vgdivision: (Default)
vgdivision ([personal profile] vgdivision) wrote2012-11-13 08:02 pm
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AU - Five Stages

(Disclaimer: The following story contains multiple mentions of character death, intense violence, and adult language.)


The whole thing was like a dream. Not a real dream, mind you; not one of those odd weightless things that melted away as you woke up. It was like a dream put on film by a hack director, all quick cuts and murky visuals, combined with brief bursts of garbled noise. Something crystal clear would flicker into frame only to blink out before she could react.

It had started on a mission, that much was clear. It was a fairly typical case: a badass Mary Sue with an arsenal of weapons, a bevy of nigh-impossible skills, and a cadre of brainwashed canonicals to worship her every move. They cornered her when they thought she was at her weakest.

She had been standing next to him as he read off the list of charges, an automatic rifle in her hands and a smirk on her face. The Sue, a beautiful and empty thing, was glaring at the both of them. Her hands were hanging limply at her sides.

He said something -- a special charge? A joke? The details were starting to blur at this point. She had turned her attention away from the Sue to respond.

Something moved in the corner of her eye. His stern and business-like expression, the one he always wore while reading charges, gave way to a growing horror. He lunged towards her, the notepad falling from his hands, and pushed her away.

They both stumbled. But where she recovered -- and now the hack director’s hackier editor started earning his pay -- he toppled slowly to the ground.

She turned. The Sue was smiling, a horrible victorious rictus. There was a pistol in her right hand. Smoke was still oozing up from the barrel.

The world flickered. She was grappling with the Sue now. She could no longer move her left arm for some reason; all attempts to will it into action were met with a sharp and steady pain.

That did not matter. Not now.

The Sue clawed at her face, attempting to knock her sunglasses out of the way so as to get at the soft eyes beneath. The guns they both had been carrying before were gone, lost to the editing room floor. Someone shrieked; she was not sure if it had been her or this creature.

Her one working hand found a beautiful glittering throat and started to squeeze. She kept squeezing even as a lucky strike got past her glasses and cast half her world into agonized darkness. She kept squeezing even as the Sue’s own eyes rolled back into her head, even as her bloody fingers fell away from her face, even as she coughed and choked and sputtered and begged her in faint and broken voice to spare her, please. She kept squeezing even as the Sue’s last sobbed breath escaped her throat. Even as her limbs grew still upon the cold floor.

She only stopped when she heard the noise from behind her. Someone weakly calling her name.

The world flickered again. She was kneeling next to him, the Sue forgotten. There was red everywhere; on her hands, on the floor around him, bubbling out of his mouth. There was red soaking through his dress shirt, blending in with his equally red tie. It was if all other colors had been bleached out of the world.

She tore at his clothes, revealing skin slicked with even more red. Two gaping holes glared at her from his chest.

He coughed. She felt something spatter against her cheek. I think they got me, he murmured.

This is all your damn fault, she said. She wanted to yell at him, but her voice caught in her throat. You and your idiotic chivalrous streak. I told you it would be the death of you.

Guess I didn’t want to make a liar out of you.

She began fishing through the bag he carried. So much junk. Where was the portal generator?

I’m gonna get you out of this, idiot, just hang on.

I don’t think I can. He coughed again, a horrible moist sound.

You quitting on me? Bullshit. You’re too stubborn for that. A big stubborn moronic jackass, that’s what you are.

He opened his mouth to respond, but only more red came out. She dropped the bag -- a rookie mistake. Something she would have yelled at him about -- and lifted his head so he could clear out his mouth.

Hey. Look at me. Focus on me, focus on my voice. You’re not getting out of this so easy. I’m going to get you out of here.

He wheezed. So much red in his mouth. Staining his teeth, speckling his lips, dribbling out the corners.

Hang on, damnit. I’m not losing you. You’re gonna be fine.

I’m not sure you have any say in the matter. His voice was a whisper now. His breathing was slow and shallow.

Don’t make jokes. I won’t lose you. I can’t.

He reached up, hand shaking, and touched her cheek. A weak smile appeared on his face. His eyes were glazed over. Laura. Laura, I’m going to miss you.

Danny, please. You’re gonna be fine, just hang on. Please.

