Actions

Work Header

don't trust the devil inside

Chapter Text

Finding out her best friend is on death’s door an ocean away was one of the worst moments of her life. It came in the form of a late night phone call from Edgar , begging her to get to Germany, where he and HG are trying to hold their alibis together with duct tape and tears. A desperate plea to be there, please. To come and be with them, be with Lenore, no other obligation. He only asks she go along with their story, not out them for who they actually are. She agrees in a heartbeat, of course she agrees. It’s Lenore, and it’s Edgar and it’s HG. They’re her family. It’s been far too long since she’d seen them, nearly three years. Not that it was through any fault but her own.

Barely sparing a thought to Eddie (he’s on a business trip, Los Angeles she thinks), she quickly bullshits her way through a voicemail about her suddenly ill Great Uncle Herbert. Cashing in her abundant sick days at work, she finds herself with hours of thinking time on the nearly empty plane. She texts HG to let him know she’s on her way, then asks if they know why someone would go after Lenore. When she learns they have a name, a confirmed name, she immediately boots up her laptop, instantly deciding that the exorbitant wifi fees are worth information on Lenore’s would-be killer. Glancing back at her phone, she looks into the name Edward de Vere using some of her shadier dark web contacts.

She can barely find a trace of his existence, he most likely has someone to clean up after him, but he is definitely real. It takes her hours to find the slippery son of a bitch, but she does, because she learned from the best. She has to switch planes in New York, losing valuable time to find cracks in this seemingly non-existent man. Finally, finally she has a picture, an actual, clear picture of him, and recognition floods her veins like ice. Realizing her perfectly normal (and boring), casino executive boyfriend was the one to order the hit? A whole new kind of fury engulfs her.

In the time it takes to cross the Atlantic, she doesn’t sleep. She digs up every dark and dirty secret she can find on Edward de Vere, Eddie Dantes, and any other aliases she can get her cyber fingertips on. He isn’t the man she thought she knew, though she isn’t exactly who she said she was either.

She had left that world, making her way honestly in Las Vegas, an oxymoron Lenore fondly reminded her of every time they talked, rare though those times were. She allowed herself only the slimmest details of her best friends, her family, him. She’s made a (mostly) clean break, because she loves them, but she couldn’t live score to score any longer.

It is the curse of all orphans to desperately want what they grew up without. She wanted roots, she wanted a home. Apparently, she forgot that she’d already had one in her family, strange and criminally inclined though they may be. Now she can feel in her bones that her place is with them, wherever in the world that may be. She isn’t going to lie to herself any longer.

On her last layover, her heart starts metaphorically beating again when she learns from HG that Lenore made it through surgery and was resting comfortably. Slumping against the wall of the terminal, she bursts into tears. She cries for her best friend, the best, funniest, most loyal woman she’s ever known, whose life was almost cut short by an asshole unwilling to get his own hands dirty. She cries for Edgar and HG, who have been stuck waiting in a foreign hospital for hours, praying the center of their world wasn’t about to drop out.

And she cries for herself. She cries because she cut herself off from the best part of her life, from what makes her happy. She missed her pseudo siblings. She missed Lenore, the sister who teased and comforted her, who always agreed that boys were the worst, even when smiling helplessly at her favorite hacker. She missed HG, the big brother who taught her how to hack and introduced her to the world of programming, another language she challenged herself to master; who held her hand in the dark to ground her when the demons fought their way out of the graves she buried them in long ago.

Crying in her quiet little corner of the airport, she can admit to herself that she misses Edgar most of all. She misses finding him passed out and drooling on the blueprints of their next target after a long night spent planning and plotting. She misses the drunken, slightly melancholy rants of how different their lives could have been if they’d all grown up outside the orphanage. She misses him gently tucking the blankets around her and Lenore during the cold winters of Baltimore. She misses his soft smile, the smile she saw every time she’d kissed him, every time she woke up next to him, before she told him she was leaving for good and broke his heart into a million crumbling pieces when she gave back the ring.

Gathering herself, she squares her shoulders and marches toward her gate. By the time she hits the next airport, she’ll have a plan to make Eduardo Dantes rue the day he ever messed with Annabel Lee’s family. All that’s left is to gather the crew.


And hopefully convince Edgar that she still loves him.

Chapter Text

Oscar was pacing in the arrival section of the airport, anxious to return to the hospital. No news was good news, but waiting for a woman he’d never met was not what he wanted to be doing right now. He wanted to be with the others, where at least he could feel useful puttering around with coffee and food. But no, he was elected as the ‘most friendly face’ to go get Annabel Lee and bring her back with him.

He knew who she was. He’d seen pictures of her from Lenore and HG, though not Edgar (never Edgar, that pain was still too deep). She didn’t look like anyone well-versed in the life they all led, her face was far too innocent. But then, Lenore could look innocent and naive too, all the while twisting you around her pinkie and stealing your secrets. Judging this girl by her looks was hardly going to be a worthwhile endeavor. Listening to the stories though, that was how Oscar knew she was a smooth operator, that she could con with the best of them. Oh, Lenore and HG were always wistful and nostalgic for their time as a quartet, but he could see an underlying tension, he could hear what they wouldn’t say.

