No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

He couldn't go home.

Mitch had taken up the task of hunting down Ryuzo with the intent to return to Jama when he finished, or else to die trying. Ultimately, the Crash Team had killed Ryuzo. Mitch had finally gotten them there, and made a fairly good accounting of himself in their confrontation with the dreaded mahotsukai. But leading the Crash Team had taken a toll on him which he hadn't foreseen. He'd been damaged in ways he wouldn't have imagined possible until now.

He wasn't fit for command. Mitch knew that now. The Crash Team had needed a leader, and Mitch wasn't it. He'd nearly gotten them all killed, several times over. He was completely out of his league when it came to XSWAT field work, just a chauffeur with a badge, after all. He'd let down everyone on the team, failed to save his father's missing officers, failed the Director. And that wasn't the worst part....

The divorce gambit had caused more problems than it solved. Neither Mitch nor his wife had known that his psychotic ex-girlfriend would be assigned to the same sector HQ as Mitch—with disastrous results. In spite of all her faults, and all the trouble she caused, Mitch still had feelings for Erin, whether he wanted to admit it or not. And Erin knew it. Married or not, he was completely isolated from his wife, and under an incredible amount of stress. And Erin was always there, persistent, determined and inviting. And of course, one night he had caved in. He counted himself fortunate she'd been too badly injured for anything but foreplay. And Liz had stepped in the next day. Nothing else had happened after that.

But Mitch knew, he still had to tell Jama everything.

If he could ever look at her again without being sick.

Being captured by the Lover had made everything far, far worse. The Handmaiden's illusion of Jama had been flawless, right down to the perfume she wore. Realizing he'd been embraced by such a horrific, disgusting creature was more than enough to sicken him every time Mitch thought about it. But that was weeks ago, and he was getting better, physically. The emotional damage, however, had been much more severe.

When he had come home from the Jungle, so recently after his indiscretion with Erin, and Liz's threat's to tell Jama, Mitch's first thought when he saw his wife sitting on the stairwell, sobbing, was simply "She knows." And the guilt, the sadness, and grief he had felt in that moment had been absolutely heart-breaking. This is what I've done to her.

It may have been an illusion, but it was convincing. Mitch felt like he'd been there once, and knew he'd have to go back again, and the real thing would be just as bad. It made the thought of confessing everything to Jama that much worse—he could deal with the idea in abstract, but now he knew how it felt, and would feel again. He dreaded that day.

Mitch supposed he'd had it coming. The Handmaiden had used not only his love, but his guilt to deceive him. Mitch had to wonder if somehow, he hadn't made his own capture that much easier by betraying Jama... and perhaps it served him right... he had no one but himself to blame for that.

But it made the end result that much more appalling. Captain Gaines died fighting the Lover. Mitch had regained consciousness just in time to see it happen. He'd been angry at the time, and joined the fight as best he could, launching a spinner at the demon-bitch, guns blazing, just before the rest of his squad brought her down. Afterwards, Mitch realized, Gaines died to save his sorry butt. And lest Mitch forget, Gaines' sword, Hexbreaker, went to Chrysine—a constant reminder of his capture by the Lover, and Captain Gaines' sacrifice.

It was one more reason to leave.

Turning in his badge had been a betrayal of everything he'd lived for, the past twelve years. His family. His friends. The Academy. The APD. XSWAT. The Crash Team. His wife.

Mitch thought it would have been difficult. It was almost effortless. He'd walked out of the Jungle without a word.

Changed his phone number, packed up his things, and found a new apartment.

That was several weeks ago....

No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

* * * * *

Sunday, May 2nd, 2123; 5 p.m.

Sunday afternoon found Mitch in better spirits. He'd quickly found work as a repossession specialist for the Angelus Old Dominion Bank, and gotten off to a good start on his new job. Stealing pricey cars for a living was something fun to do until he got his head sorted out, and he had the right skill-set, background and headware for it. Today was his day off, though. He returned from the corner store with an armload of groceries to find the Reverend Damocles once again holding forth on the End of the World in the complex courtyard. No one paid him any attention, as usual.

Mitch stopped to listen for a few minutes. It's a shame, really—he'd be good at what he does if hadn't gone off the deep end. Oh, wait... look who's talking. He sorted a few items into a separate bag and set them on a bench near the Reverend, waiting for a lull in his seemingly endless rant.

He finally paused and squinted suspiciously at Mitch. "Do I know you?"

"Not really. Have you eaten today, Reverend?"

"You can't bribe your way out of Hell... there'll be no forgiveness when the End comes!" Damocles pointed at him accusingly and picked up the bag.

Mitch shook his head and began walking towards the elevator. "I know. Don't preach with your mouth full, Damocles."

Behind him, Reverend Damocles resumed the thankless task of bringing the Lord's word to Angelus.

Once inside, Mitch checked his message service. Work! One Irene Cates from the AOD Bank Auto Loan (Recovery) Department had left a message for him to call back. She didn't usually call on weekends, but okay....

"Ms. Cates... this is Mitch Brogan. You called?"

"Oh, yes! Got a job for you, Mitch. Can you start early tomorrow?"

"Don't see why not... what's the deal?"

"It's a '22 Nakamichi Basilisk, payments three months in arrears. Alpha sector. Possible extra security retrofits."

Finally, a real challenge! And a decent payoff—she was talking about a lot of money. "I'll have it by Tuesday night."

"Oh... kay. You sound pretty sure of yourself, there, Mr. Brogan. Assuming you get your usual 'finder's fee', do you have plans for Wednesday night?"

Ah, I see how this works, Irene... I stand to make some decent cash, and all of a sudden you're getting interested. Too bad it won't work. I've got an estranged wife to deal with, a psycho ex-girlfriend looking for me... and just thinking about kissing someone, even a cute redhead like yourself, almost makes me retch. Sorry.

"Uh... I'm busy Wednesday, Irene. Maybe some other time. Just send me the info on that job soonest, okay? Thanks!"

Irene didn't sound happy. "Will do, Mitch. See you later."

Mitch wondered if maybe he should start looking for work with another bank, real soon.

He had just enough time to eat a quick dinner and get his bike ready before there was a knock at the door. It was Dave Cho, and he looked nervous. Mitch let him in.

Before Mitch could say anything, he blurted out, "I'm sorry, man, she was gonna knock the crap outta me!"

"Whoa, slow down, Dave! What's going on?"

"It's Erin! I kept her in the dark as long as I could, I swear, Mitch. She finally went crazy on me...."

Mitch put a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. "Yeah, it's okay, Dave. I know how she is. Not your fault, pal. She's psycho."

"Alright, Mitch. I'm just glad you understand...."