The world flickered again. She was staring at a white surface -- a wall? The floor? The ceiling? She was not sure. Her body was filled with a constant, dull pain. She still could not see to one side, not without turning her head.

Someone she could not see was speaking to her, telling her about removing the bullet from her shoulder and the possibility of a replacement eye. She barely heard them. The other person might have been on the moon for all she knew. Or cared.

The world flickered again. The same white surface as before, but she could feel someone holding her hand. There was a new voice, choked with tears and thick from sobbing. The intern. Rachel. She kept saying that she was sorry, over and over again.

The world flickered again. That hack director was having a field day now.

She was moving through a cold room. Not walking -- she was sitting in a wheelchair. Someone was behind her, pushing him along. She could see Rachel walking alongside her, could hear her snuffling. The intern’s eyes were red -- so much red, she just could not get away from it -- and her hair was hanging ungathered around her shoulders. She was still holding her hand.

There were several waist-high tables in front of them. There was a figure laying on one of the tables, draped in white cloth.

She did not want to see this. No. No.

They drew closer to the table. Rachel squeezed her hand. She looked as if she were about to cry again.

No. Please, no. Don’t show me this.

She was stopped, only a foot away from the head of the table. The intern, her free hand shaking, reached out for the sheet.

The whole thing was like a dream. Please tell me it was just a dream. Please.


Danny flicked his lighter. The flint sparked, but the gas refused to catch. He grumbled around the Bleepette clenched between his lips and tried again. Still nothing. It did not help that his hands kept shaking.

“I told you to watch her.”

He looked up from his task at Laura. It would have been better if she had looked properly enraged. All snarling and over-the-top gesticulating and what have you. That would have been far preferable to the still and sullen figure he was looking at now.

Danny remembered the color draining out of Laura’s face when they had run up to Rachel. She was still pale enough to look sick, which probably was not too far from the truth.

They found her sitting up against a wall, her legs splayed out, her hands still clutching her crossbow. Her expression had been nearly identical to when Laura quizzed her on weapons or charge lists; lips slightly parted, head cocked to the side, eyes turned upward in thought. It was pose that might have passed without comment if could you ignore that she was sitting in a pool of blood.

“I tried,” he replied. He fruitlessly flicked the lighter again, out of a desire to distract himself now more than anything.

“Not hard enough, obviously.” Her tone was clipped and curt.

“One of the possessed canonicals was attacking me! I had to subdue him before he hurt either me or himself!”

Laura shook her head. “You could’ve just knocked him down, or shoved him out of the way. Didn’t you learn anything from those close-combat classes we took?”

“Oh, pardon me if taking something I practiced on crash dummies is much more difficult to apply to actual crazed canons.” Shit. That had come out more sarcastic than Danny had intended. He pulled the Bleepette out of his mouth and put it in an ashtray on top of the nearby console. The lighter was returned to his pants pocket.

“Excuses,” Laura scoffed. “Don’t you have anything better to give me besides excuses?”

“How is my not being as competent a combatant as you an excuse? I was trying to keep both myself and the canonical safe! PPC protocol states that--”

“Protocol? Hang on, lemme get this straight.” Laura briefly pressed her fingers against her forehead. When she took her hands away, a brittle smile had appeared on her face. “Your excuse for not watching Rachel is that it didn’t mesh with PPC protocol?”

Danny furrowed his brow. “That’s not what I said. Don’t put words in my mouth.”

“You’re the one who brought up the subject of protocol.” She took a step closer to him, a step beyond what was a comfortable distance. He could see a distorted reflection of his face in her shades. “But I guess that’s you to a tee, really. Got to follow every rule, every guideline, every little thing the Flowers say. It doesn’t matter what happens to the people around you. The people who depend on you. So long as the rules are abided by, you don’t really give a crap who lives or dies.”

Danny recoiled, as if Laura had punched him in the solar plexus. He coughed as his throat momentarily closed up in surprised horror. “You...” he finally managed to sputter out. “How could you... why would say something like that?!”

Laura was only a few inches away from him now. Her previously cold and impassive expression was starting to crack. Danny could see the muscles straining on her neck, could hear how hard she was breathing. “All I’ve seen you do since we got back from Medical is smoke and stare at the wall. You haven’t said one single word about Rachel. Not one single godsdamn word.”