She didn’t plan on this life, but she was good, so good.

She was so good, she fooled all of us.

We thought she was happy.

We didn’t know she could leave with barely a glance in her rearview mirror.

We will always love her, but we don’t know if we could ever trust her again.

She broke him.

Edgar Poe was not his favorite member of the trio (that was quite obviously Lenore), but the typically stoic man was a friend who wore his heart on his sleeve and was terrible at hiding his true feelings. How he earned a reputation as a sober, stone cold thief was beyond Oscar’s comprehension. Hell, anyone who got the man drunk would know all his deepest regrets, all tying back to one woman. Annabel Lee had broken his heart in a way Oscar couldn’t understand. He’d never felt a love that deep, that much a part of his being that without it he didn’t feel whole.

So Oscar would play nice with the little ginger, but that didn’t mean he had to like her. She had something precious and left it to shatter without a second thought. He would be watching her, making sure she didn’t inflict more irreversible damage to an already hurting man. A man who had just nearly lost his sister, his best friend.

Finally seeing her in the distance, Oscar studied her unaware visage. She was wearing a sloppily put together outfit, as if she’d rushed out without a care for her appearance. She’d definitely appeared to have been crying at some point recently, her pale face drawn with dark circles under red eyes. She had a laptop bag swung over her shoulder and was rolling a large carry on, marching past the baggage claim.

Good, he thought, one less thing to worry about.

Knowing he needed to flag her down so they could get out of there, he held up the sign HG had directed him to make, bearing an alias that she would apparently recognize. Immediately seeing it, her face transformed from anxious to ecstatic as she rushed towards him. Dropping the handle of her suitcase, she wrapped her arms around him and threw herself up, planting her mouth next to his ear.

“What do I call you?” she exhaled, barely more than a breath.

“James,” he breathed back, pulling back to move the hair out of her eyes as he grinned, the picture of a happy family reunion.

A smile lighting up her face, she beamed excitedly up at him. “Oh James, did Uncle Herbert send you? It’s been so long!”

At some point HG or the Poe siblings would need to explain how they came up with ‘Uncle Herbert,’ because that was the code word for ‘safe’ on nearly every job he’d ever run with them. It reeked of some sentimentality. And apparently, this wisp of a woman knew it too. At least that meant she hadn’t been followed or found anyone suspicious. Listening to her continue on excitedly, he sized her up again, taking in the naive little girl playacting in front of him. Knowing what he did, he tried to reconcile her with the cold-hearted woman who could leave her life behind without a trace.  Dragging himself back to the here and now, he cut short the fussing so they could return to his friends.

“Kates, where else would I be? Now come on, let’s get home before the others start a riot for your presence.” Pulling her into a side hug, he grabbed her erstwhile bag and began walking them towards his rental car, chattering on with her about fictional family nonsense.

He would give her this, she was good. She stayed snuggled into his side, sighing and giggling at all the appropriate moments as he regaled her with stories of dramatic domesticity. Once they arrived at the car, he placed her bags in the trunk and opened the car door for her, quickly moving to his own side once she was in.

As soon as they left the parking lot, the facades dropped and an awkward silence rapidly filled the space. Deciding he could be the bigger man, for Lenore’s sake, he introduced himself. “I’m Oscar.”

Face still blank, she nodded. “Annabel, but I would guess you already knew that.”

“You would be correct love.”

“How is she? I talked to HG on a layover in London, but all I know is she made it through surgery.” Annabel was heartrendingly beautiful in her sorrow, though Oscar wasn’t well-versed enough in her expressions to tell just how much was real and how much was false.

“She has her own room now, so Edgar and HG have essentially already moved in. The others are taking turns between the waiting room and the hotel, while also making sure those two are actually taking care of themselves.”

“They have always been terrible at self-care…” she trailed off, most likely caught up in memories of a time long since passed. But then her eyes, which now seemed so very sharp, now that he had seen them up close and personal, whipped back to him and narrowed. “What others?”

Smirking, all he would tell her was, “Oh darling, are you in for a treat.”

Chapter Text

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

The monotonous tones of his sister’s heart monitor may have been annoying, but it had become a reassuring sound, one Edgar felt more thankful for every time he heard it. He was sitting at her bedside, across from HG, who was gazing down at Lenore’s left hand held in his own. HG kept stroking her fingers, rubbing along her knuckles and the chipped sparkly blue polish Lenore had insisted on wearing. Nevermind the fact that it could be a highly incriminating factor at any potential crime scenes. Her reminder that they were currently only doing surveillance had gone unheeded, he still worried it was far too bright of an identifying feature. She’d finally won when she pointed out that she would be merely be playing a part at the cafe and painted nails made her look like any of the other twenty something girls sipping lattes in the shade. Looking back, it had been a ridiculous fight. Edgar swore to himself that he would not allow an argument about nail polish to be one of the last conversations he had with his sister.

