Tell me what you've come for
Moving like a hunter through my back door
Leaving the perfume of all you adore
To die nameless on my floor

Poe/Wild (Haunted/2000)

Feb. 5th, 2123; 3:00 p.m.


Mitch Brogan stood on the firing line at the practice range in The Jungle, cursing his mediocre shooting. He'd made up his mind to get in some practice this week, but he'd somehow managed to stay busy with one stupid thing after another until Friday afternoon. So finally, with the whole week shot to hell, here he was, wasting ammo and living up to his 'chauffeur with a badge' reputation, big-time.

After going through several magazines, it was clear the damage display for his shots was less than impressive. He went through a magazine on 'creature' setting... still, he wasn't having near the same effect on the targets as Officer Thornhallow. So what, exactly, was he doing wrong? Maybe he just wasn't crazy enough....

Presently he became aware of someone from APD in the booth next to his, firing a Mercer .45 pistol. Two shots in rapid succession hit the target's neck a centimeter apart. After a brief pause, two more hits, both gut-shots. Then two more... Mitch winced... down there. Damn! He couldn't see the shooter... but he thought he knew who it was. He put away his maser and drew 'mother's little helper', which was a cut-down version of the APD-issue Mercer. Mitch fired two shots of his own, which hit his target's torso, several centimeters apart. The other shooter stopped. He tried again, with the same result.

Then he heard an all-too familiar voice. "Maybe you oughta stick to your fancy toys, XSWAT." After seven years, her voice really hadn't changed much. And in the ten years since they'd separated, Mitch had been certain all the feelings her voice used to elicit—both good and bad—had been either buried or banished forever. Yet suddenly he realized he was very mistaken.

Mitch took a deep breath and paused a moment to compose himself. Much more calmly than he actually felt, he replied, "You know, fancy toys aren't the reason I joined XSWAT." He was still in his own booth, so she hadn't seen him yet, but she'd surely recognize his voice....

"Brogan??" Erin stepped around the partition and looked at him in shock for a moment. She recovered almost immediately, and went on the attack. "Yeah, everybody knows why you joined XSWAT...."

Suddenly she noticed that most of the noise at the shooting range had mysteriously stopped. Erin looked up and down the firing line and spoke up good and loud, in her most intimidating tone, "Did everyone just run out of ammo at the same time?" And just as suddenly, a chorus of shots rang out as numerous officers thought better of eavesdropping on Detective Erin McCarthy.

Erin continued when she was satisfied the whole station wasn't listening in. "....and I heard she kicked you out." Mitch couldn't recall seeing a more smug grin on her—or anyone else's—face in his whole life.

He grinned back at her. "And I see you haven't changed much, Erin." Her smile turned to a very irked glare.

Mitch took what he hoped was a conciliatory tone. "Anyway, there was more to it than that. I had other reasons to join—like finding my Dad, and... I guess it was just time for you and I to go our seperate ways."

She looked just about ready to explode on him. "Oh that's just it's all my fault, now...."

Just like old times, Erin... ten seconds into the conversation we're ready to rip each other's hearts out. We've both had a few years to get over what happened, maybe grow up a little. Let's try this again, okay?

He shook his head and cut her off in mid-rant. "No, no... it wasn't like that, Erin. I had to get out of the forensics lab, away from IAD... the whole mess. And I'm glad you got out, too. I really am. You've got a good thing going... I hear you're taking Mom's place when she retires next week. That's great."

Erin looked embarrassed, but as usual, wasn't about to apologize for going off on him. "Uh... thanks. You're invited to the retirement party, you know. And I still have no idea what to get Paige... she's impossible to shop for!"

Mitch smiled knowingly. "Well I could tell you what she'd like, but it'll cost you."

She looked at him darkly with her arms crossed. "Okay, Brogan... what?"

He pointed towards her neatly-punctured practice target. "Teach me how you do that."

Erin sighed and looked at his smartgun-wired maser. "You're hopeless, Brogan. Okay, reload. New target. Show me your firing stance."

Mitch complied, and Erin didn't even try to hide her disdain. "No wonder you can't put anyone down." She returned his shocked double-take with a level stare. "Yeah, I read your reports, Brogan. Your team was in two firefights in as many days, and all you did was waste ammo. Interesting bunch of freaks you've got there... how's that 'squad leader' thing going?"

His downcast expression told her everything she needed to know. "They're out of control. Half of 'em hate each other, and they don't have much confidence in me, for obvious reasons. Oh hell, Erin, the whole force thinks I'm just a chauffeur with a badge. Maybe I'm not cut out for this...."

"Yeah, I coulda told you that." She gave him that 'poor little Mitch' look he always hated. "The word is, your own wife is setting you up to fail. That's gotta sting. Okay, put your feet here." She stood immediately behind him, guiding his boots into position with her own. Once he was positioned properly, she stayed there, so they were in contact up to the waist.

"Could be...." He hedged. "But if I fail, the whole squad fails... I don't think she'd waste a bunch of rookies just to get rid of me, even if they're all crazy." He nearly jumped out of his skin as Erin took hold of his belt without warning and adjusted his facing a bit. "Uh... thanks."

"Jeez, Brogan, are they really that bad?" She sounded unimpressed. "I mean, it sounds like they're at least getting the job done."

"Oh, hell yeah. It's just been... messy. You know, a few rookie mistakes." He shrugged. "And I'm new at this 'squad leader' thing, so I've made my share of 'em too. More than my share, really. We've had casualties."

Erin proceeded to his shoulders next. "Here, like this... that's it. We made some pretty bad mistakes when we where rookies, Mitch."

