I go wild 'cause it doesn't make sense
For me to cry out in my own defense<
Wild 'cause I would do anything
To tear you off your precious fence

Poe/Wild (Haunted/2000)

Feb. 6th, 2123; 12:30pm

"You know you're needlessly torturing yourself." Erin sat opposite Mitch in a busy Sunn street eatery, holding a beef satay skewer over the flame. She was in a good mood today, and Mitch actually found himself enjoying her company.

"Oooh... now there's a straight line I really should jump on...” he grinned wickedly around the last of a spring roll. "...I hardly know where to begin."

"Do your worst." She grinned back, then took a more serious tone. "No... I mean this whole 'wait 'til the divorce is final' thing. Nobody does that—trust me."

Mitch nodded, and tried to explain. "Yeah, well... I'd like to come out of this with a favorable settlement, you know? So I don't plan on doing anything to mess things up, at least not any worse than they already are. Technically, I shouldn't even be seen with you...."

Erin tilted her head slightly to one side, staring at him in a mixture of sadness and disbelief. "Oh come on, Mitch, you're only human. And all we're doing here is having lunch." Then she lowered her voice to avoid being overheard. "Although it's painfully obvious you need to get laid."

Mitch didn't quite choke on his tea, but it was close. He set down his glass and narrowed his eyes at Erin. Fine. Two could play at that game. "Look who's talking... okay, suppose we did that, Erin." He kept his voice low as well—this wasn't for public consumption! "I was with Jama for ten years, and old habits die hard. At some point during the act I'd say it's inevitable that I'd accidentally call you by her name."

Erin actually blinked and recoiled in shock at this point, but didn't speak.

" which point you'd go completely berserk, and quite justifiably rip my balls off. So forget it—I'm not ready. Don't know when I will be. And I like my balls where they are, thanks very much." He gave her a huge, shit-eating grin.

"Um...." Erin got that blank look on her face; the one Mitch so rarely saw; the one that meant for once she realized he was absolutely right about something and she had no choice but to agree with him. “...yeah, I guess I would. We'd better not." She smiled pleasantly and began stripping beef satay off the skewer with her teeth.

"It's nice though, having someone to talk to who's been through this before. So thanks." He very cautiously reached across the table and held her hand for a very brief moment, then withdrew almost too quickly, as if he were afraid of something.

She shrugged. "Anytime, partner." It was an ancient term of endearment—they hadn't been partners, in either sense of the word, for over ten years. Erin studied his face for a long moment. "How you feeling, Mitch?"

He sat there, thinking for a second, and she could tell this wasn't easy for him. "Incomplete... everywhere I go, everything I do, there's something missing." He took a long drink from his glass. "And empty. At the end of the day, I come home to this closet-sized apartment, and I don't mind that it's a dump, but it's just... empty."

Erin nodded, "Yeah, it's like that."

"So... what did you do?"

"I asked my therapist. She said I needed to let go." Erin's eyes sparkled. The corners of her mouth turned up, just a little bit.

Mitch looked at her in shock. "She told you what? Oh, yeah, that's just great. What happened?" Telling Erin McCarthy to 'let go' of anything was an all-around bad idea. That was one stupid therapist....

"I didn't leave any marks... and paid my final bill in cash. Alimony covered it." They both laughed..

Mitch held up a hand. "No therapy for me, thanks... I'll just have to work on this 'letting go' thing, I guess."

Erin's smile was bittersweet. "Yeah... you'll be okay, Mitch. You get used to it before you get over it."

"Right." Mitch shook his head and looked into his half-empty glass. "Can't believe you went through this twice. One more time and I guess I'll be even with you, huh?"

Erin sighed sadly. "Well... if you have your only child taken away the second time around, then yeah, we'll be even."

"Mom told me about that. I'm sorry." There had been a bitter custody battle, which Erin had completely lost.

"I'd rather not talk about it." The subject seemed to be rapidly spoiling her mood, and her lunch.

"Alright, Erin." Mitch could tell there was no point pressing her on this—he'd find out more later, if at all.