Growing uncomfortable with the prospect of so many undoubtedly undisguised emotions flitting over his face (regret, terror, hope) , Edgar returned his stare to the monitors, covered in readouts he couldn’t understand. The doctors had explained, but most of what he could remember was that red numbers were bad, so he was praying that they all stayed the same innocuous white they’d been since he and HG had finally been allowed into the room.

Right now, Shelley was watching over them. She was silent in a way most of the others hadn’t been, somehow comprehending that the carefully chosen words and overwhelming sympathies had rapidly worn away at his temper, til he was hanging onto his sanity by a shred of self control. The next person to try and placate him was probably going to receive a tongue lashing. A part of him hoped that he would blow up at Ernest, who would most likely deserve it for one reason or another, and might even fight back. Without Lenore to talk to, to banter with, Edgar felt at loose ends and getting into a screaming match would relieve at least some of that tension.

At some point, Shelley had found a copy of the charts and had scanned through them, quietly murmuring to herself. He had no idea what she was hoping to find buried in the depths of Lenore’s file, but she wasn’t talking to him, so he happily left her to her own devices.

He couldn’t stop thinking about the two bullets that had nearly cost his sister her life. Two bullets, one striking her in the shoulder, the other in the chest. Two bullets had hit Lenore before Charlotte had managed to pull her back to cover. Two bullets…

“She was lucky.”

Pulled out of his head, he startled. Turning to the interloper at the foot of the bed, he asked her harshly, “Excuse me?”

“You were brooding out loud for a second there,” she calmly stated. Glancing away from the folder, Shelley continued clinically, “Medically speaking, she was very lucky we got her here as quickly as we did. She needed multiple blood transfusions, she’d bled too much to survive otherwise. At least this hospital has an accomplished trauma staff, so her surgeons are top of their field. Terrible handwriting though.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re forgetting I was once a med student with dreams of being a hotshot surgeon myself one day,” she commented. Quirking her lips, she quoted his own words back at him, “‘Steadiest hands you’d ever seen’, remember?”

“That wasn’t what I was talking about when I said that.” Rather, it had been the way she took down the safe on their first job together. It was like watching a Russian ballet, every moment precise and elegant, all coming together for the harmonious click of a successfully cracked safe.

“I know, but it still applies.” Lapsing into silence, she kept her unnervingly level gaze directly on his face. Taking a deep breath, he was going to ask her a question about the file, unsure if he really wanted to know, but she cut him off with the raise of a hand. Stepping closer, Shelley placed it on his shoulder and squeezed before saying softly, “She’ll be okay.”

Swelling with indignation and anger and other feelings he couldn’t explain, Edgar snapped. Swatting away her hand, he lunged to his feet to tower over her. Mockingly, he snarled, “Oh is that your professional, certified medical opinion Dr. Shelley? That she’ll be okay . Because forgive me if I’m wrong, but you were just a med student when you left. You never actually graduated from medical school, did you?”

“Edgar.” The sharp reprimand from the other side of the bed brought him up short, having briefly forgotten the other man sitting vigil at Lenore’s bedside. Still clutching her hand, HG held his gaze firmly, daring him to break first, to give in to the guilt he already felt welling up inside. Anger thoroughly deflated as quickly as it came, he sank back down into his chair and muttered an apology to Shelley.

“Now, stop being a jackass and listen to her while I go find some coffee that’s actually palatable. Oscar’s going to be back soon with…” HG trailed off awkwardly, realizing too late that this would be a sore subject for everyone involved.

Eyes wide and heart racing, Edgar gasped out, “She’s here?”

“She’s here.”

“I’m not ready to-”

“You’re going to have to be.”

“But-”

“She’s here, you’re being a pain in the ass, and I need coffee to deal with you two. Now move so I can get back here and play referee.”

“H, I…” have no idea what I’m doing.

“I know, Ed, I know. But seriously, coffee.”

Huffing in slight amusement at how alike HG and Lenore could be sometimes, Edgar waved him on. “Oh, go get your damn coffee.” Watching his best friend leave, he hesitantly turned back to the other conscious occupant of the room.

Unimpressed, Shelley crossed her arms. “Lenore made it through surgery, which was the hardest part of the whole ordeal. Now she just needs the time to recover and get better. She is one of the strongest and most stubborn people I know. That’s what she needs to be right now.” Arching an eyebrow, she dared him to disagree with her again. When he was able to keep his mouth shut, she continued, “So yes, in my opinion, professional or otherwise, she’ll be up and bothering the crap out of you in no time.”

“I’m-”

“I know you’re barely coping with everything going on right now, but being a dick to me isn’t going to solve your problems Edgar.” With that, she left, disappearing into the hallway to go track down his newest babysitter.

Temporarily alone but for the still figure of Lenore, he began to pace, cutting a path from one end of the room to the other, pivoting quickly enough to make himself dizzy. Dragging his hands down his face, Edgar took stock of his mental state. He was exhausted, frazzled, lashing out at his friends. He had no idea how to deal with the terror of almost losing his sister and the relief of knowing she’d made it though. He wanted to murder the one who’d done this, keep him in excruciating pain for days before eventually doing him in for the toll the past few days had taken on his people. He should probably feel guilty for those urges, but he didn’t. He needed to explain to someone that without Lenore as a sounding board, he was lost in the emotional maelstrom he always found himself in when Annabel was concerned, not sure which way was up or down, left or right. He loved her, he hated her, he hated himself, he hated her more, but he always loved her, always would love her. He couldn’t stop.