"Yeah, sure. Hey, remember that time back at the lab we got her and Crystal to play strip poker...."

Dave cracked up laughing. "Oh yeah, how could I forget?"

"... everything was going great until Erin realized you're a card shark, and before we could stop her, she's trying to strangle you with her bra!"

Dave put both hands around his throat and choked out "Totally worth it!"

Mitch laughed too. "I'll handle her. She's on her way here?"

Dave nodded.

"Well, I've got plans already, so why wait around? Bike's ready. Wanna go make some money?"

Cho looked at him suspiciously. "Mitch, are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"

Mitch started wheeling his Raiju towards the freight elevator. "Yeah. We're going to Raceland."

Dave ran ahead to call the elevator. "Mitch! I've been telling everyone you're doing better! And now this?"

"It's therapeutic. I needed a new hobby."

"It's suicidal."

"Leading the Crash Team was suicidal. Speaking of which, how're things with Chrysine?"

Dave looked uncertain. "You know, that's kind of hard to say... she doesn't talk much. And when she does, it's not like she really lets on how she's feeling. She's like... completely opaque, emotionally. Even worse than you."

Mitch gave him a snide look. "Gee, thanks a lot. Look... if she's still seeing you, then you're doing alright. I was just thinking, if she's never been to one of these things, you might want to give her a call, have her meet us there."

"I don't think so, Mitch. She's still in recovery from fighting the Breaker, and she spends most of her time with Angie now. I doubt she'd take the kid to an illegal drag race. Besides, I don't know if she's ready to see you like this. I mean really—look at you, Mitch, you're a mess. I'll tell her about it later, let her know you're doing okay. She'll be glad to hear it."

"Okay. Do me a favor, would you? Don't tell her Erin threatened you. Chrysine has an impulsive streak, and I'm not sure what she'd do—anything could happen. It wasn't easy keeping Erin away from the Crash Team—I didn't want her getting killed, or them getting in trouble. But now, it's not up to me any more...."

Dave shot him a harsh look. "No, it isn't. You should've stayed."

"You seen Jama?"

"No. Things've been bad over at HQ. She's been busy over there 24/7, mopping up after the attack. You know, eventually she's gonna come around, asking the same questions as Erin. And I'm not gonna wait for her to make threats...."

Mitch smiled. "No need for that, Dave. She's the Boss... you just tell her what she wants to know."

The elevator reached ground level, and Mitch wheeled the Raiju out into the alley. They both climbed on, and sped off towards Raceland sub-district.

But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free

* * * * *

It was payday. Several times over. Mitch's bike was 12 years old, but he had an edge—his ace mechanic was along for the ride, and the Raiju was in like-new condition. Hardly anyone had run MHD-powered bikes for years, and most of the other racers were young—they had heard of machines like this, but seldom actually seen one—it was a relic from Angelus' economic boom, and they had no idea what to expect.

Dave insisted on going over the bike thoroughly before every race, which got old for Mitch after a while. He finally insisted on skipping most of the checks.

"How's the CCHD pressure?" Dave shouted over the roar of the engines.

"Same as before! Dave, the race is starting—I don't have time for this."

"Fine! Tire check?"

Mitch looked down. "I got two of 'em!"

"Engine check?"

He gave a thumbs up. "She's runnin'!"

"You go, boy!"

Mitch eschewed using his cybernetics, for the most part—that was a good way to get himself shot in Raceland. There was one biker who tried to stiff him after he won a fair race, and Mitch had to do something or he'd get a reputation as a push-over. But if people found out about his vehicle interface, he was finished. Mitch imitated a 'hex' he'd seen someone use at XSWAT, and put a 'curse' on the man's bike, which thereafter refused to run.

He lifted the hex once he'd been paid the money he was owed, and nobody wanted to cross the 'mage' on the Raiju after that.

It was payday.

He offered to split the money with Dave. "Hey, I'm still a cop, remember? I can't accept that."

"You're my mechanic—that's still legal, right?"

"Now that you mention it... I'm worth every penny." He accepted his 'wages' for the evening's work.

They split up to make their respective ways home. Dave looked a bit worried.

"You know Erin's gonna be looking for you."

"Yeah. Don't worry, Dave. I'll have her eating outta my hand. Tell everyone back at XSWAT I said Hi."

No one knows what it's like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you
No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through

* * * * *

Monday, May 3rd, 2123; 7 p.m.

The next day, Mitch started doing his homework. The owner of the Basilisk turned out to have Yakuza connections, of course. The payments were behind because the gentleman's assets were all frozen as part of an APD money-laundering investigation. The Yakuza, especially those with ties to Ryuzo, were being systematically run out of Angelus, but they'd still relish the opportunity to take a shot at Mitch if he resurfaced.

So, do I pass on this one, raise my fee, or just shut up and do it?

Shut up and do it. By tomorrow night, dammit!

There was a knock at the door. Mitch wasn't expecting anyone. He checked the entry monitor. Of course....

He opened the door. "Hello, Erin."

She looked upset. "Mitch Brogan, just what the hell is going on?"

Mitch smirked "It's nice to see you too, Erin...." He really didn't need this.

She just stood there in the hallway, giving him her best exasperated look. He stared back blankly. She finally broke down. "Can I come in? We need to talk."

He stepped aside and motioned her in with a sideways nod. "Behave yourself, or you're leaving. I mean it."

Mitch went to the mini-bar and poured her a drink. "You were right, Erin. I wasn't cut out to be a squad leader."

She didn't disagree. "And so you just quit? No. Something's wrong, Mitch. I know you—you're too stubborn for that."

Mitch filled his own glass and drank deep. "Gaines got killed. Because I was captured by that... thing."

Erin stepped close to him. "I heard, Mitch. I'm sorry." She put a hand on his shoulder.

Mitch recoiled as if stung. "Don't touch me." There was a hysterical edge to his voice she'd never heard before.

"What's wrong?"

"It's not you... it was... look, I just can't do that any more, okay?"

"Okay, Mitch... you want to talk to me about it... let's sit down, alright...?" She took a seat on the couch, leaving plenty of room, inviting him to join her. Mitch sat down on a chair facing her, keeping his distance warily.

He shook his head blearily. "Erin, I had to leave... get my head sorted out. That demon sent its handmaiden to kidnap me... she looked just like Jama... and I thought she knew...." Mitch couldn't go on. After a moment he took another long drink, nearly draining his glass, then got up to refill it.

At the mention of Jama's name, Erin rolled her eyes. "Oh, dammit, Mitch, it's been how long now? Three months? And you're still hung up on her. Look, I know she meant a lot to you... I understand that. But she's divorcing you. Eventually you're going to have to move on." She softened her voice then, "It's not as if there's nobody else here for you."

