natural, but, never mind." Diedre shook her head, popped the cap off the bottle, and took a drink. "A teacher of mine at the Order used to say that. I was just surprised, that's all. Nothing more."
She took another drink while she regained some more of her composure.
"Trust me, the irony of this whole thing aint lost t'me."
Elizabeth eyed Deidre speculatively. A teacher, hmm? I wonder... she mused to herself.
In a more conversational tone, she answered. "In any case, I suppose it's your turn to ask something."
"Suppose." Diedre paused for a moment to consider her words.
"So... what made you join XSWAT? Why put yourself in a position where you're going to be coming up against the Order on a regular basis? I know they love to meddle in the affairs here, what with Omega Sector and everything that went down ten years ago."
Elizabeth shrugged. "Why not? XSWAT has the reputation of taking anyone, regardless of who, or what, they are. We take out Entities, which suits me fine."
She shifted in her chair to face Deidre as she continued. "You see, as far as I can tell, Entities like me even less than the Order does. Maybe the fact that I'm a half-breed offends their sensibilities, I don't know. In any case, I have no problem kicking their asses, given the chance."
She looked away. "And besides, I'm doing good on a promise I made."
Elizabeth took a swig and gestured with the bottle. "What about you? From what you said, I would have thought the Order'd be hot to keep you in the ranks. How'd you end up joining us happy few?"
"I, ah..." Diedre turned away.
"To be honest, I'm not sure. Killing monsters is what I want to do—it wants to do..."
She shrugged. "Hate bein' bored—nothin' worse. Left the Order one night under invitation from one o' me old friends and ended up in Iota Sector baby-sitting street thugs. All kinda happened fast."
She took another long drink and turned back to face Elizabeth. "I think I'm trying to separate what I feel from what it feels... does that make any sense? To stress something until it reveals its true colors?"
Elizabeth snorted. "Shyeah. That about describes most any teen-ager's relationship with authority figures."
She peered into the bottle as if trying to read a fortune from the dark liquid inside. "I spent a good number of years being told to 'deal' with my... situation by suppressing it, controlling it through denial. That worked just about as expected."
"I finally realized the only way to be in control was to accept myself for what I am and work with it, not against it. I don't stifle my impulses, just guide them into more... constructive avenues."
Elizabeth pointed with her bottle at Deidre. "Not saying it's any way the same with you, but maybe fighting your inner Jiminy Cricket isn't the best approach."
"Maybe.? Ain’t knowin' f'sure, though."
Deidre sighed. "I always feel like?I got meself locked in a constant battle for control of me actions. For instance, half of me wants to kill you, the other half wants to cure you, and I want to leave you alone. Which is what I'm going to do, mind you, nothing more and nothing less.
"But, ah, do me a favor would you? Try not to surprise me in combat like that again. Under stress I tend to lose control and I'd hate to lash - I'd hate for it to lash out at you."
Elizabeth grinned wryly. "I'll keep that in mind. Though I hate to tell you, stress and combat do tend to bring the inner psychopath out in me, if you know what I mean. I'll try to be more subtle about it, or at least not throw it in your face."
She arched an eyebrow. "Oh, and speaking of stress and combat, what happened in Lorraine's room?"
"See—prime example. It wanted me to heal her, so I tried. Got meself a face full of pyromaniac psycho-bitch fer me thanks."
Elizabeth nodded in understanding. "Did you ask her for permission to heal her?"
"Ask?" Diedre sounded a bit confused and insulted, "No. But ain’t no reason to try an' kill me."
Elizabeth sighed and spoke in a sympathetic tone. "No, it isn't. And 'Raine is sometimes the poster child for poor impulse control, I know. But..."
She leaned forward to get Deidre's attention. Her voice took the tone of someone repeating a lesson heard. "The laying on of hands is an intimate thing. You are directly manipulating someone's body, touching it in a way that goes beyond the mere physical. For a very good and noble reason, yes, but still not something to be taken lightly or without respect for the person you're helping.