“Edgar?” Think of the devil and there she shall appear. A voice from his past, the one he’d heard on the phone only yesterday, after years of no contact. There had been a part of him that had believed he’d never see her again, never again hear her voice say his name, never again smell the apple shampoo she’d been using for years. As much as the past several days had been a nightmare of epic proportions, this moment was almost worse. Because she was really here, and he had no clue how to feel about it.

Turning to face her, the air left his lungs and all he could say was, “Annabel…”

She strode towards him, reaching for his face, then abruptly stopped half a breath away, hesitant in a way he’d never seen her. Fingertips brushing his cheek, she breathed, “I’m here.”

Chapter Text

HG was staring blankly at the barista in front of him, realizing that perhaps he should have brushed up on his German (or perhaps he should have learned it in the first place) before trying to order coffee. However, languages and people had always been her forte, so he had never seen the need to busy himself with learning the native tongue of every country they found jobs in. He’d never imagined he would need to. That she might not always be there.

Caught up in his own head, he missed someone coming up behind him and jumped when a sharp voice asked, “Espresso?”

“Oh my- Charlotte, you scared me.” The fact that he couldn’t hear her footsteps in four inch heels said a lot about his mental state right now.

Rolling her eyes, she snorted at him. “No shit Sherlock. Now, your coffee order. It’s an espresso, correct?”

“Maybe a triple shot at this point, I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be able to sleep next and I’d prefer to be alert when I need to be.”

“I am not ordering you a triple shot, you’re liable to start hearing colors soon with the amount of caffeine in your system. Hell, I would far rather order you some chamomile, but seeing as there’s no way in hell that’ll go over well, you’re getting your normal order.” Charlotte turned to the barista, who up until now had been watching the pair of them like a tennis match, and placed his order in German. After paying, he moved to the side and tried not to flinch as he felt Charlotte’s far too perceptive eyes give him a once over. “You look like shit.”

“Thank you, it warms my heart to know-”

“Shut it, I’m merely stating the obvious,” she huffed, pivoting on her heel to leave. Charlotte seemed to think better of it, as she swung back around to poke her finger into his chest, hard. “So when were you going to inform me that she was coming?”

Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. Charlotte and Annabel did not get along, at all. There was no way tonight was ending peacefully, though chances of that had been low to start off with. HG decided to play dumb and hope it came off as caffeine deprivation. “Wha- why? Charlotte what?” His coffee was ready, oh thank God. He needed all the coffee for this conversation.

Charlotte followed him up to the counter, ranting as she went, barely noticing if he was actually paying attention to her. “Oscar just showed up with the little tart. As we speak she’s probably fussing over Edgar and declaring her undying devotion and sorrow for leaving you all in the lurch. And she hasn’t changed a bit. All dewy eyes and breathy sighs. God, it’s no wonder she had him wrapped around her little finger for so long.”

Just as he took his first sip, HG’s brain finally caught up with Charlotte’s diatribe. Practically choking, he sputtered, “Annabel’s here? Already?”

“Yes you nitwit, that’s what I just said. Remember, you sent Oscar to pick her up hours ago.” Throwing her hands up in exasperation, HG barely caught the muttered, “Honestly, it’s like I’m talking to a bloody five year old.”

Deciding not to pursue that train of thought, he returned to the more imminent threat. “And you left her alone with Edgar?” Because that was bad, that was bad bad. That might actually be worse than leaving her with Charlotte.

“Technically I had nothing to do with it. Blame Oscar, he pointed her the right direction then went off to fix his hair.”

“Oh because that makes everything better. Leave Edgar and Annabel by themselves the first time they’ve seen each other since she left. Sounds like a splendid idea.”

She gave him a Look that rivaled any of Lenore’s. “I came to get you didn’t I?”

“Fair point.” Taking a few deep breaths, he continued. “I apologize, Charlotte. I must confess I’m not exactly at my best right now.”

“You really think I’m going to blame you for snapping a bit? Puh-lease. I am well aware what Lenore means to you. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be you right now.” If he didn’t know her so well, he wouldn’t have noticed the thumb running over her left ring finger, currently bare. The tiny unconscious gesture almost made him smile. Almost.

Charlotte saw him staring and stopped, self consciously crossing her arms over her chest. Peevishly, she got herself back on topic. “Anyway, why is she here? Hasn’t she caused enough damage to him already?”

“Still holding a grudge I see.”

Eyebrows raised, smirk firmly in place, she retorted, “I’m sorry, which of us has yet to let go of the fact that Georgie blew up their favorite hard drive? Also, which one of us has a favorite hard drive? Because the answer to both of those questions is not me.”