She cut him off with another step towards him, her voice raised. “I see you piss and moan all the time about innocent lives wasted for nothing in the fics we go through. Didn’t she mean as much to you as they did?”

“Laura, I’m just trying to think this through. I--”

“Think this through? Think this through?!” The color returned in force to Laura’s face; a livid purple-red, like an old bruise. She grabbed onto the collar of his sweater and pulled him down to her eye level. “DON’T YOU FUCKING CARE THAT SHE’S DEAD?!”

Danny’s jaw flapped soundlessly.

She shook him once, a violent jerk that whipped his head back for a moment. “Curse! Cry! Punch a wall! Do something -- ANYTHING -- that tells me you gave a shit about her!” She pushed him backwards against the wall. Her hands were still clamped onto his sweater. “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”

Danny could see tears streaming down his partner’s cheeks from behind her sunglasses. It was a sight that shocked him even more than Laura’s sudden outburst.

After a few seconds she pushed him away before turning towards the console. She placed her hands on an area free of buttons or knobs and bowed her head. “Get out, Danny.”

“What?” Danny replied, still stunned from what had just occurred.

“Just... just get the fuck out.” Her voice was strained, as if she had come down with a sudden sore throat. “I don’t... you can’t be here right now.”

Danny stood there for a moment, just staring at the back of Laura’s head. A dozen possible solutions were running through his mind all at once. Apologize. Offer words of sympathy. Say something about Rachel. Say anything that could fix this.

That was the thing, though. There was nothing he could say. Not now.

Laura did not turn around at the sound of the door sliding open. It was only when the door closed that a shuddering breath wrenched its way out of her throat. She pulled off her sunglasses and tossed them onto the console next to Danny’s ashtray.

Danny’s ashtray.

She scooped it up and threw it against the wall as hard as she could. Bits of broken pottery and Bleepette ash scattered through the air and across the floor.


Gremlin zipped up her hooded jacket a little tighter as the portal snapped shut behind her. There was an autumnal chill in the air; not enough to be a major problem, but still noticeable.

Dawn was breaking over the city park where she had arrived. Shadows and light played through the park together, darting in and out between the gnarled trees and empty playground equipment. In the distance, glass-clad skyscrapers glowed orange and gold as the sun crept over the horizon.

“Same color as the leaves,” someone said, from behind Gremlin.

She turned around. A few benches had been set up around the perimeter of the pond for sightseers or tired joggers. They were well worn things, distressed by the elements and a general lack of care.

There was a dark-haired woman sitting on the bench nearest Gremlin. Her clothes were almost all black, right down to the lacy umbrella folded up on her lap. That which was not black -- the studs on her belt, the buckles on her boots, the ankh hanging from a thin chain around her neck -- was silver. All that combined with her lily white skin gave Gremlin the impression that she had just stepped out of a black-and-white photograph into the real world.

The woman smiled at Gremlin, wrinkling the black spiral tattoo coming down off of her right eye. “I just love this time of year,” she continued. “The colors, the smell, the little flush in people’s cheeks every time a cool breeze passes by. But most of all I love that everywhere you look, you can see another reminder that all this will pass and new life will return with the spring.” She stretched her arms above her head and let out a little happy sigh.

Gremlin stared at the woman. Her own expression was in some murky area between bewilderment and surprise with a touch of fear on the side.

The woman laughed, a warm and beautiful sound in the still morning air. “I take it from your reaction that you didn’t expect to find me so soon.”

There was a brief pause as Gremlin tried to pull herself together. Nice work, she thought. Most powerful being in all the cosmos and you stare at her like a slack-jawed hick. “Probably more accurate to say that I didn’t expect you to find me,” she eventually said.

“Many people I meet would probably agree with you,” the woman replied.

“How did you know? That I wanted to see you, I mean?”

“I’ve had this meeting scheduled for quite some time now. Centuries, as a matter of fact. It isn’t everyday I get a visit from a PPC agent on personal business.” The woman tutted, though her tone was more playful than chiding. “If only the Flowers knew. So scandalous!”

A scowl darkened Gremlin’s face despite her best efforts to keep cool. “The Flowers can go pollinate themselves.”