Erin steeled herself, put the thought of her lost daughter out of her mind and went on. She could actually control her moods, when she tried. "So, Mitch, can I ask why you never had any kids? I mean, you were with Jama for ten years, and married for seven."

Mitch's rolled his eyes at the thought of answering this question for what must have been the thousandth time. "You can ask, but I'm not sure if I can answer... you know they call her 'Mama Jama' for a reason. She always said she had 5,000 children to look after already. Besides which... it's just plain risky, raising a family when you've got a career that dangerous. I'm sure you've heard that before."

The look on Erin's face confirmed his suspicions... Erin's ex-husband had used that against her. "But Mitch, didn't you ever want a family, in spite of all that?"

"There were...” Mitch sat in silence for a long moment, thinking about the distant past. “...a lot of things I wanted when I was younger, before life turned into a freak-show. It's not about what I want any more, Erin—it's about what I have to do. You know what I mean?"

She smiled sadly. "Yeah, but it's a damn shame."

"How's that?"

"Mitch, any other woman in Angelus could see you'd be an excellent father. You've been wasted on her."

This time she'd gone too far, and Mitch didn't mind saying so. He kept his voice low, but very stern. "Erin, shut the fuck up. I have no regrets, about anything. And you are on very thin ice here. You got that?"

She backed down in a hurry, but as usual, offered no apology. "Alright, Mitch. I won't mention it again. Anyway, you're only 34—you've still got plenty of time left. You'll find someone."

"Thanks. And for what it's worth, I'm flattered you think I'd be a good father. Hadn't ever really thought about it before."

"Oh bullshit, Brogan. You've thought about it plenty, and you won't admit it." She sounded very unconvinced.

Mitch drained his glass and sighed. "Everybody's a mind-reader. Guilty." He signaled for refills.

"So, is that why you're getting divorced? Nobody else has figured this out. Yet." One corner of her mouth curled up, just a little.

Shaking his head, Mitch calmly dispelled yet another rumor. "Negative, Detective McCarthy. Good try, though. The actual reasons will remain confidential indefinitely. Don't even think about it."

She pouted for a couple of seconds, then shrugged. "If you say so. The real question is—what's your big plan for "Ladies' Night' with the Crash Team?"

He shook his head and grinned at her. "That's on a 'need to know' basis, Erin."

She laughed and glared at him. "You unbelievable hypocrite."

He held up his hands in confusion. "What?"

"You're afraid to be seen with me because you're in the middle of a divorce, but going out with a squad of rookies—who're all way too young for you, by the way—isn't a problem? Incredible!"

"Erin, that's just a...” Suddenly, Mitch found himself on the defensive again. “...a... 'team-building' type-thing."

Hands on her hips, she looked at him accusingly. "Oh, will you just listen to yourself? Team-building, my ass."

"It's exquisite. Your ass, I mean." She continued giving him that look. This was getting exasperating. "Erin... what I said, about people not seeing us together... that goes double for the Crash Team."

"Stop trying to flatter me, Mitch. What are you so afraid of? They're just a bunch of rookies."

"No, they're XSWAT rookies, and any one of them is a match for you and me put together. So don't fuck with 'em, Erin." He pointed a finger at her in a warning gesture.

"What's so bad you and I couldn't handle it together, Mitch?" Erin didn't sound convinced.

"Thought you'd read the reports, Erin. Okay... I've got a combat clade—enough said there. A pyrokinetic—she's pretty much instant death. The occultist? You'd never even get close to him. Got a gunslinger who'll impress even you. And then there's Liz."

"Liz? Just Liz? That's it? What's the deal with her?" The others were intimidating enough, but now Erin looked slightly anxious.

In a very calm, level voice, Mitch explained, "Erin, she's so dangerous, I can't even talk about her."

Erin gulped.

"They're young, energetic, and unpredictable. And I don't want you getting hurt. But that's not the real problem. I heard a rumor." He just left that hanging for a moment, to let Erin think about it.

She had to wonder what Mitch would find even scarier than his freak-show rookies. "What rumor?"