HG went to push at her shoulder, but decided to go for a hug at the last second, surprising Charlotte if the gasp was anything to go by. Muffled by the hair falling out of her braid, he whispered into her neck. “Thank you for pulling her out of the way. In all that’s going on, I don’t know if I ever said that. So, thank you so much Charlotte.”

“Good Lord you’re affectionate when you’re hyper-emotional.” But she hugged him back, grasping him tightly enough to feel like he wasn’t coming apart at the seams, just for a few moments. It wasn’t a permanent solution by any means, or a perfect hug, but he wasn’t drowning in his own mind anymore. He also realized that perhaps he should have been a bit more careful in his emotional outburst.

“Um Charlotte? I think I spilled coffee on your skirt.”

“Henry George Wells... I will threaten to kill you later. Right now, go save Edgar from his witch of a redhead.”

“Oh right, shit! Going now!” Blanching, he disengaged from the hug, quickly kissed her cheek, and took off down the hospital corridor, calling over his shoulder. “Thank you for the coffee Charlotte!”

Shaking her head, Charlotte followed him at a much more sedate pace.

Chapter Text

Time stopped. She’d barely touched him, just brushed his cheek, but he’d flinched ever so slightly, away from her, from her, and this moment hardly felt real. Since the moment she turned her back and walked away, she’s imagined what it might be like the next time she saw him, because she always knew she could never leave her family for good, no matter how far she ran. But this turn of events, this reality wasn’t something she’d anticipated. Lenore was unconscious, HG wasn’t here, and Edgar… Edgar’s eyes kept dodging hers, scared and tentative and angry, barely a hint of anything recognizable there, and she can’t breathe, he’s never looked at her that way before. It felt unbearably wrong, but she knows, God does she know it’s all her own damn fault.

“Why are you here?” It’s just a whisper into the stillness between them, but it broke whatever spell she’d fallen under. Annabel pulled back fractionally, stung by the bite to his words, before reaching for him again, cupping his shoulders, trying to keep him near her.

In as even of a tone as she can manage, she stated, “You called, you said Lenore might be dying. You said you needed me.”

“She’s fine. You can leave,” he grunted, then finally turned his hard gaze to hers. “And I don’t need you.”

Steely in her determination to make this right, Annabel pulled herself together and stared right back at him. She refused to back down, and she won’t be kicked out of this hospital without one hell of a fight. Squeezing his shoulders lightly, she quietly affirmed, “I’m not going anywhere Edgar.”

Eyes blazing, he ripped her hands away from him in disgust. “You’ve said that before, look where that’s gotten us! You said you wanted forever, An- we were planning our wedding. You wanted to get married in England, remember that? And you threw it all away for what? Some sick sense of freedom from your past? You left that night, not me. So don’t come in here and tell me you’re not leaving, because I won’t be stupid enough to believe that again.” He pulls back and returns to his sister’s side before asking in a controlled voice, “I’m going to ask again, why are you here?”

As much as she had expected the diatribe and deserved his ire, Annabel didn’t know where to go in regards to their past. She could only stand firmly in the present and pray that one day, she could maybe make things right between herself and Edgar. Pulled out of her head, she stepped next to his chair and retorted, “You know exactly why I’m here. You’re the one who called me in the first place.”

Head falling into his hands, she barely made out his muffled words. “I never thought you’d actually come, just that you deserved to know.”

“Why wouldn’t I come? Edgar-” Exasperated at his obstinacy, Annabel huffed and mentally counted to five before continuing. “It’s Lenore, she’s my best friend, practically my sister. And I…”

“What Annabel? What could you possibly have to say right now that could make this right?” Volume escalating, he paused before standing up directly in her personal space. He leaned closer to point an accusing finger in her face and hissed, “And don’t use Len as an excuse, you were perfectly happy ignoring her general existence for the past few years, let alone mine and H’s.” As Edgar advanced on her, she was compelled to back up, just to keep herself from touching him, much as she wanted to lay a hand on his arm, calm him down as she had so many times before, so she could just explain herself. “Why don’t you just shut up and leave, you have plenty of experience at that!”

Finally reaching her breaking point, Annabel pushed him away from her by the chest and balled her fists at her sides, physically restraining herself from doing anything she might regret later. Like hit him, or touch him again.

Or kiss him.

“I am not-” Indignant response cut off by the slam of the door, they both turned to see her surrogate brother enter the room. He looked exhausted, she knew he hadn’t slept in days, not since Lenore was shot. He also looked quite pissed, which was most likely a far more recent development.

“Children! To your corners.” Marching to the middle of the room, HG pointed to the chairs on opposite sides of Lenore. Annabel hadn’t realized just how close she and Edgar had grown at the foot of the bed whilst sniping at each other, drawn like magnets before pushing each other away again. “For fuck’s sake Ed, I left you alone for ten minutes and you start picking fights with…” He finally spared her more than a cursory glance, tired eyes finding hers as he gave a wry grin. “Hello Annabel, it’s been awhile.”