"Huh. We cleaned up our mess, too, as I recall." What he really meant was he cleaned up her mess, but Mitch knew better than to go down that road....

For a moment she was lost, thinking about those days.... "We had to, Mitch—or it would've hit the fan. But that's not what I mean... there were other little things that went wrong, we got a few tooth-marks on our butts and moved on." Erin lowered her voice a bit. "It's not the mistakes you know about that should worry you, Mitch—it's the ones they're hiding."

His voice dripped with sarcasm. "Gee Erin, I can't tell you how reassuring that is."

She gave him her classic fake smile. "You're welcome, partner. So... if this is so much fun, why are you putting yourself through it all? Were you that hard up for a promotion?"

"Um... well. I kinda promised Jama I'd do this before I knew she was gonna divorce me." Mitch really had to wonder why he bothered explaining himself to Erin. He knew damn well she wouldn't understand.

"Oh, gawd, that's pathetic, Brogan! What's the point?" She was a few centimeters taller, so she had no trouble reaching over his shoulders to adjust his grip on the maser. "Here... you're doing this all wrong... much better. Now you're ready." At this point, she was still standing uncomfortably close to him, looking down the maser barrel, which put her head right next to his. And she wanted him to shoot?

"You know, it's really hard for me to concentrate with you breathing on my neck like that." He paused for a moment. "In answer to your question, Erin... you of all people should know I keep my promises."

She took a step back, an ice-cold expression on her face as she stared at him in silence for a moment. "You're still holding that shit against me? Jesus, Mitch, it twelve fucking years ago."

Mitch took the opportunity to fire, and noted that Erin's help had indeed improved his stance. The target took a hit squarely in the heart, indicating a probable kill. "Of course not, Erin. I washed my hands of the whole thing seven years ago... put it all behind me." He turned around and smiled at her, pointing a thumb at the target. "How's that?"

She was still in 'moody bitch' mode, but not quite ready for a screaming match, lucky for him. She glanced at the target. "Not bad, Brogan. Now, without the smartlink." Erin didn't care for targeting aids.

As he returned to the firing stance she'd shown him, she stepped close once again, as if to help with his grip. She whispered in his ear, "Mitch, maybe you let it go, but your old man didn't... he still has a copy of that damned chip."

This was news to Mitch, but it wasn't terribly surprising. He fired... not a good shot, without the 'link and with Erin distracting him. "Damn. That's just like him. I'll look into it... I promise."

"Okay, thanks. Now, the pistol." Again, she insisted on adjusting his grip. "You're right—that really was a mess, back at the lab. I just... Mitch, I can't believe you really would've exposed the whole thing."

Mitch began firing 'mother's little helper', making a considerable racket, and replied to Erin between shots. BANG! "Last thing I wanted... BANG!... but what did you expect... BANG!... I was involved with the Director of XSWAT... BANG!... and you were threatening to expose us... BANG!... so I had to stop you somehow... BANG!" He stopped firing and turned to look at her quizzically. "And how in the hell did you find out about us so fast?"

She grinned at him sweetly and leaned very close to his face. "I learned from the best, Mitchell Weinrank Brogan. That night you drove her home, you forgot to turn off the GPS unit on that bike you're so damned proud of. Talk about a rookie mistake! I knew exactly where the two of you were."

Mitch winced and suppressed a self-deprecating laugh. "I was such a god-awful idiot."

Erin nodded in agreement. "Yes, you were." Then she gave him a very dark, serious look. "You have no idea what I went through that night... I almost came after the both of you."

Mitch stared at her in horror. "Oh, bad idea. Erin, she'd have killed you."

"Yeah, I kinda figured. I was in the driveway when I thought better of it." She looked slightly apologetic, for once in her life.

Mitch felt extremely relieved to hear this. "Good. You came to your senses before you left home."

Erin shook her head sadly. "No Mitch. Not my driveway... her driveway. Your bike was parked out front. I just sat there for a while, thinking it over. Everything was so quiet...."

Mitch's blood ran cold... ten years ago, that first night he'd spent with Jama, she hadn't noticed her kris rattling, nor had he heard any vehicle pulling up outside... maybe they'd already been asleep, or maybe just too preoccupied to care, but Erin had been right outside the house at some point, contemplating murder. And not for the first time....

What could he say to that? He stood there in silence for a long moment.

"Erin... it's all over now."

She gave him an uncertain look. "Yeah, I guess it is. So, what should I get your Mom for her retirement?"

Mitch thought for a moment. "Hmmm... let's do some shopping tomorrow. I'll help you pick something out. Oh, wait! You won't believe this, but I need some new club wear. I could really use your opinion on that."

Erin's eyes narrowed. "Don't you even think about asking me out, Brogan."

He put down the pistol and held up both hands in a 'not guilty' gesture. "Hey, I'm just chaperoning the Crash Team for ladies' night..."

"My condolences, Mitch." Erin sneered at him.

"...and besides, the divorce isn't final yet." He didn't like where this was going!

"Oh, like anyone waits! I've been through that twice already." Erin gave him a devastating 'just you wait' look.

"No, really... forget about it. No way I'm gonna make things worse with Jama than they already are." How in the hell had they got onto this subject anyway? Dammit, whenever he met Erin, it seemed like Mitch got into some kind of trouble!

She grinned smugly. "Oh yeah, you say that now, Brogan. Fine, we'll just shop tomorrow. Pick me up at eleven—I'll let you buy me lunch." Then she turned and sauntered off the practice range.

Mitch went back to his target practice, trying to remember everything Erin had shown about that firing stance... it seemed to work really well. For some reason, though, it just didn't come so easily without her there to help him.

BANG! The target display indicated a direct hit... in the foot.