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Playing Phantom Cards

Chapter Text

The curtains rise, revealing a single man standing on the stage in a white uniform, a red sash running from shoulder to waist. A spotlight focuses directly on him, and everything else falls into darkness.

Thomas Sanders unclasps his hands from behind his back and takes an oratory stance, one arm behind his back and the other ready to gesture.

“Last year, we began a story. It takes place in Boston; in the September of the year 1923. Prohibition was in full effect, and mobs ran the streets.

“Of these mobs, five held our concern:

“The Orchids, a female-dominated organization known for their brothels, run by one Madame Foxglove);

“The McLaughlin Boys, the local Irish mob known for gambling dens and assigned hits, and run by Sean ‘Jack’ McLoughlin, who doubled as a drummer at Freddy’s;

“The Liguori Family, led by the ailing and bedridden Cordato (uncle of one very beloved Stephanie Patrick), who were struggling to keep their heads above the water;

“The Russian mafiya (with their iron-fisted leader Charles ‘King’ Mir locked away in prison), of not much consequence at the beginning;

“And the Faceless, a syndicate of mask-wearing individuals most commonly known for their assassins—and though many aren’t murderers for hire, every single graduated member has blood on their hands.”

Sanders seems to wink at that last one.

“The cast of characters was quite large, so you’re quite forgiven for forgetting minor or infrequent names—or for mixing up the young JP Woodward, a young man taken in by Madame Foxglove and her beloved Wade Barnes; and PJ Liguori, who begins this story as both the underboss for the Family and a bassist at Freddy’s.”

Sanders pulls a set of glasses out from behind his back and sets them on his face, then straightens his blue tie and smooths his dark shirt.

“Freddy’s was, of course, the mandatory speakeasy in these kinds of stories. What sets it apart, however, was that it was run by one Mark Fischbach-” and here Sanders pulls out a card, as if checking notes- “though he went by Wilford Warfstache during the night-” he clasps his hands behind his back- “a man completely unable to consume alcohol. Madame Foxglove sponsored it, and Felix Kjellberg, a local wealthy alcohol manufacturer, provided the booze.

“Furthermore, the dangers of running a speakeasy during Prohibition were high: being caught carried not only a heavy fine and a year in prison, but complete social disgrace. For Mark, that was simply unacceptable. After all-” Sanders grabs the side of his frames and adjusts his glasses- “his brother, an associate justice; his father, a respected late member of the community? His mothers, completely upright women themselves? Freddy’s being discovered would spell disaster for all of them.

“Thus, it was with extreme caution that Mark, Foxglove, and Wade ensured Freddy’s remained hidden from the prying eyes of the law.”

He pulls on a cap much like the one popularly portrayed as being worn by Sherlock Holmes.

“The law has eyes, though; and it has ears, and it has a brain. Or, at least, it has a tendency to steal the hard work of reporters, taking their valuable and hard-won information, such as that of the intrepid Boston Bumblers Dan Howell and Phil Lester. The law also has the minds of its detectives: Matthew Patrick, and the rookie Garuku Bluemoon, secretly a member of the Faceless.”

A gray sweater flies into Sanders’ hand, and he twirls it over his shoulders without a second thought. The tie and dark shirt had disappeared into the surrounding darkness, cast aside for a shirt of pastel blue. Soon after, the hat careens off stage.

“Unfortunately,” he continues, not missing a beat, “while MatPat very much enjoyed the company of Gar, he really missed his friend and old partner. Jason Parker, though, died months before the events of our story began, under rather mysterious circumstances.” His brow furrows. “Everyone else was convinced Jason was just a boozehound and drank bad giggle juice, but that just wasn’t like Jason, was it? MatPat suspected murder. And, spoilers, he was right.”

He puts one hand to his chin.

“It’s not too surprising that when Mark’s older brother put MatPat and Gar on the hunt for speakeasies, MatPat thought of this often. Finally, in September, he was determined to go after the speakeasy Jason had frequented. It was, after all, likely the only clue remaining unseen in his murder case.”

He claps and grins broadly.

“And thus, the scene was set: mobs, a speakeasy, detectives, secrets from friends and family alike, unsolved murders, hidden agendas—and all of it really began when Felix hosted a poker party at his house.”

He frowns and begins pacing, shifting uneasily.

“I wish I could say the rest of the story was as happy as that one day was, my friend, but I can’t. From nightmares about molasses and dead partners, to kidnappings, to- no, I can’t do it.”

He pulls his sweater down over his head, and suddenly his hair is in his face, the glasses are gone, and the sweater is a tattered jacket over a faded black shirt.

“That was where the happiness ended, really.” He taps his lip with a finger. “Where to start? Mark overworked himself to the point where he collapsed when someone almost killed Tom—when someone would have killed Tom if not for the benevolence of Jack’s sniping skills.

“You’d think it was a good thing that PJ found love in a young woman called Sophie, but she wasn’t Italian, and he was already breaking so many rules by playing at a speakeasy deep in Irish territory.” Sanders makes a face. “It’s no surprise they break up later—though I will admit, it ends better than I expected.

“PJ was really the one who got much of this rolling, if you think about it.” He narrows his eyes. “He was the one who ordered the hit on Molly and Wade, and that prompted them to be more cautious, and ultimately allowed Sophie to learn PJ had been hiding his involvement with the Family from her. The subsequent break-up threw him even deeper into the Family, forcing them to gain more land and further tangle with the McLaughlin Boys, as he was trying to avoid Freddy’s until he got a better grip on himself.”

He took a deep breath.

“Jack had to respond, of course. He grew in desperation as his men and land were taken from him, and one of his best friends had all but disappeared from the face of the earth from heartbreak. So he ordered the oldest of the youth protected by the mob to help, and took PJ to the movies to distract both of them—but not before Mark managed to give PJ a drink of his own concoction.”

He flips his head to the side, throwing his hair up and then, as his head returns to facing the audience, right back where it had been in front of his eyes.

“Halloween arrived, and a whole mess was at its heels.

“MatPat and Gar fought—quite often, actually, but the one we care about happened that Halloween eve. Gar defied orders to protect MatPat. It didn’t do great things to their relationship.

“Jack protected Mark and his mother during the night, though not without damage to the Tiny Box.

“PJ went on a murder spree, killing dock workers and police men to get at powerful weapons to use against the mob. He didn’t even think once about their families or lives—it’s a good tell for the kind of guy he’s shaping up to be.

“After Halloween, MatPat yelled at Gar about trustworthiness, and Gar was nearly killed by an officer who’d figured out he was a Faceless spy in the precinct. That put a kink in their relationship, and boy, MatPat regretted it.

“Then the news came that Mir was getting moved to a prison closer to Boston. This made everyone nervous. He’s really not a nice guy, and they wanted him as far away as possible.

“Molly decided MatPat was getting far too close to Freddy’s, so she drugged him on his birthday and kidnapped Stephanie in hopes of distracting him enough he’d lose the trail. It was decently effective, slowing his tracks for many weeks.

“Wade and JP were caught bootlegging, and while JP got away, Wade didn’t. He was sentenced to prison by Tom—the same prison where Mir was. Mir found out about Wade’s connection to the Fischbach family easily enough, and made sure Wade got a proper welcome. He barely survived, though he did manage to escape back to Molly. Pretty much down and out for the count at that point, though.

“Meanwhile, suspicious fires were burning down warehouses, and nobody could trace their origins or figure out why they were occurring. The mob was losing land and men alike at truly frightening speeds, and PJ was favoring progressing the Family over taking care of himself. None of this was good.

“Gar killed the police chief to keep him from realizing he was Faceless, and earned his formal Faceless mask in doing so.

“PJ had returned to regularly playing at Freddy’s, though he was followed by Jordan (a friend and subordinate) as a bodyguard. One night they were trailed by another member of the Family, and reported to the godfather. The godfather, already ill and bedridden and recently poisoned by Molly, ordered PJ to stay away from Freddy’s—and from Sophie. (And to kill Jordan, let’s not forget that part.)

“PJ had had enough—I mean, who can blame the guy? He was tired of taking orders, and he was next in line for complete control over the Family. It was a simple, though not easy, matter to smother the godfather in his bed.

“Jack, in the meantime, had learned that Jordan was part of the Family, and realized a member of the Family would only guard Family —and the pieces fell into place to reveal PJ as the underboss. With a heavy heart driven by desperation, Jack prepared to kill his friend.

“He almost succeeded, too, when PJ came to say his goodbyes to Freddy’s and the crew there. Sophie put herself in the way of Jack’s gun, and Molly interfered to remove Sophie and PJ from the messy situation. In the confusion, Jack broke one of Mark’s ribs—and along with it, their friendship.

“Then… Mir was released from prison far too early.

“And then MatPat and Gar figured it out: the speakeasy they’d been hunting down all this time: it was Freddy’s—it was run by Mark Fischbach. They didn’t want to accept it, because they both liked Mark and the Tiny Box, but it was their job. So they prepared to go in and arrest everyone.

“They weren’t the only ones busy planning things, oh no. A mysterious person paid for Marzia to be kidnapped, and the ransom was Felix’s life. Cry went in his stead, and while Marzia came out alive, Cry vanished.

“PJ created a trap for the mob, baiting them with the destruction of gambling rings and funneling them into a death trap. He wasn’t allowed to attend the slaughter, with his own health doing so poorly, but he snuck along anyway.

“He shot Jack in the eye.

“In the meantime, Dan and Phil had warned Mark that MatPat was coming. Mark chose to evacuate Freddy’s and burn the place to the ground himself. Dan, who really wasn’t in the best state of mind, remained inside to die. Mark was having none of that, and, with great effort, got a badly burned Dan out.

“He, however, never followed, as the ceiling came crashing down.

“Gar put together that one of his close friends was being blackmailed, and confronted him about it, and got shot for his efforts. Fortunately for him, the remainder of the BBC found him and took him to safety, though it cost the lives of Delirious and Cartoonz.

“Carpett forced MatPat to arrest Tom, and spent quite a lot of time looking for Gar, until Gar’s trail of blood literally disappeared. He wasn’t going to stop looking, though.

“Sophie decided she wanted to be with PJ more than she wanted him to quit the Family, so she had Molly take her to him. They caught him returning from shooting Jack, and he was not in great condition. They barely got one kiss in before he collapsed. Which makes two people who collapsed in the course of this, which is more than you’d really expect from a mobster story.

“The Wolf, a Faceless operative, found Jack out on the streets and took him in, Ohm returned to the Family under the name and face he wore as a youth, MatPat promised he’d find Gar and Steph, and Mir took great pleasure in thinking Mark was dead. And, oddly enough, it turned out he’d been working with someone the entire time.”

He shrugs his shoulders, and the jacket falls off to reveal Sanders in his original outfit.

“The story is not done, though. While that was quite a climactic series of events, lots has happened since then.

“Tom settled in as Felix’s bodyguard, though he’s had to live through lots of reminders of Mark while doing so. PJ became a force to be reckoned with. PJ and Felix promised to hold onto each other and not turn against the other, and have only strengthened their positions in the public eye because of that.

“Mark was taken by Mir, and his legs were broken to keep him from running.

“Sophie was taken by Mir.

“Molly opened a new speakeasy.

“MatPat has spiraled deeper and deeper into desperation, until he considered some very dark things—and would have gone through with them if I hadn’t gotten a call in time. Dan and Phil moved from the newspaper to the radio. And, last we heard, the young Garuku Bluemoon was returning to Boston.”

Sanders grins widely.

“And that brings us to the now, dear audience. June of 1924. It’s not the end of our story, oh no. There is much more to be told, even greater sights to be seen. Adventure, mystery, tragedy, perhaps even a dash of comedy—all shall be made known to you in the coming days. Or,” a distinct twinkle appears in his eyes, “as I like to call them, pages.”

He smiles, winks, bows, and vanishes.

The background, which had remained dark the entire time, begins to lighten, as if the show was about to begin.

Chapter Text

It was probably a mistake for the windows to be propped open to allow the cool air of the summer night to flow in, all things considered. The curtains were closed to help keep bugs and dust out, with a fine fabric stretched over the opening to do the majority of the job.

Vanoss tsked quietly at the choice. He knew this was an old house, and the target just as old, but proper window screens had been around for years, now. They did the job just as well, and were far sturdier.

Ah well. It was significantly easier to get through fabric than it was through metal mesh.

Vanoss shifted his grip to ensure he wasn’t going to fall off his perch on the brick wall (thank goodness for decorative protrusions) and leaned into the window well to see if he could just unhook the cloth.

Moo shook his head, his mask glinting dully in the low light.

Vanoss just rolled his eyes and pulled out his knife, easily cutting through the light fabric.

That done, the two Faceless crawled inside.

It was a bit awkward, perhaps, because neither of them exactly qualified as small men, but they made do.

Moo gathered up the ripped cloth, hiding the evidence of their entry point. The room they found themselves in was an office of some kind, neatly organized and meticulously cleaned. It had likely been an accident that the window had been left open for the night, considering nobody was sleeping in this room and the door to the hallway was closed.

Moo moved over to the door and pressed on it lightly with his gloved hand. It moved a bit, and Moo nodded at Vanoss.

Okay. The door was unlocked and even cracked open, so they didn’t have to touch the knob and risk it squeaking on them.

They did have to worry about the door hinges squeaking, though. It was unlikely in a house like this, but they’d need to be cautious about it anyway. This room didn’t look like it was visited often.

Vanoss left Moo (who was deftly oiling the hinges with the small jar of lubricant they carried for these kinds of jobs) and walked over to the desk and glanced over the folders set neatly there. Nothing instantly stood out to him, so he turned his attention to the filing cabinet.

As expected, it was locked, but it didn’t stay that way for long. Carefully, Vanoss pulled the drawers open, lifting them a bit so the metal didn’t drag on metal.

Moo stayed near the door, keeping an eye out for anyone walking the house—unlikely anyone would enter the office at this after-midnight hour, but it wouldn’t do to be surprised—and Vanoss rifled through the files as quickly as he could. They didn’t have the time for him to read everything, no matter how much useful information was probably contained in these files. No, he was looking for something specific.

Vanoss muttered a curse under his breath and slid the last drawer closed.

Moo looked over again. Vanoss knew him well enough by now to know Moo was raising one eyebrow slightly in an inquiry, so he just shook his head.

Moo nodded, and slowly pushed the door to the office open. The hinges were silent.

Okay. They were on the third floor of the house. While they couldn’t confirm exactly how the house was being used, in regards to rooms, there were three bedrooms that they needed to check. Under normal circumstances, they’d already have this information, but it hadn’t exactly been easy to get, and they were on a time limit for this hit.

Moo led the way. Neither of their feet made sounds on the rug covering the carpeted floor, and in the near blackness they probably looked like shadows creeping across the hall.

All the better for not being seen, then.

The first bedroom proved to belong to an empty bed. Judging by the dust on the furniture, the room hadn’t been used in quite some time. Best not to disturb it, then. The less evidence they were here, the better.

The second bedroom of interest was on the second floor, and seemed a better candidate for someone living in it. Thus, it was with extreme caution that they cracked the door open and peered inside.

This room had been turned into a library or a study of some sort, and pretty clearly didn’t have any sort of bed in it, much less anyone sleeping in that bed, so Vanoss quietly closed the door and they continued on.

Carpett’s bedroom was on the first floor, then.

It made sense. He was an old man, and going up and down stairs all the time to get to his bedroom would probably have been hard on him. (Though that did mean the office on the top floor probably wasn’t his. Whose was it, then?)

The bottom floor was also the one most likely to have trouble on it, whether someone wandering around awake, an unexpected person altogether, or an extremely observant (or slightly creepy) person watching from some window across the street.

Vanoss and Moo moved slowly, carefully making sure each room was clear of people before they continued on.

Finally, though, Moo cracked open a door and looked inside, then nodded and opened the door enough to slip through.

Vanoss followed suit, free hand dropping to one of his sheathed knives. They weren’t his usual weapon, true, but he always carried them. They were useful when quarters drew too close for guns, or, like here, where stealth was imperative.

As Moo slowly moved towards the bed, where Carpett and his wife slept, Vanoss closed the door behind them and jammed a chair under the handle to keep it from opening.

He drew his knife and stepped to the other side of the bed, frowning when he realized that, since Moo had stepped up to Carpett, Vanoss was left with the less tasteful task of the wife.

It was cruel to her, he knew that; she wasn’t involved in any of the things that had led to someone hiring a hit on Carpett. But it almost seemed more cruel to have to deal with her alive. She’d undoubtedly be interviewed. Even as dark as the room was, the outside street light filtering through the window provided enough light to see they were wearing masks. They couldn’t risk her waking up and seeing them.

It was better for the Faceless to avoid being outed, and she wouldn’t be widowed for long. Besides, the client had paid a lot of money for her to die too, and Vanoss wasn’t going to leave a job half finished.

Moo gave the slightest nod across the bed.

The two moved in unison: their non-dominant hands pressed down on their respective targets’ mouths, pinning their heads. Their knives sliced into their necks, immediately severing the jugular veins and carotid artery. Blood, black in shadows and bright red in the dim light, sprayed out. Vanoss stood back to avoid it.

It was an efficient kill. It would be a quick death.

Carpett’s wife gasped once, flinched bodily, and gurgled before going completely still.

Moo was not so lucky. Vanoss wasn’t sure if Carpett had moved or if it was just an unlucky stab, but Carpett’s hand has wrapped around Moo’s wrist, and the old man’s bulging eyes were fastened, wide and fearful, on the Faceless’ mask. Moo had to take a second stab to make the justice go limp.

Well, there was an opening for his job now.

Vanoss snapped his knife back into place, then walked over to the desk in the corner of the room and rifled through the papers. It was hard to tell what was useful, but this seemed more along the lines of what they’d been asked to look for.

Vanoss carefully folded the papers and tucked them into a pant leg pocket. It took a bit of finicking to make them settle easily, but Vanoss buttoned it easily enough.

Moo looked over from the bookcase. Vanoss nodded.

Moo nodded back, and the two of them slipped out.

It was almost too easy to leave, Vanoss observed. Nobody knew there were two corpses in the other room, or that papers had been stolen. Not even the client would know about the papers. That was Faceless business, not hired skill business.

They returned upstairs, slipping out of the window they’d entered in. Instead of climbing up to the roof, where they’d waited for several hours before initiating the kill, they climbed down.

Now to cover their tracks. The client had wanted it to get attention without being a revenge kill, so they hadn’t bothered using the corpses to paint a horrible scene inside. No, Vanoss just crouched and hefted a large rock from the pile Chilled had placed earlier in the day, when he’d posed as a member of the groundskeeping crew.

Moo followed suit.

Together, they threw the rocks until they’d managed to bash in a good deal of the windows. They bashed in the glass in the front door, too, and reached in to twist the handle and open the door that way.

None of these clues would really add up to a coherent murder plan, Vanoss decided. Broken windows said revenge crime, but nothing else did. But the newspapers would jump at any chance for an exciting headline. This would get the attention it needed.

A light across the street clicked on.

That was all it took for Vanoss and Moo to take off, darting to the shadows and hightailing it out of there.

When they returned to the HQ to report, they were informed that the police had already been called to the Carpett residence.

That was fast.

The Wolf rifled through the papers Vanoss had stolen and nodded.

“I’ll send these to intel, see if they can cross-reference it with anything they already have.” He set the papers on his desk.

The Wolf sounded much more cheerful than he had the past several months. Vanoss decided not to comment on it.

Moo, however, did.

“How’s the Wolf Pup, sir?” Moo asked.

The Wolf sighed, leaning back in his chair.

“He’s asleep in his bed right now. We’re giving him a bit of time to adjust to being back in Boston, and for him to get caught up on current events—and do a few small assignments—before he’s allowed to return to undercover work.”

“He’s returned, then?”

“Late last night.”

“That’s good to hear, sir.”

“It is, isn’t it.” The Wolf seemed to be smiling behind his mask. “You two are dismissed. Your pay will be deposited the usual way.” He leaned forward and tapped his desk. “Get some rest.”

“Yes, sir,” both Vanoss and Moo said.

“Good night,” Moo added.

The two left the office, and Vanoss went to head to his tiny apartment. He’d only just moved into this one a month or two ago. The bed was, at least, starting to become familiar.

“Travel home safely,” Vanoss told Moo, even as Moo went to wherever he’d parked his car. “Stay if you need to, get home in the morning.”

Moo chuckled.

“I’ll be okay. It’s not that far.”

“I don’t want to get a phone call from your wife telling me you won’t be there for your daughter because you died driving home tired.”

“Daughter?” Moo raised an eyebrow. “We don’t know yet.”

“Look, if Nogla is willing to put money on you having a son, I’ll bet on your kid being a daughter.”

Moo hesitated, then chuckled softly as he walked back over to Vanoss.

“Fine. I’ll crash on your couch until it’s daylight, but then I’ve got to head back and be a husband.”

“Let’s keep you as one, okay?”

“Deal.”

Chapter Text

The private dressing room was a haven of silence and solidarity. The rest of the theatre was in chaos, preparing for the opening night of the new show: The Phantom of the Opera .

MatPat stared at the clothes hanging on the rack in front of him, separated clearly so there was no accidental mixing of costumes.

“Are you sure you can't do it?” He looked helplessly at Thomas Sanders.

Sanders nodded, a hand resting on his throat.

“I can't speak louder than this,” he whispered hoarsely, “much less sing.”

MatPat’s shoulders tensed, and he reluctantly reached for the first of the costumes, the one he'd spend the majority of the play in. He knew it was his job—he was Sanders’ understudy, after all.

(It had been Nate's suggestion, when he found out how poorly MatPat had been doing, to return to theatre. He still went to the precinct most mornings, but Nate only let him do paperwork for a little while before sending him off. It was working, mostly, though MatPat still wished he was allowed back to detective work. Soon, Nate had promised, on the condition MatPat was always off in time to perform in case Sanders couldn't. Of course, MatPat had added the condition that he was always on-call—although they both knew Nate would avoid calling him in unless it was absolutely necessary.)

“How'd you manage to lose your voice opening night?” MatPat asked.

Sanders shrugged and gestured MatPat behind a changing curtain.

“Are you still going to watch?”

“Of course,” Sanders rasped. “Be near th’ orchestra.”

“Probably won't see you, then.”

Sanders shook his head.

MatPat grunted, pulling the loose white shirt on. He might not see Sanders, but he was sure to see many other faces in the audience. It was opening night, after all.

He'd heard the rumors of notable figures who'd gotten tickets: Felix Kjellberg, Chief Nathan Sharp, PJ Liguori, and, most concerning of all, Charles Mir.

His name was also the least surprising, seeing as how Mir owned the theatre.

How could he give a good performance knowing two incredibly powerful mob leaders were in the audience tonight, no doubt with several of their own men for safety? Not to mention at least one them undoubtedly had MatPat on a hit list.

Nobody in the audience could know MatPat was on the stage tonight, though, and he did take comfort in that. He had no doubt Mir and his men were carrying weapons somewhere on their bodies, but if they wanted to just up and kill him tonight, it would either have to be in full view of everyone, or when he was on his way home.

That wasn’t a particularly comforting thought, but what could he do? Such was the hazard of living in a city ruled by those who ignored the law, and run by the corrupt.

A knock sounded on the door, and for a second there was only the sound of Sanders getting up to answer it. A one-sided, murmured conversation drifted back to the curtained-off area where MatPat was nearly finished changing, though he didn’t catch any of it. The voice was familiar, though.

That was Chris—he had such a minor role in the performance he would be spending the majority of the night helping the stage crew.

MatPat brightened at a realization. This Chris… he was a friend of Dan and Phil. They might be in the audience, if they were lucky enough to get a ticket to opening night. Chris had mentioned they’d been doing better recently—and they’d started hosting that radio show. They probably wouldn’t get to talk, but it would be good just to be able to see them again.

He reached for the curtain, preparing to step out, then paused. He’d last seen them… that night. He had told them where the speakeasy was, then the two of them....

Did they blame him for their injuries? He wouldn’t blame them if they did.

No, it didn’t do any good to think about it. MatPat had a performance to put on.

That thought in mind, he opened the curtain and stepped out into the main portion of the dressing room.

Sanders looked over to MatPat before nodding and reaching into a drawer. He pulled out a full-face mask.

MatPat blinked.

He’d seen the mask before, of course, plenty of times. But… something was nagging a corner of his brain about it tonight.

That’s when he realized: the basic shape of the mask, the base construct, was extremely similar to that of the one Nate had hanging on the wall in his office. Nearly identical, in fact. The rest of it was completely different, of course: half black and half white, like a stylized drama mask (though completely smooth); as opposed to the coppers and blacks and geared surface of the mask in Nate’s office. The underlying similarity was unnerving.

It could just be a coincidence. If it was, that was one wild coincidence.

...There was no way it was a coincidence. There was an obvious reason the two bases were the same.

But… this couldn’t be a Faceless mask, could it? The one in Nate’s office; that had a possibility of being one. The two were so similar, though. So then why would both Nate and Sanders have Faceless masks? Surely…

Sanders held out the mask to MatPat.

MatPat hesitantly took it, turning it over in his hands. It was excellently made—this was no stylized theatre mask.

Sanders was a Faceless, then. Or had been one.

“Are you sure?” he found himself asking, looking up. “I won’t get in trouble if I wear this and not you?”

Sanders pursed his lips and leaned back in his seat. He then raised an eyebrow, prompting MatPat to continue.

“I-“ MatPat hesitated, then sighed. If he was right, well… Sanders could easily shut him up to keep him from telling people. But if he was wrong, then he was just asking a confusing question. Finally, though, he just held up the mask, looked at Sanders, and said, “Faceless?”

Sanders dipped his head, putting a finger to his lips.

“But-“ MatPat broke off, staring at the mask. “How didn’t I notice? Did it happen after the war?”

Sanders shook his head.

“Happened when we were kids,” he whispered. He raised an eyebrow and lifted his thumb and finger about an inch apart. “You were about that far from getting recruited.”

MatPat shoved his tongue against the back of his teeth for a moment.

“What about Nate?”

Sanders’ face grew serious, and he grunted quietly.

“Not anymore.”

So even if MatPat were to get Gar back, it would be dangerous for him to return to the precinct. Nate would probably figure out what Gar was and… MatPat didn’t really want to think about what would happen then.

“How did I miss that? The two of you, both getting trained as assassins?”

Sanders winced.

“I have a confession.”

MatPat’s eyebrows scrunched together.

“Those trips we’d take, community theatre, only top actors and musicians allowed? Because of the cost?”

MatPat nodded.

“The exclusive rehearsals?”

MatPat nodded again, this time more slowly.

“That was when we got trained.”

MatPat frowned. “So there was never a chance of me getting into those, no matter how hard I worked.”

Sanders nodded.

“Yeah, it- it wasn’t exactly fair.” He grimaced, a hand rubbing underneath his jaw. “I take it you’ve put other things together, then.”

“About Gar?”

Sanders nodded, and MatPat sighed.

“Yeah. I put it together a few months ago.” He hesitated, then plowed ahead. “Do you know- can you say if you do-“ He took a deep breath to steel himself for what was sure to be bad news. “What happened to him?”

“To Gar?” Sanders shook his head, and continued in a quiet rasp. “He got shot. Shoulder. It was delicate enough they had to send him to one of the other headquarters for recovery.”

MatPat’s grip tightened on the mask, and he forgot how to breathe.

“Is he... alive?”

“Yes. Absolutely. Mostly recovered, at this point, too. I’m...” Sanders looked down, clearly uncomfortable. “I’m not supposed to be telling you all this. Still, I'm sorry it took me so long, I know you’ve needed to hear it.”

MatPat forced his hand to relax on the mask. His other hand pinched the bridge of his nose. Sander’s voice was echoing in his head, his words were bouncing back and forth. Gar was alive.

He was alive.

“Is he coming back to Boston?” At this point he barely knew what he was saying. It was a wonder the words were coming out in order.

“Last I heard.” Sanders smiled warmly. “Rumor says they wanted to transfer him. Somewhere less dangerous. But he was determined to return.”

“Do… you know when he’ll be back?”

Sanders closed his eyes and shook his head.

“...Oh.” MatPat sat down suddenly, his legs and hands shaking.

Sanders went to say something else, but someone rapped on the door, and then the words, “Ten minutes!” came through and he instead just shook his head.

“Best collect yourself and breeze, Matthew.” He stood, straightening his vest and sticking his hands in his pockets. “Break a leg out there.”

MatPat breathed in shakily. How was he supposed to walk out there feeling like this ? Like he was caught in a dream, a waking dream, one that couldn’t possibly be real.

He hadn’t dreamt of Gar being alive in months, though. He had to be awake.

“Oh,” Sanders added, heading to the door, “do make sure you put the mask on right, or it’ll chafe. Dreadfully uncomfortable.”

With that, he left.

MatPat looked at the mask in his hand, then at himself in the mirror. He was pale, his eyes were wide, and his hesitant grin was far too wobbly. But he took a deep breath, and then slid the mask on. It wouldn’t stay until he fastened it behind his head but-

MatPat stared at himself in the mirror. In the costume with the mask, he looked entirely composed, emotionless. Lacking an identity and any reason to feel such extreme emotions. Somehow, it was a relief.

He looked…

Faceless.

Chapter Text

“How do I look?” Marzia twisted to model a bit, though her main focus was on her reflection in the mirror.

“Lovely,” Felix said warmly. “As always.”

Marzia swept in from their bathroom, all fluttering rose chiffon and glittering gold beads. She glanced over to Felix and raised an eyebrow.

“Do you need help with those buttons?”

Felix looked a little sheepish and nodded. They’d sent most of the house staff away for the night—only those doing the basic cleaning chores were still here, like the one young woman at the back of their room, putting away folded clothes—so he had no one to enlist help with the buttons of his shirt.

Marzia stepped behind him and began to do the shirt up. Felix smiled at her through the reflection of the mirror as he raised his arm to slide in the cufflinks. He straightened his sleeves and picked up the collar, careful not to bend the wingtips any further.

“You look absolutely lovely, Marzia,” he said softly, grinning as she blushed. Their bedroom was quiet for a moment, the only sounds being the rustle of clothing as Felix pinned his collar on, and the delicate rattle of pearls as Marzia wrapped a string over her neck.

“Who will be with us today?” Marzia asked, glancing over as she worked a gold arm bangle up past her elbow.

“Ken,” Felix replied, fastening the last button of his suspenders before shrugging on his waistcoat. “Mir owns the theatre; he’ll be there for opening night. I wouldn’t willingly bring Fischbach into that.” With practiced ease he slipped the pearl buttons in through the holes, and smoothed down the front of his shirt.

“That’s for the best,” she said quietly, studying her reflection and making her last-minute adjustments.

Felix watched her, his expression soft. He couldn’t help but think about how lucky he was to have her by his side. He knew he could trust her with anything.

“Marzia?”

She hummed her reply, meeting his gaze in the reflection.

“...Mark’s alive.”

She turned abruptly, her eyes wide.

“Are- are you certain? How do you know?”

“I don’t know how he survived. Mir took him from Wiishu’s care; that’s how I found out about it.”

Marzia put a hand over her mouth, eyes widening even more.

“Mir has him?”

Felix nodded, frowning.

“Oh! Oh- oh, that’s horrible. Does Tom know?”

Felix shook his head and sat down, drawing his shoes closer to the chair. The black patent leather glinted in the light.

“He’s barely grown accustomed to the thought of Mark being dead. If he were to find out, he’d tear the city apart to find Mark. I share the sentiment, but... we’ve got to be careful about it. Mir would kill us both in a heartbeat, and that wouldn’t do anyone any good.”

Marzia frowned, but nodded. She was quiet for a moment longer, then settled down on the bed across from Felix and sighed.

“Do you think Mark and Sophie are together, then?”

“It’s possible.” He sighed, and tightened the laces on his shoe. “I certainly hope so. Mark did get caught in the fire, and the last any of us knew he was still very badly injured. Mir has had him since February. If Sophie is there, at least he has the benefit of a familiar face.”

“I hope he’s alright.”

“So do I.” Even as Felix said the words, he knew it was false. Mark, in Mir’s hands, would be anything but alright.

Another pause, during which the house staff quietly left.

“Are you ready?” Felix finally asked, slipping on his hat and gloves, and grabbing his cane.

Marzia nodded, reaching for her drape.

“Of course. Let’s not be late.”

-----

The Boston Theatre was a grand building that felt larger than life, with delicate stonework on the outside and a long line of people waiting to get in. Felix and Marzia bypassed it, of course, courtesy of their tickets, and were escorted to the box seat.

They settled, and Ken took his place as bodyguard, leaving them to talk quietly and take in the theatre.

It was a beautiful sight. The majority of the walls were painted red and gold, but the latticework arcing above the entry to the seats was so fine it looked silver. Patterns of blue and green, of gold and red swooped along the high-arcing ceiling, coming to a spiral at the base of a large chandelier, casting the room with warm electric light that seemed to make the heavy red curtain covering the stage even more vibrant.

The dark wooden floor was only made more rich by the red carpet running down the aisle between the seats, polished railings gleaming brightly with the reflection of the dozens of lights set in the walls and the ceiling.

People were beginning to arrive, the orchestra was warming up, and Felix couldn’t help but notice familiar faces. PJ, of course, he noticed right away, arriving in a nearby box seat himself—though Felix didn’t recognize his bodyguard this time. Jordan must have had the day off (or perhaps he was searching for Sophie).

Joey Graceffa, too; accompanied by a young man Felix should probably recognize but didn’t.

Felix casually leaned forward on the railing and looked down at the floor below, trying to see if he recognized anyone in the audience.

Well, there were a few faces he recognized from the paper, though he’d yet to meet their owners personally. Chief Nathan Sharp, for one, standing next to his seat and casually speaking to some of the officers. Of course there would be police here tonight. Carpett had been murdered, and there were bound to be quite a few high-profile people here.

He was high-profile.

Felix pushed the thought aside and continued searching the audience. There were several judges, which just made him all the more glad he hadn’t brought Fischbach tonight. The last thing that man needed was more public scorn.

Two taller-than-average heads caught his attention, and Felix stared blankly at them and their ill-fitting eveningwear before he recognized them as Dan and Phil. Instantly, a grin spread across his face. They had come, then. Felix would have to make sure to hunt them down later and have a chat with them. It had been far too long, and he wanted to know how they were doing.

Could he recognize any of his old friends, then? MatPat was supposedly among the cast, so Felix didn’t really expect to see him, but he would look anyway. It was probably too dangerous for Wade to come, at least with all these police officers, but perhaps Molly was here? She wouldn’t have come alone, but she might have brought some of her girls, or Wiishu.

Well, he didn’t see her, but she knew how to blend into a crowd.

Movement at PJ’s box stole Felix’s attention from the audience down below, and he turned his gaze to see PJ’s bodyguard move slightly. PJ locked eyes with someone standing behind the curtained entrance to the box seat. His eyes narrowed slightly, and his form straightened to his full height, refusing to back down from whatever was happening.

What was happening? Felix craned his neck, but he couldn’t see who was standing just inside those curtains. And he was much too far away to hear whatever conversation was going on, though PJ didn’t seem to be enjoying it very much.

Finally, PJ’s bodyguard returned to his original spot, and PJ turned his attention to the stage, settling more fully into his seat—though his shoulders remained taught and his wiry frame tense.

Felix would have to ask him about that later. Clearly, whoever had been talking to him had been bad news of some kind, and-

“Ah, Mr. Kjellberg.”

Felix froze, his public face instinctively sliding over his body and face, stood and straightened his shoulders, and turned to face that unpleasant voice.

Mir.

The man was wearing the slightest of smiles—no, that was most definitely a smirk dancing on his lips—as he stood there casually, looking into the booth.

Clearly, he wasn’t bothered by keeping Mark captive. And maybe even Sophie. (A part of Felix’s mind pointed out it must have taken all of PJ’s self-control not to jump Mir then and there, since it seemed that Mir had been the one speaking to him.)

“Come now,” Mir said softly, chidingly, mockingly, “it’s common courtesy to return a greeting.” His smirk deepened slightly. “Or did your parents raise you-”

“Evening.” Felix said cordially, coldly.

Where was Ken? Why had Ken allowed Mir in? Were Mir’s men threatening Ken? Or did Mir not care about the social rules of bodyguards?

Mir was definitely smirking now as he began to speak.

“There it is. What good manners you have.” He shook his head softly. “People can be difficult to train in such a way. Dogs are easier.”

“Hm.” Felix met Mir’s eyes evenly. It was taking everything he had to keep his breathing and expression even. Mir couldn’t do anything to him, after all, not in public like this. However, this did also mean Felix couldn’t punch him right in that smug smirk.

“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you? Taking in those pugs. I remember reading the article. Shame what happened to those boys...”

Felix clenched a hand and kept it very well concealed behind his back.

“Picking up strays.” Mir shook his head. “They’re all over this city, you know. In the streets and warehouses.” That faint smirk appeared again. “In prisons, too. It takes a real man to pick one up and make something of it.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “Nothing worse than a lame dog.”

What was Mir on about?

“Unless you can still make it work,” Mir added. “I picked one up myself, recently. He still needs training, but... we are making progress.”

A hand pulled the curtain open to reveal Ken, with Mir’s bodyguards on either side of him.

“He wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but he’ll do.” Mir clapped a hand on Felix’s shoulder, and Felix made a mental note to burn the suit when he got home.

Ken stepped forward, his expression hard and unforgiving and carrying a clear warning.

Mir laughed, removing his hand.

“Come and see him sometime, Kjellberg. I’ll have him perform tricks.” He glanced slyly at Ken. “He’ll be disappointed to know you haven’t kept his brother around.”

What did-

Mark.

What had Mir done to Mark.

It took all of Felix’s self-control not to jump Mir himself, not to grab him and throw him over the railing and let him fall fifteen feet to the ground. But the police didn’t care about reasons for murder. It was still murder. It was a shame so many of them were here.

“Enjoy the show, Kjellberg.” Mir tipped his hat to Felix, then turned and walked off, his bodyguards following.

Felix lasted for a moment before he slumped in his seat, his shoulders shaking.

Mark- Mir had been talking about Mark.

Marzia stared at him with wide eyes. She reached over with a gloved hand and gripped Felix’s arm.

“How did he find out you knew?”

Felix scowled at the memory of the house staff who’d been in the room at the time he told Marzia about Mark. There was a strict rule that nothing that happened in the house got out of the house, but clearly that rule had been broken. That meant he had to fire someone, and it was time to rotate out all the rest of the staff—letters of recommendation to good jobs for those who hadn’t betrayed them to Mir.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Felix said. “All that matters is that he does know.” His shoulders tensed, and he stared helplessly at the audience below him. “I’ve never been so worried for Mark before.”

Marzia moved her hand to rest over his.

“You’ll find him.”

“I hope so.” Felix murmured. “If I don’t, I’m tearing that bastard apart.”

“Language, Felix.”

“That was the more complimentary of my options, Marzia.”

Marzia looked like she wanted to say something more, but the lights began to dim, so she just closed her mouth and settled in her seat, turning her attention to the large stage in front of them.

Chapter Text

MatPat took a deep breath and forced himself to be still as the curtains began to rise. He had to be careful with his movements, especially with how high above the stage he was. He’d be spending most of the performance up here, in the carefully crafted platforms running across the top of the stage.

The Phantom, after all, was not a man easily seen.

He really hoped the platforms were built well. He’d tested them before, as had Sanders—and so had numerous other people—but there was always the risk of something breaking, and dropping him several dozen feet to the stage below.

There was no way he’d survive that kind of fall.

The curtains were open and the audience was smitten, first with the narrator setting the time and place, and then, as the orchestra began to play, with the performance as it began in earnest.

Everything was going well so far, he thought, as he reached for the letter in his pocket. It was a letter, yeah, but it was as much of a prop as anything. And, more importantly, it was his first act as the Phantom in the performance.

The letter dropped perfectly—well, as perfectly as it could—and a delightful gasp ran through the audience. He couldn’t see the audience, with the lights shining on the stage making it too bright, but he liked to imagine they all glanced up to see where the letter had come from, and then up again, and then-

Another gasp ran through the audience, and MatPat shifted so he was standing solidly on the platforms. They would be lowered later on, but for now, his face, and the mask, were largely obscured in shadow.

Slowly, MatPat’s nerves eased, and he settled into his role for the night. Things were going well for opening night. No major accidents had happened and nobody was injured. That was about as good as he could expect things to go.

As he hurried backstage to change into his next costume—he had five minutes before his next scheduled appearance, this time on the floor of the stage to lure Christine into his domain (which sounded strange when he thought about it like that)—there was the usual chaos ongoing. The stagehands really had a rough time of it, since apparently one of the wheels on a large set piece was broken and they were having to lift it to move it instead.

He barely had time to think about the fact that police officers were stationed around the entrances to dressing rooms, or that one was quietly speaking with Sanders in the hall. He barely had time to change, and nearly forgot to grab Sanders' second mask. (This one was missing its lower half, from cheeks down, so he could sing in it. It was also brightly polished, catching the eye with glints of light.) He just managed to run back to his place in time for Christine’s solo to turn into a duet.

He didn’t miss, though, the way people reacted when he, as the Phantom, began to sing and call to Christine. He still couldn’t see the audience (though that was changing as they dimmed the lights, changing the scene to the basement set), but he heard several gasps and murmurs, and he could have sworn he saw Nate sit up straight in his seat.

He didn’t see the way the faces of those who knew him lit up, the smiles that spread across their faces. He didn’t see the way a woman in the back leaned forward in her seat, eyes fixed on the stage, trying to get a glimpse of him, or the way Molly put a warning hand on her arm. He didn’t see the way Nate leaned into the notes himself, closing his eyes to savor it just a moment more. He didn’t see the way Sanders looked up at the stage with pride, glad at how far his friend had come, or the soft nostalgic smile he wore as he remembered the days they’d spent in theatre together as children.

And honestly? For those minutes of the song, MatPat didn’t care. He didn’t care who saw him, or what anyone in the audience thought. He didn’t even care who was in the audience.

For those few minutes, all he could feel was the rush of wonder, of joy, at being able to fill one of his childhood dreams.

It really was a good thing he was wearing a mask. The Phantom was not a smiling man, after all.

The performance only went fantastically from there. There were a few snags, of course, backstage; and with costume changes—but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be handled.

The intermission came, and MatPat used the opportunity to sneak a few glances at the crowd, trying to see any familiar faces. Nate was busy talking with one of the officers posted around the room, frowning at something, and Sanders was off by the orchestra pit—also talking with an officer, oddly enough.

As the performers were called back in, MatPat turned away. Out of the corner of his eye, he could have sworn he saw a familiar figure—but that was impossible. It was only his imagination, overactive since Sanders had told him Gar was alive. Gar was still gone, and even if he was back, surely he wouldn’t be so ridiculous as to attend a public event when he was still technically a missing person.

Well, probably.

This was Gar he was talking about, after all.

But then he was rushing back up to his place to prepare for his next part: he would be singing almost instantly, and it was going to require a lot of fast moving that didn’t actually look fast.

He got back on the platforms easily enough and let his gaze drift down to  Christine and Raoul below him, singing a duet. He’d be interrupting soon enough, but it was certainly beautiful in the meantime. It... almost reminded him of him and Steph.

No. He couldn’t afford to think about that right now.

His gaze so fixed on the stage below, he didn’t see someone walking on the catwalk above him. The stage crew did it often, so he wouldn’t have had any reason to pay much attention if he had been looking.

He glanced up, taking a breath to launch into singing-

A wolf mask stared at him unblinkingly from the rafters, barely recognizable in the darkness.

That was all the warning he got before a body dropped from the rafters, jerking clumsily at the end of a rope—a still living body, at least for now.

MatPat’s eyes widened as screams tore through the audience and the crew, and he jumped forward, trying to grab the rope. If he could release some of the pressure-

But no. The person dangling from the noose was thrashing too much for MatPat to be able to grab the rope, and when it went still, MatPat knew what had happened.

Slowly, he looked down the rope, heart sinking, only to have a gasp tear out of him. He knew that uniform. The blue and the familiar suit-

The murdered man was a police officer.

Suddenly, the mask felt heavy and constrictive, and MatPat shoved it up, nearly tearing it off completely.

He had just witnessed a murder.

Never, in all his years as a detective, had he witnessed a murder. He’d seen the aftermath of plenty, but never had he witnessed one himself.

And what was he going to say? The truth, of course, but it had all happened so quickly, and... what had happened to the stagehands in the catwalks, why had nobody stopped the masked figure-

The masked figure.

Mask.

It had been a full-faced mask.

Faceless.

MatPat had just come face-to-face with a Faceless.

A Faceless who had just killed a police officer. It could have been so easy for MatPat to be the one hanged.

Had Sanders known this was going to happen? Had he strained his voice on purpose, forced MatPat to take the role for the night? Was his mask offering protection? Surely that wasn’t the case. Right?

Hands shaking, MatPat slowly made his way to the closest way off the platforms. He was so shaken, he didn’t notice that one of the ropes holding up the next platform had been cut.

As soon as his full weight was on the platform, another of the ropes snapped with the sudden added strain.

A strangled scream tore out of MatPat, and he dropped as the platform gave way, gravity taking control of his body. Pain erupted in his shoulder as he jerked to a stop.

MatPat flailed a bit, looking up with enough speed to knock the mask the rest of the way off his face and send it careening to the stage below. The screaming, just barely quieted, began all over again. He couldn't imagine how this looked, with a platform swinging over the stage, casting a wild pattern of light and shadow; his legs and torso would seem suspended in the air, one arm waving about as he searched for a handhold.

His eyes traveled up his other arm. First they found one gloved hand gripping his arm hard enough to hurt, and then a second around his wrist. Then arms, covered by a simple dark shirt, perfect for the shadows. Finally, staring down at him, a wolf mask.

The Faceless from before, with a gray and blue styled wolf mask, blue and red glinting from the eye holes.

The two stared at each other for a moment until the Faceless, chest heaving and muscles flexing, started dragging MatPat back up to a solid platform. As soon as both of MatPat’s hands were on the edge of the platform and he’d begun to painfully haul himself up—something was wrong with his shoulder, but hopefully it wasn’t anything major—the Faceless stood and disappeared into the shadows.

Something about the way the Faceless ran as they left tickled MatPat’s memory.

He didn’t get time to think about it, however, as footsteps ran over to him, and he was being pulled the rest of the way up and then guided to stable ground.

He found himself in Sanders’ dressing room. Nate was waiting for him there.

“Matthew, are you alright?” Nate asked, gripping MatPat’s shoulders.

MatPat flinched and muttered a curse. He was starting to wonder if his shoulder had been dislocated.

“What happened? Did you see?”

“I-” MatPat took a deep breath, trying to sort his thoughts, only to sink against the wall.

“Of course you’re shaken- and you’re injured?” Nate shook his head and gently guided MatPat to a chair. “Is it major?”

“I- I don’t think so.” MatPat slowly moved his right arm, wincing at the complaint it gave. Not dislocated, then, if he could move it like this. “Definitely hurt, though.”

“You caught yourself on a platform with it, of course it hurts.”

MatPat blinked at Nate. Had he not seen the Faceless save him?

Something told him that was for the best. If his life was important enough to the Faceless for them to risk capture, then surely Nate would be interested in that.

“Who- who was it? Who died?”

Nate took a deep breath. “One of the new officers. You hadn’t met him yet, I don’t think.” He frowned. “Did you see who hung him?”

“No. At least, I never saw their face.”

“Olivers says he saw a masked man up there, and that was why he cut the rope on the platform, to try to stop the Faceless.” Nate rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Did you see one? Did he try to kill you?”

“Thomas’ mask came off when I fell.”

“I saw that.” Nate gave MatPat a concerned look. “Do you need a doctor?”

“I... don’t know.” MatPat rested his left hand on his right shoulder, as if touching it would help it hurt less. “I’m... still shaken. A bit disoriented. That was…” A shaky laugh escaped him. “That was terrifying.”

Nate let out a long breath, eyes fixed on MatPat, before he nodded softly.

“Okay.” He sighed. “Okay. Matt, you just sit here. I’ll get a doctor, and someone to take down the body. If you remember anything important, just let me know.”

MatPat nodded slowly. “Okay.”

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there until Nate returned with a doctor, or a nurse, or some sort of medical practitioner. MatPat didn’t really know, nor did he care. He was still trying to wrap his head around what had happened.

He kept coming back to one question:

Why was he so important to the Faceless that they’d bother saving him? He was just a detective. For that matter, he was a detective who’d gone to two other mobs in search of help for finding Steph. Surely they’d consider him useless, if not a barely-concerning threat.

“Matthew?”

MatPat blinked and looked up at Nate.

“What?”

“That was the third time I called your name.” Nate frowned. “Did you hit your head at all?”

“I don’t think so, sir. Just lost in thought.”

Nate glanced at the medical person and gave a short nod, and they moved their attention from his arm to his head. The exam there was quick, so MatPat had little time to protest.

“His only injury is his arm, Chief Sharp,” the medical examiner said before turning to MatPat. “Your shoulder is damaged, but it’s not bad. The wrenched muscles and ligaments should heal fairly quickly, just be careful for the next little while. You’re lucky. It could have easily been a lot worse.” They paused, then tapped MatPat’s arm.

“These bruises here should fade after a week or two.”

MatPat looked down at his arm to see distinct, hand-shaped bruises.

“How did you get those?” Nate asked.

“It must have been from the people who helped me up. Some of them grabbed me pretty hard.”

Why was he protecting this Faceless? It didn’t make sense. There was no reason for him to do so, but here he was.

The medical examiner turned to Nate, and said, “He should take it easy for a few days, but he’ll be fine.”

Nate nodded.

“Good to hear.” He turned back MatPat. “Okay, that's all from me, at least for now. If you think of something useful, though, give me a ring.”

“Of course.”

Nate and the medical personnel left, leaving MatPat to stare at the bruises on his arm. That Faceless really hadn't wanted him to fall.

But why? Wasn't he just a danger to them?

Unless... Did they want him around for when Gar got back?

But why?

A soft knock on the door interrupted MatPat's thoughts, and he looked up to see Sanders slipping into the room, holding his mask in his hands.

“Oh. I'm sorry,” MatPat said. “Did it break?”

Sanders waved it off, tucking the mask back into the drawer.  He swallowed, then winced, then coughed softly.

“I'm here to give you a ride home.”

“Oh, that's not-”

“Nate didn't want you driving with your shoulder.”

“Oh.”

It was with silence and a mouthful of unspoken questions that MatPat followed Sanders out to his car.

Then, about halfway home, Sanders spoke: “Nate asked if I’m still Faceless.”

MatPat looked over in surprise.

“I told him no. That my mask was just a reminder of the time.” He smiled wryly.

“What happened back there? Do you know?”

“No.” He frowned. “You okay?”

“I'll live.”

“Good.”

The two drove in silence the rest of the way. Right before MatPat climbed out of the car, Sanders looked over.

“You'll get answers soon, Matt. Promise.”

Chapter Text

The speakeasy was heavy with the stench of cigarette and cigar smoke, leaving the air hazy and nauseating. Customers of the generally unsavory type filled the seats, drinking heavily and tipping poorly, if at all.

Sophie sidestepped a particularly frisky one and headed back to the bar to get the next set of drinks to deliver.

If you’d told her a year ago that she’d end up being a waitress for Mir, of all the despicable men in Boston, she would have laughed at the absurdity of it.

If you’d told her at the beginning of this year that the man behind the bar had once gone by the name Wilford Warfstache and had run a very successful speakeasy of his own, she would have been elated to know Mark was alive.

But now, trapped here with him? Forced to work, or have Mir unleash his men on them? Seeing how badly Mark hurt each and every day, and the way he fell into an exhausted sleep at the end of each night, only to be unable to properly rest because of the bruises Mir’s men gave him, and the smoke irritating his still-damaged lungs?

Sophie hated it.

Mark offered her a strained smile as she approached, but she knew him well enough to recognize the dull exhaustion hiding behind his eyes.

“How’s it going, Walter?” Sophie asked, sliding over the empty cups and taking the next set. “Should I take over?”

“It’s not worth it,” Mark replied.

It wasn’t worth Mir’s wrath; wasn't worth the punishment they’d both get later.

It never was. Nothing was worth seeing Mark in agony as their tormentors delivered well-aimed kicks where the bruises wouldn’t show. Not when the men who did that to him would always turn their attention to Sophie for other things, and it took both her and Mark to fend them off. Not when she’d spend hours trying to ease the worst of Mark’s pain.

Not when Mark’s pain never really went away.

Mark reached for the closest edge of the bar counter and pulled himself off his stool with a heavy grunt and a bit of a gasp.

“Mark,” Sophie murmured. “Please. We’ve still three hours to go.”

“I’ll make it,” Mark promised, though his face had twisted into a grimace and his hair had fallen into his face. “I have to.”

“Mark.” Sophie loaded the new drinks onto her tray. “You’ve been pushing yourself all week.”

Mark wobbled a bit as he made his way to the other end of his station—more than he usually did, at least.

“Three more hours, Alice,” he said softly. “Then it’s Sunday.”

Sophie swallowed. Mark only called her Alice when his mind was completely made up. It was her name here, the one Mir had given her to keep people from realizing she was the missing actress—Alice Angel.

So she turned and went back to the floor.

The hours passed, as they do, with Sophie’s feet aching more and more. Still, once everyone had cleared out, she still cleaned off the tables and swept and mopped the floor. She made sure the bar area was cleaned, too, and all the glasses set out neatly for the next night.

Normally, Mark did his best to help. Tonight, though, he barely had the energy to keep his eyes open and watch her, slumped on a chair in the corner.

Finally, the henchman Mir had set to oversee them for the night nodded, and the two made their way into the back rooms, where they had been allowed a limited amount of living space. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Sophie ducked into the bathroom to change into more comfortable sleeping clothes, taking as much time as she needed. It would give Mark time to change himself.

At first, Mark had tried to be the gentleman, had tried to change in the bathroom to give her her privacy, but they’d very quickly found out it was just about impossible for him to do that with his crutches. So, Sophie changed in here now.

She stepped out, pulling the blanket set near the door around her, and walked over to her bed on the far side of the room without looking up.

“I’m decent,” Mark finally said.

Sophie settled on her bed, looking across the room at Mark on his. He was slowly climbing under the covers, though it was clear moving was paining him.

“I can draw a bath for you tomorrow,” Sophie suggested.

Mark grunted.

“I can do it myself.”

Sophie raised an eyebrow and said, “I really don’t want to have to come to your rescue if something goes wrong, all things considered.”

Mark sighed.

“You’re right, as always. But-”

Whatever he was going to say was interrupted by the door opening to reveal Mir.

Sophie pulled her blanket tighter around herself, and Mark’s hand clenched his own blanket. Neither of them spoke. Neither of them made eye contact with Mir.

“There are many lovely performances in this city,” Mir said casually. “I have just come from one.” He seemed to smile slightly. “What a coincidence that two of your friends were there.” He laughed softly. “Such a shame the night was cut short by a murder.”

Alarm coursed through Sophie, but she didn’t say anything. It wouldn’t do any good to talk when he was still so obviously continuing.

“The young Liguori,” Mir continued, eyes boring mercilessly into Sophie, “and his bodyguard. I heard rumors he was attending opening night, but it’s always good to see your enemies let their guard down.”

Sophie’s hand clenched. If he had hurt PJ-

“Your lover doesn’t look to be in the best of health, kuritsa . It seems stress is getting to him.”

Oh, she was sure Mir was responsible for much of that stress. She was also sure her absence was causing at least some of it. PJ didn’t even know she was alive, much less where she was.

“And Kjellberg,” Mir continued, turning to Mark, “well-” He chuckled softly. “He knows you belong to me. The fire that rose in his eyes when we spoke, it would be something to worry about if he wasn't so regarded by the public eye.”

Across the room, Mark’s jaw clenched, but he didn’t say anything.

“Perhaps, one day, their bodies will be the ones dangling from the end of a rope.” That disgusting not-smile of Mir’s sent chills down Sophie’s spine and worry for her friends into her heart. “Not tonight, unfortunately, but one day.”

“Spokoinoi nochi, malyshi!” Mir chimed almost too cheerfully, like a father telling his children good night. It was what he always told them if he happened to stop by for a “chat,” and Sophie had the gnawing feeling those words would forever be ingrained within her mind. He gave a mocking little bow and then slipped back out the door, the sound of the lock clicking into place reminding them of their shared reality.

The room was silent for a long time, and even though it was too dark to see Mark, Sophie knew he was awake too.

“There was a time,” Mark said slowly, “shortly after Mir broke my legs...” A pause, and then a sigh. “I would find myself considering burning a second speakeasy to the ground. Wait until he was in a meeting in the back, and do the same thing I’d done at Freddy’s.”

Sophie winced. Mark had been in truly awful condition when she’d first been dumped with him. Those first few days had been the hardest, both of them nearly delirious with pain—and the distress that they were both in this situation.

She could believe he’d considered any number of things.

“After all,” Mark continued, “I was already a dead man, and if I could take Mir out in one last blaze of glory, then it would be worth it, right?” He chuckled humorlessly. “I was going to do it, you know.”

A pause.

“Then Mir brought you in. I couldn’t- I couldn’t condemn both of us to death, not when you have so much to live for.”

“We’ll get out,” Sophie promised. “One day something will slip, someone will be careless, and we’ll get out of here.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Sophie, but I can’t run. I’m not fast, not even remotely. And if we want to get out of here, I’d need to be.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

Mark hummed softly before sighing.

“Sophie?”

“Yeah?”

“If you get the chance, run. Run as fast as you can, and leave me behind.”

“I’m not leaving you!” Leave him alone, where he’d get Mir’s wrath of Sophie’s escape beaten into him?

“No- Listen, Sophie. I need you to listen.” Mark’s voice held no hesitation. “I. Can’t. Run. If you get the chance to escape, I need you to take it, for both our sakes. I’ll need you to run as far and as fast as you can. Run to PJ, or Molly—and get help. Let them know where I am. They’re our best chance of both of us getting out of this alive.”

“Mark-”

“Sophie, please.”

Sophie blinked across the room, staring wide-eyed at the desperation in Mark’s voice.

“...What if I fail?”

“We can’t stop trying. I refuse to let Mir win like that.”

Sophie took a deep breath.

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“If I get the chance, I’m running, and I’m getting help.”

Chapter Text

PJ could remember the quiet Sundays, when he was free to do what he pleased and be where he wanted with no thought to anyone else. That had been just under a year ago, after all. He even remembered when, a few months ago and despite his responsibilities, he’d still spend the entire day with Sophie.

Sundays, now... they were different. The days were still quiet around the headquarters, with minimal security, but PJ himself was as busy as ever. He had the welfare of the Family to consider, after all.

Right now, he was considering Matthias. The man was a good capo, and a good father, but something was off about him. More than his obvious morphine addiction, which had certainly been stealing the spotlight: it had been the topic of no fewer than three fights between Matthias and Amanda in the past week.

Maybe four, if the reason Jordan was playing with Luna was because her parents were off fighting again.

Luna burbled happily as PJ walked into the room, but didn’t stop from carefully handing Jordan a blanket she’d been holding.

“Thank you,” Jordan said.

PJ took in the half-completed arrangement of cushions stacked quite precariously: against chairs, against sheets, and against blankets—all tucked strategically to form a sort of tent strung across half the room. He smiled.

“A pillow fort?”

“Of course.” Jordan tucked the blanket Luna had handed him between two cushions, then moved across the fort to tuck the other end into the cushion stack there. “It’s our second one today—Luna tried rolling up in the blankets earlier and brought the whole thing down on us.”

“Dramatic.”

Luna smiled broadly at PJ and bounced in place.

“It was pretty cute.”

PJ laughed softly, then said, “When you have a moment, Jordan, I need to speak with you—and Wiggles, if you happen to know where he is right now.” He would have added Zombie to the list, but he knew for sure the underboss had specifically asked for the day off.

“Oh, he’s around somewhere. His car is still here, at least.” Jordan paused as Luna tugged on his pant leg. “Yes, Luna?”

She babbled something incomprehensible.

“That sounds reasonable. Do you know where it is?”

Luna stared blankly at him.

“Well, I don’t even know what you asked me,” Jordan said, returning to setting up the fort. “I don’t know what you want me to do about that.”

Luna bounced again, then pointed at PJ.

“Peesh.”

“That’s PJ, alright. You can talk to him, if you want.”

Luna turned to PJ and stared at him.

He waved.

“Hello, Luna.”

She flapped her hand at him, then turned back to Jordan.

“Peesh.”

“I... don’t know what you want.”

Luna dropped into a sitting position, then crawled over to PJ before sitting at his feet.

“What, did you want to come with me as I find Wiggles?” PJ asked.

Luna just lifted her arms into the air and grunted softly.

PJ scooped her up, getting a giggle of delight, and settled her firmly in his arms.

“Well, Jordan, it looks like I’m stealing your fort buddy.”

“I’ll be here.”

PJ laughed lightly, even as one of Luna’s tiny hands gripped onto his jacket lapel and she leaned a bit in his arms to stare at the ground.

“Tah,” she said.

“Welcome to my world,” PJ said warmly, turning and walking out of the room.

Luna provided a steady stream of babbled commentary as they walked, pointing at either some of the soldati stationed for security (all of whom smiled and waved at Luna, and she waved back) or at something interesting in a room when PJ poked his head in to see if Wiggles was there—or, at one point, a dog outside the window.

As it turns out, Wiggles heard them before they saw him.

He was actually outside, crouched next to one of the flower plants in the garden. He looked up as they rounded the corner and greeted them with an easy smile.

“PJ. Farfallina.”

Luna reached for Wiggles, clearly delighted by his pet name for her. He brushed dirt off of his hands and took her easily enough, only for her to tug on his collar and giggle.

“I need to talk with you and Jordan,” PJ said, sticking his now-empty hands into his pockets. He glanced at the plant Wiggles had been inspecting. “You know, we do have a gardener.”

“Yes, but it’s not going to hurt me to look at it.” Wiggles moved Luna’s hand from his collar. “Should I return her to her parents?”

PJ winced, and replied, “They’re fighting. Jordan was watching her earlier, but she decided to come with me.”

“You just love all your uncles, don’t you,” Wiggles murmured to Luna, getting an excited babble in return. He smiled. “Okay. Sure. Lead the way.”

Luna continued to babble to Wiggles as they walked, and he did nothing but humor her with that easy smile of his and equally easy responses.

It was strange. PJ couldn’t really remember Wiggles ever smiling before. Whatever had happened in Wiggles’ thirteen years away, it had clearly changed him. Or maybe it was Luna bringing it out in him. Either way, it was a good thing.

Instead of going to PJ’s office to hold the conversation, PJ led Wiggles to the room where Jordan had set up the pillow fort and locked the door. When he turned back around, Luna was speed crawling into the fort, and Wiggles obediently followed.

A faint smile danced on PJ’s lips as he also followed the small child. (The fact that Jordan had built the fort for someone not of PJ’s height became apparent.)

“We’re talking in here?” Jordan asked, ducking his head into the entrance. It took him a moment to fill in the last spot. “Okay.”

“Yeah.” PJ made a face, looking at Luna. “It’s about Matthias.”

Luna picked up a block and deposited it into PJ’s lap.

“Thank you,” he said gravely, stacking it on top of the small pile she had going.

She babbled something before handing a block to Wiggles, and then Jordan.

“I don’t think it’d be a good idea to just... force him to stop taking morphine,” Jordan said, stacking his block too. “Not after this long. That’s killed people.”

“No, you’re absolutely right, and that is something I have to talk to him about, but...” PJ sighed. “It’s not just his addiction. He hasn’t been doing his job as a capo. He’s been able to handle his position, until… I’m not certain. But something has changed.

Jordan hummed in agreement.

Wiggles just stacked his own block, waiting for PJ to continue.

Luna handed out another round of blocks.

“The two of you have to pick up so much of his slack. That isn’t fair; that isn’t how the Family works.” PJ absently turned his block over in his hands. “Do you think Bryan would make a good replacement?”

“You’re going to replace him?” Jordan asked.

“I have to.”

“Bryan knows what he’s doing,” Wiggles said, stacking his block in the second pile Luna was making. “He’s effectively a capo in all but name. If you go that way, he’ll do well.”

“Peej,” Jordan said slowly, carefully stacking his block, “what else is going on with him? Addiction is bad, but Cordato… he was entirely reliant on pain meds by the time he went out, not to mention bedbound. But he still ran the Family well.”

PJ frowned and studied his block thoughtfully.

“Something is off about him—more off than you’d expect, given the circumstances.” His eyebrows scrunched. “Something’s wrong, but I haven’t put together what. Something more than losing his leg and his brother last year.”

“You know him better than I do,” Wiggles admitted. “I haven’t the slightest idea what he was like before all that went down, and I never paid attention to him when I was younger.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Jordan promised. “If I get any ideas, I’ll let you know.”

Luna whined, and PJ looked down to see her climbing into his lap to get the block she’d given him.

“You need to stack it, Peej,” Wiggles said.

PJ scooped Luna into his lap with one arm and reached forward with the other to place the block on top of the two stacks of blocks. Luna hummed happily.

“On a different topic,” PJ said, “how’s recruiting going? And is anyone doing well enough to split them off as a capo, to ease the added load?”

Jordan sighed, and Wiggles wiggled his shoulders.

“I haven’t found anyone we could recruit as a double agent in the police,” Jordan said, “nor are any of my men really ready for a promotion. I’m managing, though.”

“I’m chasing a rumor,” Wiggles said. “Supposedly there’s a promising young Italian detective in a local precinct.” He shrugged. “I haven’t learned a name yet, but you’ll be the first to know once I find out.”

“That’s good.” PJ folded his hands over Luna in his lap. “That’s the one I’m really concerned about.” He absently let Luna play with the cufflinks on his sleeves. “What do you know about this rumored detective?”

“He’s young; twenty-four or so. Still a rookie.” Wiggles hesitated. “Rumored to be the partner of one Detective Patrick.”

PJ’s eyebrows shot up, recalling the poker game of nearly a year ago. If only he could recall the younger detective’s name…

“That’d be a risky recruitment.”

“It would, but it has a lot of potential, too.” Wiggles shrugged slightly. “I haven’t approached him yet. Figured I’d try to get a good feel for his character before I even officially bring him to you as a prospect.”

“Do that, but be careful.” PJ frowned. “The last thing I need is losing you to police arrests.”

“Of course,” Wiggles said. “It will be a while before I’m ready to make a move, but I’ll keep you updated.”

PJ nodded, his mind already mulling over the problems in front of him.

“Oh, since you’re not bringing it up,” Wiggles added, leaning forward with a concerned look on his face, “do you need help looking for Sophie?”

PJ started, eyes snapping to Wiggles, even as Jordan stiffened.

“How did you find out about that?” PJ said slowly.

“Rumors get around,” Wiggles said. “And it would explain a lot.” He gave PJ a critical look. “You didn’t look permanently exhausted when she was safe, for one thing.”

PJ winced.

“You’re not angry about her, then?”

“No.” Wiggles shook his head. “She makes you happy.”

PJ sighed, shoulders slumping, before he muttered, “I hope she’s giving Mir the worst time of his life.”

“She’s a fighter,” Jordan assured. “She’ll be okay.”

“I know. I hope so.” He took a deep breath. “Enough about that- I have a job to harass Mir. Who wants it?”

Chapter Text

A knock sounded on the apartment door, and Gar’s arms tightened around Dante, getting a comforting lick in return.

It had been so hard to leave Dante the night before, when he left for his job at the theatre. Dante had immediately tackled him as soon as he walked through the door late that evening. He’d refused to let Gar sleep alone.

Gar looked up and nodded slightly at his dad, who had paused near the front door. Dante leapt off his lap and padded over to the door, his tail wagging slowly. Gar stood and walked to the kitchen, tugging a blanket over his shoulders before sitting at the table where he could see the doorway.

He didn’t like this deception. It was risky.

It was also one of the few ways they could explain why he had been gone so long.

Gar pulled the blanket tighter around himself, ignoring how uncomfortably warm he already was. He laid his head on his crossed arms over the table, which was not something he would normally do when expecting company.

And then he waited.

Voices, sharp voices—and a voice Gar didn’t recognize. They came from the main room. A very brief back and forth with his dad, though the words were inaudible, and then footsteps were approaching the kitchen.

A soft knock on the doorframe, and then the soft tap of slippered feet against the linoleum. The sharp rap of hard soles followed soon after.

“Gar?” His dad said softly. “Chief Sharp is here to talk to you.”

Gar waited for a moment, then slowly raised his head.

“Hey kid,” an unfamiliar voice said, issuing from an equally unfamiliar face. “May I join you?”

Gar nodded, glancing at the chair next to him, and sat up. He didn’t say anything as the man approached him and quietly settled on the kitchen chair; he only watched.

“I’m Chief Nathan Sharp.” The man dipped his head slightly as he took off his hat and settled it on his knee. “You’ve been gone a while. Do you mind telling me what happened?”

Gar glanced at his dad, still hovering near the door. It would be easier to tell this fabricated story without anyone else watching.

“I don’t... he doesn’t need to hear it.”

“I see.” Sharp frowned slightly. “Mr. Bluemoon, would you kindly leave us alone for now? Officer Snow, would you accompany him?”

“Of course, sir,” the younger officer said, already turning. “We can just sit in the living room, Mr. Bluemoon.” Dante stepped away from sniffing at Snow, his tail wagging furiously.

A long moment of silence until Sharp’s gaze returned to Gar.

“Matthew tells me you go by Gar?” Sharp asked.

He nodded, glancing up to meet the chief’s gaze.

“Matt’s worried a lot about you while you’ve been gone.” Sharp folded his hands on the table. “I need to know what happened, Gar. Before I consider telling anyone at the precinct of your return. Before I consider… many things.”

Gar shifted, then nodded slowly. He had a feeling that included the status of his job.

“Okay.”

He paused, as if collecting his thoughts. “I suppose I’ll start at the beginning. The night I went missing.” He touched his left shoulder. “I got shot. I didn’t see who did it.” He made sure his face twisted as he recalled the dim memories of being dragged across snow. “But they took me, locked me away without contact to the outside world.” He shook his head, brows furrowing. “I say ‘they,’ but... the voices were distinctly Russian.”

“Did they do anything to you?”

Gar nodded. There was no need to say details, at least not yet. It was better for the chief’s imagination to fill in the gaps.

“Do you know what they wanted from you?” Chief Sharp was starting to sound significantly concerned.

“They wanted information, mostly. Information about the precinct and cases and... and Matthew.” He curled up on himself slightly, deliberately tilting his head away from the other man to show the bruise he’d had Cry give him on his jaw. “I didn’t say anything, but...” He closed his eyes. “That didn’t stop them.”

Chief Sharp was silent, then sighed.

“Gar, what did they do to you?”

Gar pulled his blanket tighter around himself.

“They would beat me. Torture me. But when they figured out that wasn’t working, they... sometimes they’d lock me in a dark room. I’d be by myself for I don’t know how long. Sometimes they’d...” He took a breath, making it as shaky as he could. “I... don’t remember all of it.” He opened his eyes, looking at the ground. “It didn’t feel like six months had passed. I don’t remember six months of days.” He looked up, pouring desperation into the act. “I don’t know how much of it I spent unconscious.”

Chief Sharp swallowed.

“Did they let you go?”

Gar shook his head.

“No, no, they didn’t,” he muttered after a while. He shook his head again. “I learned when the guard outside the door switched out: I could hear when one shift walked away and how long it was until someone else walked back. There wasn’t always a gap, though.” He shifted in his chair, the wood squeaking. “During the night, if they weren’t keeping me from sleeping, the guard usually ended up dozing off—I definitely heard them snoring more than once.”

“So you escaped?”

“Eventually. It took me a while to find stuff I could use to pick the lock, and then it took me...” A look of concentration crossed Gar’s face. “...weeks? months? to learn how to actually pick the lock. I got caught a few times.” He brushed his fingertips over his jaw. “That never went well.”

“What time was it when you got outside?”

“Midnight, I think. It was certainly well after sun-down.” Gar frowned. “I didn’t get the chance to really look, though. The guard woke up, saw I’d gone, and started chasing me. It was almost dawn by the time I lost him.”

“Did you go to the closest precinct to report yourself found?”

“I was too exhausted.” Gar shook his head again. “I just... came home. Dad let me in. He called the precinct.” Gar groaned softly. “I fell asleep again almost immediately after that, though, because the first time I fell asleep-” Gar cut off, an embarrassed look on his face. “I fell asleep in the bath.”

Chief Sharp chuckled softly.

“We’ve all been there.” He tapped his chin. “So this was yesterday?”

Gar nodded. Chief Sharp frowned slightly.

“Are you gravely injured? Do you need medical attention? Your father didn’t say anything...”

Gar shook his head slightly, shrugging.

“I don’t... think so?” He winced. “I’m injured, yeah, but... I was able to run enough to get away.”

Sharp nodded slowly, as if thinking. Then, “Can you come to the station with us today? We’ve got quite a few more questions for you, and this all needs to go into your file.”

“My... file?” Gar blinked.

“You were missing for six months, Bluemoon,” Sharp said softly. “You have a file.”

“Oh.” Gar paused, then nodded decisively. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll come in.”

“Good.” Sharp stood and moved towards the door. “Get ready, then.”

“Chief Sharp?” Gar asked.

Sharp froze in the doorway and looked over, eyebrow raised.

“Do you know how long it’ll be before I can go back to detective work?”

Sharp blinked, as if a bit taken back by the question.

“I don’t know, Gar. There’s a lot to do between now and then. Do you want to even go back to it? You got shot on duty.” The unspoken ‘and kidnapped and tortured’ hung in the air between them, as undeniable as Chief Sharp’s hesitation to let Gar back to work.

“I like being a detective.”

A slight smile ghosted onto Sharp’s face.

“That’s good to hear, kid.”

-----

MatPat arrived late to the precinct. Quite a bit late, actually, but nobody seemed at all interested in chastising him.

In fact, everyone seemed very interested in something else entirely.

“What’s going on?” MatPat asked Bob after the third person had clapped him on the shoulder with a broad grin and a congratulations distinctly out of place with the frenzy in the building. “What happened?”

“Gar happened.” Bob looked over with a smile. “He showed up. He returned.”

MatPat froze.

“Gar?”

Gar was... back?

It was good to know Sanders hadn’t just been spouting nonsense to reassure him. But now… he was going to see Gar, alive and in person, after months and months of holding desperately onto hope and then letting go-

“They’ve spent the past hour or so questioning him about where he’s been. They’re still at it, I think. Probably finishing up soon. Interrogation 4.”

MatPat was moving towards the interrogation room before he could hear anything else Bob had to say. The door was closed, of course, and he was sure they wouldn’t let him in, but maybe-

“Hey, Patrick,” Officer Static said quietly, sticking his head out of the room adjoining Interrogation 4. “You want to listen in?”

MatPat nodded, and nodded again when Static put a finger to his lips to remind him to be quiet. He slipped in after Static and carefully closed the door behind him.

Officer Snow glanced over and raised his hand, then turned back to the scene in front of them.

The two-way mirror on the wall revealed Gar sitting in the customary chair, looking a little frazzled and very tense (MatPat knew him too well to pretend the way he was sitting was anything else), and Nate talking to him; asking him questions. The microphone between them was blatantly recording everything being said.

MatPat barely listened at first. His gaze was fastened to Gar, a ridiculously wide smile plastered on his face, and his shaking hands stuffed into his pockets. He could barely believe it. Gar was there. Right there, sitting right in that chair, alive.

“What did your captors look like?” Nate asked, his voice sounding tinny as it came through the sound system.

“I only ever saw guards,” Gar said. “Most had muscular builds. Various hair and eye colors. I could pick about half of them out of a crowd, if I saw them, but I don’t know if I can describe them effectively.” He shifted in his seat. “They made sure to put a hood over my head if there was more than one person in the room.”

“You received medical care, for your shoulder. Do you know which doctor did that? Where the procedure took place?”

Gar shook his head again.

“I don’t remember anything between getting shot and waking up on the floor, feeling like I was going to die, with my shoulder all bandaged up. I don’t know how much time had passed.”

“What about any voices? Would you be able to recognize anyone?”

“I couldn’t pick them out of a crowd. Maybe one or two of them.”

Nate seemed a bit upset at that. Maybe even at the situation in general. He certainly looked tense.

“Tell me, Bluemoon- did they give you any offers?”

“Of course. They offered to let me go if I told them MatPat’s... Detective Patrick’s schedule and address. They offered me an actual bed if I told them any number of things about the precinct.”

“Did you tell them anything?”

“No. They stopped trying after… I don’t know, a few months?”

“So after six months of torture and neglect, you didn’t give anything away, not even accidentally?”

“I said no.”

MatPat wasn’t aware he’d stepped forward until Static put his hand on MatPat’s arm warningly.

It was a typical interrogation, MatPat knew that. Sharp had always been good at getting answers out of someone, after getting them flustered—ever since they’d been children. But-

But this was Gar. Gar.

MatPat had looked for months and... given up all hope. And here he was! Gar was here, alive.

MatPat had to turn away to blink down the tears before he started crying in front of his coworkers.

“You seem awfully sure. You’re positive you didn’t give anything up? It could have been something that seemed small, insignificant. And maybe you got a good meal out of it, a few times. You certainly seem to be in pretty good condition,” Nate accused.

“I don’t remember giving anything away. I don’t think I did.” Gar’s hands, flat on the table, seemed like they wanted to drive all the way through the wood. “I did my best to not antagonize the guards. It helped, I think. They seemed fonder of leaving me in a dark room by myself for days? weeks? at a time than actually hurting me. I wasn’t giving them what they wanted. They were content to wait it out.” His shoulders slumped. “I just wanted to go home.”

