Yeah well we both know you don't play fair
I guess you really think that you get me there
Let's be honest perhaps this little ride
Is too much for even you to bear

Poe/Wild (Haunted/2000)

Mitch silently stalked down to the Jungle's motorpool with Liz in tow. Although he kept a tight lid on it, showing no outward signs of emotion, she could sense anger, such as she'd never felt from Mitch, underneath his calm surface.

They arrived at the squad spinner. "Get in." Mitch spat out the words like bullets soaked in vinegar. He didn't wait to see if she complied—he was in the driver's seat, plugging in and down-checking all the systems he wouldn't need for this trip.

Without a word to Liz, Mitch hit the throttle and punched it, four gees into the sky over Epsilon sector. Multiple alarms went off—he patted the dashboard and quietly spoke. "Easy, old girl—everything's okay." The alarms quit blaring. He leveled off and spoke to Liz for the first time. His voice still sounded angry, but very controlled and confident.

"Okay... we can talk here, Liz. And there are some things you need to know, before either one of us does anything else stupid. You like secrets? Fine! I've got a few for you. But first, what the hell were you doing last night? Did you enjoy the show? I'll be glad to fill you in on anything you missed."

Somewhere along the way, Liz had put her shades back on. The mirrored lenses did little to hide the amusement in Liz's voice.

"Don't be silly, El-Tee. It wasn't like I was sitting right there in the room, although if I had known that was your kink, I would've made the effort. No, I was across the street."

She continued without pausing. "Y'know, lust is a strong emotion, one of the easiest to pick out in the flow. But mix it with a healthy dollop of guilt and, oh, it's like chocolate cake with ice cream on the side. Besides, Mitch, I didn't need any special senses to get an idea of what was going down. That woman is loud."

She finished her exposition with a small sigh. "As to why I was hanging about your apartment, I already told you. I'm keeping a promise."

Mitch took a deep breath, released it between clenched teeth. "Never mind what my 'kink' is. Dammit, Liz, you have no idea what's going on. For one thing—we stopped at foreplay. Erin was all beat up from a raid gone bad. You think I did all that shit to her? I asked her to talk about a case; instead she shows up on the verge of a breakdown. What am I gonna do? Now, what's this promise you made... to Jama, I presume?"

Liz turned to regard Mitch, her head tilted. After a second, she asked, ignoring Mitch's own question.

"Why did you leave Jama, Mitch?"

"We're separating for the duration of my Crash Team assignment—it's safer for both of us that way. And the divorce is just a ploy, to mitigate my 'hostage' value. We don't want the Yakuza, or anyone else, to think we're a couple any more. If they think we've had a serious falling out, so much the better."

Liz didn't need empathic abilities to tell that Mitch hated the whole idea, but his loyalty to Jama (and the guilt that now went with it) was quite apparent. She studied Mitch's face searchingly, then nodded when she found what she was looking for.

"It was Jama's idea, wasn't it? You don't like it, but you're going along because it's what she wants. OK, I understand the logic. After all, I didn't choose to change my last name to save on ink."

She shook her head slightly. "It's not going to work, though. There're too many connections even if you play the estranged husband. And it's not like this assignment is exactly sheltered duty. You're a target, no matter what."

"I know. It can't be helped." Undeterred, Mitch fired back. "Now, I've explained my arrangement with Madam Director—what was yours, Liz?"

Liz shrugged. "Like I said, the Crash Team's not cushy office duty. Jama still loves you, and was worried about you. She asked me to keep you safe, and I, like an idiot, said yes."

Mitch stared at the spinner's roof and released a frustrated growl. "I suspected as much. I even warned Erin that Jama had someone watching me, for what it's worth."

His voice was rich with irony "I should be grateful. Really. Why begrudge you a little voyeurism for all your trouble, right? Liz?" He turned back to face her. "Yeah right, 'safe' my ass."