Mitch turned around and looked down at his glass for a moment. He was going to regret this. It had to be done. "I'm sorry Erin. There's no way I can move on."

She stood up and faced him, refusing to give up. "Mitch, I know you're going through a tough time right now—I've been there myself. But you'll get through it, I promise. And I'll be there to help you—if only you'd let me." Erin smiled at him then, and Mitch really, really regretted what he was about to do.

"No, you can't help me through this, Erin. That's not going to work." Mitch shook his head sadly.

Erin was getting frantic now. "Dammit Mitch—why the hell not? What's the problem?"

"We're not getting divorced. Never were."

Her expression turned to stone. "Excuse me?"

"We had to fool the Yakuza. I couldn't do any field work as long as we were together. We needed a cover story. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you... but I couldn't tell anyone. Nobody knew—not even my own squad."

Erin's face slowly contorted with rage as Mitch explained the situation, and the temperature in the living room seemed to drop sharply. "All this time... you lying shit!"

The last word she spoke was punctuated by a vicious snap-kick which connected with Mitch's groin before he realized she'd even moved. He noticed the impact before the pain registered, but then it hit him, hard — Erin knew how to hurt a man. He fell over backwards, taking out the mini-bar on the way down. He lay there on the floor, wincing in pain with his privates in one hand and his drink in the other.

Mitch recovered his breath after a few seconds, looked at his glass, then back up at Erin. "Crazy bitch! You damn near spilled my scotch! Help me up." He held up his free hand towards her.

She was still seriously pissed off. "Oh no. You're not getting off that easy, Brogan." And she reached for his hand. Mitch waited until she took hold of him to make his move.

"Look who's talking about 'getting off easy.' You wrote the book on that!" With his other hand Mitch splashed a glassful of ice-cold scotch full in her face, most of which proceed to run down the front of her blouse. Erin yelped and spluttered in rage, letting go of his hand. Mitch followed up with a leg-sweep Jama had taught him, bringing Erin to the floor next to him.

It was most decidedly ON. Mitch didn't want to hurt Erin—he was trying to subdue her without any undue bloodshed. And while Erin most definitely wanted to hurt him, she didn't want to leave any marks, and she wanted to make it last as long as possible. The fight went on far too long, and nobody was winning. In times past, Erin would've had the upper hand, but Mitch had been sparring with Jama for years, and training with the Crash Team had put an edge on his fighting skills which had always been lacking.

If they hadn't been so busy trying to knock the living shit out of each other, Mitch and Erin might have noticed a dark blue custom spinner pulling up outside. And they were, in fact, still going hard at it when a diminutive woman in an XSWAT dress uniform walked up to Mitch's door, looking tired and worried, yet very determined. Out in the hallway, the sounds of the struggle in Mitch's apartment were muted, but still quite audible....

* * * * *

Beta Sector? Why on Earth was her husband holed up in a tiny apartment in Beta Sector? Ryuzo had been brought down, the grip the Yamaguchi-gumi had on Angelus had been broken. It should been a time for a joyful reunion, a chance to shed the burden of unwanted masks, to bring an end to the deception. Instead, she'd been forced to call upon the spirits of the air, earth, and water to find the whereabouts of one Mitch Brogan, long since ex-APD, and now ex-CRASH Squad leader, ex-XSWAT, and apparently ex-husband to Director Jamadigni Renuka.

The spinner settled into the cramped parking lot outside of the complex Mitch now called home. As she got out, Jama glanced around, caution second nature to her now. Her kris clicked slightly in its sheath, causing her to give it a sharp look. Trouble? Here? Now? After all she'd been though trying to find him?

Walking across the courtyard, the Defender of Angelus started to whisper invocations, calling forth power from her spiritual friends and allies. It had been months she had been able to speak to, much less hold her husband, and she was in no mood for games. Whoever (or whatever) was threatening him, or herself, did so at their peril. She would have none of it.

The sound of shouting was audible the moment she stepped off of the elevator. A man's voice, Mitch's, and a woman's....

"Erin McCarthy...." Jama seethed, the expression on her face utterly unlike her normally pleasant demeanor. Her first meeting with Mitch's unstable ex-girlfriend had been a case of hatred at first sight on Erin's side, and now, to find that woman still involved after all these years made the feeling mutual.

Her hand dropped to the hilt of her kris as she asked its guardian hantu to look after her well-being, a task it did so willingly. Protected from harm, the short sorceress spread her arms, releasing the heat of her anger in a sudden flare of heat and light. Wreathed in flames, the hallway painted in orange and yellow, each step scorching the worn carpet underfoot, she stopped in front of Mitch's apartment door.

"JAN... "

"... KEN... "

"... PON!"

The words, each far louder than one would have thought possible for such a small woman, echoed up and down the hall. Jama raised her hand, as if to knock and ask for entry.


For a brief moment the surrounding flare of yellow and red was replaced with a flash of purple, as Mitch's door simply vanished into a cloud of composite plastic splinters.

"Get away from him, you bitch!"

But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free

* * * * *

They were running out of furniture to smash. Picking herself up from the floor next to the last of Mitch's broken chairs, her disheveled hair falling in front of her face, Erin smiled at him. "Brogan... don't tell me you're enjoying this!"

Gasping for breath, leaning on the wall she'd slammed him into yet again, he shook his head and insisted, "I've had better. You really should go now."

"You piece of shit. You're gonna wish that demon was back...."

"I already do!"

Erin growled and began to charge at him wildly; Mitch crouched and prepared to trip her again. Without warning the living room door exploded inward, and Jamadigni Renuka stood on the threshold, in all her fury. "Get away from him, you bitch!"

Everyone froze for a moment. Mitch stood up straight, upon realizing he was in a rather ridiculous crouch position. He looked at Jama, then Erin. "Oh, shit." Too late, he realized Erin was about to make her last mistake. She was fast—but Jama had caught her off-guard, and had the drop on her. The moment broke. Almost too fast to see, Erin produced a pistol, pointed it at Jama. But the sorceress was ready for her...

... it happened in the space of seconds. Through the remains of the door she could see the wreckage of Mitch's apartment, littered with the smashed remains of extruded plastic and faux wood composite furniture. Mitch himself stood to her left, battered and bloody, while in front of her was Erin, her appearance indicating that Mitch had given as good as he'd got.

Eyes wide with surprise, the tall woman took a half-step back before her brows narrowed and her expression went from merely angry to utterly furious. Erin's hand blurred as Jama's kris rattled in its sheath, sounding as if it was trying to physically launch itself at the threat to its mistress's well-being. The gun took no one by surprise.