Nate closed his eyes, and when he opened them, that chilling look had come to them.

It took all of MatPat’s self control to not jump through the glass and protect Gar from whatever Nate was planning.

“Did any of them wear masks?”

Nate let out a long breath following his question, and MatPat instinctively held his. Was Nate going to accuse Gar of being Faceless?

Gar shook his head, not missing a beat.

“Not as far as I know. The guards I saw didn’t. The rest of the time, I was blinded under a hood.”

“You said you ran once you got out. Could you retrace your steps to where you were being kept?”

“Yes. It’s in the warehouse district, northwest of here.”

“You were kept in a warehouse? What else was in it?”

“I don’t know. The sections I was kept in were empty. I sometimes saw crates, but they were never opened around me.”

“I see.” Nate tapped his fingers on the desk. “Thank you for your time, Bluemoon. That’s all the questions I have. Session terminated at 09:36.” The chief reached over and clicked off the microphone, and the recording equipment next to Static and Snow whirred to a stop.

Gar nodded, standing up from his chair. He crossed his arms.

“Tell me, Bluemoon, did you still want to return to detective work?”

“If at all possible, sir.”

MatPat straightened, eyes fixed on Gar. He wanted to come back?

Nate nodded, and stepped forward to open the door. Gar paused, looking like he was about to say something, then stepped through.

There was a moment’s pause once Nate closed that door, then the door to the viewing room cracked open, and Sharp’s voice drifted in. “I’ll send you to the medical examiner. If you’re in decent condition, and if you’re still determined about it... then I’ll contact Detective Patrick, see if he’s even interested in taking you back at this point in time.”

MatPat narrowed his eyes and stiffened. What was the point of telling Gar that? Of course he would take him. Gar was his friend, and his partner against crime. No matter that Gar was a Faceless—that was a long discussion the two of them would have to have somewhere private—MatPat was determined to get back to working with him.

Nate knew this. Surely he remembered MatPat begging him to let him keep looking for Gar, the negotiations about MatPat taking Gar as his partner again instead of Snow. So why was he doing this.

“Very well, sir,” was all MatPat could hear from Gar.

Nate poked his head in after a few moments, immediately looking at MatPat.

“Oh good, you’re here. As far as I can tell, Gar is telling the truth about what happened.” Nate sighed. “I would like to hear all of your opinions later today—at least from you two, Detective Patrick; Officer Static. I know the two of you know him quite well. Knew him.” He cleared his throat and offered a smile to MatPat.

“You must be thrilled he’s back.”

It wasn’t hard to muster up a grin.

“Yes, sir.” He wasn’t sure if he could call him by his first name with the two officers there.

Nate nodded and stepped out. MatPat let out a long, long breath.

“He’s alive,” he whispered.

“He’s alive,” Static agreed, sounding close to tears himself. “Would you look at that.”

MatPat grinned broadly and set his shoulders.

Forget paperwork. And forget that report Nate wanted on the interrogation. Now that Gar was back, he was going to bother the chief until he got him back as his partner.

Chapter Text

Patrck shuffled rapidly through the papers on his desk until he found the file he was looking for. He’d have to stay late tomorrow to finish this all up, but right now he just needed to be home and hiding from the world.

“Woah,” Snow said, catching some papers that Patrck had knocked off in his rush, “what’s the hurry?”

“I’ve just got to get home fast, is all.” The lie tasted bitter in Patrck’s mouth, and he mentally sank deeper into despair at the thought of Snow ever finding out about the truth: Patrck was trying to avoid Gar. He was trying to avoid the man he’d killed.

Gar had been dead. He should be dead. Patrck had shot him and left him to bleed out in the snow. And ever since, Patrck had regretted that moment more than he’d regretted anything else he’d ever done. He’d shot his best friend: the only person to figure out Patrck was being blackmailed; one of the few people who had really bothered to try to get to know him.

And he’d left him to die.

“Oh, well, be safe,” Snow said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Patrck murmured some sort of response and walked away, dropping off the completed reports on his way out.

He’d thought Gar was dead, gone forever. Patrck had accepted that, swallowed the guilt and regret, told himself that it had been to keep Marie safe (or at least alive, since Patrck hadn’t even seen her in nearly six months).

And now it had come back to haunt him.

He still felt sick to his stomach; he had since this morning, when he first saw Gar. The unsettling mix of joy and horror, relief and guilt—it hadn’t left. The guilt had grown, though. It was swallowing up all the other emotions he could feel.

When he was watching Chief Sharp interrogate Gar, he’d seen the way Gar touched his shoulder, where Patrck’s own bullet had no doubt done all sorts of damage. He’d seen the way Gar sometimes favored his left arm, or the way it was just a hair slower than his right. He knew Gar knew what he’d done.

And yet Gar had claimed that he didn’t know who’d shot him. Had the injury hazed his memory of that night? He’d seemed to remember picking Patrck up on the motorcycle, though, and getting off near the Tiny Box. He knew he’d been shot. There was just- there was no way Gar didn’t remember Patrck shooting him.

So why was he doing that?

The only logical explanation was that Gar wanted to do something about it himself.

The thought was terrifying. Patrck didn’t know where Gar had been in the past months, or what had happened to the man he’d once called his friend. For all he knew, Gar could have been tortured, or brainwashed, or anything. He could be planning revenge. He could be waiting, biding his time until the right moment to pretend to recognize Patrck as the person who’d shot him.

Patrck stared at the street corner across from him, waiting for a car to pass so he could safely cross the street. None of his thoughts made sense. Gar wasn’t like that.

Well, Gar hadn’t been like that. Patrck hadn’t even spoken to him since Gar had miraculously returned, and he had no idea what feelings Gar was harboring.

It didn’t help that he’d seen Gar and Snow talking earlier in the day. It was only natural for Gar to be curious about the new people at the precinct, and it was only natural for Snow to be curious about Gar, but... Snow had been recruited as Gar’s replacement. The only reason he wasn’t actively partnered with MatPat was because the man had been suspended.

(Some part of Patrck’s mind idly wondered if any of the rumors of the reason MatPat had been suspended for so long were true. The man had been out for over a month, and even now he was only back part time? Surely something more had happened that hadn’t made it out to the general knowledge of the precinct.)

Patrck sighed and climbed the steps to his apartment. He had opened the door, stepped inside, and thrown his hat in the general vicinity of one of the chairs in the living room when he froze.

He hadn’t left the blinds closed this morning. He never remembered to close them.

Very softly, a light clicked on, revealing a figure sitting in the chair Patrck had thrown his hat at just moments before.

It was Gar. He was sitting there, one hand holding a beautifully crafted mask and the other gently setting Patrck’s hat on the side table.

Patrck blinked. His heart skipped a beat.

“G-Gar?”

Gar’s eyes met Patrck’s evenly, and he didn’t say anything for a moment. Just gestured for Patrck to take a seat across from him.

Patrck hesitantly complied, moving a blanket and his pillow aside before sitting on the couch.

Gar seemed to notice Patrck’s gaze flickering to the mask, because he casually held it up to cover his face, revealing an intricately stylized blue and gray wolf design, and red and blue lenses glinting from the eyes.

Then he set it in his lap, his eyes boring into Patrck again.

And then he spoke.

“We need to talk.”

“You’re-” Patrck’s gaze flicked to the mask again, his breath catching and terror rising. “You’re Faceless.”

He’d shot a Faceless.

He’d shot a Faceless.

Gar shrugged, smiling a bit.

“Yeah. Always have been.” He leaned forward smoothly, hands clasped. “Though I shouldn’t have to ask you to keep quiet about that.”

“But- Why tell me?”

Gar shrugged again. “You’d figure it out sooner or later, and I have to kill people who accidentally put it together. I wanted to avoid that.”

“I- But- Why?”

“Because you’re my friend, and I don’t want to kill you.”

Patrck swallowed.

“But I shot you.”

Gar touched his shoulder softly and replied, “Yeah. Yeah, you did. But you were scared, and desperate, and I can’t blame you for that.”

Patrck knew he was staring, knew his eyes were wide in fear still, but he couldn't help it. His past was here to haunt him, and do who-knew-what else, and it was a Faceless he'd shot.

There was just no way he was getting out of this.

“Look-” Gar shifted forwards in his seat, reaching out slightly to Patrck, as if aware he needed to see Gar’s hands empty of weapons- “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not angry with you—not anymore, at least.”

“...But I shot you.”

“Yes. You shot me. And it almost killed me. But I didn’t die, and I got lots of time to think about it. I might have done the same if I were in your position that night.” He set his hands on the arms of the chair. “Patrck, are you still getting blackmailed?”

Patrck clamped his mouth shut.

“I see,” Gar said dryly, sitting back in his seat. He let out a long sigh and rubbed the back of his neck. “I suppose you don’t know who’s doing it. Are you getting letters with your orders?”

After a long moment, Patrck slowly nodded.

“Okay. Can I have one of your old ones? I’m not going to take it to the precinct.” Gar touched his mask again. “I need to cross-reference it and find out if there’s one blackmailer running around or two.”

“I- Gar, I can’t. They’ll hurt Marie.”

“No, Pat. They won’t.”

Patrck gave Gar an incredulous look, but his friend wasn’t done.

“Whoever this is, they don’t have Marie. I made sure of that, and it’s what I was trying to tell you when you shot me.” Gar took a deep breath and clearly forced himself to relax (which didn’t do great things to Patrck’s nerves). “As soon as I figured out what was going on, I called Madame Foxglove. She has Marie safe and sound. And yes, I know this, because I checked in on her earlier.”

For a moment, Patrck felt faint, like he was going to pass out. Pure relief, he supposed absently, because he’d made sure to eat something today. It was relief. Marie was safe.

“You talked to her?”

“Well, no,” Gar admitted. “Marie was in the middle of a conversation at the time and I didn’t want to interrupt and have to explain what I was doing there. I’m not even sure she saw me. But she’s safe, and sound, and well.”

Patrck almost whined when he began, “Gar-”

“Pat, Pat, just- please. Listen to me.” Gar swallowed. “I’m playing a very dangerous game, and I’m going to need you to cooperate. I can pass letters between the two of you, but it’ll take finesse, and I can’t afford to get outed to the chief. If Sharp finds out I’m Faceless-”

“I’ve seen the mask on his wall.” Somehow, Patrck found his voice. “Something tells me he’s not too fond of them.”

Gar grimaced. “Yeah, that’s- that’s most definitely a trophy, there. Can’t say it was a great impression for my first day meeting him. I’m not sure I want to know the entire story behind it.”

“Did you tell MatPat? That you’re Faceless?”

“No,” he replied, wincing, “not yet. There’s no guarantee I’ll even be put back to working with him. I don’t even want to think about how I’d talk to him about it.”

Patrck dropped his head against the back of the couch, trying to process this all.

“So Marie is safe, and the blackmailer doesn’t know that.”

“Huh?” Gar blinked. “They don’t know?”

Patrck scrunched his shoulders, like he was trying to slide into himself.

“I haven’t filed her as missing. I didn’t know who I could trust, and I didn’t want to set the blackmailer off. Her friends think she’s at her family’s whenever they call, and I tell her family she’s out with friends when they call. The shopkeepers think I’m being a wonderful, dutiful partner, doing all the shopping. They stopped asking after Marie months ago.”

Gar set his chin in his palm, clearly thinking. Then, “If we keep it that way, we might be able to play the blackmailer.”

“That’s a dangerous game, Gar.”

“I play a lot of those,” Gar said simply, standing and tucking his mask into the inside of his jacket.

“Things could go wrong.”

“Let me think and plan, first. I’d much appreciate a look at the next blackmail letter you get, as that’ll help.” Gar tapped his chin. “Let’s not commit to anything yet.”

“We could both end up dead if the wrong person finds out about this,” Patrck pleaded. “Now that I know Marie is okay… I really don’t want to die.”

Gar smiled, and something in his expression seemed to relish the challenge.

“We’ll just have to make sure nothing we talked about in this room, leaves the room.” He chuckled slightly. “And death is just an occupational hazard, Pat. We’ll be fine.”

And with that, Gar left, leaving Patrck more than a little bit worried about his friend.

Chapter Text

“You’ve never let us write a letter before,” Stephanie Patrick said, her gaze cautious and questioning as she stood there, paper in hand and facing Molly. Next to her on the other bed, Marie nodded slowly, but didn’t say anything.

Molly simply handed a jar of ink to each woman.

“Before now, I had no way to get your letters to your men without risking an arrest.” Molly turned to leave the attic, but paused. “Rest assured, ladies. Nobody will read them but their recipients.”

“Why are you suddenly allowing this? Is something happening? Are you planning on moving us out of the city?”

Molly smiled softly, replying, “No. A mutual friend of yours wants to make sure Detective Patrick and Officer Static are aware of your safety, and I can get the letters to him to pass along without risking revealing him. It will take a few days, but it can be done.”

“Can we trust this person?” Marie asked suspiciously.

“You can trust him far more than I can, that’s for certain.” Molly sighed. “I haven’t led either of you to trouble yet. I’m not going to start now. Let me know when you ladies are done and I’ll have them set aside for your messenger.” With that, she left.

It would actually be morning before she returned, but that would give the two women plenty of time to write their letters.

In the meantime, though, she had a speakeasy to run, and business to attend to.

-----

A torrential rainstorm had cloaked the city, and the streets were being swept clean by sudden streams. Few dared to venture out—at least on legal business—and only those who knew the city well were able to navigate the endless darkness with any amount of ease. The streetlights barely cut through the sheets of rain.

The heavy downpour drowned out one man’s steady stream of curses. Heavy footsteps pounded against stone and splashed through puddles.

A shot echoed through the air, but its origins were lost to the rain.

Figures darted past a streetlight: first a group of four, in a wide variety of clothing; and then two in the familiar police blue.

“Stop- running!” Dlive shouted, spluttering against the rain.

No one stopped. The four men darted into a nearby alley.

Dlive slid on the slick sidewalk, initially missing the sharp turn, but Entoan managed to duck under his friend’s flailing arms and slide to the brick wall, which he used to push himself into the alley.

Entoan was just far enough ahead that Dlive could barely see him, much less react appropriately when one of the people they’d been chasing slammed him into the wall. He was too far away to do anything but shout as two others grabbed Entoan and pinned him against the alley’s bricks.

Well, there were the four they’d been chasing.

Four more figures emerged from the shadows.

“You shouldn’t have come alone, buttons,” one sneered, pulling out a pistol from underneath his jacket. “We outnumber you.”

Dlive could hear Entoan’s sharp gasps, and Dlive was struggling to get his own breathing under control. This was where things could go very wrong.

“You really shouldn’t have run,” Entoan panted, and a glance over at him proved that he was struggling against the two pinning him to the wall. “It’ll just make your sentence worse.” He curled up with a wheeze when a fist slammed into his gut.

One of the men pinning Dlive snorted.

“We don’t get a sentence for anything if they don’t find your bodies.”

Dlive flicked his gaze from one person to the next, then squinted down the alley, trying to see through the downpour.

“Nobody is out there, buttons. You’re dying all alone.”

The one with the gun pulled back the safety, and grins stretched across the gang of eight.

The shadow that had been materializing behind the one with the gun stepped out and smashed a heavy wooden baseball bat into his head. The man crumpled and blood began to spill into the large puddle spanning the alleyway.

Dlive instantly dropped his weight, pulling the two pinning him down with him. As soon as he could he rolled away, getting utterly soaked for his efforts but putting a healthy distance between him and them.

A lightbulb over a door in the alleyway, which had been flickering sporadically in the past few minutes, flared to life and illuminated the alley. The light reflected off the water pooled on the ground, and the remaining men realized what they were up against.

They all stared at Wade, with his baseball bat slung over one shoulder and gun pointed at the closest of the gang. Some stares swung over to Entoan, who had just made a corpse out of one of his ambushers. Dlive could see some hands slowly edging to concealed weapons, and he took the opportunity to pull his very non-standard-issue pistol from his holster and point it at the closest gang member.

“What’s this now?” One laughed weakly, looking around for an exit. “A pair of coppers, teaming up with a speakeasy man? An Orchid? We’re not that valuable.”

“We couldn’t just let him do this by himself,” Entoan said lightly, a soft smile flickering over his face. “Not after what you lot did to that Greenhouse.” And with that same smile, he yanked his knife out of the back of one of the gang who’d pinned him, the body sprawled into a puddle.

Several swallows were audible.

“We can make this easy,” Wade said, swinging his bat loosely. “You can all line up against the wall.”

A gang member reached for their gun.

Dlive did the logical thing: he shot them in the face.

It was at that point the remainder tried to run. Three of them charged at Wade, and the other two headed for the entrance of the alley—the entrance Dlive stood in front of.

He shot at them, hitting one in the shoulder before the other grabbed his gun, pushing his arm to the side and trapping it against the brick. He punched that man in the jaw, then squeezed the trigger. The bullet drilled into the man’s arm, and he crumpled against the wall with a howl. Dlive yanked his gunarm free from the man’s grasp, and slammed the butt of his gun into the side of the man’s head.

Entoan had grabbed the second man heading Dlive’s way. When they had staggered to a stop after the bulletwound, he’d hooked himself onto the man’s back. There had been a brief moment of scuffles and twisting, but Entoan had held on tight and pushed his knife into the side of the man’s neck. The moment his feet hit the ground he pulled the blade out of his throat, and the resulting spray of bright red from the man’s severed artery mixed with the rain on the brick wall.

With those two down, there were only the three at Wade’s end left.

Wade had managed to get enough distance between him and his attackers to let off a shot, and one was lying on the ground, wailing. When another man grabbed his gun and sent it skittering across the stone, Wade deftly pushed him away with the bat to the man’s chest and swung his bat into his skull.

He didn’t hit hard enough to kill the man, but it was most definitely enough to daze him and send him stumbling backwards.

The third man managed to move in close, too close for Wade’s bat to be of any use, and landed a solid punch. Wade grunted and raised his other arm, blocking the second swing. The second man, still knocked to the ground, was slowly crawling over to Wade’s gun. The intent was clear.

“No you don’t,” Entoan said, pulling out his police-issued revolver. He didn’t like using it when on an Orchid job, but he would think of a story if it became an issue. He always did.

A single gunshot later, and then there was only one left.

Wade threw his final attacker to the ground, but before he could bring the bat down on his head the man managed to scramble to his feet, careen into the brick wall, and barrel into Dlive in his reckless—and futile—escape.

Dlive grunted and pushed the man away, scoffing as the man pulled a knife and swiped at him. He leaned back and easily avoided the edge of the blade, then quickly raised his pistol once more-

Wade smashed his bat into the guy’s head with enough force that his bat snapped.

“Hey!” Dlive said. “That was my kill.”

Wade frowned at him, picking up the two pieces of his bat.

“And it was my bat. What’s your point?”

Entoan laughed softly, walking over to the nearest body and checking for a pulse.

Dlive watched for a moment before sighing and sliding his gun back into its holster. “I’m pretty sure that one’s dead, Entoan.”

“I’m just making sure they’re not going to come up behind us later.”

“That one was shot in the face.”

“I’m sure people have survived shots to the face before.” Entoan stood up from the body and moved to the next one.

“You heading out?” That was directed at Wade, who had started walking out of the alley.

“I’ve got to get home and clean myself up before I join Molly at Calypso. It’s a meet-up tonight, so I don’t want to miss it.”

“Lucky,” Dlive grumbled. “You could stay and help us with the report for these guys. This one’s going to take a lot of storytelling.”

Wade laughed, and left them to it.

-----

Calypso was a busy place these days. Molly kept it small and controlled, but it was still difficult for someone as tall as Wade to navigate this crowd.

He managed, eventually dropping down at the regular table: one of the largest in the room. Under the privacy of the table, Molly’s hand reached over to grasp his for a moment before returning to rest on the table.

“Should I ask why you’re late?” Felix asked softly, leaning back in his chair.

“It took longer than I wanted to hunt down some people,” Wade said, glancing around the table. The usual group was here: Molly, of course; and Felix (with Ken sitting at a table a few feet away); Wiishu; then the two most uncommon additions: PJ and Jordan.

PJ still wasn’t very comfortable sitting at the same table as Wiishu. He always seemed to expect her to stab him with her pen, rather than simply use it as she always did, drawing in her notebook.

“We’ve narrowed down the locations,” Molly said. “We’re just looking at the ones in Charlestown and Back Bay right now. And I ultimately want a speakeasy in each, but let’s take it slow and cautious.”

“Either one has river access,” PJ said. “I’ll still be able to get you your booze.”

It was an interesting arrangement that had shown up between Molly, PJ, and Felix. After Wade had nearly died bootlegging, Molly had been reluctant to continue, but when she’d decided to open Calypso she’d needed some way of getting the alcohol from Felix’s storehouses to the speakeasy.

PJ had volunteered.

Well, specifically, he had volunteered his men. He never committed blatant crimes these days if he could help it, but the opportunity had apparently been too good to pass up.

When asked, he’d just shrugged, smiled, and said something about annoying Mir with competition.

“Charlestown is a lot poorer than Back Bay,” Wade pointed out. “The Back Bay eggs are less likely to care if they’re caught. They have the money to bribe the police, and pay the bail.”

“There are more people in Charlestown, though.”

PJ just leaned back in his chair and sipped at his drink, clearly waiting for them to come to some kind of agreement.

Wade and Molly discussed back and forth, leaving Felix and PJ to wait. And they waited for quite a while—long enough for both of them to finish their drinks and to get new ones.

PJ stared at his for a long moment, turning it slightly to catch the light. It had some frilly feminine name (as did most of the cocktails here, it was hard to escape), something like “Lady of the Garden”, and was distinctly rose-colored. While that likely had to do a lot with the whole flower theme Molly had going on, it reminded him of the Boston Boxer. Mark’s drink.

He took a sip of it, half expecting it to be the smoky sweetness of the Boxer. It was floral and a little citrusy, as the other half of him expected, but he was still left feeling disappointed.

He missed Mark’s drinks. He missed the way the guy always knew something was going on. He missed Mark.

But Mir had him. Mir had Mark, and Mir had Sophie.

PJ set his glass down harder than was strictly necessary, and whatever Molly had been saying died on her tongue as she looked over in surprise.

“PJ?” Wade asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Not much.” PJ took a deep breath, gently folding his hands around his glass. “Just thinking of what I want to do to Mir once Mark and Sophie are safe.”

“Hopefully this plan involves murder,” Wiishu said softly, causing everyone to look at her. “You’re good at that. A bullet to the face is too good for him, though.”

Harsh, awful words bubbled to the surface of PJ’s mind, but he didn’t dare speak them out loud. He couldn’t do that, not on her last night in Boston.

So he pushed the words aside, and they were replaced with those old, familiar feelings of guilt and anger and disgust—in himself, and in Jack; that the two of them had been able to hide from each other for so long. They’d been pretending for so long.

PJ stilled his face and hardened his eyes. With a cold smile he stood and pardoned himself. Jordan caught him by the sleeve, but he brushed the other man’s hand off, buttoned his suit jacket, and stalked towards the back end of the speakeasy.

He turned a corner into an empty, narrow hallway, and leaned against the wall. A breath shuddered past his lips and tried his best to swallow back the emotions. He’d been able to ignore them for this long—in fact, he thought he’d been rid of them at this point, it had been half a year after all—but it was harder to maintain his strong shell when he was sitting at a speakeasy’s table with old friends, sharing drinks and words like the old days. Sometimes he’d catch himself looking for Jack’s grinning face up on the stage, or listening for Mark’s drawling voice from behind the bar.

He’d catch himself searching for Sophie in the crowd.

But he’d killed Jack, and Mir had Mark and Sophie, and there was far too little PJ could do about any of that.

“Peej?”

A hand touched his shoulder and PJ jumped away with a curse before he recognized the person in front of him.

His shoulders slumped with a sigh.

“Felix.”

“You look like you’re about to cry.”

PJ tightened his lips and sent his best glare Felix’s way.

“I’m not. Don’t worry. I just forget how…”

“How angry Wiishu still is? Yeah.” Felix brushed his palm over his hair, grimacing as it came away with a thin coat of oily product. He stepped fully into the hallway and leaned against the opposite wall, his shoes inches away from PJ’s.

“I get it. I killed Jack. She can’t forgive me for that. I get it.” PJ’s shoulders slumped. “I can’t forgive myself for that.”

Felix nodded silently as he wiped at his hand with a kerchief.

“And I think finding out that Mark’s still alive, it’s made it worse. I know she can’t help but think, why isn’t that Jack? But I know I shot him, I know I hit him in the face. I was there, Felix. I was there, and I saw him die. Even he couldn’t survive a bullet to the face. My bullet to the face.”

“She’s grieving.”

“It’s been almost exactly six months. That’s a long time to still be angry about it. And-” PJ gestured vaguely. “And knowing this is the last time we’ll ever see each other? I just... wish I didn’t deserve this treatment.”

Felix put a concerned hand on PJ’s shoulder.

“Peej-”

“Peej, is everything okay?” Jordan’s voice cut into the narrow hall, and Felix hastily dropped his hand from PJ’s shoulder moments before Jordan stepped in. Even around Jordan, it wasn’t really safe for two adult men to touch each other in public, certainly not when they were standing this close together.

“I’m fine,” PJ said, smiling wryly despite the ache that was building in his heart. “I just needed a minute.”

“Of course, but... you shouldn’t go off by yourself. I hate to say it, but it’s just...”

“I know.” PJ looked up and pushed himself away from the wall. “I know, Jordan.” He straightened his shoulders and took a moment to compose himself. “Let’s get back then, shall we?”

Chapter Text

“Come on,” Billy urged softly, gently pushing Sam and Betty to the room where the spuds slept. “She’s coming back.”

The three spuds snuck across the catwalk as quietly as they could, trying not to alert any of the adults on watch that they were awake long after they should have been. Chica gently trotted along behind them, carefully keeping an eye on them but also wagging her tail.

They hadn’t planned on being awake so late. Not exactly. Sam had woken up with a nightmare—they had them fairly often, after Jack had died—and when neither Billy nor Betty had been able to comfort them, they’d all gone looking for Wiishu.

(Chica had tried too, but licks and cuddles only did so much.)

Wiishu wasn’t always in the warehouse anymore, especially not at night. She’d managed to get a job at one of Boston’s newspapers as an illustrator, and had her own apartment in the city. Rhett had assured her that the mob could continue to support her, but she’d said something about too many memories and declined.

She still spent plenty of days in the warehouse, after she got her work in. She would play with the spuds with that sad smile on her face. And on weekends, she spent the night with them.

Which was why they’d been expecting her to be around when they went looking for her.

But she hadn’t been, and worse, their wandering had gotten the attention of one of the younger grown-ups—well, he was a bit younger than Jack had been, but anyone younger than Rhett was a young grown-up.

Nogla hadn’t had much comfort to offer them, but had offered them a drink of water and a bedtime story to try to lull them back to sleep. And they’d pretended, for a while, and Billy had even started drifting off, until Nogla was satisfied and left them alone.

At that point, it had been easy enough to sneak across the catwalk to the spot where Jack used to sit when he kept watch and peer out the windows, waiting for Wiishu’s return.

Which brought them to now, moving as quickly and as quietly as they could, trying to get back to their beds before she did.

They barely made it, each of them ducking under their covers and Chica curling up next to Sam, before the curtain to the room slid aside and Wiishu’s silhouette blocked the faint light leaking from the moon and the distant streetlights.

She stood there for a moment before letting the curtain drop. The gap at the bottom revealed her feet turning and walking away, returning to the room she and Jack had shared for the months leading to his death, and the room she’d given up to Mark so he could heal on something softer than the floor.

The three spuds laid next to each other for a long time before Sam squirmed out and padded towards the curtain. Of course, Billy and Betty and Chica had to follow.

With one hand on Chica for comfort, Sam led the way to the room very quietly. They didn’t want to attract Nogla’s attention again. He’d probably be gentle with them, considering they were all still pretty little kids, but they didn’t particularly want to risk it. They especially didn’t want to risk him telling Rhett about it in the morning, because he would definitely have words for them.

Not mean ones. He was a dad, his kids played with the spuds sometimes, so he knew how it was. But definitely words.

Sam froze, one foot still in the air, when the sound of footsteps inside the room reached the edge of their hearing.

Then they frowned and tiptoed forward, peeking into the slight crack she’d left between the door and the frame.

Wiishu was looking around the room, a distant look in her eyes. She didn’t really seem to be looking at anything in particular, but everything all at once—her gaze taking in the cracked and splintered floor, the faded and chipping paint over the walls, the tattered curtains covering the single window high on the wall.

She sighed and said, “Can’t say I’m going to miss this place.”

The three spuds looked at each other, confusion and concern warring on their faces.

What was that supposed to mean? Was she not going to come back on weekends anymore?

“I don’t want to say goodbye to them,” Wiishu continued quietly. “I don’t want to leave them without saying goodbye, either. But I shouldn’t wake them, and I don’t have time to wait until morning if I want to board my ship on time.”

The spuds stared at each other with wide eyes and distress clear. A ship? A big ocean ship? Was she leaving? For how long? ...Forever?

“I can wait downstairs for you to finish,” Rhett said. “I’ll pack your bags in the back seat so you’ve got more time.”

“Thank you.”

The door opened all the way, revealing Wiishu’s familiar form, all dressed for travel, and Rhett in the corner of the room picking up luggage.

Wiishu sighed, looking down at the spuds.

“I should have known you three would be awake.”

Sam darted forward, wrapping their arms around her waist in a tight hug, immediately followed by Billy and Betty doing the same.

“How long have you been here?” Wiishu asked, returning the embrace and holding them much tighter than any of the three spuds expected, as if she was trying to store up the memory. “You should have been in bed.”

“You’re leaving?” Billy looked up at her, a hurt expression in his eyes. “Why?”

Chica barked softly, circling the four of them and almost causing Rhett to trip over her as he walked down to the main doors.

“Sam had a nightmare,” Betty whispered, “so we came looking for you, since we couldn’t fix it. But I guess since you’re leaving you can’t either.” She didn’t bother trying to keep the betrayed tone out of her voice.

Wiishu stood very still for a long moment before beginning to cry, clutching the three children as close to her as she could.

“I’m going back home, to my family. I’ve been planning it for months—that’s why I got the job at the paper, to save money for it.” She brushed Billy’s hair out of his face. “I wanted to tell you all earlier, but... I couldn’t bring myself to. I’m sorry.”

Sam held her tighter. “Why are you leaving us? I thought we were your family.”

“Oh, Sam,” Wiishu breathed, breaking contact with the other two to crouch and put her hands on their shoulders. “I came here for Jack. As much as I love you three, I have no reason to stay with him being dead, and I can’t afford to bring you with me.” She put her hand under their chin and lifted it gently. “It’ll be okay. As soon as I arrive, I’ll send a letter back to tell you how the trip went. You can send me as many letters as you want, as long as you want, and I’ll be happy to read them and learn how you’re doing here. And don’t worry, I’ve already got a job set up and waiting for me, so I’ll be okay.”

All three spuds stared at her with anguished expressions.

“But I don’t want to send you letters,” Betty said. “I want you to stay here.”

Wiishu sat back on her heels, turning her head. The action didn’t hide the tears streaming down her face.

“I know, Bet. But I can’t be a mother for you. I have to go home. I need to see my family.”

“I thought this was your home!” Billy waved at the rafters and bricks and darkness that constituted the warehouse. “I thought we were your family.”

“At one point, I was happy to call this place home.” Wiishu looked up at the distant ceiling. “But... so much has happened since then. Ever since Jack died, it’s felt more like a tomb, a memorial to his legacy.” She shook her head. “I can’t live with that.”

“But Signe-” Sam dipped their head, sending their hair falling into their face, “what’s going to happen to us?” They hugged themselves tightly. “Nobody else helped my nightmares as much.”

“I know, Sam. I’m sorry.” She swallowed heavily, then set her hands in her lap. “You’ll stay here. Rhett promised you’ll be taken care of. And I’m leaving that book that helps a lot.” She looked over at Billy. “Billy can read it to you.”

“I don’t know how to read well enough,” Billy protested. “You’ve only been teaching me for a few months—I’m still having trouble with the newspaper, and that’s not a story.”

“You’ll be okay,” Wiishu assured, though something in her expression suggested she wasn’t entirely confident about that. “You can ask some of the older spuds to help, I’m sure one or two of them know how to read.”

“What if Jack’s not dead?” Betty suddenly asked. “Nobody found his body. He wasn’t in a hospital or a moriarty.”

“Morgue,” Wiishu corrected gently. “Moriarty was one of the people in Sherlock Holmes.”

Betty waved the correction off.

“Whatever. But I’m serious: what if he’s still alive?”

“He’s not, Betty. He was shot. Lots of people saw it happen.”

“Then why didn’t he show up in a morgue?” Sam asked, wrapping their arms around Chica’s neck, getting a wet tongue under their chin in return. “Did somebody want his body?”

“No. Nobody wanted his body.”

“So if nobody wanted his body, and he’s not in any of the places we’d expect him to be...” Betty said, “how do you know he’s dead?”

“He got shot in the face, Betty. The brain is right there. I don’t know how he could have lived.”

“But what if he just got grazed? It’d hurt a lot, and he might pass out for a bit, but do you think he could have survived that?”

“Betty. We’ve already talked about this, remember? He’s gone. Surviving that would take a miracle.” Wiishu picked at a loose thread on her jacket. “I think we used up all our miracles on Mark.”

“But-”

“Sean is dead, Betty. He’s not coming back.”

Betty closed her mouth, teeth hitting together with an audible click.

Wiishu swallowed as the three children stared at her. She stood, smoothing her skirt.

“I’ll miss you. Write me when you can, and I’ll write you when I can.”

“Goodbye, Billy,” she said. “Take care of these two. Don’t walk Chica alone.” She embraced him, kissing him softly on the forehead.

Billy swallowed stiffly. “Goodbye, Signe. Safe travels.”

Wiishu moved to Betty, embracing her.

“Goodbye, Betty. You’re stronger than you think you are, and you can do more than you know.”

Betty rubbed the tears out of her face.

“Goodbye. I’ll make sure someone teaches Sam and Billy and me how to read and write so we don’t need help with your letters.”

“Good girl,” Wiishu murmured, kissing her on the forehead. “Make Billy help you.”

She turned to Sam, pulling them in close and nestling her cheek against their head. “Goodbye, Sammy. You’ve got this.” She kissed their forehead, tears running down her cheeks.

“Don’t go,” Sam begged. “Please.”

“I have to,” Wiishu murmured, hugging them tight once more.

Finally, she turned to Chica, giving the golden retriever a thorough fur rub.

“You’re a good girl. Keep these three safe, okay?”

Chica wagged her tail, tongue lolling.

Wiishu stood and stared at the three children and dog for a moment, then turned and left, holding a hand to her mouth. Her heels clacked down the stairs and across the floor as she joined Rhett, waiting at the exit with luggage in hand.

And then she was gone.

Chapter Text

MatPat enjoyed the sunshine, he really did. And he liked casual Sundays. They allowed him to get his thoughts in order and prep for the week to come. Recently, he’d been spending them with Thomas Sanders, just to reassure his friend that he really was doing okay—now that he was staying in his own house alone. Today, though, he’d cancelled their day plans and offered a “maybe” for the usual dinner. Today, he was going to visit another friend.

Nate had very begrudgingly, late last night, told MatPat that Gar had been reinstated as his partner. Gar had passed all the physical exams, though he was worryingly roughed up around the edges. Understandably, all things considered, and MatPat had been cautioned to “make sure he doesn’t charge headlong into danger.”

MatPat had yet to talk to Gar since he’d arrived nearly a week ago, and he needed to fix that. He didn’t want to just jump headfirst into work on Monday morning without clearing the air between them. He had a lot of questions he needed to ask Gar, and most of them weren’t suitable to being overheard by anyone at the precinct.

But he didn’t want to overwhelm Gar, either. Whatever he’d gone through in the past six months had to have been a lot, and being dumped back into everything so quickly couldn’t be easy. He’d been shot, after all. And while he hadn’t been held captive by Mir (Sanders had said otherwise last week, and Gar wasn’t in bad enough shape to have been Mir’s plaything for half a year) Gar had still been away from friends and family for a horribly long time.

And there was the whole Faceless thing.

MatPat definitely had to talk to Gar about that.

So here he was, walking up to Gar’s apartment building, trying to figure out how he might start talking about all of that, when Gar walked out with Dante.

“Oh!” Gar blinked as he and MatPat nearly collided, both barely pulling back in time to avoid it. “Matthew. I wasn’t expecting to see you until tomorrow.”

“I figured I’d stop by to see how you were doing, but I guess this is a bad time.” MatPat nodded at Dante, pulling on his leash. “I’ll not interrupt his walk.”

Gar looked a little lost, a little confused. Then, “No, no. Why don’t you join us. I just had to get away from my dad’s worrying, and he’ll probably be happy to know I’m not walking around alone.”

MatPat blinked, then smiled.

“Sure.”

They walked in relative silence for a while—Gar seemed lost in thought, and MatPat didn’t want to startle him—until Gar spoke.

“You know, nobody’s told me what’s gone on with you.” He looked over, concern clear on his face. “I heard you were suspended for a few months?”

MatPat winced at the memory.

“Yeah. Yeah I did, for a little bit. Punched O’Donnell in front of Carpett.”

“I assume nobody told him O’Donnell regularly gets punched for that mouth of his.”

“I broke his nose.”

Gar stared at MatPat for a moment, then threw back his head and laughed, spluttering out, “You what?”

MatPat rubbed the back of his neck, fighting back a grin.

“He deserved it, alright. He was badmouthing you and Stephanie, and at the time... everyone thought you were both dead-” his smile faded- “and it was just... a lot to deal with.”

“Oh. I see.” He touched his left shoulder, for only the briefest of seconds, a distant look on his face. “Yeah, I can see why they’d think that.”

“I-” MatPat took a deep breath. “I was looking for you, for both of you, but... I...” His shoulders slumped. “I couldn’t find you, and you had to deal with… with Mir, and I could have stopped that, but-”

“Matt.”

“I tried so hard, Gar, but your trail went cold-”

“Matthew.”

MatPat looked up to see Gar smiling at him and paused. Was Gar going to admit the truth about where he’d been? Was he going to correct MatPat, tell him Mir hadn’t held him captive? Was Gar going to trust him?

“Thank you for looking for me. From the sounds of it, you were the only one who did.”

Something heavy in MatPat’s heart dropped away, leaving it feeling just a little bit lighter—even as it settled in his stomach. He’d have to give Gar time, then, to tell the truth. “I- Of course.” And then he paused and really looked at Gar. “...Are you okay?”

Gar blinked, and then looked at Dante.

“I’ve been cleared for duty, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“You know it’s not.”

Gar looked away, fixing his gaze on the trees on the other side of the street. It was nearly a block before he looked back.

“I... I’ll manage. I think I’ll be okay.” Gar swallowed. “So what happened with that? Were we right? How did Justice Fischbach react when you told him?”

MatPat stopped mid-step.

Gar didn’t know.

Gar paused and turned, a questioning look on his face.

“Were we wrong?”

“No.” MatPat shook himself a bit and started walking again. “No, we were right. It’s just... I haven’t heard anyone call him that since December.”

Gar looked over, brow furrowed, but didn’t say anything as the two began walking again in silence.

Finally, MatPat spoke, voice heavy.

“Carpett had him arrested for being related to Mark, saying it was association with a speakeasy.”

Gar’s eyes widened.

“But he didn’t know.”

“I know that, and you know that, but...”

“So they’re both in prison now? Where?” Gar frowned. “Have you visited them?”

MatPat shook his head again. “Kjellberg bailed Tom out of prison. Mark- Mark’s dead.” It was impossible to know if Mark had set the fire that had killed him, or if someone else had; in either case, he’d been caught in it, and now he was gone.

And while MatPat would never admit it, Mark’s death had left a hole in his heart.

As MatPat explained it all to Gar, Gar’s face fell, slowly becoming somber once more.

“It’s been a rough six months,” MatPat finished quietly.

“Yeah,” Gar said softly. “Yeah it has.”

A long moment of silence.

“What else have I missed?” Gar asked.

“Uh, well, Carpett was murdered last week. We still don’t know who did it. Whoever did it though, was in and out fast.”

Gar raised his eyebrows.

“Should I feel bad about not having to deal with him anymore.”

“I mean it’s sad someone was murdered, but... he’s probably the most celebrated death this year.”

“How did they kill him?”

“Stabbing. Him and his wife both.”

“I understand why someone would want to kill him, but why her? She’s never done anything.”

MatPat spread his hands in a shrug.

The topic turned to lighter things: MatPat being Sanders’ understudy, and the play, and how much MatPat was enjoying it even though Sanders was back to playing the Phantom. How Gar would have to come watch the play one time before it ended in July, maybe even on the night MatPat was scheduled to take Sanders’ place.

“Oh, I heard about what happened opening night,” Gar said. “You okay?”

MatPat nodded. “Yeah. I am.” He paused and looked at Gar, an old realization reforming into something very clear. The way the Faceless who’d saved him had moved had been familiar, and Gar-

“But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

Gar went very still for a long moment before sighing and closing his eyes.

“Matthew, don’t ask these questions. You aren’t going to like the answers.”

“You got away from Mir and put on a mask to kill an officer and save me all in the same night?” MatPat’s eyes narrowed. Maybe Gar would come clean now. Maybe all he needed was some pressure.

“I ran away from Mir the night before, and got the best sleep I’ve had in months in my own bed, first of all.” Gar glanced over, and while his face was calm, there was a definite fire in his eyes.

“...But you are Faceless, aren’t you.”

Gar stopped and turned to face MatPat fully.

“Yes. Are you going to tell Chief Sharp?”

“No. I’m worried what he’d do if he found out.”

Gar rubbed the back of his head and let out a breath, beginning to move again.

“You’ve seen the mask on his wall?”

“Yeah. Is that a Faceless mask?”

“It is. I had to look it up, ask one of the older maskmakers, but... that was his. His formal one, in any case.” He pursed his lips and shook his head. “I’m surprised he still has it. Normally they’re taken and destroyed when people leave on bad terms, like he did. His regular mask was definitely taken and destroyed.”

“...Formal mask?”

“The masks we use in formal settings.” Gar shrugged one shoulder. “You get them when you become a full Faceless and graduate from training.”

“Do you have one?”

Gar nodded with a small, proud smile.

“What’s it look like?”

“Like a wolf.” Gar glanced over his shoulder, grinning sharply. “And you already know what my regular one looks like.”

MatPat blinked at the memory of the wolf mask staring down at him, the red and blue lenses glinting in the low light.

“You saved my life.” And killed an officer.

“I still wanted to be your partner. You need to be alive for that,” Gar replied with a short laugh.

Something about the way Gar said that nagged at MatPat, and he hesitated as they took a turn around a corner.

“And now? Do you still want that?”

Gar chuckled, the familiar sound easing some of the worry and fear worming its way through MatPat’s heart.

“Who else would put up with me?”

MatPat smiled himself, though it wasn’t as genuine as he wanted it to be.

“You’re not worried about me knowing you’re Faceless?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t figure it out earlier.”

MatPat bit his tongue and shrugged.

“I did, but I thought I was wrong. For a while I thought I was wrong about Mir having you too.” He sighed. “I thought you were dead, Gar.”

Gar looked over, something unidentifiable warring behind his eyes.

“I was worried about it for a while myself.”

If he was going to say more about the topic, he never did. Instead, his gaze moved past MatPat to a familiar building, and his face split into a grin.

“Glad to see the bakery didn’t vanish while I was gone.”

MatPat turned to see Rosanna’s bakery sitting there, and smiled despite himself.

“It is. She opened a second location recently, but I haven’t had the chance to find out where it is yet.”

Gar’s grin widened.

“Twice the chance for amazing pastries.” He walked towards the building. “I can’t even fully remember what they taste like.”

“I’ll have to take you sometime, then,” MatPat said, following.

They could see through the windows that the inside of the brick building was dark. That was hardly surprising. Most places were closed Sunday, and Ro’s was no exception. Still, there seemed to be a light on in the back. Was someone baking in there, despite it being Sunday?

The answer came easily enough when a young man slipped out of the back room and headed to the door. Gar’s soft gasp and the young man’s grin when he saw them at the window easily said that the two recognized each other, but MatPat could not place the new person at all.

The young man threw open the door.

“Gar! Buddy! You’re looking good for a dead man!”

“Not dead yet,” Gar said, laughing. “It’ll take something more to keep me down.”

The two enthusiastically shook hands, and the young man crouched to give Dante a few good pets before standing again.

“You wanna come in for a bit, get out of the the heat?” The way he held open the door, and his infectious smile, left no room for argument.

“What are you doing here on a Sunday?” Gar asked. “I thought you liked your weekends.”

The young man chuckled.

“Oh, I do, but someone has to come in and check on the stuff in the ice box and make sure nothing spoiled over the night. Miss Pansino and I used to alternate doing it, but with two stores now, we each have to take one every week.”

“That’s rough,” Gar said sympathetically.

“It’s fine. It doesn’t take long, and it’s a low price for working here.” The young man touched the counter fondly.

“Oh!” Gar stepped aside, leaving MatPat and the young man facing each other. “Introductions! Matt, this is Daniel, a friend of mine. Dan, this is Matthew Patrick.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Daniel said easily. “Glad to finally put a face to the man Gar’s spoken so highly of.”

MatPat couldn’t help but smile as they shook hands.

“It’s good to know he has friends. He spends so much time working I start doubting he has a life.”

“Oh, he doesn’t have a life.” Daniel laughed again. “Trying to make plans with him was a hassle and a half, and then he up and disappeared for six months.”

“Wasn’t my idea,” Gar said, though he sounded amused.

“I’m sure it wasn’t. You made Nin cry when she found out, you know that?” Daniel gave Gar an accusing look.

Gar crossed his arms and looked away.

“I didn’t know that. I’ll have to go talk to her.”

“Nin?” MatPat asked.

Daniel walked over to the counter and started messing with the display case, but MatPat ignored him to listen.

“One of my neighbors,” Gar said. “The three of us have been friends since I got to Boston last year.”

“Ah.” MatPat smiled. “I really am glad to hear you have friends outside of work.”

“I try.”

“You know what,” Daniel said, “here. As a ‘welcome home,’ go ahead and have this.” He walked back over and held out a pastry box. “I already put money in the back for it, so you’ve got to take it.”

Gar hesitated, then reached forward and took it, a smile crossing his face once more.

“Thanks. You didn’t need to do that.”

“What are friends for?” Daniel shrugged. “Now, come on. I’ve got to lock up.” He made a wry face. “You know, I’m gonna miss this place. Miss Pansino is moving me over to manage the sister location starting tomorrow, and I don’t know how often I’ll manage to get back here.” He gave the wall a gentle pat, then pulled out his keys.

They all ended walking together for a few blocks. Gar and Daniel talked almost non-stop, laughing and smiling and enjoying themselves, and MatPat watched them with a sad smile. He didn’t begrudge Gar happiness, but it sure made him miss Jason all the more.

But, he realized as Daniel took a turn with a wave and he and Gar continued back towards Gar’s apartment, he had Gar back now. Even if Gar was still lying to him, still hiding the truth, he was back. MatPat could ignore the feeling of betrayal. He could even brush aside the disappointment he felt about Gar continuing his game of secrets. He’d do that for Gar. For his friend. Gar deserved that much; he didn’t need yet another person asking endless questions and pushing for answers..

“Here,” Gar said, handing the pastry box to MatPat, “there’s one in there for you too.”

“What a kind fellow.” MatPat bit into the pastry—a tart—with a smile, relishing the lovely taste. “Do you have any other friends in bakeries?”

Gar laughed and replied, “No, not that I know about. Although I have been gone a while, so maybe.” He bit into his tart and smiled, mumbling something around it about how good it was.

MatPat just laughed.

“I do have more friends, though.” Gar shifted Dante’s leash in his hand to better hold the tart. “You’ve actually already met one. Snow—he and I were friends when we were kids, before my dad and I had to move a lot. I didn’t know he’d moved here until I saw him at the precinct.”

“He’s a good guy.”

“A little noisy,” Gar admitted, “but he tries hard.”

MatPat just clapped Gar on the shoulder with a chuckle.

“You just described yourself.”

Gar flashed him a grin and took another bite of his tart.

Chapter Text

The small room was filled with the soft, albeit scratchy, sound of music coming over the radio. It was a slightly whimsical tune, as if echoing the summer fairs and carnivals and circuses that came through each year. Or maybe this particular one was more similar to something you’d hear at a ball game.

Mark let out a long, pained breath, dropping his head back onto the floor with a soft thud.

“You’re stiff,” Sophie remarked quietly, crouching next to Mark to help him up.

Mark grunted softly. It always took both of them to get him up when he was completely on the ground like this—he couldn’t lean on his crutches for weight, and there was no way his right leg could take it.

“Haven’t been able to do this for a few weeks.”

“Well, we’re moving buildings Sunday. Let’s not skip this in the next few days, it’ll only make things worse.”

Despite himself, Mark groaned.

The stretches and the light strength-building activities Sophie had insisted on, they helped. They really did. At the very least, Mark didn’t hurt himself moving as often, and could last longer up and about. But they were hard, and they had to be done when they had access to the radio, so the music could cover any sounds Mark made. Within reason, of course; but it was better than being immediately found out by the guards outside the door.

Sophie helped Mark over to his bed, where he responded to the pain by letting loose a quiet grumble of back-to-back curses.

Sophie ignored him, though a smile twitched on her face.

Once Mark was settled enough to make himself comfortable, she ducked into the tiny bathroom attached and returned with a cool damp cloth, still dripping just a little. Mark took it and set about pressing it to his most sore spots—though he didn’t particularly bother lifting it up as he moved it about. Even if the basement they were in was fairly cool for a June day, the cold was welcome.

Mark glanced up at the radio, propped in the corner of the room, as the music stopped and the faint sound of papers shuffling made its way through the microphone.

“It’s been a fairly calm day, all things considered,” Dan’s familiar voice came through. “Nobody notable died out of the blue, and there haven’t been any big mob fights since our last check-in an hour ago.”

“Let’s not forget that today does mark an interesting day, though,” Phil’s voice countered easily. The station wavered, and a faint song ghosted over his voice before Sophie fiddled with the dial. “Today, it was announced that Detective Garuku Bluemoon officially returned to active duty in the third precinct. His name should be familiar, it came up quite often in the news last winter. Neither he, his partner Detective Matthew Patrick, nor Chief Nathan Sharp, had anything to say about what would have caused him to go on leave for six months, but it was definitely an interesting day for the precinct.”

“I’m fairly certain he was shot.”

“Rumours, Dan. We can’t go about spreading those.”

Dan chuckled softly.

“It’s made people ask a lot of questions, though,” Phil acknowledged. “Today marks exactly six months since we all woke up Christmas morning and heard of the arson of the Tiny Box, the arrest of former Judge Fischbach, and the death of Mark Fischbach.”

Today was Wednesday, June 25. He’d been a dead man for six months. Mir was sure to be in after the speakeasy closed, or maybe before it opened in a few hours, to make some sort of comment on it.

Well, at least to comment on how it had been yet another month and nobody had come looking for Mark. Most people thought he was dead, of course, but what of the mob? What of Wiishu? Clearly they didn’t care about him, or they’d have found him by now.

Mark banished that thought and winced, pressing the cold cloth to his neck to try to ease the cramp developing there. He had been afraid of that happening.

“Do you think the two were related? The arson, and Detective Bluemoon’s leave?” Phil had continued.

Dan tsk -ed softly.

“We’re not a tabloid, Phil. We stick to facts, not rumors.”

“Let’s get the fact of what you think.”

Dan chuckled softly.

“Lester.”

“Come on, Howell.”

“I don’t know why they would be connected. An injured detective and arson are two very different events.” Dan sounded like he was ready to have the conversation end there. Like he was trying to avoid thinking about that night.

Of course, it didn’t.

“But the rumors of the Tiny Box being a speakeasy. Detectives Patrick and Bluemoon were the ones assigned to those cases at the time, though I think they’ve been reassigned to other things since. The facts state those rumors exist. Do they at all change your opinion?”

“Are you suggesting someone shot Detective Bluemoon to keep him from investigating this possible speakeasy? It wouldn’t make sense, given the thing was in flames for nearly a full hour before he was scheduled to arrive on scene.”

“It’s odd,” Sophie said softly, “to hear them talk about it like they weren’t regulars.”

“It’s odd to hear them talk about it like Dan didn’t almost die in the fire I set,” Mark said grimly, the fingers on his free hand straying to some of the plentiful burn scars he sported now. The ones on his hands were some of the worst, making it impossible for him to fully stretch the fingers on his left hand to what they’d been able previously. He could still use his hand, but anything beyond a certain point hurt quite a bit.

“I’m glad he’s doing okay, though,” Mark added as an afterthought.

He’d seen how badly Dan had been burned, and he’d been concerned about the man once he’d been well enough to think coherently through the pain. (Mark had been burned worse, of course, having been trapped in the fire for longer, before managing to force his way into the back alley and see a trio of young faces before becoming blissfully unaware of anything, but it was his nature to worry about others.)

“...the facts are that we don’t have enough facts to really say what happened that night,” Dan said decisively. “What we do know is that Thomas Fischbach now works as a bodyguard for Kjellberg, and today marks six months of Mark Fischbach being released from the agonies of this world.”

Mark snorted.

“We can only hope all the good he did the community outweighed breaking the law, and he’s found his way to paradise.” Phil answered.

Mark shook his head. If only. Even actual hell couldn’t be worse than this. At least there, he’d know he was dead. He wouldn’t have to deal with the knowledge that the man so willing to kill his friends was the one holding him, the one who’d deliberately had his legs set wrong after shattering them, the one who took so much pleasure in being unpleasurable.

“We can hope,” Dan agreed—and there was a peculiar tone in his voice, almost as if he was holding back tears. “We can hope.”

Something caught in Mark’s chest at that, and he swallowed before fixing his gaze on the cool rag he was now pressing to his shoulder.

As Dan and Phil moved on to the next topic, the unmistakable sound of footsteps outside the door took Mark’s attention. Hurriedly, he looked up, holding the cloth out to Sophie, who grabbed it and darted into the bathroom with it.

Mir had yet to catch Mark using it to ease his muscle pain, and they wanted to keep it that way. They didn’t want to risk any source of relief to be taken away.

The door clicked open as Sophie settled on her sleeping roll, carefully arranging her skirt around her so as to remain proper.

Fortunately, it wasn’t Mir who walked through the door. It was, however, two familiar faces—one of their regular guards, a brutal man who enjoyed catching them doing anything that could count as ‘misbehaving’ and dishing out punishments as a result, and someone Mark had never expected to see again.

Robin.

Robin?

What was Robin, of all people, doing here?

Mark’s gaze lingered on the newsie, taking in how different the man looked. All traces of the man’s individuality were gone: his old suit jacket, with patches and sewn up tears, had been replaced with something so new and so well-tailored it practically screamed confidence; his hair, no longer with the slightest bit of waver in it, was shaved close at the sides and slicked back at the top; and his previously-quiet footsteps snapped smartly with shiny shoes.

Robin’s eyes took in the room, the blue disturbingly detached from emotion, even as the usual guard began speaking in rapid Russian. Mark hadn’t managed to pick up too much of it yet, but he knew enough to piece together that the usual guard was telling Robin about the room, and about Mark and Sophie.

The usual guard walked over to Sophie, reaching to brush her cheek with his hand, and she pulled away with a hard glare in her eyes.

The usual guard roared with laughter and said something to Robin, smiling that disgusting smile Mark had learned to hate.

Robin shrugged slightly and responded in Russian.

Very fluent, smooth Russian; it sounded perfectly natural coming from his mouth.

Mark blinked despite himself, his surprise washing away any anger he had for the usual guard. Robin had never given any indication of knowing Russian. Jack had never given any indication of Robin knowing Russian.

And Mir didn’t just take on those who knew Russian, they had to be Russian.

...But wasn’t Robin Swedish?

“This one will be no trouble,” the usual guard said, switching to his thickly accented English, gesturing to Mark. “He cannot run, and if you take his crutches, he cannot even walk.”

Something seemed to flash in Robin’s eyes, but it was followed by such a frighteningly gentle smile Mark couldn’t be sure what emotion it had been.

“The bartender,” Robin said simply. His voice was just as accented as the usual guard’s, the Russian maybe even stronger.

That definitely wasn’t normal.

“If you get bored, neither will fight back if you hurt them.” The usual guard’s eyes sparkled with mirth. “Just do not leave visible marks.”

“Of course. That would scare away customers.” Robin tilted his head, that professionally detached gaze cooly examining Mark.

It should have scared Mark. He knew this. It didn’t, but it should have. He was supposed to be scared of the guards. It was Robin though; his mind couldn’t wrap around that fact, let alone be scared.

But he lowered his head and looked away, adjusting his glasses with a shaky hand. He was still scared of the other guard, and didn’t want to be accused of staring.

The usual guard walked across the room to the radio and turned it up. The sound of the closing song came through, and Mark swallowed hoarsely. That meant Dan and Phil were signing off for the night, and the room would be filled with static once the song ended.

The guard grunted and turned the radio off completely.

A long sigh from Robin drew their attention. He was slipping off his suit jacket and handing it over to the other guard, then undoing his cufflinks. Those were slipped into his vest pocket, clinking against his fob watch. Slowly, he folded his sleeves up, and the familiar sight made Mark’s heart jump.

It was an odd image. He’d seen Robin standing on many corners, sleeves rolled up and waving the latest paper, ready with a wide grin for every passerby. But here, now, rolled sleeves meant pain. It meant one of Mir’s men was preparing to get dirty.

Sophie caught his gaze, her eyes wide with confusion and no small amount of fear. Mark lifted a shoulder just barely. He had no idea what was about to come.

Mark tried to make himself smaller as Robin approached. Something about the way he was holding himself now... Mark could feel fear creeping in. Robin had something dangerous in him, and he'd only just decided to show them.

"I do not need your respect," Robin said quietly, his voice utterly calm, "because the two of you are not in a position to give any. I need your obedience. You will do as I say, always. No whimpering. No complaints."

Robin leaned down and grabbed Mark's jaw, forcing the other man to meet his eyes. They were cold and devoid of any compassion.

"Please don't." Those two words slipped past Mark's lips, barely audible even to Robin. A glimmer of regret entered Robin's eyes—Mark was sure of it this time, he wasn't imagining anything.

Then, his voice suddenly clear of any accent, Robin replied just as quietly, "I must."

Robin pushed Mark away with a light sneer, his fingertips leaving faint imprints Mark could still feel.

"The King did say this one was well-trained," Robin remarked to the guard. "It's the bitch you are finding hard to break in."

Sophie’s sharp intake of breath was loud and clear, even across the room, and Mark knew without lifting his eyes from the floor that she had pulled herself up some. In that moment, though, he couldn’t find it in himself to argue with Robin, or give even the slightest bit of resistance. His insides curled at the thought, at the realization that Jack’s old friend would give no mercy, but he kept his head down.

Had Robin ever been Jack’s friend?

The thought came out of nowhere, and Mark closed his eyes to wrestle with it. No, Robin had had compassion there, for the briefest of seconds. Mark had to believe that Robin hadn’t lied to everyone for so long.

But how had a newsie garnered so much favour from Mir, to become a guard to his two most valued prisoners?

Footsteps clacked softly against the floor, and Mark lifted his head slightly to see Robin walking over to Sophie.

Sophie’s gaze flicked to Mark, full of anger and worry, and he shook his head. A fight wasn’t worth it. Not when there was more than just one guard, and with Mark so useless.

Robin knelt next to Sophie’s bedroll, and Mark’s chest tightened. He couldn’t see Sophie’s face from here.

There were some murmured words. Sophie’s voice rang out, a string of curses directed at Robin- then a choked sound and swift movement, as Robin’s hand wrapped around Sophie’s neck and shoved her to the floor.

A wordless shout broke in Mark’s throat, and his body jolted forward, the pain in his legs and body the only thing keeping him on the bed. He could see Sophie’s face now: her eyes were full of a terror he’d only seen when Mir’s men had tried taking her into back rooms in the first weeks she’d been here. Robin was snarling something at her, the words not registering in Mark’s mind. All he could do was watch, and hope it would be over soon.

Sophie was making horrible choking sounds by the time Robin released her neck and stood. He smiled at Mark, then withdrew a soft handkerchief and wiped his hands.

“So what is your decision, Mr. Vorobiev?” the guard said.

Vorobiev? That wasn’t Robin’s surname.

“She will just need some… how did Mir put it,” Robin said lightly as he pulled his sleeves back down. “Training. Enforcement. Yes.” He bent an arm as he fastened the cufflinks back onto his shirt. “I can handle them.” He straightened his tie and accepted back the suit jacket, fastening the first two buttons.

The usual guard walked to the door with a grin, and said something in Russian. Robin smiled, nonchalantly stepping away from Sophie desperately gasping on the floor.

“You can tell the King I accept his offer.”

Chapter Text

The theatre was loud with the sounds of preparation; both the stage and the back were flooded with a constant flurry of movement. MatPat and Gar stood in the middle of the stage, staring up.

“You’re not worried about him?” Gar asked casually, glancing up at the suspended platforms Sanders was on for the night’s performance.

“No. I am, however, very worried about you being here.” MatPat turned to Gar, giving him a scrutinizing look. “Mir owns this theatre, and the last thing I want is you back in his hands.”

The words felt dirty in MatPat’s mouth, knowing all too well they were a lie. He knew Gar wasn’t telling the truth; he knew these words would only encourage Gar to keep lying to him—but this wasn’t the time nor place for a confrontation. Besides, MatPat was still hoping Gar would come clean on his own. Gar just needed time.

Gar looked like he wanted to say something about that, even going as far as to open his mouth, but the stage director cleared their throat and gestured for them to leave the area.

The two made their way out, slipping into the staff hallways, before MatPat snuck a look at Gar.

He was trying not to crush Gar, but... it was hard not to notice the way Gar favored his left arm; the way he limped slightly at the end of a long day of work. And when Gar reached for something, MatPat couldn’t ignore the scabs and scars and bruises littering his hands and knuckles. Or the faded, and not so faded, bruises scattered across his face.

How Gar had gotten the vast majority of those injuries was a different question entirely. Mir’s men hadn’t beat him up; Mir hadn’t had Gar to do that. Had Gar gotten in a fight before he came home? Had he gotten beat up solely to help his story?

“Are you sure you’re okay here?”

Gar gave him a strained smile.

“You don’t have to worry about me, Matthew. I’ve been cleared for duty.”

“You were cleared for duty after you nearly got killed Halloween night, too.”

Gar shoved his hands in his pockets and looked away, then grumbled, “We’ve established I’m reckless and disobedient. You don’t need to worry about that anymore.”

MatPat froze mid-step. That wasn’t like Gar, not at all.

“Gar-”

“Trust me, lots of people have talked to me about it.” Gar made a face, as though flinching at remembered pain. “Only some of them were nice about it. So please, just-”

MatPat’s heart sunk.

“Gar.” What had happened to him while he was gone? Obviously he’d gotten chewed out, but... to cause this? MatPat couldn’t help but wonder if the worst words had been from Gar himself. If so, Gar really didn’t need yet another voice reminding him he’d messed up. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry.”

Gar kept his gaze on the floor, ducking away from MatPat as soon as they got to a branching hallway.

“Hey, Gar! Where are you going?”

Gar didn’t reply. MatPat blinked, then followed. He was sure Gar wanted nothing to do with him right now, but he really didn’t want Gar going off by himself.

It was a bit of a struggle to follow Gar through the halls. They were short, narrow, and dark, and Gar had gotten just enough of a head start that he was always turning the next corner when MatPat rounded his.

Sudden, unbidden thoughts of Mir finding Gar, or MatPat rounding a corner too late and finding Gar dead in the hall, spurred MatPat into a frantic run. Mir might not have had Gar, but the two were still enemies, and Mir did own the theatre, so it wasn’t exactly a safe place for Gar to wander alone. It wasn’t safe for either of them to be alone.

By the time he caught up to Gar, though, Gar had slipped outside and was staring up at the strip of night sky visible between the roofs.

“Gar, you okay?” MatPat asked, squelching the urge to reach over and touch him on the shoulder. He didn’t need to startle Gar right now.

Gar sighed, but didn’t take his gaze off the sky. Just held an envelope out to MatPat.

MatPat blinked, but slowly took it.

And then he saw his name written across the front, in all-too-familiar handwriting.

Steph’s handwriting.

His breathing caught, and tears instantly welled up as he looked at Gar.

“How-”

“I didn’t bring that for you to not read it,” Gar said, leaning against the brick wall, tone deliberately even.

MatPat barely managed to keep the envelope intact as he tore it open, tears blurring his vision as he realized this was indeed Steph’s handwriting, that it was dated this past week—and before he could even read it, he had to remove his glasses just to wipe the tears from his eyes.

Still, Gar looked at the sky, at the thick clouds threatening rain, and remained silent.

Matthew, the letter read, and MatPat nearly cried again at the familiar curves of his wife’s handwriting. He forced his hands to stop shaking, then began to read.

Matthew,

I’ve been told you never stopped looking for me.

I knew you were looking for me, Madame Foxglove told me so. She’s been the one holding me, so she would know.

MatPat’s eyes widened, and his breath caught in his throat. Steph- Foxglove- what?

“Madame Foxglove has her,” he gasped out, taking a few steps forward. “We have to go-”

Gar stopped him suddenly, his arm against MatPat’s chest, and stared at him.

“Finish reading, Matt.”

“But-”

Gar narrowed his eyes. MatPat let his breath out in a sharp sigh, then looked back down to the letter, pacing a few steps away.

I know I’ve been gone a while. Seven months, now. And I miss you, every day. At first, Foxglove was keeping me here to delay your search for Freddy’s. We both know how well that worked.

It was the only time I’ve ever seen her cry, Matthew. She cried not at the news of the speakeasy burning, but at Mark’s death. Even now, she gets very still and a fire comes into her eyes when someone mentions him. They must have been friends.

But now... Mir is out. He’s a free man. And she knew he doesn’t like you, and, well... we decided it was best for me to stay hidden, where he couldn’t get to me to hurt you.

I wish I could have told you earlier, but only now has Foxglove found someone who could carry messages between the two of us.

MatPat’s eyes slid up from the paper, settling on Gar. He had no idea how Gar had gotten this message, but... did this mean it was going to happen again?

She hasn’t told me who this messenger is. I suppose that’s for the best; anonymity tends to keep people safe. But there are only so many options. Entoan, perhaps? However, if it were him, he’d have been carrying messages long ago, so I must be missing something.

She didn’t know Gar was Faceless. She apparently did know something more about Entoan though; more than MatPat had been aware of.

She also tells me Gar’s shown up again, after whatever happened to him Christmas Eve. I’m not clear on the details, at all. I don’t get told much here, to be honest.

That was probably for the best.

Are you taking care of yourself, Matthew?

MatPat blinked, and blinked again, then nearly recoiled from the letter.

That was a very specific thing to ask. Like she knew there had been a problem, like she knew someone had called Sanders to save him, like... like she knew.

I saw you, when you came to Foxglove for help to find me.

I was there, Matthew.

Oh no.

Oh no.

If she’d known how close he had been to... when he wasn’t doing better…

MatPat swallowed harshly.

Can you honestly tell me you’re taking care of yourself, Matthew? I never was able to see you from the audience opening night. All I could see was you almost falling to the stage floor, hanging from that broken platform.

Please.

Be careful.

I can’t stand the thought of staying here, stuck in hiding—admittedly for my own safety—while you’re getting yourself killed. I didn’t marry you so you could die, Matthew. I married you so we could live, together, and you must hang on a little bit longer, until we can figure something out.

I married you because I love you, and I don’t want to live with the knowledge that you died being reckless.

Yours forever,

Steph

MatPat’s throat was oddly tight, and he had to swallow a few times before it felt like he could breathe properly. He blinked his vision clear of tears. He refused to cry here, in front of Gar. He could do that alone, when he got home.

MatPat folded the letter and slipped it back into the envelope, then tucked it into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. He pulled his gloves on and then, once he was sure his hands weren’t shaking too badly, he faced his friend.

“Gar,” he whispered, “Gar, thank you.”

Gar looked at him, and smiled with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, just as the first of the raindrops began to fall.

“Of course. I will be taking letters back to her, too.” He touched the rim of his hat to MatPat. “And I won’t read them. They’re totally private between the two of you.”

“I-” MatPat swallowed down the tears. “Thank you, Gar.”

Steph was alive.

Steph was alive.

Chapter Text

It was evening now, and the air was starting to cool. Being July meant it was still getting even hotter as summer continued—and Gar took whatever relief from the heat he could get.

At the very least, it meant he didn’t have to walk home soaked in his own sweat after a day working with MatPat—and with a lot of outside work, that meant they’d been walking around, soaked in their own sweat, for the majority of the day.

Even having exchanged his full suit for just a vest, a decision that had gotten him a few sharp looks at the precinct (and also a few knowing, approving nods from the other detectives), Gar was more than ready to hide inside the cool walls of the Faceless HQ.

The long shadows cast by the buildings did help, though.

As Gar passed by an alley, those long shadows proved to be detrimental. Hands darted out and grabbed his arm, yanking him in.

It was clearly reflex, the way the young Faceless instantly twisted to try to escape.

Ohm just sighed and tightened his hold on Gar. “Hey. It’s me.” There was, after all, no better time to test if the detective had actually been practicing his Italian like he was supposed to than when he was physically restraining him. Definitely.

Gar didn’t go limp and instead twisted again, this time successfully freeing himself. He stood there for a long moment, halfway shifted into a fighting stance, eyes flicking into the alley to make sure there wasn’t more danger—and widened a little bit at the blood smeared across the ground from the people who’d tried to ambush Ohm—before flicking back to Ohm.

And then his eyes narrowed.

“That’s where I know you from.”

Ohm grinned slightly. “Sorry. It wasn’t like I could come meet you at the HQ.”

Gar blinked. “Why not?”

Ohm shook his head. “Undercover.”

“Right.”

Ohm tilted his head. “You’re all settled in, then?”

Gar hesitated, then nodded. He knew what Ohm was really asking. “It’s been an interesting two weeks, but yeah. I have. Is it time?”

Ohm nodded. “It’s time. The godfather’s been asking after you, and I don’t think I can safely delay it much longer.”

Gar’s shoulders tensed. “I see.” He sighed. “Does he know who I am?” He didn’t really know all that much about PJ Liguori—the two had only ever met at that poker game almost a year ago—but the man’s reputation preceded him.

“He knows you’re a detective. He knows you’re Detective Patrick’s partner. He knows you’re young, and thus easier to convince, and Italian. From the papers, he knows you were on leave for a while and recently returned to active duty, and that has him a little worried, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”

“He hasn’t found you out?” He didn’t know why he was asking that. Ohm was standing alive in front of him. If he’d been found out, Ohm would be standing at the bottom of the Charles.

“I haven’t given him any reason to suspect me.” Ohm shrugged slightly. “That was the whole point in cutting myself off from the majority of the Faceless.”

“Fair.” Gar stuck his hands in his pockets. “I guess there’s no avoiding it, then.”

“Not really.” Ohm stuck his own hands in his pockets, glancing nervously at the street. “It’s getting late, and both of us need to get home. I’ll call you tomorrow night to get your official answer. That gives you tomorrow to decide who you’re dragging into this.”

Gar winced. “I have no intentions of dragging Detective Patrick into a mob.”

Ohm raised an eyebrow. “Actually, I expect he’ll go along with it. If he starts to protest, let me know, and I’ll talk to him.”

Gar blinked, clearly taken aback by that. “Excuse me?”

Ohm tilted his head. “He didn’t tell you? He visited, trying to get help finding his wife. He was turned down, of course, and he’s kept his mouth shut about it, but... I figured he’d tell you, of all people. Since you’re his partner, and all.”

Gar’s mouth pressed into an unhappy line. “He hasn’t been telling me much of anything. I think he’s scared he’s going to break me if he says the wrong thing.”

“He thinks you spent six months in Mir’s hands.”

Gar’s eyes seemed to flash at that. “I know... I know.”

Ohm raised his hands in a calming gesture. “Look. I can promise you, I get it. I very much get his side, too. The guy’s been through a lot these past six months. I’m decently sure half of it wasn’t legal. He’s bound to have gathered secrets in that time; secrets he’s hiding from you. And you’re keeping your own fair share from him.”

Gar’s hands bunched up in his pockets, and he sighed heavily. “I need to have a long talk with him.” He shook his head. “And now I have tonight to decide if I want to let him know what’s going on or not.”

“All things considered,” Ohm said carefully, “you probably want his support. The further undercover you go, the harder it is to keep things straight. You’ll need all the help you can get keeping things right in the precinct.”

Gar made a face. “I know, but... I don’t want to put him in that kind of danger.”

“He’s no stranger to danger,” Ohm said. “Neither are you. That’s not a good enough reason.”

Gar closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then let it out and nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

“Good.” Ohm stuck his hands in his pockets and started walking away. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

And with that, Ohm was gone.

-----

Dante gave Gar his customary greeting as Gar walked through the door, bouncing excitedly as Gar walked past his father and into his room, closing the door nearly instantly.

Dante pawed at the door, whining softly, but got no response.

Gar crashed down onto his bed, throwing his pillow over his head and ignoring Dante. It hurt, absolutely, because Dante didn’t understand, but...

Dante didn’t understand the arguments Gar and his father had been having, since Gar had admitted he was supposed to go along with what Ohm was planning. Gar’s father wasn’t his superior anymore, not now that he’d graduated; and he was very much worried and concerned as to the way things would go, but...

Dante didn’t understand the number of times Gar had thought about it since he’d first been approached with the idea back in February or March. It was a lot of risk, yes, and it was incredibly dangerous. But it made sense, and that was what mattered. Of course the godfather would want a detective under his control, and of course if the Faceless could control that it would be better. And Gar was the only one who fit that particular glove.

And he knew his father’s concerns were valid. Gar was already undercover. It was already hard to keep track of things sometimes. But adding another layer of undercover to that? It would take a lot of coordination, and not letting something slip would be hard. It would be a job much more suited for an older, more experienced Faceless—but the godfather wanted a young detective.

And that was Gar.

Gar rolled over and stared at his ceiling, grappling with the issue. He knew what he was supposed to do, what made logical sense, but he also didn’t want to alienate himself from his father. His dad had already protested Gar returning to detective work so soon after getting home—which was understandable—and this had just made it all worse.

Gar sighed and rubbed his eyes, rolling off his bed to get changed into night clothes. He needed to sleep on it. Maybe things would be clearer in the morning.

What Ohm had said, though, stuck in his mind, and the thought of MatPat finding out about this from someone else just... didn’t sit well with Gar. He was already lying to him once, after all, and he really didn’t want to do it more.

Gar didn’t sleep easy that night.

-----

“Matt-” Gar cut himself off, fixing his gaze on a flower arrangement in the shop they were passing.

Did he really want to do this?

“Yeah?” MatPat asked, looking over.

Gar sighed.

Yeah. He did.

“Can we talk someplace where people won’t overhear us?”

MatPat looked surprised at that, but nodded and led the way over to a secluded street corner. As long as Gar talked quietly, nobody would hear what he had to say.

“What’s up?” MatPat asked. “Is everything okay?”

Gar winced. It was, honestly, a bit annoying to have MatPat worry over him so much, but when the answer was actually “no,” he couldn’t blame the man.

“Last night, when I was walking home-” Gar paused, then sighed. Might as well get it over with. “I got asked to join the mafia.”

MatPat’s eyes widened. “Uh, what?”

Gar spread his hands. “Someone’s been keeping tabs on me. And since I’m Italian, and a detective, they want me.”

MatPat blinked. “You’re Italian?”

Gar rolled his eyes. “Yes.”

“Can you speak Italian? Stephanie never learned, but-”

Gar blinked and raised his hand to ask the obvious question.

“Her uncle was the old godfather.” MatPat stuck his hands in his pockets. “Which, admittedly, neither of us knew until I got invited to his funeral last year, but still.”

Suddenly, what Ohm had said made sense.

“...Yes. I can speak Italian.” Gar stuck his own hands in his pockets. “I’m not as good at it as someone who grew up learning it—I decided to learn it as an adult—but I can hold my own.” He’d very specifically learned the vast majority of it during his six months away, but he wasn’t going to tell MatPat that. Not yet, at least.

“That’s great.” MatPat seemed genuinely happy about that. “I might ask you to teach me some sometime.”

“Yeah, but Matt-”

MatPat’s face grew somber. “I know.” He sighed, absently pulling his glasses off his face to clean them. “Do your superiors know? At your other job?”

His Faceless superiors.

Gar nodded. “They want me to take the offer.”

MatPat sighed. “Of course they do.” He gave his glasses a sour look and crammed them back on his face, then glanced around the street. “I think we should ask Nate what to do.”

Gar blinked. “You can’t be serious.”

MatPat shrugged. “I’m not going to tell him you’re Faceless, Gar, but there might be an opportunity here. And he needs to know they’re trying to recruit cops. It’s kinda his business, as the chief.”

Gar let out a long breath, then nodded. “Okay. But if things go wrong-”

“I’ll hold him down while you run.”

Despite himself, Gar chuckled.

-----

The chief’s office had always seemed neatly decorated to Gar: a few small plants near the window, a few pictures and paintings taking up wall space, the bookshelves filled with books and boxes containing paperwork to do, a thick carpet underfoot, things like that.

And then there was that Faceless mask on the wall. Nate’s formal mask. Something that should have been taken and destroyed years ago.