“Ooh, fighting words! You really are in a state.” The woman patted the unoccupied bit of bench next to her. “Please, sit down. You could probably do with a bit of rest; I know it’s been a rough few weeks for you.”

“A rough few weeks...” Gremlin’s shoulders slumped. She did not move from where she was standing. “Then you know why I’m here. What’ve I’ve been through. Why I sought you out.”

The woman’s smile faded as her tone grew somewhat more somber. “Of course I do. You came here to make a request of me.”

There was an extended pause before Gremlin spoke next, almost as if she had to force herself to shape the words in her suddenly very dry mouth. “Xericka.”

“Penelope, I can’t--”

“That’s not true! You’ve allowed people to come back before. PPC agents, even. Why Makes-Things and Dafydd but not Xericka?” Shit. That had come out a bit more accusatory then Gremlin had intended. Probably not the best tone to take with one of the most powerful beings in the multiverse.

The woman frowned ever so slightly for just few seconds. “I had nothing to do with the return of Agent Dafydd. And as for Makes-Things? I never took him in the first place. In either case, both still had parts to play in the grand narrative of the PPC. Their stories were not yet complete.”


“Xericka’s story has ended. Her role has been played out. She is gone.”

“No!” Gremlin’s shout cut through the still morning air like a buzzsaw through warm butter. She fell to her knees in front of the woman before reaching out and grabbing her hands. “There has to be something you can do! I know what you can do, the power you have! I don’t care what rules I break. I’ll do whatever you want, whatever you ask, just please! Please, bring her back to me!”

The woman, who had remained unperturbed throughout Gremlin’s outburst, arched one inquisitive eyebrow. Gremlin saw a similar figure in her mind’s eye -- dressed all in black, blue hair draped over one shoulder, lips bent into a fragile smile -- making an identical gesture.

“Whatever I want?” the woman asked.

“Anything. Anything for her.”

“That’s quite an offer.” The ankh around the woman’s neck swung back and forth as she bent forward, closer to Gremlin’s face. “What if I ordered you to to murder someone?”

Gremlin’s mouth stiffened into a thin line as she shook her head. “Anything for her,” she repeated.

“What about murdering ten people? A hundred? An entire country? An entire world?”

“Xericka’s worth a world.”

“Do you really think she’d agree?”

New images popped into Gremlin’s head. It was the same figure as before, now kneeling in the center of what appeared to be a black snowstorm. The faint smile was gone, replaced with an unreadable expression. Sadness, fear, resignation -- it seemed to change every time Gremlin saw it. And she had seen it a lot over the past few weeks.

The figure silently reached out through the swirling maelstrom. Gremlin reached back, just as she did every time. Maybe this time it would be different, maybe their hands would meet, maybe the darkness would fade and she would stand up unharmed--

And then the figure was gone.

Gremlin clamped her eyes shut. Not that such a gesture was of any practical use; the vision just kept on replaying itself across her mind. “I can’t... I won’t let her go. Not like that.”

The woman freed one of her hands from Gremlin’s grasp. She took hold of the agent’s chin and gently tilted it up. “Penelope,” she said. “Look at me. Look and listen.”

Gremlin complied. She never even considered doing otherwise.

“It’s got nothing to do with can’t or won’t,” the woman continued. “What’s done is done. There are no do-overs, no mulligans, no courts of appeal. She has moved on. Nothing can or will change that. Not even me. Look into my eyes and tell me that I’m lying to you.”

Silence, disturbed only by the quiet rustling of leaves as an errant breeze passed by, fell upon the park. The two women were frozen, staring at each other.

Gremlin then broke down and began to cry.

A sad but sympathetic smile appeared on the woman’s face. She reached down and pulled Gremlin up onto the bench with her. “I understand,” she said softly as she cradled the metahuman in her arms. “It hurts. Every time you think about it, about her, it hurts even more. But you can’t stop thinking about her, ‘cause that would be like losing her all over again. It’s a nasty cycle that can tear you apart if you let it.”

“I just-- I just--” Gremlin's voice was thick and broken now, interrupted by intermittent sobs. “There was just so much-- so much I-- so much I wanted--” She buried her face in the woman’s shoulder.