She'd bitten, now he just had to set the hook. "I heard Madam Director planted one of them on the Crash Team to spy on me, and they're secretly reporting directly to her. I don't know which one."

Done, but would she buy it? "So, it's best if none of them see us talking, unless it's in a professional capacity. And I especially don't need you butting into our 'team-building' events. So do me a favor and stay away from 'Ladies' Night', okay?"

"Alright, Mitch. But if you're gonna boss me around like this... once your divorce is final—you're gonna owe me, and I'm serious." Her tone of voice left no room for doubt. It was possible Erin meant what she said; or maybe she fully intended to go right on with her 'stalking' behavior. It was hard to say. In the short run, Mitch hoped she was telling the truth.

What it really came down to was—what was she really after? Did she want revenge on him for leaving her? Or did she just want to get back at Jama for 'stealing' him? Or did she actually think they'd get back together? What really scared Mitch was Erin's talk about him being 'father' material. Dear God, was she insinuating that she wanted a child by him? (Note to self, Brogan—vasectomy is reversible, and one hell of a lot less painful than all this other shit you're going through!)

In the long run, of course, Erin would likely find out that he'd been lying to her, about a number of things. Mitch sincerely hoped he'd figure out what to do about that before it all blew up in his face.

Coda, Interrupted

You've got some nerve to come back here
You're not the only one who can smell fear...
You're not the only one who runs on instincts
No I've got instincts of my own


Much later...

It hadn't been easy, but when all was said and done, Mitch had finally convinced Jama to take him back. Now he found himself back in his accustomed role, dress uniform and all. The Spirit of California sat parked in front of the Director's Residence for some sort of official XSWAT function, and he stood in the reception area, while Jama attended to business in the 'great room.' He had somehow learned to enjoy these stupid things.

And he had no idea what exactly Detective Erin McCarthy was doing here, but somehow she'd found her way in. Whatever. With XSWAT personnel everywhere, this was pretty much the safest place on Earth to explain things to her, now that everything was back to normal. The conversation went much better than he expected... perhaps Erin had enough sense not to make any trouble here, after all.

“...and we've made another decision, Erin. I have you to thank for that." Okay, here we go....

The smile never left her face. "What decision, Mitch?"

"You were right... I should have had a serious talk with Jama about starting a family, years ago. She agreed. We're expecting our first, in about seven months. Oh, and here she comes now."

They could see the Director rapidly approaching, through the massive arched doorway leading into the great room. She wasn't beginning to show yet, (especially not beneath her dress uniform!) but there was definitely something 'different' about her now—she looked more beautiful than Mitch could ever recall.

Still smiling pleasantly, Erin looked at Jama, then back at him. "That's wonderful news, Mitch. Oh, and I've got something here for the baby...." She began digging around in her handbag.

Mitch suddenly turned toward the doorway, as Jama literally stormed into the room, her kris rattling ominously as she drew it forth. The symbol on her forehead looked like a chess-piece, a rook, turned upside-down. Not good! He looked back in Erin's direction... her hand was out of her purse now....

"GUN!!!" ... and why was everybody else in the room moving so damned slow all of a sudden?

Jama never attempted to cast a spell so quickly in her life... but Erin shot from the hip, and she was faster. Mitch tried to throw himself between them, but both women were too fast for him. Story of my life... dammit!

The kris hit the floor just before Jama's blood. She clutched a bullet wound near her waist-line. Erin never stopped smiling as she put a second one right below it. Mitch stared in horror... she wasn't shooting to kill Jama... they were going to lose the baby...

* * *


Mitch found himself half out of bed, soaked in sweat. He looked at the bed... empty and likely to stay that way. He could still hear Jama's kris rattling... no, wait... his phone was vibrating. It was 2:30 in the goddamned morning... who could it be?

Erin??? Forget about it. He refused the call and blocked the number, set the phone on the night-stand, next to his pistol. Picked it up, chambered a round and flipped off the safety. Then he tossed back the dregs of the scotch he'd been working on earlier and lay down again.

Both of you get outta my head. Fight it out somewhere else—you're making a fucking mess!