He’d mentioned it in his reports to the Faceless, of course, but hadn’t been told to do anything about it. It was likely they were waiting to see what Nate did. If he didn’t do anything concerning, there was no reason to do anything about him—which was what everyone was hoping was going to happen.

Well, right now, Nate was pacing.

“They don’t know Mir had you?”

Gar shook his head. “Not as far as I can tell.”

Nate tapped his pen against his lips, continuing to pace.

“It’s extremely likely they want him to get information out of the precinct,” MatPat said from the chair next to Gar. He seemed more relaxed about the situation, with an arm half on the back of the chair, but Gar knew him better—MatPat was coiled and ready to spring into action.

“Of course,” Nate said. “There aren’t many reasons they’d approach a detective, otherwise.” He finally sighed and came to a stop, leaning on his desk. “But as it happens, we very much need information on their activities. Various sources have been drying up. They cause a lot of trouble, and anything to work off of is better than nothing.” He hesitated, then looked at Gar.

His eyes narrowed, then flicked to MatPat.

“You’d be involved in it, too. And if I send Bluemoon in, it’s undercover. If he’s caught in a crime, I can’t protect him. And you may be arrested by association.”

MatPat’s swallow was audible. “I know.”

Nate’s gaze returned to Gar.

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take, sir, if it will help.” Gar held the gaze evenly, trying to reassure the chief he could handle it.

Nate dropped into his chair with a sigh. “Do you know what they want you to do?”

“Not yet, no. But as Matthew said, it’s likely they want me to pass on information from here.”

Nate drummed his fingers on his jaw for a moment. Then, “Okay. As soon as you find out what, exactly, they want you to do, we’ll figure out what we can pass on.” He smirked slightly. “Of course, it won’t be anything useful, or it’ll be just too late to be actually useful.”

Gar cleared his throat softly.

Nate raised an eyebrow.

“If that is truly the case,” Gar said, deliberately keeping his voice even, “if I consistently feed them information like that, they’re going to know something is up. And forgive me when I say I don’t particularly want to get shot over this.”

Nate’s eyes narrowed. “No, you’re right.” He sighed. “We’ll figure it out.” He looked over at MatPat. “Rather, the two of you will. I’ll trust you not to give away any big secrets, or to get anyone killed.”

“We’ll do our best,” MatPat promised.

Nate nodded, then leaned back in his chair. “Then that’s that, gentlemen. Detectives, I expect you to update me as soon as you know what’s going on.”

Gar nodded, though he couldn’t help the growing anxiety filling him. Now, he was a Faceless agent, working undercover as a detective, about to work undercover in the local Italian mafia—and maybe again undercover as a detective.

Wasn’t that the berries.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure this is safe?” PJ asked softly, examining the nondescript building in front of them. “It’s going to be crawling with Mir’s men.”

“That’s why I’m waiting out here in the car,” Jordan said, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. “And why Wiggles is going in with you two. If I hear gunshots, you’re getting pulled out immediately. If you’re not out in two hours, I’m going in to get you. And if I find you dead, you can bet Zombie is gonna be pissed.”

“I have no intentions of dying and leaving him to become the godfather so soon,” PJ said wryly.

“I should hope not,” Wiggles said calmly from the front passenger seat. “Especially considering I’m still hearing rumors of soldati wanting me to take over.”

“Do you want to?” Jordan asked.

“Not particularly.”

Felix sighed, reminding everyone he was sitting in the back with PJ. “This is fascinating to hear, but the sooner we get in, the fewer people will be there. I would like to get a seat.”

To that, Wiggles stepped out of the car, with the other two following suit. He stuck close to PJ as they made their way into the speakeasy.

This speakeasy had a distinct air to it, and PJ and Felix had visited many speakeasies. There was still live music, and the room rang with laughter and conversation like any other speakeasy, but PJ had meant the observation rather literally.

Namely, the air was thick and hazy with cigar smoke.

Of course, the two had encountered speakeasies that allowed for smoking in the past. Molly didn’t, to help guests be more discreet and not have to worry about getting rid of the smell of smoke before they went home, and Mark hadn’t, since it wasn’t allowed in the restaurant during the day and would have raised suspicion.

But never had it been so thick before.

The bar was on the far side of the room, so the three picked their way across, stepping through the people, chairs, and smoke.

The man behind the counter was pallid. It was rather obvious he didn’t get out much, but working nights at a speakeasy would do that to a person. His back was bent, head never rising too high, shoulders slumped. He was well groomed, but his body language conveyed a submissive, tired tone. That same quiet exhaustion was visible on his face, even through a smile that made his wrinkles more pronounced. Little crow’s feet, forehead creases, laugh lines; yet, strangely, the man didn’t look old enough to host them. As if he’d suffered too many great stresses in his life and they’d left their mark.

He walked with a noticeable limp, one hand always on the counter to steady himself. He winced or grimaced often, but was subtle and he was doing a rather good job of hiding the pain. Always ready with a smile for a customer, even if it never quite reached his brown eyes. The spectacles on his face were so busted up it was a wonder they hadn’t simply fallen apart. But even before the bartender spoke, revealing a husky and rough voice, one could easily see the scars.

Burn scars.

The ones around his scalp were the least noticeable; places where he’d grown his hair out to cover the bald spots. On his hands were hardened, reddened scars; fingers wrapped in warped and layered skin which had healed the best it could. It wasn’t pretty, and it honestly still looked like it hurt. One could only imagine the strain of gripping glasses and bottles night after night.

His face, however, told the loudest tale. Nearly half his face was scarred, twisting across his cheeks and nearly to his eyes, as if he’d been able to protect his eyes and mouth and nose from the worst of whatever had happened and nothing else. Without a doubt, this man had been through a truly terrible ordeal. PJ could only wonder what his story was, to look like that and end up bartending in one of Mir’s speakeasies.

“What do you think?” Felix asked softly, eyes lingering on the bartender as they stepped up to the bar.

“Busy place,” PJ remarked just as softly, glancing around the room. He didn’t notice anything new, so he turned his attention back to the bar—just in time to catch the flutter of a skirt disappear through a doorway. PJ glanced over to see Wiggles narrowing his eyes at a familiar sharply-dressed man, who was now leaning on that door, and then raising his eyebrows slightly as if recognizing him. PJ glanced back to the man. Hadn’t that fellow been a newsie; one of Jack’s old friends?

The man was undoubtedly one of Mir’s men now, in any case, and whatever was behind that door was clearly valuable, but PJ wasn’t equipped for a fight to find out what it was.

“It was hard finding this place,” Felix murmured. “Rumors say it changes buildings every few weeks. I guess Mir doesn’t want a repeat of Freddy’s.”

The bartender seemed to look over sharply at that, mouth tugging ever-so-briefly into a frown, an unasked question, but turned back to the drinks he was making without saying anything.

A small woman walked up to the bar and took the tray the bartender had been placing drinks on. She murmured something in Russian, and the bartender glanced up and nodded, saying a few hesitant words in Russian-

“Tables two and six,” he finished in English, voice deeper than expected and rough, though with the slightest hint of a breathless wheeze.

“Two and six,” the waitress echoed, walking off with the tray.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” the bartender greeted softly, barely audible over the music. “What’ll it be tonight?” With the second line, his voice drew out a bit, almost as if warbling, much like Mark had done as Wilford all those months ago when Freddy’s still stood. PJ looked away from the bartender’s gaze, feeling uncomfortable.

Maybe this barkeep had taken inspiration from Mark—maybe he’d met Mark, working for Mir. He might know where Mir was keeping their friend. For now, though, PJ was determined not to draw attention to himself. If the bartender did know anything, it would take time to persuade him to talk.

So he merely waited for Felix to place his order and followed suit.

The bartender paused to take a series of orders in Russian from the waitress, clumsily scribbling them down on a paper in loose handwriting.

Felix glanced around the room, taking in the steadily-growing crowd. “Mir’s a good businessman, I’ll give him that.”

“I think we’d do well not to underestimate him.” PJ leaned forward, putting his forearms on the bar. “Though I think next week I’m picking the bar. Someplace a little safer.”

Glasses clinked softly against wood as the bartender set drinks in front of them with a softly murmured, “Enjoy.”

PJ picked up his drink, freezing as he realized this was not at all the drink he’d ordered—largely because it was a very distinct pink color. Out of habit he opened his mouth to correct the bartender, then Felix spoke.

“Peej-” Felix said softly, and PJ looked over to realize Felix had the same drink. “It looks like the Boxer.”

PJ’s eyes widened. The Boston Boxer. Mark’s drink.

Very cautiously, he took a sip.

The smoky sweetness was undeniably familiar.

This-

This was a Boston Boxer.

Only one person knew how to make them, which meant-

PJ’s gaze snapped to the bartender, horror growing in him.

Mark.

Mark.

Now that he knew, his eyes were making the connections. The general body frame, and traces of ways he moved—those were Mark. The experienced way with which he mixed drinks, and the clear realization that Mark would be moving quickly if he weren’t in so much pain, that was familiar. His hair was longer, yes, but the style was reminiscent of what Mark had worn as Wilford for so long.

And his eyes—how had PJ not recognized his friend’s eyes?

From the horror and the recognition grew anger.

His mind raced with half-formed, desperate plans. They had to get Mark out of this place. But the cautious, rational side of him knew they wouldn’t be able to walk him out the front door. Not with the crowd here. Not with so many of Mir’s men keeping an eye on things.

As Mark limped to put more drinks on a tray, PJ’s eyes dipped down, to Mark’s legs. Mark’s left leg was perfectly straight, average, as it had always looked, but his right-

PJ had to force down his rising nausea by taking a long drink of the Boxer. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling sick.

Mark’s right leg had not been like that the last time PJ had seen his friend. Mark’s right leg had been whole, and straight, and while Mark had been able to do that weird thing with his feet, there was no denying that the distinct twist in Mark’s leg and foot was entirely involuntary, and incredibly painful.

Mir.

Mir had done this to Mark.

Felix’s face flickered with horror as he realized exactly what PJ had, then immediately settled into carefully practiced neutrality.

PJ understood at once.

Mark’s well-being depended on them pretending they hadn’t recognized him. If it got to Mir that they knew where Mark was, well...

Felix had said this speakeasy moved buildings every couple of weeks.

This had to be one of the reasons why.

“Hey, Fe,” PJ said softly—but not so softly Mark wouldn’t be able to hear them, “how’s that new bodyguard of yours doing?”

Mark definitely looked over at that, his smile reaching his eyes for a fraction of a second.

So Mark knew Tom was Felix’s bodyguard.

Felix stared at PJ for a minute before blinking and throwing on a grin as he understood what PJ was doing. “He’s doing well. I couldn’t ask for a better one.” He sipped his Boxer, smiling appreciatively. “He’s figured things out by now. He’s spending the night visiting his mother, since I didn’t think it was a good idea to bring him here.”

Mark’s shoulders seemed to straighten some at that.

“Probably for the best. Wade tells me he didn’t react all that well when you took him to Molly’s speakeasy.”

Mark’s eyes widened at that, and a touch of a genuine grin crossed his face.

“He saw a lot of the Tiny Box in it, I think. Molly did her decorations after a lot of the same style. Even though the building is gone, it still holds a special place in our hearts.”

“She has good taste.”

“Did you see the new painting on the wall, above the bar?” Felix grinned. “Fischbach painted it.”

Mark lifted his head a bit at that, undeniably grinning.

“What're your plans for tomorrow?” PJ asked, taking a sip of his drink. “It's the Fourth. A big deal here, I've noticed.”

Felix rolled his eyes. “Don't remind me. I have to attend things.” He grimaced. “Last year Cry was alive to guard me, which means I don't know who I'm making work tomorrow. Ken usually gets it off, and he’s got his daughter to take care of, but Fischbach’s picked up a lot of extra hours recently. I don’t want to do that to either one of them.”

Mark set a glass down very gently at that.

PJ swirled the remains of his drink gently. The Boxer wasn’t really made for being downed quickly, and he was already starting to regret drinking it so quickly—he was nervous, though, and the drink was in his hand.

“It’s going to be a long day,” PJ agreed. He paused, then added, “I wish I could spend it with Sophie.”

Mark glanced at the door with the guard leaning against it, and PJ’s heart soared. She was alive.

“I... don’t know if I’ll go to Molly’s get-together. It won’t be the same without Mark, and I know she’s planning to leave an empty seat for Jack.” He swirled his drink absently. “I don’t know if I can face that.”

Mark’s face initially soared, then darkened at that, and he deliberately turned his back to PJ.

So he’d heard about PJ murdering Jack, then.

“Yes, well,” Felix said quietly after a pause, “you’ve nobody to blame for that but yourself.”

PJ was well aware of that. Just like he was aware that he didn’t need to finish his drink in one go and ask for a refill, setting his glass down on the bar harder than he really needed to.

The refill came, Mark’s movements stiff and his eyes fixed angrily on what he was doing—he clearly blamed PJ, then, for Jack’s death. As was only right, considering PJ had murdered him.

Felix excused himself before PJ got far into the drink, leaving to go wait in the car.

Wiggles stepped closer to PJ, deterring anyone who’d decided to try and get close.

PJ didn’t bother finishing the drink slowly, mind flipping between guilt over Jack and hope for Mark.

Finally, though, he set the empty glass on the bar, placing more than enough cash down next to it to cover the drinks.

Mark looked surprised at that.

And as Mark reached for the cup to set it in the sink to clean it, PJ stood a bit unsteadily. Wiggles instantly stepped forward to grab PJ’s arm.

“Mark,” PJ said softly. “Mark, I’m sorry. I want him back too.” It was the first time he’d admitted it out loud, and the words felt hollow and tasted bitter on his tongue.

Mark didn’t look up as PJ turned away and made his way out of the speakeasy himself, instead busying himself with putting the cash away.

And then PJ was gone.

Mark grabbed the empty glasses and set them to be cleaned, even as Robin stood from the door trapping Sophie in the back.

She stepped out quickly, darting over to Mark. “Are you okay? What happened?”

“Felix and PJ were here,” Mark said quietly, looking at the outside exit across the room.

Sophie blinked, eyes following Mark’s gaze. “What? They- he was stupid enough to come here alone?”

“He wasn’t alone. He had a bodyguard.” Mark sighed, limping his way over to his list of drinks to make.

“How was he?”

“A little worse for wear, but... fine?” Mark shrugged half-heartedly. “Both of them looked stressed. And I’ve never seen PJ down two drinks that quickly.” Mark turned a glass over in his hands. “He’s definitely carrying some regrets.”

“What makes you say that?” Sophie asked as she carefully placed drinks onto her tray.

“He said he wanted Jack back.”

Chapter Text

The plan was simple: get in, get Sophie and Mark, and get out.

They didn’t have the time or the men to spend on a full-blown confrontation with Mir. Hopefully, since it was broad daylight, there would be very few of Mir’s men around the speakeasy: fewer potential men to fight. And since it was the Fourth of July, most of the city was off celebrating—so there was a much lower chance of civilians getting caught in the crossfire.

Most importantly, they did have the element of surprise. It had been less than 12 full hours since PJ had returned with the news that he’d found Mark and Sophie both, and started planning with Jordan and Wiggles and the dozen of their men he’d knew wouldn’t start any trouble over Sophie.

He also had quite a bit of irritation, on PJ’s part. Especially as Wiggles tried to convince him to stay in the car with Jordan—who was once again serving as the get-away driver for the car holding the highest-profile people.

“I’m not staying out of this one,” PJ snapped, walking as quickly as his legs would take him down the halls of the Family headquarters. “I lost them once, I’m not losing them again.”

“And if you don’t stay out of the way, he’s going to kill you.” Wiggles’ voice held no small amount of exasperated impatience. “We can’t afford to lose you, PJ Liguori. Not with Mir on the loose.”

PJ pulled up short at the use of his full name, and turned to glare at Wiggles. “Don’t question my decisions.” Such was his authority as godfather.

Wiggles’ eyes flashed, and PJ had the sudden reminder of the man Wiggles’ had once been, the reputation that preceded Wiggles even now: dangerous and violent, and angry at the injustices that had happened to him. Wiggles was much calmer now, but something told PJ that just meant the explosives expert had a longer fuze—which PJ seemed dangerously close to letting go off.

“You have to be alive for the detective tomorrow, Peej,” Wiggles said, his clenched hands and tight shoulders showing just how much he was restraining himself. “Otherwise we’ll lose him, and the effort of getting him involved in the Family will have all been for nothing.”

PJ scowled. “I have no intentions of dying.”

“Few do, and yet the world is filled with graves.”

“The world will have to wait a little longer for mine,” PJ said firmly. “Not even death could keep me from those I promised to protect.”

“And if you’re wrong?” Wiggles pressed. “You’re the godfather. Not a soldier . If we lose you, we risk falling apart.”

PJ ignored him and started moving again, hands clenched into fists. “Zombie is staying away. If I die, he takes over. As has always been the case.”

“And if you die but I don’t?” Wiggles challenged. “That’ll tear the Family apart. Stay away from the fighting.”

PJ glanced over his shoulder, at Wiggles’ mouth pressed into an unhappy line, at the intensity at which Wiggles’ was glowering at him, and straightened his shoulders.

“No.”

-----

Four cars sat on the street around the small building. Specifically, four cars that weren’t normally there.

Robin let the blinds he was looking out of slip shut, grimacing at Ohm’s familiar form.

Of course he’d had to go and make this complicated. He probably didn’t have much choice. Robin didn’t either, granted; but that didn’t make this easier.

“They’re here,” he said in quiet Russian, stepping back to the others.

Mir grinned sharply, and the two men holding Mark and Sophie grumbled appreciatively.

“Good, Kostya,” Mir told Robin. “Prepare these two to move.”

Mark’s eyes widened, and he grunted, but nothing coherent or loud came out past the thick gag stuffed tightly in his mouth. He knew better than to struggle, since his crutches were already sent over to the other location and the man holding him was his major form of support.

Sophie, though, leaned forward and glared daggers at Robin, twisting against the man holding her shoulders.

Robin frowned at her, casually touching his cufflinks. She stopped struggling instantly, though the fire in her eyes was unmistakable as she held her head high.

It would do. He didn’t have time to deal with her right now.

Mir nodded.

-----

The moment they stepped into the speakeasy it was immediately obvious Mir had found out they were coming. The entire room had been cleared out. In fact, there was just a single man sitting at the remaining table in the far corner of the room, smoking.

The man’s eyes flicked from PJ to Wiggles, both of whom were already scowling (and Wiggles beginning to move to cover PJ), to the men brought, and spread his hands. “I don’t know why you’re here,” he said unsteadily, “and I don’t know who you are. I just got paid to sit here.”

“Where are the people who were here before?” Wiggles asked evenly, chillingly.

The man spread his hands further, his hands beginning to shake. A bit of ash fell from his cigarette onto the floor. “I don’t know. Only person I’ve seen is the guy who paid me.”

PJ frowned, eyes fixed on the door that Mark had glanced at the previous night. Dim light came through a crack in it, and-

There. It flickered. Someone had moved, blocking the light.

PJ leaned against the wall, turning his gaze to the man. He didn’t seem like one of Mir’s men—but then again, did anyone these days?

“I don’t believe him,” PJ said simply in Italian. “Make sure he’s telling the truth.”

Wiggles gave him a distasteful glance, but passed along the order. Instantly, several of his soldati peeled from the main group and stalked over to the man. One grabbed the chair and sent the man tumbling onto the floor, and another grabbed the man by the shirt and started threatening him with bodily harm if he didn’t tell the truth.

The man started panicking, so the soldati started getting physical.

“Something’s not right,” Wiggles said softly. “You need to go back to the car.”

----

Mir tsked softly as the sounds of a beating came clearly through the wall. “It seems Liguori isn’t as much of a saint as you’d like to think, kuritsa .”

Sophie’s shoulders stiffened, and she started chewing on the gag in her mouth. Mark, on the other hand, seemed to break a little, staring hollowly at the wall as if picturing what was going on.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise,” Mir continued, glancing at Mark. “He already killed someone you called friend. This man is a stranger. Why should he care?”

Mark kept his eyes fixed on the wall.

-----

PJ scowled. He didn’t want to go wait with Jordan and Ken and Felix—who hadn’t been able to keep Fischbach away once he’d found out what was happening, and had barely managed to convince him to wait outside as backup and support.

But Wiggles was right. Something was wrong. And as much as PJ hated it, he had a responsibility to stay alive as the godfather.

So he stood from the wall and waited for Wiggles to catch the attention of two of his soldati to escort PJ out.

-----

“Fischbach,” Felix said impatiently as he leaned on the door of his car, “if you could stop pacing and get back in the seat, it would be much appreciated. You agreed to be the driver. You have to be ready to drive.”

Tom looked up, distress and anger clear on his face. “My brother is in there, Kjellberg. Five hours ago, I thought he was dead, and you want me to be still?”

“Yes.”

Tom came up short and shook his head, stalking around the car.

“You should be kinder,” Ken said, running his fingers absently over the clasp of his large medical supplies case. “This has been rough on him.”

“He agreed to drive, Ken.” Felix scowled. “If he doesn’t, we could end up dead. Forgive me for wanting to be able to get back to Marzia.”

More than that; if Tom wasn’t immediately able to drive, they might not be able to get Mark and Sophie away in time.

Ken just sighed.

----

Robin almost didn’t notice before Sophie’s gag slid from her mouth, the cloth soaked through and her face smeared with her own spit.

She wrenched forward, as if trying to escape once more, and shouted.

“PJ, it’s an ambush!”

Mir snapped orders in rapid Russian, sending the men waiting pouring into the main room.

And then the air was filled with the sound of guns.

-----

PJ froze at the door and instinctively whirled towards Sophie’s voice, immediately taking a few steps towards her—and immediately lost all his breath as Wiggles tackled him, sending them both skidding under the spread of gunfire as Mir’s men flooded into the room.

He cursed softly and tried to identify how many of Mir’s men were in the room, what they were up against, if he was even going to get out of this alive—all to the rather impressive speed of Wiggles’ swearing.

Another part of him was noticing just how many of his men were on the ground screaming and bleeding already; how many had gone silent for good.

He pushed Wiggles off enough to pull out his pistol and shoot at the Russian aiming at them—and he shot true, or at least true enough that the man went down. Whether he was dead or not was rather irrelevant, as long as he wasn’t trying to kill them.

Wiggles had his own gun out by then, and the two of them began methodically picking off the Russians.

-----

Mir had left, and the two men holding Mark and Sophie kept glancing towards the blood splattered on the small segment of wall they could now see of the main room, so Robin took a deep breath and pulled his gun out. He flicked open the chamber to show Sophie the bullets, snapped it closed, and pointed it at her head. “Move.”

She glared at him, muffled curses coming from her newly re-gagged mouth, but stiffly complied.

With his free arm, Robin reached over and grabbed Mark, yanking the man off-balance to get him moving. He felt a little bad when Mark crashed into his side with a cry of pain, twisted leg having crumpled when Mark put weight on it, but just wrapped his arm around Mark’s torso and started moving out to where the car was waiting for them.

Mark was trembling and gasping after only a few steps, but Robin didn’t stop. There wasn’t time, and if he had to half-drag Mark out, he would.

-----

Mir’s men spilled into the street, sending Ken reaching for his gun, only for the first several to drop to rapid-fire shots.

Felix glanced over to see Jordan shooting from where he was sitting in the driver’s seat of the car PJ had ridden over in.

Right. The man was a sharpshooter.

Distracted as he was, Felix didn’t notice the man aim directly for him, didn’t notice the preparation to shoot.

He did notice when he was tackled from the side and sent crashing to the ground—and it was impossible to miss Tom’s cry of pain, or the hot blood suddenly soaking into Felix’s clothes, or the fact that Tom’s weight was pinning him.

He noticed a car pulling away, not one of theirs, and saw the hands frantically beating on the back window—heavily scarred hands.

Oh. Great. Mark had just watched Tom get shot. Great.

-----

PJ was out of ammo.

Most of the Russians in the room were dead, or dying, fortunately; but there were at least a few to deal with still—a few between PJ and the door, where the car was, where he’d be able to chase down Sophie and Mark.

It was honestly a miracle he hadn’t gotten shot himself by this point, but he pushed himself away from the wall he’d been crouched against and darted to the door. He had a knife, of course, but instead opted to grab the closest Russian and wrangle him between himself and the attacking Russians.

It only took a second for PJ to be hauling dead weight.

It also only took a second for a second, third, and fourth Russian to shoot—and this time, while the bullets still hit the body PJ was using as a shield, they went right through it.

PJ just about screamed as his body crumpled with pain. Instinctively, his hand curled around his side, around the gash torn there, and his other hand flailed helplessly as it tried to figure which of the other two bullet wounds to try and staunch the bleeding.

PJ fully expected to die.

Instead, he heard a crash, and the unmistakable gurgle of life leaving a body.

He looked up, panting from the pain, from the blood freely soaking his clothes and coating his fingers and already pooling on the floor, to see Wiggles pulling a knife from the second of the remaining attackers.

Wiggles ducked under the gun that turned on him, somehow dodging the shot, and picked up the fallen pistol from the man he’d just murdered. A heartbeat and a shot and the third attacker was dead.

The fourth and final one, though, bashed Wiggles across the lower back with his rifle, sending the capo staggering and crashing into the floor.

The final Russian took a look at PJ, struggling to get up, and laughed. He kicked Wiggles, hard enough for PJ to hear Wiggles’ gasp of pain, then turned his gun on PJ.

Wiggles reached over and pulled the Russian’s legs from under him, and, as the Russian fell, he aimed. The Russian twisted, trying to get up, but a shot stopped the movements.

-----

The final gunshot hung in the air, even after several minutes had passed, and Felix looked worriedly at the building. PJ had yet to come out.

“He’ll live,” Ken reported, closing the door on Tom’s agonized form in the car. “I’ll have to treat it properly when we’re home, but he’ll live.” He turned his attention to the injured soldati slowly making their way to the vehicles, and sighed. “I’ll make sure nobody bleeds to death. Other than that, we have to get out of here as fast as we can. Gunfights tend to attract the police.”

“Peej!” Jordan exclaimed, turning from helping one of his injured men into a car.

Felix looked at the entrance again, his blood running cold at the sight that greeted him: PJ limping out of the building, one arm slung over Wiggles’ shoulders and the other desperately pressing against his armpit, blood soaking the entirety of the left side of his shirt, and what had to be blood soaking into his pant leg.

“I’m okay,” PJ gritted out, reaching for the first parked car for support with a blood-coated hand.

“You’re bleeding,” Jordan chided, worry clear on his face.

“I was lucky,” PJ breathed, closing his eyes for a moment. “I just got grazed. Three times.”

Ken was over to them with the first aid, though, so the discussion was put to an end.

It only took a few minutes for Ken to tie wads of gauze against PJ’s wounds, though they soaked through quickly.

Ken looked up. “We need to get everyone somewhere safe. Nobody will bleed to death while we travel. Where are we going? I can properly treat people when we’re there.”

Wiggles removed his hand from his hip and pursed his lips, looking at Jordan.

Jordan nodded.

“We’ll lead the way,” Wiggles said. “You can follow.”

Chapter Text

Wiggles crinkled his nose as he walked through the Family headquarters. The undeniable smell of blood filled the air, and with it the cries of the injured and the sound of Family doctors running around doing their best to keep people alive. He was no stranger to blood—between training and taking various jobs, he’d seen more than his fair share. He’d bandaged a fair number of cuts, too, over the years. He’d done all sorts of patch jobs on Vanoss, Delirious, and Cartoonz.

He’d even patched them up while injured himself.

Granted, he’d never been pretending he wasn’t injured when he did it. Sometimes he’d pretended he wasn’t as badly hurt so Delirious or Vanoss would stop fretting so much. He’d never been able to fool Cartoonz.

Cartoonz wasn’t here, though, and nobody had seemed to pick up on Wiggles’ subtle tells that something was wrong.

Although, he noted as he stepped aside to let Family doctors through, there was a very distinct reason for that.

“The godfather has requested you ensure Luna gets down for a nap,” Jordan said in Italian as Wiggles walked by. “Her parents are likely to be occupied for a while.”

Wiggles’ mouth tugged into a frown, but he nodded and carefully made his way over to where Luna was sitting outside PJ’s door and scooped her up—though the action caused him no small amount of pain.

“Wiggles, are you alright? Do we need a doctor to look at you?” Jordan asked, walking over with eyes full of concern.

Ah. So someone had noticed.

“Just bruising,” Wiggles lied, shifting his grip on Luna. “It can wait until everyone else has been treated.”

“Are you sure?”

No. In fact, Wiggles would wager that he very much needed to get to Faceless doctors as soon as he could. But he couldn’t slip away until things had calmed down here, so he’d just have to power on through the pain and faint nausea.

“I’m sure.”

Jordan hesitated, but a scream tore through the air and he just patted Wiggles on the shoulder before going to investigate.

Luna whimpered slightly, leaning into him. It was likely the first time she’d been exposed to quite this much going on at once.

“It’ll be okay,” Wiggles assured her, turning to take her up the stairs to her room. “It’s noisy and busy and people hurt, but they’ll heal, and it’ll be quiet soon enough.”

Luna clung to his arm and stared at him with wide, scared eyes.

Luna would much prefer one of her parents putting her to bed, Wiggles knew, but given the circumstances, he was what she had.

“Come on,” he murmured, holding her a bit tighter as a wave of lightheadedness swept him. “I’ll stay with you until you’re asleep.”

-----

PJ very much did not enjoy stitches. Especially not when he needed to be awake and aware and thus not under the influence of a powerful painkiller.

Stitches hurt.

Then the stitches were done and over with, and PJ’s other two graze wounds bandaged—he’d likely have quite the impressive trio of scars when they were all healed—and he was ready to do his job as godfather.

No matter how much he didn’t want to at the exact moment.

Matthias was slumped in the chair several feet away, Amanda standing behind him with her hand on his shoulder. He’d be standing, but nobody was quite sure where his prosthetic was, and that made things a bit more difficult.

Ken had found Matthias when he was driving over to help with the wounded. And according to Ken, Matthias had been in withdrawals but still desperately hopping towards the headquarters, a rusty pole serving as a poor crutch. PJ had no reason to doubt this story, seeing as he’d had to have the Family doctors give Matthias some morphine, just to get him to talk straight.

The doctors had also found all sorts of bruises and cuts and minor fractures on the man, almost like he’d been in a fight. And yet, with no prosthetic and clean and untorn clothes, the thought was baffling.

PJ had been ready to send Matthias to rest, but Matthias had demanded to know what had happened and, when told, immediately broke down and began to sob.

So he’d sent away the Family doctors, had Wiggles take Luna away, left Jordan to call Zombie in, and was here to deal with Matthias.

“I betrayed the Family,” Matthias whispered—in English, his voice cracking and raw.

PJ’s hand slid from his side and he sat up straighter on his bed. Whatever he’d been expecting, it hadn’t been that. But there was no mistaking those words, not even through the haze that came with his blood loss.

“What?”

PJ spoke in English too, the word betraying his shock and confusion.

Matthias lifted his head and met PJ’s eyes, though his own were nearly blank. They both knew how this conversation would end.

“I betrayed the Family in exchange for morphine.” He swallowed and dropped his head, his voice cracking as he continued to speak. “I betrayed the Family to Mir.”

PJ’s heart dropped.

“Matthias-”

Matthias reached and took Amanda’s hand, but didn’t look PJ in the eye.

PJ took a deep breath. “How much did you tell him? I have to know.”

Matthias kissed Amanda’s hand very briefly, though the action didn’t hide the tears streaming down his face.

“I know.”

A long pause.

Finally, Matthias lifted his head. His eyes were shining with unshed tears, and shed ones were still making their way down his face. He opened his mouth once, twice, and the third time he spoke.

“He knows we’re recruiting. He knows we’ve managed to get a detective, but since I don’t know who it is, I couldn’t tell him.” Matthias’ shoulders began to shake, but he pressed forward. “He knows there are currently three capos, and that if you die the future of the Family is secure in the underboss—but he doesn’t know who Zombie is.” He swallowed, part of a sob escaping him. “He knows Wiggles is back.”

PJ rubbed his temples, trying to force back the massive headache of problems this was going to cause.

He should have known something like this was going on—Mir had been able to counter so many of their recent plans. He’d thought it was luck, or one of the soldati, but... not Matthias.

“He doesn’t know exactly how many men we have. He doesn’t know you’ve been looking for soldati to promote and split the groups pretty much everywhere. He just thinks it’s about 30—maybe 40.”

Well, that was good. They had well over that. Mir would be underestimating them, then.

“He-” Matthias broke off. “He- he tried to get me to tell where the headquarters were, when the capos stopped by to report, if there was any time all the leaders of the Family were in one place at one time, and-” He swallowed. “I refused. He- he threatened to shoot my other leg, and he didn’t give me the replacement dose he’d promised, and-” His shoulders shook. “He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, I swear he doesn’t know.”

PJ gave the man a moment to compose himself, then sighed.

“Matthias... you understand what I have to do next.”

Matthias nodded, a breath shuddering out. “You’ll make sure Amanda and Luna are okay, right?”

“Of course.” PJ dipped his head. “They did nothing wrong, and we take care of our own.”

Amanda’s hand tightened around Matthias’.

“Amanda,” PJ said, “Wiggles has put Luna down for a nap. If you’ll join her, and send him down, your husband and I have a few more things to discuss.”

Amanda stiffened, but dipped her head and, after pressing a fleeting kiss to Matthias’ lips, left.

-----

Luna was finally asleep, and Wiggles sank into a chair, putting far more effort into keeping his breathing even than he really should be. He’d managed to wash himself off after having to leave a dozing Luna: he’d stepped into the bathroom and given in to the nausea that had been getting increasingly worse. While it had relieved some of that particular agony, it was a worrying sign. At this rate, he wasn’t going to be able to get back to his place and wait for Faceless doctors, and he’d already claimed he wasn’t in need of the Family doctors—he wouldn’t be surprised if they’d already left.

The sharp, incessant throbbing in his lower right side and back didn’t help at all. It almost felt like he’d been stabbed—and he had the experience to know what that felt like. There was no blood, though; and no stab wound.

Footsteps approached the door and he quickly composed himself, though the effort of not trembling from the pain was leaving him lightheaded already.

The door opened slowly to reveal Amanda. Her eyes flicked to Luna, sleeping peacefully, and sighed softly. She stepped in, and frowned at Wiggles.

“Are you alright?”

Ah. He wasn’t doing as well of keeping it together as he’d hoped. This was a lot easier when he had a mask to cover slight facial expressions.

“I’m just a little battered,” he lied again.

“Well, in that case, PJ requested you come to his room to talk.”

Wiggles silently cursed, but he nodded and stood, giving up the chair to Amanda.

It was slow-going down the stairs, but nobody was around to notice.

-----

PJ’s hand curled around his stitches, and he made the effort to let the other one remain lax on the blanket covering him. For a second, he felt like the old godfather, directing the Family from bed, but he shook the thought away.

“Do you have a preference for where you’re buried?” PJ asked.

Matthias swallowed, looking away. “Next to Joey, if you can manage it.”

“We’ll make it happen.”

A pause. Then, Matthias looked back. “Who are you going to have kill me?”

PJ thoughtfully tapped his finger on his lips, though he already knew the answer to that. “Gunner is the youngest of your soldati, correct?”

Matthias paled. “He’s so young.”

“I was younger the first time I was ordered to take the life of someone I knew,” PJ said gently.

Matthias’ eyes squeezed closed. “I’d forgotten about that. He failed in a hit, didn’t he.”

“It was worse than that, but that was the start.” PJ deliberately turned the topic away from that childhood friend. “Gunner will be fine. He’ll make sure it’s over quickly for you, and as neatly and painlessly as possible.”

Matthias nodded at that, tears beginning to run down his face once more. “That’s the best I can hope for, I suppose. Who’s going to replace me?”

“Bryan.” PJ tapped his fingers again. “And Tanner. You’ve enough men I’m comfortable splitting them, and Tanner’s proven himself enough recently.”

Matthias’ fingers curled tight around the arms of the chair. “They’ll do well.”

“They will,” PJ assured softly.

A knock sounded softly on the door.

“Come in,” PJ called.

The door opened to reveal Wiggles, looking a bit paler than PJ remembered. His brow looked a little damp, too. It was probably the lighting, since Wiggles hadn’t mentioned any injuries.

“Wiggles,” PJ greeted in Italian, “find Gunner and bring him here, and then contact the morgue.” His gaze slid over to Matthias. “We have a body to take care of.”

Wiggles blinked, but nodded, his hand tight on the doorframe. “It’ll be a few minutes.”

“That’s fine.”

Wiggles turned to leave the room and blinked again to focus his vision.

PJ turned his gaze back to Matthias as soon as Wiggles had exited the room. “Not long now.”

Something hit the wall, then there was the sound of a vase shattering, a small table clattering—and a distinct thud of a body hitting the hallway floor.

“Wiggles?” Matthias asked, gaze fixed beyond the door—clearly, he could see what had happened. His eyes flicked to PJ. “He just- he collapsed.”

PJ swore and struggled out from under the covers. It was hard to move, between the stitches and the bandages and the pain and the sluggishness of blood loss, but he managed it and moved into the hallway as quickly as possible.

Wiggles was sprawled on the floor, eyes slowly flickering open, breathing sharply.

PJ dropped next to Wiggles, hesitating, before committing and rolling Wiggles onto his back.

That hurt, if Wiggles’ groan was any indication.

Footsteps came running, so PJ sat back on his heels, ignoring the distinct flare of pain that brought his wounds. His eyes met Wiggles’ half-open ones, and he frowned.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone you were hurt?”

Wiggles didn’t answer that, hand instead reaching to curl around his right side.

PJ cursed, and looked up to see both Jordan and Ken, who had stayed to help treat the wounded, standing there. Ken immediately crouched on the other side of Wiggles, fingers gently pressing to his neck.

“His heart rate is fast.” Ken frowned. “Wiggles, you can hear me, right? Can you tell me what’s going on?”

Wiggles’ eyes slowly met Ken’s, his eyelids drooping, and his mouth twisted as if to reply, but he said nothing. Ken moved a hand over his mouth, then pressed fingers along the other man’s skull.

“Doesn’t look like he hit his head in the fall,” Ken muttered. “Has anyone noticed him acting strangely since he got back?”

“He’s been looking like he’s been in pain ever since we all got back,” Jordan spoke up. “He said he was just a bit bruised.”

Ken grunted.

“I would wager that was a lie. And does anyone smell that? He’s vomited recently.” Ken began to unbutton Wiggles’ suit jacket and vest, batting away the man’s hand as he yanked his tie loose. “I need to check for bruising,” Ken growled, giving up on unbuttoning every tiny button on his shirt and simply yanking it open, then doing the same to his union suit.

“He was hit pretty hard in the back during the fight,” PJ supplied, unsteadily shuffling aside to give Ken more room. Ken swore, then proceeded to carefully lift Wiggles’ torso from the ground and ease off the layers of clothing.

PJ raised his eyebrows, meeting Jordan’s gaze. Jordan whistled low.

“He’s been through a lot in the years he was dead, hasn’t he,” Jordan said. “I don’t think even the three of us combined have that many scars.”

Ken raised Wiggles’ chest up higher, and Jordan bent down to hold the other man in a slumped sitting position. There was a darkening bruise on Wiggles’ lower back, and Ken huffed out a breath.

“It doesn’t look like his kidney was torn. That would be so much worse. Hopefully, the kidney is just bruised. Simple bedrest and drinking plenty of water will fix him up in no time. Although-” Ken grimaced- “the fall he just took could have made it worse. He might need the hospital.”

“We can’t take him to the hospital,” Jordan hissed. “Mir controls them all now. He’ll kill him.”

“Do you want to risk it?” Ken challenged. “It’s only his life at stake.”

“We don’t have any other options.”

PJ closed his eyes and touched his left arm, where a brutal stab wound had once threatened his life. And the people who’d healed it, well...

“How long would he have, if he needs the hospital?”

“As long as we keep pressure on this, and he stays still...” Ken looked down at Wiggles, who didn’t look particularly happy to not be involved in this conversation. “As long as he doesn’t start acting like he’s lost a lot of blood, potentially a few days. The sooner, the better, though.”

PJ nodded, then opened his eyes. “We have one option.”

Jordan’s eyes flickered to where PJ’s fingers were still resting against his left arm, and his eyes widened. “We can’t afford to make a deal with the Faceless. They still haven’t even called in their favor from when they helped you.”

“As Mr. Morrison said,” PJ said steadily, though he too was not looking forward to this, “it’s Wiggles’ life at stake.” He sighed and slowly stood, leaning on the wall for support. “Maron, kindly contact the Faceless.”

Chapter Text

The man in front of him was a dignified businessman, but not an unkind one. He was intelligent and charismatic, and no stranger to hard work. He owned many properties, and ran several distilleries making medical alcohol for those poor souls in need.

He was neatly-groomed, too: his dark blonde hair was parted and oiled back in the latest style, the pinstriped grey-blue three-piece suit tailored to fit perfectly, his collar starched stiff and white, and brown leather shoes polished to a shine. The colourful paisley tie, silk pocket square, and and initialed cufflinks brought everything to a head.

This was a man who had his life together, who had the world in front of him and knew how to take it. He knew exactly what he was doing at any given moment, even if he never shared that plan with anyone but his closest confidantes.

And yet, Felix thought bitterly as he glared at his reflection, the man in front of him was a complete and utter lie. Sure, he looked nice, and he ran a good, honest business, but what did that really matter when he couldn’t even save his friends—and was getting bodyguards hurt like he was trying to commit life insurance fraud.

No, if one thing was certain, it was that this man in front of him was bitter and angry at the world, angry at what could have been and should have been, angry at the injustices that had been served his friends and those he’d tried to protect. He hadn’t been able to protect Sophie from Mir, and he saw that agony in PJ’s eyes every time they met at Calypso. He could have prevented that.

He’d been far too late for Jack and PJ, too. Too late to keep them from destroying their friendship; too occupied with his business and meetings to spare any attention to those he called his friends. He should have known, after Jack had pulled a gun on PJ, that it would only end badly, but he had never taken any steps to prevent it.

And Mark, Mark, the man who’d heard his darkest secret and offered comfort and a Boxer, who’d suggested improvement over stagnating in constant regret and self-disgust... he’d thought him dead. He’d never questioned the lack of a body; he didn’t once think Mark had escaped. He should have known better, should have hoped for the best. Maybe if he’d said something, expressed some sort of hope, Wiishu might have revealed so much sooner that Mark had survived. They might have been able to get him real help, not just Wiishu and the mob doing their best. Mark might have been kept from Mir, kept from beatings and torture, kept from being deliberately crippled, kept from a fate worse than death and hell.

The man in front of him was a failure and a liar. He abandoned and failed those who needed him most. Felix was sick of seeing him.

His hands tightened into fists, and he could see, in the reflection, his expression flicker with barely contained anger. The burn of this emotion rose as Felix remembered just how close they’d been to rescuing Mark and Sophie from that hell.

He’d never be able to publicly admit his anger, acknowledge his distress. He was the man in the mirror, after all, wasn’t he? The man who, even now, was wearing a smooth mask of perfectly measured emotion. Felix could barely see the burn of frustration and loathing in his eyes; he could barely make out the cracks in his composure. His reflection was so at odds with how he felt. He hated it.

He didn’t allow himself a second to think.

Felix punched the mirror.

The glass shattered with an impossibly loud crack, and something in his hand snapped—then the following few moments seemed to draw out forever. His eyes caught glimpses of himself in the falling pieces, and the gentle tinkle of shards hitting the floorboards rang in his ears. Then he blinked, and all the mirror was now was shards of glass and a wooden frame.

Felix stepped back, glass crunching under the hard soles of his shoes, and swore loudly. His hand was throbbing. He’d broken a bone; hopefully only one. Blood was already spilling out of the slices on his knuckles and the back of his hand, dripping onto the floor and the glass.

Marzia was going to kill him if he got blood on their carpet. Then Ken was going to kill him, just for his pure stupidity.

But what was done was done, and Felix couldn’t undo it.

He crossed their bedroom and stepped into their bathroom, resolutely staring down at the white porcelain sink, and at the water as it turned pink. He wouldn’t look at the mirror.

As the water ran and he tried to rinse out the worst of the glass bits, he let his thoughts wander. He couldn’t ignore the guilt that was bubbling up. Fischbach had risked his life and limb to save Felix’s skin. Felix had walked away from the whole ordeal unscathed, save for a mere bruise or two. Fischbach had been shot. Then here he was, punching mirrors and breaking his own bones, just because he couldn’t keep a tight grip on his own emotions.

Fischbach would be fine. That, at least, was something. He wouldn’t really be walking for at least a few days, but he’d just been grazed by the bullet in his thigh. Nothing vital had been hit.

Felix had already called ahead and informed his previous commitments he wouldn’t be attending this week’s events and appointments. He’d had to give an explanation, of course, and had supplied one that had held at least some of the truth: someone had tried to kill him; he felt a need to remain home, where he was safe..

The rumors would be all over the city by morning, but Felix couldn’t do anything about that.

He heard the door to the bedroom slam open, and recognized the footsteps of both Marzia and Ken. “I’m in here,” he called out, “I’m alone.”

Ken walked into the room far enough to stare at Felix through the doorway to the bathroom, and Felix watched him as Ken turned to the broken mirror. Marzia pushed past him and rushed to Felix, looking far too serious and worried. Felix felt another pang of guilt. He’d never meant to scare Marzia.

“Felix,” Marzia gasped as she stepped into the bathroom, “What did you do to your hand?”

Felix turned the water off and shook his hand with a grimace. “I’m fine,” he lied.

Ken sighed, stepping into the doorway and studying Felix’s hand. “I’ll go get my medical kit and someone to clean this mess up. You’d better hope you don’t need stitches.” With that, he walked off.

Felix slid past Marzia and sat on the bed, unable to look her in the eye.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” Marzia asked from the doorway, a towel in hand.

Felix twitched a corner of his lip up. “Not really,” he replied. “...I couldn’t save them.”’

“Ah.” A pause, then the bed shifted slightly as Marzia sat next to him. She sighed. “You did the best you could.”

“I think it’s time for me to accept that my best isn’t good enough,” Felix snapped. “It’s only resulted in me losing the people I care about.”

Marzia hummed softly, taking Felix’s injured hand in her own, laying it on the towel in her lap and carefully examining the wounds. “But you tried. That’s all you could do.”

Felix groaned, trying to pull his hand away.

“You can’t control Mir, Felix,” Marzia said gently, just as gently keeping his hand in hers. “You can’t predict him. There’s a reason he’s so dangerous. And as far as the public is concerned, you’re a law-abiding man—because you are. And that’s what makes you strong.”

Felix snorted. “Are we ignoring all the illegal things I’ve done.”

“It’s Prohibition,” Marzia pointed out, picking a piece of glass out of his hand. “Everyone does illegal things. As long as nobody finds out, you’re law-abiding.”

Felix stopped grimacing long enough to give her a sour look.

“People think PJ’s law-abiding by that logic, too.”

“They do. And he’s still a good man. He takes care of his own, as do you.” Marzia took his other hand, wrapping her fingers reassuringly around his. “There’s a reason the two of you are such good friends.”

“And what about Mark? And Sophie? They’re stuck in Mir’s hands while I play dress up and look pretty and dance a complicated game to make the public love me.” Felix sighed, running his thumb over her fingers. “Jack and Cry are dead. They died looking after their own. What good am I?”

“They also both killed to look after their own. You haven’t.”

Felix shook his head. “Plenty died from the molasses flood.”

Marzia hummed softly. “Yes. And you provided the most donations towards repairs.” She gave him a small smile. “Anger doesn’t make you less human, Felix. Emotions make us human.”

Felix frowned and glowered at the broken mirror. “Anger is what made me cause the deaths of dozens of people, Marzia. It’s what made me order Cry to sabotage the molasses tank.”

“Yes, well,” Marzia admitted, “being human doesn’t make you above really big mistakes. Being human doesn’t put you above wanting revenge over your parents being poisoned.”

Felix pulled her hand up and kissed it softly, holding it against his lips for a few moments. “What would I do without you?”

She laughed softly. “Let’s hope we never find out.”

-----

“Has the detective shown yet?” Wiggles murmured, his closed eyes and half-slurred voice suggesting he was nearly asleep.

PJ looked over from flipping through paperwork. “Not yet, no.” He glanced at the clock on the wall, barely illuminated by the dim lamp across the room. “It’s only midnight. He still has time.”

Wiggles moved as if to push himself up, but PJ just reached over and planted his hand firmly on Wiggles’ chest, frowning. “No you don’t. You need to rest, or you risk making yourself worse off.”

Wiggles sighed, sinking back down. “You could have let me go home.”

“You lied about being injured. I want you here, nearby, where other people can keep an eye on you.”

Wiggles dropped his head back against the pillows, saying nothing.

PJ turned his attention back to the paperwork in hand. Running the Family didn’t take too much paperwork, but running the businesses they used as a cover definitely did. And most of the time, that task fell to him. Or Zombie. Neither of them particularly enjoyed it, but it needed to be done.

He’d managed to work his way through a good inch of stuff before Wiggles stirred again, and PJ glanced up to make sure Wiggles was actually sleeping and not staring at the ceiling.

Wiggles was staring at the ceiling.

PJ sighed. “Wiggles-”

“I can’t remember a time when the Family actually cared enough about me to handle my injuries,” Wiggles said softly. “I was always left to bandage myself.” His brow wrinkled slightly. “The only time I got actual treatment from doctors was when I almost sliced some of my fingers off with shrapnel from a bomb gone wrong.” He lifted a hand and wriggled the fingers, and PJ could see thin, faint scars. “They healed decently enough, I suppose.” His hand fell to his chest, where PJ could remember a rather distinct scar carving its way across Wiggles’ skin. “...I can’t say I’m surprised by Jordan’s reaction. I’ve gotten a lot of scars over the years.”

“Do you remember what caused them?”

Should PJ have asked? Probably not, but it was now nearly one in the morning, and he was bored and tired and the detective still hadn’t shown up, so he needed something to entertain himself.

Wiggles tapped his chest. “You should know this one. You were there.”

PJ leaned back in his chair, frowning. “That’s... that was Wald’s doing, then.”

Wiggles nodded slightly, humming in agreement.

“It’s quite large.”

“He almost killed me,” Wiggles said dryly. “I’d be disappointed if it was anything less.”

PJ’s hand drifted to his left upper arm, touching where he could almost remember the agony of being stabbed. “He tried to kill me too.”

Wiggles’ eyebrows quirked. “Really.”

PJ nodded. “It was almost three years ago, now. He waited until I had wandered off by myself and cornered me.” He snorted softly. “He certainly didn’t want to make it fast. I was more in danger of bleeding to death than anything.”

Wiggles made a sympathetic sound.

“That’s when I met Jordan for the first time.”

“I was wondering,” Wiggles said softly. “He’s not exactly fluent with Italian, only passable.”

PJ snorted. “You should have heard him when he first started learning.”

Wiggles chuckled. “I can imagine.” A pause. “I can’t imagine the others took to him very well. He’s not Italian, is he.”

PJ sighed, remembering when Jordan had admitted that the blood that ran in his veins was either Russian or Italian, and he didn’t know which. “He might be. His parentage is... questionable. He’s never claimed it fully.”

“Oh? I sense a story behind this.”

“Not much of one.” PJ shook his head. “And it’s not mine to tell. Suffice it to say it’s possible old Cordato is his father.”

“Oh!” Wiggles sounded pleasantly surprised at that. “But he doesn’t know for sure.”

“He doesn’t know for sure, and he’s not told many people about it.” PJ made a face, setting his paperwork aside. “Especially considering who the other major contestant is.”

Wiggles didn’t say anything—just glanced over curiously. PJ didn’t continue, and instead slowly pushed himself up from the chair with a hiss of pain.

“You should rest, yourself,” Wiggles said. Was that concern in his voice?

“I’m not going to meet the detective in my bed,” PJ said stubbornly. “He’s a delicate catch. I’m not going to scare him away by looking weak.”

Wiggles made a sound of protest. “So says the person not on enforced bedrest.”

Before PJ could respond, a faint knock sounded on the door, and PJ limped over to open it to Gunner.

“He’s here, Peej,” Gunner said softly. “Detective Bluemoon arrived.”

-----

Gar had given the sitting room where he’d been left to wait a thorough glance, but it hadn’t revealed much. Some of the decor was a remnant from the recently-gone Victorian era, but most of it was modern. All of it looked expensive. Definitely more expensive than most things Gar was used to, at least.

Nice color coordination, though.

The door to the room swung open softly, and Gar looked over to see the young man who’d let him in.

“The godfather will see you now.” He spoke in Italian. Not really a surprise, all things considered, but it made him all the gladder he’d spent so much time learning it while recovering.

Gar dipped his head, following the young man.

Neither of them spoke.

If the young man noticed the way Gar carefully glanced around as they walked down hallways, he didn’t say anything.

Everything depended on this—if he didn’t win over the godfather, he was going to fail his assignment with this. Worse, since he was a detective, it was quite possible the godfather would order him killed.

He’d just have to prove he was serious about this, then.

The young man brought them to a stop in front of a door, knocked once, and then opened the door and stepped aside, gesturing for Gar to enter.

He did.

-----

The detective was young, that much was easy enough to tell, and PJ had already known who’d be stepping in through his door. Twenty-four, Wiggles had said, though he could have easily passed for younger. Still in his rookie year, since he’d been on leave for six months. Rumor was, he’d been shot.

He held himself confidently, though, and PJ didn’t miss the way the detective’s eyes half-glanced at Jordan and Tanner, standing guard behind PJ. He seemed surprisingly alert for it being awake at such an odd hour, when he must have been up for most of the fourth, but detectives did work odd hours.

(Gar noted that the shorter and more muscular man standing guard behind the godfather looked more than a little disgruntled, and the way he held himself suggested he was too tired to move the few centimeters to standing fully upright.)

It was too late in the night to worry about formalities. PJ gestured for the detective to take a seat.

And he did, without hesitation.

Interesting.

The godfather was examining Gar, and he felt more than a little like a tool being evaluated, but he kept himself still. He’d been trained on keeping a straight face, and keeping still; he drew on that training with ease.

Gar had known the godfather was PJ Liguori. He’d known the godfather was young, not too much older than he was, but he hadn’t been expecting him to look so comfortable in his role. Gar wouldn’t have been, if he was in the other man’s shoes.

It was a far cry from that poker night almost a year ago. The confidence was the same, but... PJ Liguori controlled everything here. He held all the cards.

“Garuku Bluemoon. Nice to see you again.”

At Liguori’s words, the two bodyguards gave each other a confused glance, but said nothing.

“And you, sir.”

The corner of Liguori’s mouth twitched at that. “I was beginning to wonder if you had changed your mind about coming.” About joining.

Gar shook his head. “I was told to be discreet, sir. I had to wait until Detective Patrick headed home to do that.”

Liguori nodded slightly. All traces of approval or amusement slipped away, though, as he straightened in his chair—and Gar had already thought Liguori was sitting up straight.

Liguori was a tall man, Gar couldn’t help but notice.

“Do you realize what you’re getting into, detective?” His voice was serious, unwavering, and contained a warning Gar hoped he wasn’t seriously underestimating.

“I do, sir. You want me to supply you with information from the police, you want me to be the inside man with access to the cases and the evidence that are most important to the Family.”

The corners of Liguori’s mouth tightened the slightest amount, as if disappointed. “It’s much more than that. You’ll become part of the Family, Garuku. Part of our Family.” His gesture seemed to include the building, as well as the two bodyguards behind him, and Gar, all at once. And then he leaned forward, expression still and blue-green eyes intimidating. “And I won’t be able to welcome you in until I know we have your complete loyalty.”

Gar dipped his head. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

PJ leaned back, that gentle smile back on his face. There was no warmth in it this time, though. “I have high expectations, detective, from the partner of Detective Patrick.”

Gar just smiled faintly, trying to keep his concern for MatPat quiet. What did Liguori know of him, to mention him?

“Remember that he’s not allowed to know about any of this,” PJ warned. “It will likely be your biggest challenge, keeping it hidden from the sharpest mind in Boston.”

Gar dipped his head again. “Of course.”

PJ kept his gaze on Bluemoon, examining him thoughtfully. So far, the detective was exactly as Wiggles had described: young, up for a challenge, and willing to offer his loyalty to the Family.

“How is Detective Patrick?” PJ asked idly.

Bluemoon didn’t even flinch at the sudden subject change. “Busy, but doing well.”

“His health has improved, then?”

The detective did pause there, so quickly it couldn’t even be called a hesitation—but still noticeable. “I’ve never seen him better.”

“Rumor has it he’s picked up theatre on the side?”

Bluemoon nodded. “Temporarily, at least.”

PJ nodded thoughtfully. “The opening night of Phantom of the Opera at the Boston Theatre, was he filling the role of the Phantom?”

“I believe so, sir.”

PJ raised an eyebrow, filing the information away. “Did he say what caused his fall from the scaffolding?”

“They’re not sure if it was an accident or an attempt to kill him, given the fate of the other officer.” Bluemoon hesitated. “May I ask why, sir?”

PJ smiled. “I happened to be in the audience that night and was curious, is all.” He tapped his fingers on his desk. “Has he found his wife?” It was something he’d wondered ever since he’d refused the man help.

Gar shook his head. “No, sir.”

PJ resisted the temptation to sigh. “Keep me updated on that, Bluemoon. I like to keep tabs on our more... distant Family members.”

Bluemoon just dipped his head again. “Of course, sir.”

PJ opened his mouth to speak again-

The unmistakable crash of a door being kicked in downstairs was impossibly loud. A second door splintered open to another’s boot, and the sound echoed through the building. It took all of PJ’s willpower to stay sitting, even as Jordan jumped into action.

“Were you followed?” PJ demanded, eyes fixed on Bluemoon.

“No. I made sure no one followed me. Nobody knows I’m here.”

The gunshots began, splintering the late night air, and PJ pushed himself up from his chair, holding back a grunt of pain.

“Then you had better hope the police aren’t the ones raiding.” He turned to Tanner. “Keep him close,” PJ ordered him. “I don’t want him slipping away.”

Bluemoon frowned, but merely stood as Tanner walked over to him and pointedly withdrew a gun from his holster.

“Sparklez-” PJ started, circling around his desk.

“As if I’m letting you go into a gunfight.” Jordan drew his pistol from the holster at his side, checking its chamber. “Those on guard duty tonight are more than capable.” He walked over to a bookcase next to the door and dragged it in front of the door, not bothering to remove any of the books or boxes on it, earning a surprised lift of an eyebrow from Bluemoon. “We’ve talked about this.”

Liguori’s shoulders set at that, and his eyes burned with such a ferocity Gar actually got a little worried for his own safety.

“Are you armed, detective?” Liguori asked without looking.

“Always.”

The Sparklez fellow looked over at that. “Always? Even when you’re asleep?”

Gar nodded, and didn’t offer any further explanation.

Sparklez shook his head after a moment, then turned his attention back to the door, his hands perfectly steady as he raised his gun.

Several gunshots, and several shouts, sounded. Everything was muddled together; muffled by the walls and floor. Then the shouts became clear—and none of them were in English. Italian and Russian, going head to head.

PJ glanced at Bluemoon, only to see him standing there, his body coiled and eyes fixed on the door.

Fascinating.

And then the door handle jiggled, and opened, and the door slammed into the bookcase.

Jordan smirked slightly at that.

The door slammed again, and again.

A pause, and some angry Russian.

And then the door slammed into the bookcase once more, this time with enough force to send it sliding and the door flying open, and three men tumbled into the room.

Jordan didn’t hesitate. Two quick shots later, the three men were one man bleeding out and two dead bodies. PJ almost smiled. Jordan always went on about killing two birds with one stone, conserving bullets, how to be efficient in a gunfight… it was nice to see those ideas in action.

Another two darted through the door—one immediately went for PJ, while the other just about tackled Jordan.

Tanner let go of Bluemoon and stepped forward to deal with the Russian attacking PJ, only to be dragged to the floor by the man there.

There wasn’t a lot of room to scuffle in the office, so PJ stepped back towards the detective. “You should go before the police show up,” PJ ordered. “There’s no use in you getting caught up in this.”

Bluemoon glanced over and nodded, then caught the hand that was about to aim a gun at PJ and twisted it, sending the attacker to the floor with a thud.

Impressive.

There was the sharp retort of a gunshot as Jordan finished off the Russian on him, and then another as he shot the one at PJ’s feet—and then it was only a matter of moments before he’d pulled the third off Tanner and shot him too.

Then, and only then, was Luna’s wailing obvious.

The detective looked at the door, clearly surprised to hear it, but PJ just walked out (closely followed by a still-grumbling Jordan) and moved as quickly as he could to Luna’s room—where Amanda and Matthias were on the ground, blood spreading across their clothes and on the floor around them, and Luna was nowhere to be seen.

Amanda’s gaze burned into them as they entered, a look of undisputed fury and pain on her face, blood pouring from a bullet hole in her throat. The kerchief pressed to the wound did little to stop the flow. “They took Luna!” Even more blood bubbled up with each choked word, flecking her lips, soaking into her clothes and the rug.

PJ froze, for a heartbeat, before his heart dropped at the news. “Tanner!”

Tanner was already running out the door and down the hall.

Bluemoon and Jordan rushed over to Amanda while PJ turned his attention to Matthias. He’d rather not watch Jordan push his finger inside the hole in her neck.

Matthias, if possible, looked to be in worse condition than his wife.

PJ crouched next to Matthias, and waited for the man’s eyes to slowly focus on him. One of Matthias’ hands grasped uselessly at the rug on the floor, the other resting next to one of the many bullet wounds in his chest and stomach.

It was a wonder he wasn’t dead yet.

“Luna,” Matthias mumbled, “they took Luna.”

“I know,” PJ murmured gently. “I know.”

Blood began to fleck on Matthias’ lips. “Promise me...” He coughed violently, spitting up blood. “...get her back.”

PJ put his hand on Matthias’ shoulders. “Even if I have to tear the city apart, I will find a way for her to be reunited with Amanda.”

Matthias nodded weakly, eyes beginning to glaze over.

“Detective,” PJ called, standing and reaching for his handkerchief to wipe the blood off his hand and arm.

Bluemoon stood from helping Amanda and walked over.

“You said you were armed, correct?”

A nod.

“Then this is your first order. This man betrayed the Family. Shoot him. And then go, before you’re caught here.”

A pause, and then a nod, and the detective reached for his gun.

PJ turned and walked over to where Jordan was standing with Amanda in his arms, one hand awkwardly twisted so his finger still plugged the wound.

“I’ll get you to the hospital,” Joran assured. “You’ll be okay.”

Amanda’s eyes fluttered closed, and her head fell against Jordan’s shoulder, beginning to soak his vest with blood.

A gunshot sounded from the other side of the room.

Jordan stepped forward carefully, worried gaze fixed on Amanda.

“We won’t give up until Luna is back safely in your arms,” PJ promised as she was carried out. “Jordan, grab one of your men to help.”

Amanda didn’t respond, and Jordan barely nodded before they turned out of sight.

PJ sighed and turned to head downstairs. The sounds of the fight had stopped, so it was time to deal with the police.

It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Dawn was slowly beginning to color the sky as Mark and Sophie dropped onto their respective sleeping places. Their room remained dark, lit only by the dim glow issuing from underneath the closed door.

“My brother-” Mark’s distressed voice cut off, hanging in the darkness. “He- They shot him.”

“We have to believe they survived,” Sophie said, though her words were muffled by her pillow, and her voice lacked conviction. “We have to.”

Mark just stared at the ceiling.

“Mir would have come in to gloat by now if either your brother or PJ had died,” Sophie continued, as if she was trying to convince herself of this too. “They have to be alive.”

Silence.

Then Mark sighed.

“I guess so.”

Sophie rolled onto her side, her eyes adjusting to the darkness and picking out Mark’s form. “How’re you holding up?”

“I’m tired,” Mark admitted, stretching with a grimace. “Last time I remember being this tired was when I collapsed last year.”

“Good thing you’re on your bed.”

Mark half-glanced at her.

“What about your leg?” Sophie went to sit up. “Should I get hot water for it?”

Mark sighed, reaching down to rub at his leg. “Probably, but I’m just... we’re both too tired for that.”

“Mark.” They both knew what happened when he ignored his pain.

Mark snorted. “I’m going to be suffering for this for a long time, Sophie. I don’t think a little more agony is really going to make all that much more difference.”

Sophie hummed her disagreement, narrowing her eyes at him. The silence stretched painfully, Sophie unwilling to drop the conversation and Mark unwilling to continue it.

“Has PJ always been like that?” Mark asked hollowly. “So... ruthless.”

Sophie blinked, then twisted her fingers into her blanket anxiously. “You’ve known him longer than I.”

“You’re dating him.” The flat words seemed to hold an accusation, an acknowledgment that Sophie had to be okay with it to continue a relationship with PJ, a questioning of her own character.

Sophie snorted softly. “I knew I was getting involved with the godfather, Mark. He wasn’t that when you became friends.”

The faint light from the main room of the speakeasy turned off, plunging the sleeping room into complete darkness. Sophie had always disliked this particular location. It was in a basement—and the stairs were awful on Mark.

The business upstairs was starting to see some action—they could always hear footsteps from people walking about, and if you paid attention you could start to make out voices. Nobody distinct or recognizable, but it was something to listen to in the early hours before drifting off to sleep. Early mornings, when the speakeasy had closed and only a few footsteps sounded from upstairs, delicious smells of bread and pastries drifted through gaps in the floorboards.

It wasn’t just the presence of stairs that made this location worse than others. They also didn’t have a radio here. Presumably that was because nobody wanted to explain why music and voices were coming from beneath the floorboards; even when Sophie had promised to keep it quiet, Robin- Kostya had said no.

“He was just the bassist.”

Sophie looked over, surprised Mark had actually decided to continue the conversation.

“He was just the bassist, and Jack was just the drummer.” Mark pulled his glasses off, rubbing his face wearily. “And I was just the restaurant manager.” He groaned. “He wasn’t the godfather back then, was he?” His voice held an edge of horror, an edge of blame—as if Mark was holding himself personally responsible for the chaos that followed the reveal of PJ’s involvement in the mafia. As if he was blaming himself for Jack’s death.

“No. The man he pretended was his uncle—that was the godfather. It was... November? when PJ took that mantle. After he’d stopped coming regularly to Freddy’s.” After she’d broken up with him.

“...How do you know this?”

“I asked.” Sophie sighed and flopped backwards onto her bedroll. “He’d come visit me every Sunday. It wasn’t what either of us wanted, but... it was what we got.”

“You showed up on a Sunday.” They both remembered that day clearly. The bullet wound had already been stitched together and bandaged, but she had been unconscious. And when she woke, she’d thought she was hallucinating Mark.

She had, at least, immediately recognized him.

Sophie scowled. “He would have shown up to find me gone. Based on what happened yesterday, I can’t imagine he was too happy about that.”

Silence.

“Was he happy over killing Jack?”

Sophie sighed. “No.”

“Really?” Mark sounded genuinely surprised at that. Had he thought PJ had deliberately hunted Jack down?

“Maybe at the time, he was happy over neutralizing a threat, but... I caught him crying over it more than once.” She’d woken when he got up to cry in a different room—he’d been trying to avoid waking her. “There’s a picture of all of you, right? You and Foxglove and Jack and PJ and Felix.”

Mark laid down with a grimace. “Yeah. We got five copies made. One for each of us.” He let out a sigh. “Mine burned with Freddy’s.” He lifted his hands and stared at them, at the skin that ached on a daily basis. “Molly kept hers in her office. So did Felix. I don’t know what Jack or PJ did with it.” He sighed, dropping his hands onto his chest. “It’s... a memory of a charade long gone by.”

“A charade?”

“Jack and Peej- they tore us apart. In the end, neither of them were there for the rest of us—and the truth was out by then.” Mark scoffed, then coughed softly as the action aggravated his lungs. “There was no chance for real happiness.”

“But you were happy. I saw it.” Sophie sat up. “You all loved each other. And... in the end, you all chose to protect your own. Even if it tore apart the family you found in each other.”

“As I said,” Mark grumbled. “A charade. There was no chance for real happiness when we called each other a family but didn’t consider the others as our own.”

“There’s always a chance for happiness, Mark.” Sophie insisted.

“Happiness is for the living, Sophie. Not for the dead.” He intoned grimly, turning to face the wall. “And I, Mark Fischbach, am dead.”

Sophie narrowed her eyes. Not this again. “No. You are not. You’re as alive as I am, and I am very much alive.” She crossed her arms. “You-”

“I am being held prisoner by a man who wants my brother dead, and I can’t escape because I have a grave, Sophie.” Mark spat, frame stiffening. “Nobody is looking for me. I’m dead.”

“Do you really believe that?” Sophie scowled. “You saw Felix there. He wouldn’t be there for me. It would be too much danger just for me. Felix came for you, Mark. It’s the only reason your brother would have been there.”

Mark’s breathing turned sharp. “I-”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get to sleep.” Sophie laid back down, turning her back to him. “One day, we’ll get out of here, and you can really live again.”

Mark didn’t answer.

Then, quietly: “Thank you.”

Sophie just sighed. “Sleep, Mark.” No more than ten minutes could have passed before the light turned on and the door to the room opened, sending both Mark and Sophie into a half-risen state. Robin walked in, followed closely by Mir and a man holding a toddler-sized bundle.

“Liguori is far too much of a nuisance,” Mir said flatly, eyes filled with a simmering sort of anger that made Sophie instinctively lean away. “First he costs me a dozen men yesterday, then two dozen last night.” He sneered. “He hasn’t even had the courtesy to die yet, but I plan on changing that soon.”

It took all of Sophie’s will to hold still as he turned that furious gaze on her. “And you- you must learn to keep your mouth shut, kuritsa.” He glanced at Robin—at Kostya, and snapped something in Russian.

Kostya began taking off his suit jacket, and Sophie blanched.

Mir snapped something else in Russian, and the man walked forward and handed the toddler-sized bundle of blanket to Mark—who immediately looked alarmed.

“We can’t care for a baby!”

Sophie’s eyes widened, and she glanced away from Robin to see Mark uncovering the face of a tiny sleeping girl.

“You’ll do anything I tell you to,” Mir said, “including child care.” He smiled with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, glancing at Sophie. “You may recognize her, considering we took her from the mafia’s headquarters.”

“Luna,” Sophie gasped softly.

“You kidnapped a baby,” Mark hissed, carefully setting Luna on the bed next to him. “I thought children were off-limits.”

“Nothing is off-limits to me,” Mir said ominously. He snapped something else in Russian, then turned and left.

The man who’d carried Luna in moved to follow, then slipped a tiny plush bear out of his pocket and tossed it on the bed next to Mark. He put a finger to his lips, a sharp glare warning them from saying anything, then left.

Which left them alone with Kostya.

Kostya had draped his jacket over the footrest of the bed, and was rolling up his sleeves.

“Robin-” Mark pleaded. “Please. Don’t wake Luna.”

Robin’s head turned slightly, glancing at the sleeping child. “That is not my name,” he said quietly, his Russian accent strong, “And that is not up to me..”

He grabbed Sophie’s arm and forced her to the ground. “You still have not learned to listen, Alice. You gave us trouble back there. Mir was not pleased; I was very disappointed.”

Sophie didn’t say anything, but her stiff body still showed her defiance. Kostya straightened, a dangerous calm on his face, and said, “You shouldn’t have warned Liguori. Your mistake will cost you.”

Kostya drew back a foot and both Mark and Sophie tensed. He must have missed his kick, though, because instead of hitting Sophie in the stomach or the ribs like their last guard, Kostya’s kick landed directly on her thigh.

Sophie gasped softly. That... hadn’t hurt nearly as much as she’d thought it would. It hurt, of course, but... not as much as the other guard’s kicks hurt.

Kostya seemed determined to teach Sophie a lesson, but without damaging her too thoroughly. Every kick that landed was enough to bruise, sometimes enough to wind her—but they all felt held-back.

Once Kostya had left the room and their light had once again been turned off, Sophie was surprised to discover she could stand and walk over to the bed. She’d have spectacular bruises for quite a while, but she could hide the limp with only a minimal amount of effort.

“I guess they need one of us to be able to stand,” Mark said grimly, turning the plush bear over in his hands.

Sophie hummed her agreement, glancing at Luna. “What are we supposed to do with her?”

Mark shrugged helplessly. “Take care of her, I guess.” He frowned. “Do you know how old she is?”

“Almost a year, I think. PJ mentioned her birthday being in July.”

“That’ll make some things easier, at least.” Mark gently tucked Luna into a nest of blankets. “But what about when we’re both out on the floor?”

Sophie let out a breath. “Hopefully she’s old enough to sleep through it.” She glanced around the room, taking in the miscellaneous supplies and storage. “Otherwise, I think we could jury rig something to keep her occupied, and check on her every ten minutes or so.” She made a face. “It’s not ideal, but it’d be better than letting her on the floor.”

Mark nodded reluctantly. “I guess if we can’t figure it out, she can sit on the floor behind the bar. Or maybe I can stick her in a box to keep her from crawling around.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

Both of them looked at Luna, silent.

“Sophie?” Mark asked slowly.

“Mmhm?”

“If you get the chance to run...”

“Take her?” Sophie looked up, and paused at the fiercely protective look in Mark’s eyes. It was the first kind of fire she’d seen in his eyes since getting dumped into this hell with him. “Of course.”

“Good.” Mark nodded, lifting his eyes to meet Sophie’s, his eyes filled with anger and determination. “Because I’ll be damned if I let her grow up in this godforsaken hell.” He snorted. “Even if I have to come back from the dead to do that.”

Chapter Text

The restaurant was a small place, with food cheaper than either of them would like to admit, but that was okay. They were there at the odd hours of after breakfast and before lunch, where most people were at work and the restaurant was only open because it was inconvenient to close for two hours just to open again.

The plus side to this was there was nobody else on the floor—which was precisely the reason they’d chosen it.

One of the two men snorted and muttered a curse. “Of course Nogla bets its a boy.”

“It?” Moo protested. “This is my child we’re talking about, not some dog.”

Terroriser laughed softly. “Brock, please. I know that. But until they’re born, what am I supposed to call ‘em?”

Moo shrugged, reaching for his glass of juice. “My wife and I have been using ‘the baby,’ and it’s worked pretty well.”

Terroriser leaned on the table. “You’re the parents, though. You get to name the kid.”

Moo nodded, swirling his drink. “Yeah, I know. It’s a lot of pressure, naming a human being.” He made a face. “They’re gonna be stuck with the name the rest of their life.”

“Any ideas?”

Moo shook his head, taking a sip.

Terroriser leaned back, humming thoughtfully. “Your family have any ideas?”

“Oh, plenty.” Moo rolled his eyes. “But I don’t really want extended family naming my kid. I’m the dad, after all; it’s my responsibility.”

Terroriser shrugged. “Just name them after me.”

Moo stared at him, then burst into laughter. “But then when I talked about ‘Brian’ I’d lose track of which one of you it was.”

Terroriser made a face. “Okay, that was uncalled for.”

“And what if the baby is a girl? Brian isn’t a good name for daughters.” Moo shook his head.

“Brianna, Brock. You’d name her Brianna.”

Moo raised an eyebrow. “You’re really set on this, huh.”

Terroriser crossed his arms, and for a moment the only sound was the nearby wall clock ticking.

“Look- Brock-” Terroriser leaned forward again. “I just got transferred to your team. Chilled is heading out on his transfer in, what, a week?” He shrugged slightly. “Vanoss is a good guy and all, but we both know he hasn’t been the same since Christmas.” He paused for a moment.

“None of us really have,” Moo pointed out softly. “And it was his team.”

“I know,” Terroriser murmured. “And just thinking about that, about losing you and Vanoss... even though I just got transferred to the team, you guys are my friends, and I’d be crushed if something happened to you two and I was left the only survivor. I can’t blame the guy.” He sighed. “But point is, he’s going to try as much as he can, but he has to take care of himself. He’s not really going to be... mentally available to be a good uncle to this kid of yours.” He shrugged. “I am.”

“He’s been trying the best he can already,” Moo argued. “Our last job, with just the two of us, he wouldn’t let me drive home alone afterwards—since by then we’d both been up for just about 20 hours straight. His words were more or less ‘let’s make sure you stay a dad’.”

“That’s sweet.” Terroriser put both his forearms on the table, shoving his empty plates aside. “How’s he been doing, by the way? I mean, I saw him this morning, but... he was in work mode.”

Moo hummed. “You’ll find out soon enough. You’re sharing the apartment with him, remember?”

Terroriser sighed. “I hate transfers. There’s so much moving.”

“At least you’re with friends, now.”

“The ones still alive, yeah.”

Silence stretched out between them, neither willing to make eye contact after that.

“Where are they buried?” Terroriser finally asked. “Toonzy and Delirious, I mean.”

“Want me to show you?” Moo asked, setting his now-empty glass on the table. “It’s in the city.”

“Really?” Terroriser blinked, sitting back. “I’d have thought they’d be buried closer to their hometowns.”

“So did I, but apparently their wills said they wanted to be here.”

Terroriser let out a breath. One of the things all graduated and operating Faceless had to do was have a will, since being an assassin and also part of organized crime meant you could die very abruptly. One of the things mandated to be in that will was where you wanted to be buried. Made it so relatives didn’t fight over your corpse.

“Okay.” He stood. “Whenever you’re ready, then.”

Moo stacked his plates and silverware neatly, leaving enough cash to cover the meal and a hefty tip next to it, then nodded.

Moo drove, being the one with a car, and they sat in silence for several minutes.

“What happened to Ohm?” Terroriser finally asked. “I heard about what killed Toonz and Del—they got mauled by dogs—but nobody ever told me about Ohm’s killer.”