“Shh,” the woman cooed into Gremlin’s ear. “Shh. I know.”

They sat there together for a while. The sun was higher in the sky by the time Gremlin finally calmed down enough to pull away from the woman. Her eyes were bloodshot and her cheeks were slicked with tears. “I just...” she murmured. “I just thought that if anyone could help me it could be you.”

“I’m sorry that I couldn’t be much assistance.” The woman tucked her umbrella under one arm and stood up. “Now if you’ll excuse me, but duty calls. Both of us, I expect. No doubt you’ve got a mission of your own waiting for you back at headquarters.”

Gremlin nodded, her eyes fixed on the brown grass in front of her. She did not appear to be in much of a hurry to leave.

The woman put one hand on Gremlin’s shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Just remember that all this pain, all this decay: it will pass before too long. Fall becomes winter becomes spring.”

A second silent nod. The woman smiled again before turning to leave.


The woman stopped and looked around. Gremlin was still sitting on the bench, still staring at the dying turf. “I have one last request to make,” the agent said.

“Go ahead.”

“When my times comes. When you... collect me.” Gremlin looked up at the woman. The only reason she was not crying at this point was because she was all cried out from before. “Will you take me to her? Will you help me find her?”

The woman mulled this over for a few moments. “I think I can,” she eventually replied. “Just don’t be in a hurry to get to that point. You still have a story to finish. Deal?”

Gremlin smiled, a brittle and sickly thing. It was the first time she could remember smiling in some time. “Deal.”

A sudden gust of wind blew several damp leaves into Gremlin’s face. By the time she had brushed them away, the woman was nowhere to be seen.


She stalks through the corridors, her face obscured in the darkness cast by her hood. Her boots come down on the Generic Surface floors with an almost threatening clack, clack, clack. Other agents step out of her way as they see her coming. They shiver as she passes, just a little. There is something about her that is just so... unnerving.

She does not care what they think. Their opinions are irrelevant.

Teyala glanced up at the sign with multiple exclamation points as she passed under it. She had never utilized the services of the Department of Fictional Psychology apart from that brief period required of all individuals who had fallen through portals into the PPC. She considered herself a well-adjusted and capable asari. So being called down to Doctor Freedenberg’s office had come as something of a surprise.

She was further surprised when the receptionist sent her directly to Freedenburg’s office instead of having her wait. Her limited experience with department heads had demonstrated that they typically insisted on immediate meetings only if something was wrong. More specifically, if something was wrong because of YOU.

Freedenberg looked away from the computer monitor on his desk as soon as Teyala opened the door. Apart from a wrinkle or two more around his eyes, he still looked much like the day she had met him. He was wearing a pale blue shirt, bow tie, and tweed trousers. His standard-issue white coat with FicPsych flash patch was draped over one of the three overstuffed chairs arranged around the small room.

“Ah, Miss Solnerii,” he said. “I remember you. Thank you coming in on such short notice.” He gestured to the nearest chair. “Please, have a seat.”

“Thank you. And please, call me Teyala.” She sat down, which caused the chair’s springs to issue a shrill complaint. “Am I in some sort of trouble, doctor? The summons you sent to the Nursery was a little vague.”

Freedenberg shook his head. “My apologies, I should have been more specific. I summoned you down here because I believe that another agent in trouble. An agent you’re familiar with.” He turned the monitor on his desk just enough so that she could see the profile on it.

Teyala nodded, slightly saddened, when she saw the name on the profile. “Yes,” she said. “I know Agent Xericka.”

The badfic is watched in silence. She keeps a charge list in her head. Such a method is far more efficient than having to physically write down each charge.

When sufficient charges have been gathered, she immobilizes the affected character and anyone else who might serve to be a threat in the most efficient and pragmatic way possible. She attempts to avoid causing too much damage to the characters involved, but sometimes injury is necessary. She reads out the charge list and exorcises the possessed character without any extra fuss or flair.

Another mission complete.

There was a knock at the door.

“Come in!” Freedenberg said. He offered Teyala a bashful smile as the door opened, revealing an intern with a rolling cart bearing various pitchers and pots. “My apologies for the interruption. I ordered some beverages before you arrived. Would you care for a cup of coffee? Tea, perhaps?”