"Enough!" Mitch started at the sound of Jama's voice. He couldn't recall her ever sounding so infuriated—not even Ryuzo had ever managed to make her so livid.

Erin's pistol came up, but Jama's hand was already there. The hissing flames wreathing her body crawled down her arm before roaring across the distance between them.

For ever after Mitch would swear the white hot mass briefly assumed the shape of a winged woman armed with a sword and a shield—the Digital Angel returned and formed of plasma. Erin got a single shot off, the round going into the floor, before being enveloped. The scream echoed in his ears long after the after images of his wife's sorcery had been blinked away.

Then the room was silent again. Mitch stood there, frozen in place, staring at his wife in horror. Jama returned his gaze, her face still hardened with fury, until she realized how her husband was looking at her.

The final flickers of her flaming aura faded, leaving the room lit only by the few lamps still unbroken. The reek of burned flesh filled Jama’s nose, making her cough, while Mitch’s shocked expression was a sobering slap, snapping her free of the bloodlust.

She stepped back, almost out of the apartment, and significantly, looked away. There was a moment where Jama tried to speak, but the words, none of which would have suited the situation, would not come.

Mitch didn't say a word to her. He suddenly turned to Erin in shock, as if he'd somehow forgotten about her. Then he moved, falling to his knees at her side, ignoring Jama for the moment. "She's still alive!" Erin had burns all over, but he couldn't tell how bad they were. After a few seconds, she regained consciousness, and she was obviously in severe pain. "Gun...."

Mitch had to hold her down; she was trying to get up, probably because Jama had walked up behind him. He tried frantically to keep her calm. "Sshhh... don't try to get up, Erin. Dammit! Didn't I warn you not to piss off Mama Jama? Stop it, you'll hurt yourself! EMT's are on the way." He turned around towards Jama and stood up. Looking her in the eye, he pointed at her data-band. "Call 'em. Now." It sounded strangely like an order.

“Hunh?” Jama started, as in a daze, and seemed to look through Mitch.

“EMT’s,” he repeated, as she nodded frantically, slapping the panic button on her databand, before slowly falling to her knees amid the ruins of one apartment and three lives.

When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool

* * * * *

The EMT's arrived, along with the APD and XSWAT.

Questions were asked. Statements were taken. It was a domestic dispute that got out of hand—Erin had pulled a gun on the Director, and she had acted in self-defense. No arrests were made. There was a tense moment before Erin's ambulance pulled away. Mitch stalked over to the driver's window.

"Angeuls General. XSWAT Wing. Burn ward." Both the driver and Jama stared at him in astonishment. He went on speaking to the driver, disregarding the man's obvious confusion. "XSWAT's covering everything—Director's orders. I'll check on her later. Now GO!" He pounded on the ambulance door, and it began to move away.

“She’s not XSWAT,” Jama stated in a flat tone of voice, sounding exhausted and drained.

Mitch looked at her through narrowed eyes. "You break it, you buy it. I need some air." He turned away without another word and stalked back to his ruined apartment, salvaged the last unbroken bottle of scotch from the wrecked mini-bar, and went up to the roof, drinking room-temperature single-malt straight from the bottle as he went.

Jama could tell he was still distraught, and she still had no idea why he'd been in a bloody brawl with Erin, or even why he was living here—but she wasn't leaving without some answers. She followed Mitch quietly, waiting for him to calm down, waiting for a chance to talk with him. In ten years, she'd never seen him like this.

Looking down on the courtyard, Mitch took another swig of scotch—rich, smoky, and soothing. The night breeze of Angelus in springtime took away the awful stench of blood and fire, for the time being... but he knew it would return, in his memory, and in his dreams, time and time again....

He heard Jama close the door behind him when he got to the roof, but he couldn't bring himself to speak to her, even to look at her, for several minutes... not until he felt his emotions stop careening out of control, and return to somewhere near their center of balance. Close enough, at least, that he wouldn't do anything completely insane.

Still looking outward, without facing Jama, he finally spoke to her. "I warned Erin so many times... to stay away, but she just wouldn't listen. The funny thing is, she warned me, too: XSWAT was gonna kill me or drive me insane... and I didn't listen, either."

She had nothing to say to that. Nothing that wouldn’t sound trite, forced, or empty of all meaning. She wiped her hands across her face and looked out across the glittering skyline of Angelus. It was quiet here, in this part of Beta, the only sound the hum of traffic, the only movement the rippling of her coat and hair in the gentle salt-scented breeze.

Mitch raised the bottle to his lips only to find Jama holding the bottom. A tug later and she was able to take a drink and then another, coughing slightly at the burn. Settling down, she swept her coat under her legs and ended up on the edge of the apartment building, booted feet kicking nothing but air. Leaving the bottle on the roof she rested her chin in her hands.

“What now?”

Mitch relinquished the scotch and stepped away, distancing himself from Jama, nervously acknowledging her presence, yet refusing to look directly at her when he spoke. His voice sounded like Bad News itself given the power of speech. "There are some things I should tell you, Jama. It's just... not easy." He sighed heavily. "I've seen them before, you know... the officers damaged in the line of duty; given psych discharges. I don't know... I think I may be one of them. This job has done things to me I couldn't have imagined. And I've done things... they shouldn't have happened." Mitch hung his head down. "I'm not fit for command... or to serve in XSWAT, as your driver, or to be your husband. I've failed you, Jama. That's why I left."

He cast his gaze upward, towards the cloudy skies reflecting the city lights back down at him. "I thought if I got away for a while, just lived a normal life, I could get my head back together, figure out what to do. It was going okay—I was getting better, until tonight. Erin found me, and I figured the best way to get rid of her was to be honest... I finally came clean, told her you and I aren't getting divorced. I'd never lied to her about anything before, and she was pissed. That's when the brawl started... you know the rest."

“No, I don’t.” Settling the bottle down, she look over at the man who had once been her husband, and she hoped would be again. “Mitch, it’s been ten years.... Ten years! Most people would have accepted your decision and moved on with their lives. But not her. Why? Why is it, even now, after all we’ve been through she can’t leave you alone and you can’t turn her away?”

"After all we've been through? Jama, you have no idea what Erin and I went through before you and I ever met. You don't know what I've been through without you these past three months because of this crazy 'divorce' scheme you came up with. I couldn't even call, or intra-mail! It's a miracle I didn't crack sooner, and if I didn't have someone to talk to, I would have! But Erin wanted more than that—and yeah, I broke it off! Then that damned Lover's Handmaiden grabbed me—impersonating you!—and I've been a complete basket case ever since...."