“Well,” Moo hesitated for a bit too long, “nobody actually found his body. Considering he was last seen diving into an exploding warehouse, though, everyone is fairly confident he’s dead.”

“Why did he do something like that?” Terroriser asked incredulously.

“He was going in after someone else on their assignment. Cryaotic, I think?”

“Oh. Him. I’ve heard of him.”

Moo glanced over to see Terroriser looking unhappy. “Oh?”

“You’ve heard what happened with him and Ohm, right?”

“Yeah.” Moo tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, pulling slowly around a corner and pausing several times to let people cross the street. “He ranted to me about it once.”

“Then why’d he go back for the guy?”

Moo shrugged. “You know him. He doesn’t like letting people die.”

“He’s an assassin.”

Moo shrugged again.

Terroriser paused.

“So.”

Moo glanced over.

“I’ve been in Ireland for the past year, right?”

Moo nodded.

Terroriser shook his head. “First of all, remind me not to go back there when they’re in the middle of a civil war.” He shuddered. “I had to kill people I knew just to get out alive.”

Moo made a sympathetic sound.

“On my way back, they had me stop by the worldwide headquarters.” He paused. “You know, the ones in Québec?”

Moo nodded. “How are they? Vanoss says they’re pretty.”

“They are, I’ll give him that.” Terroriser propped his arm on the door. “Thing is, as I was walking around, I saw a mask. And as I said, I’ve heard of Cryaotic. I’ve seen his mask before.” He tapped his fingers on his lips. “I saw him there, Brock.”

Moo looked over, surprised. “What?”

“This Cryaotic fellow, he’s in Québec.” Terroriser narrowed his eyes. “And if he’s alive, and Ohm went back for him, then doesn’t it stand to logic that Ohm’s alive?” He narrowed his eyes more. “Maybe on an undercover mission somewhere, with you as his primary contact?”

Moo laughed uncertainly. “How- How’d you figure that out?”

“I bribed Nogla into distracting some of the information folks and snooped around while they were busy.”

Moo laughed softly. “That sounds about right.” He sighed, slumping in his seat slightly. “You realize, you can’t tell Evan.”

Terroriser sat up straight in his seat. “Well why not? Ohm was part of his team! And he thinks he’s dead. He’s been grieving over someone who’s not really dead!”

“It’s orders, Brian.” Moo’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “The more people who know, the more chance Ohm has of getting revealed. And that’d definitely end up with him dead.”

Terroriser glared at Moo. “Evan isn’t going to reveal Ohm.”

“He might. There’s always a risk.”

Terroriser snorted. “It’s not like he’s in the city to be found if we told him.”

Moo drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, then started to take another turn.

“Brock?”

Moo didn’t look at him.

“Brock.”

Moo’s mouth straightened unhappily.

Terroriser cursed. “He’s still in Boston?!”

Moo nodded. “He got sent in to the local mafia. He’s pretty deep undercover.” He let out a long breath. “And I’m worried for him. He got pretty badly hurt—badly enough their godfather was willing to make a deal with us to get him medical care.”

Terroriser growled. “What from? Who do I need to kill?”

“Mir.”

Terroriser blinked. “Wasn’t he in prison?”

“Not since Christmas Eve.” Moo pulled off to the side of the road next to a small cemetery. “He got released.”

Terroriser swore.

“Yeah.” Moo sighed. “It’s made things interesting.” He twisted in his seat. “Anyway, we’re here.”

They were silent as Moo led the way to a pair of graves, one next to the other.

Terroriser sighed and crouched between them.

“You idiots,” he murmured. “You absolute idiots. What were you thinking, dying that way?”

The men once known as Cartoonz and Delirious didn’t answer.

Terroriser slowly stood. “Who brought the flowers?” He gestured to the small flower arrangements on both the graves.

“I did.” Moo stuck his hands in his pockets. “They don’t have any blood family here, and Evan gets... really quiet when he’s here. But they deserve flowers. Even if they’re not fancy ones.”

Terroriser clapped his hands on Moo’s shoulder. “You’re a good man.”

“Thanks.”

They stood there in silence for a moment.

Then: “What do you say we go practice at headquarters? I want to punch something.” Terroriser said calmly.

Moo chuckled softly. “Sure, Brian. Sure. I’ll have to leave for an escort mission, though, soon.”

As they began walking away, Terroriser paused and looked over his shoulder at the graves. “What happened to their pets? They had some, right?”

“Evan took care of that, so you’ll have to ask him for the details.”

Terroriser nodded. “Okay. I’m glad they’re okay, at least.”

Moo nodded. “Of course.”

Terroriser snorted and started walking again. “Come on. I want to see if Scotty’s available.”

“I don’t think he wants to spar with you after last time.”

“He’s a wimp, and a pushover. I’ll talk him into it. Or I’ll get Marcel to do it.”

“I... don’t think that’s going to work, Brian.”

“It will.”

“...if you say so.”

“I do say so, Brock.”

“Just be careful. Don’t break Scotty’s arm again.”

“I didn’t break his arm.”

“Sure.”

“Brock.”

“I’m just saying—it’s not a fun memory, he’s not going to want to repeat the experience.”

“It’s been three years!”

“So?”

“I can’t believe I have to ride with you all the way back. Why couldn’t I have someone with a spine on my team?!”

“Oh, come on.” Moo climbed into the driver’s seat. “There’s no reason to be spine-ful about this.”

“Brock.”

Chapter Text

“You know I’m not going to let you drive,” Jordan said, moving the keys away from Wiggles’ outstretched hand.

Wiggles sighed. “Not fair.”

“You collapsed last night,” Jordan said, instead throwing the keys to one of Wiggles’ men. “I can’t risk you doing that again while driving.”

Wiggles glared, but didn’t say anything more.

“What’s your man’s name?” Jordan asked in an aside.

“That’s Piya. Just call him Justin.”

“Right.” Jordan returned his voice to a normal volume. “Justin- drive safely, alright? If something happens to either them or the car, I’ll be having words with you.”

“Of course.” Justin dipped his head. “They’ll arrive safely.”

Jordan nodded, then turned back to Wiggles. “I’m going to get PJ. Do not get up until I’m back.” He glanced at Justin. “Go ahead and get the car started. They’ll be out momentarily.”

Justin nodded and walked off, and Wiggles leaned back in his chair with a soft grumble.

Jordan did return with PJ momentarily, then insisted on walking between them, just in case.

“So why haven’t I heard about this Family farm before?” Jordan asked, glancing over to PJ.

PJ smiled slightly. “It hasn’t come up, really.” It wasn’t a secret, but unless you’d been there or sat through the meetings of the Family’s resources, it wasn’t something to come up in casual conversation.

“Who runs it?”

PJ lifted a shoulder. “My father.”

Jordan raised his eyebrows. “Does he know you’re leading a Faceless there?”

“I told him over the phone.” PJ winced as he slid into the back seat, one hand pressed firmly against his side. “He’s not terribly happy about it, but it’s the only way I could keep Wiggles on land we control.”

Jordan sighed.

“I’m right here, you know,” Wiggles complained, gingerly settling into the other back seat.

“It’ll be okay,” PJ assured. “I’ll be back to Boston in a week, just to let things cool down with Mir and the police. And whenever Wiggles is recovered, we’ll go get him.” And in the meantime, Wiggles would be safe with the Family, but away from people trying to kill him.

Jordan made a face. “I know, I know.” He sighed again, rubbing the back of his head. “While you’re gone, Zombie and I will move all the office stuff and paperwork to one of the other houses.” He glanced at the house around them. “And we’ll sell this place and find somewhere new.” He grinned slightly. “Hope you like my guest bedroom, since that’s where you’ll be when you get back.”

“It’ll be fine.” PJ leaned back in his seat. “Now shoo. We’ve got a couple hours of driving ahead of us, and I want to be there before the Faceless get there tonight.”

Jordan clapped his hand on the roof of the car. “Travel safe.”

“I have complete faith in Justin’s driving ability,” Wiggles said dryly.

“That makes one of us.” Jordan stepped back, gave a half-wave, half-salute, and watched the car slowly pull away.

Then he sighed and rolled his shoulders. He needed sleep. He was going to take a nap.

-----

The car was uncomfortably warm as they went along, but PJ didn’t dare do anything to change it. Wiggles had fallen asleep in the other seat, and he wanted to do nothing to disturb his rest.

The heat was making him sleepy, too—though some of that could very easily be from not getting to sleep until nearly six in the morning and then being woken at ten. He could usually (poorly) function on four hours of sleep, but right now he was far too injured and stressed to do that. So PJ leaned against the window, watching the city fade into country, until he fell asleep himself.

-----

Wiggles wasn’t initially sure what woke him. He’d been sleeping soundly. PJ was asleep, and Justin didn’t even glance at him as he stirred, so nobody had called his name. Had he heard something, then?

Well, the car was making a soft clicking. Justin must have hit a pothole and knocked something loose.

Wiggles glanced out the window, only to frown. The road they were on certainly wasn’t smooth , but packed dirt didn’t really get potholes. Bumps, certainly, and puddles, but nothing with jagged edges and a drop.

So what was click-

He’d heard this clicking before.

Wiggles sat up straight, listening intently. The clicking seemed to be coming from the front of the car—from the engine.

He clapped a hand onto PJ’s arm to wake him and leaned over to the door handle on PJ’s side. They were coming up to a short bridge, which was far from ideal.

“What?” PJ asked, rubbing his arm. “Why’d you do that?”

“All of us need to get out. Now.”

PJ blinked at him, but nodded to Justin, and the car began to slow-

The clicking caught-

Wiggles shoved PJ’s door open, grabbed PJ, and shoved both of them out of the car in one fluid motion-

The front of the car exploded.

The force of the explosion, combined with the momentum from the car, slammed Wiggles and PJ into the light wooden railing on the side of the bridge and sent them through it.

Shrapnel dug into skin, and whatever breath PJ had left in him was forced out as he slammed into the ground, into a creek.

The world came back in bits and pieces: first, the incessant pain across his back and arms. The ringing in his ears. The muffled sound of a fire blazing. Orange glow dancing on water. Cold wet soaking into PJ’s arm and side and legs and flowing across half of his face, and warm wet on his back, oozing down his forehead from the sharp pain on his temple, clinging to his hair.

Wiggles, unmoving a few feet away, face down in the water.

PJ moved to push himself up, immediately crying out and crumpling as pain shot through his arm.

He lifted his head—where were his glasses?—and tried to focus on the fire blazing ten? fifteen? feet away, halfway sunk into the creek where the explosion had destroyed the bridge.

No, Justin wasn’t making it out alive.

He turned his gaze back to Wiggles, frowning, before he noticed the red running in the creek.

He was downstream from Wiggles.

Alarm now surging through him, PJ rolled onto his stomach and crawled. Every move was agony, and he was sure more than one thing was broken. Still, he managed to get to Wiggles, and rolled him onto his back, lifting his head out of the water.

He couldn’t hear Wiggles breathing, not with the ringing in his ears—but he had a pulse, and he could feel Wiggles’ coughs and shakes as he spit up water.

Okay. They were both alive. Both badly injured. Wiggles was unconscious, or at least unconscious enough to be unhelpful. They couldn’t stay in this stream or their wounds would never get the chance to stop bleeding.

So.

Out of the stream for both of them.

PJ unsteadily pushed himself to his feet, immediately falling to his knees as the world swam around him and his legs screamed at him and blood dripped from his brow and into his eyes.

Okay. No standing.

He pushed himself to his knees, then fell onto his butt and worked the hand of his good arm under Wiggles’ armpit. Then he dug his feet into the ground and slowly, and very painfully, dragged him out of the creek and onto the bank.

PJ flopped backwards, breathing heavily.

The next time he came around, shade from the nearby tree was partly in his face.

Well that wasn’t good.

PJ put a hand to his head and groaned softly before pushing himself into a sitting position. At least his hand didn’t come away coated in blood—or rather, the blood it was coated in wasn’t fresh.

The world was still blurry, seeing as he didn’t have his glasses, but something about his surroundings gave him pause.

He glanced at the destroyed bridge—the car was still on fire, he couldn’t have passed out for that long—then at the field behind him.

Oh, he knew where they were.

This creek was probably a half-hour walk from the farmhouse—assuming one was actually capable of walking.

They were not.

PJ curled his broken arm to his chest and the other’s hand to his head to try and steady it, fingers instinctively finding the gash over his temple and then the dried blood and dirt matting his hair over the rest of his head.

It didn’t really help him focus, but at least he didn’t feel like his head was about to fall off his neck.

Something nudged his shoulder.

He glanced to see a familiar horse nudging him.

“Winston,” he murmured, giving the old draft horse a pat, “you have no idea how happy I am to see you.”

It took a lot of effort and time—nearly a full half hour—but PJ eventually managed to get Wiggles off the bank and flopped across Winston’s back. And then, with his good arm looped over Winston’s neck for support, he slowly staggered towards the farmhouse.

The pain didn’t go away as PJ moved, but he did slowly grow numb to it. He seemed to be growing numb to everything, in fact.

Somehow, he made it to the familiar wooden steps leading up to the farmhouse door. Somehow, he managed to get up them.

Somehow, he managed to knock.

And as the door opened, PJ’s grasp on somehow slipped away. The last things he felt before consciousness fully fled him were his father’s arms catching him, then the sweet release from pain.

Chapter Text

“So,” Vanoss said, fiddling with his mask in his lap, “why’d you want me to come along? Moo’s a good bodyguard. He’s done plenty of these alone.”

Moo glanced back from the driver’s seat, but said nothing.

“This isn’t a normal operation,” the Faceless doctor they were escorting replied calmly, though their fingers continuously running over their supply case betrayed at least some anxiety. “It’s part of a deal with the Liguori family and as such, it’s a lot safer to have two of you with me.”

Vanoss sighed. “Dr. Greene, you know I specialize in long-distance. There’s dozens of others who are much better in a bodyguard role.”

“I don’t particularly care for splitting up teams,” Dr. Escamas Greene said simply, folding their hands in their lap. “You and Moo know how to work with each other. If I brought someone else, it would only make things harder. Besides, you’re Faceless. You’ll be fine.”

“We’re not supposed to be long,” Moo reminded Vanoss. “Just long enough to let Dr. Greene do their job. It won’t be any more than a few days.”

“And if it’s a trap?” If Vanoss was about to lose Moo? If he had to drag himself to Moo’s wife and tell her she’d been widowed and the baby would never meet their father? If there were no survivors at all? If, once again, Vanoss was the only one left?

“I doubt it.” Moo shook his head. “This is way too much effort to take out so few Faceless, especially when I’m sure they know they’d end up being completely wiped off the map.”

Vanoss grimaced. “I guess.”

The car fell silent after that —Dr. Greene pulled out their mask of green scales and slipped it on, prompting Vanoss to don his own. Moo would do the same before they got in visual distance of the house.

Vanoss still wasn’t feeling terribly assured of how this would turn out, but he trusted Moo and Dr. Greene. Neither of them had ever led him astray before. Granted, this was his first non-standard mission with Moo, though it was increasingly obvious Moo and Greene had met before.

“So why are we the Faceless escorting you?” Vanoss asked, looking down at his hands. “Were none of the normal escort teams available?”

“It’s a bit of a special circumstance,” Dr. Greene said slowly. “Protocol meant Moo had to come, and Terroriser hasn’t settled in yet. That defaulted the other position to you.”

“But-” Vanoss shook his head. “But why? What special circumstance could it be?” He dropped his head against the back of his seat. “I’m just an assassin.”

Moo glanced back, then shrugged one shoulder. “I think we can tell you now.”

Vanoss looked up in surprise. He hadn’t actually been expecting an answer.

“The reason I have to go is because the person we’re going to heal is actually a Faceless undercover in the Family, and I’m his contact. That’s why protocol says I have to be there.”

“Oh.” Vanoss blinked. “You still handle undercover agents? I thought you stopped doing that when you stepped back into the whole assassination field again.”

“Most of them. I kept a handful on.  This fellow put in a special request for me late June, early July of last year.”

“Oh? He knows you, then?”

“My reputation as a handler, at least,” Moo chuckled nervously, then suddenly frowned. “Hey, glance out the window, both of you. Do you see smoke ahead of us?”

Vanoss leaned into the middle and looked out the front windshield, frowning himself as a distinct plume of smoke rose from behind the hill they were climbing —it was gray at the source, but the black smoke in the sky suggested that it wasn’t just a huge campfire and that something had burned out.

“Yeah.”

“Is it on the road?” Dr. Greene asked, head tilted and reaching for their medical case. “It could be a vehicle.”

“I really hope not,” Moo murmured.

Vanoss looked over at the surgeon. “If it is a car fire, can you help whoever was in it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have all of my supplies,” Dr. Greene answered, though they both knew there were more in the trunk, “and they’d almost certainly need more care than I can offer alone.” They hesitated. “The Faceless I’m supposed to treat is in nearly critical condition, too, which will potentially add another layer of complexity to this.”

“If it comes down to it-”

“If it comes down to it, that choice is mine to make.” Greene’s voice held no small amount of conviction, but there was no hiding the tone of despair.

Moo pulled the car to a stop. “This isn’t good.”

Vanoss looked up to see a charred shell of a car, crumpled against the stone pillar at the end, scorch marks coating the bridge. Some of the wooden planks were missing or burned down, and the railing on the side was missing a huge chunk.

“I’m going to check the car for survivors,” Dr. Greene said, immediately darting out of the car.

“Evan,” Moo said, “stick with them. I need to check to see if we can make it across the bridge.”

Vanoss slid across the bench seat and hopped out Greene’s door. He immediately gagged at the smell of scorched metal and melted flesh.

By the time he caught up to the doctor, Dr. Greene was already inspecting the inside of the car. They looked up and shook their head, pointing to the stone pillar at the end of the bridge, where a charred torso was crumpled around the support pillar —Vanoss didn’t dare ask where the limbs or head were . “Driver is dead.” They nodded to the far side of the car, the side inaccessible from the bridge. “It looks like someone was in the back seat, though. They might have gotten out in time.”

Vanoss blinked. “How can you tell?”

“The doors on that side are open. They’re suicide doors, so one of them open is enough to get them both open, but the driver being over there makes me doubt they did it.” They pointed at something glimmering in the back. “Plus there’s a watch there. There’s no reason for that to be there if the driver was alone.” ” They sighed. “Check the creek for survivors, would you?”

Vanoss swallowed, aware he had a high chance of encountering a limb, and walked over to the destroyed railing and hopped down from the creaking mass. His shoes splashed as he landed, and he noted with no small amount of discomfort that, while the water was shallow, it still came up halfway to his knee. His shoes, socks, and pantlegs were all already thoroughly soaked.

At least he’d dry once he got out. It was certainly hot enough for that.

Nobody was currently in the creek, but it was easy enough to tell where something (or maybe more than one thing) human-sized had slammed into the soft, sandy soil in and around the creek, and laid there for a bit. Vanoss waded over, and picked the two spots out. One half on the bank, one largely in the water a few feet upstream.

The second person had clearly been dragged onto the bank probably by the first person, though the exact movements taken by them to accomplish that had been obscured by the running water. The depressions in the ground were clear, though: two adult humans had been here. And, judging by the dried blood on the bank, they’d been badly injured.

But they were here no longer, and he couldn’t see footsteps leading away. No drag marks, either.

Hmm.

Vanoss slowly walked around the area, but the bank turned to wild grass easily, and any traces had been hidden by the grass springing back up to its regular upright form.

He shook his head, turning back to the bridge. He was beginning to regret skipping most of his classes on tracking.

Moo had pulled the car across the bridge by this point, presumably on the parts that hadn’t been destroyed (though Vanoss wouldn’t be surprised if Moo had somehow managed to float the car across gaps) and Dr. Greene was back in their seat, so Vanoss climbed into the other side.

“Looks like two people initially survived,” Vanoss reported, “but they’re not here anymore. I couldn’t tell where they went.”

“The car was still warm,” Dr. Greene said. “It couldn’t have burned too long ago. They can’t be far.”

“Are we going to go looking for them?”

“Maybe. After our assignment, though.” Dr. Greene sounded conflicted about that. “We show up late, we risk losing my patient.”

“Aren’t they going to die without treatment though?”

“They’re probably already dead,” Dr. Greene said softly, shoulders stiff.

“I wonder who keeps up the bridge,” Moo mused softly, reaching for his mask. “It needs repairs.”

“And the driver needs a burial,” Dr. Greene agreed. “We’ll see who we can contact about it.”

“So what happened?” Vanoss asked. “To the car, I mean. Did it just catch fire?”

“It looked like something in the engine exploded,” Moo replied. “There was way too much shrapnel to be just a fire.”

“An accident, then?”

“I don’t think so.” Moo sighed. “The frame was reinforced, for one thing, which is odd for a civilian car. I got a look at the engine there’s a huge hole in it, but on one of the top cables, there’s some kind of wire tied to one.” He hesitated. “It looked like one of the fasteners Ohm used to use.”

Vanoss let the info sink in.

“A bomb?” He finally asked, a bit dumbfounded. Of course there were other people in Massachusetts who knew how to make bombs. “Then- how did the two people live? Once something goes, there’s no time to react.”

“Maybe they got lucky.” A pause, and Moo continued much more uncertainly. “Unless they recognized what was going on?”

“What are the chances of that?”

Moo shrugged. “Could you?”

“No.”

“Then probably not. They probably just got lucky.”

Vanoss hummed unhappily and turned his attention back out the window.

-----

The farmhouse was larger than Vanoss had been expecting, and it was obviously well cared for. None of the paint was peeling (though some of it was dirty), and the walkway was clean. Around the corner of the house was a fenced-in field, where a few horses were grazing, and someone was washing one near a small building.

It seemed they were expected, because the door was almost flung open as they got out of the car.

As they walked up, though, Vanoss could feel the eyes on them, on their masks, and focused his attention on the short stairs leading up to the deck at the front of the house and realized with no small amount of shock that there was a bloody handprint smeared on the doorframe.

Dr. Greene and the door greeter had already exchanged pleasantries, though, and they were inside, so Vanoss stepped away and decided to ask about it later.

Any thoughts disappeared from his mind the moment he stepped inside. He could have noticed the way the room was well-lit, through a light on the ceiling and several windows opened to let in light and fresh air. He could have noticed the neat wallpaper, or the wooden floor, or the way furniture had been crammed to the side to allow for the cleaning of said floor of blood with a bucket of soapy water.

He could have noticed the lanky figure of PJ Liguori flopped dazed in a large chair, old blood matting his hair and track of dried blood running down his face and neck, a man sitting next to him in clear concern, or the way PJ’s eyes would open slightly before slipping closed again as the man grappled with consciousness.

But he didn’t notice any of these things. All he noticed was the familiar form stretched across the couch in the room.

Ohm.

Ohm.

He instinctively stepped aside as Dr. Greene walked up to the man next to PJ, eyes still fixed on Ohm. Even with ten feet between them, his eyes were picking out just how badly injured his friend was: dried blood ran down the side of his face, dirt and mud and blood were soaked into his clothes and exposed skin, his face was terrifyingly pale, and his eyes were closed. Even his hair was matted with dirt and blood.

If it weren’t for the faint, rapid rise and fall of his chest, Vanoss would have thought he’d lost Ohm all over again.

Vanoss wished he wasn’t wearing his mask in that moment, because his vision was beginning to blur from tears, and he couldn’t wipe at them with it in the way.

He glanced over when Moo nudged him softly, and understood. This was why he and Dr. Greene had wanted him to come. They’d probably been under orders to not tell him, so they just... showed him.

Ohm was alive.

For now, at least.

“Right,” Dr. Greene said loudly, breaking Vanoss’ concentration on Ohm. “You-” they pointed to one of the farmhands “-go to the kitchen and scrub it down. Use something more than just soap and water, please—I’m sure you can find something. And get every surface you can think of. Make sure the table is extra clean.” They pointed to another. “You, go help. I need it as quickly as possible.”

The young men blinked, but nodded and ducked out of the room.

Greene turned to the man sitting next to PJ. “I understand you want to remain next to your son, but I need you to find the two quietest rooms here. Make sure they’re clean from top to bottom. If they don’t have beds, move beds into them. These two gentlemen will need them to rest and heal.”

Hesitation, and a glance at the currently-unconscious PJ, and a nod before the man stood and left the room.

“You.” Greene pointed at the remaining farmhand. “The bridge nearby is on the verge of collapse. Go find whoever maintains it and tell them. You’ll also need a mortician to collect and care for the driver’s body.”

The farmhand nodded and darted off.

Then it was just the five of them in the room : Dr. Greene, kneeling next to Ohm and taking his pulse with a decidedly professional nature; Ohm, unmoving as ever; PJ, beginning to stir once more; Moo, carefully moving the soap bucket out of the way; and Vanoss, still trying to hold back tears.

“Moo, go get a bowl of clean water and a rag.” Dr. Greene said. “I need to start cleaning him off so I can see what I’m doing.”

Moo ducked off in the directions the two kitchen farmhands had gone.

“Vanoss, I need your help.” Dr. Greene set their hands firmly on Ohm’s shoulder. “I have to get a look at his back.”

Vanoss walked over wordlessly, not trusting himself to speak. He followed their quiet, but succinct, directions to hold Ohm in a sitting position and allow Greene to work off Ohm’s mutilated jacket and shirt, and then pull down the union suit.

Vanoss could feel Ohm’s shaky breaths, feel his friend limply ragdolling no matter how carefully Vanoss held him. He didn’t dare let his eyes travel down Ohm’s exposed skin, for fear of panicking at the injuries causing all this blood and dropping him and hurting him further.

Moo returned with the bowl and set it next to Dr. Greene, who immediately began wiping the dried blood from Ohm’s back.

“See if you can find out what happened from Liguori,” Dr. Greene said, turning their head slightly to address Moo.

Vanoss glanced over to watch Moo take the seat next to PJ and quietly begin talking to him. It was obvious PJ was still having difficulty staying conscious, but just as obvious that he was trying as hard as he could to do so.

Vanoss wasn’t sure how long he knelt there, holding Ohm’s unconscious body so Dr. Greene could clean him, but his mind was whirling the entire time. Ohm was alive. He could die any time. But he was alive. But he could actually die. Again. And then Vanoss would be the only surviving member of his original team. Again.

He froze as Dr. Greene moved Ohm’s head to rest on Vanoss’ shoulder, at just how hot and rapid and shallow Ohm’s breaths were when they were brushing his neck.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t had Ohm breathing on him before. They’d had plenty of missions where they’d had to work or hide in extremely cramped quarters. The time when he, Ohm, Del, and Toonz had all had to hide in a wagon bed to get to a target came immediately to mind in order to squish in around the shipment, they’d had to practically stack on each other like pancakes. One stack of Toonz and Del and one of Vanoss and Ohm.

It had not been comfortable.

And he’d seen Ohm bleeding from wounds any number of times before. He’d seen just about everything there was to see, between getting changed into disguises in cramped quarters and injuries.

That didn’t make it easier to see him injured.

Vanoss kept his eyes fixed on the quiet conversation Moo and PJ were having. How had Ohm survived? He’d disappeared in the explosion. Did that mean Cry had survived, too? Were the only ones who died that night Cartoonz and Delirious?

For some reason, that made the memory hurt all the more.

Eventually, though, Dr. Greene stood and checked in on the kitchen. When they returned, they stayed in the doorway. “Vanoss pick him up and bring him in. He’s up for surgery.”

Chapter Text

The graveyard was quiet, the setting sun casting long shadows over the summer-browned grass. The sky was swept with burnished gold and copper, with dark thin streaks of clouds near the horizon. A few people in the distance were visiting graves, their silhouettes backlit by the sunset. Nobody was close by.

That was probably for the best.

Ethan tugged on the stiff straw brim of his hat, obscuring more of his face. It was an absent habit of his, something he’d picked up over the seven months it had been since the Tiny Box had burned down. Sure, he’d left Boston for many of those months; yes, he’d grown out his hair just enough to change his appearance—but it wouldn’t do for him, the old waiter of the Tiny Box, to be recognized as such.

The same went for the two young women next to him. They’d once lived above the Tiny Box.

All three of them had graves here. All just as empty as Mark’s.

Unlike Mark though, Ethan thought bitterly, eyes fixed on Mark’s gravestone, they were still very much alive. They’d avoided the fire entirely. If they’d waited just a few minutes more before leaving, maybe they could have helped Mark.

But the thought of staying? That had frightened Ethan. He’d been scared that the fire might take more people than just Mark; frightened of the police finding and arresting them. Outright terrified that they might see Mark’s charred body in a gap in the flames . So he had driven away without Mark.

There were still nights where Amy’s furious screams would echo in his nightmares.

Then they’d found out PJ chilled Jack. A bullet to the eye. It was morbidly fitting, if those stories Dan would sometimes tell him—about his time in the war, about the things he’d heard and seen—were at all true.

Ethan crammed his hands in his pockets and leaned against a tree, closing his eyes against the memories of Freddy’s, of Jack and PJ playing together, of Mark smiling, of the laughter and cheer. Of those last few weeks when everything fell apart.

But as much as he closed his eyes against the memories, he couldn’t close his heart against the grief.

“Does Jack have a grave?”

Ethan opened his eyes to see Kathryn looking at him. “I don’t think so. Molly didn’t mention one. Said they never found his body.”

Kathryn sighed and came to stand next to Ethan, staring at the leaves above them. “I wish we’d been able to come in for the Fourth. I missed the celebrations here.”

“Yeah.” Ethan did the same, watching the amber light paint the leaves. “I couldn’t make the train, though. I had work.”

“How is your new job?”

Ethan snorted. “Awful. I was never made to clean offices at four in the morning.”

“And Amy and I were never meant to be secretaries, but here we are.” Kathryn sighed again. “I miss Mark.”

“I miss him more than I could ever admit.” Ethan dropped his head against the bark. “For the first few weeks, when we were at Molly’s... I kept turning to tell him something, and it just- I don’t know if the hole his death left in me is ever going to fill.” It had been more than losing a friend. It had been like losing a brother.

“I knew it wasn’t easy to lose someone,” Kathryn said softly, “but I didn’t know it would be like this.” She hugged herself. “I can’t even imagine what it’s been like for Amy.”

Ethan crammed his hands deeper into his pockets. Those weeks at Molly’s, Amy had been inconsolable. When she wasn’t crying, she was numbly quiet.

Granted, he’d been pretty inconsolable himself.

“Has she moved on? Started seeing anyone else?” He asked without thinking.

It seemed too soon for that.

“No.” Kathryn shook her head. “Not yet. A few men have approached her, but... she still loves Mark too much.”

It would always be too soon.

“She’s never going to stop.” That much seemed certain in Ethan’s mind.

“I know,” Kathryn agreed softly. “None of us will.”

They stood in silence, hearts aching, for another ten or so minutes until Amy walked over to them.

“I’m ready,” was all she said.

-----

“So this is it, huh?” Ethan glanced around the back room of Molly’s speakeasy, taking in the decor, the soft lighting, the carefully hidden door that likely led to the alcohol supply and couldn’t be found unless you knew what to look for. It was all almost familiar—just shy of being painfully so.

JP nodded quietly. “It’s been a while.”

The two sat at the break table for a moment, and Ethan instinctively turned for the radio that had always sat on the counter at the Tiny Box, before catching himself. He wasn’t at the Tiny Box.

There was, however, a radio there.

Ethan reached for it, then hesitated and glanced at JP.

“Go ahead.” JP reached into his bag and pulled out a textbook. “I’ve got reading to do.”

“You’re going to college?”

JP shrugged, then nodded. “At least a little bit.” He made a face. “It wasn’t my idea, but it’s the only way Molly lets me do stuff.”

“Why?” Ethan blinked. JP had never struck him as the college kind of guy.

“Something about protection. Options.” JP grabbed a pencil and stuck it behind his ear. “That if I’m educated, people will be less likely to think I’m an Orchid.”

Ethan winced. “I’m guessing most aren’t?”

“The vast majority of Orchids are women,” JP replied matter-of-factly, “with parents who decided their daughters were better off getting married and having children as quickly as possible, than getting an education.”

“But... why?”

JP shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, E. Your guess is as good as mine.” He paused as he rifled in his bag again to pull out paper and start making notes on whatever he was reading. Then he glanced up again, and asked, “What’s taking them so long?”

Ethan glanced at the stairs behind them, and at the door that let one into this back room. “I think Amy needed some serious comfort. We stopped by Mark’s grave on the way here, so we’re all kinda upset.”

“Yeah. I can see that.” JP absently tapped his pencil on his cheek before making another note. “I wish Felix and PJ had been successful, too.”

“What?” Ethan blinked, utterly confused. “They’re two of the richest men in Boston. I’d say that’s successful.”

JP looked up, frowning, until his eyes met Ethan’s. Then, slowly, they widened.

“You don’t know.”

“Don’t know what?” Ethan blinked again, even more confused. “Did something happen to them? Are they okay?”

“I mean, Mir tried to kill them, but that’s not the point.” JP sat forward, expression serious. “You really don’t know.” He shook his head.

“I don’t know what?”

JP set his textbook and notes on the table. “Ethan. Mark’s alive.”

-----

Ethan already had a drink by the time everyone arrived at the table including Felix. And he was sure he was going to want a second one before the night was done.

“Ethan!” Felix smiled easily. “It’s been a while. Good to see you.”

Ethan nodded, glancing at the door. “PJ isn’t coming?”

Felix’s expression tightened as he took his seat. “Mir’s tried to kill him three times in the past few days. He’s laying low, out of the city.”

Molly looked up at that. “I thought it was only two.”

Felix shook his head. “A third since this morning.”

Molly blinked. “I trust he’s doing well.”

“I can only hope so.” Felix sighed, slumping in his seat. “He was on his way, trying to get Mir off his trail and let the police cool down about the Family since Mir did attack his house, and all.”

Ethan blinked and sat up, Amy and Kathryn both frowning.

“How’d he find out where it is?”

Felix shrugged, glancing at the door behind Ethan as he did so. “Your guess is as good as mine, honestly.” A waitress came by and gave him a drink, which he took. “Turns out Mir planted a bomb in his car, though.”

“What.”

Felix ran a hand down his face, groaning slightly. “PJ’s alive, at least for now. He gave me a call just before I left for here. He seemed fairly out of it still, but he’s alive.”

“Will he be okay?”

Felix shrugged and downed a significant gulp of his drink. “I think so. He mentioned something about being treated by a doctor.” He grimaced, the corner of his mouth tugging back with distaste and some form of misplaced guilt. “As I said, he was pretty out of it.”

“Wait-” Ethan sat forward in his seat. “What made Mir go after him all of a sudden? JP said Mir tried to kill both of you. Why? What happened? What am I missing?”

Felix sighed, swirling his drink absently. His eyes followed someone as they walked behind Ethan, but said nothing for a moment.

The explanation took a bit, seeing as Ethan and Amy and Kathryn all kept interrupting to ask questions, but eventually, they too learned that Mark was indeed alive. That he’d survived the fire and been found by spuds. That the mob had cared for him for over a month, and kept him alive.

That Mir had taken him.

That Mir had taken Sophie.

That PJ and Felix had found them, just a few days ago. That they’d tried to rescue them, tried to get them out.

That they’d failed. That PJ had gotten shot multiple times; that Tom had been shot. That PJ had gone home and had his house raided that night by Mir’s men. That he’d made the decision to leave town for a week to lay low, and that’s when the car exploded.

And now, they didn’t know where Mark and Sophie were.

Ethan couldn’t help but stare around the table as this story was told. His gaze stayed on Amy a little longer; he could see the hope and anger warring in her eyes.

Finally, though, it was done, leaving Ethan’s head spinning and his heart aching.

“Mark’s... really alive, then.” He looked at his glass. “He made you a Boxer?”

Felix nodded. “That’s how we knew.”

“You... didn’t recognize him?”

Molly winced at that. “Wiishu said he was badly burned. I’d be surprised if he ever looked entirely the same again.”

Felix downed the remainder of his drink in one go and set the empty glass down very firmly. “It was more than that. Mir broke him. Mir broke his legs, and his spirit.” His eyes were all fire now, the only outward indication of his fury. “He couldn’t even walk without leaning on the bar counter. His head hung. He didn’t smile. I could hear his breath wheezing from across the bar.” He put his hands flat on the table. “Mir is slowly killing him, and we have no idea where he is.”

Silence stretched across the table for a long moment.

Then, Amy spoke.

“Well, we’ll just have to find him, then, won’t we.”

Ethan looked over, only to find the same fury he was feeling reflected in Amy’s eyes though much more controlled, much more intense, and much more dangerous.

Amy leaned forward. “Where do we start?”

Chapter Text

Vanoss barely left Ohm’s side in the hours, and then days, after Greene had declared Ohm as repaired as they could get him. Nobody mentioned it for a day or so. Between Moo staying by PJ, and Dr. Greene busy with their two patients, there was little reason or time.

PJ woke up the morning after Greene pulled all the shrapnel out of him, disoriented and in pain. Greene strongly encouraged PJ just rest and let his body heal, and they weren’t above giving him some painkillers so he could do so.

Still, Ohm slept.

The 8th, PJ largely spent sleeping—though he did make a few phone calls in his waking moments. Greene sent Moo back to Boston to grab changes of clothes and more medical supplies (and to deliver a letter to the doctor’s partners), but Vanoss still remained next to Ohm. He never said so, but some part of him was worried that if he left Ohm alone for too long, he’d die.

It was an extreme reaction; an unreasonable thought. He knew this. Greene was a perfectly competent doctor, and they never went more than an hour without checking on Ohm, even in the middle of the night. It usually wasn’t much more than a vitals check, but Vanoss appreciated it anyway. It was certainly more than the twice-a-day check Greene gave PJ.

But still—Ohm had been badly injured, maybe mortally so. There was no way of knowing if the surgery to repair his kidney would hold until it healed, and between the initial injury, the explosion, and the surgery, he’d lost a lot of blood. Greene had assured Vanoss he’d be fine, but... then why hadn’t he woken?

By the 9th, a bit of color had returned to Ohm’s face, and his breathing was decidedly easier; steadier. That eased some of Vanoss’ worries, though he was still concerned. Ohm hadn’t woken. The emergency training classes had said something about that. The longer someone was unconscious, the more likely they were to die.

Greene spent several hours over the night reassuring Vanoss that Ohm’s body was just trying to heal, and that he would wake soon enough. They even tried to convince Vanoss that Ohm wasn’t actually unconscious, not anymore, but that he’d probably woken slightly at some point and merely fallen into a deep sleep.

Vanoss wasn’t an idiot. Ohm hadn’t responded to anything. That meant he was unconscious. And Vanoss knew what prolonged unconsciousness meant.

Early in the morning of the 10th, PJ limped into the room. His arm was in a sling, and pain was written across his face despite obvious efforts to control his expression. It was clear he wanted to sit next to Ohm for a while.

Vanoss couldn’t stop him without raising suspicion, no matter how much he wanted to, so he got up and left the side of his comatose friend.

Moo took the opportunity to “invite” him to breakfast, and he found himself on the roof eating apples and oatmeal, watching the sky turn from endless midnight to soft pinks and oranges and reds.

“What if he doesn’t wake up?” Vanoss finally asked, bouncing his apple in his hand. What if Ohm never woke up and never improved, gradually getting weaker and weaker until he faded completely from life?

Moo looked a little surprised by the sudden question, but leaned back and took a bite of his own apple. Their masks had long since been set to the side—it was difficult to eat when your face was covered, after all.

“I think he will,” Moo said with the sort of shaky confidence that meant he was trying to convince himself as much as Vanoss. “Greene’s a competent fellow.”

“Yeah, but...” Vanoss sighed, laying down next to Moo. “He’s in a coma, Brock. Do people ever wake up from those?””

“Like Greene said,” Moo said gently, “his body just needs time to heal before he wakes up. He’ll be up in no time.” He took a bite of his apple again and proceeded to mumble around the chunk of fruit in his mouth. “Though not actually up up. He’s supposed to be on bed rest for at least a few weeks. It’s a miracle he actually hung on long enough for Greene to even get here.”

“You’re not helping,” Vanoss said bluntly.

“He’ll be okay, Evan. He’ll... be okay.”

-----

Everything hurt.

Ohm gasped softly, sparks of pain shooting through his chest. Every breath turned into flames. PJ- the explosion-

He was in a bed. Did that mean he was alive? Someone had found them and brought them to... a hospital, hopefully. Otherwise he doubted he’d be alive for much longer.

“Was that you waking up?” PJ’s hopeful voice sounded nearby..

Thank goodness, PJ was alive—and clearly doing better than Ohm himself, if he was up and about.

Ohm took another moment to grapple with consciousness, trying to force himself to do normally instinctual things, before managing to open his eyes. Instantly, the soft morning light filtering through a closed curtain stabbed at his eyes, and he winced. The world slowly came into focus to reveal PJ sitting next to the bed.

PJ’s left arm was in a sling and his shirt was buttoned loosely enough to reveal the bandages wrapped around his torso. The side of his head was shaved to the scalp and sporting a number of neat stitches. And still, PJ’s grin was genuine.

“Good,” Ohm said, his voice catching painfully from even a few days of disuse, slurred from weakness and concussion, “we bo’ made it.”

“Thanks to you, yes.” PJ frowned, leaning forward, before wincing himself and putting a hand to his head. “Though we’ll likely hurt for a while.”

Ohm huffed out a breath as a soft chuckle, though he wasn’t particularly amused. His entire torso was on fire, and he was entirely sure he had plenty of broken bones to go around. His head was throbbing, too, but that didn’t really surprise him. He’d gotten more than one concussion from being close to an explosion before.

PJ was looking at him, so he turned his mind to try to figure out what he was supposed to say next. It wasn’t easy with his head feeling like it was stuffed with cotton balls and topped off with wine.

People first: PJ was alive. He was alive. Ah.

He barely managed to push out the name. “Justin?” he asked.

PJ shook his head, expression going sad. “He didn’t have you to shove him out of the car. I’m sorry.”

Ohm closed his eyes again and mouthed a half-hearted curse. He’d liked Justin being around. They hadn’t known each other that well yet, but he’d always taken some comfort in the other Faceless being around. Losing a regular soldati hurt enough—made him feel like he’d failed to protect them—but somehow this was worse.

Ohm took a deep breath, and instantly had to choke down a cry as his entire body flared with pain, agony rolling down his limbs.

PJ’s eyes widened, and he stood. “I’ll go get the doctor. Don’t move.” With that, he was gone.

So he could already walk on his own, too. Show-off.

Ohm closed his eyes again. He was in pain, but he was also distracted: his mind was racing, doing its best to catch up. PJ had gone and made a deal with the Faceless, which they were undoubtedly thrilled about. There had been a bomb planted on the car, but they didn’t know who had done that. It hadn’t been a crude explosive, though. Whoever had made it had to have some level of finesse and experience. There weren’t many people like that in the city.

The Faceless were off the list—they wouldn’t kill two of their own to take PJ out. There were much easier ways to go about chilling the godfather.

One of the other mobs in the city, then?

Well, it definitely wasn’t the Family—though Ohm would poke around the Family regardless to see who hadn’t inspected the car for danger. Someone was going to get a chewing out.

The Orchids didn’t have a real reason to kill PJ, and explosives weren’t their style in any case. Poison was much more their style. The Irish mob could have done it—they’d proven they had at least someone with passable explosives knowledge in the past—but they wouldn’t have known which car was going to be used for the trip. They wouldn’t have known which ones PJ liked riding in.

No, that knowledge was only in the Family, which meant there was a mole.

Matthias? It was likely, and they’d certainly pissed Mir off enough in the past few days to warrant a car bomb.

“Good morning, Wiggles,” a decidedly familiar and cheerful voice said, and Ohm opened his eyes to see none other than Dr. Greene’s familiar mask.

Ah. The next little while would involve a lot of lectures on safety, then.

“It’s good to see you awake,” Dr. Greene said. “Now that you’re up, I’d like to give you a more thorough lookover and make sure I didn’t miss anything.”

Next to him, PJ rose from his chair. “I’ll give you privacy for that, then.”

“Have one of the others bring me my bag,” Dr. Greene said, settling on the edge of the bed next to Ohm. “They’ll know where I put it last.”

PJ’s shoulders stiffened at the order, but he left, closing the door behind him.

Ohm cleared his throat. “You came?” he rasped softly. “Figured… be someone less ‘portant.”

“I’m not really all that irreplaceable.” Greene laughed softly. “And they did send two bodyguards with me. I’ll be getting home safely.”

Ohm blinked, trying to figure out who would have been chosen for that job, and hummed a note. It made sense, he supposed.

Dr. Greene moved their hand over Ohm’s leg and started pressing at it gently. “Let me know if anything hurts. Alternatively, if you can’t feel any of this at all.”

He grunted. “Feels like pokes.” Ohm squinted at the window as the light of the rising sun filtered through the curtains, just as painful as before.

“Well, that’s good.” Dr. Greene moved their hands away. “Can you move your legs for me, then?”

It hurt his back, a lot, to stretch and bend his right leg, but he did it without any help at all. When he tried to move his left leg, though, fire shot up through the limb, and he immediately bit back a scream.

“I was worried about that,” Dr. Greene murmured, hands gently guiding Ohm’s leg back to laying flat. Their hands worked quickly, examining his leg in detail, gently poking and prodding at the area just above his leg—all of which hurt quite a bit.

Ohm leaned his head back and let air hiss out through his clenched jaw. It was hard to ignore the pain when everything hurt.

“It’s not in my habit to leave broken bones unattended.” They didn’t even look up. “Speaking of that, I wouldn’t recommend breathing too deeply. I didn’t bind your ribs. A handful of them are broken. The bandages over your chest right now are to cover up the wounds from the shrapnel I dug out of you And if your head hurts, it’s because you’ve suffered a concussion—or possibly you’re pulling at one of the fifty-two stitches I had to put in your scalp to keep you from bleeding to death.”

Ohm let the remainder of his breath huff out as his head dropped against the pillow. He closed his eyes again. “Jus’ perfect.”

“Oh, if you think you’re getting out of this bed for anything but washing and relieving yourself, you’re wrong. You were unconscious for four days. Your kidney ruptured. You almost died. You are not going anywhere until your body can handle it.”

Ohm frowned and opened his mouth.

“No. You’re not going to get up. Especially not unassisted. If you try, I will tie you to the bed.”

Ohm grimaced.

A soft knock sounded on the door, and for a moment Ohm was convinced it had been Vanoss’ knock. It had sounded just like it. That was nonsense, though. Vanoss didn’t do bodyguard jobs, he wouldn’t be here.

“Come in,” Greene said simply. Ohm opened his eyes and aimed his gaze at the doorway. The door opened to reveal Vanoss holding Greene’s supplies bag, with PJ visible just behind him.

Oh.

Vanoss walked in wordlessly and set Greene’s bag on the floor next to the bed, and though his gaze seemed to linger on Ohm, he turned to leave.

“If you could stay, Vanoss, I’ll only be a short moment. I need to speak with Liguori.” Dr. Greene reached for the bag without looking at the other Faceless.

Vanoss’ hesitation was clear, but he nodded, murmured a soft, “Alright,” and moved to lean up against the wall. Anyone else would see a casual and relaxed man, but Ohm could see the stress in his tight shoulders.

Dr. Greene made short work of bracing Ohm’s leg “just in case it’s worse than it seems” and then stood and took PJ outside the room, closing the door behind them.

Silence reigned for a long minute.

Then Vanoss cursed.

“They told me you were dead.”

Ohm looked over in surprise. “Whaaa?” he slurred.

“I don’t know. Nobody could find your body, and the last time anyone saw you was when you were diving back into that godforsaken warehouse to rescue a man you wanted dead.” Vanoss’ voice was still soft, but undeniably angry. “Then I find you here, and I almost lost you all over again.”

“I diden’ know...” Ohm frowned, moving to push himself into a sitting position, trying to order his thoughts.

That was all it took for Vanoss to cross the room and firmly plant his hand on Ohm’s chest, pushing him back down. “You are in no condition to be moving. Or speaking, for that matter, but I can’t stop you there.”

“Ev-”

“Don’t.” Vanoss paused, collecting himself. “Don’t. Not when I’ve spent the majority of the past four days in that chair,” he pointed to the bedside chair, “waiting for you to wake up and worrying you never would. Not when I so recently found out that this is an assignment, and you’re never going to get out of it—that’s not how undercover works. Not this one.” Vanoss took a deep breath, clearly trying to keep his voice low and breathing under control. “Not when I’ve been so fu-”

The door opened to reveal PJ, and Vanoss had his hand back at his side in an instant, whatever he’d been about to say hanging in the silent air between them.

“Did... I interrupt something?” PJ asked finally, limping into the room, his gaze sharp as it flicked between the two of them. “Do you two know each other?” His voice portrayed simple curiosity, but Wiggles knew better.

“We’ve met,” was all he said.

PJ raised an eyebrow, sinking into the bedside chair. “You’ve never mentioned knowing a Faceless before.”

Wiggles sighed. “Lots I haven’t mentioned.” At least words were coming easier, even if it was still a struggle to get all of them out.

Vanoss’ head turned slightly at that. Clearly, he was listening.

“Go ahead and tell me this one.” PJ leaned back in the chair, expression carefully controlled. “I’m under instructions to keep you awake until after you eat.”

Wiggles cursed silently, but slowly nodded. Vanoss’ shoulders tightened, but he said nothing.

He was trusting Ohm to not reveal himself, Wiggles realized. Just like they’d trusted each other for all those years.

“Few years after Wald. Set of brothers took me in. Helped me follow leads.”

Vanoss closed his eyes, grateful his mask hid the action—and hid the tears beginning to slide down his face. Cartoonz and Delirious. Brothers in every way but blood.

Although he had no idea who this Wald person was.

“I had t’ have information and help I jus’ didn’ have.” Ohm took a steadying breath. “Younger brother was owed a favour from th’ Faceless. Called it in for me.”

Vanoss glanced over to see Ohm looking directly at him.

“That’s… first time met.” He smiled slightly, though it was hard to tell how much of the smile was also a grimace of pain. “Made a pre’y good team, th’ four of us.” His gaze flicked back to PJ, and he blinked, as if trying to focus his vision. “He left little while after. I kept trying t’ hunt down Wald. Brothers helped where they could. Vanoss went back to ‘is regular stuff.”

“What made you work together for so long?”

“Younger brother. I don’t know what he told him,” Ohm continued, lifting a finger in Vanoss’ direction, “but it was enough to convince him. He helped when he had free time. Our little crew of four.” He paused for a moment, maybe to gather his thoughts. “There were good days. Bad days. We all nearly died more than once. I’ve lost track o’ how many times one of them saved my life.” Ohm sighed. “And then... found out about Wald’s death- it was all just... I’d lost what I was hunting for. Over a decade. Too long to just come back to th’ Family, like nothin’ had happened.” He frowned. “It’s because of them I did come back.”

That was when it clicked for Vanoss: Ohm didn’t know Cartoonz and Delirious were dead. He didn’t know.

“So when you came back, your group broke up?”

Ohm nodded.

PJ looked over at Vanoss. “He’s still a Faceless. What happened to the brothers?”

“They’re-” Ohm began.

“They’re dead,” Vanoss said flatly.

Surprise flicked across PJ’s face, and grief immediately crashed across Ohm’s. A pained sound escaped him, and this time it wasn’t from an injury.

PJ looked at Ohm. “You didn’t know?”

Ohm shook his head. “I- no. I didn’t.” He swallowed, and Vanoss wasn’t sure if his rapid blinking was to help him focus, or to fight back tears. “What happened?”

Vanoss clamped down on the immediate temptation to tell the truth. He couldn’t say anything that might throw off Ohm’s story. “It wasn’t too long after you’d left. They were out that day, on one of their usual hunting trips that never amount to anything and took that shortcut of theirs back to the city—y’know, the grass field.”

Ohm nodded faintly.

“They shouldn’t have gone out so late at night, I guess, even though they’d done it dozens of times before.” Vanoss kept his voice as even as he could, though it started to waver the more he spoke. “They found a young injured wolf—and you know them, they couldn’t turn away a hurt animal if it would kill them.”

PJ’s eyes widened slightly.

Vanoss laughed bitterly. “I guess the wolf’s pack wasn’t too far away, and when they approached, the pack didn’t take too kindly to them.” He took a breath, trying to steady his voice. “I wasn’t the one to find them, but when I went looking for them later, I saw their bodies. It-” He stopped, looking away. “It wasn’t a pretty sight. It couldn’t have been a fast death for them. I could barely recognize them.”

“Oh,” Ohm breathed softly, his rough voice breaking. “Oh no.”

“And I wanted to ring you to tell you about it, but you hadn’t found a place and settled down yet, and I didn’t know where to send a letter, and then I’ve barely had any time to even breathe with things going on on my end, much less have time to actually find you and tell you, and I just-” Vanoss let out a nearly explosive breath of air. “...So now you know.”

Ohm was silent for a long minute, eyes closed and hands twisted into the blanket covering him.

PJ stood uncertainly. “I’ll be in the hall.”

PJ’s head was spinning with all the new information. Wiggles had had a team while he was gone? From the sounds of it, they’d been like family. No wonder he’d taken so long to come back to the Family.

And to only now learn of the deaths of those brothers... especially after just losing Piya, who’d been one of his most trusted soldato, it couldn’t have been an easy thing to hold together in front of PJ.

He reached over and steadied himself on the wall, frowning as he realized his head was still spinning. In fact, it was getting worse.

Well that wasn’t good.

He leaned his full weight against the wall. The last thing he needed to do was collapse.

“Are you okay?” Wiggles’ Faceless friend asked, stepping out of the room and closing the door behind himself.

PJ leaned his head on the wall, closing his eyes against the world as it tilted on its own. “Go find Dr. Greene. I think I’m about to pass out.”

Chapter Text

“Oh, hello.” MatPat blinked at Gar from his chair in Sanders’ changing room. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here tonight.”

Gar shoved his hands in his pockets, leaning next to the open door frame. “I wasn’t entirely sure I’d come.” He winced slightly. “Needed to distance myself from my dad.”

“...What’s wrong?”

Gar shook his head. “He has it in his mind I should be taking it easy right now, after everything that happened. He didn’t want me going back to the precinct so soon.” He sighed. “I know it’s because he cares, and because he doesn’t want me getting hurt again, but...” He closed his eyes and looked away. “I can’t stand around doing nothing. I had to do something .”

“I can talk to him,” MatPat volunteered. “Reassure him that we’re on desk work right now, that you’re not really in any risk. Nate made sure of that.”

Gar smiled, looking up. “Really? That’d be great.”

MatPat grinned back. “I want to see you safe as much as he does, Gar.”

Gar opened his mouth to say something, but instead paused and turned his head slightly before taking a step back out into the hall.

“If you’re going to eavesdrop, you could be less obvious about it.”

MatPat blinked, standing and walking over to see none other than Chris Kendall leaning nonchalantly against the wall.

“Hello,” MatPat said simply. “Can I help you?”

Kendall shifted, an uncomfortable grin flashing across his face. “Not really.”

“Then would you mind telling me what you were doing?”

“Nothing.” His face twisted as both detectives continued to stare at him. “Eavesdropping.”

“Why?” MatPat leaned in the doorframe, hands in his pockets. “Surely you have better things to do.”

Kendall grimaced, then shrugged candidly. “I get paid to listen in on people, that’s all.”

“By who?” Gar asked. “Why?”

Kendall smirked. “If I tell you, will you leave me alone?”

“It’s possible.”

He sighed loudly and glanced around the otherwise abandoned hall. Everyone else was backstage already. The three of them were the only people around. “Miss Pansino pays me,” he said in a mock whisper. “Wants me to keep an ear out for anyone saying anything interesting about her, or Mir.”

MatPat blinked. “Why?”

“She didn’t say.” Kendall replied with a bright grin. He seemed to be enjoying this.

MatPat wanted to keep asking questions, but Gar was starting to look distinctly uncomfortable—maybe it had been the mention of Mir. Gar was good at keeping up appearances on that front, MatPat had to admit. So he just said, “Thank you. You can go now,” and Kendall vanished down the hall, whistling something airy and cheerful.

“What an odd fellow,” MatPat said after a moment, shaking his head. Then he stepped out of the doorframe to let Gar through. “Come on inside. The show’s going to start any time now, so we can have privacy to talk until Thomas returns.”

Gar complied, leaning up against a counter as MatPat closed the door.

“You okay?” MatPat asked, taking a seat in the chair again.

Gar shrugged. “I mean... as well as I can be, I suppose?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I met the godfather. I told you that, right?”

MatPat nodded slowly. “A few days ago, yeah. The night of the Russian raid?”

“Yeah. I was there when it happened.”

“Oh. How bad was it?”

“I mean, I wasn’t hurt.” Gar sighed. “It could have been so much worse. It’s just, a few of the things the godfather said are bothering me.”

MatPat leaned forward expectantly. “Did he have you say anything? Hand over any information yet?”

“No, not yet.” Gar shook his head. “He’s been busy evading death. Mir tried to kill him again, and one of the capos —one of the team leaders or captains, I guess you could say. It was in the papers this morning, though it was named an accident.” Gar made a face. “As much as a bomb can be an accident.”

“You said tried. I assume he survived?”

Gar nodded. “That’s all anyone’s told me, though. I haven’t even been able to find out who I’m supposed to report to.”

MatPat raised an eyebrow. “Interesting.” The mafia seemed to be a bit of a mess at the moment. He couldn’t help but wonder if the precinct could take advantage of that—but reconsidered quickly. It was much more valuable to have Gar tucked into their ranks.

“That’s not what has me bothered, though. At least, not-” Gar sighed. “Not like this.”

MatPat just gestured for him to continue.

“When... when I was talking to him, he mentioned something about you.”

Oh.

Oh no.

“He said... you went to them for help to find Steph?”

MatPat leaned back in his chair, folding his hands together to keep them from shaking. “Yeah. I was desperate.” At least his voice was steady.

“...and then he asked after your health.” Gar’s eyes met MatPat’s, full of concern. “Matthew, what happened? Why did he do that?”

MatPat slumped in the chair, shifting his weight forward to lean his elbows on his legs. “I... was hoping you wouldn’t find out about that.”

“Find out about what, Matthew.”

MatPat sighed, closing his eyes. A hand came up and rubbed between his eyebrows. “I didn’t handle things very well with both you and Stephanie missing. Everyone else was convinced you were dead, so I was looking for you myself, but I kept coming up with dead end after dead end, and it was getting to me.” He frowned. “And after I got suspended-” He broke off. “Well, that didn’t do me any good. My job had been one of the last steady things anchoring me down.”

“Please tell me this isn’t going where I think it’s going.”

MatPat buried his face in his hands and stared at the floor. He didn’t really want to see Gar’s expression right now. “You know me, Gar. When I get focused, I tend to just... ignore everything until I find the answer. And without you and Steph there to keep an eye on me, I didn’t... really take care of myself. And I didn’t care. I didn’t-” He stopped again. “I didn’t really care about anything.”

He steeled himself; glanced up to see Gar watching him, but saying nothing. MatPat wasn’t sure what expression that was. Pain? Pity? Maybe sadness or shock or a bit of betrayal?

“I visited the Orchids first,” he continued, letting his gaze drop. “I figured if anyone knew where she was, it was Madame Foxglove.” MatPat snorted softly. “If I’d known how close I’d come to seeing her that day, I might not have...” He closed his eyes again.

“...How bad did it get?”

MatPat didn’t answer, not for a while. He didn’t want to burden Gar with the knowledge that MatPat had tried to kill himself—that if it hadn’t been for Sanders bursting into his house at two thirty in the morning, he’d be dead right now. He didn’t want to tell Gar that he’d sunk that far, or that some days he could feel himself start to slip again. He didn’t want to tell Gar that having the young man around was a great help, though it didn’t solve everything, for fear of scaring him off. He didn’t want Gar to worry about him either.

“Matthew, how bad did it get?”

He heard clothing rustle and floorboards creak, then felt Gar’s hand rest reassuringly on his shoulder. MatPat finally took a deep breath, hating how much it shook, and stared at the ground. “If it weren’t for Sanders, I’d be dead.”

For a long moment, Gar did nothing. In that moment, MatPat wasn’t sure if his mind was entirely still or silent, or if the faint rushing in his ears was really thousands of thoughts screaming at him, asking why he’d told Gar-

And then Gar’s arms slid around MatPat and held him tight; held him so fiercely that MatPat’s breath rushed away and didn’t come back—not that he could have brought himself to breathe at that moment anyway.

“I’m so glad he intervened.” Gar murmured in his ear, and he couldn’t help but notice that his voice sounded a little shaky too. “I can’t imagine trying to do this without your help.”

MatPat just about burst into tears then and there.

Gar pulled away, quickly reaching into his pocket and pulling out an envelope. “Before I forget- here.”

MatPat took it, glanced at Gar, and immediately opened it. He knew who this was from. One day he wouldn’t feel so desperate as to open the letters from Steph in front of Gar, but it wasn’t any time soon.

The letter was curious about things that had happened, and happy that Gar was back, and very happy that MatPat was actually taking care of himself.

It was a few sentences near the very end that stole his attention, though, and would run through his mind for several days:

Now that you know that I’m safe, Foxglove has agreed that we should meet, and spend some time together. She cautioned me it would only be once or twice a week; however, that’s far better than never. What do you say?

I hope to see you soon.

Chapter Text

Boston hadn’t changed all that much, a man mused as he and his companion walked down the familiar streets. A few storefronts had changed since December, that sign there was freshly painted—and everything was much warmer and brighter now that it was summer.

The sun had fallen below the horizon, casting its last long streaks of red and gold across the dark sky. One by one the streetlamps were flickering on, the faint buzz of electricity adding to the constant hum of the city. While the automobile traffic was just as busy, people on foot were starting to hurry home. Those they passed never met his eye—just taking one quick look at him and glancing away stiffly. In the low light, they shouldn’t be able to see the extensive scarring across the left side of his face, especially not with the straw brim of his hat lowered the way it was.

Maybe it was because he and his friend weren’t scared of what the streets held, even as the darkness fell. Everyone else was tense and moved quickly, yet neither of them had bothered hiding their ease and comfort. They knew these streets. They both knew they could handle anything that came their way. They had no reason to worry.

They had walked for a few more blocks when he heard angry Russian voices. His expression darkened and his hand drifted back, reaching for his concealed holster. His companion put a hand on his arm, stopping him from pulling the gun.

The man sighed and continued on, past the alleyway now echoing with fearful shouts. He understood. They had a specific destination in mind, and the last thing they needed was to draw attention to themselves. Still. That didn’t change how wrong Russians doing dirty business in Irish territory was.

They were almost to the restaurant, now—and that was what worried him most. This had always been McLaughlin Boys territory. This was deep Irish territory. Russians shouldn’t be causing any problems here. Why hadn’t Rhett and Link sent someone to deal with them yet?

It was tempting to go back and shoot those troublemakers. Boston wouldn’t notice a few more bodies.

But no. He would move on. It was too difficult to keep blood off yourself in sudden fights like that, even when using a gun, and he wasn’t about to re-introduce himself to old friends covered in blood. Not with the horrible way things had gone the last time he’d been here.

He winced at the memory. Felix’s fury had been nothing to scoff at, and Mark’s dismay... He just hoped Mark was willing to let him stay. The rest of the team would let him stay if Mark said so. Then he’d just have to prove it to them that he really had changed.

The two rounded a final corner—and immediately stopped. The building in front of them wasn’t the Tiny Box.

“Did we get the address wrong?” the man murmured softly, in horror, staring at the building in front of them. “I couldn’t have. Where is it?”

“I don’t know,” his companion murmured just as softly. “It was here last I checked.”

But the building in front of them wasn’t the Tiny Box. It wasn’t even the same building as had been there in December. It was brick, yeah, but it was new, it was only one story and not two, it was-

It was labelled “Pansino’s Pastries,” in fact, with an elegantly painted sign stretched above the display window next to the door.

The bakery was dark, except for a single light in the back. It was clearly closed for the night, but he still paced around the front a bit, trying to convince himself this was just some kind of joke.

“Jack,” his companion said softly, “it’s not here anymore.”

“I can see that, Cry,” Jack replied, fear mounting, “but where did it go?” Had they relocated? Had it gotten too dangerous with the Russians running around so they moved? Why would the building be different, though? It had been structurally sound, with no reason to tear it down. What had happened?

A silhouette emerged from the back room, and then the light clicked off. Whoever it was paused as he stepped through the front door, gaze fixed on Jack and Cry.

“Can I help you?” he asked simply, moving forward just enough to close the door behind him, though he didn’t turn his back to the two. Clearly, he didn’t trust them, just like the rest of the people they’d passed by on the streets.

“Maybe,” Jack said, voice strikingly Irish in contrast to the man’s. “My friend and I were last in town back in November and found a delightful restaurant here. Do you know what happened to it?”

“Oh.” The man reached behind himself to lock the door. “The Tiny Box.” He sighed, pocketing the keys. “It... burned down.”

Jack felt Cry stiffen next to him and glanced over to see a quiet fire flaring up in his friend’s eyes.

“What?” Cry asked, his voice deceptively soft and curious. “An accident?”

The young man shook his head. “Arson.”

What?! Jack’s heart nearly stopped.

“Nobody can decide if it was lit by a mob or by the owner, after those detectives caught up to him and his speakeasy.”

No, no, he had to hold it together. He and Cry were only supposed to have visited once, they wouldn’t break down in the street over that. So he blinked slowly, glancing at the name on the bakery, and then back at the young man. A long-ago conversation tickled his mind, one he’d had before Gar had left Québec for Boston, and he narrowed his eye.

“Are... you Baker?” Jack raised his left hand up and ran two fingers along the stiff brim of his hat.

The young man paused, glancing at them both, eyes narrowed with scrutiny. Then he reached up and tightened his bowtie. “Yeah. You are?”

“Cryaotic,” Cry said. He must have also realized this was the undercover Faceless Gar had told them about. “Most call me Cry.”

The young man’s eyes widened, and a small smile flickered across his face. “Oh, I know who you are.” He looked at Jack. “And that makes you-” His gaze flicked to Jack’s left eye, or where it used to be, and he nodded. “I see.” He glanced at the building behind him. “Yeah. I have to be out by now, but if you waited a bit, you’d see people hanging around. I’m pretty sure Miss Pansino does something with the basement, but I haven’t found a good way to ask about it.”

Jack tucked the information away for later. “You said the owner might have lit the Tiny Box? Mrs. Fischbach?”

Baker shook his head. “No. She’d handed it over to her son just a few days before. Mark Fischbach.” He jammed his hands into his pockets. “Personally, I think a mob lit it up.” He made a face. “Otherwise the owner and staff would have gotten out in time.”

All the air left Jack’s lungs, and all the hope left his heart.

“What?”

The word hung in the air, and Jack would never know if he or Cry said it.

Baker’s face turned to sympathy. “Oh. Right. Gar said you two were friends with him. I didn’t realize you didn’t know yet. Yeah. The fire burned hot all night—it was a pile of rubble by the time they put it out, and the firefighters couldn’t find anything that was even recognizable as human. Their bodies must have burned to char.”

Kathryn, Ethan, Amy-

Mark-

They were all dead?

Jack took a deep, shuddering breath. “I see.”

He didn’t. He couldn’t. He wanted to say more, wanted to say something else, anything else, but he couldn’t wrap his mind or heart around this news.

Cry shifted, voice unsteady. “Was anyone else hurt?”

The Faceless nodded. “A reporter, one of the Bumblers. They’d shown up to get an article in about the arrests the next morning, but it didn’t work out too well. He got burned pretty badly, and the story goes his partner had his arm shattered by a mobster on the way to the hospital.” He shook his head. “We also lost three of our more experienced men later that evening, and... it was a rough night for everyone.”

“Three?” Cry asked. “Who?”

“It was Cartoonz, Delirious, and Ohmwrecker.” Baker paused and narrowed his eyes at Cry. “Of course, you were supposed to be the reason Ohmwrecker was dead, so I don’t suppose you can shed some light on that.”

Cry shrugged casually, and his face was wiped clear of any expression. “He was alive the last time I checked, but the last time I actually remember seeing him was right before the warehouse we were in blew up. I don’t remember much of anything for a week after that.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “At least, they tell me it was a week.”

Baker nodded. “Fair enough.” He crossed his arms. “I’d love to answer more questions, but I do actually have to get home or my friends will go looking for me.”
“Wait-” Jack held out a hand to stop Baker. “Do you know why there’s so many Russians this deep into Irish territory?”

Baker shook his head. “I don’t, man. I don’t. I know the McLaughlin Boys keep ending up with their blood on the streets and sprayed across alley walls. That probably has a lot to do with it. Rumor has it they lost their leader back in December, and half their men, and they can barely keep functioning, much less drive out the Russians causing problems.” He shrugged. “One of the info agents will be able to tell you much more than I can, though. They’re the ones who keep close track of that kind of thing. Maybe you can file for an update with a higher-up.”

Jack stuck his own hands in his pockets. “Thank you.”

“Sure thing.” He gave a half-salute, then turned and started walking away. “Don’t get murdered.” With that cheerful farewell, he was gone.

Jack let out a long breath and turned to Cry, unsure of what to say. Cry stared at Pansino’s Pastries, then sighed and turned to Jack.

“Well, that’s just the berries.”

Jack nodded. Then, “They think I’m dead.”

Cry touched the brim of his hat, bringing it down some. The pale straw was bright in the lamplight. “You knew that, JJ.”

Jack snorted softly at the use of his new name. Jameson Jackson Brody. He’d chosen it himself just before Gar left, but it still felt so foreign, like it wasn’t him.

Well, since Sean “Jack” McLoughlin was dead, he’d better make sure he got used to it.

“You heading to Felix’s?” It was a safe bet their friend would be there at this time of night.

Cry dipped his head slightly, closing his eyes. “It’s been too long, and I have a promise to keep.”

“I’ll meet you back at the room, then?”

Cry chuckled. “Yeah.” He stretched slightly. “I can’t wait until we get places to move into. I’m sick of sleeping in borrowed beds.”

“We’re technically renting the ones in the hotel.”

“That’s even worse.” Cry made a face, then glanced up. “I think I’ll take an old favorite path there, get a feel for the city again. It’ll take longer, but it’ll be fun.”

“Be careful.” Jack followed Cry’s gaze to the rooftops. “Although I will be doing it myself—but that’s to keep attention off this.” He tapped his scar.

Cry hummed his agreement, moving towards the alley and reaching into his coat. Before he vanished from sight, a familiar white mask was in his hands, and he was slipping it over his face.

Jack sighed, turning down a different alley. Time to grieve. Time to plan.

Chapter Text

The sky was entirely dark by the time Cry reached those streets where the houses were too far for him to jump from one rooftop to the next. Fortunately, by that point, he was only a mile or so from Felix’s house. It was with great anticipation that he darted along the streets and through alleys, turning over possible conversations in his mind and trying to predict how things would turn out.

Not that it mattered, of course. As he walked up to the door, his mask almost like the full moon reflecting in the windows, all of his plans evaporated.

This was it.

He knocked.

He could have slipped in through a window. He knew where his old room was. He’d used that window hundreds of times before. He could have done that.

But it didn’t feel right.

He needed to be up front with Felix and Marzia. Honest. He didn’t want to do anything more to take advantage of their trust. He owed them such a long explanation...

This was for the best.

It was nearly a minute before the lock on the door clicked softly, and Cry steeled himself. It wouldn’t be Felix answering the door, not at this time. So who would it be?

The door opened to reveal-

Felix.

Felix, still in evening clothes and not at all sleeping like he should be at this time. Why was Felix answering his own door? He was rich. He had people to do that for him.

Felix was staring at Cry, his eyes wide and starting to fill with tears.

Cry spread his arms awkwardly. “Hi. It’s been a while.”

Felix threw his arms around Cry, immediately dragging him inside, and just held him for a long, long moment.

Cry blinked at the odd pattern of breath gusting against his ear, but hugged Felix back. “Are... you crying?”

“Yes,” Felix said, stepping back with a shaky breath, hands on Cry’s shoulders. His eyes were bright with unshed tears. “I thought you were dead, but here you are.”

Cry rubbed the back of his head, suddenly hyper aware that the last time he’d stood in this house, his hair had been long enough to pull into a ponytail—as opposed to now, when it was comfortably short.

“I promised I’d be back, didn’t I?”

His voice was quiet, quieter than he’d expected, but somehow he could barely get the words out. What if... what if Felix had forgotten during the months he’d been gone? What if he’d given up?

Felix stared at Cry, and Cry realized just how exhausted Felix looked—his eyes were bloodshot, and the bags under them suggested Felix hadn’t slept well in at least a week—but said nothing, as if trying to process what Cry was saying.

“You look awful, Felix,” Cry said slowly. “Why aren’t you in bed?”

Felix rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It’s hard to sleep knowing Mir has Mark and Sophie, and PJ has almost been killed three times in the past ten days.”

Cry blinked, then stepped forward. “I was told Mark was dead.” His aching heart was already beginning to soar, but mostly he was confused. Why the differing reports? Was Mark dead or not? He didn’t think he could take having to face that multiple times.

Felix looked up, brow scrunched, then sighed. “Oh.” He glanced down the hall towards the sitting room. “I’m going to get Marzia. Go ahead and sit down. I think we’ll be at this for a while.”

Cry frowned. “I’m going to make you some tea. You need it.”

Felix chuckled humorlessly. “You’re not the first person to tell me that.”

“Felix.”

He just walked off, clearly troubled. “I’ll be back shortly.”

Cry crossed his arms, but stalked off to the kitchen. It’d take at least fifteen minutes for Felix to wake Marzia and for her to get presentable for guests. It was, after all, midnight—people did not usually wear public clothes to bed.

He made three cups of tea, carefully putting them on a tray with the teapot and silver cream and sugar pot, and carried them out to the main sitting room. He’d barely set it down on the low table by the time Felix walked in, Marzia close behind.

Marzia froze as she stepped into the room, eyes fixed on Cry.

“Hey, Marzia,” Cry said softly. “I’m glad you got home safe.”

Her hands covered her mouth, and she began whispering things rapidly in Italian.

Cry just reached up and undid his mask, setting it to the side. When he looked back, both Felix and Marzia were staring at him.

“Oh, right.” He tilted his head, touching the scar that ran along his jaw. “This is from shrapnel. I’m lucky it wasn’t worse.” He lifted his mask, revealing the pale blue swirls that ran across the white. “I got this redone, too.”

Marzia covered her mouth again. “How- you got out?”

Cry nodded, setting his mask to the side. “One of the others went back for me.”

She narrowed her eyes. “The one with the omega mask.”

Cry tilted his head. “Yeah.” How had she guessed that?

She folded her arms. “What’s up between you two? I don’t want you trying to kill each other the next time you run into each other.”

Cry sighed, and a rueful smile crossed his face. He settled onto a chair, and gestured for the two of them to join him. “I’m not sure we will,” he replied after a moment. They’d run into each other twice since... since just before graduation. Before everything had gone wrong.

Marzia shook her head, settling her skirt neatly around her. “He’s Wiggles. He’s a capo in the Family now. He was part of the Family before.”

“I knew he used to be.” Cry tapped his finger on his mouth. “I also remember him saying he never wanted to go back.” What had changed?

Marzia blinked. “How did you know that?”

“He told me.”

“Did I miss something?” Felix leaned forward. “I thought you two hated each other.”

“It’s... a long story. One for a different time.” Cry avoided meeting their eyes, and decided to change the topic. “I still owe you an explanation for that night. Christmas Eve.” He shifted uncomfortably, and reconsidered. “But first, what’s this about Mark? I thought he was dead. There’s a bakery where Freddy’s used to be.”

Felix sighed, slumping in his seat. “Yeah. The detectives caught up to him. They were going to arrest him. So to hide the evidence, he burned the place down. For months, we thought he didn’t get out. And then, the first time we saw Wiishu after Jack’s death, she told us Mark had survived and the mob had been taking care of him—which kept her sane after PJ killed Jack, I suppose—and then Mir raided the warehouse and took Mark.”

Cry blinked. “Jack’s- Jack’s not dead.”

Felix sat up, very slowly, his expression one of dumbfounded incredulity and disbelief. “What?”

“Jack- I was with him earlier today. He changed his name, and he’s down an eye, but he’s not dead.” Cry stared at Felix with an arched eyebrow. This didn’t seem like a good time to mention Jack was Faceless now, not when Felix seemed like he had a good chance of dying from the shock.

Marzia said softly, “Mir took Sophie, back in May. On the Fourth, Felix and PJ found them and tried to get them out. But Mir was ready for them. It was a trap.”

“PJ got shot. Tom got shot. A lot of people died.” Felix added and sighed. “Mir got away with Sophie and Mark.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose again. “Haven’t really slept since then. We were so close.”

Marzia put a comforting hand on his arm. “We don’t know where Mark is right now. And it gets worse. Mir raided PJ’s house—and then when that didn’t kill him, put a bomb in his car.”

Felix raised his hands and made quotation marks in the air, revealing a cast around his right hand and wrist. “‘There’s no evidence of foul play,’ the official report said, ‘just a faulty engine.’” He scoffed. “Just like there’s no evidence of Mir paying off the cop who inspected the wreck.”

“Is PJ okay?” Cry asked, gaze lingering on Felix’s broken hand. When had that happened?

“He and Wiggles are both still alive, yes,” Marzia said. “Badly injured, but alive.”

Cry frowned. “I see what you mean by I might run into Ohm again.”

“Ohm?” Marzia perked up. “Is that his Faceless name?”

“His most recent one, in any case.” Cry leaned forward. “Did I miss anything else?”