“Just water, thank you.”

The intern poured out a mug of coffee for the doctor and a tumbler of ice water for Teyala. “Will there be anything else, Doctor Freedenberg?” he asked.

“That’ll be all, Vaughn,” Freedenberg replied. “Leave the cart please. My guest and I may need refills, and we would prefer not to be disturbed.”

Teyala cleared her throat once the intern had closed the door behind him on his way out. “You asked about Xericka,” she said. “Is this in regards to what happened to Gremlin?”

“In a way,” Freedenberg replied. He paused long enough to take a sip of his coffee. “You see Xericka quite often. Do the two of you speak about anything?”

“She asks me how Aiden -- that’s her adopted son -- how he’s doing. Basic things, like his diet or if he’s been particularly fussy since the last time she’s visited. It never goes any further or deeper than that.”

Freedenberg turned the monitor back towards himself and began tapping on his keyboard. “Are your conversations with Xericka now different from when Gremlin was still alive?”

“A bit, yes. She asked me the same things about Aiden, but we would also occasionally just have regular conversations. She’d ask me how my day was going, I’d ask about her last mission, that sort of thing. Nothing in depth about her past or anything, but pleasant nevertheless.”

The doctor nodded. “Everyone I’ve spoken to about her -- her fellow Bad Slashers, the agents who recruited her, even the Queen Anne’s Lace -- says the same thing. When her partner died, Xericka just...” he waved his hand in the air as he tried to think of an appropriate phrase, “...retreated from the world.”

The other Bad Slash agents give her weak waves or whispered hellos when they see her. She does not respond. She does not see the point in doing so. Completing missions is far more important than having meaningless small talk.

The Queen Anne’s Lace is pleased with her progress, but suggests that it is time to take on a new partner. It has been a month. Continuing to operate alone is risky.

She disagrees. A new partner would lack the necessary skill to keep up with her. She would be most effective as she is now.


Freedenberg took a long sip from his coffee. After setting down the cup, he picked a paper napkin off of the nearby cart and dabbed at his mouth. “Have you noticed any change in how Xericka interacts with Aiden?” he asked.

“I couldn’t say specifically. There’s too much going on in the Nursery for me to watch parents while they’re with their children.” Teyala paused in thought for just a moment. “Although now that I think about it, Xericka has been spending more time with Aiden. Far more than she used to. I figured she just wanted company.”

A serious grimace settled upon the doctor’s face. “I was afraid of that. What do you know about the nature of Xericka’s... species, for lack of a better term?”

Teyala slurped at her water while she thought. Her training had had not gone into very detailed specifics about individual canonical creatures. There was often a great deal of running around looking for information when an infant from a poorly known or very new continuum was brought into the Nursery. “Very little,” she eventually replied. “They don’t have hearts, which in turn results in their not having emotions. I’m afraid that’s about it.”

“Sort of,” Freedenberg replied. “They are the remnants of those individuals who have lost their hearts to darkness. Part of Organization XIII’s motivation in Kingdom Hearts II is attempting to reclaim their hearts and so become whole again. Xericka, however, is not a typical Nobody. She was created entirely in a badfic. There is no heart for her to regain, no real person to become. She will remain incomplete until the day she dies.”

Teyala tried to repress a small shudder from working its way down her spine. No wonder Xericka had never spoken about her past.

“I suspect that she was using Gremlin and Aiden to fill the gap, as it were,” Freedenberg went on to say. He leaned back in his chair and squeezed the bridge of his nose. He looked very tired; far more so than when Teyala had entered his office. “If that is indeed the case, then her partner’s death would have essentially destroyed half of herself. Half of her own self-identity. Aiden is the only thing keeping her anchored.”

“And... and without him?”

A painful silence fell on the cramped office.

He waves his chubby hands at her face and coos in the manner of all happy babies as she lifts him out of his crib. His fingers wrap around one of the silver chains hanging from her coat and tugs on it. She does not pay the action any mind.

She rocks him back and forth in her arms. A low hum emerges from her throat and fills the room. It is not of any specific tune or song; it meanders this way and that in what she perceives to be a pleasing melody.

The tune shifts. Now it is specific, something she knew from before. Something that she had sung once.