Mitch stopped himself when he realized he was ranting like a lunatic.

“Is that why you won’t look at me? Or let me touch you?” The pain Jama felt was plainly displayed on her face. “Because of the Handmaiden?” Her voice cracked slightly. “Do you know what it was like to be shut up in my own tower? I couldn’t talk to you, see you, hold you... I couldn’t even go home. All I could do was sit and wait and hope the next intra-mail wasn’t one telling me you’d been killed. You at least knew where I was, I never had a clear idea what was happening to you.”

She picked up the bottle of scotch, started to take a drink and then threw it across the roof. “We had ten good years, Mitch. Can we try and have ten more?”

He finally turned to face Jama, then—no longer avoiding the pain it caused him, but embracing it. "I didn't tell Erin we weren't getting divorced just to piss her off." Mitch glanced at the shattered remains of his scotch, and muttered under his breath, "Last bottle in Angelus—possibly the world. Good God, now she's throwing things!"

Turning back to his estranged wife, he shook his head sadly. "Jama, you're as messed up as I am. Look at yourself. On the verge of an emotional breakdown. You've had one of your demonic officers spying on me. And you just burnt the 'other woman' to a crisp, unnecessarily." Jama started to protest, but he cut her off. "Yeah, right, she had a pistol—how many times have I seen you stop bullets using the Ken spell, Jama? ... without frying anyone!"

He took a hesitant step towards her, and continued, “There’ll be calls for you to step down when this gets out, Jama. They’ll say you’re out of control. I don’t care any more—I’ll swear there was nothing else you could do.”

“What else was I supposed to do?” she snapped back, far harsher then she intended. “I saw you, who are both my husband and an XSWAT officer, being threatened with a gun. I had no time to decide who was right and wrong, all I could do was act—to protect you!”

She turned away and rubbed her face with her hands. “Would you have rather she’d shot me instead?”

Mitch’s face froze. “Not in my worst nightmares. But no... she didn’t threaten me with a gun, my dear—we were just having a little argument until you burst in. I was doing just fine, no protection needed, thank you. I’m sorry she drew on you—like I said, I tried to warn her....”

“And when has Erin McCarthy ever listened to anything anyone has told her? She’s borderline, and you know it.” Jama rose to her feet, brushing off her coat, “Oh, and another thing, that was no little argument. This, Mister Mitch Brogan, is a little argument, that was domestic violence, and you know it.”

She paused and gave her husband a concerned look, “You should see yourself, Mitch, you’re a mess.” She felt around in the pockets of her coat but came up empty. “I have a first-aid kit in the spinner, please come down and let me get you cleaned up.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “I’m fine. Could’ve stopped the whole thing anytime, but I didn’t want to hurt her.” Mitch saw the look on Jama’s face and sensed another impending explosion. “No, Jama, just hold on... ”

He finally closed the distance between them. Mitch could have embraced her, but he didn’t; not yet. ‘I wanted to come home, Jama, more that anything. Every single night, after every mission, it was all I could think of, but I stayed away, as we agreed.” He looked into her tear-stained eyes and went on. “I always looked to you for emotional support, advice, comfort, and you were always there. But at the Jungle, I was completely cut off—alone."

“Flawed as she was, Erin offered to help me. And I paid her back by lying to her. On your orders, Madam Director. That fight we had tonight was the result. No matter how much you hate her... she doesn’t deserve to end up... that way. I’m fine. But you need to make things right with her. Somehow.”

“I don’t hate her,” Jama replied and then stopped when she saw Mitch’s expression. “I never wanted to hate her... ” she sighed and sat back down on the edge of the building. “Look at us, look at what we’ve become. Here I thought we were trying to make Angelus a better place, and we’ve almost destroyed ourselves in the process.” Reaching into a pocket of her coat, she produced a folded sheaf of printouts. “I brought this you know... hoping we could symbolically burn it and put an end to the lies.”

Mitch saw the papers and almost smiled. “Our divorce papers? I’m glad you didn’t finish processing those, Jama. I’d rather you'd just shred ‘em.” He sat down on the ledge next to his wife, confident she wouldn’t let him fall.

With a low sigh of pleasure, Jama lay her head on Mitch’s shoulder and slid her arm around his waist. “Stopping the Destiny Engine changed the world. You can feel it, can’t you?” She looked up into his eyes. “It’s not just Angelus that will be a better place, but all of Earth.”

“Angelus is a better place now, Jama. Safer, too. “He sighed and very hesitantly put an arm around her. “Maybe even safe enough for us to finally start a family....”

Taking a deep breath, Jama looked out across the Angelus skyline. “Mitch, we already have five thousand children to deal with... don’t you think that’s enough?”

“What do you mean ‘we’ Jama? I gave myself a psych discharge, remember?” He looked at her and shook his head. “No. That old line about ‘five thousand children’ is wearing thin—you haven’t been in the field lately, Madam Director—so take my word for it, they’re all grown up now. And, no, it’s not enough for me any more. I want one of our own.”

“I said ‘we’ and I meant it. I don’t want to leave XSWAT, Mitch, not now, not after all we’ve done.” She glanced over at him and smiled, “And I want you there with me.”

Standing up, Jama reached out to take Mitch’s hands and pulled him to his feet. “What do you say? I fired my last driver, so there’s a job opening—if you want it.”

Mitch smacked his forehead with an open palm, running his hand down his face in frustration. “Jama, I like my new job... but if you think XSWAT would have me back after the way I’ve screwed up, okay. It’s just... I’ve got a car to steal tomorrow. I’ll report to work on Thursday.”

“‘Screwed up’? Mitch, didn’t I just say stopping the Destiny Engine made the world a better place? How is that ‘screwing up’?” She started to continue then stopped, a quizzical expression on her face. “What do you mean you need to steal a car tomorrow, what is your new job?”

Mitch had no idea which question to answer first. “Jama, the Crash Team succeeded in spite of my leadership, not because of it. I damn near got all those kids killed, several times over. They deserved better... and so did you. Uh... as for the job, I’ve doing repossessions on bad auto loans, and I’m pretty damn good at, if I may say so. Way better than I was as a squad leader.” He crossed his arms and nodded emphatically, looking smug.

“If anyone to blame it’s me,” Jama replied in soft tone of voice as she looked down at her boots. “But it was all I could think to do at the time.” She sighed, “What would you rather do, Mitch? I don’t want to force into anything you don’t want to do. Yes, I liked having you as my driver, but if being part of XSWAT is going to be that uncomfortable for you, then I’m not going to force you.”