Liz shrugged again, her mouth quirked into a slight smirk. "How was I to know the gig would include having to deal with you thinking with your gonads? And now having to keep Jama in the dark about it so that she doesn't decide to roast them over a slow fire?"

Her face shifted back to a neutral, expression revealing nothing. "You heard right. I'm not telling Jama about you... comforting poor Erin . It's not my job to be the one to let her know."

Liz's mouth spread into an evil grin, and Mitch realized that her canines were visibly prominent, a feature he hadn't noticed before. "Besides, you beating yourself up enough about it is punishment enough. And fun to watch, too."

Mitch stared at her for a long moment, not sure whether to be relieved or further enraged. He finally gave up and sighed. "You're a real piece of work, you know that, Liz?"

He ran a hand through his hair, nearly pulling out a few in frustration. "And Erin! Ten years, she's been waiting for this. She thinks I'm really getting divorced, and that bitch is playing for keeps!"

Liz tilted her head as she continued to regard Mitch, her grin now downgraded to a speculative smile. "If you want, I can take care of McCarthy. I'll even make it clean and painless."

"No, Liz." Mitch glowered at her. "I don't want her getting killed because of me. I'm not in love with her, not any more, but... well... " He shook his head in frustration. "I don't know how the hell to explain it. Just leave her alone."

Liz felt a strange brew of emotions from Mitch when he defended Erin, and she could tell he wasn't lying. It wasn't love, but there was compassion, sympathy, even pity for her, with undercurrents of lust, guilt, confusion, and buried deep underneath, revulsion. It was delicious... and it made her wonder what kind of connection they had.

The heady mixture made her grin ramp back up the evil scale. "Oh, please, Mitch. I wouldn't kill her. That'd be a waste.

"I'd just skew her perception enough to make her question her judgment, maybe even doubt her sanity. Not that she's that stable to begin with. I could spend hours just picking through her psyche for any juicy tidbits to savor... "

She forestalled the explosion she sensed building in Mitch. "Relax, I won't touch her." The grin shifted from malevolence to amused mischief as she raised one hand while sketching an X on her chest with the other. "Cross my heart."

"Okay then." Mitch began to calm down, moving back towards his center. "You're not planning to inform Jama about this and destroy our marriage. You're staying away from Erin. You're still going to skulk around outside my bedroom, but if that's your kink, missy, why should I care? I'll deal with it if you can."

Liz gave a theatrical sigh. "It's a dirty job... "

"Which you just happen to enjoy... "

Her voice took on a tauntingly sympathetic tone. "Aw, poor Mitch! You try so hard to do the right thing, to save everybody, but you keep coming up short. It's not your fault, darling. After all, you're only human."

The grin was back. "But don't worry, dear. I'll be your very own guardian angel, your personal Jiminy Cricket, making sure you keep to the straight and narrow path. And if that mean, nasty Erin comes by and tries to tempt you again... "

"M-mitch?" The voice was unexpectedly and heart-rendingly familiar.

He turned and saw Jama, seated in the passenger seat, her tear-streaked face looking beseechingly at him, the sigil on her forehead looking like a heart ripped in two.

"H-how could you?" The small woman was barely able to stammer out the words before collapsing into a sobbing heap.

Mitch did a double-take, completely astonished. The spinner’s flight became erratic. “Jama, I…”

He started to reach out to her, then caught himself. He closed his eyes to block out the sight of his wife in tears. “GOD DAMN IT, LIZ!!!” His face contorted in rage as he grabbed the controls. “Stop it!”

The spinner rolled so hard, so suddenly that Liz's head smacked sharply into the window with a dull thud. She could tell that had been Mitch's intention; she'd never sensed him so angry, nor ever known him to do something so deliberately cruel.

The vehicle righted itself, and Mitch continued shouting at her, “Don’t you ever do that again, you hear me!??”