Feeling a small smile worm its way onto her face for the first time in what seemed like years, Annabel hesitantly rose from her seat and moved towards him. After Edgar’s rebuff, she was afraid of his reaction, but HG had always been a safe place, a shield between her and the world. HG had been the first person she’d ever called home, and Annabel had no idea what she would do if he rejected her now. Thankfully, he didn’t disappoint, opening his arms and allowing Annabel to wrap herself into his bear hug. Breathing in, she buried herself into the sense of family she’d been aching for. “Oh, it’s so good to see you! I mean, obviously not under these circumstances, but I really have missed you you know.”

“I know, Anna, I missed you too.” Pulling away slightly, his gaze slide past her to the woman on the bed and then to the glowering man standing next to it. “Has there been any change?”

“Well my stress levels have elevated,” Edgar noted dryly.

“That was absolutely not what I meant, jackass.”

Chapter Text

She comes around slowly. Her shoulder is throbbing, but considering she can feel the throbbing, Lenore is going to take that as a win. It’s not the stabbing pain of earlier (yesterday? hours ago? she has no idea just how long she’s been out), and she assumes from the prickling sensation in her wrists that there are some wonderful drugs at work via IV right now.

There are voices, voices she can recognize as her brother and her Goggles, but there’s a woman. Everything is too foggy, too hazy for her to process, because that sounds like Annabel, who was still stuck in the middle of the desert last time she checked. When she finally realizes that her eyes are still closed, Lenore decides prying apart her eyelids will be worth the effort if she can just see the idiots bickering at her bedside.

And oh, it is Annabel. And see, Lenore never expected that. Of course, one never exactly expects to get shot while sipping a latte with Charlotte Bronte (stabbed perhaps, or poisoned, but guns were never Char’s speed), so that was an altogether singular experience in and of itself. That is going to be a very unfun can of worms to open, because it might be the drugs, but Lenore is having trouble coming up with who the hell she pissed off enough to warrant a hit. She’s always been good at keeping her face unattached to their jobs, though apparently not as well as she’d thought.

For now, she can content herself to being alive to fight another day. Watching HG rub his hands over his very much unshaven face in utter exasperation, she decides to make her consciousness known.

Clearing her throat hurts , so much more than she was expecting it to, and sets off a coughing attack. Lenore manages to gasp out a request for water, tears falling down her face. She barely registers the straw being placed in her mouth, the hand behind her head gently urging her to drink slowly. She takes a sip and suddenly she can breath again, the cool liquid soothing away the rough scratching of her throat.

A doctor appears in her line of sight, speaking low and fast. Lenore has no idea what he’s saying, content to nod her head along gravely and keep sipping her water, knowing that everyone else can repeat back what she needs to know later. After a few minutes of examination and adjusting buttons on all of the screens around her, he stands to leave. Before he can even open the door all the way, her brother and HG are through it, standing next to her bed, both looking at her like they can’t actually believe that she’s laying there.

Pulling as much of her dignity together as possible, Lenore cocked an eyebrow and gave them her best approximation of the arrogant smirk she had crafted over the years. “You know, some of us are feeling neglected over here. I for one would appreciate a bit more attention on moi. I mean, as the person who got shot, I was fully expecting to wake up to a few more, I don’t know, hysterical confessions of love.” Her voice may have been quiet, but it didn’t waver.

HG huffed out a tired laugh before grabbing her hand and pressing it to his lips for a quick kiss. “Sorry to say love, but you’re going to have to settle for me.” Lacing his fingers through hers, he brought them down so he could cup her cheek.

Smiling softly, she teased, “I wouldn’t exactly call it settling…” Nuzzling into his palm, she met his tired, worried eyes. “Hi babe.”

“Hello my darling Lenore. God, I’m so glad you’re awake.”

Obnoxiously loud gagging sounds interrupted them, and Lenore turned an unamused gaze to her brother, unrepentant jerk that he was. “You know Edgar, you have a very unique talent for ruining the moment, don’t you?”

Rolling his eyes, he stuck his tongue out her. “How are you two this nauseating already? You just woke up!” Edgar moved over and grabbed her other hand, squeezing gently to offset his grumpy objections. Gruffly, he whispered, “Thank god you’re okay,” before putting his head down onto her bed next to her hand and took a few very deep breaths.

Petting his hair, Lenore had to giggle a bit. This felt just like when they were kids and she fell out of the tree next to the library. “Sheer talent, big bro.” Refocusing on the hesitant figure in the doorway, she spoke a bit more loudly, gaining confidence in her voice. “Now, am I hallucinating, or is my favorite redhead here?”

Annabel’s face crumpled as she launched herself forwards. “Oh Lenore!” Coming over to Edgar’s side of the bed, Annabel gingerly put her arms around her best friend’s shoulders and let her head fall gently on her neck. Lenore could feel tears dripping onto her skin as Annabel’s own shoulders shook silently. Looking down, Lenore could see Edgar’s face, his own eyes glistening. She could tell he was fighting with himself, his instinct to comfort Annabel warring against the pain of her abandonment. She silently shakes her head, trying to tell him she can handle this for now, though God knows those two have years worth of issues between them to work out.