"In an emergency or dire need, consent is a luxury you can't afford, that's understood. But whenever possible, it's important to give the person that freedom. It is not your place to impose your will on others."
"I know that. It's not as if I haven't been trained in the use of its power."
Diedre arched an eyebrow at Elizabeth. "And for someone who dislikes the Order as much as you do, you're the first to rely on their teachings."
"Hmmm?" Elizabeth snapped back from a reverie. A dash of awkwardness flitted through her face, quickly masked as she commented casually, "Oh, I don't do that touchy-feely, healing-hands stuff. That's you paladins' schtick. I'm the steal-your-soul, hide-in-the-shadows kind, remember?"
Her tone almost succeeded in hiding a thread of nervousness underneath.
"In any case," she hurried on. "The point is that Lorraine is kinda touchy about people getting that close. Just FYI."
"Nononono," Diedre said, looking intently at Elizabeth. "Not so fast, witchy-poo. What gives? That's pretty much verbatim out of the Paladin's Primer and I'm knowin' fer a fact you've never been under the tutelage of Sir Nathan Carpenter."
"Oh, and you have, I take it?" Elizabeth shot back challengingly, as another flash of emotion slipped by her eyes at the mention of the name.
"As a matter of fact, I have! He was the best damn teacher in the entire program! Not that you care, you hate the Order and everything in it, remember? Or is this just your old-guy fetish kicking in again. Damn, no one is safe around you, Twist!"
Elizabeth's eyes slitted dangerously, her nostrils flared, and her jaw clenched. Then her expression cleared and with half-lidded eyes and suggestive smile she said in a sly voice, "It sounds to me I'm not the one wetting her panties over him, dearie. Did he fill you with holy righteousness?"
"What!?" Diedre stood, in shock. "You perverted bitch! Don't talk about him that way! He's probably the only reason the Order hasn't gutted you and put your miserable carcass on display! And I know he's the only reason that I haven't killed you."
She pointed at Elizabeth, her hand twitching, "You owe him your life, bitch, show the dead some respect."
Elizabeth stared intently at Deidre, eye-to-eye, having also stood in response to her outburst. After a tense second passed, she let out a pent-up breath in a half-sob and sat back down limply, drained.
She looked up at Deidre, her eyes moist with tears. "You don't know how right you are.
"He did save my life, he is... was the only one who never gave up on me. He is the reason the Order didn't kill me on sight, the reason I know what I know about them.
"And I beg you now, for his sake, and for those he loved, don't ask me anything more about him. Please."
Her voice was soft, without anger or spite, laced with pain and sadness so acute that the very words hurt to hear.
Diedre sat back down, her anger tamed by Elizabeth's confession. "Well, you've got a funny way of showing that you care for somebody. Alright, I won't talk about it."
"Although now I've got meself more questions than answers." Diedre turned to look back at Elizabeth and sighed. "'God is an iron.' You know, I haven't heard that in years. He's got—had a fan club for years now. The Order shuts it down but it eventually creeps back up on the web."
Elizabeth drew her body up in the chair and hugged her legs. She rested her cheek on her knees and looked at Deidre as she spoke. "I know. It didn't sit well with him. It almost got uh... his family killed once. Some f'tard posted the home address on his fan page and some creeps decided to pay a little home invasion, looking for revenge."
"I... didn't know that."
Diedre sighed, "So now what?"
Elizabeth smiled an honest smile. "Well, I think at this point we've established we're not going to kill each other on sight. I'd call that progress."
"Well, yeah, but I meant with the rest of the night. Gonna get meself in trouble if I gets meself back to the Hospital at this point, and I'm not drunk enough to put up with that."
Elizabeth glanced at the floor between them. "Well, we could finish off the case. Hate to see good beer go to..."
Her head jerked up as a shadow passed across her eyes.
"Or we could help the guy who's about to be mugged one alley over."
She looked over at Deidre with a Cheshire grin, teeth shining in the low light. "You up for it, paladin?"
"S'right! Just as long as I gets t'be bad cop," she grinned back, waggling a finger. "And don't eat the perp."