He shrugged helplessly. “Oh, who am I kidding. Jama, you’re still my wife, and you’re still the Director. The thought of someone else being at the wheel, with your life in their hands just... scares the hell outta me. Forget about it. People wanna say I’m just a chauffeur with a badge, to hell with ’em. Nobody but the best for our Madam Director Jamadigni Renuka-Brogan!”

“Here, hold this will you?” Jama asked with a smile, as she handed over the sheaf of divorce papers.

Mitch held them at arm’s length. “Just the papers, alright?”

Cupping her hands together, Jama whispered a brief set of incantations. As she opened them, a tiny dancing flame was revealed which promptly hopped from her palm to the papers in Mitch’s hand. “Let go, Mitch. Let go and be made free.”

Mitch tossed the papers into the air, and the flames quickly consumed them, the ashes scattering on the night breeze across the rooftops of Angelus. He watched the embers being carried aloft until they were too small to see, then turned back to his wife. “I’m sorry Jama. I always planned to come back. I’ve just... not been myself lately. It doesn’t matter now....”

He stepped close to Jama, put his arms around her, and squeezed... nearly taking her breath away as he lifted her up and held her close. Mitch whispered “I missed you.” in her ear, over and over again as Jama’s feet swung beneath her.

Wrapping her arms tight around her husband, Jama finally let her emotions go, the tears flowing freely to run down her cheeks and drip onto Mitch’s shirt. “I missed you too....” she managed.

If I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
If I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

* * * * *

It still took a few days to work things out. Mitch wasn't well, and they had to talk about what happened while he was away. Jama slapped him silly, then contented herself with the knowledge that after Erin's trip to the burn ward, Mitch wouldn't go astray again. Eventually he got over the guilt and revulsion the Handmaiden had left him with, and finally spent the night with his wife. Things were hardly back to normal, but at least they were a couple again.

Thursday, May 6th, 11 p.m.

They lay entwined together amid a tangle of sheets, content to simply lay there and rest as the ventilators blew cool air across their sweat-stippled skin.

"Let's call in sick tomorrow," Jama suggested, her head resting on Mitch's shoulder.

"Mmmm...." Mitch replied non-committedly as he gently stroked his wife's hair. "And do what?"

"Stay in bed, of course." Jama looked up and gave her husband a sly smile. "I'll make us breakfast—we can lounge around all day and forget about XSWAT, and Angelus, and everything else for a while."

"Sounds wonderful. What's for breakfast?"

"Whatever you want. And if I can't make it.... we'll go out somewhere, just you and I. No databands, no armored spinner, no entourage of bodyguards... just the Director and her husband, enjoying some peace and quiet."

"And what if something happens?"

"It won't."

Mitch glanced down at that. "Really? What makes you so sure?"

"I said so." Jama rolled over and dragged an errant pillow under her head. "Besides, I think XSWAT can get by for one day without me at the helm." She paused and then nodded to no one. "I'll put Cadbury in charge, that'll show them."

"Right." Mitch had to chuckle at the idea. "And when you come in the next day, accounting will want an explanation for why you ordered a year's supply of catnip."

"He'd do it too... " Jama laughed. "You suppose we should take him along on our honeymoon?"

Mitch blinked. What did she just say? "You know, I've been thinking about that... wasn't sure what you'd think, though. A second honeymoon might be just what we need...."

Sitting up, Jama pushed her long fall of hair back over her shoulders while Mitch admired her slender physique. "We'll renew our vows." She pressed one finger against his lips as she continued. "A small ceremony, just you, me, and the CRASH Team. Then we'll go have our honeymoon—somewhere that's not Angelus... Bali maybe, or what's left of California... and we see about starting that family you want."

Mitch smiled cautiously. "Jama... I'd about given up on that, at least until we retire. I mean, it's only another ten years; it's not like we'll be too old by then."

Jama gave a resolute shake of her head. "You're right, we should see about starting a family. The world will be a good place to raise one, I think." She looked down, "And there needs to be another Brogan to carry on the family traditions, right?"

"Yeah, that's what the Old Man keeps telling me. Us."

Looking up at the ceiling, Jama brushed her chin with her fingers. "What do you think about Alice if it's a girl, and Malachi if it's a boy?"

Mitch thought for a moment. "Well, Alice is fine, but there's a Brogan tradition, we don't name anyone after a family member who's still alive..." He stopped himself. "Oh, wait...."

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

* * * * *

Erin regained consciousness after several lost days... she couldn't begin to guess how many. A sterile gel-pack covered her burns, with multiple tubes delivering some sort of nanites to her wounds,. The fluid felt cool, but the medicines themselves generated a soothing heat as they worked. Where was she anyway?

A hospital room, very high-tech, and undoubtedly expensive, she realized upon looking around. Then she heard shouts beyond the door, out in the hallway; an argument. It went on for just a few seconds, until one voice rose above the others. "NO ADMITTANCE! DIRECTOR'S ORDERS!!!" It sounded like... no. Mitch wasn't here... Malachi? But that meant she was in... oh no!!!

Erin tried to jump out of bed, pulling loose several sensors and tubes. Alarms sounded, nurses and guards rushed in as she searched frantically for her clothes, heedless of the injury she might do to herself. She panicked and lashed out in futility as a vise-like grip took hold of her, and a nurse gave her a sedative. Immensely strong hands firmly eased her back into bed as she began to lose consciousness again. The last thing she saw was a familiar-looking cadaverous cyborg looming over her, smiling and speaking softly to her, "Relax Erin, nobody's going to hurt you here... Mama Jama says so."

* * * * *

A week later, Erin looked and felt somewhat better, although she was still weak and tired. She awoke from a nap in the afternoon to find one Lieutenant Mitch Brogan, back in uniform, sitting by her bed, chair turned backwards, chin resting on his hands, just watching her with an enigmatic look on his face. "Mitch, what the hell? You couldn't call ahead? I look terrible...."

He shook his head and smiled sadly. "You look beautiful, Erin." If looks could kill, she'd have sent him straight to the Angelus General morgue. "Okay, let's just say I've seen much worse."

"I'm surprised you had the nerve to show up. Does she know you're here?" Erin still looked pissed off at him.

Mitch nodded. "Yes, she knows. And I can't stay long. She's waiting for me. We just renewed our vows and we're about to leave for second honeymoon...."

"Congrats. Make it fast, Mitch...."

He stood up and walked over to her bedside. "I'm sorry, Erin... I didn't want to lie to you, but I was under orders. I tried to warn you not to risk angering Madam Director. Now you know why." He took her hand—the un-burned one. "Maybe I could've done more to prevent this...."

Erin held up her burnt gun-hand. "Mitch she could've prevented this."