“Hey Anna Banana.” Lenore’s voice is soft, both because her throat does still hurt but also because this is her almost sister, her best friend. Even with all the years of not seeing each other in person, they’re still Anna and Len, and, “I missed you babes.”

“Oh Lenore, I missed you too, everyday!” Annabel is still crying lightly, though she pays no attention to it, Anna has always been the emotional one who cried when she saw a sad puppy commercial. Studying her, Lenore can tell she hasn’t slept, and probably didn’t even change clothes before hopping on a plane. She’s wearing an old Orioles shirt that might once have been Edgar’s with a pair of leggings Lenore knows have seen better days, considering they were hers first. The glasses and messy bun, along with the deep circles under her red, red eyes, it all points to Annabel rushing out the door.

And the fact that she dropped everything, that she came without a second thought, that makes Lenore’s chest a little less tight, her heart a little more happy, because it means her family is back together. The way that they’re supposed to be.

Feeling a light squeeze to her left hand, Lenore turned questioning eyes to HG, who looked a bit sheepish. “Not to interrupt your staring contest, adorable as it is, but ah, we will need to figure out more about who went after you in the first place, make sure this doesn’t happen again.” His face hardened to stone, his grip still warm as he interlocked their fingers. “Because I am not losing you Lenore, one almost is more than enough for this lifetime.”

“Are you sure we should do this now? Surely it can wait until the others see her?” Edgar stood up, inching towards the door. He continued rambling, “I mean, H, you haven’t touched your computer since we got that name, I highly doubt we know anything more.” Which, in Lenore’s opinion, was an entirely valid point, though the idea that HG had remained a constant presence at her bedside for however long it had been was a rather romantic notion. Running around with no intel was merely going to get someone else shot, and who knew if they’d get lucky twice.

“Edgar, sit down.” All eyes swung to Annabel, who had gotten up and grabbed a laptop bag from somewhere. Looking quickly to the boys, Lenore could tell HG was hopeful, Edgar angry, and she knew she just looked confused.

Settling onto the bed next to Lenore’s right side, Annabel flipped open the laptop and started pulling up files. “HG might not have had time to research, but I did, so he gave me the name.” Edgar opened his mouth, to protest or merely comment, Lenore didn’t know, but Annabel shot him down with a quelling look. “No.”

“I was just going to-”

Focused entirely on the screen in front of her, Annabel swatted away the hand reaching for her laptop. “No.”

“But-” Edgar had that constipated look on his face that meant he wanted to smile, but was trying incredibly hard to push it down.

“No.”

“Annabel.”

They were both smiling now, tiny as could be, but they were smiling at each other, caught up in their own world. “Hmm, no.”

Leaning over to HG, Lenore poked him in the arm and whispered, “Am I the only one having a bit of deja vu right now?”

She could feel his grin as he kissed the side of her head. “Good deja vu, right?”

“The best.” Much as she didn’t want to interrupt this blast from the past, they did need to know what Annabel had found. Nudging Annabel’s arm, she gestured to the screen. Both Edgar and Annabel turned red and cleared their throats, looking anywhere but each other.

“So, um, yes. The intel.” Annabel paused, glancing back up. Slowly, she started, “I think we should should just keep it between us for the time being.”

Edgar’s face instantly darkened, embarrassment forgotten. “That’s not your call to make.” The anymore may have been unsaid, but they all still heard it.

“Wait to disagree with me until after I tell you what I found.” Beseechingly, she grabbed his hand as he tried to stand up. “Please, just listen. I need you to listen, Edgar. You can carry on ignoring my existence after this, but for the love of God, listen to me now.”

Edgar just looked at her for the longest time, with that gaze that disassembled anything that stood in his way. Lenore was about to say something, anything to break the tension, before he finally whispered, “Why?”

“Because I found who did this, and I have a plan.”

Chapter Text

Knee jiggling up and down, George uncrossed and re-crossed her arms, cracking her neck, trying to find a comfortable position in the hard waiting room chair. She had grown tired of taking apart an EMP device in her head and had resorted to counting ceiling tiles. So far she was in the two hundreds. “How long has it been?”

“Approximately three minutes since the last time Ernest asked that question,” Mary answered, eyes still focused on the beat up novel she was reading. “Which means it’s been an hour and six minutes since Oscar let that woman into Lenore’s room and fifty five minutes since Charlotte came back here.”

Glancing over at Charlotte, George felt gratified at the shared eye roll over Mary’s brusqueness and made a face. Charlotte’s resting bitch face broke momentarily for a wry smile, before transforming back swiftly as the main doors opened again. As the group turned towards the door as one, an eternity passed before HG finally walked out, nodding exhaustedly once his searching eyes found them.

As they waited for him to reach their little corner of the room with bated breath, George took a moment to look around at her friends. Oscar was sitting next to her, trying to look cool and collected as he fiddled with his phone, turning it off and on to look at the lock screen, a selfie of the two of them with Lenore that he had taken a few weeks ago while hanging out in a Prague hotel room. It had been a good night, full of wine and gossiping about each other's love lives, a break from the stress that inevitably came with planning a new job. Leaning further into his side, George poked his arm until he turned his hand over for her to hold.