Freedenberg drained the last of his coffee and set the mug on the cart. He was no longer in the mood for a second cup.

“They used to come in together sometimes. Xericka and Gremlin. To check on Aiden.”

The doctor looked up. Teyala was staring at her hands, which she would clasp and unclasp repeatedly in a sort of nervous tic.

“I remember this one time,” she went on to say. “I peeked through the door to check if they needed anything. Gremlin was standing nearby as Xericka was changing the infant. They were tossing snarky comments back and forth, like they usually did.

“Xericka finished up and walked over to a sink to wash her hands. While she did that, Gremlin picked Aiden up and rocked him in her arms. She started to sing to him. In Chinese, I believe, but I’m not an expert on human languages. Xericka didn’t tell her to stop, or say something sarcastic. She just stood there, hands still in the sink, and stared at Gremlin.” Teyala paused, her fingers intertwined with each other. “I don’t think Gremlin saw. Her back was turned at the time.”

“Saw what?” Freedenberg asked. The asari started at the sound of his voice, as if she had forgotten that there was someone else in the room.

“It was just for a second, but... but Xericka smiled at her.”

She sits on the worn sofa in her response center. Her mission reports have all been completed and filed as per PPC regulations. She has been to visit Aiden several times today. There is nothing to do now but wait until the next mission arrives.

Her hand slowly snakes behind one of the cushions, as if it does not want to be caught. It emerges with a photo pinched between its fingers.

There are two figures in the photo. The shorter individual, one arm wrapped around the taller individual’s waist, is grinning and giving a lazy salute. The taller individual is rolling her eyes, but nevertheless has one hand on her comrade’s shoulder while also saluting with the other.

She stares at the photo until she loses track of the passing minutes. Like she always does, every day.


Danny let out an involuntary groan as he eased himself onto a bench. He leaned his cane nearby before attempting to massage a bit of life into his knee.

It was starting to come back to him why he did not come up to visit her more often these days. Walking around the corridors of Headquarters was tough enough without having to deal with things like gravel and turf. He had been given the option of getting cybernetics to get his leg back to one hundred percent after his injury, but he declined. The idea of being part machine, even just a little bit, had freaked him out.

He had to transfer departments after that. DMS agents needed to be at the top of their game all the time, physically and mentally. He just could not cut it anymore.

It was for the best, really. Let the next generation chase after Sues and Stus.

Laura would have had a fit if she could have seen Danny now. Time had not been especially kind to him. A cane, a receding hairline, and a job in the Department of Personnel as the DMS Archivist. She would either be doubled over with laughter or completely apoplectic. All that time spent training you wasted, she might have said. She probably would have tossed a few choice profanities his way, too. He could not help but chuckle at the thought.

Danny looked around as he rubbed his knee. Rows of black granite headstones stretched as far as he could see in almost every direction, their shadows stretched out by the setting sun. Gravel paths wound snake-like though the squat markers. Here and there the occasional figure stood, paying vigil to a fallen partner, friend, or family member.

Sooner or later, just about every agent went to the PPC cemetery in New Caledonia. Even if it was just the one final time.

Danny grunted. He grabbed his cane and rose unsteadily to his feet. It was not that much further to Laura’s grave. He could ignore his old injury for a while yet.

The area of the cemetery reserved for DMS agents took up the greatest amount of space. While no job in the PPC was one hundred percent safe, it was an unfortunate but unsurprising fact that going face to face with reality-warping creatures resulted in a comparatively high fatality rate. It took Danny a few minutes to make his way through the multitude of stones over to where Laura had been buried.

He glanced at the two bouquets of flowers laying at the base of Laura’s headstone. Judging by how fresh they looked, he was not the first person to come up to visit her today.

The largest bundle was made up of red and pink carnations wrapped in white rice paper. An attached note read To the boss. Obviously from Rachel.

Rachel Calendar had already been promoted to full agent by the time Laura died. The news had torn her up something terrible, almost to the point where she had intended to abandon her duties and leave the PPC. Danny had to convince her to stay. Not the easiest of tasks, especially when both parties were shouting and crying at the same time.

She worked in the Department of Improbable AUs now. As the Senior Field Agent, if Danny recalled correctly. Yes, that was right. Rachel had been given the title when her partner Cornelius had to be shut down.

