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The Hornets' Nest

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We got drunk the night Monika died, Dietrich and I. Glory had vanished, ghost-like, into the depths of the safehouse. Paul had retreated to his office in the store front, shock still playing over his face at odd moments. And Eiger had fixed me with one last glare of pure loathing before shrugging on her coat and pointedly vacating the building. So that left me and Dietrich and his bottle of really, really good schnapps. “You’ll like Dietrich,” Monika had said. “He’s the best.” And even though we’d been acquainted for the month I’d been in Berlin, I felt like I was finally, truly meeting him for the first time that night. I said as much after a pull off the bottle, and he grinned.

“That’s the magic of the good shit, mein Liebling.”

“And watching your best friend’s brain fry?” Apparently the good shit was sending me to a morose place. Or I’d never left. His smile faded.

“If that doesn’t bring people together, I don’t know what can.” He took another drink. “Thank you, by the way. I was a little afraid I’d be drinking alone tonight. Wouldn’t be the first time, but I’d rather not.”

I took back the bottle from him. “No…tonight’s not a good night for drinking alone.”

“Glad we agree.” He leaned back on the couch, fixing me with a curious look. “What brought you to Berlin, Zee? Really?”

When I’d come to Berlin and met Monika’s crew, there’d been the standard shadowrunner half-truths, the polite vagueness that could be expanded or contracted as needed. That’s SOP in the shadows and everyone understands. Monika had known it all, of course, and that had been enough. I squeezed my eyes shut to keep the image of her seizing helplessly on the cold floor from reappearing. Another drink helped.

“A fresh start,” I said softly. “Things were good for a while. Then they weren’t. Just when I thought I’d run out of chips to cash, there she was.”

“Hand outstretched, like a ministering angel.” He chuckled. “She was good at saving people. Had an instinct for it. So of course she had to showboat a little at it. She was good at that, too.”

“And what about you? What’d she save you from?”

“Getting old. I wasn’t ready for the pasture yet.”

I cocked a skeptical eyebrow at him. He was what, 45, 46? Old for a shadowrunner, but only because we have such a damn short life expectancy. In the daylight world, he’d be barely middle-aged. “If you say so. You certainly keep up your end on the job.”

He rubbed his bald head, partially obscuring the tattoos that covered it. “The Dragonslayer isn’t done with me yet. When I thought I was out of outlets, I met Monika.” 

“Outlets for what?”

“I have to do His work. And He kicks the hornets’ nest. ‘Cause there’s always a fight, always rot to be torn out. He tells the powerful to watch their backs. He says fuck authority.”

I laughed. Shamans tend to get excited when talking about their totems, but his eyes practically glowed. “Sounds like the Dragonslayer would like the Sex Pistols.”

His chest swelled. “You are a woman after my own heart, Zee. Someone your age, who actually knows to name-check the Sex Pistols?”

“I’m not a complete cultural illiterate,” I said, sticking out my tongue. I realized I was starting to feel a little tipsy, and it was a good feeling. “I happen to know a lot about 20th Century music. Ask me about French synth-pop.”

The look on his face, an expression of dubious distaste, made me giggle. “Do I have to?”

“Oh fine. Anyway, I think you’ve gotten so used to being the oldest guy in the room that it’s skewed your perceptions.”

“Yeah, probably.” He smiled, a bit wistfully. “Monika knew, though. She knew just what I needed to feel relevant, and I think she knew what you needed, too. If you were looking for a place to land, you’ve found it. And I think you’ll fit in here, hand in glove.” He raised the bottle for the fifth time that night. “To Monika!”

“Prost!” I answered.

We got drunk that night, and fell asleep on the battered, squashy couch in the safe house common area. I woke up suddenly, hours later. Everything was still, quiet and dark. I had no way to judge what time it was. My mouth was dry, my eyes drier, and it took a moment to take stock of my surroundings and situation. We’d fall asleep on each other, after a fashion, and his left arm was around my shoulders. I had to laugh, just a little. What a couple of sloppy drunks. I shifted to disentangle from him. In the process, his hand brushed my breast, and for a half-second – less than that, even – reality shifted.

In that lightning flash of time, I saw his eyes open, felt him cup my breast, felt his mouth press to mine. There was nothing strange or surprising or unwanted about it. It must have happened a thousand times before. I moaned delight, enthusiasm, desire against his lips as he rolled me gently under him on the couch, the sensation of his weight bearing against me a pleasure I had surely known and enjoyed before. In that instant, it was real, it happened, it HAD happened, and then it was over, and he was asleep, snoring lightly beside me. I shook my head. “What the hell?” His only reply was another snore. I stood shakily, and staggered off to take a very cold shower.

The next day, hangovers were nursed and plans were made. We had a line on the contact that had sent us to Harfeld Manor and to Monika’s death, and we would have answers. And a strange drunken dream/vision/whatever, born out of alcohol and grief was, in the light of our new task, barely worth mentioning. So I didn’t. I was sure it didn’t mean anything.