He would be the one to share the news, good or bad, with Emily and Lou, who were currently supposed to be taking a sleep shift back at the hotel. Knowing those two, Louisa was trying her hand at figuring out how this had all happened and Emily was doing yoga to mentally drown out Lou’s fidgets. Neither of them would probably accomplish much considering how little sleep they were running on, but it at least made them feel like they were doing something.

Charlotte and Fyodor had laid claim to the couch early on, her unshod feet tucked under his legs, one of his arms reaching around to rub her thigh gently. It was more casual affection than George was used to seeing from either of them, but she assumed the stressful circumstances were making lines a bit blurrier than usual.

After growing tired of pacing anxiously, Ernest had plopped down on the floor just in front of George ten minutes ago, head leaned back into the arm of her chair, only moving in spurts to instinctively reach for a drink. Fingers twitching, he kept reaching into his jacket for the flask Mary had confiscated hours ago, swearing under his breath every time he came up empty.

As for Mary, she had finally put down that godforsaken book and was staring intently at HG as he stopped in front of them. They all leaned forward, not daring to breath.

And then he smiled.

“She’s awake.”

George finally exhaled after what seemed like hours of holding everything in,breathless laughter escaping, as well as a few tears of happiness. Ernest jumped up to whoop loudly before holding his hand out beckoningly to Mary, who sighed in mock resignation and turned the flask over to its rightful owner. Oscar was grinning as his fingers flashed over his phone screen, and Charlotte was actually crying into Fyodor’s shoulder. He noticed George looking at the pair of them in confusion and mouthed I have no idea while shrugging and continuing to soothe Charlotte’s back, a small smile on his own face.

HG gave them all a moment to get a hold on their emotions before continuing. “She’s awake and snarking at us, so I left Edgar and Annabel in there so I could update you guys.” Holding up a hand to stop the already forming protests, HG quirked an eyebrow and stared at them silently until he once again had their full attention. “Yes, I left Annabel in there, because she doesn’t know all of you, and with everything going on, we don’t need her to be able to put names to faces in we can help it. This is already complicated enough, we need to get her out of this hospital with as little interaction with some of you as possible.”

Someone, most likely Mary, quietly coughed out a Charlotte , making HG’s lips twitch.  Charlotte herself scowled, obviously understanding the reasoning behind that little comment far better than George did. As he glanced over at Charlotte grumbling to herself, HG smirked a bit. “While that is not precisely what I meant, your point stands. But for now, please try and keep your distance. It’s been years and we don’t know if we can... “ He trailed off before gathering his thoughts again. “Trust seems to be a commodity we are all running short on, so this is the way it has to be.”

Feeling horribly out of the loop and realizing there was far more going on than just what was being said, George opened her mouth to speak again, before closing it and raising her hand. When HG noticed, he huffed in fond exasperation before pointing to her and saying, “What Georgie?”

Trying to figure out which of her many questions to pursue first, she took a deep breath and starting asking the first things that popped into her mind, brain-to-mouth filter thoroughly disengaged. “So, um, Annabel is your almost, practically but not like really, sister right? And she’s Lenore’s best friend? And Edgar’s ex-fiance that dumped him with barely an explanation, and he almost never talks about her unless we accidentally get him drunk and then he says he’s never going to get over her because she was the love of his life and she was perfect, except not really because she left, and then he gets all sad and starts drinking contests with Ernest and wins-”

“Hey!”

“-and is somehow even more sad and mopey for the next week before Lenore kicks his ass into gear or we go on a job? This is her?”

HG took a moment to respond, not really focusing on her, kind of staring off into the distance as he tried to parse what exactly she had asked him in the torrent of words she’d just spewed out. “Yes, that would be Annabel, though I will admit that explanation doesn’t paint her in a particularly… sympathetic light.” Charlotte outright snorted at the drastic understatement, so loudly and so entirely unladylike that everyone else started laughing too, delirious with sleep deprivation and the feeling the break in the tension that had been consuming them for days.

“Um, yes, well.” Rubbing the crease between his eyebrows, HG yawned, then started again. “Anyways, Edgar is going to be taking her back to the hotel in a few minutes, where she’ll be staying in his room. He’ll be staying with me while she’s here. Georgie, if you, Fyodor, and Ernest can make yourselves scarce while they’re coming through the room, I would appreciate it. After they’re gone, I can bring you back in two at a time.”

While everyone else looked excited, Charlotte could only be described as murderous. “You’re leaving him alone with her? Need I remind you of why that is a monumentally terrible idea, Wells?”

“No, you really don’t, Bronte , but it was Edgar’s idea. They need to clear the air and this is as good a time as any.” He looked like he wanted to say more but stopped himself. Checking his watch, he gestured to George and the boys, “Now, they’ll be leaving any moment now, so you three, move.”

As she left through a side door, George turned back at the last second, only catching a glimpse of bright red hair in the hallway before Fyodor and his massive frame entered her line of vision, obscuring any further chance of her seeing the mysterious Annabel Lee.