“Oh, tons,” Felix said, finally reaching forward to pick up his cup of tea, though the movement was a bit clumsy with his left hand. “But we’ll get there in time.” He tilted his head. “You owe us an explanation as to what happened Christmas Eve.”

Cry sighed, taking a sip of his own tea. Then he set it down and put his hands in his lap.

“The entire thing was orchestrated.”

Felix immediately choked on his tea, coughing violently before glaring at Cry. “What?”

Cry spread his hands. “Well, not all of it.” He wiggled a hand. “There really was someone who hired that team of Faceless to kill you. It’s just, something was really fishy about the letter. Most people don’t hire Faceless to kill you.” He tilted his head. “In fact, it’s only ever happened once before.” He made a wry face. “So they called me in, had me look over the letter. And what would you know, but the handwriting was very familiar.”

Felix blinked. “It was?”

Cry nodded, picking up his tea to sip it and stare at Marzia over the brim of the cup.

She frowned, shaking her head.

Felix turned to look at her. “Am I... missing something?”

“No,” Marzia said quickly. Too quickly, and Felix noticed—his eyes narrowed at her.

Cry put his cup down. “The handwriting matched the blackmail letter Marzia got two years ago, and that of my very first assignment.”

Felix’s eyes widened, and Marzia glared at Cry.

“Cry-” Marzia whispered, clearly hurt. “I trusted you to not tell him.”

“And I promised the whole story.” Cry sat back, refusing to look her in the eyes. “I can’t do that with you keeping that from him.”

“A blackmail letter?” Felix said slowly, looking at Marzia. “What... when? What did it want?”

Marzia glared at Cry, but he just gestured for her to answer.

She crossed her arms for a minute, but then sighed and set her hands in her lap. “I... it threatened to reveal that you were responsible for the molasses flood. To keep from that happening, the blackmailer...” She paused, opening and closing her mouth for several tries, before sighing again. “The blackmailer wanted Detective Jason Parker dead.”

Felix’s eyes widened. “You killed a detective?”

“No,” Cry said softly, “she didn’t. I did.” He picked up his tea cup again, swirling it softly, distorting his own reflection. “That month where I was gone every night? I was working at Freddy’s as the new server. Between Marzia keeping you away during most of my shifts, and a few skills I’ve learned, you never did notice.” His lips curled in a small smile. “I don’t think anyone noticed.” He took a sip. “At the end of the month, I slipped Jason Parker wood alcohol in hopes that it would kill him.” He made a face. “It didn’t, so I had to follow him to the hospital, where I overdosed him on morphine.” He sighed. “It did the job. The blackmailer hasn’t sent a letter since, at least to Marzia.” He tilted his cup. “But still—I recognized the handwriting when I was called in.”

“...Okay.” Felix’s mouth tightened unhappily. Clearly, he’d be having a talk with Marzia later.

“The Faceless like to keep track of the criminals in Boston,” Cry said slowly, “and blackmailers are dangerous. So they had to find out who it was.” He took another sip. “The Banana Bus Crew took the job, and we followed orders.”

“Who was it?”

“I don’t know,” Cry said quietly. “I just got back in town earlier today. I haven’t been told. Haven’t had a chance to gather updates.” He shook his head. “I do know they have someone undercover near the blackmailer, but that’s it.” He raised his eyebrows. “Can I continue?”

Felix nodded.

“The team set up the warehouse. You know those warehouse fires Dan and Phil covered that winter?” When Felix nodded, Cry continued. “Those were Ohm practicing, gauging how much explosives he’d need to level the building and hide that you weren’t actually dead for at least a few days.”

“Sounds expensive.” Felix’s voice was a bit faint.

“Yeah, but better than accidentally killing your entire team.”

Felix conceded the point with a nod.

“I meanwhile, worked with Minx. When I visited her earlier that day, she drugged me. She told me what to expect, but...” Cry winced. “I hadn’t expected it to be quite that violent, or exhausting. But it had to be convincing, and it was, so she did a good job.”

Felix nodded again, although a dark expression moved over his face.

“The team was waiting for you to leave for Minx’s to grab Marzia. The purpose behind having me go instead of you was literally a body double—so if the blackmailer had anyone watching, it’d look like you were complying.”

“Did they?”

“Not as far as I can tell, no.” Cry shrugged. “Granted, I left that warehouse slung over someone’s shoulder, halfway unconscious and feeling like I had fog in my brain, so I wouldn’t actually know.”

Marzia nodded.

“So did the charade work?” Felix asked.

Cry nodded. “Yeah. The blackmailer wanted an in person report. I don’t know who gave it, but he confirmed her identity.”

“Her?” Felix leaned forward, clearly surprised. “Who?”

Cry shrugged. “They never gave me a name. Just a pronoun.”

“Do you have any ideas?”

Cry sipped the last of his tea, making eye contact with Felix over his cup as he did so. Then he set the cup down.

“One.” He tipped his head. “I don’t have the permission to share it. I shouldn’t have even told you all the details of that mission, but... I promised.”

Felix’s face grew anguished. “Cry-”

“No, Felix. I’m not going to risk telling you a name and being wrong. Not this time.” Cry straightened in his seat, setting his cup on the saucer. “Not this name.”

Chapter Text

The warehouse seemed different.

From his vantage point a few rooftops away, he wasn’t quite sure what gave him that impression. All the walls were standing solid. The windows closer to the docks were still boarded up to keep out the wind—even after this many years, they still weren’t repaired. The windows he had always used to keep watch through were still grimy as ever, though there was a board across one of them that was new. As much as he’d like to say it was because someone threw a rock, the cracks in the glass seemed to suggest a much smaller, faster projectile.

Maybe the difference wasn’t in the warehouse, Jack mused, but in himself. The last time he’d been here, he’d been storming out in a fury and would encounter PJ in the hour. He’d been so determined to kill the man responsible for all the destruction of the work the mob had done that he hadn’t taken five seconds to even consider that it might end up with himself getting shot.

He couldn’t afford to think like that anymore. He’d already lost far too much.

Jack shifted on the roof, his eye glancing to the back of the warehouse. Rhett’s familiar car was there, which meant he was still here. It was late enough that most people would be gone, though, and the majority of the spuds would be going to bed.

The perfect time.

Jack slipped down the side of the building, dropping from ledge to ledge until he could safely launch himself to the street below. From there, it was easy to slip around to Rhett’s car. He didn’t want to pick the locks on it, just for old times’ sake, but it was warm enough that he didn’t feel particularly worried about slipping onto the hood of the car and waiting.

Night had completely fallen by the time soft footsteps crunched on the gravel path nearby, and Jack lifted his head in time to see Rhett pause near the back wall of the warehouse, his hand clearly moving for his gun.

“Good evening, Rhett,” Jack said calmly. “It’s been a while.”

Rhett’s entire body tensed, and he stepped forward with tightly-controlled fury on his face, pistol raised. “Who are you? Why are you here? Stop using his voice. It’s not funny.”

Jack lifted his hands, showing he was unarmed (rather, he didn’t currently have a weapon in his hands) and slid off the hood. “I don’t have another voice to use. It’s the one I’ve had my entire life, and I’d rather not change it now, if you don’t mind.” He held still as Rhett’s eyes searched him, picked out details, though he was sure the fact that he only had one eye now was obscured by the shadows and night. “You know who I am.”

Rhett’s eyes widened, and he stepped forward again, gun slowly lowering. “That... can’t...” He blinked, taking in Jack again. “Jack? Aren’t- you were shot! I saw it happen.”

“I was,” Jack agreed, reaching up and removing his hat, revealing his face—revealing his scar and decided lack of left eye. “I was as surprised as you are when I woke up again.”

Rhett’s gaze flicked over Jack’s face, pausing at his eye, then focused back on the man who had once led the McLaughlin Boys. “How?”

Jack dipped his head, putting his face back on. “A rather generous stranger, to whom I’m now very indebted, seeing as they paid for everything to keep me alive.”

Rhett’s gun dropped to his side, and he shook his head. “You’re... not staying, are you.”

Jack shrugged one shoulder. “For now, trying to repay that debt means I’m in Boston. It may change in the future. It may not. I don’t know.” He hesitated. “I can’t come back to the mob, though.”

Rhett let out a long breath, but nodded. “It’d be hard to explain how you returned from the dead.” He looked away and swallowed. “It’s... for the best, probably.”

“Rhett,” Jack said gently, “what’s happened while I was gone? Why are there Russians making trouble in McLaughlin territory?”

Rhett put a hand to his temples, then sighed and holstered his gun. “How much time do you have?”

“Tonight? All night.”

“Care to go for a drive?”

Jack dipped his head, finally dropping his hands and stepping to the side. A few moments later, and he was joining Rhett in the car.

“So,” Rhett sighed, pulling the car away from the warehouse, “uh... where to start.” He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. “With the mob?” He frowned. “No, with Mark Fischbach.”

Jack looked over. “I heard he was dead.”

Rhett nodded his head slightly, then sort of shrugged with it. “He might be, now. It wouldn’t surprise me.” He let out a long breath. “Have you heard about Freddy’s?”

“It burned.”

“Right. And Mark was trapped inside.” Rhett glanced over, as if to gauge Jack’s reaction. “Well, he got out. Stumbled out what was left of the back door and collapsed into the alley. Billy and Betty and Sam, they’d gone to see if there were any leftovers from the Tiny Box they could surprise the other kids with for Christmas, but... they found Mark instead. Billy and Betty dragged Mark out of the alley while Sam ran back here for help.” Rhett’s shoulders slumped. “‘Course, I found all this out later, since I was with you and all the Boys at the time.”

Jack nodded.

“He was... pretty badly burned. More char than man.” Rhett shook his head. “When I gave everyone the news of your death, they all... latched onto Mark, I suppose? Promised to protect him until he recovered, or until he died, since you’d want your friend cared for.”

Jack nodded again, not trusting himself to say anything.

“Wiishu especially... she and Link...” Rhett swallowed again, raising Jack’s suspicions once again, “...they took it on themselves to take care of him. They put him on the mattress in the office, since it’s better than the floor, and every single day they’d change his bandages and clean him up.” He shuddered. “Sometimes, his screams of pain would echo through the entire warehouse, and anyone who went to investigate would find him coughing up blood between each yell.”

“...You said you don’t know if he’s alive now. What happened?”

Rhett’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Mir found him. He found us.”

Jack froze, trying to process the news, the implications. How had Mir found the warehouse? How long had Mir had Mark? Had Mir killed Mark?

“It was in February... Mir- The spud on lookout duty was shot down by one of the Russian snipers. It was Charles. Little Charlie. His body hitting the floor was the first sign-” Rhett swallowed. “Mir raided. His men were heavily armed. The shootout was horrible, bloody, but then there was a pause. None of us wanted to step out for a shot; we knew we’d get nailed by the machine guns his bimbos were carrying. He made his demands: Mark. He wouldn’t stand down until he had Mark.”

Jack clenched his jaw.

“Then the Russians grabbed Link, pulled him out into the open, pinned him down. When...” Rhett’s voice was audibly choked now. “Link refused to give up Mark. Mir shot him. He was dead before his final denial left his mouth.” His shoulders tightened. “Mark... Mark gave himself up after that, trying to avoid any more deaths. I... haven’t heard of or seen him since.”

Jack’s expression grew stormy. He’d need to dip into his contacts to find an update on Mark, then. He was determined to find Mark—or his grave, at the very least. ...If Mir had bothered giving him one.

“By the end of June, Wiishu was back in Denmark. She...” Rhett glanced over and trailed off, watching Jack.

“I understand,” Jack said, firmly aware of the locket around his neck. “She thinks I’m dead. It’s for the best.” He looked out the window, at the docks flicking by between buildings. The water was a deeper black than the rest of the shadows. “How are the spuds? And Chica?”

“Inseparable,” Rhett said quietly, a small smile creeping onto his face. “You won’t see one of them without the other three close nearby. They’ve taken to pushing their mattresses together and all sleeping in a pile. It’s the only way they could get Sam’s nightmares to stop.”

Jack sighed. “I... I want to see them. But I don’t know how to do that without putting them in danger.” He shook his head. “They’ve been on my mind a lot recently. I want them to... I want them to know I love them. I want to get this taken care of so I can come back and give them a proper home.”

Silence followed his words, and Jack glanced over to see Rhett repeatedly glancing at him, a broad grin stretched over his face.

“What?” Jack asked.

“You’re gonna do great,” Rhett said. “You do what you need to do. We’ll keep them safe until then.”

Jack put a hand to the locket tucked under his vest. “I will. Don’t worry. I’m not going to fail them this time.”

Rhett grinned again. “Good. Now, where am I dropping you off?”

Chapter Text

It was odd, Gar observed, to see Faceless so quiet. There were serious and quiet Faceless, of course, but the vast majority were normal people. Well, as normal as a group of assassins could be.

It wasn’t usually like this. Of course, there was a reason for that.

Gar sent one last look over his shoulder at the cemetery, at Justin’s grave and the few still lingering there, before turning away and walking to join Crumpler.

Neither of them said anything until they’d reached the apartment—not Gar’s, but the one Piya used to live in. It wasn’t on Faceless property, since Piya had been undercover when he died, but his will had asked that the two of them spend one night in it before everything was packed up and sold or given away. For all the Family and police knew, it was to treasure memories and pocket any small trinkets that might remind them of their dead friend.

And, well, they weren’t wrong.

Hats and overcoats and suit jackets—each one of them black—were removed and carefully set aside to dry from the outside rain, and Gar instinctively made his way into the living room, stopping in the doorframe.

“It feels wrong,” came the voice of one of his oldest friends. “I mean, we all know the risks, but...”

“I know,” Gar murmured, eyes sweeping the room, noting how neat everything was—and the book that had been set down on the coffee table and never picked up again. He walked over to it. “We were supposed to meet up that night for dinner, after he got back. We had so much to catch up on, especially now that we’d both gone undercover.”

Crumpler leaned against the doorframe, nodding slowly. His tie hung loose around his neck, and his collar was undone. He looked tired. “Yeah.” He scoffed, closing his eyes. “Just think—twelve years ago, the lot of us were running around causing trouble as first-year trainees.”

Gar picked up the book, turning it over in his hands. It was more an absent action than out of any real desire to investigate it.

“It feels like a lifetime ago.”

“It was literally half a lifetime ago. We’re not that old.” Crumpler smiled sadly. “Somehow, that makes this just so much worse.”

Gar nodded, glancing up at the chair across the room. Justin’s spare jacket was slung across it, just waiting for him to get home.

Not that that would ever happen. Not now.

Crumpler sighed and sat next to Gar. “Have you wondered how different it would be if we never were split up when we were kids?”

Gar shrugged. “No? I try not to think about what might have been. It’s too depressing.”

“I’m pretty sure we’d be in prison,” Crumpler said. “You especially.”

“Thanks,” Gar said dryly.

“I’m glad we all got back together, even...” Crumpler sighed. “Even if it was just for a few months.” He tapped his fingers on the coffee table. “I... it feels weird with just the two of us here.”

“We both know neither of them are coming back.” Justin, after all, was dead, and Snow had had a family emergency take him away, out of Boston. They had no idea if he’d be back, and it hadn’t been a good farewell, but what was done was done and they could only move on with life. It was really the only choice.

“Yeah. I know.” Crumpler went silent for a moment. “I’m not going anywhere, if it’s any consolation.”

“Sure,” Gar said, though it was a lie. People never planned for things to end suddenly.

“Do you want a drink?” Crumpler stood. “I’m sure he has something in one of these cabinets.”

“Sure,” Gar said, standing himself. “Let’s go raid his pantry.”

Silence reigned as the two made their way into the kitchen and opened all the drawers and cabinets and pantry closets, only broken once Crumpler found a slightly-cool pepsi in the icebox.

“I keep expecting him to just... walk in here and yell at us for getting into his stuff,” Crumpler said, eyeing the doorway from the dining room.

Gar hummed acknowledgment softly, but said nothing as he poured the drink into two cups and handed one to Crumpler.

“You know, “ Crumpler said gently, “it’s not your fault he’s dead.”

Gar sighed, looking at his drink. “I was the one who asked you all to come. If I... If I hadn’t, then you’d all still be off near family and none of this would have happened.”

“You wanted your team. There’s nothing wrong with that.” Crumpler leaned against the counter. “You couldn’t have known there was going to be a bomb.” He sighed. “After... after graduation, Justin and I talked about finding you. Requesting you for the team.” He frowned. “We didn’t even know you were alive at that point. It wasn’t something people ever bothered telling us, and after your letters stopped...”

Gar shook his head. “It got too hard to keep them up. We were barely staying a week in any one place, and we were spending too much time dodging Mir’s hitmen to really have time to even write the letters back, much less actually send them.”

Crumpler mumbled something into his drink. It sounded significantly angry towards Mir, though the exact words were unintelligible. Or maybe that was the fault of the thunder rumbling softly outside. The rain was getting heavier; it was becoming a proper summer storm.

Gar chuckled. “Agreed.”

Crumpler flashed him a grin. “None of us really ever gave up on you, though,” he continued. “Justin pointed out you probably just didn’t have time, or it wasn’t safe. And, honestly, considering you had a mob boss so angry with your dad that you were on the run for that long... it made sense.”

Gar nodded, sipping at his drink. Silence fell between the two for a long minute, though it didn’t feel uncomfortable. Just sad.

“By the way,” Crumpler said, “what did your dad do?”

Gar shrugged. “I don’t know. Messed up some really big something or other for Mir, I think, but he’s never told me the details and I’ve never asked.”

“And now you’re partnered with the detective Mir hates the most in the entire city.”

Gar nodded.

“And you’re undercover in the Family.”

Gar nodded.

Crumpler frowned. “Be careful, Gar. That makes you three times the target for Mir, and I don’t want to go to your funeral until we’re both old and gray.”

Gar raised his hand in a half-hearted salute. “Scout’s honor.”

Crumpler snorted. “As if.”

Gar laughed softly, and for a second, it all felt like nothing had ever gone wrong, like they were still kids playing on the training grounds, like they were still joking that one day they’d be a team and Gar would do all the work and Piya and Crumpler and Snow would run distraction.

But then the grief, the weight of loss, the undeniable knowledge that a seat around the table would never be filled again came crashing back down.

Gar sighed, setting his drink down. “I’m going to go look for wherever he hid his mask.”

Crumpler nodded. “I’ll join you as soon as I finish this.”

Gar nodded, walking out of the room. He mentally ran through the list of places Justin could have hidden his mask—there were bound to be dozens of places it could have been stashed, but it had to be collected before someone else found it. It had already been long enough as it was.

He sighed. Might as well start with the bedroom. It was the most private room, so it’d make sense to hide a mask there.

The decorations in the bedroom were still fairly few in number—Justin had only been in town for about six months, after all, and hadn’t had time to collect many trinkets and decorations. What ones were there were quintessentially Justin, though, and Gar had to swallow down the lump in his throat before he could convince himself to step into the room.

He started with the obvious places first: the chest at the foot of the bed, the desk, the bookcases. Unsurprisingly, all of them turned up with nothing.

Then he turned to the wardrobe and pulled it open, hesitating. Finally, he started rifling through the clothes left hanging, moving them aside carefully to make sure the mask wasn’t tucked inside one of the bulkier ones.

Most of them, he didn’t recognize. It made sense, of course, that Justin would have different clothes and style as an adult than he did as a kid.

Some of the little things though, accessories and the like, Gar recognized. That ring had been given to Justin by his first girlfriend, when they were young and love was a silly thing for lazy summer afternoons. That handkerchief with the bird sloppily embroidered on it was a result of when they’d all tried to learn needlecraft out of simple curiosity. The cufflinks tucked in a box in the back were the set Justin was given when he first started training, as a memento.

Gar blinked back tears, though they were already streaming down his face.

All these memories, but no mask.

He turned his gaze to the back of the wardrobe, tapping on it softly to see if it had a false back—but it seemed secure. None of the panels moved, so it wasn’t hidden somewhere there.

And then his eyes traveled up just a little further, to the top edge of the wardrobe above his head, and a fresh wave of grief washed over him.

Of course.

Justin had always put his mask on top of his wardrobe when they were kids—it kept it out of the way and out of sight, even for adults, and it didn’t require any noisy movement of false backs or drawer bottoms to get it out.

Gar hesitated, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve.

In the pause, a clear sob drifted down the hall from the living room.

Gar swallowed again, eyes once again filling with tears, and reached up and grabbed the ledge. His left shoulder was stiffer than he’d like, but that would still take time to ease.

He stepped up onto the bottom of the wardrobe and peeked onto the top of the wardrobe.

There it was.

He reached easily and snagged it, pulling it down and turning it over in his hands. The base was the same hardened leather as his own, as most Faceless masks, but seeing the design Justin had chosen for himself on graduation, recognizing some hints of the designs they’d scribbled as children...

Gar sank onto the bed, clutching the mask, and cried.

Chapter Text

The rain was oppressive, hammering down on the roof of his car and drowning out the growl of the engine. The tires bounced and splashed through puddles as Jordan drew up to the farmhouse, and he peered through the curtains of rain at the welcoming sight of gently lit windows. In the next moment he was pocketing his keys and stepping out into the midsummer deluge.

Jordan rushed through the pouring rain into the waiting warmth of the farmhouse. The young man there—probably a farmhand—immediately escorted Jordan upstairs, stopping at a room with the door cracked open. Jordan knocked on the doorframe and slipped through before being told he could.

He caught his breath and his heart lurched in his chest when a masked figure turned to face him. There was a second masked figure, dozing off in a chair.

No matter how many times he dealt with Faceless—which, admittedly, wasn’t too often—he still could never control his instinctive urge to back away with a hand on his pistol.

Instead, he dipped his gaze to the bed. PJ laid there. Even in the dim light of the small lamp, it was clear PJ’s hair was plastered to his head with sweat (what hair hadn’t been shaved away, in any case), and he just looked to be in poor condition.

The Faceless tending to PJ, the one with antlers decorating his mask, carefully wrung out a cloth and then spoke. “Oh, good,” the man said, clearly relieved. He set the rag on PJ’s forehead, then turned and shook the other Faceless awake. “Sparklez is here. Go sleep in a bed. I’ll wake you if anything happens.”

“I-” the Faceless with a green scaled mask murmured, sounding completely exhausted. “Moo, no.”

“You can’t treat him when you’re this tired, Dr. Greene,” Moo said gently. “I promise, the two of us will tend to him. Just get a few hours.”

The Faceless doctor slowly got to their feet and pushed their way past Jordan with barely a murmured greeting, exhaustion betrayed in every step.

“Hi,” Moo said, clapping his hands together softly and startling Jordan, “you can call me Moo. Wiggles said you’re Sparklez? I need your help, just for a few hours.”

Jordan stepped forward. “What-” His eyes flicked to PJ. “What happened? What changed?”

“Infection happened,” Moo said grimly. “It started a few days ago, and there was nothing we could do to stop it. It wasn’t too bad at first—inconvenient and painful, of course; but not like this—until some point last night. We don’t know when. He wouldn’t wake in the morning. He’ll seem conscious for a moment or two, but those are few and far between. He’s at least still right now, which is the calmest he’s been all afternoon, but...” He looked at PJ. “We’ll see.”

Jordan’s overcoat seemed awfully heavy in that moment, drenched with fears and worry as much as rain.

“I’m not a doctor.” Sure, in a pinch, he could keep someone from bleeding to death, but... this wasn’t like that at all.

“No, but you are his friend, and that’s what he needs right now.” Moo pushed the chair closer to the bed and gestured for Jordan to take a seat. “He knows you, and trusts you. We’re not even sure he’s aware of what’s going on, or if the fever is bad enough that he’s hallucinating. A familiar presence will only do him good.”

Jordan nervously sat. “How am I supposed to help with that? Why me, and not his father?”

“Liguori has to take care of things around the farm, and he’s already spent quite a bit of time in here. As for the first part, I’m not sure,” Moo admitted, “but Greene thought it would help, and they’re the doctor here.”

Jordan let out a breath. “Okay. What do I do?”

“Comfort him, I guess? Talk to him?” Moo sounded uncertain—also tired, now that Jordan thought about it, but not as exhausted as Greene had been. “Greene managed to give him medicine about fifteen minutes ago, which is why he’s quiet right now, and we barely finished cleaning his wounds again, before you came in.” He paused, clearly hesitating. “He’s... definitely delirious, though. We haven’t been able to make out what he’s been saying—most of it’s in Italian—but he’s obviously distressed.”

Jordan swallowed, eyes flicking to PJ’s sweat-soaked form again, taking in the arm in a sling and a cast, the clenched fingers bunched around the blanket, the way every muscle in PJ’s body seemed tense like a coiled spring, and he nodded.

For a while, Jordan just helped Moo in little ways: he refilled the bowl with cool water when it warmed too much, he helped him set out fresh supplies for the next change of bandages (a different set, apparently, because it was easier to change them in rounds than all at once), and he did his best to comfort PJ when he started mumbling about the horror and distress of finding a friend’s body.

It was completely different from the last time he’d seen PJ ill and with a bad fever, but... something about it felt familiar. It was odd. PJ had never been delirious from a fever before, no matter the cause of that fever. He didn’t talk in his sleep—though it was a bit strange that Jordan had been enough around PJ when sleeping to be able to comfortably say that.

No, he realized as he examined his friend and boss, this was reminding him of an earlier time. A time before December.

It was reminding him of October 1921.

Not the fever—but the way PJ was so tense despite unconsciousness, the arm in the sling, the soft mumbling that faded in and out in both Italian and English.

(Sometimes PJ would speak in an unholy combination of both that more often than not resulted in him sounding like a young child who was just learning the rules of the languages and trying their hardest but still failing at grammar and fine nuances—this made Jordan hold back laughter despite everything, as this was a serious situation, not a time to laugh at PJ, no matter how amusing it was to hear him babble like Luna).

Only this time, he could actually understand PJ’s mumblings in Italian—more or less. They were still mumblings, after all. They didn’t always make sense.

As afternoon stretched into evening, and then into night, and as Moo switched out with Greene once again, Jordan remained. He sat there, next to his friend’s sickbed, listening and murmuring back. He doubted PJ would be able to remember any of this, but now that he was here he couldn’t bring himself to leave him.

How odd, to think that none of this would be happening if he hadn’t been hired to watch that balcony, to shoot whoever tried to hurt “the tall man with curly hair.” He’d been freshly out of work then, having just left the McLaughlin Boys over Rhett’s asinine inability to act and not just react. A bodyguard/assassination job was well within his area of expertise. Of course he’d taken the job.

PJ started murmuring again, words and even language indistinct, but pain wracking his voice.

Greene looked up from preparing medicine on the other side of the room, but did nothing as Jordan leaned forward and set his hand comfortingly on PJ’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, Peej,” he murmured soothingly in Italian. “I haven’t left. I’m still here.” And then, keeping the same calming tone of voice, and hoping PJ wouldn’t remember this: “I wouldn’t have to be if you didn’t go around making people want to kill you, but I guess it’s way too late for that.”

PJ fell still, and Jordan let out a sigh and leaned back, only to freeze as PJ’s eyes cracked open to look at him. Sort of at him. He wasn’t focusing very well.

“Not fair,” PJ mumbled back before his eyes closed and he drifted off again.

Jordan made a face. PJ might remember that one.

PJ fell still for a while after that, to the point where Greene assured Jordan they would call if something happened that needed help, and that if they wanted to go visit Wiggles, they could—though not to wake him if he was sleeping.

Considering it was after sundown, Jordan didn’t know. Wiggles historically had a strange sleeping schedule—if one could even call it a schedule—but he was also badly injured, and that tended to make people sleep more.

Still, the dismissal was clear, so Jordan made his way a few rooms over and peeked into the cracked open door.

Soft muffled voices floated through the air, though they were too indistinct to make out for sure. Jordan could still identify Wiggles’ soft spoken nature, though, so he pushed the door open.

“Sparklez!” Wiggles greeted, joy immediately coloring his tired voice and a familiar grin stretching across his face. “Hello!”

“Hey there,” Jordan said, fully entering the room and immediately pausing, a little shocked at the number of stitches in Wiggles’ bare scalp. Then he flicked his gaze to another figure.

The other person in the room had a hauntingly familiar owl design on his mask.

“You!” Jordan said, fighting that temptation to put his hand on his holster again. “Why are you here?”

“Oh, fun,” owl mask said dryly, crossing his arms. “Last time you were late, and now you walk in without knocking.” He shook his head. “Such manners.”

“The door was open, and also, excuse you.” Jordan crossed his own arms, feeling more than slightly attacked.

“Do... you know each other?” Wiggles asked slowly, his voice a little slurred, eyes flickering between the two of them. He moved as if to push himself up. “What’s this?”

“Don’t move,” owl mask snapped. “You’re not listening.”

“I don’t take orders from you,” Wiggles said calmly, easing himself up into a leaning position—though his face gave away the exertion that took.

Owl mask sighed, then turned to Jordan. “He’s impossible,” he said in a way that suggested Jordan had any control over that.

Jordan smiled slightly. “I’m aware.” He turned to Wiggles. “I thought you were supposed to be on bed rest.”

“I am,” Wiggles said, raising his eyebrows. “I am resting. On a bed.”

Jordan sighed. “Okay, but why aren’t you asleep? It’s late.”

“I slept for most of the day,” Wiggles said apologetically. “I might fall asleep soon, but for now, I’m up.” He made a face. “As up as I’m allowed to be.”

“Yeah, because you’re totally walking around on that leg of yours,” the Faceless muttered.

Jordan raised an eyebrow, looking at Wiggles in concern. “Just how badly were you hurt?” His gaze flicked once again to the stitches that seemed to be holding Wiggles’ head together—and shuddered at the thought of the needle that must have done that.

Wiggles sighed, and the Faceless laughed softly.

“It’ll be at least a few weeks before I’m allowed back,” Wiggles admitted. “Supposedly, most of my injuries typically heal in six weeks, but that might be different since I was so badly hurt.”

“Don’t get blown up.”

Wiggles snorted. “It’s not the first time I’ve gotten hit by shrapnel, Sparkly-pants. Just the first time it’s not been an accident from my own explosives.”

“Charming.” Jordan glanced at the bandages peeking out from under Wiggles’ clothes, at the unwieldy shape of a cast on one of Wiggles’ legs under the bedsheets. “How are you not dead?”

“I have no idea.” Wiggles paused, expression becoming more serious and slipping into Italian. “How’s PJ?”

“Still bad.” Jordan sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “His fever hasn’t broken at all. He hasn’t gotten noticeably worse, though. It’s still too early to tell for sure, but I have hopes.” He wasn’t sure what else to have.

Wiggles frowned, wrapping blanket around his hands anxiously.

“He was lucid enough to chastise me earlier,” Jordan said quietly. “I think he’ll be okay.”

Wiggles sighed, staring at the window and the rain, though it had slowed to a pitter. “I hope so. As it stands now, if he dies, it’s going to tear us apart. I don’t want to be godfather, but fully half the Family wants me to be.”

Jordan frowned. “If he dies, you’re in no condition to be godfather. And they can’t force you. It would be Zombie.”

Wiggles nodded, though his expression still betrayed worry over it.

Jordan hesitated. “If he does die... you know what it might come to.”

Wiggles scowled, looking down at his leg. “In my current condition, Zombie would have no problems finishing me off and using my death to shut down those who wanted me there.”

“Or you could leave.”

Wiggles closed his eyes at that, turning his head away slightly. “I know how it is to be betrayed by those I thought family. I would rather die than experience it a third time.”

“A third time?”

Wiggles just eased himself back down into a sleeping position and rolled to face the wall, though his breathing hitched with pain.

Jordan frowned, filing the question to ask at a better time. He turned, nodded at the Faceless once again, and walked out of the room to return to PJ.

-----

By midnight, Jordan was sure PJ was hallucinating. He kept opening his eyes, and while Jordan’s heart dropped whenever he saw how distant they looked, it was worse when they actually tried to focus on something where there was nothing. Somehow, that blue-green colour that made PJ’s gaze so intense now seemed so empty and glassy. It was unnerving.

What sleep PJ was getting couldn’t have been very restful, either. He kept tossing and turning, as if he simply couldn’t get comfortable in his own body—which, Jordan supposed, he probably wasn’t. Not with a fever that kept rising, and with all his injuries from his latest scrape with death.

Greene did all of the tending to PJ, though, and didn’t even let Jordan get too terribly close. At first, Jordan could sometimes translate for Greene, but as PJ’s mumblings dissolved into incomprehensible groans and half-formed words, he couldn’t even do that.

He had to step out of the room frequently. Sometimes, Greene gave him an errand. Jordan was sure those tasks were given to him out of pity. Other times, it was to allow PJ’s father to take his chair. Then Jordan began to step out on his own accord, needing to compose himself, or wanting to avoid watching Greene change PJ’s bandages. He’d seen plenty of wounds over the years, but he’d never get used to the sight.

Especially when it was his friend who was so hurt.

-----

Jordan woke with the sun, early dawn light peeking through the curtains. The sunbeam was at just the perfect angle to blind him.

He blinked blearily and pushed himself up in the chair he’d fallen asleep in, wincing. He remembered it being close to dawn, the horizon lightening, when he’d sat down—he couldn’t have been out for long.

He turned to PJ to see Greene standing turned away, mask raised and hand probably resting somewhere on their face.

“Is he-”

“Oh, no, he’s okay.” Greene said, pulling their mask down before turning around. “His fever finally broke. I just needed fresh air.”

Jordan breathed a sigh of relief. “...How do you breathe in those things, anyway? It can’t be through the eyeholes, you’ve all got glass there.” If he kept talking, that’d prove this not a dream.

Greene laughed softly. “I’m not giving away trade secrets.” They nodded at PJ. “He’s finally actually sleeping.”

Jordan turned his own gaze to PJ, taking in the changes. PJ was obviously breathing, which was a relief, and his frame carried with it a sort of laxness that it hadn’t had all night. He still seemed incredibly unwell—he was limp, not relaxed; and his breathing seemed to flutter with exhaustion and weakness—but he was alive.

“Oh, good.”

He was good at finding the right words for things.

Greene sighed, a serious one and not one of relief. “I will warn you now—he survived this, but he’s likely to be weak for quite some time. It would be best for him, and your Family, if he gets lots of rest and avoids stress and exposure to illness.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be our enemy?” Jordan asked suspiciously, his sluggish mind devoid of any filters. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I’m a doctor first and foremost,” Greene deadpanned. “If I’d wanted him dead, I’d have let the infection take him.” They groaned softly, stretching slightly. “In any case, he’s likely to get sick very easily until he’s fully recovered, and getting sick will delay his recovery. Do try to keep him from attending all those fancy ‘informal’ summer parties all eggs go to, would you?”

“I don’t know if I can. I’ll try.” They were part of maintaining connections, after all, and a large reason PJ had been able to pull off so many stunts in the Family without raising suspicion.

“Then, please, make sure he gets plenty of rest and takes care of himself. It would be all too easy for something mild to kill him right now.”

Jordan folded his arms. “Like I said, I’ll try.” Not that he’d ever been able to stop PJ before.

“Thank you.” Greene sighed, rubbing the back of their neck. “Well, I’m going to go rest. I recommend you do the same. I’ll send someone to watch your godfather, just in case, but neither of us should be doing it. We both need sleep.”

Jordan nodded, gaze once again wandering to PJ’s peacefully sleeping form. “How long before he recovers?”

“Ideally? No longer than a month, maybe two. Considering his responsibilities and the stress that accompanies them, I suspect it may take longer than that. Definitely longer if he gets sick.” They headed towards the door. “I’ll make sure to send him with written instructions and a doctor’s note in case he needs one to get out of things.”

Jordan snorted softly. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Greene paused and glanced back. “He’ll still need to sleep for a while. He isn’t waking soon.”

“That’s alright,” Jordan said, settling back in the chair. “I’ll stay with him until someone else comes in.”

Chapter Text

Sam clutched at Betty’s hand from the back seat of the car, giving Rhett a fearful look. “Where are we going?” they asked, not for the first time.

“We’re going to see someone,” Rhett answered, also not for the first time. “An old friend.”

Billy and Betty, on either side of Sam, exchanged a look over their head. It was clear they weren’t really trusting of what was going on. Granted, considering Rhett had woken them in the middle of the night and herded them out to his car (where he was now debating if Chica sitting in the front seat would make his own dog jealous), that wasn’t surprising. They were old enough to realize things weren’t always as they seemed.

“But...” Sam hesitated, pulling in tighter to Betty. “It’s night.”

“Sam,” Rhett said as gently as he could manage. “Sam, it’ll be okay. I’m not sending you away. I won’t leave you alone. I’m not letting anything happen to you. We’re just going to see an old friend of mine, and then we’ll be going home. Okay?”

Sam frowned, but seemed to relax at that, so Rhett returned his gaze more to driving.

“Rhett?” Sam asked softly.

Rhett held back a sigh. “Yes, Sam?”

“Is this going to make you smile again?”

Rhett frowned slightly. How long had it been since he smiled last? He knew the answer to that without even thinking about it. February.

A few hours before Link had been murdered.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, “but this isn’t really about me. It’s supposed to make you all smile.” Goodness knew none of the three spuds had really smiled since Wiishu left.

The silence following that was deafening.

They parked a block away from their destination, and Sam clung to Rhett’s hand as they walked the dark and quiet street, past the small corner park and through the shadows of the looming downtown buildings. Rhett checked behind him often for the two older spuds, and even Chica seemed wary.

Entering an old stately building didn’t really help appease any nerves.

Rhett quietly murmured the apartment number as they climbed the stairs to the right floor. The stairs didn’t creak, and only Betty noticed that they were far too solid to only be made of wood. The halls were well-kept, almost eerily so when one considered the age of the building.

They came to a stop in front of a door, and Rhett knocked softly.

Chica sniffed at the door, tail slowly beginning to wag.

The door opened.

Sam pulled away from Rhett, eye fixed on the figure in front of them. Billy and Betty stared in silence, as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

“Come in, quietly,” Jack said, stepping to the side. “Don’t wake any of the neighbors.”

The three children walked in without question, eyes fixed wordlessly on Jack with a look of confusion and wonder on their faces.

Jack closed the door quietly and turned to them. “I won’t keep you up long. I know you need to sleep.” He hesitated, gaze flicking between the three children. “I missed you.”

Sam burst into tears and launched themself at Jack, wrapping him in a tight hug.

“Jack!” they cried, face buried into his chest. “Jack!”

“Jack!” Billy and Betty echoed, stepping forward to join in the hug.

Jack wrapped his arms around all of them, holding them tight. “Oh, I missed you all so much.”

It took a moment, with the spuds scrambling to arrange themselves, but eventually, everyone was sitting in the living room: Sam on Jack’s lap, Betty on his right and Billy his left. Chica, tail still wagging enthusiastically, made herself comfortable at Jack’s feet. Rhett leaned up against the wall.

“Why aren’t you dead?” Billy asked. “They said you got shot in the face.”

“I did,” Jack said. “It really hurt. I don’t recommend it.”

Sam reached up and touched Jack’s facial prosthetic. “What’s this?” Their voice was quiet, and sounded rather like they were holding back tears.

“I didn’t want to scare you right away,” Jack said by way of explanation, releasing his hold on Sam to slide the prosthetic off his face. “A lot of people don’t like my scar.”

Sam gasped softly, gaze fixed on Jack. They paused, fingers outstretched, until Jack nodded. Then their small hand and fingers were brushing against his scar.

“Where’s your eye?” Betty asked.

“I survived getting shot. My eye didn’t.”

“Is that why you were gone so long?” Billy asked. “You had to heal and get better?”

Jack nodded.

“We match,” Sam murmured, touching the cheek under their own bad eye with their other hand. “We match.”

Jack grinned down at them. “We do.”

“Why didn’t you say anything earlier?” Betty demanded. “You couldn’t send a letter?”

Jack shook his head. “I wasn’t allowed.” He sighed. “Legally, I’m dead.” He rubbed the back of his head. “Well, Seán McLoughlin is dead.” He swallowed. “I renamed myself while I was away. I’m not Seán anymore. I’m JJ Brody.”

“JJ?” Sam asked. “Why JJ?”

“Well, it stands for Jameson Jackson. That way I could keep the nickname Jack.”

More questions came. Jack even answered some of them. Yes, of course he’d missed them all, very much. Of course they could come to see him again. No, he couldn’t tell them who he was working for. No, he wasn’t going to be coming back to the mob (this was met with groans of dismay) and he needed them to keep it a secret that he was alive. Yes, he could still shoot really well; his employer had made sure of that.

Sam, already sitting on Jack’s lap, tugged on Jack’s arm.

“What about Mark?”

Chica looked up at Mark’s name, ears drooping and tail still. She whined softly, putting her head on her paws.

Jack looked down, expression somber. “I’m not going to leave him, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“We don’t know where he is, though,” Sam said. “How are you going to find that out?”

Jack made a face. “I don’t know. I’ll figure it out, though.” His eye narrowed, and he looked down at Chica. “Hey, girl- you want to come with me to look for Mark?”

Chica lifted her head, tail wagging slightly.

The children, despite their obvious excitement at seeing Jack, were obviously tired, so Jack handed them back over to Rhett. A silent thank-you passed between them as they were ushered out. The children were too tired to notice the other resident of the apartments in the hallway, who stepped out of their path without a word.

Gar walked up to Jack, who was still staring after the spuds.

“Were those the kids you were always talking about?” he asked, sounding far too tired to be up.

Jack nodded, eye flicking over to him. “Yeah. I... had to let them know I was okay.”

Gar nodded. “Of course.” He stretched. “Well, I need to go flop.” He stifled a yawn and added, “Good night, JJ.”

“Good night, Gar.” He turned his gaze back to where the spuds had gone as the detective moved on to his own apartment. “Good night, kids.”

Chapter Text

Luna was crying.

It was quiet, for now.  Mark didn’t think the people in the store above would be able to hear her over the ambient noise, but if her crying escalated they would have a problem.

Rather, their current problem would get worse. Luna was terrified of Mark. She’d yet to look him in the face once without immediately beginning to scream. He knew it wasn’t her fault—he was no doubt the most heavily scarred person she’d ever seen. With the scars covering so much of his exposed skin, he must barely look human to her.

Unfortunately, that left Sophie to care for Luna, and Sophie was currently so exhausted that all she could do was hold Luna to her chest and murmur comfort.

Mark shifted uncomfortably on the bed, staring helplessly.

He couldn’t pick up Luna. He couldn’t help. She would start screaming if he tried to pick her up; he wouldn’t be able to walk over there without his crutches anyway. He’d need his arms free to carry a child. There was nothing he could do.

But he wanted to help. Sophie needed the help. She was too exhausted to properly comfort Luna, and Luna needed comfort. So what was he supposed to do?

Mark stared at Luna—she was clinging tightly to the front of Sophie’s dress—as an idea came to him.

Would it work? It wouldn’t be anything Luna was used to. He couldn’t speak Italian, much less sing it, but... maybe it would work?

He had to try.

He began to hum softly, pausing frequently to allow the building ache to fade.

He was going to push through this for Luna. Carefully, of course, because he didn’t want to completely wreck his voice, but he was determined to help the small one.

When he felt he was decently warmed up, he began to sing quietly. They wouldn’t be able to hear him upstairs. He wasn’t even entirely sure he could be heard from across the room.

Sophie stopped her murmuring though, and Luna stilled. He hoped that meant they could hear him.

Mark sang for as long as he could. Mark sang lullaby after lullaby, even as his voice began to crack softly with the strain of constant unusual use.

There was something unfathomably sad about that. He’d always been able to sing perfectly fine before the fire. He’d been more than fine, actually; he’d been fantastic. He’d never boasted his ability, but he’d always loved singing for those who needed a cheering up. Belting something out in the back room of the Tiny Box during peak hours had been his favorite time, since it had always boosted the morale of anyone on shift.

But that didn’t matter now, did it. The Tiny Box was gone. Mark could barely sing now. He would likely never play the trumpet again, between the damage to his lungs and how useless and imprecise his hands were now.

No. He wasn’t going to think on that. He was going to sing Luna to sleep—she’d already fallen quiet and still—and then he was going to go to sleep himself. Then he would stay strong, each and every single day, until Sophie got the chance to run with Luna.

And, well, if that ended with him dying to Mir’s fury, he supposed he could live with that.

Mark’s voice cracked painfully, and he abruptly stopped, the lyrics of the last lullaby hanging in the air. He rubbed at his throat, gaze drifting down to Luna. He froze when he realized she was staring right at him, eyes wide. She didn’t reach out to him at all, but neither did she start crying again. Her hands were still gripping Sophie’s dress, but not so tightly as before.

Mark gave her an uneasy smile.

She turned her head away, blocking him from view.

But she didn’t start crying.

Mark slowly shifted to a comfortable sleeping position, placing his glasses on the bedside table, and let his eyes drift to the ceiling above.

♣♥♠♦

Jack pushed his way into the bakery, glancing around as he did so and signalling for Chica to stay at his heels. A customer looking at cakes in a display case glanced up at him then immediately stepped back in surprise, eyes fastened to the thin mask prosthetic that was obviously covering up some scars. In the artificial light of the store, the smooth texture stood out against his face. It wasn’t poorly made, Jack knew. It was certainly better—far more realistic—than the kind of mask portrayed in that play going on, because it was actually designed to look like his face instead of a featureless white mask. Much smaller than that mask, too, since he only needed it to cover part of his face. It was actually small enough to mount on a pair of non-functional glasses to hold on his face. It wasn’t seamless up close, but from a decent distance it was convincing enough.

Well, except that he’d opted to paint the fake eye on that side a bright green instead of blue. However, that wasn’t something people tended to notice until they got close enough to pick out details.

A customer at the counter stepped away, and Jack made a show of stepping to the side and eyeing some cookies like he was considering buying them. He made a warning sound as Chica moved her nose a little too close to the display glass, and she settled back, her tail wagging.

Finally, the fellow looking at the cakes left after deciding to put in an order, rather than buying a premade cake. That left Jack and Baker alone in the shop.

Baker quickly stepped out from behind the counter, turning the lock and putting up a sign in the front door that said “Be back in fifteen minutes.” Serritipulously, he gestured for Jack to follow him into the back area, where he pulled the curtain over the doorway shut. Chica, now freed from Jack’s side, immediately went to the door at the back and began sniffing around.

“Okay,” Baker said, “we should be good to talk now.”

Jack pulled off the glasses, sliding the face prosthetic off with it. He couldn’t deny it was useful for blending in, useful for becoming JJ Brody, but it was also a relief to walk around as himself.

“Does that hurt?” Baker asked curiously. “Over your scars like that. Is it painful?”

Jack shook his head. “No, but it’s hardly comfortable.”

Baker made a sympathetic sound.

Jack tucked the prosthetic into his suit pocket. “Okay. I’ll cut to the chase.” He patted his pocket to make sure the glasses had fallen in nicely. “Do you have any idea what kind of people come here after you close?”

Baker shook his head. “No, man, I don’t. It’s not really something I can risk sticking around to find out, not without risking my own assignment.” He made a face. “And it sucks, but it’s really all I can do. I have to stick to my assignment. They need me here to keep an eye on her.”

Jack grimaced. “Is there any way you can... I don’t know. At the very least, figure out if it’s safe for me to investigate?”

Baker shrugged. “I dunno. I’m supposed to leave right after closing, but...” He hesitated. “It would take a few days to set up, at a minimum, and I can’t promise we’ll end up with anything.” He sighed, scratching the back of his head. “Cameras do have those timer buttons. It’d be tricky, but I think I can set one up in the shared landing to the basement halves when I go in to take inventory of stuff later this week. I can’t promise the camera will get anything useful—or anything at all, since there wouldn’t be any light flash.” He made a face. “It’s our best chance.”

“I’ll take it,” Jack said. He glanced over at Chica, still sniffing at the back door. “Is that the door to the basement landing?”

Baker nodded.

“Chica-” Jack said, walking over and picking up her leash again, “what’s got you so interested over here?”

Chica whined softly, pawing softly on the door.

“Do you want to go to the landing?” Baker asked. “I can’t let you in the other side, but I do have the key to this door.”

Jack nodded. “Please.”

♣♥♠♦

Mark started from sleep, chest heaving. It had been forever since he’d had a nightmare about Jack. He’d been talking to someone, voice undeniably that of the headstrong Irishman, but Mark hadn’t been able to understand a word.

But it was just a dream. Jack was dead. PJ had seen to that.

He could have sworn that he could still hear Jack’s voice drifting down faintly from the room above. He couldn’t quite make it out, which was probably for the best. Whatever it was that was leading him to hallucinate the voice of a long-dead friend was probably best not listened to.

Jack’s voice faded off, and Mark stared at the ceiling, heart hurting more than his body. He’d thought he was over Jack’s death, thought he’d come to terms with it, but... whatever that hallucination had been had brought everything crashing down on him all over again.

He swallowed and turned over to face the wall. It was probably best not to mention this to Sophie. She already worried over him enough. He couldn’t imagine how she’d react learning that his mind was slipping away enough for hallucinations like that.

♣♥♠♦

The basement landing was a tiny area, barely large enough to fit the staircase up to the main floor of the bakery. There was one door that led outside, and another that led to the staircase down to the actual basement.

Chica immediately shot over to the far door, pawing at it.

“I can’t open that one,” Baker said.

Jack dropped his hand to his pocket. “You’d better go back up to the bakery and reopen it.” He glanced at the door that led to the back alley. “You have access to that one?”

Baker nodded. “It’s how I bring in supply deliveries.”

Jack nodded. “Mind unlocking it on your way back in?”

Baker tipped his head, walking over to the alley door. “If you’re caught, I had nothing to do with it.”

Jack tipped his hat. “‘Course.”

Jack waited until Baker was gone, then turned his attention to picking the lock in front of him. It was fairly simple, so it hardly took any time for it to unlock with a click and swing open, revealing a set of stairs descending into the darkness.

Clearly, if it was this dark, nobody was home. He found a chain hanging down next to the doorway and tugged on it, illuminating the staircase.

As soon as the lights flicked on, Chica bounded down the staircase with Jack following behind so quickly he was almost worried he’d fall down the stairs and break something.

He had enough light at the bottom from the staircase that he was able to find the switches on the wall for the overhead lights. Section by section the speakeasy was revealed. And this was definitely a speakeasy. Jack had seen enough in his time, and one in particular, to know what they looked like.

This one was nowhere near as classy as Freddy’s had been, and a sneer rose to Jack’s face as he looked around. Whoever had made this had done so knowing that there had been a speakeasy here before; that they were treading on something that so many people had loved.

He would like to clock them, whoever they were.

As he looked around, a more uneasy feeling settled over him. The fire that had burned down Freddy’s, that had so badly hurt Mark—it had started in the basement. For all he knew, he was standing in the exact spot as Mark had when making that fateful decision. Just thinking about that was sending chills down his spine.

Chica sniffed around the room, lingering behind the bar on one edge, before darting over to a wall and pawing at it.

“Chica!” Jack hissed. “Stop.”

Mark sat up, blinking. He couldn’t have imagined it this time. That voice had definitely been Jack’s—and he had definitely spoken Chica’s name. And that scrabble on the door was definitely familiar.

His breath caught. How…?

It was impossible. Jack was dead.

Right?

Mark shifted to the edge of his bed, staring at the door. Should he grab his crutches and investigate? It was locked, he couldn’t open it from the inside. But he could knock. If it really was Jack, then...

Chica barked.

“Chica, no!” Jack darted forward and grabbed her, only to freeze.

There was a lock in the wall.

He leaned forward, slowly peering into it. He couldn’t see much, but it was clear by the suit jacket thrown across the back of a chair that someone lived there.

Wait.

Someone lived there?

Jack blinked, then did his best to look around. He couldn’t see any signs of people, or hear anyone. Maybe it was just a closet with spare uniforms for the speakeasy?

Well, in that case, it wouldn’t hurt anyone if he took a look.

Jack pulled out his lockpicks again and started working on the lock.

Mark stared at the door, the unmistakable sound of something jiggling in the lock. That bark; that voice. That was Jack and Chica, and Jack was about to get into the room.

“Seán,” he said, softly, hoarsely, painfully. His voice splintered and cracked, and he doubled over holding his throat. Had he not sung Luna to sleep, he was sure he would have been able to get Jack’s attention, but as it was...

“Jack,” he tried again, only to barely make a sound at all as his voice completely gave out.

Luna whimpered softly, and Mark looked over to see Sophie sitting up, cradling Luna close, staring at the door with wide eyes. Dumbstruck, she slowly mouthed, “Jack?” in a way that made it clear she was having a hard time even believing this was happening.

Chica barked again, this time with warning, and then growled—and then a hand was grabbing Jack by the collar and yanking him away from the door. A string of angry Russian came at him, and Jack rolled out of the way of a vicious kick.

Mark and Sophie both paled at the unmistakable string of Russian outside the door.

It was easy enough to dodge, and then tackle, the Russian. He couldn’t stop Chica from darting towards the stairs, still barking. Jack shoved the Russian back as hard as he could, sending him thudding into the wall, and took off after her. He’d have to wait to find out what was in that room, because he was going to end up dead very soon if he didn’t leave now.

At the sound of a body hitting brick, Luna began to cry, and Mark looked over in alarm.

Jack rounded the corner and took the few stairs without looking up, and slammed face first into somebody’s stomach, sending the both of them sprawling—Jack up the stairs and this other person down them.

He scrambled to his feet and darted to the top of the stairs, only to glance down and stop in his tracks.

“Robin?” he asked breathlessly.

Robin, halfway back up the stairs, froze.

Jack’s eye widened as the Russian came to the bottom of the stairs, and he darted off, grabbing Chica’s leash as soon as he could and running out into the alley with her.

What was Robin doing there?

And why had he heard a baby crying?

Chapter Text

Gar liked meetings slightly more than he liked sitting at a desk, and that was only because meetings got him out of paperwork. Otherwise, they were boring and dull and the most exciting thing that could happen was the slim chance of being singled out in front of everyone at the precinct for something that he only maybe did.

Granted, this was the first meeting he’d joined since he had returned. Perhaps things had changed now that Sharp was in charge.

It was a small meeting, at least. They tended to avoid the horribly dull topics of arrest counts and how they could improve this and that and the latest and greatest ideas from the bureaucratic higher-ups. Only those at the precinct building had been called in—no one out on patrol—and it had been implied as potentially optional.

But meetings were better than paperwork, so both Gar and MatPat opted to go.

It was ridiculous, the lengths he'd go to to avoid paperwork.

“I'll cut right to the chase,” Chief Sharp said, flipping through a notebook. “We, as a precinct, were assigned to find someone to go undercover in the Orchids. We need to know how they're functioning, and what they're planning.”

A small murmur ran throughout the room, and Gar playfully nudged MatPat, getting a flat look in return.

“It's an undercover job, which means whoever gets assigned to it is going to be off regular duty and will be getting risk pay—but if you're caught, we can't help you.”

That was pretty standard of undercover assignments. Gar was getting paid extra for being undercover in the Family. It did lead to a nice paycheck, at least.

“If nobody volunteers, someone will be chosen,” Chief Sharp continued. “So if you think you can do it, please let me know, and it'll make this whole process a lot easier.”

Gar leaned back in his chair. He was exempt, seeing as he was already undercover. And MatPat was exempt, too; he was needed to keep Gar’s cover both in the police and in the mafia intact.

Which did bring a worry to mind. Sooner or later, now that MatPat knew Gar was Faceless, he was going to end up finding Gar rifling through information he shouldn't have. MatPat probably wouldn't take very kindly to that.

Gar would be careful, of course; he always was. But there was a high chance that this would happen eventually, and he didn't know what MatPat would do. He wasn’t sure if MatPat knew what MatPat would do.

“Do you know who might be best suited, sir?” one of the newer officers asked. “You didn’t invite any of the female officers.”

Chief Sharp sighed. “They’re all out doing their jobs, and they’re very good at it. We can’t afford to lose them to something like this.” He shook his head. “If you’re in this room, either I’ve considered you, or you’re using this time as an excuse to get out of paperwork.” He looked over at Gar and MatPat and narrowed his eyes. “Detectives.”

A soft laugh rippled across the room.

MatPat shrugged languidly, slouching in his seat. “It’s working, isn’t it?”

“I never imagined you to be so impertinent.”

MatPat laughed once, the “Ha!” hanging delightfully in the air, matching his broad and definitely mischievous grin. “That’s a lie. You knew exactly what you were getting into with me.”

Chief Sharp chuckled softly, shaking his head. He turned back to the main group of officers. “Now that that’s out of the way, are there any more questions?”

A hand rose.

“Yes, Officer Gumm?”

“Are you asking someone to become a prostitute for this? Or are you suggesting whoever takes this somehow finds a more subtle role, like whoever cleans the brothels?”

“It’ll be up to whoever takes it, though if they can’t get information in a reasonable period of time as they are, they’ll be asked to shuffle themselves within the Orchids to better accomplish those goals.”

Entoan’s hand went up again.

“If we think of someone who’s not here, but who might be willing to do this, are we allowed to tell them? Or is this information not supposed to leave this room?”

“The more people who know about it, the more likely it is that Madame Foxglove will discover whoever takes this task.” Nate folded his arms. “While on that topic, I have something to add: I’m very aware that fully half the precinct knows where at least one Greenhouse is, and visits regularly. If you are one of these people, and you’re the reason our officer undercover is found out, then there is no place for you here. We work as a cohesive unit. Don’t antagonize each other. Don’t let personal arguments distract you from work. Don’t betray or belittle others.”

Nate narrowed his eyes. “This includes all officers, all detectives, all the doctors who treat us when we’re injured on the job, nurses, medical examiners, forensics, secretaries, morticians, judges, prison guards, archivists, and even the custodians who come in early enough that they’re here and done cleaning up our mess even before Detectives Patrick and Bluemoon arrive.”

MatPat gave a fake bow.

Entoan’s hand went up again, and Chief Sharp sighed. “Yes, Officer Gumm?”

“Can I do it?”

Chief Sharp blinked, then he dipped his head. “Let’s talk about this in my office.”

Ah, to have an office again. Gar glanced at MatPat. They’d lost theirs while Gar was gone—MatPat had been suspended, after all, and there were so few actual offices in the building that they were in high demand. Although, people were starting to demand that Gar and MatPat get an office of their own again. Apparently they were considerably noisier than anyone else on the floor.

As everyone dispersed, nobody really seemed surprised that Entoan had volunteered. Gar had to shake his head. That was definitely quite the reputation Entoan had gathered for himself. Hopefully it wouldn’t get his friend in trouble.

“Well,” MatPat sighed, “back to paperwork, I guess.”

Gar echoed the sign.

“It’s only temporary,” MatPat pointed out as they walked back to their desks. “Nate’s mentioned that once Phantom is done, he has a full-time assignment in mind for us.”

“Did he say what it was?” Gar asked, filing the information aside. That’d make it harder again to get information he needed for reports, but he would make do.

“Not yet, no.” MatPat rolled his eyes. “He said something about wanting to ‘work out the details’ first.”

“Isn’t that our job?”

MatPat spread his hands in a shrug.

Gar shook his head. He was certain that Chief Sharp knew what he was doing, but sometimes he wished the man was a bit more forthcoming.

“I know,” MatPat agreed. “I wish I knew more, but he’s refusing to even give me hints yet.” He dropped into his chair, leaning on his desk. “I just-” He cut himself off, looking to the side.

“You what?” Gar asked, sitting himself.

“I don’t want you to get hurt again.” MatPat ran his hand through his hair. “And I know it’s going to happen sooner or later, no matter how many precautions we take, because that’s the kind of job we have. I just...” His shoulders slumped. “I don’t think I can handle losing you again.”

Gar pursed his lips. “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about.”

Gar gestured for MatPat to continue, though he had a fair idea of where the conversation was headed.

“You were taken by… by Mir, and...” MatPat sighed. “There’s nothing I can do to protect you from him, not if he’s really determined, but I don’t want you to go through that again.” His shoulders slumped. “I don’t want to feel so helpless again.”

Gar dropped his head, staring at his desk. He wanted to tell MatPat the truth, where he’d really been all those months—he really did, but... here wasn’t the place. Now wasn’t the time. He wasn’t even sure it was a good idea to tell him, at all. He was sure MatPat wouldn’t take kindly to learning Gar had lied so drastically to him, and everyone, with his cover story, but...

He wanted to tell him.

Gar sighed, looking up to the windows at the front of the building. The sun shone through them mercilessly, as if the sky was incapable of letting it rain and cool the weather down.

“Matt,” he said simply, shoving his conundrum to the side, “it’ll be okay. He’s not going to get me.”

MatPat slumped forward, flopping his head onto his arms on his desk. “I really hope not.”

Gar sighed, standing. “You want another coke?”

MatPat lifted his head enough to smile at Gar. “Of course.”

Gar chuckled, shaking his head. “One of these days, we’ll run out of space to put all the bottles you go through.”

“I don’t drink that much,” MatPat countered, sitting up straight.

Gar gave MatPat’s desk a pointed look as he walked off, getting MatPat to look at the four bottles that hadn’t been there that morning. When he came back, though, there was only one.

Gar shook his head again. “Shoving them under your desk doesn’t mean you drank less.”

MatPat grinned winsomely. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gar. The evidence suggests I don’t drink nearly so much as you’re insinuating.”

Gar just tossed him a fresh bottle of coke. “Uh-huh. You definitely aren’t going to have another three of these once you head for the theatre tonight, right?”

MatPat just quirked an eyebrow and pried the cap off the bottle.

Gar turned his attention back to the paperwork at hand, chuckling softly.

Chapter Text

It was a quiet morning at the farmhouse, but the air still held a sense of urgency. People were standing about, waiting, prepared to leave. Jordan paused at the top of the stairs, glancing over at PJ before ducking his head into the bedroom beside the landing.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Jordan asked Wiggles.

Wiggles nodded, though it was clearly taking quite a bit of effort to keep his eyes open. “I’m surrounded by people who want me safe. I’ll be fine.”

Jordan glanced down the hall, where the Faceless were talking to PJ’s father. “What about the Faceless?”

“I think if they’d wanted me dead, they would have botched something during surgery.” Wiggles yawned, then switched to English. “Get him home safe, okay?”

Jordan sighed, but nodded. “Of course.” He glanced at the stairs again, where PJ was leaning against the wall, eyes closed. He looked ready to fall asleep. “And I’ll make sure he rests once he’s settled at the new place.”

Wiggles nodded, eyes drifting closed, and Jordan shook his head. “Get better, Wiggles. We need you alive.”

Wiggles didn’t respond, likely having already drifted off to sleep.

Jordan stepped away from the door frame and closed the door halfway, then walked over to PJ and the Faceless doctor who’d just joined him.

“We all ready to go?” Jordan asked.

PJ’s eyes flicked open to regard him exhaustedly, but he didn’t say anything.

“You should be, yes,” Dr. Greene said. “I’ve already given both of you instructions on how to proceed in the immediate future.” They nodded to PJ’s broken arm. “In another five weeks, that should be healed, though you may find the arm and hand weaker than you remember.”

PJ nodded.

“Other than that, if there are unexpected complications, you should be able to contact me through the regular channels.” Dr. Greene clasped their hands behind their back. “And I realize I’ve said this a lot, Liguori, but you have to spend a lot of time resting. Don’t push yourself too much. The last thing you need is to make yourself sick when your body is so weak.”

PJ nodded again, but Jordan was sure it was a lie. PJ was horrible at resting when he was supposed to.

Dr. Greene tilted their head. “Travel safe.” With that, they turned and walked down the hallway, joining Vanoss outside Wiggles’ door.

Jordan turned to PJ, offering a supportive arm to his friend. PJ reluctantly slung his good arm over Jordan’s shoulders, but leaned heavily on Jordan as the two of them made their way down the stairs.

Jordan left PJ in the living room to say goodbye to his father while Jordan went and quadruple-checked the car again, even lifting the hood to examine the engine. Just like the previous three times he’d checked, there was nothing out of place.

And then they were on their way home.

PJ fell asleep almost immediately in the front passenger seat, and Jordan was grateful for that. As soon as PJ was back, he was going to be stressing: about the Family, about Sophie and Mark, about Mir, about keeping his reputation untarnished and his name far from anything illegal (PJ had very carefully maintained his image of “kind, but overly enthusiastic about the quality of paper for business”). Jordan wouldn’t put it past him to be stressing about stressing.

And knowing PJ, that meant he wasn’t going to be getting as much sleep as he should.

Jordan glanced over, frowning. Even asleep, PJ looked poorly. It might have been the pallid tone to his skin, or the bandages peeking over his collar, or his arm in a cast and a sling, fingers peeking out from under his unbuttoned suit jacket. It might have been the scabbed over cuts and faded bruises mottling the side of his face where he’d slammed it into the creek bed. It might have been how PJ’s normally carefully slicked back hair was tumbling over his head in unrestrained loose curls—except for the entire side of his head, where it was shaved and the stitches were just recently taken out. The cuts were closed, but were still easily visible.

It was deeply unsettling to see that. Partially because he knew it meant needles, which always sent shudders down his spine; but partially because, no matter how long he’d known PJ, he’d always had a full head of hair.

It was worrying, too, because if Jordan could tell that PJ was a few nights of no sleep away from collapse—or worse—then everyone else would be able to tell, too. And many of the more experienced members of the Family remembered December clearly, and even December of 1921, when PJ had returned after the surgery on his arms. And he’d been in rough shape both times, but... he’d never actually seemed so close to death. There had always been that fire in him.

Now, he just seemed exhausted. Too exhausted to even argue with the orders the Faceless doctor had given him, too exhausted to notice Jordan was driving faster than he really should over the potholes, too exhausted to even keep his eyes open for twenty minutes.

Mir might not have killed PJ, but it certainly looked like he’d killed the fire in him.

Some part of him sincerely hoped that wasn’t the case. PJ was tough. He was the godfather, for crying out loud, and he wasn’t even 28. That was just... absurd. PJ had done that himself—a feat that had involved murdering old Cordato just to get there, to protect Jordan, to make sure he had the people he trusted the most with him when he took the role of godfather.

The thought of PJ having that inner fire put out, it was just...

He didn’t think the Family would survive if that was the case.

It took him some effort to not turn his mind towards the thought of where that’d leave him should the Family collapse. The last thing he needed to worry about right now was if it would be the best decision to leave the Family if PJ died.

No, no, PJ would make it. Jordan had to believe that.

He didn’t have any other choice.

♣♥♠♦

The neighborhood was quiet as Jordan pulled the car to a stop in front of the house. This was the new Family headquarters; at least for the time being, until PJ decided he’d really rather not run it out of a place he lived. That decision would likely take a bit, though, so this would certainly do the job in the meantime.

Despite PJ’s protests, Jordan insisted on walking next to PJ.

“I’ve seen the inside of the house before,” PJ murmured. “I bought it. It’s not going to wow me so much I fall over.”

Jordan shrugged, reaching for the door knob. “Yeah, but the mirror in the hall might make you do that.”

PJ chuckled softly. “I’m aware I look bad.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’m not sure how you keep making eye contact with this mess falling in my face.”

Jordan opened the door, holding it for PJ, who went in without complaint. “It helps that I know where your eyes are regardless.”

Was it his imagination, or did the corner of PJ’s mouth quirk up at that?

Rapid footsteps sounded from down the hall, and Jordan turned from closing the door to see Yami and Zombie standing there. Both of them seemed surprised at the condition PJ was in, despite Jordan having warned them earlier, but neither commented on it.

“Welcome back,” Zombie greeted. “It’s been quiet.”

PJ nodded. “That’s good.” He stepped forward to greet them. “Yami, how were your parents back in-” He paused as he stepped in view of the mirror in the hall, grimaced, and sighed. “How was the time away?”

Yami shrugged, even as Zombie studied PJ quietly. While the consigliere regaled PJ with stories of traveling back to Europe to visit his parents (apparently largely peaceful, except for something about an unidentifiable figure walking the halls of the ship for days on the way back, which sounded absolutely terrifying), Zombie tilted his head and pulled Jordan aside.

“Are we sure he’s alright?” Zombie asked softly, glancing at PJ. “I’ve never seen him looking this bad.” And considering how long Zombie had been in the Family and around PJ, that was saying something.

Jordan nodded. “The doctor cleared him. He seems fully aware of everything. He’s just exhausted and recovering, as far as I can tell.”

Zombie sighed. “He can’t run the Family like this.” He shook his head slightly. “Not when he’s such a target.”

“We can both talk to him, for all the good it’ll do.” Jordan spread his hands helplessly. “I don’t know what to tell you. Even like this, he was restless from boredom. At least here, we can keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t end up pushing himself too far, and he can feel productive.

Zombie sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I don’t like it.”

“I understand that.”

Zombie looked up. “Do you? If something happens to him, I...”

“You’ll be fighting to keep a divided Family under control.” Jordan nodded. “I really do understand. ” He stretched slightly, trying to ease some of the tension from driving. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t think it’ll come to that. He’s tough. He’ll pull through.” He glanced at PJ and Yami, still talking. “And if he doesn’t, Wiggles has no desire to take control. He’ll support you.”

A brief smile crossed Zombie’s face, and he nodded. “That is a great deal of consolation.” He sighed, looking over his shoulder. “I hope it doesn’t come to that, though.”

“As I said,” Jordan said, with more confidence than he actually felt, “he’ll pull through. He always has.”

Chapter Text

The sky rumbled softly, and distant lightning scattered across clouds. Rain streamed down the immaculately clean window panes, drumming heavily against the roof tiles. Despite all that, the summer night air was warm, and Jack didn’t feel the need to pull his overcoat tighter as he watched the scene in the room below. He was already soaked, after all, and not just from laying on the roof.

He was peering over the edge, in through the wide window panes and into that fancy room Felix had specifically for welcoming guests. He could see three figures standing there, their silhouettes distorted by the rainwater.

Cry’s form was gesturing, probably speaking to them, telling them what was about to happen, warning them...

Jack touched his cheek. Cry was warning them about his old wound. His fingers traced the now-familiar scar, the dips and bumps, the tough skin. Did it really warrant a warning? He wasn’t sure, but he’d rather they be prepared than not.

Cry moved to the window, tugging the curtains closed. That was his cue. Jack flipped himself off the roof with practiced ease, landing gently onto the nearby balcony. It only took a moment from there to slide over the railing and catch himself on the edge, then drop the remaining dozen or so feet to the ground.

From there, it was only a few steps to the door. He tipped his cap forward to obscure his face. While the clouds made the evening very dark, the light at Felix and Marzia’s home shone brightly.

He knocked.

A pause. Then the sound of footsteps, and the door opened. Cry’s familiar mask greeted him with its level stare. Cry didn’t say anything; he just stepped aside and held open the door, allowing Jack in. From there, it was a fluid whirlwind of motion: Cry took his coat and hat and gloves to the coat room; Jack straightened his sleeves and smoothed out his suit, running a hand over his hair to ensure it was still smooth after his acrobatics only a minute before; Cry patted him reassuringly on the shoulder then shoved him solidly in the right direction before Cry stepped forward and led the way.

“Cry,” Felix said in the room just ahead, “who was at the door? Was it the person you were expecting?

“It was.” Cry stepped into the room and to the side, exposing Jack to the warm lighting of the electric lights and candles on the mantle. Exposing him to the two people in the room.

Felix’s gaze flicked from Cry to Jack, and his eyebrows furrowed—then shot up as his eyes widened. His hands, cupping some sort of drink, lowered until Jack could hear the glass shakily clattering against the end table.

Marzia sat forward, hand reaching to grip Felix’s, eyes filled with wonder and shock.

“...Seán?” Felix whispered. “Seán, is that... how?”

Jack slowly stepped the rest of the way into the room, feeling Felix’s gaze take him in: the eye (or lack thereof), of course, with a question half-formed on his lips; the neatly tailored suit; even the way he stood.

“JJ Brody,” Jack said, clasping his hands behind his back with a polite dip of his head, “at your service.”

Felix blinked, confusion crossing his face.

“Though I don’t object to Seán, so long as it’s in private.” Jack let his hands swing free, dipping his head and closing his eye. “Seán McLoughlin is legally dead, after all, and a criminal to boot. It’s much safer being one Jameson Jackson Brody.”

Felix stood, automatically moving as if to shake Jack’s hand, but then sank back down, shaking slightly.

“Cry-” Marzia said, looking to Jack’s side where the Faceless still stood. “Cry, you told us, but...” Her gaze drifted back to Jack. “I thought you were mistaken.” Her hands twisted into her skirt. “Or ordered to lie.”

Jack tilted his head, opening his eye to look at her sadly. “No. I’m here. Would you rather I not be?”

Marzia immediately shook her head, and Felix sank further back in his seat, gesturing for Jack to find a chair. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes were bright, and filled with indescribable emotions as they followed Jack.

Jack sat hesitantly.

“Does- does anyone else know you’re back?” Marzia asked as Felix lifted a shaking hand up to capture a tear before it ran down his cheek. “Have you told the others?”

Jack shifted his position uneasily. “Cry and I, we were hoping to find everyone at the Tiny Box, but-” he made a face, looking down- “it’s not there anymore.” He sighed, then glanced back up and tried to catch Felix’s gaze. “Fe- What happened? Where’s... where’s Mark’s grave?

Felix buried his face in his hands, and the only sound became that of the rain pattering on the windows.

Finally, he moved his hands and leaned forward. “I think we should start from the beginning. Make sure everyone is on the same page.” He swallowed. “On Christmas Eve.” He sank back into his seat again. “What... happened with you?”

Jack closed his eye. “Ah. Liguori didn’t tell you he was the one who tried to kill me?”

“No, he did.”

That was, Jack supposed bitterly, to be expected. Liguori had never seemed the kind to brag about killing an enemy, about destroying someone you once considered a friend; but it was only fitting. Jack’s supposed death must have been a relief.

It was a pity the relief only applied to one of them.

“He told me privately. Quietly. And I held him as he cried.”

Jack’s eye snapped open, and his eyebrows scrunched in confusion.

“I was a bit worried, honestly,” Felix continued, “because he was barely back on his feet from his collapse, and I was afraid the distress would exhaust him enough to have it happen again.

Jack lifted his head, staring across the table at Felix with confusion. He fought down the flicker of guilt with his rising disbelief. This didn’t sound like the mafia godfather to him.

“Liguori... collapsed?”

Felix gave a single nod, lips pursed. “Molly and Sophie told me he collapsed almost as soon as he walked in the door.”

“...how did they know? I thought Liguori and Sophie broke up.

“Oh.” Felix sat up straight. “Sophie had Molly take her to see him.” His shoulders slumped. “Of course, that revealed Sophie to the Family, and Molly and I had to keep Sophie in hiding to try to keep her safe.” Guilt crossed his face. “Not that it helped, ultimately.”

Jack rocked back in his seat at the implication. He wouldn’t put it past the mafia. “Is she-”

“No. Not as far as we know.” Felix shook his head, expression tight. “Mir has her.”

Jack blinked. “But- How?”

“Mir’s men broke into the house where she was being kept safe.” Felix sighed, shoulders slumping, head hanging, looking every bit the part of a man who’d been carrying guilt for far too long. “Mary was guarding her, but she was in labor. One of PJ’s men was on his way to take over, but...” Felix’s face twisted. “He got there in time to watch her be dragged away, limp and bleeding.”

Cry gasped softly, and Jack stared helplessly. Sophie hadn’t deserved that. Nobody did.

“PJ called me about fifteen minutes later—he’d gotten there not too long after, but Mir’s men were long gone. I learned that later, though. That phone call mostly consisted of him telling me I needed repairs at the house and to call Ken about Mary being in labor, along with the angriest hang up I’ve ever heard.” Felix’s shoulders slumped more, if that was even possible.

Jack pursed his lips, but said nothing.


“In any case,” Felix said, shaking his head, “yes. PJ told me he shot you. He even admitted so to Wiishu, to her face.”

Jack couldn’t imagine that had gone well. Had Liguori been smug about it? Matter-of-fact? Aloof, even? Sophie must have pressed him to tell Wiishu, and not pretend otherwise like the liar he was. His jaw clenched.

“I don’t know what he was thinking when she slapped him for it. Or threw her drink on him when he apologized. Or threw the glass at him when he continued apologizing. But he looked... lost, I suppose, when she stormed off to cry privately. Lost and guilty.”

PJ Liguori, liar extraordinaire, feeling guilty? Jack snorted lightly, and loosened his fist.

As if.

“So, now that you know that,” Felix said, “Se- Jack- JJ, what happened? Why aren’t you dead?

So Jack told him. He told them about surviving initially, and being left for dead (“I have no doubt that Liguori thought I had died.”). How he’d been found by the Faceless and taken in, and that the past six, seven months had all been recovery.

Felix took a long drink from his glass, a troubled look on his face. Finally, he spoke.

“If I’d known- JJ, I would have done everything in my power to help you.”

Jack smiled, dipping his head. “I know. You always were a good friend, even if you’re not the best person.”

“I try.”

Felix went to say something else, but was interrupted by the bell at the main door. Cry quickly stepped out of the room with a murmured, “I’ll send them away,” and Felix set his drink down gently.

“So what’s the plan now?” Felix asked. “Have you talked to Molly or Wade yet?”

Jack shook his head. “I don’t know where to find them.”

“Most weekends she’s at her new speakeasy, keeping an eye on things. Meetings happen those nights, too.”

“She has another speakeasy?” Of course she would. Freddy’s had brought in so much money for her, she would have wanted to keep that going.

“More than one. I can take you some night. The one I go to is called Calypso.”

“You go?”

Felix nodded. “For the weekend meetings. Molly insists, just to make sure PJ’s men can do the bootlegging for it easily.”

Jack scowled. “Liguori’s gotten himself into all sorts of business, hasn’t he.”

Felix frowned slightly, and went to answer, but was interrupted by the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps—more than just one pair.