The shake-up had caused Liz's shades to be knocked off her face and onto the spinner's floor. Calmly, she retrieved them, rubbed a hand on the injured spot on her head and indifferently inspected her fingers to see if there was any blood.

She turned to face Mitch. Her unblinking eyes were obsidian black, no iris or pupil evident. The low lighting from the instrument panel gave a pallid cast to her features. Her face tilted slightly, her lack of expression leaching any trace of humanity from it.

In an unexpectedly soft and gentle voice, Liz said, "This charade of Jama's and yours won't work, Mitch. You can't hide your love for her, and I'm sure she can't either. In the meantime, all you're doing is hurting each other and losing what little chance at happiness you can scrape from this sorry world."

She replaced the shades and returned to looking out the window.

Mitch drove on in silence for several long moments, calming himself. When he answered her, there was no argument, and very little hope in his voice. "We understand that, Liz. We really do. It's just... the best we could do. But if our own happiness was all we cared about, I would've stayed home. Jama and I both want Ryuzo stopped, preferably killed. And we're risking a lot more than our marriage—Jama could end up a widow, even with you protecting me."

Liz gave no response, other than a small sigh. She stayed quiet, fixing her attention to the passing scenery so long that Mitch wasn't sure if she'd even heard his words.

Finally, she spoke, her voice still soft.

"What about Chrysine?"

He shrugged with one shoulder, keeping one hand steady on the wheel. "Hmm... Chrysine knows the score. Back in the Cathedral, Jama and I explained our arrangement to Dad as soon as he regained consciousness. Back then I didn't know how good Chrysine's ears are — she heard the whole thing."

Liz turned to spear Mitch with her gaze. She stared intently, her silence heavy with meaning.

Mitch realized he'd completely misunderstood the question. He looked back at her nervously, and tried to continue speaking calmly. "Uh... actually, Liz, I'm kinda glad she knows, for reasons of which you're no doubt aware... "

Liz gave no respite, her face still as stone. Mitch could feel the pressure of those eyes, even through the concealing shades.

Finally he gave up and snapped, "Oh, nothing gets past you, does it?"

Liz kept the stare going for a few more seconds. Then she slowly turned back to the window, letting a small sigh escape her lips again as her head shook slightly.

"Hey, I am not going there. I'm trying to fix her up with Dave, you know. You got a better idea, Liz? I'm listening."

Without changing posture, Liz answered. "Keep your dick in your pants. You want to screw up your life? Fine. It's bad enough you're taking down Jama with you, don't drag anybody else in."

The words were wreathed in bitterness and restrained fury so thick they seemed to burn like acid the very air they touched. Mitch realized that although they were meant for him, the emotions they had unleashed sprung from some deeper root, an old and concealed pain that had pushed out for just a moment to fester in the light.

In a gently mocking voice, Mitch remarked, "You're a scary little girl, Liz." The words lost a good deal of their sting when both of them knew he wasn't really afraid of her.

He went on in more serious tone. "That was the plan, you know. Keeping my dick in my pants. I knew it wouldn't be easy—leaving Jama and living alone until this was all over, but I was prepared to do that. I didn't know Erin was at the Jungle... I really didn't. Any other woman in Angelus, I could handle, no problem."

He shook his head in dismay. "You don't know how it is with her, Liz... she's got no esper potential, no magical talent, but somehow... she just figures people out... works the problem, does the math, and like that! She's got her answer. Then she knows exactly how to get what she wants. She's the Grand Master of head games."

Liz shook her head in sad reproof. "Sorry, Mitch, that excuse doesn't wash with me. I've had the Grand Master sitting in my head, raping my mind and ejaculating its twisted thoughts into every crevice of my psyche."

Mitch looked distinctly uncomfortable. He looked away for a moment, and kept silent as she continued.

She shook her head again, more forcefully, yet still with a shroud of sadness weighing down her voice. "In the end, she can't make you do something unless, deep down, it was something you were willing to do. You've got no one else to blame but yourself."