He shrugged. "Erin, Jama's heard how good you are with a pistol. You whipped that thing out, of course she responded with deadly force. Anyway, like I said, I'm sorry. And deep down, I think she is too. Now, you didn't hear me say that, and I doubt you'll ever hear her say it, either. But she agreed to have XSWAT pay for all this." He waved an arm expansively to indicate Erin's room and treatment.

"She did that?" Erin looked suspicious. "Why?"

He grinned and cocked his mischievously. "Because I said so."

"I don't buy it, Mitch. You telling her what to do? No way."

"Um... no, I'm just her driver. I also make tea and feed the cat." Mitch stopped grinning. "And occasionally issue highly illegal orders in her name. She decided not to fight me on this one—lucky for you. She even doubled up the guards on your room, just in case. But there's a catch."

Erin sighed heavily. "What's the deal?"

"First, no charges filed. Consider this an out-of-court settlement."

"And why would I do that?" Erin looked incredulous.

"Erin, you tried to kill Director Renuka! There's a reason they call her 'Mama Jama.' Now you've got all 5,000 of the kids pissed off at you, and any single one of 'em could take you out. If you try to take her to court, anything goes, partner. You'll disappear—no evidence, no weapon, no witnesses, no body. Just 5000 suspects and no more Erin McCarthy."

She didn't look impressed. "Mitch, they'd never get away with it—I've got friends in the APD; lot's of them."

Mitch sneered at her and moved his chair closer to the bedside, continuing derisively in a quieter tone of voice. "Erin, it's time you figured out who's really running things in this town." He gestured vaguely in the direction of City Hall. "Those pompous windbags who claim to be in charge are in the Council Chamber right now debating whether to call for Jama's resignation. You'd think she might be worried—but she's leaving on her second honeymoon. We already know how they're going to vote! You want to know who's for, against, and abstaining? Go ask the big ugly cyborg guarding your room—he'll tell you. No, Dad didn't fix the vote, but he hangs out with the guy who does. You can't fight these people Erin. Hell, I'm just a chauffeur, and I got your entire medical bill written off!"

Erin looked thoughtful, as if she was trying very hard not to believe him. "Mitch... don't be ridiculous. You make XSWAT sound like the Illuminati or something!"

"No, Erin. The Illuminati are a myth. But you know XSWAT exists, and now you're beginning to understand what they're capable of. Trust me—you've barely scratched the surface, and it nearly killed you. It's time to back off."

Erin glared at him for a few moments before she acquiesced. "Fine. What else?"

Mitch went on. "We can't guarantee your safety once you're released, Erin. There are a few officers who haven't acknowledged the order to leave you alone. We simply haven't heard from them. So... this is good-bye. For your own safety, we're asking you... no, telling you: get out of Angelus, as soon as you can. And Jama wanted me to warn you... if you come back, if you come near me again, if you ever cross her again... next time, she will kill you."

She just stared at him for a moment. Then, in a small voice, "Mitch, I can't leave...."

"Erin, you're a formidable woman. You were a damn good cop. And the most god-awful trouble-maker I ever met. But you can't take on XSWAT—they're out of your league. I'm sure you know that by now. Just... think it over."

"Okay, Mitch. But you're not giving much choice here, you know that?"

He squeezed her hand one last time. "You'll be okay. But I've done all I can. Good luck and farewell, partner."

Mitch stood up and walked out without looking back. They never saw each other again.

He paused in the hallway and looked up at the 'big ugly cyborg' standing guard. "Captain Brogan."

The Old Man regarded him with an appraising look. "Lieutenant Brogan. How'd it go in there?"

"I think she might take the deal. You know what to do?"

"Your Mother already has her plane ticket, son. We can get her to the airport from here, safely, when she's ready to check out. All she has to do is ask. Until then, I'll keep her safe here."

"Okay, thanks, Dad." Mitch reached up and put a hand on his armored shoulder. "And if she doesn't ask?"

"Then it's out of our hands, and Erin's on her own. You know what that means. Now get going Mitch, your wife's waiting for you. Why are you still here? Go on!"

"Yes sir!"

* * * * *

Spirit of California II sat in the police reserved parking spot near the front entrance of Angelus General, right where Mitch had left her. Jamadigni Renuka-Brogan sat in back seat with Cadbury in her lap, enjoying the reactions of passers-by to the words 'Just RE-Married' scrawled on the limousine's windows. She caught sight of her husband exiting the hospital sooner than she expected, and waited expectantly for him to take the driver's seat.

"And how is Ms. McCarthy?" she asked primly, using the intercom.

Mitch spoke up rather than using his mic—he knew Jama could hear him. "Resting uneasily, I think. I'm not sure, but I think she's got the idea this time. By the time we get back, we'll know."

"Yes, we will." Jama sounded like she was smiling. Mitch recognized that tone of voice; there was something going on, and he wasn't to know about it.

Last chance, Erin, you better wise up this time!

The limo gently lifted off and began heading northeast. "We'll be out of the City and cruising on auto-pilot in a few minutes—then I'll join you back there, Jama."

"Take your time, Mitch, we're in no hurry." Again, the intercom. What was she doing back there....

The partition opened and closed long enough for Corporal Cadbury to bound into the 'shotgun' seat. He propped his front paws on the crash bar and took in the aerial view of Angelus dropping away beneath them, and the approaching dockside district.

Mitch gave his ears a good scratch to get his attention. "What's going on back there, Cad?" The cat let out a Trrrl and then winked at him. "Alright, I'll find out for myself. Keep an eye out for pirates. And sea monsters. Okay?"

Cadbury yawned. Mitch suspected he'd rather look for some tuna. Preferably at the wharf.

He got clearance to leave the City and enter a priority flight corridor to the mainland, then checked his speed and course. They were due to arrive in Vegas in... 53 minutes? Ridiculous!

"Alice, reduce speed to 150 kph." The autopilot asked him to confirm, then did as he asked. Mitch had no intention of arriving in Vegas, or anywhere else, anytime within the next three hours. He and Jama had some serious business to attend to....

When Mitch opened the partition, muttering under his breath, "Okay, what exactly are you plotting back there, Madam Direc... the rest of the question died on his lips as the faint smell of popcorn wafted into the front seat from the back of the limo.

Holy shit! Jama only used the 'Silver Screen' spell on special occasions, and it generally meant that all hell was about to break loose. Mitch had a feeling this was no exception. He turned around and started to climb in the back, stopping in his tracks when he saw his wife.

Jama knelt on the limo's expansive floor with a chilled bottle of champaign. She still wore her XSWAT dress uniform, but she'd let her hair down. "We won't need these uniforms for at least two weeks, Lieutenant Brogan. So I want you to help me get out of this, immediately. That's an order." Jama had never given him an order before when they were off duty. And Mitch never saluted so fast in his life....