“Sorry Fe, I would have rung ahead, but-”

Jack froze at the familiar smooth voice, and stared at the arch to the room, where none other than PJ Liguori was standing, eyes fixed on Jack in clear horror and utter confusion.

He looked like death had chewed him up and spit him back out for tasting like the rotten pasta he was.

Silence reigned as the two took each other in. Jack’s eye flicked from the blatantly healing wounds on PJ’s head, to the bruises and shallow cuts on his face, to his broken plastered arm, to the exhaustion that seemed to be weighing his whole frame down.

PJ’s gaze fixed unwaveringly on Jack’s face; on his scar.

Jack tensed himself, a potent mix of fury and paranoia rising up in him. Liguori would try to finish the job then, here and now. In front of Felix and Marzia—in their own home. Except- no, no... Liguori’s eyes were too wide with shock; his breaths were too fast. He didn’t look ready to kill.

Liguori sagged against the doorframe, slowly beginning to laugh: a laugh a bit too wild and desperate for Liguori to actually be amused by the situation.

“Peej?” Felix asked, leaning forward in his seat, face alarmed.

Liguori ran a hand over his hair, still laughing, and declared all too simply as he sank to the floor, “I must still be fevered and hallucinating!” before rapidly muttering to himself in Italian and shakily gesturing as he did so.

“PJ?” A second man stepped forward, immediately recognizable as the traitor Maron. He crouched down next to Liguori. “PJ.”

“If I’m not, then the stress finally got to me and I’ve gone mad,” Liguori responded, his voice distinctly shaky with his laugh—or maybe he was on the verge of tears, Jack couldn’t tell. “I shot him, Jordan. I saw him die, and he’s here in front of me again, rightfully angry as ever.”

Jack blinked, sinking back into his seat as quickly as he’d shifted forward. His upper lip curled. What was this? Had- Had PJ- Had Liguori been hallucinating him? Seeing him in nightmares?

Whatever it was, it wasn’t right, seeing Liguori with tears welling up and distress on his face and looking so fragile. He almost looked like he had when Sophie had dumped him, when Jack had been so foolish as to take him to the movies-

No, no, it wasn’t right at all.

“Well, clearly he survived,” Jordan was saying, “because I see him too.”

Jack stood, his face clearing of emotion, and pushed his way past Jordan and Cry—brushing past Cry’s attempt to reach for him, to stop him. He stalked to the coat room, leaving Liguori behind.

“Jack-” Cry hissed, footsteps following, no matter how fast Jack walked. “Jack, stop.”

Jack swung his coat over his shoulders and yanked his gloves on, stalking towards the front door.

“Jack!”

Jack twisted the doorknob, only to have Cry dart in front of him and shove it closed. Jack didn’t say anything, merely glowered and firmly placed his hat on his head.

“Jack, you can’t run from him forever. You said you were going to figure this out. Have you?”

Jack reached around Cry, fingers latching onto the handle and pulling the door open forcefully.

“Jack-”

Jack dodged Cry, slipping outside.

“Seán.”

Jack froze, glancing back over his right shoulder.

“You know I’m right.”

Jack lowered the brim of his hat and closed his eye.

He walked away.

Chapter Text

Mark hated feeling helpless, even though he ought to be used to it by now. His whole existence revolved around being just on this side of uselessness; only useful enough to keep around as a crippled barkeep.

But right now, especially, he was feeling utterly powerless. Lying on his back on the cold floor with a heel of a shoe pressing into his throat would do that.

“Did you see the intruder?” Mir demanded.

Mark shook his head—as much as he was able to, with the sole of a fancy shoe on his throat. “Jus’ heard the lock jiggling.” The words came out strained, and he was left blinking spots away from his vision.

Mir muttered something in Russian, and the shoe left Mark’s throat. He immediately put a hand to his neck, turning his head to avoid antagonizing either Mir or any of the four other men in the room. He still made sure to listen to the proceedings.

“Was the door open when you arrived?” Mir growled at Robin, who was standing next to the door with his hands clasped behind his back. A goon stood next to him, trying to look intimidating next to Robin’s eerie cold calm.

“The shared door, yes, but that’s not unusual if Miss Pansino’s employees forget to lock it.” Robin’s voice was even, and gaze steady. “I wasn’t the one to open the door down to the bar, so I didn’t get the chance to check. The door to this room was closed and locked.”

Miss Pansino?

Ro?

It took all of Mark’s effort to keep himself from reacting, for fear of having his throat stepped on again.

Mir shot him a sour look. “And you got a good look at the intruder when he ran, and yet you didn’t follow?”

“He ran into me and sent me down the stairs. I was disoriented and in pain. By the time I got to the top door, he had left the alley and I didn’t know which way to follow. I’m sure you can understand.”

Mir scowled and snapped something in Russian, and Mark’s heart immediately dropped. He didn’t particularly care for the thought of Robin joining him on the floor after Mir’s bruisers had their way with him, or for the thought of watching Robin get beat up at all. Especially when Luna was trapped in a wooden crate just a few feet away, watching everything with wide, confused eyes.

Instead, the bruiser simply stepped back.

Robin just stood there, clearly waiting for instruction, eyes trailing Mir as he paced back and forth, spreading cigar smoke across the room.

“Catch this intruder,” Mir finally said, “and bring his body to me. Before he gets the chance to return and open our little door.”

Robin’s eyes seemed to harden at that, for just a second, and then he dipped his head. “Of course.”

Mark’s heart settled in his stomach.

Jack-

Robin-

Was Robin really going to hunt down Jack? Mark had just learned he was alive, and now... someone he’d thought was Jack’s friend was going to kill him.

As Mir and his men dispersed, leaving Robin standing alone in the room with them, Mark glared at him. He’d thought there were still bits of the Robin he used to know in this man, but he could see now that that wasn’t the case.

Robin walked over to Luna and picked her up out of the crate, setting her gently on the ground, before walking over to the door and pausing halfway.

“Do you really think so little of me?” he murmured softly, so softly Mark could barely hear him. And then the door was closed, and he was gone, leaving the question hanging in the air.

Mark blinked.

“Did... he just say he wasn’t going to hunt down Jack?” Sophie asked, walking over to Mark and offering him a hand.

Mark turned his confused gaze to her, but didn’t dare speak. As it was, his breaths were still rasping painfully in his throat.

She helped him to his feet, then to his bed, and set his crutches in their usual spot before sitting next to Luna and staring at the door.

“I think...” she trailed off for a moment. “I think Robin’s up to something.”

♣♥♠♦

Three days passed before Mark saw Robin again. When he did show up, he looked mildly pleased with himself. Mark was busy preparing the glasses for the night’s crowd—not that there would be much of one, given that it was a Thursday—so he didn’t bother moving aside. He was doing his job. If Mir, sitting at a table and conversing quietly with his right-hand men, didn’t tell him to move, he wasn’t going to move.

Robin stood to the side for several minutes before coming over and sitting on one of the barstools, patiently waiting for Mir to finish.

Mark glanced up, frowning at Robin’s smile. It was that eerily gentle smile again, and it was sending waves of unease through Mark. Did that mean he’d found Jack? Clearly, he hadn’t actually gotten ahold of him, or Mark would be looking at Jack’s body right now, but... if he’d hunted him down, and just needed to report that before bringing his body in, it...

Mark swallowed and turned his eyes back to the glasses he was polishing and lining up. If he had to see Jack’s body, he was sure the image would be seared into his mind forever. And Luna - he’d have to find a way to keep her from seeing Jack’s body. She was far too young to be exposed to that kind of thing, far too young to even understand what death was, too young to see a body.

Mark set the glass down with a shaking hand, jittering the base against the polished wood of the bar and earning an annoyed look from the guard across the room.

Mir, however, ignored it.

Mark took a deep breath and pulled himself onto the stool behind the bar, willing himself to stop shaking. He would get in trouble if he made too much unusual noise while manning the bar, and then who knew what his punishment would be. There was no guarantee he’d even be the one punished directly—Mir had figured out by now that Sophie and Luna were soft spots for Mark, and he would cheerfully hurt them to get at Mark, if that was what it took.

Finally, his hands steadied, and he pushed himself back off the stool and propped himself up against the bar to continue working. To his surprise, the tiny notepad he used to write down low supplies had two words on it, scribbled in unfamiliar handwriting:

“Trust me.”

Mark glanced up to see Robin watching him with an expression of practiced disinterest, but his eyes were unusually warm and bright, like they had been when Robin had still been a newsie. When he’d still been Robin and not Kostya.

Mark surreptitiously tore off the page, stuffing it in his pocket, and went back to polishing glasses. When he glanced up again, though, Robin was still watching him.

He nodded slightly. He doubted he had much of a choice but to trust Robin. He just hoped Jack would be able to outsmart Robin.

♣♥♠♦

Mark was cleaning up the last of the mess from the long night when the door to the speakeasy opened and footsteps came down the stairs—this time, dragging something heavy.

Mark paused and looked up, glancing at the clock. It was nearly 4 am. The speakeasy was closed now; nobody was supposed to be coming in. It was nearing the time when the first of the people at the bakery upstairs came in—Ro’s bakery, if what Robin had said earlier was to be believed.

He wasn’t sure he believed it, but... even if he did, chances were, she didn’t know about the speakeasy. She probably just rented the main floor. The speakeasy opened up at 10 pm, long after her bakery would be closed. There was no reason for her to know about it. There was no way she could be involved with such a thing; nor with such a man as Mir. She was a good person. Mark knew good people when he met them.

Mir, still sitting at one of the tables, once again in quiet conversation with one of his men, this time with a lit cigar, looked over at the entry to the room.

Robin walked in, a mildly annoyed look on his face and blood splattered across his jaw—and a body dragging behind him.

Mark’s heart jumped to his throat, then dropped to his stomach. He’d been hoping, but... the body shape seemed like Jack’s wiry form, and the hair was the same almost-gray brown like Jack’s.

The face. He had to be able to see the face. That was the one thing that was out of his sight. That was the one way he’d be able to know for sure whether or not Robin had killed—had murdered Jack. The only way he’d know whether Jack had survived PJ only to be betrayed by another he had once called friend.

Mir didn’t bother to stand; he merely gestured for Robin to dump the body in front of him.

Robin complied—an act that Mark couldn’t help but notice left a thin trail of blood across the floor, and his mouth twisted in a grimace. If this was Jack, he would be spending hours dragging himself across the floor to clean up his friend’s blood before he could grieve.

There was no solid proof it was Jack, though. Not yet. Mark hadn’t seen the face.

Robin kicked the body, rolling it onto its back, and the head lolled to the side, revealing a mottling of dark bruises across the face, a badly swollen jaw, and dried blood from the bullet hole in the forehead.

It...

Wasn’t Jack.

There wasn’t any scar on his forehead, and his hair had actual gray streaks in it, not just the feeling that they were about to appear.

Whoever this was, it wasn’t Jack.

Mir stood slowly and nudged the body with his shoe, speaking quickly and quietly in Russian.

Robin responded, seeming far too nonchalant about having just killed someone.

Mir snorted, smiled, and returned his cigar to his mouth before walking off, leaving Mark and Robin alone with the body.

Robin hooked his arms under the body, starting to drag it back to the stairs, but paused most of the way there and looked over at Mark. He waved the dead man’s hand with the barest hint of a smirk, then returned to his task.

Mark eased himself onto his crutches, biting back the groan of pain that rose unbidden, and worked his way to the door in the back. He was going to need an actual bucket of soap and water to take care of this.

It was slow going—first he had to get out the bucket from where Sophie put it away after mopping every morning, and then he had to go fill it up. He had no idea how he was going to move it once it was full of water. t was far too heavy to hold, and he didn’t exactly have the stability or strength to shove it with his foot.

No, he’d have to shove it with the tip of a crutch, probably. It would inevitably be sloppy, and he’d probably end up with more on the floor than in the bucket, but Sophie would get in trouble if the floor wasn’t clean.

He could, technically, wake Sophie to have her mop the floor again. He really didn’t want to do that, though. She’d already gone to bed, and so had Luna. If he woke Sophie, he risked waking Luna.

It wasn’t worth it.

It was a long process, filling the bucket, and it took far too long for Mark to shove it over to where the blood started. As he’d suspected, much of the water splashed out in the process—which meant he’d have to mop it up, or at least out into a thin layer so it could dry without leaving the floor sticky.

Mark sighed, turning to get the mop from the broom closet.

Okay. In order for him to mop, he had to actually put force behind the action, or he would just be smearing blood across the floor. That was no good, so force it was.

Mark glanced down at his crutches and frowned. His hands were occupied, and he needed them there to be able to stand. He needed an alternative.

Unbidden, a memory of Ethan when he first started at the Tiny Box rose to mind, before he was entrusted with the knowledge of Freddy’s. He’d been trying to juggle mopping and carrying stuff with one hand. It had disastrously resulted in him dropping a stack of plates, but for a good ten minutes, he’d managed to get a fair amount of the main floor mopped.

Ignoring the ache thinking of his old friend brought (Ethan thought he was dead, there was no rescue coming from him), Mark studied his hands and crutches and arms, then looked up at the mop in the closet.

If he leaned his weight on just one crutch—the left, probably—then he could tuck the end of the mop stick under his armpit and lean on it with his elbow to get the needed pressure.

Of course, this still had the huge possibility of him misjudging how his weight was balanced and him going tumbling to the floor and having to drag himself to the closest table to stand up. This was all assuming, of course, that his fall didn’t send the bucket tipping and cause such a racket that it woke Sophie regardless.

No. He was going to do this. Even if it took him several hours, he was going to do this.

He snagged the mop handle under his armpit and dragged it back over to the bucket, and began the precarious process of shifting his weight. Dunking it into the water was hard enough—then he had to use his knee as a pivot point to even get it out of the bucket and slop it down on the floor, which splashed water all over his pant legs.

And then, then began the painstaking process of mopping the six inch square area of floor he could from that position, then slowly shifting himself over to get the next six inches.

He glanced up and sighed at the smeared blood on the floor. This was going to take him all day.

He wasn’t going to get Sophie, though. Luna needed her sleep.

He kept working at it even when he heard the upstairs door open and footsteps come down the stairs. That just had to be Robin returning, or whoever the guard was going to be for the day. He still had to get this done before he could sleep.

And so when a hand reached over and grabbed the mop pole, he froze and looked up in confusion.

Robin pulled the mop from Mark’s tenuous grasp easily enough and walked over to the bucket, dunking it in.

Mark blinked in confusion. What was Robin doing?

Robin began mopping at the blood, then glanced over his shoulder. “Go to bed.”

Mark leaned heavily on his crutch, brow furrowed in concern. Robin didn’t say anything more, though; he merely continued mopping the blood, so Mark limped his way back to where he’d leaned his other crutch against the wall and slipped his arm back into its proper place.

He paused once more, in the doorway to the room where he’d be locked in for the day, and glanced over his shoulder.

Robin wasn’t watching. He had, however, already managed to mop almost half of what remained. Clearly, this was a five minute job for him, and not the eight hour job it would have been for Mark.

And yet, he’d never done something like that before. What was going on?

Robin glanced up and narrowed his eyes at Mark. “Bed.”

Confused, Mark obeyed.

What was Robin up to?

Chapter Text

The room was filled with laughter and cheer, friendly jokes and inside references, the occasional light clink of glasses together, and the faint smell of alcohol coming from somewhere— though MatPat had yet to find out where.

Not that people were likely to send any his way, given he was a detective. Or that he’d want to drink any, given the last time he’d even touched any was on that night he’d pleaded for help from PJ Liguori. He’d rather not start on that downward slide again.

Sanders was off somewhere in the party, speaking with friends and schmoozing sponsors and potential sponsors alike. His familiar laugh drifted from somewhere in the middle of the room, and MatPat smiled. He was glad his friend was enjoying himself.

He glanced around, sipping at his own drink: non-alcoholic sparkling water. (Mmm bubbles.) There were quite a few familiar faces in the crowd. All the actors and understudies, of course. The producers and directors and stage managers. The sponsors; people like Joey Graceffa and Felix Kjellberg. Potential sponsors, all eggs. And, of course, the man who owned the entire place.

Mr. Charles Mir.

MatPat took a deep breath, keeping his expression even. The last thing he wanted to do was attract attention, especially now. Things were going well for him: Gar was back, and he was in the process of arranging a time to visit Steph now that The Phantom of the Opera was over. He didn’t need Mir deciding to make his life hell, even if it meant he had to smile convincingly all night long.

He was, after all, an actor.

Mir had made a speech at the beginning of the party, of course, thanking people for coming, congratulating the actors on a show completed, thanking sponsors for their support, and reassuring everyone security was in the works to prevent “another tragedy” in future shows.

A chill had crawled down MatPat’s spine when Mir had said that, even though everyone else clapped and cheered. Maybe it was the light way he had said it. Maybe it was the way he seemed to fix his gaze on MatPat as he did so, as if suggesting such a tragedy should befall him.

It could have been a coincidence. Mir had to have looked somewhere when he said those words, so it was certainly possible that it had just happened to be MatPat.

But there had been something in Mir’s gaze. Something that had definitely suggested Mir wouldn’t be at all bothered if MatPat had been the one hanged that night over a month ago.

He’d known that already, to an extent. He was fully aware Mir didn’t like him, and he didn’t like Mir. He’d seen some of the things Mir had done—not much, but enough to know Mir was a very dangerous man, and that the evidence MatPat had collected years ago to put Mir away should have imprisoned him for a long, long time. But it hadn’t. Much of it had gone missing, or was oddly thrown away by the judge on duty (much to Fischbach’s frustration). It had taken every ounce of scrounging Fischbach and MatPat and Jason had had to figure out how to get Mir put away on intimidating a witness to even get him in jail.

MatPat paused, lowering his drink some as he remembered that night.

That look Mir had given him during his speech: he’d seen that look before. He and Jason had been packing up the last of their things, preparing to go home and take a well-deserved nap, as Mir was escorted out of the courtroom.

MatPat had glanced up, just barely glanced, only to see Mir’s gaze land on him for less than a second.

And that look—the one that said Mir wanted MatPat dead—it had been there, cold enough to freeze MatPat in place and make him fear for his life.

MatPat’s hand tightened on his glass. It was a very good thing he was out of the theatre after this. Mir might arrange an “accident” otherwise, and he would rather not die to his hand.

He looked over as someone approached him, an automatic smile on his face, only to have it freeze there as he realized who it was—and then slowly fade as he took in the figure of PJ Liguori.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” he said, deciding it was probably for the best to not comment on PJ’s broken arm or fading bruises. He’d heard the news about the car malfunction, after all.

“Nor I, you,” PJ said, tilting his head, “but life is full of surprises.”

MatPat nodded. “It is indeed.”

The two stood in silence for a moment before PJ sighed, closing his eyes. For a moment, he looked truly exhausted, and some part of MatPat’s heart went out to him. He couldn’t imagine going through what PJ had. It was honestly impressive that PJ was standing here in front of him.

He glanced over PJ’s shoulder, past where PJ’s bodyguard was standing at attention, to where Mir was speaking with Sanders, an all-too-charming smile on his face—then flicked his gaze back to PJ, only to find his mesmerizing eyes staring straight at him.

It took all of MatPat’s training and self-control to hold his ground and not hide from the weight of that look.

“Be careful in current company, Detective,” PJ murmured, hand moving to rest on his broken arm. “You never know what they might be capable of.”

MatPat blinked, only for PJ to turn and look over at Mir, then look back and tilt his head slightly, as if nodding towards his arm.

What was PJ saying? It wasn’t like-

MatPat’s eyes widened, and his eyes flicked to the newly-closed cuts PJ was sporting on his head, then to the broken arm.

Mir had tried to kill PJ?

Oh.

MatPat nodded, leaning against the wall. “I see what you mean.”

Why was PJ warning him about Mir? Did he know something MatPat didn’t? Should he be worried-

“What are you two doing over here, all by yourselves?”

MatPat looked over to see not only Felix come to a stop a socially acceptable distance away, but also Joey Graceffa, both trailed by bodyguards.

“Having a fun little gossip?” Joey asked, smiling charmingly. “What about?”

“Oh, nothing like that,” MatPat said, grinning with a cheerfulness he didn’t feel. “We’re a boring corner of the room, talking about the delightful bubbles in these drinks.”

Felix chuckled, smiling, though his eyes didn’t quite seem to believe MatPat. “Come on, Peej. We’ve talked about this. You can’t talk about the best qualities in bookkeeping paper with everyone you meet.”

“I wasn’t, for once,” PJ said. “As the detective said, we were discussing bubbles. Quite different.”

Felix shook his head.

“Detective,” Joey said before either Felix or PJ could speak again, “I’ve been told you played the Phantom on opening night?”

MatPat dipped his head. “That I did.”

“I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Joey said slowly, “but are you alright? I know it’s been over a month, but I don’t think almost falling to my death would be something I could forget.”

“I’m fine, but thank you for asking.” MatPat kept smiling, though he definitely didn’t feel happy. It was easier to smile and keep a mask of cheer up than it was to attract more attention, though; and there was something comforting about it—like when he’d worn Sanders’ masks during the performance that opening night. “It’s certainly not an experience I’d like to repeat.”

“Have you any idea who did it?”

MatPat shook his head. “I’m afraid the killer is still at large. They haven’t struck again, though, so you don’t need to worry about it.”

“Do you know why they did it?” Felix asked this time, face expressing mere curiosity, but his eyes much more piercing.

What was it with these eggs and their eyes?

“Unfortunately, that’s not something we can ask until we have them in custody, and it’s not something we can try to extrapolate when there’s a single incident.” MatPat raised his eyebrows, shaking his head. “Not that we want another incident.”

“Of course,” PJ murmured softly before taking a sip of his drink.

“Do you think they’ll strike again?” Joey asked, concern clear.

MatPat shrugged. “They haven’t yet, and it’s been a month and a half.”

“So no?”

“I don’t know, unfortunately, and we won’t know for a while.” MatPat shook his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to distract you from enjoying yourselves.”

Joey shook his head, smiling. “No, don’t be. A bit of reassurance goes a long way.” He sort of gestured around them, but didn’t notice the glance PJ sent to Felix and the raised eyebrow Felix sent back. “I like knowing that the marvelous people who work hard here are going to be safe. It’s a good way to spend money.”

“Oh, you’re a sponsor?” MatPat shifted position, and returned to his smiling facade.

“I am.” Joey smiled, arching an eyebrow. “I sponsor a lot of entertainment around the city—including several other theatres and the WBBN radio station.”

A genuine smile split MatPat’s face. “Really? I’m glad for that. I enjoy listening to them while I do paperwork. It takes the edge off the tedium.”

Joey laughed. “I’m glad.”

“Good evening,” Felix said, and something about the way he said it was so neutral that MatPat instinctively doubted he wanted the recipient of the greeting to actually have a good evening.

He turned to see Mir waiting close behind him.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” Mir greeted smoothly. “I just wanted to stop by and make sure you were all enjoying yourselves, and thank you for sponsoring this theatre.” His gaze landed on PJ. “Or considering sponsoring it, as the case may be.”

“It’s wonderful,” Joey said brightly. “I appreciate the bubbles.” He lifted his drink in acknowledgment.

Mir smiled, lifting his own in a sort of toast. “They do add something, don’t they.” He looked at Felix, then PJ. “I do sincerely appreciate the sponsorships. They allow me to focus on the workers, the people that matter the most in all our lives.” He tilted his head, smiling in a way that unsettled MatPat in a way he couldn’t describe, and it wasn’t even directed at him. “It wouldn’t do to just let them slip through my fingers, after all.”

If MatPat hadn’t been trained to keep an eye on people’s body language, he would have missed the way Felix’s hand tightened ever-so-slightly on his cane. As it was, he was left wondering what that meant.

“I heard about the car malfunction,” Mir said, turning to PJ. “It’s quite a shame that things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to.”

PJ took a sip, smiling slightly. “It is most definitely inconvenient when plans don’t work out, but that’s what makes it life.”

Mir’s smile seemed a bit too sharp at that. “Indeed.”

He turned to MatPat. “I heard your partner returned to town. A promising young man, rumor has it. Keep an eye on him. It wouldn’t do for either of you to get mixed up in the wrong crowd.”

And with that, Mir was gone, and MatPat was left staring into his drink.

Had... had Mir just threatened Gar?

And if he’d just threatened Gar, what had he meant by the other things he’d said?

Chapter Text

Stephanie paced around the small room she and Marie shared in one of Foxglove’s Greenhouses. Marie was out for the day, off to see Patrck as per the arrangement that had been worked out, and Steph was left here. Alone.

Waiting.

She looked at the clock: 8:55 in the morning. She glanced at the small circular window set high in the wall. Sunlight streamed through it, although the ivy on the outside was starting to crawl over the glass panes. She’d have to ask Molly to do something about that. That window was the source of a lot of their sunlight. They needed it clear.

She paced around the room again, glancing around as she did so. It was a large room, since it was the attic, but entirely half of it was filled with storage—mostly spare supplies for the Orchids, though Molly hadn’t told her exactly what that constituted.

The living space was clean and neat. The two small but comfortable beds were each pressed up against the wall under the window, since it offered the greatest headspace and tucked them out of sight from anyone looking in the window from a higher nearby building. Clothes were clean and folded and put away in the boxes under the beds. The beds were made. A small stack of books was carefully stacked on one of the storage boxes not visible from the stairs up to the attic—Steph had been reading one of them for the fifth time this month.

8:57 AM.

Steph forced herself to sit. He would be arriving any time now, but it would be a few more minutes before he was brought up to her. She’d wanted to be down in the main lobby, waiting for him, but that wasn’t allowed. She was the missing wife of a notable detective. She couldn’t be seen by anyone just walking past.

8:58 AM. The sound of a car door closing on the street below made her jump, and she hopped up onto the improvised table under the window, peering out to see if she could spot who it was. She was just slow enough that all she caught was a flash of movement approaching the Greenhouse, and there was no way she could have been able to make him out from here, but she could have sworn that hat had looked familiar.

She hopped off the crate serving as the table and forced herself to sit on her bed and be still. He was here. That had to have been him. But just in case it wasn’t, she was going to wait until she could see him to get too excited.

Her hands bunched into her skirt, and she frowned at the entrance to the attic room. Had he been taking care of himself? He’d promised he was, in his letters, but after how awful he’d looked when she’d gotten that glimpse of him months ago, she wasn’t entirely convinced.

She took a deep breath and smoothed her hands over her skirt, sitting up straight.

Waiting.

♣♥♠♦

“Keep your mouth shut and your eyes to the ground,” the unfamiliar man ordered, beginning to walk. “I’ll lead you to her, but client privacy is a big deal here.”

“Of course,” MatPat said, fixing his gaze at a point on the ground where he’d be able to see the man’s heels as they walked.

The man just turned and started walking, saying nothing more.

MatPat took in the beautiful rugs lining the floors, the way there were no scuff marks on the floors, the way everything seemed to gleam and shine with reflected and internal light alike. He hadn’t noticed it the last time he was here, but Greenhouses were definitely very ritzy. Orchids had certainly earned their namesake.

As they went up the stairs, he also noticed that the carpet rods were polished to the point that him bumping one with a shoe didn’t even really seem to make a scuff on it.

He did not want to know how much this cost to maintain.

The carpet was thick underfoot on this first set of stairs, and thicker still on the second. On the way up the third set, it was so thick as to feel like walking on grass—it was all the same carpet, so clearly most people didn’t come up to the third floor, much less where they were heading now. A fourth floor? The building hadn’t looked tall enough for that on the outside. An attic, maybe.

They were keeping Steph in an attic?

The man pushed the door open and let MatPat slip past. “I’ll be at the bottom of these stairs, so don’t get any ideas about kidnapping her back. I’d rather not hurt you.”

MatPat went to open his mouth to retort as he walked past, but was instead met with a breathless laugh.

“Ritz,” Stephanie’s voice, Steph’s voice, said chidingly, “don’t scare him.”

MatPat looked up and his heart soared.

There, slowly approaching him, was Steph. Steph. Her eyes were fixed on him, flicking over him, taking him in.

He looked alive, Steph noted with no small amount of relief. He really had been taking care of himself, then, not just lying to make her feel better about the whole situation. He didn’t look great , not like he had a year ago. He was still too angular for comfort. But he didn’t look like a living skeleton, and he’d improved enough to make his clothes look merely comfortably loose rather than several sizes too large.

“Steph,” he breathed, eyes brightening and smile widening. “Steph.”

Steph stepped forward and pulled him into a hug, holding him tight. “I’m here, Matthew. I’m here.”

His arms came up around her with no hesitation, and she buried her face in his shoulder. His chin came down on hers, and there they stayed for more than a few moments.

Finally, she pulled back, grabbing his shoulders. “I was so worried about you, Matthew. You got suspended, and then I saw you looking a few missed meals away from a grave.” She swallowed heavily. “I don’t know what I would have done if you’d died on me.”

MatPat swallowed back tears, hesitating. “I almost did,” he murmured. “I had given up on ever finding you, and there didn’t seem any point in living longer without you.”

Steph’s eyes widened, and her mouth fell into the slightest o, but she let him continue.

“I-” MatPat cut himself off, the tears already beginning to fall, “If Sanders hadn’t come for a visit, I...” He gripped her shoulders and dropped his forehead onto hers, his own shoulders starting to shake. “I was seconds away from suicide, Stephanie.”

“Oh, Matthew,” she pressed a hand to his cheek, her other hand gripping his shoulder even tighter. “Come here.”

She reached behind him and pushed the door shut, then took him by the hands and walked backwards, guiding him to her bed.

“Sit down.” She patted the spot next to her.

He drew in a great, shuddering breath and sank onto the sheets. His hands were cold and shaking in Steph’s tight grasp.

“I was going to do it,” he murmured, his eyes fastened on their hands. “I had my gun-” he rose a hand to his temple- “and I was going to…”

Stephanie grabbed that hand and drew it back down.

“But you didn’t, Matt. That’s what matters. You’re here, with me.”

“No, Stephanie, you don’t…” He looked up at her, his eyes bright with tears. “If Sanders… if he hadn’t-”

“You’re alive. So am I. And you won’t-” Stephanie swallowed hard. “You won’t try to… to take your own life again. Right?”

MatPat closed his eyes, a sob ripping out of him.

“Matthew, look at me.” Steph gripped his hands and raised them up. “Right? You have a future. We have a future.”

MatPat was crying now, heavy ugly sobs that wracked his body. Sobs that made it hard for him to talk.

“I wa-wanted this to be happy. To be a good day. Bu-but I couldn’t lie to you, Steph, I couldn’t. And you have n-no idea how badly I want to p-p-promise-” he choked on a sob, bowing his head as he gasped. “But I can’t. I can’t, because th-there’s some days— most days are okay, Steph, but some days I just think it’d be easier for everyone if I was just, if I was just gone.”

“Hey, hey.” Steph drew him close, holding his head against her chest and rubbing his back in slow, rhythmic circles. “Matthew. Shh, it’s okay. It wouldn’t be easier for anyone. You know that. So many people would miss you.” She blinked back tears, biting her lip.

“What matters,” he continued thickly, “is that I gave up on us, Steph. I gave up on you.”

“I’m here,” she replied, holding him tightly, “I’m right here.” She swallowed against the lump in her throat. Tears began to slide down her face.

“I’m right here,” she whispered.

MatPat drew in another gasping breath. His whole body was shaking.

“I just- Steph, I love you so much. I’m so sorry.” He raised himself up and cupped her cheek, wiping away a tear. “I’m, I’m so sorry,” he sobbed, his eyes searching hers—for forgiveness, perhaps; fearful of finding anything else.

She stared at him for a moment, her breathing shaky, then pulled him into a desperate, fierce hug.

“Don’t apologize,” she mumbled into his shoulder, “you don’t need to do that for me. Thank you so much for telling me. I love you so, so much, Matthew. It’s okay. We’re okay.” She squeezed her arms around him for a moment, then leaned back and kissed him.

They’d had better kisses. This one was a little wet, a little salty from the tears. But that was perfectly fine.

They sat there for a long moment, just holding each other and listening to their breaths. Then Steph let out a weak, watery laugh and withdrew her handkerchief from her pocket, wiping at her face before offering it to MatPat.

He stared at it, then cracked a smile.

“You want me to use that soggy old thing? No chance.” He dug into a pocket and took out his own, blinking back a fresh well of tears as he traced a thumb over the perfectly embroidered initials in the corner.

“You’re calling mine old? I didn’t know you still used that one.”

“You embroidered it.”

“I’ve embroidered all of your handkerchiefs, MatPat.”

“Yeah, but this one’s special.” He blew his nose into it, then folded it up and tucked it back in his pocket. Steph looked torn between frowning at him, and laughing. He pecked her on the cheek.

“So tell me, Stephanie, it’s been two hundred and sixty-two days. How have you been.” MatPat glanced over to his wife, raising an eyebrow.

She put a hand to her mouth, rapidly blinking against tears.

“That’s… a long time,” she whispered. “Oh… I stopped counting, you know. I remembered how overwhelming the numbers got when you were overseas during the war, I didn’t-” she cut herself short, and straightened up, smoothing down the skirt of her dress.

“I’ve been doing well,” she replied, “or as well as can be expected, I suppose. Molly has been very kind, although she certainly runs this place and everyone in it with that iron will of hers. I have tried to escape, you know.” Steph looked up at MatPat with a wry grin. “You can see how well I did.”

MatPat chuckled quietly.

“At least you tried. I can hardly fault you there.”

There was a beat of silence. Then, “Marie is away, today. Visiting Patrck.”

“... What? Wait. What do you m-” MatPat stopped himself mid-sentence. “...How long has Madame Foxglove had Marie?”

“Since Christmas,” she replied, gesturing to the bed across from them. “The two of us have been sharing this room.”

“But… why? And why hasn’t Patrck reported her missing? He never gave any indication.”

Stephanie shrugged.

“Marie only knows what Molly has told her. It’s for her safety.”

MatPat frowned. Maybe… maybe Patrck had been looking more worn down, more tired, like he hadn’t been sleeping well. Maybe he’d been looking thinner—but he could never tell with that man. Maybe he hadn’t seen the officer smile as much. But MatPat couldn’t say these things for certain. He’d been away from the precinct and dealing with his own losses.

“I’m okay, MatPat. I’m doing fine. And so is Marie, and I’m sure Patrck is having a wonderful time talking with her again.” Steph wrapped an arm around his shoulders and leaned up to peck him on the cheek.

MatPat blinked at her, then grinned.

“I’ve missed you doing that,” he said softly.

“I’m sure you have. Now tell me, how is my favorite boy doing?” She laughed at MatPat’s expression. “I meant Skip.”

“Oh.” MatPat chuckled, and pressed a hand to his heart. “You mean I’m not your favorite?”

Steph just grinned.

“He misses you. When he doesn’t sleep with me, I can always find him curled up where you used to sleep. But he’s doing well. He actually-” MatPat laughed at a memory- “he caught a mouse a few days ago, and I’m sure he’s still very proud of himself.”

“What a good kitty. Make sure to give him some good pets from me,” Steph said.

“Of course.” He squeezed her shoulder, smiling. He’d missed being able to just… hold her. He’d really missed it.

“You mentioned in your last letter,” Steph began, “that the new chief of the precinct is someone we both knew? Who is it?”

“You’ll never guess.” MatPat grinned at her playful glare. “Okay, fine, I’ll just tell you. It’s Nate. Nathan Sharp.”

Steph raised her eyebrows.

“Really? Well, imagine that. It’s been years since we last saw him.”

MaPat hummed his agreement.

“We all lost contact after the two of us were drafted,” he said. “And I guess we never thought to send a letter out when I got back home. Now he’s my boss.”

The two of them shared a chuckle.

“He’s different, now. Not in any obvious ways, but he has a… a drive. Something fueling him, something he didn’t have before. He’s quite formidable in his position.” MatPat rubbed the back of his neck. “It can be a little unnerving.”

“But he’s doing well?”

“Oh, yes. The job suits him quite well.”

“That’s good,” she said with a smile. “The two of us should have him over for dinner, when I get…”

“I don’t think either of us have any control over that,” MatPat said in a low voice. Then his eyes grew sharp. “It will happen, though. I know it will. You’ll come back home.”

“I know.” Her voice was far too quiet.

“Oh!” MatPat sat up, a wide grin splitting his face. “I’ve got some great news. I’m back on casework!”

“That’s wonderful, Matthew!” She smiled at him. “Finally free from paperwork, hmm?”

MatPat side-glanced at her.

“I’m never free from paperwork,” he replied sourly. “...And I’m still not sure what cases I’m on. I’ll find out on my next shift.”

“You’ll have to let me know on your next visit, then.”

“Next visit?”

Stephanie snorted.

“You can’t honestly think I’m not going to press Molly into making this a regular thing. Life is far too boring around here, and I need to see my husband.”

MatPat smiled at her, but there was something hesitant in his expression. Steph sighed, and turned her body so she was facing him entirely. She reached out and grabbed one of his hands.

“You still haven’t asked,” she said.

“Asked what?” MatPat licked his lips nervously. He knew where this was going, and while he really wanted to be sure… he also didn’t want to face the possibility.

“Matthew. We both know what you’ve been wondering. You’ve been skirting the topic in every letter. I know it’s something you wanted to discuss face-to-face; so… ask me.”

He looked down, at their clasped hands.

Steph sighed.

“I’ve been living in a Greenhouse for half a year, Matthew. But I haven’t, not once, taken a client. Molly- Madame Foxglove, she made it clear the very day I was brought here, that by no means would I have to provide those services while I lived here. Not to anyone.”

He released the breath he’d been holding, and raised her hand to his lips, meeting her gaze. When he dropped their hands back down, he spoke.

“You do understand why I wanted to know, right? And you do know that… even if you had, I’d still love you.”

Steph sniffled, and her eyes glistened with tears. She nodded and moved onto her knees, and kissed him.

“Of course I understand,” she breathed.

He kissed her again, his hands coming up to hold her. It was a long moment before she stepped away, off the bed, and held her hand out with a smile.

“There have been a few things I do here, to chase away the boredom,” she began, gripping his hand and drawing him along. “I embroider. I’ve done more knitting and crocheting in the last six months than I have in the last six years. I’ve read through this pile of books about five times through.” She patted the storage box that made a makeshift bookcase as they passed it by. “I’ve also made some good friends among the Orchids here-” she glanced at MatPat with a spark of mischief in her eyes- “and they’re always delighted to share their trade secrets.”

MatPat raised an eyebrow, and felt his face heat with a blush.

“You might have to share a few of those with me,” he found himself saying.

Stephanie laughed.

“Perhaps later,” she replied.

They weaved through the attic, around boxes and small crates. Steph stopped them at the back of the attic, where a ladder stretched up to a hatch in the ceiling.

“Molly’s also been so kind as to let the two of us to tend to something.” She gestured for MatPat to go up the ladder, and she followed behind him.

There was a simple latch, then the hatch swung open. MatPat found himself stepping out amongst a riot of green.

“It’s her roof garden,” Steph explained as she closed the hatch behind her. She stepped up beside him, looping an arm around his waist. “Marie and I tend to most of it. I’ve really come to love working with all these plants.”

“It’s beautiful up here,” he breathed, his arm coming up to rest on her shoulders.

Steph hummed and said, “The two of us like to come up here to watch the sun set. It can also be cooler in the shade here than in the attic, believe it or not.”

“Oh, I can believe that.” It was early in the morning still, but it was already noticeably cooler under the leaves.

They stood there for a while, surrounded by the greenery of dozens of different plants, looking out through the leaves at the city.

“How long did you say Marie would be away,” MatPat murmured.

Steph looked up at him, fighting a smile.

“She won’t be back until this evening,” she replied equally softly. “That’s hours away.”

“Good.” He took both her hands and backed over to the hatch. “You have a few more things to show me still.”

The hatch swung closed behind them, and the latch clicked into place.

Chapter Text

“Excuse me, sir, but if your friend doesn’t show up in another ten minutes, I’m going to have to give your table away.”

“Of course,” Gar said, keeping his voice even despite the growing pit of dread and anxiety wrapping itself around his stomach.

The waiter nodded and walked off.

Gar sighed, slumping in his seat, fixing his eyes on the windows next to the door and very deliberately not looking at the clock. Crumpler was running late. More than late. He’d been waiting for almost an hour, and Gar hadn’t wanted to get started without him, because the whole point of this was to hang out together.

Crumpler must have been running into a string of bad luck and delays on his way up to the restaurant. There wasn’t much that could keep him from simply amazing food and even better gelato. Nothing had gone wrong. It was just a long inconvenience. Crumpler would show up any moment now.

Gar glanced over at the window next to the table, desperately trying to distract himself with something, anything. There were dogs outside, but that just made him miss Dante. There were couples and friends and families walking and talking, probably enjoying the morning temperatures. Automobiles and horse-drawn carts trundled by on the sett-paved road. A breeze was rustling leaves on trees, and a little brown bird was hopping around the base of a low bush.

An indistinct figure rose up in the reflection of the glass, and Gar turned to greet Crumpler and to complain about his tardiness. Instead, he found an officer standing there.

“Detective Bluemoon?” the officer said, clasping his hands behind his back. “I’m sorry, but you’re being called in. Chief Sharp insisted it was important.”

Gar’s shoulders slumped, but he nodded. “I’ll head to the station. Do you know why I’m needed?”

“No, but Detective Patrick is being called in as well.”

It really was something important, then. Gar stood and pulled on his jacket, sighing and signalling the waiter over to leave a message for Crumpler, whenever he arrived. Of course this would happen on the only day he’d been able to get together with Crumpler for the next month or so. Of course.

At least MatPat would be there too. They could complain about it together.

♣♥♠♦

“Detective,” Chief Sharp’s voice said curiously, “have you seen Detective Patrick at all today?”

Gar shook his head, not bothering to rise from his desk chair. “No, sir. I was told he was called in as well.”

“He’s supposed to be, but nobody can find him.”

Gar blinked, leaning forward and almost rising to his feet. If MatPat was in trouble-

“I’ll have people continue looking for him and join you at the scene, I suppose.” Chief Sharp frowned. “In any case, consider this your official notice that you’re off desk work.”

Gar dipped his head, unable to contain the smile that spread across his face, drowning out his worry. “What’s the assignment, sir? It must be important if you called us in over it.”

“It’s very important, actually. You and MatPat are among the few I trust with this.” Chief Sharp crossed his arms. “You’ve heard of Faceless, I assume?”

Gar raised an eyebrow, heart dropping. “Rumors and a handy scapegoat, nothing more.”

“They’re very real, unfortunately. They’re also incredibly difficult to catch.” Chief Sharp held out a piece of paper. “We got a report that there’s someone tied up in an alley at this address, with a mask matching the descriptions in those rumors you mentioned. I want you to go check it out, and quickly. If they’re really Faceless, they’re likely working on escaping at this very moment.”

“And if they’re not?” Gar took the paper, but didn’t look at the address yet.

“Then it’s your job to find out why they were tied up in an alley with a mask. Be careful.”

♣♥♠♦

Gar’s fingers kept turning the folded address over in his pocket. The alley in question wasn’t in a particularly busy area of town, but there were enough people that he didn’t really believe Chief Sharp’s story. The people of Boston weren’t cruel. If they’d seen someone tied up, they would have freed them.

So what was the reasoning behind this? What was the source? Why was Chief Sharp suddenly going after Faceless, especially when he had been one before? Granted, he’d definitely left on bad terms, but that just meant he should have known how many precautions Faceless took and how hard it would be to even catch a glimpse of one, much less actually catch one.

Would he start looking in the police staff itself for moles? Would Gar be discovered? He certainly took a lot of precautions, but any Faceless did. And if this really was a Faceless tied up in an alley, who had put them there? Why was Chief Sharp so confident that they would still be there when Gar arrived? He would know better than the average person that Faceless were very good at getting themselves out of knots—it was part of basic training. As long as Gar could get one hand free, and if he had enough time, he could do it too, no matter the knot in question.

Gar’s mouth twisted into an unhappy scowl. He wished MatPat was here already so he could vent about all this, but he couldn’t. Apparently MatPat had dropped completely off the face of the earth. Gar had suggested that MatPat might still be asleep at his house, considering he’d been at a very late-night party the evening before, but that had apparently been the first place checked, and nobody had answered.

More importantly, MatPat’s car had been gone.

That did imply he’d left the house under his own power and was likely out visiting friends or family—which was a perfectly reasonable thing to do on a day off. Hopefully he was just out doing errands, though, and would be found somewhere around town and sent Gar’s way.

However this ended, he didn’t want to deal with it alone.

Gar took a deep breath, trying to clear his mind, and rounded the last corner to the alley to face this “Faceless” who’d been tied up.

Immediately, he froze, eyes flicking around the alley. Something wasn’t right here. He couldn’t hear any breathing, any shifting, or any sounds of fabric rubbing against rope. There were no signs of a Faceless trying to escape. Had they gotten out?

His gaze was caught by a bright wash of crimson. That was awfully fresh blood splattered and sprayed against the brick. The source, however, was hidden behind a stack of crates.

Gar swallowed, pressing forward—only to immediately reel backwards as the source of all that blood came into view.

Gar’s back slammed against the other wall of the alley and he took in deep, gasping breaths. He stared at the blood pooled around the slumped body, the rope tied in complex knots immobilizing the person from shoulders to feet, the bloodstains on the rope and the clothing and everywhere , the hand-shaped bruises around the neck of the body, the unnatural way one of the body’s shoulders seemed to hang out of place despite being tied up...

Attached to it all was Crumpler’s face, drying blood dribbling from his mouth, around the gag tied tightly there, eyes empty and glassy and bloodshot but still stretched wide as if in horror, and a single execution-style gunshot wound in the middle of his forehead.

Crumpler-

If Gar had known, if he could have helped-

Gar sank down the wall, trying desperately to choke down the tears. He’d just lost Piya. Now he’d lost Crumpler. Was anyone safe?

Gar’s head snapped up. MatPat. Chief Sharp had said nobody had been able to find him, was he okay?

Gar swallowed, doing his best to take deep, even breaths. He had to focus. He wasn’t going to do anyone any good by falling into that rabbit hole.

So he picked himself up and brushed himself off, then stumbled up to Crumpler’s body. The mask. He had to get Crumpler’s mask.

...It wasn’t there. The report had said it was visible, it wouldn’t be hidden—whoever had killed him must have taking it.

Gar swallowed and blinked back tears, then headed to the nearest police box. He needed to call this in. He wasn’t on homicide, and this was clearly what had happened.

♣♥♠♦

The detectives on homicide cases arrived shortly, followed by Chief Sharp. As homicide did their thing, Chief Sharp pulled Gar to the side.

“Where’s the mask that was reported?” he asked.

Gar shook his head. “I didn’t see one when I arrived, sir. I found the body as is.”

Chief Sharp sighed. “I see.” He looked down the alley. “I realize this is a homicide, but considering the report that sent you out here, I’m going to have you and Detective Patrick work on it as well—just so you can properly reference it later.”

Gar nodded once, burying his hands in his jacket pockets. “Has anyone found Detective Patrick yet, sir?”

Chief Sharp shook his head. “His car is still out. One of his neighbors will call when he returns. I don’t suppose you know his plans for the day?”

Gar shook his head mutely.

♣♥♠♦

Gar was looking over the report and notes homicide had handed over when the chair in the desk next to his creaked. He looked up to find MatPat staring at him, an unreadable expression on his face.

“You’re here late,” Gar said, looking back down at the file. “Where were you all day?”

“Visiting family.” MatPat leaned forward. “Nate updated me on our assignment and the case.” He nodded at the file. “Do we have a name?”

Gar hesitated, glancing around. Nobody else was in the station this late, at least besides Chief Sharp, finishing up some paperwork in his office. He slid the file across to MatPat.

“Not officially, no. No driver’s license or military-issued ID.”

MatPat looked up, then sat back in his seat. “Gar? You look like you’ve been crying.” He frowned. “And what do you mean, not officially?”

“I- He was one of my friends. We were supposed to be meeting for breakfast.”

MatPat reached over and placed a comforting hand on Gar’s arm. “I’m sorry. Are you sure you shouldn’t be at home? This case might not even be-”

Gar shook his head. “No, no. I have to do this,” he replied. “Both for him, and… for myself.” He met MatPat’s gaze. The other detective nodded after a moment.

MatPat looked down at the file. “Supposedly Faceless, but no mask found? And a few nearby store workers heard Russian just before the gunshot? ...But didn’t dare go out back to check. I suppose that’s the smart thing to do.” He looked up. “But why would the Russian mob kill an average person?”

Gar shook his head. “He- Nobody has ever accused them of being kind.” And if the mask had been there...

MatPat’s eyes narrowed, and he put the file in his desk drawer before standing. “You know what, you’ve been here too long today. Let’s go get a late supper, and talk. Some fresh air and good company will do you good.”

Gar stood mutely, shrugging his jacket on and grabbing his hat, and followed behind him. As he climbed into the front passenger seat of the car, though, he paused and looked over at MatPat.

MatPat glanced over with a raised eyebrow.

“How was your family?” Gar asked. “Did they ask after Steph?”

MatPat smiled. “About that—it was actually her I visited.”

Some part of Gar lifted at that, and he found it in himself to smile. “That’s amazing. How is she?”

“Frustrated at being trapped for her own safety, but talking to her was a miracle I couldn’t even begin to imagine.” MatPat sighed softly, and there was a lightness about him Gar hadn’t seen in a long time. “I miss her already.” He glanced over and frowned. “If I’d known, though, I’d have come in an instant. You shouldn’t have had to find his body alone.”

Gar slumped in the seat as the car started moving. “I don’t want to think about it. Tell me about Steph—are you going to go see her again? How often?” And then a decided smirk crossed his lips. “Are you sure you two are just talking?”

MatPat gasped softly. “Gar!” He shook his head. “Have you no sense of privacy?”

Gar just laughed.

Chapter Text

Phil hummed cheerfully, flipping through the agenda for the 8 am news. It all looked to be fairly routine, fortunately, although...

Phil sighed at the paper slipped in separately from the regular agenda: a note from Louise. It said the police were asking for anyone around a certain alley in North End at a certain time over the weekend to come to the Third Precinct in hopes of finding a lead for a murder.

If only the murders would stop.

Phil turned to Dan, clipboard in hand and mouth open to discuss this, only to pause when he realized Dan had stopped arranging records for the day and had his arm wrapped around ribs and his other hand gripping said arm.

Were his burn scars aching again?

“Dan?” he asked softly. “Did you need to go home?”

Dan shook his head, face twisted in a grimace. “It’s not too bad. I’ll be okay.”

“You sure?”

Dan hesitated, then nodded, moving his arms away from himself to continue organizing the records for the day. “I want to try, at least.” He sighed. “I’ve missed too many mornings recently.”

Phil frowned, but said nothing. He’d have thought after seven months, Dan’s scars would no longer be painful. He’d caught glimpses of some of them, when Dan slid his sleeves up to wash dishes at home, and they looked well-healed. He didn’t seem to be bothered by them nearly as much as he had, that was for certain.

“This was in the clipboard,” he said after a moment, sliding the note over. “Should we?”

Dan glanced at it and sighed, face twisting. “If it’ll help, I guess. Did they say if they’d ID’ed the body?”

“There’s no mention of it, no.”

Dan stretched slightly, grimacing again. “Might as well, then. The family deserves to know it’s a possibility.”

Phil nodded, setting the clipboard down on the table to pencil in the addition. “That’s taken the last spot in the noon section, then.”

“Alrighty.” Dan held up a record. “Is it too early in the year for something spooky?”

Phil shook his head, laughing. “It’s August, Dan. You have to at least wait until September. October would be better.”

“I’m not waiting a whole two months to play spooky music.” Dan slid the record back onto the shelf with a soft snort of disgust. “But fine. September first, that’s going to play.”

Phil laughed again.

Dan smiled softly. “Don’t get used to winning, Lester. It won’t happen often.” He glanced at the clock. “Let’s do the equipment check, or we’ll start late again. Don’t want to disappoint the listeners.”

Phil grinned, swiveling his chair to his section of the equipment. “Ready to go when you are.”

The equipment check went quickly, and as the clock ticked down to eight o’clock, the two poised, ready to go live.

And at eight exactly, Dan flipped the switch and Phil began to speak.

“Welcome to this morning on WBBN. We’re your hosts,” Phil grinned at Dan.

“Dan Howell,” Dan said, grinning back.

“-and Phil Lester. Now, today is Wednesday, August 6, 1924...”

Gar flicked his gaze to the radio as MatPat leaned over to his desk and fine-tuned the signal, lessening the static coming through, then returned his gaze to the file on his desk.

“...I do hope they’d remember the year, Phil,” Dan interrupted.

Gar sipped at his coffee, thumbing through the official autopsy report on Crumpler’s death. They still didn’t have his name on the file. Gar wasn’t going to come forward, else he risk being associated with a Faceless.

“...We’ve got a full roster of news for you lovely listeners this morning,” Phil continued as if Dan hadn’t spoken. “First of all, everyone’s favorite: you’ll be pleased to know it’s a lovely temperature today. Later today, Dan and I will try to cook an egg on the sidewalk outside the station, just to see if it’s really warm enough for that or if it just feels like it...”

Crumpler had been dying from a lot of things before he’d been shot in the head, apparently. A lot of broken bones, including a broken rib that had punctured a lung. He’d been beaten so badly he’d had internal bleeding. As Gar had suspected from the bruises on his neck, whoever had attacked Crumpler had also attempted to strangle him.

It was definitely the bullet to the head that had sealed his fate.

“...let’s start out with the lovely things this morning,” Dan suggested, “so listeners short on time can start their day with some cheer...”

Gar took another sip of his coffee, raising his eyebrows as he continued reading the report. No witnesses had stepped forward yet, but it was only a matter of time. There had been a major street just a block away—someone would have heard the gunshot that had killed Crumpler.

Maybe, just maybe, they’d have seen who did it.

“-tial replacements for Carpett have been sorted through,” Phil was saying, “and we should be getting someone filling his space in just another week or two...”

Oh, bother. Hopefully he wouldn’t take as much interest in the individual precincts as Carpett had. The last thing Gar needed was a state judge breathing down his neck as he tried to juggle his various regular and undercover responsibilities.

“...The Boston Theatre has ended its most recent play, The Phantom of the Opera, and will be beginning Much Ado About Nothing on the 22nd. In the meantime, you can go there during the evenings to see delightful moving pictures after seven in the evening...”

“As if we’ll even get a day off,” Gar grumbled softly, setting his coffee to the side to flip a page.

MatPat laughed softly.

“...one of the pictures they’re showing has local actress Sophie Newton in it,” Dan said. He paused. “Actually, can we talk about her for a minute? She was reported missing Christmas morning last year, when she didn’t show up for a family event. It’s been seven months, and the police have found nothing. Did they even look for her?”

Gar looked up at MatPat to see him shaking his head.

“...Rumor has it she ran off with a lover, since some of her clothes and personal items were missing.” MatPat rubbed his neck, stretching. “I’m sure someone looked into it, just as I’m sure the trail is long cold by now. It didn’t seem suspicious at the time.”

“Rough on the family.”

“Yeah.” MatPat slumped in his chair. “That kind of thing is.”

“-ere’s a lot of rumors about her, but I can’t even cover them all,” Dan said. “I can’t even keep up with them browsing the tabloids when we go to the store...”

Chief Sharp walked past their desks and rapped MatPat’s with a knuckle, saying as he passed, “Night shift got another anonymous tip and found a Faceless tied up in South Boston. They’re in custody. Why don’t you go see if you can get anything out of them?”

Gar flipped his folder closed and reached for his jacket, simultaneously downing the rest of his coffee. He definitely didn’t want to come back to it all cold at the end of the day.

“-J Liguori has been seen around Boston again, likely reassuring the hearts of many young ladies, though it’s clear he was indeed injured when his car malfunctioned. We’ve not spoken to him, so we don’t have information on what may have caused it, but the police are certain that’s all it was...”

“Don’t forget your lunch,” Molly spoke over the radio. She didn’t look up from her breakfast, shoulders slumped with weariness. It was far too early to be up after stopping in at Calypso the night before.

JP stuck his head in the room and grabbed the paper bag off the counter before ducking out again. “Thanks!”

“Don’t doddle after class,” Molly called. “I have things I need help with.”

But JP was gone, and didn’t respond.

She shook her head and reached over to turn up the volume on the radio.

“...Not to worry, though,” Phil said calmly, “it appears to have been a single case malfunction. Nobody else has reported any sort of problems with the same model, so you don’t have to worry for your safety...”

Molly stretched slowly, thankful for the release of sore muscles. It was good to sit and relax, though. She’d been on her feet all the previous day. Keeping track of an entire mob was hard. She felt kind of bad about it—she’d barely been able to drop into Calypso and gather quick report before she’d had to head home and sleep (at almost two in the morning).

It would have to wait until the weekend. She wasn’t going to have time today to get anything extra done. She was barely going to have time to run the Orchids, and even that was questionable.

“..Children’s schooling is starting up next month, so parents and guardians should be working on preparing for that.” Phil sounded apologetic. “It does mean summer is slowly drawing to its end, though it feels like it just got started. On the plus side, it means education, and that’s an amazing thing...”

The static and voices in the radio echoed through the room of the warehouse.

Billy looked up at Nogla as he tried to help Betty pin her hair out of her face. “Nogla?”

“Hmm?” Nogla asked, mouth full of hair pins.

“Do we have to go to school this year?”

Nogla shook his head and mumbled around the pins. “I’m teaching you, remember? Gonna try, at least.” He glanced up at the time and narrowed his eyes. “I have to get going on a job. Is anyone else awake yet?”

Billy shook his head, but held out his hands. “I’ll help Bet with her hair.”

“Thanks.”

Nogla handed over the hair pins and then headed for the main area of the warehouse. He paused and looked back. “Breakfast is whatever you can find. I’ll make sure to grab groceries for all you on my way back.”

The spuds nodded.

Nogla ducked through the doorway to head out. He glanced up to the lookout perch, only to shake his head. Rhett was asleep leaned up against the window again. He tried too hard sometimes.

Quietly, with the faint sound of Dan and Phil drifting from the spuds’ room, he made his way downstairs.

“Nogla?” Rhett called sleepily, clearly nowhere near well-rested.

He glanced up to see Rhett pushing himself up, eyes half closed.

“I’m doing the run we talked about. I’ll be back later. Gonna grab groceries on my way back, too. Feed the spuds.”

Rhett nodded, leaning back against the window. “Stay safe.” He hesitated. “Are you-”

“Yeah, I’ll be hitting up the contact.”

Rhett nodded again, eyes drifting closed once more.

Nogla left, quietly cataloguing his tasks. Check in on the gambling rings. Poke about at the recruits Rhett had been talking about. Groceries, of course. And then Rhett’s request, talking to a fellow who was a potential asset.

Nogla, as a Faceless himself, was fully aware of Jack being alive. He just wasn’t going to tell Rhett that. Defeated the point of being undercover.

Rhett didn’t immediately drift off. Some part of him could almost hear Dan and Phil on the radio, though it was really just faint noise. He was, admittedly, tired enough he needed to pause to process it.

He needed to have someone take over watch so he could sleep.

“...Look, I realize it takes a lot of time, but education has really done wonders for me,” Phil said, voice crackling slightly with interference. “It’s a major part of the reason I can do what I can here. Not everyone is going to be so incredibly lucky as to have a best friend to work with every day, but an education isn’t going to hurt anyone.”

“I would disagree, Phil,” Dan said, “but I always got my wrists slapped for using my left hand instead of my right—a practice I’m told is still in use today.”

“That’s horrendous...”

PJ sipped at his tea, smiling softly as the gentle steam wreathed his face in warmth. It was plenty warm, he didn’t need the heat, but it was comforting.

He leaned back in his office chair, sighing slightly at the pile of paperwork in front of him.

He was fairly sure nobody would want to be Godfather if they realized the amount of paperwork required to maintain their legal facade. Wiggles had had the right idea, turning down the job last December.

A burst of laughter from Dan broke him out of his thoughts, and he glanced over at the radio before taking another sip of tea. What had he missed?

“...I can’t believe you’d say something like that on public radio, Phil!” Dan sounded like he was leaning away from the microphone to laugh. “Why would you even bring a fruitcake to class, much less sit in it?”

“The chair was hard...”

Dan exploded into more laughter, and PJ shook his head, setting his tea aside for the moment. He needed to get through some of this paperwork before he got too much of it to ever finish—not that he couldn’t claim he was already there.

It was going to take him forever with only one functioning arm.

PJ slumped in his seat, closing his eyes. Almost immediately, he started drifting off to sleep.

No, he needed to get stuff done—and then he could take a report on Jordan’s progress looking for Mir’s speakeasy.

And Sophie and Mark.

“...Alright, alright,” Phil chuckled, though Dan was still howling with laughter (or Howell-ing, PJ thought with no small amount of satisfaction), “we can’t focus on this forever.”

“We don’t have anything else to talk about at this point, Lester,” Dan choked out. “It’s this or the music.”

“Go ahead and play the first song of the day, then...” Phil sounded all-too-smug about that.

PJ sighed and opened his eyes, fixing the paperwork on his desk with a determined look.

The music coming over the radio was soft and cheerful, rather reminiscent of a jaunty walk through a park or down the streets early morning, when the world was waking up and full of potential.

Mark snorted softly, burrowing himself deeper into his light blanket. The world waking up. What a nice idea, walking around and following a normal human schedule instead of whatever it was he was doing here.

He’d been asleep, as he should have been, when the soft static of the radio had automatically tuned into WBBN. He’d dozed through most of the morning news before he realized the radio was within reach, so he turned up the volume just a hair and listened in.

And now that it was music, he reached over and turned it down to barely audible again, making himself as comfortable as he could.

He might not have a normal sleep schedule, but he still needed rest—although it was a lovely song, and Mark was already half-dreaming of freedom and release. It was a dream some deep part of him only acknowledged from time to time, for the sake of his own sanity.

Now, though, the dream bundled him into sleep, where he would stay until being awoken in the late afternoon by Robin’s none-too-gentle shove and greeted by Mir glowering at the radio.

Chapter Text

Patrck tapped the envelope against his fingertips, staring at the letter peeking through the opened top. He’d already read it, and... it wasn’t a good letter. He’d known it wouldn’t be the moment he saw the horribly familiar handwriting on the envelope..

He knew what he needed to do with it, but...

He paced around the dining room table, frowning as he walked. He’d come clean to Marie about what had happened—with the blackmailer, that was; not about shooting Gar. He wasn’t sure he could ever tell anyone about that.

It had been an emotional conversation, but by the end of it, they had agreed: Marie would remain in Madame Foxglove’s protection until she was safe from the blackmailer. She’d help Patrck keep up the charade of her reasonable absence. They’d be careful when she came to visit—after all, at was hardly an easy day trip from her parents’ place in Chicago to Boston. She couldn’t be seen too often, or else their nosy neighbours might start having questions.

If he didn’t take Gar’s help and do something about this mysterious person, this was never going to end and it would never be safe for her to return home. Marie had been sure to tell him as much.

Patrck looked over at the telephone on the wall, frowning again. Gar would come if he called, he knew, though it was almost midnight.

He hesitated. He knew the brutal hours Gar worked. Gar needed as much sleep as he could get, especially since he was still healing from whatever had happened to him in that warehouse. But Marie was unavailable for now, and the blackmail letter demanded results before he’d get to see her again.

He took a deep breath and strode over to the phone, hoping with all his heart Gar had been sincere about wanting to take care of this. He wasn’t entirely convinced Gar had forgiven him yet, but... he hoped so. It had seemed like it. It was just his imagination telling him otherwise, right? The thoughts that told him nobody cared enough about him to even bother to help—no, he had to ignore those.

Gar had made it possible for him to see Marie again. He had to believe Gar really did mean the best, and really had meant his promise of helping Patrck with this blackmailer.

He pulled the handset to his ear and dialed the operator.

♣♥♠♦

Gar looked over the blackmail letter with a raised eyebrow and a sip of coffee, then put the cup of coffee down and rummaged through the messenger bag he’d brought. He pulled out a folder and dropped it on Patrck’s table, then reached for the coffee again.

Patrck had no doubt that Gar was running more or less entirely on coffee at this point in time.

Gar didn’t say anything for several minutes, just compared the letter Patrck had gotten with several papers. Then he nodded and, still holding the coffee mug in one hand, said, “Well, the good news is the handwriting matches.”

Patrck eyed the stack of papers that were apparently other blackmail letters sent out to other people. “What do you mean that’s the good news? They sent out all those? That’s not good.”

“No, I suppose it isn’t. But it does mean there’s only one serious blackmailer.” He shrugged, shoving the other letters back in the folder and dropping it back in his bag. “I mean, there are always blackmailers, but there’s only one doing it so extensively.” He sipped at his coffee. “Now that I know that, I think you should turn it in. Sharp will want to see it.”

Patrck froze. “But Gar-”

“The letter doesn’t say anything about this being a repeated experience. It looks a lot like a first letter.” Gar dropped into a chair, and for the first time all night Patrck got a feel for just how tired Gar really must have been. “You can say you found this- where did you find it?”

“Slid under the front door. It was there when I got home from work.”

Gar nodded, sipping at his coffee again. “Right. Just tell him you found it there when you got home from work, and that you’ve sent Marie away to her parents as a precaution, but that you want it taken care of and don’t want to meet the blackmailer’s demands.”

Patrck swallowed, sitting. “Are you sure? It’s a big deal, what they’re asking me to do.” He stared hollowly at the letter sitting between him and Gar. “It wants me to go through old cases and turn over the information. That’s... a huge deal.” He looked up. “I...”

“I don’t blame you for doing whatever they wanted before, Pat,” Gar said softly, sitting forward. “They knew exactly what they were doing. The important part is that we stop them before they accomplish whatever it is they’re trying to do.”

“I...” Patrck looked over to his room, where he’d tucked the letters from Marie under his pillow. “Will I get to have Marie come back for good if this gets all sorted out? Or... is she going to be gone forever?”

“She’s just with Foxglove until the blackmailer is gone and she’s safe.” Gar dipped his head. “As soon as this gets all taken care of, I’ll help you bring her home.”

A shaky grin spread across Patrck’s face, accompanied by an equally shaky breath out. “Okay.” He scooped up the blackmail letter, folding it and tucking it back in the envelope. “Okay.” He nodded. “I’ll do that.” He swallowed. “It’ll become a case, won’t it?”

“It’s okay, Pat,” Gar assured gently. He paused and downed a considerable amount of coffee. “You know the people who handle this stuff. Everyone is well trained. It’ll be fine.”

“Says the guy running off more coffee than sleep.”

Gar shrugged. “I’m not one of the people who usually handles this stuff.” He paused and drained the rest of his coffee, raising an eyebrow. “Yet, at least. Matt and I have talked about what to do in hostage situations, but not handling this. So I’m telling you to take it to the professionals.”

Patrck nodded, leaning back in his chair. “You need to get some sleep.”

Gar flashed him an exhausted grin. “Probably not much tonight. I’ve still got things to do before I can call it a night, and it’s likely to be an early morning for me.”

Patrck made a face. “Gar-”

Gar just stood, pushing the empty cup towards Patrck. “Thanks for the coffee.” He dropped his stuff in his bag as he started walking off, then paused and turned to look at Patrck. “Make sure to get some sleep yourself, okay? You’re not looking top-notch yourself. You’ve got to be able to function.” He waved, and then disappeared into the night.

Patrck slumped back in his seat, gaze fixed on the closed front door.

What had he done to deserve Gar as a friend?

♣♥♠♦

Chief Sharp’s fingers drummed slowly on his desk, expression serious and gaze fixed on the letter in front of him.

Patrck shifted uneasily in his seat.

“Where is Marie?” Chief Sharp finally asked. “Our first concern is her safety.”

All sorts of tension slid out of Patrck, and he slumped in the seat. “She left to go visit her parents about a month ago. I’m supposed to call her after I get off work today, since she hadn’t woken up by the time I left.”

Chief Sharp nodded. “Is her parents’ location common knowledge?”

Patrck shook his head, then shrugged. “A few of our neighbors know the general area, but Chicago’s a pretty big place and we never bothered to narrow it down for them.”

Chief Sharp nodded again, then nodded decisively. “Alright.” He drummed his fingers against the desk again. “Considering the circumstances, it’s going to be a lot safer for her and her parents if we got Chicago police involved. Clearly, whoever this blackmailer is knows her parents live there, and that she’s visiting them. That’s far too much information for me to leave out.”

Patrck shifted in his seat. “I’ll let her parents know to keep an eye out for them, then.”

Chief Sharp glanced over the blackmail letter. “Have you received any letters before this one? Is this the first?”

“That’s the first.”

Nate narrowed his eyes at that, as if he didn’t quite believe Patrck, but said nothing. He just nodded and stood, pulling an empty file from a drawer and writing on it quickly.

“There’s an official file for this now, alright?” He dropped the blackmail letter into it. “Don’t worry, Patrck. We’ll make sure this all works out, and that both you and Marie are safe.” He set the file on his desk. “And that whoever is doing this is caught, before they do any harm.”

Patrck’s shoulders slumped, an undeniable expression of relief washing over his face. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Nate dropped back in his seat. “It’s our job.” He tilted his head, then leaned forward. “Do you know what the cases asked for are about?” He nodded at the blackmail letter.

Patrck shook his head. “I haven’t looked. There’s a pretty big range in time, though, I think, if they were numbered properly.” He frowned. “The traffic accident I filed yesterday was in the 70000s, and one of those was in the 50000-55000 range.”

Nate nodded. “It’s about a three year range, I think.” He frowned, pulling the letter out to look at it again. “Except for this one.” He tapped one case number. “I know exactly what that one is.”

Patrck looked up in surprise. “Sir?”

“They want information on the initial investigation of the molasses flood, back in January of 1919.” Nate frowned. “I don’t know if that’s just in there to throw us off or not, but it’s an oddly specific demand.” His frown deepened. “It’s so far away from all the others, too, time-wise. It’s almost six years ago, and the others are probably three years ago at most.”

“Do you recognize any of the other case numbers, sir?”

Nate shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not.” He closed the file and shoved it to the side. “Let’s go get those cases and look at them, shall we? We can decide what can be shared without breaking confidentiality. And then we’ll see who picks up this info from the drop spot, and try to catch this blackmailer.”

“Then why are we giving them what they want?” Patrck asked softly. “Why not just... not give the info?”

“Because we don’t want them to catch on to you getting us involved.” Nate stood. “It’d make it a lot harder for us to catch them.”

Patrck made an uneasy expression.

“Hey, it’ll be okay. It might take us a few tries, but we’ll get this taken care of. Okay?” Nate gave a reassuring smile.

Patrck straightened his shoulders and stood. “Okay, sir. I trust you.”

“Fantastic,” Nate said. “Let’s catch ourselves a blackmailer.”

Chapter Text

The office was dim, and stuffy—although not quite hot, despite it being summer. PJ sniffled, burying himself deeper into his blanket.

“I told you not to go to the Phantom afterparty,” Jordan chided as he sat reading in a chair next to the office door. “I’m not surprised you’re sick. You were told to take it slow.”

“I know,” PJ muttered, reaching for his tea. “But after seeing him, I had to force myself to focus somehow.”

Jordan looked up from his book. “Has Felix said what happened? Why Jack was there?”

PJ shook his head, taking a long drink of his tea.

“What are you going to do about it?”

PJ shrugged one shoulder, putting his tea down. “I don’t know, Jordan.” He scooped up one of the many things on his desk requiring attention and slouched in his chair to look it over. “I really don’t know.”

Jordan didn’t say anything, but after a minute there was the soft sound of his book closing, and then he stood and walked across the office. The rush of curtains being thrown open filled the air, and Jordan’s silhouette was cast across the floor in the sudden morning light.

Almost immediately, the room began to warm from the summer sun (though PJ kept the blanket bundled around him), bringing a simultaneous energy and relaxation that had previously been missing.

When the air began to stir in the room, PJ looked up from the “family business” budget to see Jordan locking the window in a cracked-open position.

“Fresh air will help keep us both awake,” Jordan said, sounding rather pleased with himself.

PJ just reached for his tea again.

Perhaps an hour had passed before the office began to get uncomfortably warm, and Jordan got up to close the window again. PJ had successfully worked his way through the budget by that point. Not for the first time, and definitely not for the last, PJ wryly acknowledged that being the godfather had more to do with paperwork than the whispers of luxury and untold wealth he sometimes heard new recruits whispering about.

Not to say those weren’t in the works too, PJ decided as he threw his blanket over the arm of his chair for later use. He certainly hadn’t had to worry about money since becoming the godfather.

PJ paused as he reached for the next set of paperwork. This was an unfamiliar envelope. The fact that it was in an envelope at all was suspicious—and not a small one like legitimate businesses would send when seeking legitimate services from the “family business.”

No, this was most definitely something he’d expect to see from some sort of government facility.

“Jordan? Do you know what this is?” PJ ran his hands over the envelope, searching for anything pressed up against the paper and any irregularities that might signify danger.

“Oh! Yes. That’s the detective’s report.” Jordan smiled. “It’s thicker than I expected, but Wiggles picked a good one.”

PJ grunted softly, breaking the seal and cautiously sliding out the contents. He raised his eyebrows as nearly a dozen heavily detailed paper slid out. “This is significantly more than I expected.”

“The question is if it’s any good.” Jordan walked over to the desk and leaned on it, trying to get a decent look at the report.

PJ flipped through it, sniffling again. “A map of the patrol routes through the city.” He set that aside. “A list of the regular number of coppers assigned to each route when fully staffed.” He flipped another page. “A list of how many officers are assigned to things outside of patrol routes: break-ins, general complaints, speakeasies and bootlegging, homicides and investigations...” He raised an eyebrow.

“Homicides is a very detective term to use for murder.” Jordan rocked back on his heels. “Those guys must be swamped.”

“Probably.” PJ flipped another page in the report, then glanced at the clock. “It’s almost noon. Want to put on WBBN?”

“I’d love to, but you know I’m out of here at noon, right?” Jordan walked over to the radio next to PJ’s desk. “Paul’s coming in to take over for the day.”

PJ made a face as Jordan turned the radio on and tuned away the static. He didn’t particularly care for people guarding him day in and day out, though he understood why it was necessary. Mir had tried to kill him several times, all quite recently, after all.

He sniffed and reached for his tea again.

For several long minutes, the office was filled with the sound of music, and PJ could just imagine Dan and Phil with the microphones muted, quietly bantering as they waited for the next hour mark to roll around. At least, he hoped it was both of them. Yesterday, it had just been Phil. He hadn’t offered a reason (he never did) but PJ was well aware it was because Dan hadn’t been doing well.

PJ’s fingers tightened around his cup. He didn’t know for certain what “doing well” looked like anymore. He had barely seen the Bumblers since leaving Freddy’s back in November, much less spoken to them.

He had lost so much of himself with Freddy’s.

PJ frowned, fingers bending the report, as he fought off the memories of that delightful place:

Sophie sitting at her regular table, chatting idly with Wiishu; they’d never do that again, as Wiishu had returned home and Sophie was still held captive by Mir.

Molly and Wade sitting close and enjoying themselves after a hard day running the Orchids—something PJ almost ruined with the attempted hit on them so long ago.

Mark whirling around as Wilford, deftly navigating the crowds and greeting people with an easy accent and easier smile, bringing life to the entire place. Such a difference from the shell of the man he’d seen at Mir’s speakeasy.

Dan at the piano and Phil at the corner table, and PJ and Jack-

Jack.

PJ’s cup clattered as he set it down on his desk in a hurry, and Jordan looked over in alarm.

“Peej?”

PJ put his now-free—and slightly shaking—hand to his forehead, closing his eyes. “I’m fine. Just... tired.”

“Uh-huh.” Jordan sounded unimpressed. “Maybe you should take a nap, then.”

PJ opened his eyes enough to glare at Jordan. “I still have work to do.”

“And you’re sick.” Jordan raised an eyebrow. “You almost just dropped your tea, Peej, and you’re shaking enough I can see it from here.”

PJ buried his face in his hands, letting out a long sigh. “I know. I know. I have to get through paperwork. I have to, Jordan, or the Family will fall apart. Zombie’s been doing his best, but he’s drowning with everything I’ve had to dump on him recently. I have to get this done.”

Jordan sighed, but said nothing. PJ wasn’t sure there was anything to be said.

PJ slid the papers back into the envelope and set it aside for Yami to look through later. As consigliere, he would be able to use the information to help the capos coordinate things appropriately. And the next time the detective met with his contact (though PJ wasn’t quite sure who said contact was at the moment) to drop off another report, more precise instructions could be passed on as to what they needed.

It really wasn’t bad for a first report, though.

Jordan tucked his book onto a shelf, where he’d likely forget it until it was his next shift to guard PJ in his office, then walked over and took PJ’s cup.

PJ looked up. “I’m not done with that.”

“It’s cold by now. I’ll send Paul in with a fresh one.” Jordan waved as he slipped out of the room. “Take care, Peej.”

PJ tapped his pen against his lips, smiling wryly despite the definite headache he was getting from working through his cold. That wasn’t at all Jordan’s job, but there he was, being helpful.

He was reading through the details on a proposed contract by a local business needing help with bookkeeping when WBBN changed from music to voices.

“It’s noon, ladies and gentlemen,” Dan’s voice said, “and that means we’re halfway through the day.”

PJ raised an eyebrow. Dan sounded cheerful enough to the unfamiliar ear, but PJ knew him just well enough to recognize the slight edge of pain wavering in and out with the radio signal. Clearly no matter how poorly he felt, he was determined not to miss two days of the radio in a row.