The second bouquet could hardly be called that. It was just two white lilies bound with a length of black ribbon. There was no note. They were most likely from Xericka.

Danny had been surprised to see Xericka show up at the funeral. She and Laura had not kept in touch following her recruitment. Danny would exchange emails with her, checking up on how she was doing, but he would have never considered the Nobody a close friend.

“I owe both you and her a great deal,” Xericka had told him later on, when he asked about her attendance. “I exist now only because of your discretion. Joining you in remembrance as Laura was being laid to rest was a demonstration of my thanks and respect.”

Xericka was still working over in Bad Slash. Danny had gone to her wedding a few years ago. She and her wife had adopted another badfic rescuee since then, last he heard.

Danny had not brought any flowers. He used to do so on a fairly regular basis until his leg got torn up. He had thought about picking up a bouquet today, for old times sakes, but had changed his mind at the last second.

Besides, he was leaving something else behind instead.

He patted the breast pocket of his tweed jacket, just to make sure it was still there. Yep. Good to go.

“Hey Laura,” he said. His voice was a lot more gravelly than it had been when he started with the PPC. Half a pack of Bleepettes every day would do that to you. “Been a while.”

There was no response. Danny was not expecting one, of course. He liked to think he had not gone that crazy just yet. Talking out loud just made him feel better.

“I’m not going to make any excuses for why I haven’t been to see you,” he continued. “You’d just say I was full of shit anyway. No doubt you’d waste no time in lambasting me about being lazy, or being forgetful because I’m old. I’m only thirty-seven, you know. I’m not that old.” He paused, then let out a hoarse chuckle. “And then you’d yell at me for screwing up the reference. I’d of course respond by saying I wasn’t making a reference, and we’d waste a good fifteen minutes bickering and quoting Monty Python at each other.”

Danny coughed in the brief moment of silence that followed. He was craving a Bleepette, but chose to hold off. Tapping the ashes out on Laura’s grave was unthinkable.

“I came today for two reasons,” he said. “First off, it’s been ten years today since you died. It seems more... meaningful, I suppose.

“But more importantly, I wanted to bring you something.” Danny patted his jacket pocket again. “Something I’ve been holding on to for ten years. I can’t quite recall why I initially kept it, but I’ve hung onto it out of sentimentality. Out of a desire to remember you as you were. Every time I went on a mission, I’d look at it and think of you, think of what you’d say or do in whatever situation I was about to step into. It kept me going.”

Danny paused. “But as time went on, I looked at it less and less often. I barely gave it a glance after my leg injury. No more missions.” He paused again. That was the downside of speaking aloud as compared to just thinking something; you never had to stop and find the best possible words when they were all in your head.

“I looked at it again recently -- no particular reason why, my gaze just fell across it. It actually took me a minute to remember what it was. When I finally did remember, it... it just didn’t seem important anymore. It’s not that I don’t care about you anymore, it’s just that I don’t need the memory of you to keep me going anymore. And I haven’t for a while.”

Danny reached into his jacket and pulled out a dusty pair of mirror sunglasses. The left lens was cracked, but still held in place by the frame. They glowed red-orange in the fading light.

“So,” he went on to say, “I figured that I should let these go. I’ve let you go already.” He leaned over, grunting a bit from the sharp pain in his knee, and set the sunglasses down on top of Laura’s headstone.

He brushed his fingers across the carved stone as he straightened up. It was still warm, having soaked in the sun all day.

Laura’s full name had been engraved on her headstone. She would definitely not have been happy about that. She had loathed her full name. The only reason Danny had known about it before the funeral was because he had caught a peek at some of her files shortly after joining the PPC. He had teased her about it for weeks.

“Laurelin Nerdanel Dukes...” Danny muttered with a smile. “That’s what happens when your parents are really, really into Tolkien.”

She would be tossing a few fresh curses his way if she could. He had no doubt of that.

“So long, partner.”

Postscript disclaimer: The setting of the PPC was originally created by Jay and Acacia. Death of the Endless was created by Neil Gaiman. Doctor Freedenberg and Teyala belong to the PPC community. All of my gratitude to JulyFlame for betaing.