He paused to warn Cadbury, curled up in the passenger seat, before closing the partition. "Fasten your seat belt—it's going to be a bumpy ride." The Maine Coon yawned again, then rolled over and took a nap, just to prove he really could sleep through anything.

* * * * *

Erin awoke with start. Her room in the XSWAT wing of Angelus General was almost totally quiet, the only noises the faint hiss of the nanite dispenser and the low thrum of the pump that kept the antiseptic bath flowing over her burns. Everything seemed to be in its place, everything seemed—relatively speaking—normal. But....

There was someone in her room.

She had no words to explain it, but she knew she wasn't alone. It was an instinct experienced cops developed—that something wasn't right. And right now something wasn't right with her room. She wasn't alone... someone, or something was in here with her. She turned her head, eyes wide and almost frantic in their effort to pierce the dimness.

Was it Mitch, back with more threats? Or was it the little witch herself, having decided ‘orders’ be damned, and come to finish what a spell of searing flame had started?

Her forehead glistening with sweat, Erin turned her head to look over at the windowed wall of her room. The curtains where drawn and the chairs were empty but....

A figure was there, standing still and motionless. Almost like a statute. Erin blinked and then blinked again, unsure as to what she was seeing. Whoever it was wore the uniform of an XSWAT officer, albeit one that was dead white and almost seemed to glow in contrast to the shadowed darkness of her room.

Erin swallowed, despite the pain. How long has he been here? Is this the extra protection Mitch mentioned? Or is this how the Director gets rid of her little problems?

She started to rise, but froze as the XSWAT officer slowly turned to face her. Like a corpse on a rope, she thought, a chill running through her.

It was a woman, she could see that now, with skin as white as her uniform and unkempt black hair that fell past her shoulders, shadowing her face, but parted enough for Erin to see her eyes...

... which were almost glowing red, reflecting what little light there was in the same manner as a cat caught in a flashlight's beam.

Normal people don't have eyes like that. What is she?

Erin blinked, and now the officer was standing over her, having crossed the distance from the windows to the side of her bed in a soundless instant. She shuddered and gasped as the heart monitor started to race. Where are the goddamned nurses? Then it hit her, the rumors she'd heard and scoffed at. The stories cops told told while drinking to forget the day. Of all the freaks in XSWAT. Sure there were the run-of-the-mill officers: the Clades, mages, cyborgs, and espers; but then there were the special ones: the cyborg who changed bodies like most people changed clothes, the winged woman who could control the weather, even a vampire, who was said to haunt the lower steam tunnels. But the one mentioned most often, the one even many XSWAT officers said was real, the one officers of both services swore had saved them when things looked to be their worst, was...

"... the ghost... " Erin almost bit her lip as the words escaped.

The woman in white leaned low, her hair now hanging into Erin"s face. She could see the dead officer's face clearly, the once-attractive Eurasian features marred by the unblinking red of her eyes. Erin shuddered at the icy touch of pure-white fingers on her arm and had to will her own eyes to remain open.

"You should take Lieutenant's Brogan's advice, Detective Erin McCarthy." The voice sounded disturbingly normal, if a bit empty of emotion. "Angelus is no longer safe for you."

Trying to ignore the chill of the dead woman's body, Erin gritted her teeth and returned the unblinking gaze. "Is that a threat?"

"No...." The ghost combed her hair out of her face and back over her shoulder. Erin could see the name tag clearly now. 'Benedict.' One of many in XSWAT who had died in the line of duty—except Officer Benedict had come back. "It's not a threat and it's not a promise. It's a fact, Detective McCarthy. There are those of us who understand what Director Jamadigni Renuka means to XSWAT and the city of Angelus. Her value as Defender of Angelus is far greater than yours...."

The hand she'd used to brush back her hair came into view, the slender fingers now tipped by wickedly curved claws. Fascinated despite herself, Erin watched as the sharp point delicately tapped on one of her gel packs. "If you fight this, you will end up dead. That I do promise you. And trust me on this, you do not wish to be dead."

* * * * *

One champaign bottle, two XSWAT dress uniforms, three hours and 450 km later. Mitch lay on the floor in the spacious passenger lounge of Spirit of California II with one arm around Jama, as they both recovered from his wife's Spirits of the Silver Screen (Leading Ladies) spell. With his other arm he surreptitiously checked himself for rug burns.

He sighed with exhaustion. "Okay, Madam Director Jamadigni Renuka-Brogan, Defender of Angelus and Sorceress Supreme, are you all done showing off, now? 'cause one of us still has to fly this limo into Vegas, and I think I'm nearly dead...."

Jama had been going strong, right up until the spell ended, at which point everything seemed to catch up with her, and she'd collapsed into Mitch's arms. Now she mustered the strength to prop herself up on one elbow and return Mitch's sarcasm, smiling mischievously. "Showing off, indeed? Did you really have to rip off my uniform, Mr. Brogan?"

He shrugged. "You gave an order, Chief, and I followed it. Mine's ruined, too, I think."

She grinned at him smugly. "I used the only weapon at hand to defend myself."

"Yeah, but all that champaign... wasted!"

At that point, the intercom chimed and the autopilot announced, "Director Renuka, Lieutenant Brogan, we're now under Las Vegas traffic control, landing at the Hilton in two minutes."

Mitch and Jama both realized they'd completely lost track of time, and began frantically cleaning up the passenger lounge. Mitch replied "Alright, thanks Alice. Continue to monitor our progress, follow instructions from local traffic control, and keep me posted."

They finished straightening up the limo as it landed at the hotel entrance, but there was a problem.

Jama looked at Mitch with an odd expression. "My uniform is all ripped up."

He looked back at her and shrugged. "Mine's soaked in champaign."

"And where, exactly, are the rest of our clothes, Mitch?" Jama knew what he was going to say....

"Ah... that would be the trunk, Jama." He sat next to his wife, pondering their predicament.

Cadbury wanted into the lounge, so Mitch opened the partition for him. The big Maine Coon jumped into the seat and looked out the window in fascination at the busy entrance to the five-star hotel at which they'd just arrived. Not having any clothes wasn't an issue for him; he was ready to go check in!

"We're never going to hear the end of this, are we?"

"Are you kidding? What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas! Wait right here, I'll get your door, Chief...."


I know good things, I know bad as well
Any witness to the world will tell
If there is sorrow, then there is beauty and trust
A secret pearl inside the heart of us
So truly, if there is light then I want to see it
Now that I know what I am looking for
Truly, if there is joy then I want to feel it
Here in this world is where I want to be
'cause I can't cry any more