PJ leaned on the arm of his chair, pulling his glasses off to press a hand to his forehead. He’d have to call it early today, he suspected, since this headache wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe the tea Paul was bringing in would help enough to get him through the worst of the paperwork.

“...it’s a beautifully pleasant day so far. Delightfully warm, but not so warm that families can’t enjoy a day at the park and those workers with windows have to close the blinds to keep out the heat.”

PJ glanced out the window at that, then paused and put his eyeglasses back on. Ah yes, now he could see the street—and the tree across it was no longer a blurred mess of green. What a wonder glasses were.

Certainly a pleasant view. Definitely the reason he’d chosen the room as an office.

“There’s an undeniable spirit of good cheer out on the streets today,” Phil added. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many people so happy, but I thoroughly plan on enjoying it. Happy people is a good thing.”

“Indeed,” Dan agreed. “It’s all this summer air going about, invigorating people and getting them outside.”

PJ sneezed, reaching for his blanket again.

Yeah, lots of people were outside, but as soon as he got work done, he was going to bed.

Chapter Text

The heavy scent of oil paints filled the sunlit room. Dust motes were caught for long, drawn-out seconds in the beams of light, floating languidly through the air; some would land on colourful canvas, disappearing into the still, painted worlds that covered the walls. The rasp of bristles against canvas, punctuated by the occasional tap of wooden handles as brushes changed hands, were sounds that went hand-in-hand with the quiet breaths of the man sitting in front of the easel.

“You’re Thomas?”

A quiet, unfamiliar, deep, and inherently soothing voice broke Tom’s concentration on the painting in front of him, and he looked over in surprise. He always kept his door open while he painted, just in case he was needed, but that had never happened in the past.

Yet there stood an unfamiliar figure, leaning in the doorframe. His suit looked strikingly familiar: it was the same cut and cloth as one typical of Felix’s employees—although it did seem just a bit too loose. What was he hiding under there?

Really, though, Tom knew he was just distracting himself from the real thing catching his attention. He set his pallette down and rinsed his brushes briefly before turning to face the man properly.

“I’m Tom, yeah.”

The man’s face was obscured entirely by a pale mask, the lenses behind the eyeholes obscuring his eyes. A simple straight line, indicating a mouth, was the only mark.

Faceless.

A Faceless wearing clothes like one of Felix’s employees... Was... this...?

“I’m Cry. It’s a pleasure.” Cry stood from the doorframe and offered his hand. Tom leaned forward and shook it hesitantly.

“I replaced you.” He didn’t have the ability to deal with small talk right now.

Cry nodded, settling back on the doorframe. “Yeah. I’m glad you did. Someone had to watch out for Felix while I was gone.”

Tom hesitated, standing to move the painting on the easel to the other side of the room before sinking back into his chair. His leg was certainly well on its way to being healed, but there was no need to stand when he didn’t have to.

“Are... you here to take over again?”

Cry shook his head. “No. No, Felix wants to keep you on as a bodyguard still. I’m here to fill in for Ken when he’s gone. I’ve always been much better at the... sneaky side of things.”

“Illegal things.”

Cry tilted his head.

“You’re alright with telling me this?” Tom blinked, pressing his hand against the aching, healing wound on his leg. “I used to be a judge.”

“I know.” His voice was just as calm as ever. “Felix seems to think you can be trusted, though; and I usually trust him.”

“Usually? What if he’s wrong and I’m a danger to you?”

Cry snorted softly. “Mark wouldn’t have spoken so highly of you if he’d thought you were such a danger.”

Tom’s hand clenched, crinkling the light cotton of his pants. “You knew- you know Mark?”

Cry nodded.

Tom let out a long sigh, trying to keep his desperation and distress under control. “Do you have any idea where he is?”

“Are you asking me if Felix has updated me on what happened to Mark? Or if I know where he is at this very moment?”

“...Yes.”

Tom barely caught the sound of a sigh from under the man’s mask, but the slump of his shoulders was hard to miss.

“He told me what happened. Some part of me doesn’t want to believe it, but... I’d rather believe in him. Mark’ll hang on long enough for us to find him.”

Tom’s face twisted, clearly frustrated. “Is anyone even looking for him? I haven’t heard anyone talking about any plans, and Felix won’t let me off the property without good reason .”

“Well,” Cry said, stepping fully into the room, “you were recently shot. I imagine he’s trying to keep you alive, so you’ll be able to greet Mark when we bring him home.” He sat on a chest near Tom’s chair. “And… yes. PJ Liguori has people looking. A mutual friend is looking—he has a dog that knows Mark’s scent. I’m going to be spending a lot of my nights looking, as well. We’ll find him.”

“And if you don’t?”

“We will.” Cry’s quiet voice should have been comforting, but it only seemed to lack the confidence Tom had wanted to hear.

Tom narrowed his eyes before dropping his head. “I hope you don’t mind my continued disbelief.” When has he grown to be so bitter about this?

“It’s only understandable.” Cry stood. “I’ll let you know as soon as we do find him, though.”

Tom snorted. “I appreciate it, but Kjellberg isn’t going to let me help with the rescue. He’s been walking on eggshells around me ever since I took a bullet for him.”

Cry crossed his arms, clearly debating something, before sighing. “That’s because the last person who took a hit for him as a bodyguard was me, back in December, and it almost killed me. Multiple times over, in fact.”

“It’s our job.”

“I know.” Cry ran a hand through his hair. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I know if I were in your position, I’d want to go.”

“Do you have siblings to even understand?”

“Mmhmm.” Cry’s tone suggested Tom not push that line of questioning. “Even if I didn’t understand, Mark’s still someone I want safe.” He sighed. “I... don’t know what happened when you tried to rescue him a month ago. Felix has told me what Mir’s done to Mark, though.” He drummed his fingers on his knee. “I... had a thought. Once we get him out, he’s going to need some place to stay, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’ll need a doctor.” Cry’s head tilted slightly in a clear hesitation. “I’ve been, ah, browsing through Felix’s recent paperwork, and I think he’s starting to plan for that.”

“...What do you mean?” Tom blinked, leaning forward. “How can he plan for a day we don’t know is coming?”

Cry shrugged slightly. “You’re aware he owns a lot of properties, yes? Factories and distilleries and houses. Most of them he rents out—for a fair rate, if his bookkeeping is up-to-date—but a few he keeps for himself. Some of the ritzier houses, especially, he’ll rent out for big occasions... or put them to good use when a trading partner comes into town, and he needs to impress them. Otherwise, they usually sit empty.”

Tom nodded. “Miss Newton was kept at one, right?”

Cry nodded. “The West Roxbury one, yes.” He drummed his fingers again. “About a week ago, Felix got another house, and it’s outside of Boston’s borders, which is… unusual. He generally keeps properties in city limits.” Cry seemed to meet Tom’s eyes, despite his own eyes being obscured by the lenses in the mask. “I haven’t fully looked into it yet, but based on where it is and how much land he bought surrounding it, it’s extremely secluded. The selling notes said it’s in a fair amount of disrepair, which is again... not normal for places Felix buys. He usually renovates them, yes; but the buying notes seem to suggest the bank that was foreclosing it was going to condemn the building if nobody bought it.”

Tom tilted his head. “Are you suggesting he’s going to send Mark there? I don’t want him going to a condemnable house after everything he’s been through.”

“Oh, don’t worry, he’s got negotiations in place for a discreet and fast renovation—which may very well mean tearing it all down and putting up something smaller.” Cry shrugged. “Either way, it’s been deemed safe to walk through, and I stole the key from Felix’s office. Do you wanna go look at it? I can’t promise it’s gonna be a very nice place, at least not yet, but you know Mark. You’ll know what he likes. Maybe you’ll have suggestions for Felix that’ll help Mark later?”

Tom let out a breath that had been building in him for far too long. “I would love to. Do we have to get permission?”

Cry held up a key. “Nah. Ken gave me the key to one of the automobiles. Felix is staying in tonight to spend time with Marzia, so we’ve got free reign.”

Tom narrowed his eyes. “Did we get permission to do this?”

Cry stood, shoving the key back into his pocket and offering a gloved hand to help Tom up. “No, but where’s the fun in that?”

Tom blinked, but took the offered hand and pulled himself up. “You’re not at all like I expected.”

Cry laughed softly. “Really? What did you expect?”

“I don’t know. Someone who followed the rules and was very loyal to Felix’s wishes?”

Cry snorted. “Nah.”

♣♥♠♦

It was a short drive up to the house after they turned off the main road—although it would have been shorter had the road not been slowly rejoining the overgrown fields surrounding it. But after navigating the potholes and brambles, they were pulling up to the house, gravel crunching under the tires.

The house was smaller than Tom had been expecting. It was two storeys, and the paint on the outside had almost completely been stripped away by the elements, leaving just the faintest of evidence that the outside brick had once been painted white and blue. A massive old oak tree was looming over the back of the house, covering half the roof—the tiles were practically green with moss under the leaves’ shade.

What windows that weren’t boarded were broken, and the door was hanging off its hinges, suggesting the house had been broken into and looted before the bank took it over.

“Are you sure this is safe?” Tom asked, eyeing the suspicious stain on the door—and what was potentially a bullet hole.

“It should be. And if it’s not, I can defend us.”

“I can defend myself,” Tom said quietly.

“So Ken tells me.” Cry seemed to glance over his shoulder as he stepped up to the door and pushed it open, though it was hard to tell with that mask of his. “If you wanna fight, you do you. I’m just not gonna let you do it alone, is all.”

That was fair, Tom supposed, stepping in after Cry.

“So,” Cry said, putting his hands on his hips and looking around the living room. “I can already tell you I want this place knocked down.”

“Oh?” Tom glanced around, taking in the cracked and sagging walls, the half-broken stairs, the holes in the floorboards, the steps up and down to each of the rooms. “Oh.” He nodded. “That would probably be for the best.” He hesitated, then ventured forward. “I want to look around, though, since we’re already here.”

“We might as well,” Cry agreed.

They walked around the bottom floor in silence for a bit, taking in the bloodstained kitchen floor and the mold around the broken kitchen window. The wood on the walls shared with the living room had bullet holes in them.

In fact, the wood and peeling wallpaper was wrecked in lots of places from bullet holes.

Tom raised an eyebrow, resisting the temptation to touch his own still-tender and freshly scarred bullet wound. “Do we know what happened to the previous owners?”

“Not exactly.” Cry tapped a finger against his mask, going into the back hall. “I know there was a shootout here, though you probably figured that out by now. Supposedly, by the time police got here, all the blood had dried and the bodies were beginning to rot.”

Tom followed after Cry to find him crouched next to a half-collapsed bed, the threadbare and moth-eaten blanket touching the ground, looking under what was left of the frame.

“So this was a hideout?”

“Maybe.” Cry leaned forward and flicked the edge of the blanket up, sending dust and long-dead bugs flinging into the air.

Tom and Cry both made soft sounds of disgust, but Cry dug into his pocket and pulled out a small flashlight, shining it under the bed.

“Could have just been a house with an unfortunate fate.” He lowered himself until he was flat on his stomach. “However, if that was the case, a trap door is an odd thing to have under a bed.”

“Do you think there’s something under there?”

“It’s not impossible, but I imagine the police would have searched this place pretty thoroughly when they came.” Cry pushed himself up. “Wanna check?”

“This feels like a bad idea.”

“I mean, it’s been so long the only danger is really from the spiders we’re gonna disturb by moving the bed.” Cry turned his flashlight off and glanced at the bed. “Well, at least by moving part of it, if it falls apart when we try.” He looked over. “You’re still wearing gloves, it’ll be fine.”

Tom instinctively flexed his fingers. “I don’t know if they’d hold up to spider bites.”

Cry shrugged slightly, tucking his flashlight away. “Ready when you are.”

Tom hesitantly moved to the edge of the bed, and Cry took the headboard, and they pulled.

The bed slid with a creaking and grating sound, then snapped and send the two of them stumbling back as the wood of the frame finally gave way. Cry dropped the headboard and stepped into the newly revealed area.

Tom could almost swear he heard the crunch of dead insects and spiders under Cry’s shoes.

Cry planted a foot on the remaining frame and shoved, sending it skidding back and completely revealing an undeniably dusty—but impossible to ignore—trap door.

“Huh.” Tom glanced at the now-destroyed bed, then at the trap door. “Are we going to get in trouble for that?”

“Nah. Felix would have had to get rid of it anyway.” Cry tapped on the trap door with his foot. “Where’s... c’mon, hinges.” One of the taps thudded harder, muffled slightly, and Cry let out a soft “Aha!”

Tom carefully stepped closer, deciding not to look too closely at the spiders running towards the edges of the rooms as he moved, only to have Cry dig his fingers into an edge he hadn’t quite spotted. The hinges squeaked as he lifted the trap door.

“Ah, yes. Perfect.” Cry opened the trap door the rest of the way. “Dark.”

“Charming.”

“It’s okay.” Cry crouched next to the opening, shining his flashlight down into it. The light barely reached the bottom, dimly illuminating a dirt floor.

“Nothing to hurt our fall,” Tom said cautiously. That was something.

“No way to get back up, either.” Cry shone his light around the entrance. “That’s really what I’m concerned about.” He looked up, expression hidden behind that emotionless mask. “If we jumped down, do you think you could get on my shoulders and drag me up? Or stay steady when I climb on you to get up and haul you up.”

“I can lift you up,” Tom assured, then hesitated. “What if one of us ends up spraining an ankle from the drop?”

“Then we’ll die down there.” Cry shrugged and dropped into the hole.

Tom blinked, staring down into the darkness.

No wonder Mark was friends with this guy.

That thought in mind, he eased himself in through the floor, letting himself hang until he dropped down next to Cry.

Cry’s flashlight slowly illuminated the small room, revealing a host of cobwebs and dust. Underneath the cobwebs and dust, though, it became clear this tiny room had once held people. Three cots were crammed against the walls, and a table and stools were pressed in the far corner. A single shelving unit held cans with labels long destroyed by water, and large crates in front of it sat undisturbed.

Cry walked up to the crates, carefully examining them before brushing the dust off the top and unclasping the lid.

“What is it?” Tom asked, walking over.

Cry lifted the lid and shone his light in, staring in silence for nearly fifteen seconds.

“Explosives.”

Tom took a step back. “Are... you sure? It took you a minute to identify them.”

“Oh, no, I immediately recognized them.” Cry stepped over to the other crate, lifting that lid too. “Someone I... used to know back when I was in training... he would use ones like this. We could tie cloth strips on them and... he’d be able to light the fuse and throw it and... I could pin it in place with one of my knives.” He shook his head. “I’d almost forgotten about that until I opened the box.” He stepped back. “Well, they’re both explosives. I don’t know how long they’ve been here, but it’s got to be a while. Felix is going to need someone to come remove them before he can do anything to this place.” He sighed heavily. It sounded hollow beneath his mask. “Come on, let’s get back.”

“Do you happen to know anyone who can do that?”

Cry walked up to the opening, crouching for Tom to climb onto his shoulders. “No. Not anymore.”

Chapter Text

It was still early at Precinct 3, right on the edge of the shift change. Those officers who were leaving had made themselves scarce, thinking only of their beds waiting for them. The officers on the day shift were slowly trickling in. Of those there, half the officers at the precinct were grumbling as they received their daily assignments; the other half of the precinct was overly cheerful—not because they were all in such good moods, but because it was annoying those who were grumbling.

MatPat was among the few in a genuinely good mood. His Sunday was confirmed to be a day off, and he was determined to spend the time with Steph.

People kept asking why he was so happy, of course. He supposed grinning for three days straight after being so despondent for months and months would do that, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He’d been able to see Steph, and he’d continue to get to see her. Granted, it wasn’t perfect. She wasn’t home.

But at this point, he wasn’t going to complain. Seeing her on his off days was so much more than he had ever expected. It was amazing. Amazing enough that he actually walked into work early, for a change.

It was a stark contrast to Patrck, though; that was a bit of a damper on MatPat’s good mood.

The officer sat on the edge of Gar’s desk, clearly miserable, and only spared a glance up as MatPat approached and took a seat at his own desk.

“Morning, Patrick,” Patrck said quietly.

“Good morning, Static.” MatPat hesitated, then pushed ahead. “Is everything okay?”

Patrck’s mouth flattened, and he shook his head, not lifting his gaze from the floor. MatPat frowned, moving to sit on the edge of his chair. It was quiet enough in this corner they could hold a private conversation, but he had a feeling Patrck wouldn’t tell him much.

“Gar should be here in a few minutes, if you were waiting to talk to him.” MatPat tilted his head. It probably wouldn’t do much good to push. Patrck had never been very open around him, since they’d never really been friends, but something about this felt... different.

Hopefully Gar would know what was going on.

A flurry of activity at main desk caught his attention, and he didn’t get the chance to think too deeply on it as someone stuck their head in and shouted, “Miss Pansino brought us pastries!”

A collective gasp of excitement immediately spread around the room, and officers darted towards the front.

MatPat stood, gesturing for Patrck to follow. “Come on, let’s go grab one before they’re gone.”

Patrck hesitated, but slid off Gar’s desk. He crammed his hands into his pockets and slowly followed, though his reluctance was clear.

“Did you want to talk about whatever’s bothering you?” MatPat asked, glancing over. He knew what Patrck was reminding him of: himself. Specifically, when he’d been so close to taking his own life.

Goodness knew he wasn’t going to let anyone else go through that if he could at all help it.

“I miss Marie.”

MatPat blinked at the soft reply, taking in Patrck’s stiff shoulders and continued refusal to look him in the eye, or even lift his head.

“She left to visit her parents last month, but I’m not supposed to see her until fall.” He shook his head. “The train ticket’s so expensive, it made sense for an extended visit, but...” His shoulders slumped. “I miss her.”

“That’s rough.”

Also fundamentally untrue. Marie shared a room with Steph in one of Madame Foxglove’s greenhouses. Gar had even mentioned that he took letters to Patrck, too—clearly, the other officer knew this.

Patrck glanced over now, a look of empathy in his eyes. “I never realized just how hard it is.” He sighed, rolling his shoulders. “And I know where she is.”

MatPat frowned slightly. Of course. Steph was still considered missing at best, and presumed dead at worst (that had been an awful conversation to have with her parents, after he’d pulled himself together enough to actually tell them). The entire precinct considered him an unofficial widower.

“I... admire how well you’ve held together,” Patrck said quietly, nearly inaudible over the rising noise as they approached the front.

“I’ve hardly been a shining example,” MatPat said. “Suspension doesn’t come to the star officers.”

“No, but... I understand more.” Patrck raised an eyebrow. “You’re still considered the best detective in this side of Boston, though. I don’t know why you seem to think otherwise.”

“It’s not for my ability to handle grief.”

Patrck winced and looked away. “I’m... sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it back up.”

MatPat dipped his head, accepting the apology.

It was strange, having to pretend he still didn’t know where Steph was; having to act as if he was still the distressed and grieving detective who had been drugged and had his wife kidnapped from their own house. As if the police weren’t so convinced Steph was dead that the only reason she wasn’t legally dead was because it hadn’t been long enough yet.

It sounded like Patrck was in a similar boat.

“If you ever need to talk,” MatPat offered simply, “feel free to come to me.” He glanced at the table officers were crowding around, easily identifying Ro’s cheerful form. “We’re going to have a fun time getting to the middle of that.”

A hand landed on his shoulder, and he looked over in surprise to see Nate there.

“Sir?”

“Patrick.” Nate tilted his head. “I need to talk to you for a minute. It’s going to ruin your morning, I’m sorry to say.”

MatPat frowned but nodded, stepping away from the group. Patrck looked over in concern, but MatPat waved him to the table and followed Nate to the edge of the room.

“Is this about the Faceless cases?” MatPat tilted his head.

Nate shook his head. “No, you’re still on those.” He hesitated, dipping his head for a second, expression regretful. “I have to close Steph’s case.”

“Oh.”

“It’s... been almost a year. We’ve gone over the evidence we have dozens of times, but we’ve been unable to get anything new from it. Whatever trail we could have followed in those first twelve hours... well... it’s long gone.” He looked up, apology and grief in his eyes. “I’m sorry. If something comes up later, it’ll be in the archives.”

MatPat’s shoulders dropped, and he closed his eyes and turned away slightly. “I... understand. Thank you for telling me, Chief Sharp.”

“Matt- I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

MatPat turned back to the crowd—he still fully intended to get a pastry—only to freeze as he realized someone was standing a few feet away.

Rosanna Pansino’s wide eyes flicked from MatPat to Nate and back, and the object she was holding in her hands slowly lowered as her shoulders slumped.

“Good morning,” MatPat greeted. “How’ve you been?”

Ro blinked, then held up what she was holding. “I saved an éclair for you.”

MatPat smiled. “Thank you. That was kind.”

Ro hesitated, then stepped forward slightly. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but... they’ve given up on Steph?”

MatPat nodded grimly, keeping his expression as neutral as possible. He’d figured she’d overheard.

“Are... did... is she dead? Legally?”

“Not until I ask them to start the paperwork for it.” MatPat fidgeted with his wedding ring. “I have no intentions of doing so.”

After all, Steph wasn’t dead. Even if she was, he was sure he’d wait longer than almost a year to get her declared legally dead. Before the letters, he’d barely started to get his life back together, much less even think of moving on.

“Not ever? You’ve got to move on eventually, Matt. Trust me, it’ll do you more harm than good to get stuck in the past.”

MatPat shook his head. “Stephanie was the love of my life when I married her, and she’s the love of my life now. I could never move on from her.”

Ro hesitated, then pressed forward. “Some of the tabloids called you a widower when you were back in the spotlight. After your partner came back.” She frowned. “It wasn’t very nice of them, but tabloids never are.”

“No,” MatPat agreed with sudden weariness. “Tabloids never are.” He sighed, lowering his hand from his wedding ring. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Oh! No, of course.” Ro stuffed the éclair into MatPat’s hand and stepped back quickly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up like that.” She gave him a bright, if shaky, smile. “Have a good day, Detective Patrick.”

With that, she was gone, vanishing into the slowly-dispersing crowd of officers with their pastries.

MatPat looked down at the éclair in his hand, then shook his head and turned to go back to his desk to await Gar… only to find Patrck standing a few feet away, munching on a donut.

“You’re still welcome to wait for Gar with me,” MatPat said, though the idea was much less appealing now. He really just wanted to be alone to despair over the reminder that the tabloids did keep an eye on him sometimes (much more than the regular news, in any case). He wasn’t going to leave Patrck to fend for himself, though.

Patrck nodded, turning to fall in step with MatPat, gaze lingering at someone walking up to them.

MatPat glanced over his shoulder to see a little old lady with braided white hair pinned up in a bun hobbling towards them.

“Do... you know her?” MatPat glanced back at Patrck.

“She’s my neighbor.” Patrck didn’t look terribly happy with her being here. “I’m going to go wait for Gar. Good luck.” He darted off.

MatPat blinked, but the old lady was a few feet away by the time he thought to ask why.

“Excuse me, young man,” the old lady said, reaching for MatPat’s arm to steady herself. “I’m here to file a noise complaint for my neighbors. Where would I do that?”

“The officers right over here can help you with that,” MatPat said, leading her across the room.

“Are you one of Patrck’s friends?” she asked, looking up at him. “He’s such a dear young man. His girl, too, she’s a sweetheart. She would always walk my dog when I wasn’t feeling well.” Her grip tightened on MatPat’s arm, and he slowed down accordingly. “It’s such a pity she’s been gone so long. Patrck won’t tell me about it, but I’m certain she’s been sick while visiting her parents. Or one of her parents has been sick. There’s no other reason two young people so in love would be apart for seven and a half months.”

“I’m just a coworker, I’m afraid, but I’d like to become his friend.” MatPat filed the information away. Clearly, this neighbor had noticed that Marie was gone for the full length of time she’d been missing, and not the month or so Patrck had been claiming.

“Oh, what a dear man you are.” She glanced at his hand. “Your wife must be a very lucky woman.”

MatPat said nothing.

“I remember when my dear Hosea and I were married. Spring of 1863 was a wonderful time.” She chuckled softly. “Of course, things were much more wild then, much more lawless, but we were still happy. Marriage is blissful, don’t you forget it. Cherish that woman. You never know when you might lose her. Lord knows I cherished Hosea, and I wish I’d treasured him even more. He died nearly twenty years ago, you see, at the turn of the century. Our youngest child was only six. She barely remembers him, bless her heart, but she’s so much like him.” She beamed up at MatPat. “Do you have children, officer?”

“No. Not yet, at least.” The thought of having a child when he didn’t even have Steph home was not a reassuring one. He wanted to be there for her, and any children they had, and he couldn’t do that when she was being held by Foxglove. Of course, there was always a chance— pregnancies happened despite the best of precautions—but he didn’t want to force her to deal with that alone. He wanted her home before they even thought about it.

“They’re a delight. A true gift.” She slowed even more, if that was possible, and MatPat gave a desperate look to their destination desk, where the officer there was watching with an amused expression.

Help me, he mouthed. No wonder Patrck had made himself scarce. He never would have gotten away from this talkative lady.

The officer at the desk shook his head, reaching for his coffee cup with a decided smirk.

“You’re a very helpful young man, you know that?” The old lady patted his arm thankfully, though she didn’t walk any faster. “I should see if I could come get you to walk my dog for me. Patrck helps me with my lawn and watering my plants, but he doesn’t have the time for everything. I really miss that girl of his. I hope she’s alright.” She looked back up at MatPat. “What’s your wife like? It seems like such a kind fellow like you would win over many hearts. I’m sure she’s beautiful. Is she beautiful?”

“I... well, yes.” MatPat blinked, struggling to keep his face even. “But that’s not why I married her.”

He missed Steph so much. Sunday felt so far away.

“Oh, what a tease.” She slapped his arm gently and laughed. “Of course not. You don’t marry someone just for their face. She must be the sweetest woman to walk the earth, if a kind-hearted man like you fell for her.”

They were close enough to the desk now that the officer there could clearly hear the conversation, because he sat up straight and a look of guilt crossed his face.

“You tell your wife you love her, now,” the old lady continued, not noticing. “You never know how long you have left with her. Make sure to treasure her and keep her close.”

MatPat’s heart ached, and it was a struggle to keep his friendly smile up. “Of course.”

He glanced up to see the officer at the desk staring at him with a look of abject pity and looked away. He didn’t need a reminder that everyone thought he was a widower.

“They can help you here, ma’am,” MatPat said, letting the old woman pull her arm free from his and lean into the edge of the desk.

“Thank you!” she said cheerfully. “You’re such a dear man.”

MatPat glanced away from the officer at the desk. The man looked pale. “Have a good day, ma’am.” MatPat dipped his head and walked off.

Chapter Text

Molly looked around Calypso, happily noting that everything was going well with opening. She didn’t doubt it would; the staff here were well-trained and good at what they did. The bar was stocked, glasses set out in preparation. The small kitchen in the back that would serve appetizers on request was ready to go. The waitresses were all gussied up in their uniforms, and the Orchids who’d requested to work the speakeasy that night were sitting at tables near the poles and casually chatting. The band was here and tuning their instruments. At the door and scattered about the room were tonight’s bouncers. (Entoan would normally be at the door, but he and Drea were still out helping a woman and her two children settle in their new home, so Ritz had taken his position. Tyler would switch him out when he arrived later.)

“Everything’s fine, Molly,” Wade said in a slightly exasperated tone, and his arms wrapping around her waist as he walked up behind her. “It always is.”

She looked up and over her shoulder at him, smiling. “I know, but I like to check. Just in case.”

Wade smiled softly at her. “You always do.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “Come on, let’s go sit down. PJ and Felix will arrive any time now.”

“Oh, is PJ back in town?” Molly slipped from his grasp and took his hand as they walked over to the usual table. “Who told you that?”

“Minx. Somehow the Faceless know already.” Wade grinned down at her. “I think they have someone on the inside of the Family, but don’t tell PJ that.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Molly assured. “If I didn’t know about Minx from the start, it would tear me apart to find out now.”

“Are you sure?” Wade pulled out her chair, expression quizzical. “He’s... not the nicest guy, Moll.”

“Neither am I.” Molly sat, grinning up at Wade. “I also wouldn’t want to get on the Faceless’ bad side. Out of the two of us, though, PJ has much more firepower. If he goes down, Mir will focus on us. We wouldn’t survive that. So while I won’t step in if his Family starts to self-destruct, I’m not going to do anything to make that happen. Not unless he forces my hand.” She tapped her gloved hand on the table, glancing around. “Let’s be honest, though, he’s bound to know it’s possible. He’s an intelligent man.”

Wade shrugged, sitting next to her. “I guess, but then why doesn’t he do anything about it?”

“We don’t know that he hasn’t.” Molly shook her head. “He doesn’t tell us the inner workings of his gang, and we don’t tell him ours. It’s part of the deal, remember?”

Wade nodded. It was, after all, the safest way to operate things.

On the far edge of the room, past the dancing poles, Orchids were unlocking the doors to the small private rooms for those willing to pay extra. Only five minutes to opening, then.

Sunday nights were always busy, so Molly wasn’t at all surprised as the room seemed to immediately fill with patrons seeking giggle juice. The live music slowly drifted through the air, barely audible over the sound of chatter.

And, one by one, the people supposed to arrive for the meeting showed up.

Tyler was the first to be seen, but he’d taken his regular place on the far side of the room to act as a bouncer before the building opened. He only ever did it on weekends, after what had happened to Freddy’s, but it was a reassurance to see him and know he was still around. He’d drift closer to the table when the time came, but kept his distance. Just in case he needed to throw an exit open for people to escape a sudden fire.

Jordan was next, and Molly almost didn’t recognize PJ as he edged through the path Jordan manhandled through the crowd. She’d known PJ had almost died, but since this was the first time she’d seen him since his return to Boston, she hadn’t realized just how bad it had to have been.

“You okay?” Molly asked as PJ sat. “You look uncomfortable.”

PJ made a face and sniffled slightly. “I’m just getting a cold. It’s fine.”

Jordan looked over sharply at that, and PJ shook his head. Jordan frowned, but nodded.

“Do you have something to say, PJ?” Molly leaned forward, gloved finger idly tapping her glass and gaze fixed on PJ.

PJ visibly cringed at that, which only raised her alarm, but he shook his head. “No- not... not yet, at least. It’s best to wait for Felix to get here.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing Ken,” Wade murmured. “He never says anything, but his faces are great.”

Molly laughed softly, putting her hand on his in full view of the table. This was a speakeasy owned and run by Orchids, after all. Public displays of affection were more than allowed.

“Oh, hey!” Wade greeted, and Molly looked over to see Felix, looking very, very flustered, darting to the table with no bodyguard in sight.

“Is everything okay?” Molly asked. “Where’s Ken?”

“He’s not here tonight, but-”

“You came without a bodyguard?” Wade narrowed his eyes at Felix. “Felix-”

“No, you need to listen,” Felix urged, and the desperation in his voice pulled Molly up short. “Cry’s back, and so is J-”

The face that stepped up behind Felix was undeniably familiar, and every pair of eyes snapped to the man who only had one.

“I think they can see me,” Jack said quietly, cold gaze on PJ, who had gone entirely pale. His piercing blue eye traveled around the table, evaluating each of them, warming at the sight of those he clearly considered friends still—Felix and Wade and Molly—before landing back on PJ and freezing over again.

“Jack...” Wade breathed, pushing himself into a standing position. “Jack, you’re alive.”

“I-”

Wade threw himself across the table and pulled Jack into a tight hug, clearly catching the smaller man by surprise.

“Wade, please,” Jack murmured, gaze flicking around. “There are people watching.”

“According to the government, both of us are dead.” Wade pulled away and put his hands firmly on Jack’s shoulders. “What are they going to say? They saw two dead men hugging?”

Jack’s mouth opened and closed several times as he contemplated this, but he didn’t move to push Wade’s hands off his shoulders.

“Peej?” Felix’s soft voice caught Molly’s attention, and she turned her gaze to the other end of the table, where PJ was watching Jack with an undeniably haunted expression on his face, pale and trembling, the fingers of his unbroken arm trying to dig through the table. “Peej?”

PJ’s eyes didn’t even flicker away from Jack, and his entire body was stiff.

Molly looked over at Jordan. “Get him water. Tell one of the waitresses to make a First Lady. It’ll help him calm down, but he’ll still have whatever wits he has left.”

Jordan nodded, pushing himself away from the table with a smooth motion and venturing over to the bar.

“Please,” Molly said, turning back to Jack and gesturing to one of the remaining chairs around the table, “take a seat.”

Jack nodded and complied, sitting as far away from PJ as possible. He immediately put his elbows on the table. Some things never changed, at least.

“Everyone, take a seat.” Molly spoke quietly, but Felix looked over and nodded, dropping into the seat next to PJ.

A figure stepped forward from the shadows of the crowd, and Cry’s familiar mask came into the light. Molly sighed, relief rushing through her.

“It’s good to see Minx didn’t actually kill you,” she greeted warmly.

Cry clasped his hands behind his back, fidgeting with a seam on his glove. “You knew about that? Or did she tell you after the fact.”

“I knew you were up to Faceless things. She had to warn me to not accidentally switch our tea, after all.” Molly frowned. “She didn’t tell me the rest until we all thought you were dead for a long, long time.”

“I’m sorry,” Cry said. “I didn’t mean to make you worry.”

Molly dipped her head, accepting the apology, and turned her gaze to the real main attraction of the night.

“Sean-” Wade started, “what happened? I thought PJ killed you.”

“So did I,” PJ murmured, unsteady voice barely audible over the crowd around them. “And yet he’s here now, and he was at Felix’s house three weeks ago. I saw him then, but I thought he was just my nightmares come to life, but here he is again.”

Wade sat up. “We need to tell Signe-”

Jack put his hands flat on the table, and Molly silenced Wade with a gentle touch on his arm.

“Signe made the decision to leave,” Jack said quietly. “When she’s settled, I’ll write her a letter to let her know I’m alive, but she made the decision to leave. I cannot and will not demand her to return for a man she thinks is dead.”

Molly leaned forward, fingers falling still. “Good.” Her eyes met Jack’s. “Otherwise I’d take out your other eye myself.”

Jack laughed softly. “Good to know you haven’t changed much.” He tapped his fingers on the table, blatantly ignoring PJ. “What are we going to do about Mark?”

Molly took a deep breath and leaned back in her seat, pursing her lips for a moment. She glanced at PJ, then at Felix, then at Cry, then at Jack, and finally at Wade.

“We still have business to attend to, and it unfortunately can’t wait.” She tapped her fingers on the table again. “It will take an hour. After that, we’ll talk about what’s being done for Mark and what more can be done.” She met Jack’s eye. “Understood?”

Jack dipped his head. “Understood.” He didn’t hide his pointed glare at PJ as he rose from his seat. “I’ll wait in the back room while you do your business with him.”

Chapter Text

MatPat couldn’t help but notice just how cramped Nate’s office was with so many people inside. Every time Gar shifted he stuck an elbow into MatPat’s ribs, and MatPat’s own head had repeatedly bumped into Bob’s shoulder. They’d had to bring in extra chairs to allow them all to sit, and to keep the door clear.

He was just glad he wasn’t Patrck in the corner, squished between Bob and a potted plant.

The door opened and Nate rushed in, immediately closing the door behind him. He dropped his dripping umbrella into the corner and half-tossed his hat onto its hook with the ease of familiarity, then dropped into his chair, spinning to face them.

“Sorry for the short notice,” he said, just a little out of breath, “especially considering the rain this morning.” He leaned forward, putting his elbows on the desk. His gaze flicked from Patrck to Bob and then Gar, before settling on MatPat.

“The four of you are going to be working very closely together the next while—potentially years.”

Bob shifted just enough to let MatPat’s shoulder slip into Bob’s armpit.

Cozy.

“Detectives Patrick and Bluemoon are already aware of the task at hand, and have already begun on this massive task, but they’re going to need support and backup.” Nate’s gaze flicked to Bob, then Patrck. “The four of you are going to be handling all Faceless cases.”

Bob sat up slightly at that, as if surprised.

Nate held up a hand. “I know what the rumors say, gentlemen. Faceless are nothing more than rumors, shadows created by officers to explain why the evidence on a case is suddenly cold. But I know they exist. I’ve met them.” He pointed to the mask hanging on his wall. “That is an example of a Faceless mask, confiscated from one who went by the name Nightmare.”

Gar’s elbow hit MatPat’s ribs again, and he glanced at the mask. Nate’s own formal mask, from his time in the Faceless, and yet he was talking about it as if it had belonged to a mass murderer.

Which, MatPat realized with a chill, it might have. Faceless were assassins, after all. He didn’t know how long Nate had been a Faceless. How many jobs had Nate taken? How many had he killed with a professional disinterest in everything but the money?

“By the time I took him down, Nightmare had killed five innocent civilians and three members of law enforcement and the judicial system.” Nate’s hands pressed into the table. “At least.”

Bob and Patrck made suitably shocked sounds, but MatPat could barely find it in himself to softly gasp.

Nate had killed five innocent civilians, and three members of law enforcement and the judicial system. Nate.

“This was just one Faceless,” Nate said, expression grim. “From the information Nightmare gave before he died—which may not be reliable, keep in mind—the Faceless are an international organization with hundreds of thousands of members.”

It seemed like they’d have more than that, if they were international. MatPat knew enough about organized crime to realize that the ones you heard about were rarely even close to the full picture.

“I don’t expect you to hunt down all the Faceless worldwide.” Nate sat back in his chair, clasping his hands together on the desk. “Not only is that far too large of a scope for just the four of you, I can’t give you jurisdiction outside of Boston. However,” his gaze turned to Gar, “I sincerely hope you find every clue to every Faceless in Boston.” His gaze flicked to MatPat. “They are criminals. They must be taken out of the shadows and face the law.”

How many Faceless were in Boston? Did Nate realize what kind of task he’d just dumped on them?

“Officer Static,” Nate said, “you look like you have a question.”

“Yeah. What happened to Nightmare?”

“It took a lot of work, but he was arrested, interrogated, tried, and condemned.” Nate’s fingers flexed slightly. “All Faceless break multiple serious laws. If they somehow avoid capital punishment, then they’ll be in prison until they die.”

“Ah.” Patrck sounded oddly neutral about that, like he wasn’t terribly pleased about those words but didn’t want it to show. “That’s understandable.”

“On account of the sheer information available to you—you’ll all have to sift through the so-called Faceless cases to try to figure out which ones were actually done by them—and the Faceless we keep getting anonymous tips about, you’ll all be getting an office. It’s on the second floor, since that was the only one large enough for four of you that we could shuffle into being available, but you’ll all be able to speak freely inside there about whatever you find.” Nate leaned back, tapping one hand gently on his desk. “You’ll be spending today moving and handing off any unrelated cases to other officers and detectives.” Nate dipped his head. “The next few weeks will be unpleasant for you, as you’ll be spending half of your day for the next three weeks going through intensive training so you’re able to physically and mentally handle anything the Faceless throw at you.” Nate closed his eyes. “They’re a vindictive lot. The more preparation you have, the better.”

MatPat frowned softly, trying to think of a way out of this one. Out of the training… well, yes, because it was most definitely going to interfere with visiting Steph, and that was a bother. But more importantly, out of the team as a whole; although Nate clearly wasn’t giving him a choice—and there was no logical reason he, Matthew Patrick, star detective of Precinct 3, would refuse this kind of opportunity.

No, he was stuck.

“One last thing before I give you the keys to your new office,” Nate said, opening his eyes and fixing them on each person in turn. “As soon as the Faceless find out about you, they may very well begin to target you. If you need backup, just let me know.” He sighed heavily. “And let’s just hope they don’t get their hands on you.” His gaze turned to Gar. “You may have been able to escape from one mob, but the Faceless would not be nearly so careless.”

After a beat of silence Nate put his hands flat on the table. “Alright, gentlemen, you have your assignment. Your office is 269. Any last questions?”

“Are you suggesting the Faceless will find us, capture us, and torture us?” Bob asked. “Why wouldn’t they just kill us?”

“They might.” Nate’s expression went grim. “You’d best hope for that. It’s better than the torture they have in store.”

“Uh-huh,” Bob said in a tone that suggested that wasn’t the answer he’d been hoping for. “And what do Faceless look like? Is there some sort of profile we need to keep an eye out for?”

“Unfortunately, Officer Muyskens, you, Officer Static, and the detectives will have to build a profile. We don’t know very much about them. You may find it helpful to visit the three we have in custody.”

Bob dipped his head and tried to shift, but couldn’t, since MatPat’s shoulder was in his armpit.

“Good luck, officers,” Nate said, pulling an envelope out of his drawer. “Here are your office keys.”

♣♥♠♦

So maybe Nate had fudged things a little when he said the office was big enough for four of them, MatPat mused as he eyed their new space. It was big enough for four desks, yes; and the associated chairs, all facing the middle of the room, perpendicular to both the door and the decently-sized window on the far wall that looked out on the street. The wall to his left was covered in bookcases and filing cabinets, and the right was delightfully clear… well, no, not quite. A single note was pinned to it.

MatPat walked over to take a look, then chuckled softly. I know how you work, it said in Nate’s handwriting, so here’s a wall on which you may pin things.

“Mine!” Patrck said, and MatPat turned to see the younger officer sitting on one of the desks closer to the window. “I like this one.”

“They’re all the same, Pat.” Gar laughed softly. “It’s not going to make much difference.”

“Then you won’t mind that this is mine.” Patrck flashed Gar a grin and dropped into his chair, spinning lazily. “I want to put a plant on the desk. A little green friendo.”

“There’s not a single plant at your house, so I’m not really convinced you can keep one alive.”

Patrck put his feet down with a soft gasp. “Look, that’s just so Ophelia doesn’t eat them. She doesn’t come with me to work, though. My plant will be safe here.”

Bob laughed softly, coming up to stand next to MatPat. “What do you think?”

MatPat looked around. “I mean, we should add something nice to look at, but this will work just fine.”

Bob smiled, then shook his head and laughed again as Gar and Patrck started arguing about keeping a plant alive.

MatPat smiled himself, but his heart wasn’t in it. They were on a special team dedicated to slowly taking down the Faceless. There wasn’t much to laugh about that. What was Gar going to do about the inevitable conflicts that caused? What would Gar do to remain undercover? Who would pay the price?

Chapter Text

Ohm pulled himself out of the car, wincing at the dull ache in his broken leg. He nodded gratefully as Moo passed over his crutches.

“You know,” Moo said as Ohm pulled himself upright, “remind me not to break a leg. Healing looks painful.”

“Yeah.” Ohm, now armed with mobility, stepped back from the car door to let Moo close it. “I don’t recommend it.” He glanced around:, at the street, at the surrounding warehouses, and at the tall chain link fence with a giant hole at the bottom. “Is...”

“Yeah.” Moo walked a few feet away, closer to the hole in the fence, and crouched, gloved fingers brushing the ground. “I found them here.” He closed his eyes. “It... I could barely see them, it was so dark. And it was snowing. Visibility was next to nothing. I knew they were probably hurt, I was worried about them freezing, but since everyone else was off looking a few blocks away, I... came here. Where Evan last saw them.”

Ohm frowned, moving to stand next to Moo. The ground seemed so... so clean. Any traces of blood had long since been washed away by rain and snow.

“Their bodies were mostly covered by the time I got here.” Moo opened his eyes, but the expression in them seemed to suggest he wasn’t really seeing the present world—more like the past. “I had my flashlight out, of course, and I... it was pretty obvious that there was something here, but the snow had covered all their blood by then.” He sighed and stood. “Once I’d uncovered them...” His voice broke, and he hesitated, closing his eyes. “Cartoonz died holding Delirious’ body.”

Ohm let out a long breath, staring at the spot where his friends had died. “Evan... he said they’d been mauled?”

Moo swallowed and nodded. “Yeah.”

Ohm didn’t push it and instead moved over to the fence, to the hole in the bottom. He knew this shortcut. Delirious had always taken it when he was running behind schedule. He’d never taken it himself, and there was certainly no chance he’d manage to pull himself through that kind of opening now. Not with his leg like this; not with all his injuries.

Still, he leaned one crutch up against the fence and gripped the chain link for stability, peering in through the twisted metal wire. Nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary. It was an abandoned—or at least scarcely-used— set of warehouses with a long strip of clear ground before them. They had probably been seized by the bank, and had yet to change hands.

It seemed too normal to be the reason two of his friends were dead.

He glanced back, only to see Moo staring at the ground with a troubled look on his face. He was trying to hold back the emotions Ohm was certain must be flooding his mind.

Ohm swallowed and turned his gaze back to the yard, trying to figure how that night must have gone. They’d been coming back from the warehouse. He knew that. None of them had thought to take the car they’d driven over (maybe because Ohm had had the keys), so they had been going on foot.

They’d had the Wolf Pup with them. Gar. He’d known Gar had been shot, and he’d known the others were the ones to bring him in, he just... hadn’t put it together that the entire reason they’d taken this shortcut was to get Gar to help before it was too late.

Soft-hearted, compassionate, determined idiots.

Ohm dropped his head against the chain link, closing his eyes and trying to hold back the tears. He’d already done so much crying. Why were there still tears?

He drew in a sudden deep breath, taking a moment to sort through all the feelings. Grief, of course. He’d been feeling that for a while now, and it wasn’t going to disappear any time soon, Desperation and anguish; wishing he could see them again, assure them he was okay. Toonz had known it was Ohm’s last mission with the team, that no matter how things went down he had to step into his place undercover in the Family. But he’d meant to see them again, once he was trusted in the Family’s ranks. He was meant to spend more time with them.

Did he feel anger? No... no anger. None at Toonz and Del, and none at Moo for not telling him sooner. If he’d had to face this when he was first returned to the Family... he wouldn’t have been able to keep it together.

He sighed, opening his eyes and looking out at the deserted warehouse yard. It wouldn’t do any good to dwell on it. They were dead. It hurt. He still had a job to do.

He released the chain link and picked up his crutch, readying himself to return to the car. He still needed to go home. Moo was going to help him better organize his apartment for a man with crutches.

A tiny growl, a growl that was almost a squeak, and then the slightest weight was on Ohm’s shoe. He raised an eyebrow and glanced down, only to see a tiny puppy attacking his shoelaces.

“Hello,” Ohm said softly, examining it. It was clearly thin, malnourished, and seemed much too small to be on its own, but it was old enough to have its eyes open and attack his shoelaces. “Who are you?”

The tiny pup fell off Ohm’s shoe and squeaked, scurrying towards the fence.

Ohm set a crutch to the side and slowly lowered himself to a knee, groaning slightly at the ache that brought. He extended a hand to the pup, wiggling his fingers. “Hey, I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“Ohm?” Moo asked. “What’re you do- oh!” His voice became gentle. “Hey pup.”

The puppy’s head poked back out from under the fence, and it cautiously looked at Ohm, but didn’t approach.

“Do we have something to feed him?” Ohm asked Moo softly, not wanting to scare the tiny brown and white pup. “He seems hungry.”

“Uh... I think I have some jerky.” Moo walked over to the car, and the door opened. A pause, and then Moo walked up next to Ohm. “Here.”

Ohm reached up and took the packet of brown paper, drawing out a thin strip of dried meat and holding it out to the pup. “You want it?”

The pup’s gaze immediately fixed on the jerky, and it slowly inched its way towards Ohm. Finally, it darted forward and hopped, putting its front paws on Ohm’s hand and chomping down on the jerky. It made to run, but Ohm deftly caught it and lifted it up, bringing it to eye level.

Despite being captured, the tiny pup didn’t seem all that distressed. Its hind feet scrabbled at Ohm’s hand, yes; but its tail was wagging, and it tilted its head at Ohm, jerky in mouth.

“Hey,” Ohm greeted. “You don’t have a mom around, do you.”

The tail wagged harder at the sound of his voice.

“Do you want to come home with me?”

Moo made a small sound. Ohm chose to think of it as a pleased gasp, and not anything cautionary or disapproving.

The pup stopped scrabbling at Ohm’s hand, but didn’t squirm to get away.

“Sounds like a deal to me,” Ohm said. He tucked the pup into his suit jacket pocket, making sure it was nestled safely, before reaching for his other crutch and slowly standing.

“You know,” Moo said, heading for the door to hold it open for Ohm, “I’m not going to protest you getting a dog, but I do wonder how you’re gonna housebreak it when you’re on crutches.”

Ohm shrugged. “I’ll figure it out.”

“So, uh,” Moo said as he took Ohm’s crutches and stowed them in the backseat, “should we stop at a general store and a butcher’s, and grab some stuff for him?”

Ohm flashed him a grin, settling carefully in his seat so the puppy could crawl out of his pocket and into his lap if so desired. “Of course.”

♣♥♠♦

Between getting the things to properly care for the pup and rearranging furniture, it was nearly sunset by the time Moo was saying his goodbyes. Ohm was settled on the couch in his living room, watching the pup chase a balled-up sheet of newspaper around.

“Good luck with him,” Moo said, nodding at the pup. “If you ever need someone to come and pet him, give me a ring.”

Ohm laughed softly. “I’ll keep it in mind.” He grinned as the unmistakable sound of the pup’s claws scrabbling for purchase on the polished wood floor accompanied by a little yip. “I’ll let you know what I name him next time we talk.”

“Sounds good.” Moo waved, then waved at the pup. “See you later.”

And then Ohm was left alone with the pup.

He sat there for a minute, watching, until he glanced at the phone. Time to report in that he was home and settled. Probably wouldn’t hurt to mention that he had quite literally scooped up a puppy off the streets.

He glanced back at the puppy. He’d also need to take the puppy to someone with medical training and experience with animals; get him checked out. The poor little guy was clearly not up to full health, and he wanted that fixed as soon as possible.

And he had to name him. That was an important one.

He got up. Might as well start knocking things off that list. First things first, report to the Family.

Chapter Text

“No.”

Mark glanced down to his feet where Luna was staring up at him with an upset look on her face, hands gripping the crate they’d had to put her in to keep her from wandering around the speakeasy.

“No to what?” he asked, glancing at the order in front of him. Six fancy, and expensive, cocktails. People had big wallets tonight.

“No... no down. Up.”

Mark glanced down at her again. “You can’t come up. We’ve talked about this. Nobody’s supposed to see you.”

“Up,” Luna insisted, bouncing slightly in the crate.

“No. It’s not safe.” Mark reached for the bottles he’d need. “You need to stay. Quiet, remember?”

Luna’s face pulled into a frown, but she sat in the crate and fell silent, staring up at Mark.

“Thank you,” he said.

None of this would have been necessary, of course, if Luna were a regular 1-year-old who did things like sleep at night and play during the day—rather than sleep during the day and be awake at night. She was, however, still one, and she still wanted to play rather than sit quietly. And she had started to climb places she shouldn’t, so to keep an eye on her, she had to sit in the crate behind the bar.

Something soft hit his leg, and he glanced down to see Luna had thrown her plush at him, still frowning.

“Luna,” he said softly, “I can’t pick it up right now.”

Luna crossed her arms.

“I need to finish this order,” Mark continued. “Be patient, please.”

Luna did not want to be patient. When she started sniffling a few seconds later, Mark frantically waved Sophie over, and Sophie was barely able to get Luna into the back before the toddler started wailing.

One of the other two waitresses came over and took Sophie’s tables with a sour expression on her face. She was new, and wasn’t as aware of his circumstances as some of the other speakeasy employees.

“Walter,” she said in her accented voice and uncertain English, dropping off a table’s orders, “this is no place for a child.”

“I have no choice.”

“Your wife and daughter, yes?” She gestured to the door to the back. “Leave them home. Provide by yourself.”

“I have no choice,” Mark repeated dully, reading the order. It was half in Russian, but he knew enough now to get by.

She scoffed, switching to Russian. “You’re a bad father. A bad husband.”

Mark shrugged. It took far too much effort to explain that he wasn’t Luna’s father, that Sophie wasn’t her mother, that he and Sophie weren’t married and actually both loved other people. Usually he got as far as “Luna’s not my daughter” before people started giving Sophie nasty looks, and he didn’t particularly care for doing that to her. It was easier to pretend that neither of them were with other people.

Well, at least Sophie was. Surely Amy had moved on by now.

He pushed past the thought, turning his focus to the drinks and ignoring the ache in his heart and the pain in his leg.

It was nearly an hour before Luna, now quiet and holding her plush to her face, was gently set back in the crate and Sophie returned to waiting tables.

As the late night turned into early morning, Mark did his best to make sure Luna got little snacks (it was easy enough to slip her fruit chunks) and water, and whenever there was a lull in orders he crouched as far down as he could, twisted leg stretched out awkwardly to avoid pain, talking to her and making sure she was okay.

He knew she wasn’t, not really. She was a toddler. She needed her parents, and time to play and socialize with other children. She didn’t get any of that here.

Finally, the speakeasy closed, leaving Mark and Sophie to clean.

“Help,” Luna demanded, holding out her hand. “Help.”

Mark obediently gave her a dry rag, and she went about “wiping down” all the surfaces she could reach from her spot in the crate. The rag wasn’t wet to do anything, and she wasn’t pressing hard enough with it anyway to actually clean anything. But she seemed to like it, and it was easy, so Mark wasn’t going to argue.

The bar was wiped down, the glasses and bottles of alcohol returned to their places, and Luna seriously handed over her “dirty” rag, which Mark placed in with the others. That done, he waited for Sophie to pull out his crutches from the back, and slid one arm in. The other, he stretched down to Luna and wiggled his fingers.

“Ready to go up?”

Luna bounced, gripping her plush in one hand and reaching up to him with the other. “Up! Up!”

Mark grabbed her the best he could by the back and shoulders, providing support as she climbed over the side of the crate to the floor. She stood and waited as Mark grabbed his other crutch and slid his arm into it.

“Ready?” he asked, looking down at Luna.

Luna nodded, gripping onto the pants leg of his good leg.

Slowly, with him being careful not to hit her with his crutches and her toddling carefully beside him, they made their way to the back room.

“Baf?” Luna asked.

“We’ll get you a bath, don’t worry,” Mark promised. They all needed a bath, but if they got Luna hers first, Mark could finish getting her ready for bed while Sophie took hers, and then the two of them could get to sleep and Mark could take one last—he took the longest, after all.

Luna smiled at him.

“Do you want to read while we wait?” Mark asked, gently sitting on his bed and then scooping Luna up to sit next to him. 

“Yeah.” Luna bounced slightly.

Mark smiled and reached for the children’s book next to the radio.

Robin had smuggled it in. Luna loved it.

It was, perhaps, a little too involved for Luna. She certainly didn’t understand most of the things the story was trying to say. The Boxcar Children wasn’t something he’d have chosen if she was a little older, but he was pretty sure most things went over her head. It wasn’t like it was a horrifying book; it was, after all, still a children’s story.

Just, not a toddler’s story.

Whenever they found a picture on the pages, Luna would put her hand down on the book and look at the picture. She liked pointing at random words and having Mark say them. She liked turning the pages. She liked listening to him read, too; though they usually only got through five or six pages a night before she’d dozed off.

Tonight’s reading involved Henry telling Benny about a magical utensil that was both a spoon and a knife.

“Poon,” Luna repeated. She looked up and tilted her head at Mark. “Poon?”

“Spoons are what we use to eat soup,” Mark said. “The one we put on your nose yesterday.”

Luna’s expression brightened, and she clapped softly. “Poon!”

Mark nodded, turning his gaze back to the book to read. He got another few sentences before Luna’s hand came down on the book, pushing it into his lap, and her other hand came up and touched his face.

He froze.

“Ow?” Luna asked softly, fingers gently gliding across his scars. “Ow?”

Mark swallowed and turned to face her, her big brown eyes staring up at him in concern. “They don’t hurt.” Not usually, anyway. Not anymore.

Luna frowned, reaching up with her other hand to press it against Mark’s other cheek. “Ow?”

“It... did hurt. For a long time.”

Luna’s frown softened, and she withdrew her left hand, but the tiny fingers on her right hand still rested on Mark’s cheek. On his scars. She moved them slowly, confusion on her face. She tilted her head some, and brought her other hand up to touch her own cheek. Her eyebrows furrowed.

“Why?”

“I got burned. A fire. It was very hot, and it hurt me.”

“Why?”

Mark hesitated. “Fire always hurts people.” She didn’t need to know he’d set it himself. She didn’t need to learn about arson so young.

“Ow.”

Mark nodded slowly.

Luna lowered her hands into her lap, though her gaze remained fixed on Mark. After a minute, her gaze dropped to his hands, and she put one of her tiny hands on his.

“Ow.”

“It was a big fire.”

Luna pulled his hand off the book, and he complied. She turned his hand over a few times, looking at it but not really touching. Then she grabbed his ring finger. “Why no?”

Mark blinked. “I don’t have any rings.”

“Why?” Luna frowned, mouth opening and closing a few times. Clearly, she was struggling to find the right words. “No... no mama?”

Mark blinked. “I have a mother.”

Luna shook her head. “No. No.” She pointed at him. “No papa papa, Marg papa.” She then pointed at his hand, at his ring finger. “No... no Marg mama?”

Mark tilted his head, trying to understand.

Luna sighed, looking frustrated. She lifted her hands. “Mama, papa, mwah.” She pressed them together, and then pointed to his ring finger again. “Marg mama?”

Mark blinked, reeling. “I... I don’t know.” He swallowed. “Amy and I were dating, but... she thinks I’m dead. She’s probably seeing someone else by now.”

Luna frowned. “Yes? No.”

“I don’t know. No.” Amy had moved on. She must have. It had been almost eight months since he’d burned down Freddy’s. Even if she wasn’t dating anyone new, she definitely wouldn’t consider herself as taken.

Luna frowned. “Why no?”

“She thinks I’m dead.”

Luna frowned. “Why?”

“Because of the fire.”

Luna put her hand on his, patting him gently. “Ow.”

“Yes.”

Luna looked over, and Mark looked up to see Sophie standing there.

“Baf?” Luna asked.

“Yeah,” Sophie said, holding out her arms. “Let’s give you a bath.”

The two slipped into the bathroom, and Mark flopped back onto his bed.

Amy.

Would he ever see her again?

Would she even want to see him, the broken man he’d become?

Chapter Text

Gar hated being in prison.

MatPat walked next to him quietly, the only sounds echoing in the barren hallway being three sets of footsteps: the detectives’, and those of the guard escorting them. The heavily armed guards stationed throughout the hallway didn’t spare them more than a glance. The few prisoners occupying the small cells watched them with barely disguised curiosity and boredom, calling things out as they passed and only quieting when one of the guards slammed his baton into the bars.

These were the prisoners who weren’t allowed into the yard; who didn’t get outside time. “The worst of the worst,” the guard guiding them had said before they’d entered the area, “most of them waiting to die.”

Bob and Patrck were still waiting in the main visitor’s hall. The guards had only allowed two of them through. Gar had taken one look at Bob’s tight expression (“The last time we saw him around here, he was visiting one of his friends. The guy had been stabbed, escaped, and died in the blizzard. Never found his body,” the guard had murmured.) and immediately volunteered to go in instead. Patrck, already shifting back and forth with a hand on his nightstick, wasn’t a good candidate either, so MatPat went.

It was Gar’s first time walking through a prison. Somehow, he hadn’t expected it to be this unnerving.

As they took a turn around a corner, they started passing areas that were obviously even higher security than the last. Heavy metal doors lined this new hall with just enough glass on them to glance in and see groups of three cells behind the doors.

“Over here,” the guard said, walking them up to a series of wooden doors. “We’ll bring them in one at a time. I’ll be at the door if they get unruly. Be careful. All three of them have been confirmed as trained assassins. They’ll be shackled, but don’t get too close. Don’t give them an advantage.”

“Of course,” MatPat said simply, professionally.

“If they do try to attack you, defend yourself until we come in.” The guard unlocked the door, holding it open for them. “They’re already on death row. You can’t rob them of a future they don’t have.”

MatPat nodded, leading the way into the room.

The guard let the door close behind them.

MatPat took a deep breath and turned to Gar, expression concerned. “You doing okay?”

Gar shrugged, taking in the room. “I guess? I don’t particularly care for being watched like that.”

“No kidding.” MatPat bounced on the balls of his feet slightly. “I hate coming here. There’s no mercy. Only judgement.”

Gar nodded softly, gaze fixed on the table in the middle of the room. A metal loop was bolted to the floor. Very obviously, they were going to shackle the prisoner there.

“Have you done this much?”

“Not recently.” MatPat paused. “I did a lot when I first started, back when Jason and I were on homicide. I’ve never really enjoyed it. None of the prisoners I ever talked to were very cooperative. Can’t blame them. I wouldn’t be in their circumstances.”

Gar glanced over. “Are we always required to leave our weapons behind?”

MatPat nodded. “Don’t want a prisoner grabbing them off us.”

Gar grimaced. “Doesn’t make me feel very safe.”

“I know.”

The door on the other side of the room opened, and two guards escorted a wiry-looking man in, loose shackles on both his ankles and wrists. As soon as he sat in the chair on the other side of the table, he was shackled to that loop on the floor.

“He’s all yours,” one of the guards said, exiting through the door they’d come in.

For a long moment, the room was filled with silence. MatPat and Gar were examining the man, and he was examining them right back. His piercing gaze and bitterly amused expression were fixed on Gar.

Gar stuck his hands in his pants pockets, tapping his index and middle fingers on the outside of it before pulling them into the pocket as well.

The man’s eyes immediately narrowed, and he gave Gar a hard look, gaze raking him up and down. You’re the one I’ve heard about, it seemed to say. 

“I’d prefer you not do that,” MatPat’s voice interrupted coldly, and Gar blinked as the older detective stepped between Gar and the imprisoned Faceless.

“Fortunately,” the Faceless said equally coldly, fixing his gaze on MatPat, “I don’t take orders from you.”

“You’ll answer questions from me.”

The Faceless quirked an eyebrow, smirking. “Nah.” He glanced at Gar. “I want to talk to the kid. Alone.”

MatPat shook his head. “Absolutely not.”

“Pity.” The Faceless leaned back in his chair. “Neither of us will get what we want, then.” He grinned sharply. “Stop blocking the kid’s view, at least. Let him see good and well what happens when you break the laws set in place by this beloved government.”

MatPat hesitated, then stepped aside to reveal the Faceless having lifted his hands, spread apart as far as the shackles around his wrists would allow.

“So they’ve sentenced you correctly?” MatPat asked.

The Faceless snorted. “Of course not. Do I look like an assassin to you?”

“I’ve learned enough over the years to know that’s not an obvious answer,” MatPat responded cooly. “You put three cops in the hospital when they arrested you. One of them almost died.”

“It was a sloppy job.” The Faceless looked at Gar. “Hey, kid. He always like this?”

“Don’t talk to him,” MatPat said, voice flat and almost angry.

The Faceless threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, so you care about him? I thought that was widely considered a bad idea.” He grinned humorlessly. “The young ones die faster, don’t they?”

MatPat’s hands balled into fists, and he settled the Faceless with an even glare, something dangerous sparking in his gaze that Gar had never seen before.

“Just tell us what we need to know and we’ll be gone. You’ll never have to see us again,” MatPat said, voice dangerously soft.

“Why, because I’ll have dangled from the end of a rope before then? Met a shooting squad?” The Faceless cocked an eyebrow. “You have nothing that can convince me to say anything at all.”

“You were found tied up with a Faceless mask. Who did that to you?”

The Faceless leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, raising his other eyebrow.

“What were you out doing? Who hired you?”

An amused grin curled on the Faceless’ face. “Aw, you should know better than to think I’d tell you that. I thought you’d dealt with killers for hire before.”

Gar hesitated, but held his tongue and clasped his hands behind his back.

“See?” The Faceless nodded at Gar. “Even the kid knows that.”

“You leave him out of this.”

The Faceless snorted. “Why’d you even bring him in here, then, if you aren’t going to let him talk? Not much of a learning experience, hm?”

MatPat narrowed his eyes. “Stop with the psychological tricks.”

The Faceless shrugged. “If you want it flat, let me talk to the kid alone. No one listening in. Microphone off.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Matt,” Gar murmured, earning a startled glance from his partner. “Let me try.”

MatPat paused, then gestured for Gar to follow him to the far side of the room.

“Are you sure?” MatPat asked. “He’s going to try to manipulate you.”

“I know.” Gar looked over at the Faceless, at the man steadfastly examining him. “I won’t tell him anything, but if he’ll talk to me...”

When he glanced back, MatPat was looking at him, something unreadable in his brown eyes, as if he were seeing more of Gar than Gar knew.

“Matt?”

MatPat sighed, still looking at Gar with that odd look in his eyes. “How much time do you think you’ll need.”

Gar shrugged. “I’ve never done this before. Five minutes? Then you can come back in anyway.”

MatPat hesitated, then nodded. “Five minutes,” he confirmed as he unplugged the wires from the microphone, then stepped out of the room.

“You’ve got me alone,” Gar said, spreading his hands in a shrug. “Ready to talk?”

The Faceless dipped his head. “Sure, kid.” He leaned forward, propping his chin up on his hand, elbow on the table. “Ask away.”

“Do you know who captured you?”

The Faceless shook his head. “It wasn’t one person. I don’t know for sure how many there were, since by the time I saw more than one I’d been bashed across the head and was already seeing double of things. Maybe three? Four?” He idly dragged his wrist shackles across the table with his other hand. “They were all wearing plain, dark masks. Like mine.” His lips pressed into a thin line. “I didn’t realize they weren’t friendly until it was too late.”

“They didn’t kill you, though.”

“I know.” The Faceless’ gaze bored into Gar. “I don’t know why. The end result is going to be the same, isn’t it? Why not get it over with? Why bother with turning me in, where a seasoned detective and a plucky rookie can question me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Neither do I.” The Faceless tilted his head. “It’s not the usual response when an enemy finds us.” He sat up straight, letting both hands fall to the table. “Next question?”

“Why didn’t you try to escape?”

“Oh, I did. Trust me, I did. But those bastards knew what they were doing.” He scowled. “They completely disarmed me. Completely. All eight of my knives were in the crate with my mask, just out of reach.”

“Did you hear voices? Any identifying features?”

“Some voices. Two of them. One male. One female. No distinguishing clothing. No skirts among them. Sturdy shoes and pants. Thick gloves.” He paused. “I’d probably be able to pick the voices out of a crowd, but I can’t mimic them. They were talking about a leader. Orders. A targeted list.”

Gar nodded.

The Faceless gestured Gar closer, and, unthinkingly, he complied.

“You can’t do this,” the man growled—and then the Faceless lunged forward and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. The next moment, pain was blossoming across his shoulder and side as he found himself lying on the floor between the broken halves of the table. The Faceless hauled him up and slammed him into the wall, knocking all the air out of him, then held him there. “It’s too risky, you’ll be found,” the Faceless gasped. “I know we can’t lose you.”

Gar gripped the man’s forearms and aimed a kick at his knee, but the Faceless trapped his legs against his thigh and the wall. “What are you doing?” Gar forced out, his voice distinctly strangled. “Let go!”

“I can’t,” the Faceless rasped, his eyes wide as his hand tightened around Gar’s throat. “You have to get away from this case, understand? You have to stay away, because one side or another is gonna find out, and that will end badly for you.”

Gar snarled and shoved his hand into the other man’s face, grabbing at his ear until the Faceless stepped back. The taut chains regained some slack, and Gar could see where the shackles had scraped the man’s skin raw. He found his feet, bracing himself against the wall just in time for the Faceless to come at him again, a fist slamming into his ribcage with a crack.

The door slammed open and armed guards rushed in, pulling the Faceless off of Gar and throwing the man to the ground. MatPat rushed to Gar’s side, catching him as he slid to the ground with a pained whimper.

“Hey, hey, Gar, can you hear me?”

Gar nodded slowly, using one hand to keep himself up against the wall. “Yeah.”

MatPat’s face relaxed some. “Okay.” He swallowed. “Is anything broken? Where are you hurt?”

Gar swore under his breath. “Everywhere,” he groaned. “I hurt everywhere. At least nothing’s numb; that’s always a good sign.”

The Faceless’ quiet sounds of pain stopped and most of the guards stepped away, their batons bloody. Two of the guards grabbed the Faceless by the arms and began to drag him out of the room.

“You should give up on him,” the Faceless rasped. “Just give up-”

A guard’s baton slammed into the Faceless’ head, and he fell quiet and limp.

MatPat ignored everything behind him, his attention fixed on Gar. “Can you stand?”

“I think so.”

“Okay. One step at a time. Let me know if anything hurts and we’ll stop.” MatPat slid his arm under Gar’s shoulder and Gar’s arm over his, and slowly pulled him to his feet. Gar gripped MatPat’s shoulder hard, leaning on the older man as his body complained from the exertion.

“Still good?” MatPat asked.

Gar nodded, though he didn’t have much air to talk. “Ribs?”

“Your... ribs? They were broken?”

Gar hesitated. “Maybe?” Definitely. That Faceless’ punch had landed true.

“We’ll keep that in mind.” MatPat edged towards the door. “Let’s get you to the nurse. And then maybe the hospital, if your ribs really are broken.”

“MatPat,” Gar said quietly as they exited the room and headed down the hall, MatPat helping Gar limp to the nurse. “Someone’s hunting Faceless.”

MatPat looked over at him, an unreadable expression on his face.

“We’ll talk about that after you get checked out.”

Chapter Text

If Jack had thought he had the time, he would have gone home and changed into a better suit. Chica had a scent, though, and he didn’t want to risk losing it. Not now, not when he felt this close.

So close to the business sector, this part of town was far too rich for his blood. There were a few exceptions— theater he and...

Jack hesitated, and stumbled forward as Chica tugged on the leash. He didn’t have time to think about Liguori. He didn’t have time to think about how things had been and how suddenly they’d changed, nor about the regrets he had. He definitely didn’t have time to mull over forgiveness.

Chica tried to dart inside a set of doors but Jack pulled her up short with a click of the tongue, then stepped back and examined the tall building in front of them. Well, it wasn’t so much tall as it was big .

Big, and way too swanky for him—absolutely too swanky for Chica.

He pulled her off to the side to a nearby lamppost, and leaned up against it. She tucked herself behind him, out of the way, but he kept her leash slung loosely on his wrist. From there, it was only a moment to pull out his notebook and start where he’d left off the night before.

Okay.

He tapped the picture of Mark with his pencil, frowning at it. So that was his jawline... like... no. Not like that. There. His long forehead. His hairline. His eyebrows. His ears. His nose. His eyes. His mouth.

The soft sketch done, and Chica still laying at his feet, Jack quietly began altering his sketch of Mark. Felix had said that Mark was badly scarred, that he was almost unrecognizable. The fire wouldn’t have changed his bone structure, though, so if Jack drew enough possibilities of what Mark looked like, he’d be able to recognize him at a glance sooner or later.

Plus, he knew what scar tissue looked like enough to be able to draw it easily.

He’d filled up a solid two pages of sketches when Chica bolted to her feet, tugging on the leash. He looked up as someone just about his height walked past. The man’s face was obscured by his hat, and his walk was far too confident and measured to be anything but dangerous.

Jack blinked, tucking his notebook back in his pocket.

“Stay, girl,” he murmured, and then set off after the man. It was easy enough to slip into the foyer of the building, but as soon as he aimed for the elevators he was immediately stopped by the hotel’s security.

“Patrons only beyond this point,” the security guard said simply, giving Jack an even look, eyes picking out Jack’s facial prosthetic.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Jack wheezed, his voice dropping into something belonging to someone of much poorer health than he was, “but that gentleman, my employer wanted me to deliver this to him.” He held up an (admittedly empty) envelope that he carried around for just the occasion. 

“Patrons only beyond this point,” the guard repeated, folding his arms.

Jack stiffly dipped his head, then turned and immediately went to the front desk and the secretary there.

“Didn’t he tell you to get lost?” she asked cooly with a smooth smile.

“I need to know that gentleman’s room number so I can have this letter delivered all proper like,” Jack explained with a rasp. “From there, I’ll be out of your hair.”

The secretary pursed her lips, but dipped her head. “Very well. Mr. Vorobiev is staying in suite 709.”

Jack tipped his hat to her. “Thank you, miss.”

And with that, he turned and walked out.

Vorobiev. Russian. Somehow, that didn’t surprise him.

In the meantime, though...

Jack returned to Chica, beginning to walk down the street again and eyeing the hotel. 709. Seventh floor. A suite, not just a room.

If he was lucky, the info agents back at the HQ would have blueprints to the hotel. If not, he’d be spending the next few days sneaking around to find the right windows.

♣♥♠♦

He’d been in luck. The info agents had supplied him a copy of the blueprints, so he knew exactly what window to slip in through.

He had no idea if Vorobiev was home or not, but as it was now completely dark, he wasn’t going to waste any time. If the man was there, he’d confront him. If he wasn’t, Jack would wait until he was.

Jack carefully worked his way up the side of the building, counting windows as he went and just as carefully not looking down. His hands were beginning to ache with the strain, but he’d climbed worse during his training—and this building had thankful respite in the for of ledges at every storey. Finally, he reached the seventh floor (thank goodness, he had just about to start inventing curses) and worked open the required window.

By the time he was halfway through the window, it was immediately apparent that Vorobiev wasn’t just some schmuck Mir kept around for some unknown reason.

In fact, Jack noted as his gaze traveled from perfectly black patent shoes and up carefully pressed pantlegs, to the silk housecoat wrapped over the man’s torso, Vorobiev seemed to be highly skilled.

He swallowed and looked up, to the man’s face.

What?

He blinked.

“Robin?”

“I don’t know anyone by that name. You’re breaking into the wrong room.” Vorobiev seemed so calm, and his accent was unmistakable.

Yet so was his voice.

Jack squinted at him then hauled himself through the window, dropping down into a small living area. “Robin, what are you talking about?”

“Get out,” Vorobiev said, pushing the window open all the way and pressing a hand to Jack’s chest. “Now.”

Jack shook his head, taking in his friend. Was he sure this was the same man he used to know? It was the same face, the same voice. Robin had never mentioned a twin. But Robin was Swedish, not Russian. He wore suits with patches on the elbows and thin shoes, not... whatever this was. His hair was always stuck up a little in the front, from not enough product; not expertly styled and cut as it was now.

“What’s going on?”

“Get out or I’ll throw you out the window.”

Jack blinked, taking a step back. “Robin, there’s no need to-”

Robin reached forward, bodily lifting Jack far enough into the air that his feet left the floor and he was dangling by his throat. Jack’s back and head were pressed solidly against the wall, so solidly he was halfway convinced Robin wouldn’t mind leaving a dent the size of Jack’s skull in the plaster. 

He couldn’t breathe. Robin was pinning his throat, he was dangling by his neck-

Driven more by the training he’d gotten in Québec than any conscious decision, Jack tucked in his chin and slammed his hand into Robin’s wrist with enough force to knock it aside.

Instinctively gasping for air the moment he was released and his feet found the ground again, Jack ducked under Robin- Vorobiev’s arm, towards the window. This was far too dangerous. Had... had... had Mir... had he brainwashed Robin? Was that what this was? But... Robin couldn’t have learned all this in eight months. He couldn’t go from a newsie to a trained killer in eight months.

No, something else was going on.

He flipped around, barely dodging another grab from... whoever this was, and lunged forward to tackle him. The two hit the floor with a solid thud. Jack had the advantage and pinned the man he used to think he could trust.

“Why were you at that speakeasy?” Jack demanded. “Was Mark there? Why was a baby crying?”

“Why are you alive?” Vorobiev asked, eerily calm despite all the questions. “I was under the impression you had been shot in the face.” He hooked a leg around Jack’s back and flipped them over, leaning forward and pressing an arm to Jack’s throat. “Hell didn’t want you?”

Jack shoved Vorobiev’s arm off him and kneed him solidly in the stomach, getting enough of a moment to wriggle free. “Why are you Vorobiev and not Robin? Who are you?”

“I don’t know who Robin is.” Vorobiev stopped Jack with a well-placed arm, pinning Jack and trapping him in a lock. He couldn’t move his arm—or his head. He couldn’t move.

The position was oddly familiar.

Faceless standard training?

He looked up at Vorobiev, confusion giving way to understanding.

“How long have you been Faceless?”

Vorobiev blinked, then shook his head and loosened his hold. “Oh. I see.” He sighed. “We really need to have that conversation another day. I’m due to speak with Mir in half an hour, and it doesn’t do to be late.”

“Next week?”

Vorobiev shrugged. “We’ll see.” He paused, then snorted, sounding distinctly like Robin. “We’re close enough to kiss.”

“I’d rather kiss Chica,” Jack replied blandly.

Robin chuckled, untangling their limbs and removing himself from Jack. “Can’t blame you. She’s a cutie.” He stood and offered a hand to Jack.

Jack hesitated, but took it.

“Do I get any answers tonight?” Jack asked.

Robin shook his head. Something in the air seemed to shift, to become a different presence. It felt like that moment outside the hotel, with Chica. “No. Later, when it’s not so dangerous.”

Jack nodded slightly, edging towards the window. “I’ll just-”

“Don’t fall. It wouldn’t be good for your health,” Vorobiev said, turning away. Jack watched as the other man reached for a rubber container in the corner with its lid slightly ajar. He tightened the lid, and glanced at Jack through the window with a small smile.

Or maybe that had been Robin speaking.

Chapter Text

It was always hard to get ready for a day at work without Dan by his side. Phil never complained when Dan had to stay home. He’d be heartless if he did. Dan had been in absolute agony that morning, his burn scars aching. Or so he’d said. It was more than that, of course; Phil knew as much by the heaviness in Dan’s shoulders and the way he didn’t even try to crack a joke.

It was the combination of a bad day for Dan’s old wounds and a bad day for... everything else that meant Dan was at home, curled up and trying to sleep. Dan hadn’t slept well last night. Maybe not at all. Phil had made him promise to call him when Phil stepped out for lunch after the noon news segment, so Phil could know he was okay.