Mitch nodded—he agreed, up to a point. "Yeah, but Liz, to understand the problem here, you have to take it one level deeper. Erin knows all that. She's counting on it. She's never made me do anything... but somehow, she always knows what I want, deep down. And even if I know it's wrong, she'll figure out how to talk me into it. What is it with her? Nobody else affects me that way....”

The sigh and head-shake this time were plainly born of exasperation, rather than sadness. "Not just a river in Egypt …" Liz muttered.

The fire and steel back in her voice, she addressed her lieutenant. "I'll make it simple for you, loverboy. Next time Erin comes around and shakes her moneymaker at you, say 'no'. Try using the word a little more; it sounds like you need the practice. Chrysine's also hands-off. She doesn't need to join your little psycho-drama."

Her voice lowered an octave, with a decidedly ominous growl underlying it. "Do it, or I'll let Jama know just how well you've kept your vows."

Mitch's face turned to stone. Liz hardly felt any emotion from him at all. "I'll never touch Chrysine—you have my word on that, Liz. It'd be a disaster, for everyone. As for Erin, I told her "no" just before you showed up. And now we can forget about getting any more help from APD Vice on the flect case. Too bad, really—Erin may be a serious bitch, but she's damn good at her job."

He raised his voice, then, just a little. "However. I can't have you blackmailing me, Elizabeth—if I screw up, it's my fault, but if I don't, it's only because you're watching me? No deal. That's a lose-lose situation. If you're going to make threats, all I can tell you is: stay the hell out of my personal life—end of discussion."

"Oh, please," Liz retorted contemptuously. "Excuse me for bruising your fragile little ego, but we've seen how successful you've been so far depending on your 'iron will' alone. I'm only throwing in some extra incentive until you grow a pair and take responsibility for your own messes. You don't like it? Deal."

She leaned back and crossed her arms. "This conversation is over. Either head back to the precinct or drop me off here. At this point, I don't care."

Mitch shook his head slowly. "No, Liz. Blackmailing me is a Bad Idea. You know how this goes: you threaten to reveal something damaging about me... then I respond in kind. And I've got plenty to work with. So back off, Miss Carpenter." He delivered the warning calmly, but kept an eye on her at all times.

Liz's head snapped around towards Mitch as if taken aback. She then threw her head back and laughed, the sound at once sweetly melodic in tone yet chillingly inhuman in expression.

"Oh, Mitch, that's so cute. You actually think you have something on me.

"I mean, c'mon, let's put this in perspective. Revealing my family history? An annoyance to me. Letting Jama know about your adultery? I'd say that's a lot closer to the catastrophic end of the scale, wouldn't you agree?"

"Liz, that's just for starters. Don't mess with me."

She smiled sweetly at Mitch. "Oh, very well. I won't snitch on you, Mitch." She put on an angelic expression and raised her hand, two fingers extended. "Scout's honor."

He regarded her with an annoyed expression. "You know, I oughta hold out for a promise you'll quit following me home—but I'd never know if you broke it. Never mind."

Liz' smile got a little wider. "By Jove, he can be taught," she replied.

Mitch turned his attention to the dashboard for a moment, then returned her smile with a devilish grin. "Almost there. I'm dropping you off at XSWAT HQ in one minute. Say hello to my wife for me, Liz."

Liz's mouth pursed into a moue of faux indignation. "Tease," she accused Mitch in jest.

"Guilty." His expression softened just a bit, as he smiled at her with genuine affection. "Liz, I want you to know... even though I'm not making it easy, and I don't like the way you're doing it... I appreciate what you're trying to do—for Jama. And for me. For what it's worth... thanks."

Liz had no answer or retort to his statement. She turned away, her face impassive behind her mirrored shades, looking out the rain-streaked window.

Mitch set the spinner down on the landing pad. He turned to say something more but Liz was gone; he hadn't even noticed her door opening and closing.

"I hate it when she does that....”