It would be rough to run things alone today, though… more than usual. It was Sunday, which meant there were more people listening and more pressure to perform well (heaven forbid he scratch a record) and it was the last day of the month, which meant he and Dan had a list of “Monthly Highlights” from the most entertaining stories in the month, just to help cheer people up. Normally, the highlights depended on Dan and Phil bantering, but that just wouldn’t work today.

Phil took a deep breath and set the clipboard down, scanning the equipment. Okay. Everything looked set up there. He glanced over at the records. Those would be harder to handle, but he’d seen Dan slide the records out of their covers with one hand. Phil would just have to be careful when placing them into the record player. Most days when Phil was alone, he got Louise to come in and help him change the records over. It was a Sunday, though; she was home for the day.

He was all alone in the recording room. Not quite all alone in the station, as two others were off monitoring the radio waves and making sure he was coming through clearly, but he’d only ever see them in passing through the day.

That was okay. Phil smoothed his suit and straightened his tie. He’d been doing this for months. He could handle a Sunday alone. Things would be fine.

He took a deep breath, looking at the clock. Five minutes. Enough time to drink some water and take a look around. Make sure everything was set up. It should be.

He hoped Dan was doing okay. It couldn’t be easy, staying home, even though they both knew it was better for his health. And their employer was very understanding, though he was under the impression that Dan had gotten his scars and Phil had lost his arm in the war. Neither of them had really bothered to correct him. It was much better than the truth, in any case.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment, then straightened his shoulders and leaned forward. His hand was on the switch. His eyes were fixed on the clock.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

He flipped the switch and pulled himself up in his seat, gaze fixed on his clipboard. 

“Welcome to this morning on WBBN. I’m your host, Phil Lester. Today is Sunday, August 31, 1924.” He swallowed, glancing at the pile of letters he’d placed next to Dan’s seat. “There’s weather and news to attend to, but I have something more important to address first. I walked in here this morning to find that close to a dozen of you have sent Mr. Howell and I letters here at the station. Most of them were delivered yesterday, but they only arrived to our office this morning.” 

He smiled fondly. “Now, rest assured, Howell and I do indeed read each and every single one of these. We thoroughly enjoy hearing about your days, and though there’s no real way for us to properly respond to all of the letters, we felt it was appropriate to let you all know that we do indeed get them.”

He grinned. “To one Henry Smith, aged five, we do indeed think running a station is quite enjoyable, and there’s absolutely no reason you can’t grow up to do it too.”

He chuckled to himself softly, painfully aware of the empty seat beside him. Then his smile faded, and he paused, glancing at where Dan usually sat. “As for those of you who have noticed Howell’s occasional absences, he wants you to know he appreciates the concern. Unfortunately, he gets sick easily and often. He does his best to be here, but he does need rest so he can keep coming back and hosting alongside me.”

He tapped his clipboard against the desk. “Now, to the weather and news. It’s still warm—not the hottest it’s been this month, and it’s certainly cooler than July. With all hope, September will bring cool air and delightful autumn storms.” He propped the clipboard on his hook and ran a finger down the page. “City officials have issued a warning to those who use automobiles, reminding them of speed limits and that the cost of repairs from driving poorly belongs to the driver. This includes any damage done to surrounding buildings, other automobiles, or horse-drawn wagons...”

♣♥♠♦

The office was filled with tea cups and water glasses that Phil really needed to move to the in-house kitchen. He felt bad making Louise wash his dishes. He could wash cups and set them out to dry. It wasn’t hard.

It would have to wait, though, because it was just about noon and he had another radio segment to do.

He drank the last of his water and watched the time count down. At noon exactly, he pulled the needle off the record, silencing the music, and flipped the switch on the microphone—a feat he was very proud of.

“It is noon, ladies, gentlemen, and children,” he declared. “We’re halfway through this lovely Sunday of ours. It’s been a beautiful day with clear skies and a sun just warm enough that a brisk walk outside invigorates the soul. Absolute berries.” He grinned, settling back into his seat. “Long-time listeners know the drill, but for those tuning in for the first time: it’s Sunday at noon. This means our hourly check-in is one of cheer. I get to talk about some of the wonderful good the people of Boston have been doing this past week.”

He glanced down at the clipboard. “These names and good deeds have been submitted by all of you, so if your neighbors do something that just made your week, let us know!” It was a long list today, and that was nice. It was always fun to do this.

Despite that, though, his heart wasn’t in it. He wanted to call Dan and make sure he was doing okay home alone.

“We have Amelia Heartenger, who baked cookies for her new neighbors. Charles Brown, and the submission said ‘you know which Charlie you are and what you did,’ so you’ll have to let us know what that means. Alida van der Vlugt ‘put up with her best friend way too much this week and needs to be celebrated for it,’ what a nice friend. John Milton, you helped cut the lawn for six of your neighbors this week.” He paused and laughed. “I think we found the other half of that best friend set from earlier: Madolin Lee ‘deserves to be called out for being great and of course your best friend is going to put up with that much,’ because as it turns out, that’s what friends are for.”

He, very acutely, missed Dan.

“Thomas Thomason, you cared for your siblings while your mother was sick, and she very much appreciates it. Robert Edwards, you-”

The door to the broadcasting room, which was supposed to be kept closed when a broadcast was ongoing, opened.

Phil turned in his chair to stare at the people suddenly standing there. “I’m sorry, this is a closed studio. You’re not allowed to be in here.”

It was then he realized who was leading the group. Robin, the newsie.

...wait, what?

Phil could only stare at the familiar face on the utterly unrecognizable person as Robin and four other men entered the small recording room. This was wrong. This was all wrong. Robin didn’t wear a suit, certainly not one that looked like it cost a year’s rent on the apartment he shared with Dan and Chris. Robin didn’t carry himself with such a strong sense of cold superiority—he didn’t carry a gun either, and definitely not with this casual ease he was displaying while pointing the muzzle in Phil’s direction.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Phillip Lester. I have a message I’d like you to say.”

Robin most definitely didn’t speak with a strong Russian accent.

Yet there he stood, in his ritzy suit and with his loaded gun, sneering down at Phil with a dangerous gleam in his eyes.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” Phil found himself saying, his voice noticeably shaky, “but I really must insist for you to leave. If you’d like to write a letter in perhaps I can deliver-”

His sentence ended in a sudden squeak as Robin stepped forward and pressed the cold muzzle of his pistol against Phil’s forehead. He jerked in his chair at the sound of the safety clicking off. He really hated that sound.

Robin said something in quiet Russian, and one of the men—one of his men—handed him a piece of paper. He took it in a gloved hand, unfolded it with a flick of his wrist, then slapped it into Phil's chest. Robin was leaning over him now, his gaze icy and piercing, his face eerily calm.

“Read it,” he said lightly, “and maybe you'll get out of this without a bullet in your head.”

Phil looked at the note and swallowed so loudly he was sure they could hear it over the radio. “I can’t talk into the microphone with your gun at my forehead.” Let the police be listening, let the police be listening, let the police be listening...

Robin moved his gun to the back of Phil’s head, pushing the end of the barrel into his skull enough to tilt his head forward.

Phil swallowed again and lifted the note.

“You kept listening, you continued to cling onto the last rays of humanity available to you. You would not submit. You’ve forced the hand wrapped around Boston, and innocents will... pay... the price.” His voice cracked and he was suddenly very, very aware that Robin hadn’t removed the gun from the back of his head. 

With a tremor in his voice he continued, “Know this, Boston, that what is about to happen could have been prevented by the Dog and the Angel, that they could have changed the way these cards fell. Know that the... the...” Phil stared at the next words in horror. “Know that the following...” His voice slipped, and he frantically spoke louder, trying to keep a bullet from burying itself in his brain. “...the following deaths are executions, punishments to remind you of your place.”

Arms grabbed his arms, dragging him back against his seat, and he yelped, the note fluttering to the floor. “What are you doing?!” he cried, unable to keep the fear from his voice any longer. “Let go of me!”

His right arm was twisted back against the chair, eliciting a cry of pain from him, and the chair was spun around to face the door. His left arm, though, Phil glanced over to see a knife cut through his suit jacket and shirt, gouging into the prosthetic. “Hey! Leave my arm alone! I’ve already lost it once!”

He tried to squirm away, but Robin grabbed him from behind and pulled him flat against the back of the chair. Rope pulled across his chest, pinning him back against the chair and pinning his right arm in place. His left arm suddenly pulled free, his prosthetic having been successfully removed by one of Robin’s men.

“Stop!” Phil cried, now fully aware it was useless. “Help! He-” A gag twisted into his mouth, cutting off his words painfully. “Mmpfh mmpfh!” Phil still tried, though he was sure he was fighting a losing battle by now. But maybe not. Maybe, if he struggled enough, it’d give the police time to arrive. Maybe. Just maybe.

“That’s enough,” Robin said in that cold Russian accent, in that voice that didn’t truly belong to him. It was dangerously silky in Phil’s ear as he finished tying Phil in. “There’s nothing you can do now.”

Phil tried to pull away, but all he could do was twist his head and stare at Robin in alarm, his panicked blue eyes meeting Robin’s frozen ones. Somehow... for a moment, there seemed to be regret in them. Somehow, Phil knew Robin didn’t want to do this.

And yet, he was doing it anyway.

Robin barked something in Russian and two figures were pushed into the room, hands tied behind their backs and gags in their mouths. Eyes wide with panic, Phil’s coworkers sent him a look of unadulterated fear.

They all knew how this would end.

For the first time that day, Phil was glad Dan had stayed home. At least... at least Dan would survive.

“Good afternoon, officers,” Robin said, his Russian accent still thick but his words clear as he spoke into the microphone. “I’m sure you’re listening by now. There are three men here in front of me.”

Some of Robin’s men dropped bags in the room and pulled out cords and fuses and explosives, and Phil’s blood ran cold. He’d known he was going to die today, but like this? There was no mercy here.

Two more of Robin’s men pulled out paint buckets and began to cover the windows of the observation room with black paint.

The two coworkers were forced to their knees in front of Phil, and Robin lifted his gun and fired twice. Both bodies slumped to the floor, eyes unseeing and their brains scattered across the floor.

“Now there is one. If you get here in time, you might be able to save him. Otherwise, he will join the dead.”

Robin’s men were wiring up the explosives around the room. Around Phil’s feet. To the door, with a complicated-looking mechanism that Phil had never seen before. Not that he’d seen much in the way of bombs. Dan had always tried to shield him from that.

“Good luck,” Robin added.

And then he, and his men, were gone, and Phil was left alone in a room broadcasting to the city, gagged and tied to bombs.

Phil set his jaw and started working his gag loose.

♣♥♠♦

Mark was sobbing.

Mark was sobbing, and Sophie was staring resolutely ahead, though tears were streaming down her cheeks.

“You should never have clung to humanity or to hope,” Mir said haughtily, a fire in his eyes. “Look at what you’ve caused.”

Sophie’s shoulders tightened, and she held Luna in her lap quietly.

Mir’s man released Mark, who collapsed onto the floor with a thud. Instead of trying to push himself up, though, he just sobbed. His cries sharpened when Mir’s man gave him a solid kick to the stomach, then silenced when he received another, though his shoulders shook uncontrollably.

“Pathetic,” Mir said flatly. “Still, you cling to humanity. To emotions. A pity you didn’t learn sooner to give in to me entirely.”

With that, Mir and his man left the room.

Sophie set Luna down in the crate that served as her crib, then crawled over to Mark and pulled him into a hug, her own shoulders beginning to shake.

♣♥♠♦

Dan took the steps up to the broadcasting room two at a time, nearly stumbling more than once as his scars flared with pain and exhaustion grabbed at him. The officer who had found him running towards the radio station and given him a ride had long since been left behind, shouting at him to stay and not charge headlong into danger, but Dan ignored him.

Phil. Phil. Someone had been shot, shot, and Phil hadn’t said anything since.

If he’d lost Phil-

Dan forced down the cry of despair threatening to rise from him. He didn’t know that yet. Jeffries and Smith had been here today too. It... could have been them. Please, let them be the ones dead.

It was a horrible wish. Both of them had families, wives and children. To wish that on them, on those who loved them, was a horrible thing.

But somehow, he found he preferred it to the thought of Phil being dead.

There were four officers at the door to the studio when Dan arrived, and he knew there were more downstairs doing a complete search, sweeping for the men who’d broken in and interrupted the broadcast.

“Boston police!” one of the officers called in through the door. “Who’s in there?!”

A long silence, Dan holding his breath.

And then a familiar voice called out, then such relief washed over Dan he nearly crumpled against the wall he was standing next to to stay out of the way of the officers.

“Phil Lester! I- Smith and Jeffries- their bodies are in here. The men tied me to my chair.”

“Is anyone else in there?”

“No.”

The officer glanced over at Dan. “Is there a way to see into the room and confirm that?”

“The observation room.” He nodded at the next door over. “It’s got glass between the two.”

The officer nodded, and two of the four peeled off to investigate.

“There’s stuff on the walls and equipment. Little packages,” Phil called out. “On the door, too. And on my feet.”

Dan straightened, feeling the color drain from his face. “Packages?”

“Packages?” the officer repeated, loud enough for Phil to hear.

“Yeah! They’ve got... wires? coming out of them.”

Dan’s world seemed to spin as the realization set in.

“Bombs,” he breathed. “They planted explosives around the room.” He stared at the door, eyes searching the frame. As an officer went to lean against it, he reached out. “Don’t!”

The officer stared at him. “What?”

“There-” He pointed to the top of the door, to something pressed into the frame. “The door shifting can set off the entire room.”

The officer swallowed and stepped back. “How do you know that?”

“I was on a bomb squad in the war.”

The officer nodded. “Noted.” He swallowed again, looking over as the other two officers rejoined them.

They shook their heads. “The windows have been painted over,” one said. “We can’t see details.”

“There was only one silhouette against the lights, though,” the other offered. “We think he’s alone.”

The officer taking the lead nodded. “Go downstairs and check in with them. Call in the bomb squad. Mr. Howell here just saved us all from getting torn from limb to limb, but I’d like to have professionals on my side.”

They nodded and took off.

The officer turned to Dan. “How much do you remember from what you did in the war?”

“I don’t know. Enough, I should hope.”

The officer raised an eyebrow, but nodded. “Better than nothing, I suppose.” He stepped aside, making room for Dan at the doorframe. “You’re the other host, right?”

“Yes. That’s me.” Dan looked up the doorframe again, nervous now. “Daniel Howell.”

“Okay. Call into your buddy in there. Let’s start getting a profile of the room for when EOD gets here.”

♣♥♠♦

Fifteen explosives. Phil could count fifteen explosives, and they couldn’t guarantee there were more where he couldn’t see them. One of them was at his feet. One was at the door, with “a contraption of some sort,” which was probably the other half of the tripwire made to set all the explosives off.

There were others on the windows, wires strung across. If they tried to break the windows to get in, it’d set off the explosives.

In short, there was no way for them to get into the room without setting off explosives.

This was a problem.

It was, in fact, significantly more than a problem, and Dan felt that Boston’s bomb squad was severely understating things by describing it as such.

“How you holding up in there?” Dan called in. He’d been given the job of “keep Phil calm.”

“Could be better,” Phil’s voice drifted back. “They left the broadcast on. They took my arm. There are explosives on my feet. It’s been a bad day.”

Again, with the understatements.

Dan frowned.

“They took your arm?”

“Yeah. One of the men took it. They left with it.”

The officer from before looked up from the bomb squad’s discussion of what to do. “Is he injured?!”

“No, his prosthetic.” Dan ignored the surprised look on the officer’s face and turned back to the door. “Did they say why?”

“They didn’t tell me anything.”

“Did you recognize any of them?”

A moment of hesitation. “I... no. I didn’t.” Another pause, this one longer. “Please, Dan just get me out of here. I don’t want to- he is staring at me, and he’s dead, Dan, Jeffries is dead, and I think Smith’s blood is on-”

“Phil,” Dan cut him off, “Phil, it’s okay. You’re gonna be alright. We’re going to get you out of there.”

If he responded, it was lost behind the heavy door. The room was supposed to be soundproofed, after all.

Dan took a steadying breath, letting his forehead fall against the wall, careful not to jostle the door.

♣♥♠♦

Luna was asleep, but neither Mark nor Sophie were. They were still too shaken to even attempt sleep, no matter how exhausted they were. They knew who the message had been directed at. Them. People had died because they had listened to Dan and Phil’s show. People had died because they’d held on to hope.

The door opened again, one of Mir’s men stepping in, followed immediately by Kostya.

“The King wanted you to have this,” Kostya said, and the man dropped something on the ground. “A reminder that hope is for the living.”

Phil’s prosthetic clattered to the ground, landing at Mark’s feet. 

“It’s a lesson you’ll do well to remember,” Kostya said, though something in his expression seemed to reflect a deep pain, something seemed to be Robin shining through.

And then he and his man left, leaving Mark and Sophie alone with Phil’s arm.

♣♥♠♦

It took a solid half hour, but Phil managed to work his right arm free. From there, it was a simple matter of working the rope up and over his shoulders to free himself.

“Now what?” Phil called through the door.

“The bomb on your feet. What does it look like? Don’t touch it and don’t drop it.”

A long moment of silence, wherein Dan and one of the member’s of Boston’s bomb squad exchanged a glance.

“It’s about the size of both my hands. It’s got a few wires coming out of it. It’s not super heavy, but it’s not weightless either. It’s wrapped in brown paper.”

“How many wires?”

“Two. It looks like they run through it. Both ends connect to an explosive on either side of the room.”

“What does it smell like?” the bomb specialist called in.

“Smell? Uh...” A pause. “Nothing?” Another pause. “It’s not a very solid package. It feels like it’s filled with sand.”

“No smell. Loose gravely contents?” The defuser frowned, muttering to himself. “That’s not helpful.” 

“Just how heavy is it, Phil?” Dan called in.

“Two kilograms, maybe?”

The defuser sighed and turned to Dan.

“About four pounds.”

“Four pounds...” He shook his head.

“The other packages,” Dan called in. “Are they about the same size?”

“Most of them. The one on the door is different.”

“How so?”

“It’s... it doesn’t sag like the others. It’s bigger. It’s got some colored wrapping, not brown paper.”

The defuser frowned.

“Two kinds of explosive?” Dan asked.

He nodded. “Sounds like it.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Makes things more difficult.” He turned back to the door. “Are any of the packages leaking anything?”

“Uh... like liquid? No.” Phil called back, voice getting nervous again.

“It’s alright, Phil,” Dan called back, mind turning over the possibilities he knew of. “We’ve just got to figure out what this is.”

“I know. You’ll get it eventually. Just... hurry please.”

“The package at your feet,” the defuser called in. “Where the wire goes through, can you see into it? Don’t move it around to look. Just, from your current vantage point.”

“I... think so. Oh! It’s like white gravel.”

“Ammonium nitrate,” the defuser muttered. “Figures.”

“Ammonium nitrate?” one of the police officers echoed. “Isn’t that fertilizer?”

“Can be.” The defuser frowned, looking at the door. “Okay. Carefully tear open that paper. Don’t jostle anything.”

“I... I’ll try.”

Dan clenched his jaw. Phil only had one hand. 

If only he’d come into work today, he’d be able to help.

A long pause. “Now what?”

“Can you smell anything now?”

“...No.”

“Okay.” The defuser took a deep breath. “Carefully set it on the ground and step away. Don’t jostle any of the other packages.”

A long, long pause.

“Okay.” This time, Phil sounded much closer, like he’d stepped towards the door. “Now what?”

“The package on the door--what does it look like again?”

“Colorful. Maybe the size of a book?”

“What about the mechanism?”

“Uh... it’s hooked over the door? But precariously. Like it could fall. And then there are the wires connected to it. Looks like they’d pull the package loose.”

“Is there a fuse?”

“Um... Not that I can see.”

The defuser frowned. “I... don’t know what this could be. It sounds impact-based, but... what...”

“Phil,” Dan asked, blood running cold, “you said it’s solid and doesn’t look like the others, right?”

“Yes.”

The defuser glanced up at Dan. “Do you know what it could be?”

“I... hope I’m wrong.” Dan swallowed and looked back at the door. “How careful were the men when they put it up? What kind of container was it in when they brought it in?”

“Uh... this one was in a rubber container. They were super careful with it. The others they kind of just... slapped around?”

Dan cursed softly.

“Uh oh,” the defuser muttered. “What is it?”

“Lead azide.”

The defuser cursed. “I thought that was just a rumor.”

“I’ve seen it before,” Dan said quietly. “It...” He swallowed, turning back to the door. “Phil, what you’re looking at is very volatile. They had it in rubber so it wouldn’t go off if static electricity jumped around. You can’t throw it around--if it gets dropped fifteen centimeters or so, it’ll explode.”

“What am I supposed to do then, Dan?” Phil asked, voice starting to panic again.

Dan swallowed, aware all eyes were on him. “First--go make sure you don’t have any static electricity on yourself. Go touch something metal, something that isn’t touching a wire.”

A long moment of silence.

“Now what?”

“How is it hung on the door?”

“It’s... kind of in a metal basket? More of a plate.”

“Can you pick it up.”

“I... could. I thought you said not to touch it.”

“It’s the only way to get it off the door.” Dan swallowed. “Phil, you have to lift it very carefully, and very, very slowly pull it away from the door. When you have enough clearance for us to open it without snagging anything, let us know. Do not put it down. Do not drop it. The slightest jostle too much will kill us all.”

Phil’s response was a nervous laugh, barely audible through the door. “If... If you say so, Dan.” A pause. “Okay. I have it in my hand. I’m gently sliding it off the plate, like a momma cat holds her baby.” Another pause. “I have it. I’m cradling it so I don’t drop it. I’m stepping back from the door now.”

Silence.

Silence.

Silence.

“I’m almost two meters from the door,” Phil called. “Is that enough?”

Dan nodded. “We’re going to slowly open the door. Keep an eye on things. If they start to move, holler ‘stop’.”

“Okay.”

They opened the door.

They opened the door and Dan got to see Phil, face ashen and legs trembling, cradling a red package in his right arm while holding very, very still so as not to trip on either of the two wires extending from it and throughout the room. Behind him lay the bodies of Jeffries and Smith.

Dan didn’t look at them very long.

The defuser gently took the package from Phil’s arm as Dan walked across the room, to the microphone. It was still switched on. Still broadcasting.

He took a deep breath and leaned down to it. 

“This is your host Daniel Howell speaking.” His voice had an unmistakable quiver in it, and tears of relief were starting to slide down his face. The worst was over. “We have Mr. Lester out of the situation now, so we’re going to leave it in the hands of the professionals now. I’m going to sign us off for the day. Keep an eye out in the papers for our return. Thank you.”

He switched off the microphone, ending the broadcast.

“Come on, Phil,” he said, turning to his friend. “Let’s get you out of here. Police and paramedics are waiting downstairs for us.”

Phil nodded, following Dan’s exact steps as he led the way out of the death trap. 

Both of them had to give a report of proceedings to the police (while one of the paramedics expressed concern at how exhausted Dan looked, but he brushed it off; he’d called in sick for a reason, after all), and then they were finally allowed to go home.

“Dan,” Phil said quietly as they stepped into their apartment, face drawn tight and something broken in his eyes, “Dan, I lied to the police. I lied to you.”

Dan looked over, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I... did recognize one of them. The head man. Dan, it was Robin.” Phil hugged himself tightly with his arm. “Mir... Mir must be blackmailing him, making him do these horrible things. If I’d told the police about him, they’d have caught him. They’d have opened the way for Mir to really, really hurt Robin.”

“Phil- Jeffries and Smith are dead .”

“I... I know.” Phil swallowed, looking away. “It was Robin. I watched him pull the trigger, Dan, and it didn’t even phase him. But you always said that desperation brings the worst out of people. Makes them do things they’d normally never do.”

“...Phil... I don’t know if...”

“I... don’t know either, Dan.” Phil dropped his head. “I just... he left me alive, Dan. I know Robin’s still in there. I couldn’t just...”

“Phil.”

Phil smiled weakly, unconvincingly. “Can we just...” He looked down at himself. “I... I need to shower. I really need to get this blood off.”

And with that he walked off, leaving Dan to ponder the events of the day.

Chapter Text

Boston was shaken. 

Nobody said so, but Molly knew her ladies well enough to know why she kept finding them glancing at the radio. She knew what it meant when everyone in the street—man, woman, and child—kept their head down and refused to meet anyone’s eyes; those more distant would watch with a wary chill in their gaze. Even Wade and JP and Entoan and Minx, normally not ones to let such things bother them, seemed on edge.

Boston was cracking.

Stores were closing earlier than normal in the days after the murders at the WBBN offices. A trained eye could pick out the weapons tucked onto people’s beings, more and more since Sunday. Knives, for the most part; they were easier to use and easier to hide. It took little in the way of training to stab someone. Although there were plenty of guns—it wasn’t that much of a lost skill, not so soon after the war.

Boston was broken, or at least its people were, and Molly couldn’t do anything about it but set her shoulders and lift her chin and trap the fears of survival deep inside her where nobody else could know about them. She would walk the halls of the Greenhouses like nothing could or would ever dare to hurt them.

On her way to her office, she passed Entoan slumped against Drea on a couch, eyes closed and clearly asleep. Just as clear were the lines of exhaustion worn on his face. Drea was curled up against him, though she was awake. Some sort of sadness was drawn over her equally exhausted expression as she ran her fingers through his hair.

“They arrived, then?” Molly asked quietly, referring to the woman who’d taken her children and run from husband and father the previous night—the sixth family, in as many days.

Drea nodded.

“Thank you,” Molly replied. She hesitated, then nodded at Entoan. “How’re his reports going?” When he’d come to her saying he was being put undercover by the police, well… it had been a mixed bag. They had been able to stay on top of it so far. Molly was used to information getting passed along. Now, more than ever, it was just a matter of what.

“He has another one due at the end of this week.” Drea’s soft look of affection at Entoan was unmistakable. “We’re working on it after we get some sleep. Did you want us to mention the Sunday night shutdown?”

“It won’t hurt.” Molly grimaced. They’d had to kick all the clients out Sunday afternoon and evening. They had been men seeking solace in a bed, desperate, in case the Russian mafiya turned their attention to something more destructive next time. Unsteady and dangerous men, who were unwilling to follow the rules. More than one had ended up dumped in the Charles that night. “Just... don’t mention the deaths.”

“Of course.” Drea dropped her cheek against Entoan’s head, closing her eyes and turning into him. “Don’t tell him, but... I’m scared I’ll lose him. I’m scared he’ll get a call and have to go into a confrontation with Mir’s men, and the next time I’ll see him will be before they put him in the ground.” She sighed. “We’re not going to send anything that could get him pulled from here. It’s much safer.”

Molly nodded, remembering the sight of Wade on her doorstep, so soaked in his own blood that he was dripping it onto the snow and the street. “I’ll help where I can, but...”

“I know,” Drea said. “The priority is the ladies. It always is.”

Molly nodded mutely, wishing she could offer more comfort to Drea.

“We’ll be okay,” Drea murmured, slipping her hand into Entoan’s limp one as the undercover cop continued to sleep. His fingers instinctively wrapped around hers. “It’s just hard.”

“Get some rest,” Molly said gently. “This should all be easier in a few days.”

They both knew that was a lie, that it took more than a few days to recover from something like an attempted bombing and murders broadcast to the entire city on a popular radio station... but she knew the reassurance, the potential hope, was absolutely vital.

She moved on towards her office, painfully aware of how loudly her heels were falling on the floor. Most of the Orchids were sticking to private rooms, gathering in small groups to talk quietly. Many of them were reviewing self-defense techniques Minx had taught them, as a way of easing their worries. It gave them back some sense of control.

Her office door was open. She wasn’t surprised to see someone sitting in a chair, hands folded and ankles crossed, looking down at her lap.

“Steph,” Molly said, frowning as she stepped into the office, closing the door behind her. “Is everything okay?”

Steph looked up, undeniable worry in her eyes. “...If he’s willing to do that to a radio station...” She swallowed, twisting her wedding ring on her finger. “...I’m here to remain safe, so he doesn’t do something to me.” She looked away. “I refuse to let him cow Matthew and me into leaving Boston. But... what if he decides to do something to Matt?”

Stephanie Patrick was shaken.

“I see.” Molly sat in her chair. “He has the police to protect him, Steph. They have people trained to deal with that kind of thing.”

“Then why can’t I be with my husband?”

“Because he’s with the police a lot. You’d be completely unprotected at home.” They’d been through this before, and Molly knew they’d go through it again. Goodness knew this wasn’t easy on Steph, not at all. (If Molly had to go through this, she’d have murdered people by now.)

“So what am I supposed to do,” Steph asked, anguish in her voice, “just wait until one day the papers say that they found the mutilated body of Detective Matthew Patrick strung up on city hall as an example?”

“Yes,” Molly said, very quietly.

Stephanie Patrick shattered a little bit, just like the people of Boston.

“And when that day comes,” Molly said just as quietly as before, “when your husband is dead and all of your connections in Boston turn away because they have no reason to linger on the dead beyond an occasional memory... when that day comes your freedom will as well. When you no longer desire to remember this life, you will be free to return to it.”

Steph’s shoulders tightened, shaking slightly.

“When that day comes, when the beloved detective of Boston has been desecrated and the hopes of the people with him, when Mir once and for all shows that he can and will rule the city no matter who stands against him, then no protection will remain for you here, or for anyone, and you’ll be free to take what remains of your life where you will.”

Steph choked back a sob. “Do you really think it’ll come to that?” Some part of her seemed to harden in defiance. “Aren’t we better than that?”

“It may come to that, yes.” Molly straightened her shoulders and leaned across her desk, meeting Steph’s gaze. “But I believe in Boston.”

“What...”

“We can’t just give in and let these things happen, Steph,” Molly said firmly. “You know it and I know it. I have no interest in going head to head against Mir. That’s a battle I would lose on the front lines. It’s much better that the mafia do that.” She smiled. “But you and I can do something. You and I can do what every woman has been doing for centuries in the Western world, shoved aside from the battlefield.”

Steph swallowed. “Women have always stayed home, kept things running.”

Molly shrugged. “We do that anyway.” She leaned back in her chair. “Mir isn’t going to spare a second glance at us, or any woman. Not unless it’s to pay one for a good night.” She smoothed out her gloves on her hands. “No. I was talking about convincing the people it’s possible. Most are too scared to go up against Mir. We will respect that. We don’t have to fight Mir. We just have to make sure Boston knows it is allowed to keep functioning. In the face of a monster like Mir, one of the strongest things you can do is keep going, despite what he does.” She set her shoulders. “This is what women have been doing for centuries.”

Steph took a deep breath. “What do we need to do?”

“Nothing new.” Molly sent her a grin. “You in particular, though...” Her smile faded. “For now, breathe. When your husband next comes to visit, there will be things he needs to know. They might help keep him safe.”

♣♥♠♦

It was evening when Molly was handed a travel-worn letter with familiar handwriting gracing the front. An involuntary gasp, a grin, tore out of her, and she immediately ignored her reports from the Greenhouses to tear it open.

To my dearest friend Molly,

I have arrived safely in Denmark. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it here until I’d returned. I’ve used the funds you sent with me to acquire a property I think will work nicely for what we want. It’s small enough for me to manage it by myself, of course—and nobody will question my time spent on my hobbies. It is a fashionable thing, for a young lady to paint. And this property is close enough to a few towns, traffic goes through often enough that the roses you send my way should get just the right amount of attention.

I greatly appreciate the investment you’ve put into this, the faith you’ve placed in me, and your aid towards my new start. I wouldn’t have been able to afford the travel back here without you, much less buy a cottage and settle down to do great things.

It might only be September by the time this letter is in your hands. That is a true marvel. Perhaps one day they’ll have telephones that stretch across the oceans and we can talk like we used to. I can’t imagine how expensive that would be, but oh how fantastic that would be.

I’ve got just enough time left in the season here to grow a small garden while I repair the greenhouse in the back of the cottage. With all hope, it’ll help my budget for a bit, until I have to go in town regularly for groceries. Ah well, it’s inevitable sooner or later. I am very much looking forward to working in the greenhouse, though. I’m not planting any orchids there, as the seeds are incredibly expensive, but if you ever send any my way, I’ll be sure to take good care of them.

It’s gorgeous here, Moll. I think you’d like it. If things ever go south for you, you’re welcome to come here and make a new start beside me. You can sleep in the spare room.

Yours, Signe

P.S. I put in some sketches of the cottage and the view from the windows. I hope they survived the journey to America alright. Maybe next time I’ll send some watercolors and try to capture the beauty of it all.

Molly shifted the letter aside to rifle through the small bundle of sketches Wiishu had sent. A view of the back of the cottage, delightfully quaint and surrounded by trees. She could see a glimpse of the road out front. A broken down greenhouse, with boards over half the windows. A laundry line with tall grass threatening to overgrow it. Vines starting to crawl over a window. 

Molly took a deep breath, holding the pictures close. She’d have to show them to the others at Calypso, of course—well, she didn’t know if Jack wanted to see them, but the others for sure—and keep them somewhere close.

She smiled, setting them down gently and reaching for a pen and ink and paper. She could send a response back, mail it out in the morning, and then she could begin preparing the mother and two small children who had family in Sweden. They needed a halfway house to get back there, away from the woman’s second husband (her first had died in a construction accident). They could leave about two weeks from now, if Molly could secure passage on a ship that quickly, and now that Molly had Wiishu’s address, she could send them her way.

Wiishu would take it from there.

Yes, Molly decided as she began to write, Boston was broken, but there was still hope.

There was always hope.

Chapter Text

Working as a detective, Gar had come to expect a certain number of things to go wrong on any given day. He’d been a rookie for nearly a year; if his experiences had taught him anything, it was that. 

He was not, however, expecting to walk up to the precinct station and immediately be escorted inside out of the drizzling rain by two officers.

“Make life easier for us and just... cooperate, okay?” one of them said politely, looking at him with a strange expression. Was that pity? “It’ll be over soon.”

“I’m sorry,” Gar said, “what’s going on?”

The senior officer glanced at Gar with an odd coldness, while the younger looked away.

“You’ll find out soon,” the senior officer replied. “In the meantime, we’re headed to Interrogation 2.”

Gar blinked, but complied.

He sat in the chair, as directed, though he was starting to feel increasingly uncomfortable with the way things were going. He hadn’t done anything that should warrant all this, and he was far past the hazing they’d give new officers. 

It was half an hour before the door opened again and one of the homicide detectives walked in.

Gar blinked, sitting up in his chair. “What happened?”

“Just...” Detective Whittaker sighed. “Just let me do this by the books, kid.”

Gar raised a hand, gesturing aimlessly for the other man to go ahead. He was very confused. Hopefully things would start to be made clear.

“So, uh,” Whittaker murmured, reaching forward and activating the microphone on the table between them, “go ahead and state your full name, age, and occupation for the record.”

“Garuku Bluemoon, age 24, and Detective from the Third Precinct of the City of Boston, Massachusetts.” Gar kept his voice even, though the fact that he seemed to be in an actual legitimate interrogation here with one of the homicide detectives wasn’t at all a good sign.

“The night of December 24th, or early December 25th, of last year—1923—where were you?”

“I was here, waiting with Detective Matthew Patrick to head to a speakeasy and shut it down.” 

“According to our records, you left a bit after midnight, correct?”

“Yes.” Gar took an even breath. He hadn’t done anything wrong, it was fine. “I was headed to the speakeasy in question. Temporary Chief Henries wanted me to pick up Officer Patrck Static on my way so he could help with the mob fight a mile or so away.”

“You picked up Officer Static from his apartment? Or did you meet him some other place.”

“It was after midnight, Detective,” Gar said simply. “I was expecting him to be at home.”

“Did you phone ahead?”

Gar shook his head. “No. I don’t think Officer Static had a phone. At least, he didn’t at the time.”

Detective Whittaker let out a long breath, nodding slightly. “So correct me if I’m wrong, but the events went like this: you left here shortly after midnight, borrowing one of the precinct’s motorcycles to pick up Officer Static. You arrived and knocked on his door, and he opened it and together the two of you killed his girlfriend. Is that correct?”

Gar leaned back in his chair, so stunned that words escaped him for several seconds. When he was finally able to form a coherent thought, it was one thing only.

“Marie is dead?”

Detective Whittaker leaned forward. “You tell me.”

“What?” Gar searched the older detective’s eyes for any sign of anything to figure out what was going on. “I thought she was visiting her parents.”

“So did we all, Bluemoon,” Whittaker growled, “and yet this morning we all arrived to find a fucking accusation on the door about Officer Patrck Static being responsible for the death of his girlfriend Christmas Eve of 1923. Then his elderly neighbor came rushing in to say that she had, as it turns out, heard what sounded like arguing and even fighting that night and forgotten it until now. Now there’s well over a dozen reporters jumping in our damn faces, demanding to know what had happened! What the fuck am I or any of our fellow officers supposed to say? All these blasted questions: why we hadn’t done anything? How has he hidden all of this behind the claim that he was being blackmailed, and she was just visiting her parents for a few months for her protection! This is going to put the entire precinct under a magnifying glass, Bluemoon. Not just Officer Static.”

Gar stared desperately at the homicide detective, looking for answers. Then he leaned his elbows on the table and buried his head in his hands before leaning back again. “What do you want me to say?”

“Listen, kid.” Detective Whittaker leaned on the table. “Where’s her body?”

“I don’t... I don’t know.” Gar blinked. Hadn’t... Wasn’t... He’d delivered a letter to Pat last night from Marie. She wasn’t dead. Just supposed to be missing. Madam Foxglove had assured him she was safe. So what was all this about the blackmail letters? Murder? What? “I thought she was visiting her parents.”

“Have you seen her since Christmas?”

Gar shook his head. “I was tied up in a warehouse for six months, Detective, and when I’d returned I was informed she was visiting her parents for several months.”

Whittaker narrowed his eyes. “Of course. That’s well documented.” He tilted his head. “Tell me, Bluemoon, how long did it take you to get to Officer Static’s apartment? What time did you arrive?”

Gar glanced at the clock as if that would somehow tell him, yanking himself into composure. He couldn’t betray Pat here, not when so much was at stake. “Ten or fifteen minutes? It must have been very nearly twelve-thirty.”

“How long did it take you to retrieve Officer Static?”

“About ten minutes, between the time it took him to answer the door and then get in uniform.”

Detective Whittaker nodded slowly. “And how long until you two parted ways?”

“Another ten minutes?” Gar frowned. “My memory starts getting fuzzy there.”

“For the sake of the record, how long after that was it you were shot, do you remember?”

Gar furrowed his eyebrows. “Officer Static had only been gone a minute at most?” He frowned. “I’m... honestly not sure. I’m sorry.”

Detective Whittaker shook his head and stood back, suddenly looking weary. “Don’t be, kid. After six months of that hellhole, it’s no surprise that’s fuzzy for you.” He sighed, sticking his hands in his pockets. “So in the ten minutes you were in Officer Static’s apartment, waiting for him, did you see anything unusual?”

Gar frowned. “Not that I can recall. I’d never been inside before, but it looked like an apartment.”

Detective Whittaker tilted his head slightly. “Did you see Marie at all in that time?”

Gar shook his head. “It was late. I imagine she was in bed.” He frowned. “At least, that’s what I thought then. From what you’re saying, that wasn’t the case?”

Detective Whittaker shrugged. “How am I supposed to know, kid?” He shook his head. “So you saw nothing out of the ordinary and assumed Marie was asleep?”

Gar nodded. “That’s correct.”

Detective Whittaker grunted. “Okay. Now. What’re you hiding?”

“Excuse me?” Gar asked, taken aback. 

“Oh, I think you’re telling the truth.” Detective Whittaker shrugged. “At least, as much as you can remember. But somewhere in those goddamned fuzzy memories of yours is information we need.” He leaned on the table again. “So how long do you want this to take?”

Gar gave him a helpless look.

A knock sounded on the door.

Detective Whittaker shrugged, standing back up. “Come in.”

The door cracked open. “Detective Patrick arrived. We have him in Interrogation 4.”

“Alright.” Whittaker turned back to Gar. “We’ll pick this up later. Go ahead and just stay here for now.” He leaned forward and clicked off the microphone, then left Gar alone in the room.

♣♥♠♦

It was nearly four hours later when Detective Whittaker returned to the room.

“Well?” he asked. “Did you think of anything you may have forgotten?”

Gar shook his head.

“Alright.” Whittaker pulled a chair over and sat on it backwards, folding his arms on the back of the chair. “Let’s try a different angle here.”

Gar dipped his head.

“Do you remember who shot you early Christmas morning?”

Gar shook his head again. “No. It was far too dark to see a face.”

“Understandable.” Whittaker sighed, pulling a box out of his pocket and offering it to Gar. “You smoke?”

Gar shook his head again.

Whittaker shook out a cigarette for himself. He took a moment to light it before settling in his chair some, eyes fixed on Gar. With smoke now lazily drifting around him, he seemed content to just think for a moment.

Gar let him. He could listen to the rain pattering on the building.

“You live with your father, correct?” Whittaker asked suddenly.

Gar nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“What does he think about you doing detective work?”

“He doesn’t care for me doing it. He thinks it’s dangerous.”

Whittaker tipped his head. “It is. Granted, I’m sure you’ve learned that by now.” He paused, eyes dipping to Gar’s shoulder, where Patrck’s bullet had buried into his shoulder. “You know, not many detectives come back after getting shot. Usually it’s fatal.”

“I was lucky.” Gar repeated the words everyone had told him countless times.

“You spent six months in a warehouse, kid,” Whittaker said quietly. “I wouldn’t call that fuckin’ lucky.” He leaned forward, hooking an arm over the back of the chair. “Did you see any details about the person who shot you? Medical examiner said you got shot with a .45, according to that scar of yours. Police issue.” He raised the cigarette to his mouth. “You sure you don’t remember who shot you?”

Gar shook his head. “It was too dark.”

“So you’ve said. Fair enough.” Whittaker mulled. “.45 is the military issue, too.” He raised his eyebrows. “I read your report when you got back. Medical examiner’s report, too.” He rocked his head slightly. “I’m sure information we need is locked in that head of yours, but you certainly don’t know it. Sometimes that stuff stays hidden for the rest of life.” He stood, placing the chair back where it was. “Well, I’m done in here. Chief Sharp, he, uh, he still wants to talk to you, though, so you’ll need to stay here for a little more.”

Gar grunted. Today seemed to only get longer.

“It’ll be okay, kid,” Whittaker said. “For you, at least.”

♣♥♠♦

“Have they told you what’s going on?” Sharp’s voice asked kindly. “Or have they just asked you question after question?”

“They told me a little,” Gar said, “but I’m still confused.”

“Me too.” Sharp sat on the table next to Gar. “I’ll fill you in on what I know, and you can tell me if you’ve heard anything differently.”

Gar nodded.

“When Officer Haskins came in for his morning shift, about six this morning, there was an accusation nailed to the door. It claimed that your friend Officer Static had murdered his girlfriend Christmas Eve and had gotten away with it. It said he’d hidden the murder by claiming she was visiting her parents, and he was being blackmailed.”

Gar nodded.

“By the time the clock reached eight, a total of fifteen reporters had shown up on our doorstep, demanding to know what was going on. As it turns out, this same accusation, with a few wording changes, had been sent to both the Boston Herald and the Boston American early enough last night that they were able to get out articles discussing it this morning. In the seven hours since the accusation was found, we’ve had to send away a total of thirty reporters and investigate four of our own, you included.”

Gar nodded, more slowly this time.

“Now, Officer Static came to me a few weeks ago asking for help with this blackmailer. He claimed it was the first then, but when questioned, he revealed he’s been getting them since late November of last year. He also now claims that his girlfriend, the supposedly murdered one, was kidnapped Christmas Eve from their apartment and he didn’t report it because he thought that would lead to the blackmailer killing her.”

Gar hesitated, as if pondering this information, and nodded again. Pat was getting backed into a corner, here.

“You said you didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary when you went to visit.”

Gar shook his head. “That’s correct.” Only a ransacked apartment and a weeping Patrck.

“And it was, oh, about 12:30 at night?”

“More or less, yes.” It had been exactly 12:36.

“Did you see anyone entering the complex as you left?”

Gar shook his head. “No, sir.’

“Do you have any idea who could be blackmailing Officer Static?”

“No, sir.” Not a complete lie.

“Did you know about the blackmailer before he came to me about it?”

“He called me when he received that letter, sir. I encouraged him to go to you about it.”

Sharp nodded slightly. “I see.” He dipped his head. “As it stands, we’re waiting to hear back from the Chicago police about Marie. That could end things quickly. In either case, though, due to how close you are to this, you’re off duty until something comes to light. I’m sorry.”

He dipped his head. “Understood, sir.”

“Officer Static is also off duty until then, though he’s... he’s suspended, technically, until further notice. You’re not allowed to talk to him until things are resolved. Just a precaution you understand. Don’t... go to his place, either. He’s under effective house arrest until this blows over.” He took a deep breath. “I hope it’s all just a scare, but we have to take it seriously. I hope you understand.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you.” Sharp stood. “You’re free to go home. You’ll be contacted either when you’re needed for another statement or when you’re clear to come back to work.”

Gar dipped his head and walked out of the station, pulling on his cap and flipping up his collar as he stepped into the cold rain.

He had to report to the Faceless on the blackmailer. Things had just gotten so much more serious.

Chapter Text

Jordan looked up as Bryan walked in, though he didn’t bother explaining what he was doing and Bryan didn’t ask. After the bomb that had nearly killed PJ and Wiggles, Jordan obsessively checking Family cars when they were around wasn’t much of a concern to most people.

“Doc left,” Bryan said simply.

“And?” Jordan reached up and closed the hood of the car, turning his attention to the next one in line. They’d called one of the Family doctors in when it became apparent that PJ was getting sick again—or perhaps elapsing from his past cold. Whatever the case was, he was (surprisingly) staying in his room and trying to rest and recover, but Bryan had called the doctor in anyway. Just in case.

“As long as he rests, he should be okay.” Bryan shrugged. “He’s supposed to stay away from people with the flu, since he’d probably catch it.”

Jordan sighed. “Here I was, hoping... he’d be recovered already.”

“I don’t know a single person who doesn’t want that,” Bryan pointed out. “Well, I’m off. I’ll go check in on Wiggles later today. He’s supposed to be meeting with that detective today, though, so I’ll wait until later in the day.”

Jordan hummed softly, examining the engine in front of him. “You saw the papers?”

“Yeah. I hope the kid knows what he’s doing.” Bryan sighed. “If he gets involved with his friend’s case and there’s a guilty verdict...”

“Do you think they’d fire one of their own detectives?”

“To assure the public there’s not a murderer in their ranks? Absolutely.”

Jordan frowned slightly. He didn’t know Bluemoon, they’d really only met the one time, but he’d rather liked the kid.

“PJ already talked to Wiggles about it,” Bryan added as an afterthought. “I’m sure they’ll be talking about it.” He turned to leave, but then paused. “Hey, did you know if WBBN is back yet?”

“Not as far as I know.” Jordan decided this car was clean and turned to face Bryan. “Travel safe. See ya later.”

Bryan waved and walked off, leaving Jordan to contemplate once again how the next few weeks would go down.

♣♥♠♦

Jack leaned forward, his gaze fixed on Robin. It was a none-too-happy gaze with his eye narrowed and blazing.

“Mmhm,” Robin hummed, leaning an elbow on the desk.

Jack’s eye narrowed even more.

Robin put a finger to his lips, though he didn’t spare Jack more than a glance, as the majority of his attention was focused on whatever the Faceless supervisor on the other end of the phone was saying.

Jack crossed his arms.

“He’s right here,” Robin said suddenly, leaning forward. “Yeah, of course. Here you go.” He held the receiver out to Jack and pushed the phone towards him.

Jack took them. “Hello?”

“Boss-Eye,” an unfamiliar man’s voice said, “good day. I will preface this conversation with this: the only reason I’m allowing any of this to reach your ears is because the Wolf Pup vouched for you.”

Jack bit his lip. Gar had vouched for him? Guess he had the free time to bother with him, since Gar had been taken off duty. That had been on the news for the past few days.

“Blackpit is going to tell you what’s going on, but because everything is ongoing and very sensitive, you’re going to have to come talk to me in person for a very long time at HQ before you’re allowed to interfere at all. Blackpit’s going to tell you things that... they’re going to upset you, but you can’t do anything about it. He’s not going to tell you everything, either, not until you’ve been given the entirety of the clearance you’ll need for this. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Alright. I’ll be in touch later, then.” The phone clicked and the call ended, leaving Jack to slowly hang up on his end.

Robin slid it back into place, looking uncharacteristically somber.

“Blackpit?” Jack asked, looking over. “Seriously? That sounds like an infected armpit.”

Robin flashed a grin at him. It lacked his usual enthusiasm.

“So what’s going on?” Jack leaned forward again. “What- I heard your voice on the radio, Robin. You were the one to set up the bomb and kill those men. Why? What’s going on?”

Robin leaned back, spreading his hands. “I’m sure you’ve already figured out that I’m on an undercover assignment.”

“Working for Mir.”

Robin nodded.

“...Why?”

“Because the Faceless needed someone on the inside and I’ve had experience doing this kind of thing before. With these kinds of people.”

Jack sighed. “Okay.” He frowned. “And that means... doing everything you’re told.”

Robin nodded. “Everything I need to do. Such is the nature of undercover work.”

“And Mir wanted all the events at the radio station to happen... why?”

Robin took a sip of his water, eyes fixed on Jack. Then he finished and leaned forward. “To punish Mark and Sophie.”

Jack sat up straight at that. “You know where they are?”

“Most of the time.”

Jack’s shoulders tightened and his eye flashed hotly. “Then why haven’t you helped them escape?”

“Because having someone on the inside of the mafiya, someone who can help Faceless avoid getting caught by Mir, someone who can help ultimately bring Mir down and save hundreds of lives? That is ultimately more important than saving three lives.”

“Three?” Jack blinked.

“Mir took Luna, the one-year-old daughter of one of the Liguori Family capos. From what I’ve heard from the undercover man there, PJ has been tearing the city apart looking for her and Sophie.”

“He took an infant?” Jack growled.

Robin nodded, his face remaining blank, although a muscle in his jaw twitched.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s not been harmed. Mir’ stopped threatening it, he knows none of his men would follow through. She’s figured out how to scream bloody murder, though, like they have hurt her. First time she did it around me, I hadn’t even touched her. Mir doesn’t care. He’s found plenty of other ways to make Mark and Sophie cooperate.”

A sick feeling rose up in Jack. “Robin... have... does this mean you’ve had to hurt Mark and Sophie?”

Robin’s body stiffened, and he looked away with a sharp nod. “I do what I can, when nobody else is around, but... yes. I have.”

“Robin.” He felt something twist in his gut.

“I have to, Jack.” Robin’s gaze met his with an intensity that Jack hadn’t been prepared for. “If I don’t, if I do anything to give myself away, then Mir will kill me, and he’ll kill Sophie and Luna. He keeps them around because it makes Mark cooperate. He loses nothing by killing them.”

Jack swallowed, lifting his head. There was a beat of silence before he spoke. “I see.”

“I have to keep going,” Robin murmured, suddenly slumping forward and lacing his fingers through his hair. “I’m their only defense.”

♣♥♠♦

The tiny puppy gently sniffed Gar’s outstretched hand, then stepped a bit closer. Gar grinned, but still didn’t reach to touch the dog. Another sniff, and another step closer, and Gar turned his hand over into prime scratching position.

The puppy immediately deposited his chin on Gar’s hand and received scritches as a result.

“It’s good to see Tiny likes you,” Ohm said, his gaze soft as he watched the puppy. “You’re only the third person he’s met since I brought him home, and only the second he’s liked.”

“Oh?” Gar asked, looking up.

“He didn’t like the vet much. He liked my handler, though.”

Gar nodded. “To be fair, Dante never liked the vet, the few times I’ve taken him. It’s not unusual.”

Ohm laughed softly. “Yeah.”

“So what did you want to talk to me about?” Gar asked, glancing down to give Tiny some more pets. “You sounded rather serious about it on the phone.”

“Yeah. It’s about your police friend.”

Gar stopped petting Tiny, looking away. “Oh.”

“Look... just... talking to you both as your capo and a fellow Faceless... if you get really dragged into this... if you lose your spot as a detective...”

“I know what’s at stake,” Gar said quietly. “The police chief has already forbidden me from going anywhere near my friend until everything resolves. It’s why I’m off duty. And as much as I hate it, I get it. I think it’s dumb, but I’m following orders.” He looked up with an expression of restrained sadness. “I feel like I’m abandoning him, but... don’t worry.” He looked down, scratching Tiny gently again. “I’m following orders.”

“I know it’s hard. I’m sorry.” Ohm didn’t even try offering a comforting smile. It didn’t seem like it would help in this situation. “That’s... just the way it is.”

“Doesn’t make it any easier.” Gar stood quietly. “Is there anything else, or am I allowed to go?”

“You can go.” Ohm tilted his head slightly, watching as the young man collected his hat and jacket and turned to the door, hesitating. “Gar?”

Gar looked over his shoulder, but said nothing.

“Did your police friend kill his girlfriend?”

“No. She’s sitting safe at one of Madame Foxgloves’ Greenhouses. I just... don’t know how I’m supposed to tell that to anyone.”

“...I mean-”

Gar squinted at him. “I’m not going to tell the police that I was doing something illegal when I saw her, and that’s what they’d assume the second I mention a Greenhouse.”

Ohm shrugged the shoulder of the arm not using a crutch. He’d graduated to using just one; a small excitement that clearly showed him he’d been cooped up healing for far too long.

“Why’d you ask?” Gar asked quietly.

“You’ve got a few Faceless friends, and Madame Foxglove on your side. Worst comes to worst... we’ll get your friend and his girl to a new life.”

The corner of Gar’s mouth twitched up. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

♣♥♠♦

Almost four months ago, MatPat had sought an audience with Madame Foxglove, desperately seeking help from her to find Steph. 

And now here he was, sitting across the desk from her, Steph clutching his hand from the chair to his left and Marie sitting quietly in the chair to his right.

Madame Foxglove was, as he’d noted when he’d last seen her a year ago, a commanding woman. Didn’t put up with too much baloney. And there she sat, frowning into her tea.

“I don’t know what you want me to do about this,” she finally said, putting her cup down. “I can’t let Marie go to prove she’s alive—even though, as you pointed out earlier, that is by far the simplest solution. However, if I did that, then the blackmailer who threatened her in the first place would have full access to her.” She nodded at Marie. “I’m sorry, but you must understand.”

Marie narrowed her eyes at Foxglove. “He’s under house arrest for a crime he didn’t commit.”

“I know. But the last thing I want now is you showing up dead when he’s getting tried for murder.” Foxglove leaned back in her chair. “There are ways to make bodies look older than they are. It’d only take a few days at the bottom of the Charles for you to look like you’d been dead for months. That means you don’t leave the Greenhouse.”

“But-”

“No.” Foxglove narrowed her eyes, her words carrying an undeniable sense of unbreakable authority. “You will not. We’re not throwing away eight months of protection for this, especially not without a plan of some sort. I’m not going to see you dead because of this.”

Marie swallowed and sat back heavily in her chair. “I never wanted things to go this way.”

“Neither did I.” Foxglove shook her head. “We’ll do what we can, Marie, but it’s just too soon to do anything about it.”

“He’s going to get condemned by the time you make a decision!”

Foxglove looked at MatPat. “How long does the average murder trial take?”

“Depends how much evidence there is, or a confession. In a case like this, it could take a few months. There’s no solid evidence.” MatPat scowled. “Of course, if this is the work of the blackmailer, there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t just coerce or bribe the judge into rushing things.”

Marie scowled.

“Is he going to trial immediately?”

MatPat shook his head. “The detectives assigned to this have a minimum of two weeks to do a thorough investigation. Probably three or four. Something like this undergoes a lot of scrutiny.”

Foxglove nodded, turning back to Marie. “Give us at least a few days to figure out a plan, and two weeks to make it work. Okay?”

Marie crossed her arms, narrowing her eyes. “If you don’t have anything, I’ll take things into my own hands.”

“I can stop you from leaving the Greenhouse,” Foxglove said quietly. “Don’t make me.” She turned back to MatPat. “Keep an eye on things, then.” She slid a telephone number across the desk to him. “If anything changes suddenly, try to let me know before the papers do.”

MatPat took it, tucking it into his pocket. “I will.”

Foxglove sighed, reaching for her tea. “Steph, Detective Patrick, you two can go. It seems Marie and I have more to discuss.”

Chapter Text

Gar had a sneaking suspicion this wouldn’t be the last time he’d end up in one of the interrogation rooms.

Whittaker was standing across from him, looking like he’d rather be asleep right now. He hadn’t said anything yet, but he was looking at Gar with a kind of sadness Gar hadn’t seen before in the man’s eyes.

“Bluemoon,” Whittaker finally said, “did Officer Static shoot you?”

Gar clamped down on his emotions and schooled his expression into one of mild shock and confusion. There was no way Whittaker knew. “I didn’t see who shot me,” Gar said, the lie slipping off his tongue with ease. “It was dark.”

“So you’ve damn well said,” Whittaker murmured, though his gaze remained fixed on Gar. 

Gar didn’t respond. He wasn’t going to offer any information Whittaker didn’t ask for. 

“Tell me,” Whittaker said quietly, “how close are you and Officer Static? Acquaintances? Good friends? Merely co-workers?” The detective crossed his arms. “Have you spent time together outside of work?”

“I’d say we’re good friends. We see each other in passing outside of work, but nothing on a regular basis.”

“How confident are you in your ability to tell when something’s wrong with him?”

“...Somewhat.”

Whittaker nodded slightly. “I see.” He tapped his fingers on the table. “Have you experienced that feeling recently? That something’s wrong?”

“I just assumed he was missing Marie, sir, and stressed about the blackmailer.”

“Hmm, yes, the blackmailer who might not actually exist.” Whittaker frowned. “You’ve mentioned you encouraged Static to go to Chief Sharp about it. Did you actually see the letter, or did you just do this over the phone?”

“I saw the letter, sir.” Best not to mention he’d compared it to some of the other blackmail letters the Faceless had managed to collect over the last two years.

“Did you recognize the handwriting at all?”

Gar shook his head. “No, sir.”

“Do you think Static could have forged it?”

“His handwriting isn’t that neat, sir. I’ve seen it on plenty of reports. It would have shown.”

Whittaker shrugged. “Could have gotten someone else to do it.”

Gar raised his eyebrows.

“Look, kid...” Whittaker sighed. “I don’t know if Static is innocent or not. I’m trying to get to the bottom of this.” He shook his head. “What do you think?”

“I believe he’s innocent, sir. He would never harm Marie.”

“...Would you testify to that in court?”

Ohm’s warning echoed in Gar’s mind, but he nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Whittaker sighed, but nodded.

Another stretch of silence.

“Bluemoon, when was the last time you saw Marie?”

“Early December, sir. She came in to meet Patrck after work. I didn’t get the chance to speak with her for long, but she seemed happy enough. Excited to spend Christmas with Patrck.”

“Have you ever heard either of them complain about the other? Seen suspicious bruises or injuries on either one of them?”

“No, sir.” 

“Have you ever seen any indications that Static is a violent man? Or an angry one?”

Gar shook his head. “No, sir.” He couldn’t help but remember that night Patrck had shot him. How mad he’d been, thinking Gar had put Marie at risk.

“...what about his work desk?” Whittaker was saying. “I’ve been told he knocked the drawer loose slamming it too many times.”

“I can’t confirm that, sir. My desk has never been near his.”

Whittaker hummed softly. Then, “How well did you know his girlfriend?”

“Well enough.”

“Were you on... friendly terms with her?”

“I would call us friends, sir.”

Whittaker raised an eyebrow. “Is that why you two fucked?”

Gar blinked. His mouth opened; this time, the shock was genuine. “What? No!”

Whittaker leaned back in his chair. “Then what was the reason? Unbridled passion? The thrill?”

“We didn’t do it at all,” Gar replied vehemently. “I’d never do that. She’d never do that. We never slept together. I’m not interested in her, and she’s for sure not interested in me. Even if I were interested in her, I would never force her into an affair!”

“Don’t worry about protecting your reputation, Bluemoon. Plenty of young detectives are swayed by a pretty face. You wouldn’t be the first. You were just smarter, and kept it out of an active case. It’s not your fault she didn’t leave him for you, and it’s not your fault he shot you over it.”

Gar grit his teeth and leaned back in his chair, folding his arms over his chest. “I was never involved with her.”

Whittaker shrugged. “Humor me for a minute. Hypothetically, if you were, would he shoot you over that?”

“You’re the detective on duty, Detective,” Gar replied firmly, not taking the bait. “It’s not my job to theorize.”

Whittaker tilted his head. “You’re a clever one, kid.” He stood, clicking off the microphone. “We’re done here today. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

♣♥♠♦

“Good afternoon, Detective Patrick,” Detective Whittaker said after turning on the microphone between them, sitting across from MatPat. “Your cooperation makes this easier.”

MatPat had himself spoken those words many times, but he’d never before realized how bitter they sounded in a situation like this.

“It’s the least I can do,” he replied simply.

“It is appreciated.” Whittaker leaned back in his chair. “So that rookie of yours, has he ever mentioned a girlfriend or anything?”

MatPat paused, though he was already fairly sure he knew the answer. “Not that I can recall. He’s asked...” He sighed, twisting his wedding ring on his finger, playing up the part of a grieving widower. “He’s asked me how I managed to catch and keep Stephanie, being a detective, but... she and I were married before I entered the force.”

“My condolences,” Whittaker murmured. “Has he ever mentioned any woman at all?”

“A few friends, or one-time dates. Never anything that turned serious.”

“How many lady friends, do you know?”

MatPat shook his head. “No. We agreed to keep our work lives separate from private lives, and...” MatPat paused, staring at his wedding ring, wishing Steph was here. “I... was busy looking for Steph in all my spare moments.”

Whittaker sighed. “I know this is... a difficult subject for you, Detective,” he said, “but I promise it’s important.”

MatPat nodded.

“Are you aware if Bluemoon visits brothels?”

“I haven’t asked.” MatPat said flatly.

“...Rumors have it you’ve taken to visiting one in recent months.”

MatPat narrowed his eyes at Whittaker, daring him to continue that line of questioning, and placed his left hand on the table, where his wedding band would be easily visible.

“You’re not being judged for it here, Patrick. I understand grief is complicated. Just because you’re not ready to take off the ring doesn’t mean you don't want a good fuck. Fully half the force visits one brothel or another, there’s no shame in it.”

“I don’t see the point of this line of questioning.”

“It’s simple,” Whittaker continued. “Have you seen any evidence of Bluemoon visiting the brothel you visit?”

“I would imagine brothels have a strict privacy policy,” MatPat said coldly. “And if I had visited one, I certainly wouldn’t be looking around to see who else was.”

“Fair.” Whittaker held up his hands then leaned forward. “Tell me, do you think Bluemoon convinced Static’s girlfriend to have an affair with him? You were... very distracted at the time, so there’s no guarantee you would have noticed it. If you had, though...”

“I have no reason to believe Gar would do that,” MatPat replied, his gaze fixed cooly on Whittaker. “He’s not that kind of man.”

♣♥♠♦

“That’s impossible,” Bob said flatly, glaring at Whittaker. “I’ve met Marie. She’s not that kind of person. Neither is Gar. And Patrck certainly wouldn’t shoot Gar over it.”

“I have to cover all my bases.”

“Well- throw out the stupid ones,” Bob retorted. “You know Detective Bluemoon. You know Officer Static. Neither of them would be so supremely idiotic as to try that. They’re friends, good friends, almost like brothers. You don’t cheat with your brother’s girlfriend. You just don’t. And neither of them would even try.” He fixed Whittaker with an angry glare. “And Marie can’t even defend herself here. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Whittaker rubbed his brow. “Stopped doing that a long time ago.” He stood, reaching for the microphone between them. “Thank you for your time.”

Then he was gone, leaving Bob with another thing to worry about for Gar. First was him being Faceless when Faceless were being hunted, and now this stupid case that was such an obvious set-up that Bob was disappointed in the precinct for even considering it.

♣♥♠♦

Patrck didn’t look up from the table in the interrogation room as the door opened. He merely kept his gaze fixed on the handcuffs wrapped around his wrists where they laid on the table. His hands were shaking.

“Have anything else to say?” Whittaker demanded.

Patrck shook his head quietly, barely glancing up. The room tilted a little at the movement, and he breathed sharply to focus. Whittaker was barely visible through the hair falling in his face; he hadn’t been given any time at all that morning to make himself presentable, merely had a shirt and pants and shoes thrown at him and enough time to yank them on before the handcuffs were on and he was being dragged here for more questioning.

“December 26th, 1923,” Whittaker said, dropping into the chair across the table, “you requested an ammo refill, due to having to use several shots to defend yourself during the mob-related gun fight early Christmas morning.”

Patrck didn’t respond, returning his gaze to the chain of the handcuffs. He could almost see his reflection in it, although the distortion of said reflection was hiding how gaunt and exhausted he looked. Patrck blinked his eyes a few times. The strain of staring was making his already-pounding head hurt all the more, leaving him dizzy.

“Why didn’t you request it on the 25th?”

“I needed to sleep,” Patrck murmured, shoulders aching from maintaining the position his arms and wrists were in. “I didn’t get much the 24th.”

“Witnesses report you fired a total of five shots that night.” Whittaker leaned forward. “Your revolver chamber was completely empty. What happened to the last bullet?”

“There was a lot of gunfire,” Patrck replied quietly, swallowing. “I shot all six. Someone miscounted.”

“I know you fired all six. Five were at the scene of the fight. Where was the sixth?”

Patrck didn’t answer.

Whittaker stood with enough force to send his chair skittering back and slammed his palms on the table with enough force to make it shift. “Why did you shoot Detective Bluemoon?” he roared.

Patrck jerked in his seat but made no sound. His ears were ringing, and he curled his hands into weak fists in an attempt to hide the trembling. He fixed his gaze on the fourth link in his handcuffs, the one closest to his right hand. He could see the place where it had been fused with itself to make a proper loop.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” Whittaker demanded coldly.

Patrck glanced up, but, again, his hair was in his face, and it probably didn’t produce the effect Whittaker had wanted. In any other circumstance, Patrck might have even laughed at his own appearance, but... he hadn’t wanted to laugh for two and a half weeks since that slanderous note had been found on the station door. He couldn’t sleep, and he’d barely eaten (not that the cop stationed in his living room enforcing the house arrest ever bothered to check).

“Let’s try that again,” Whittaker growled. “Why did you shoot Detective Bluemoon?”

Patrck fixed his gaze back on the handcuffs. What was he supposed to do, admit he shot Gar? That’d just be used as evidence that he was capable of killing Marie, not to mention open a whole other case against him. He wasn’t going to lie, either, so that left silence. Whittaker couldn’t make him answer. So he wouldn’t.

“You’re just making yourself look guilty here, you know,” Whittaker said. “I can’t help you unless you give me some answers.”

“I gave you answers,” Patrck said quietly, not having the energy to speak louder, “weeks ago.”

“It’s an investigation, Static. Answer the question.”

Patrck bit his tongue hard enough to taste blood, letting the silence stretch out. He wasn’t used to such a strong flavor in his mouth. It had been a few days since he’d last eaten, and the strong taste of copper nearly made him gag.

Whittaker sighed. “Fine. I’ll call Nichols in here. Get up and go home.”

Patrck stood, and the world tilted, his vision caving in. Vaguely, he felt his knees buckling and his body going limp, and the last thing he saw before giving into blissful unconsciousness was the table rapidly approaching his face.

Chapter Text

Felix shook out his umbrella as he stood on the back doorstep of the mafia’s temporary headquarters, waiting for his ring to be answered. The door opened and he stepped in, nodding at Jordan as he deposited his dripping umbrella in the proper stand. Felix grimaced for a second, glancing out at the heavy rain as the door was closed behind him. He was very glad he’d worn his black spats today.

“I’ll be fine,” Felix assured Jordan, surrendering his damp hat and jacket after tucking his gloves into a pocket. “I don’t get sick easily. Besides, the company will do him good.”

Jordan sighed. “If you’re sure, then... Do you know where his room is?”

“No, but I’m sure the young man hovering behind you and staring at me in concern is going to listen in anyway, so he might as well show me the way.” Felix had known (back at PJ’s old house, the old Family headquarters) but he hadn’t been over to visit since the mafia had moved.

Jordan glanced over his shoulder and sighed softly. “Yeah. Gunner will show you the way.”

The young man dipped his head, and Felix nodded. “Lead the way, then, my good sir.”

Gunner led the way down a hall in silence, which was perfectly fine for Felix. He could use the time to think, especially before he’d be talking to PJ. There were a lot of things to discuss, talk about, mull over… The cottage for Mark was just about done; the finishing touches would be smoothed out by the end of the week. He just couldn’t know when Mark was going to be out of Mir’s hands and headed over there, which meant there were some last-minute preparations that would truly be last-minute.

Amy was ready to move in, though; along with Ethan and Kathryn. The three of them would be keeping the house clean and in good repair while they waited. Molly had suggested a greenhouse, and Ethan had already delivered him a list of plants he wanted to keep in it. It would be a good addition, though it would likely be October before its construction was finished.

Last he’d known, Tom and Amy were having a series of discussions about whether they should tell Mark’s mothers he was alive—and if so, when might be the best time to share the news. It wouldn’t do to tell them now, not when Mark’s future was still, all things considered, very uncertain. And for the first little while out of Mir’s hands, Mark would likely need a great deal of medical attention. While Felix was sure he’d want to see family, he would also need time to adjust to life in the cottage.

Then… there was the matter of the blackmailer. No matter how hard Felix pushed, Cry refused to tell him their identity. Lately Cry seemed to always be off doing his own thing—Felix was partially sure he was avoiding any pressure to answer.

It was probably for the best, but now that things were going south with that poor police officer (whose girlfriend Molly had admitted was safe in her care), Felix was finding himself rather antsy about the mysterious blackmailer.

He wanted to do something to help that police officer, too, of course. There was simply very little he could do, without endangering either one of them. And he couldn’t simply come out in open support of the officer—he had thousands of eyes on him, and it just wouldn’t do to have that kind of news get to the papers. Felix knew how suspicious things would look.

He would have to investigate, and keep his eyes open.

He was, however, rather excited on one count. Today, a month after the bomb and the murders at the WBBN station, was their first broadcast back.

It started at noon. He had ten minutes. He knew there was a radio in PJ’s room; he’d mentioned it offhand a few times. They were going to listen to the return broadcast together, because PJ had been sick for weeks and really needed the pick-me-up.

Supposedly, PJ just had a cold. Well, it had been a cold. Somewhere along the way he’d picked up a slight fever. And a cough. He’d sounded pretty miserable when Felix had rang him the day before, despite his constant insistence he really was trying to rest and get better.

Gunner knocked softly on a door, jerking Felix out of his thoughts. A moment later, he was being ushered into the room with the door closing behind him.

Felix simply looked at the figure of his friend, sitting on the edge of his bed with clear exhaustion written across his features.

“Don’t bother getting up,” Felix said lightly. “It’s just me.”

PJ snorted softly. “You’re the first person to visit me without immediately reminding me to take medicine.”

“Has it been helping?”

PJ shrugged. “I at least get some sleep.”

“That’s something.” Felix walked over to the far window in the room. “Do you have a headache? Are you cold?”

“No? ...And a little, but it’s nothing blankets wouldn’t solve. Why?”

“Good.” Felix reached up and pulled the curtains open, filling the room with natural cool light, then reached down and cracked the window open, letting in fresh air and allowing the ever-present sound of rain pittering against the windowpane to become louder. “We’ll see if this helps any.”

PJ laughed softly, though his laugh turned into a few gentle coughs. “It didn’t yesterday.”

“That’s a shame. It won’t hurt, though. Floor just might get a bit wet.” Felix turned back to PJ and sat next to him on the bed. “How’re you doing?”

“Horribly.” PJ shook his head. “I want to stop being sick. I can’t focus on any of the things I need to do, but no matter how much I sleep it’s not going away.”

Felix pursed his lips slightly. “You did say the doctor who helped you after the bomb said you’d get sick easily for a while.”

“For a month,” PJ retorted, though Felix distinctly remembered Jordan mentioning it could be two. “It’s been much longer than that.”

Felix put a hand on PJ’s shoulder, squeezing it slightly. He didn’t like how frail his friend seemed under his hand, though it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying on PJ’s part.

“Have you thought any more about my suggestion?” Felix said lightly.

“All I can do is think,” PJ muttered, “and I’m not even very good at that right now.” He sighed, shoulders slumping. “It’s a good idea. We’ll need time to hash out details, of course, but it’s as good of a start as any.”

“Fantastic.” Felix grinned at PJ, then glanced at the clock on the wall. Three minutes. “Where’s your radio?”

PJ nodded to his dresser, immediately turning away to cough harshly.

Felix frowned, but got up and tuned the radio to the proper station. A moment, and then a voice sprang to life.

“Welcome back to WBBN on this fine Tuesday noon,” Phil’s voice came through. “We’re your hosts-”

“-Dan Howell-”

“-and Phil Lester. It’s been a long month, but the station is fully repaired, and thanks to several generous donors, we’re back in business! We’re here for all your news needs.”

A faint smile touched the faces of both Felix and PJ. They’d both been more than happy to be among those donors.

“Oh, let me tell you,” Dan said cheerfully, “it’s good to be back. As nice as it was to not have to deal with this shelf of music all the time, I sure missed everything else.”

“I didn’t miss calling you at the crack of dawn to make sure you got up in time,” Phil responded blandly.

“Just because some of us appreciate the stars and moon doesn’t mean you get to make fun of me for it on radio.”

“Sure it does.”

The sound of Dan’s indignant gasp and Phil’s laughter was muffled by the much closer sound of PJ coughing. Felix looked over and frowned at the sight of PJ doubled over and turned away so as not to cough on Felix.

“Peej,” he said softly, “should I call a doctor for you?”

“I have, weekly,” PJ managed before dropping back into his coughing fit. “Nothing- nothing they can do.”

Felix hummed softly as distant thunder rumbled. “Really?”

PJ nodded, reaching for a cup on his nightstand. In a moment of calm, he took a sip, and it seemed to help.

“They’ve given me medicine,” PJ clarified, “but between that and me resting, there’s not much they can do right now.”

Felix frowned. “You’ve been sick for weeks. How much longer does it take them to decide to do something more?”

“I’ve... almost recovered, a few times,” PJ argued. “But then I just get worse again.” He coughed again, pressing a hand to his chest. “I’m sick of being sick, Fe.”

“I’d imagine so.” Felix leaned back on the bed. “At least you’ve learned to rest, though.”

PJ snorted, something that immediately turned into a cough.

Felix frowned at him, but said nothing.

“I’m sorry if you get sick from this,” PJ muttered, voice hoarse. “I told you you shouldn’t come visit me.”

Felix kicked his feet up on PJ’s bed, earning an even look, and grinned. “How else am I supposed to see your new place? I had to judge your decorations at some point.”

PJ rolled his eyes, gesturing half-heartedly at his bedroom walls that were largely blank. “Very decorated, as you can see.” He had things to put up, but most of them were still sitting in boxes in the corner, waiting for him to feel well enough to go through the effort. Some of the others had offered to help, but PJ wanted to decorate his own room.

“Well, I guess that just means I’ll have to bother you more later, come over for another visit.” Felix leaned forward on a knee. “Shame.”

A smile flicked across PJ’s face. “You’re incorrigible.”

“You know it.” Felix grinned broadly. “I’m like a sticker weed. You can’t get rid of me, no matter how hard you try.”

PJ side-eyed him with a fake sourness. “I’ve noticed.”

Felix’s smile widened, then he glanced at the door and the window. They were out of sight of both. No strangers could look in and judge them on a moment’s notice. He patted the area next to him on the bed. PJ stared at him for a minute, then shuffled over to sit next to Felix, leaning halfway against him and sprawling halfway into the wall on the other side.

They just sat there for a minute, taking comfort in each other’s presence.

“...couldn’t have picked a better day to return!” Phil was saying on the radio, voice delighted. “We say hello, and September says goodbye. The weather has been amazing the past few days, and this delightful autumn storm we’re having is a good indication that things will be delightfully drizzly.”

“Do make sure your hat and coat are waterproofed, though,” Dan added. “Getting soaked simply isn’t fun in this wind.”

Lightning flashed, illuminating the far walland followed closely by a heavy rumble. Static overcame the radio for a few seconds before the signal solidified and the voices of the Bumblers returned.

It was nearly fifteen minutes into the program when PJ shifted against Felix, and he looked down to see PJ asleep against his shoulder. He smiled softly, gently easing PJ down onto his pillow, and slowly pulled away. That done, he pulled up a few of the blankets then made his way to the door, where he hesitated and stared at the radio. Should he leave it on?

He glanced at PJ, curled up near the wall, and nodded decisively. If it was what had put PJ to sleep, it was best to leave it on.

With that, he left the room and, minutes later, was splashing through standing water on the sidewalks to rejoin Ken in the car.

♣♥♠♦

Wet footsteps squelched along the wooden floor in the hall, loud enough to rouse Mark from an unsteady sleep. But no one entered the storeroom, and the only clue indicating he hadn’t been imagining the footsteps was the soft sound of indistinct voices on the other side of the door.

Mark sighed softly and rolled to face the room, reaching for his glasses. A quick moment later, and he was glancing around the dimly lit room.

Sophie was sleeping on her bedroll on the floor a few feet away. Luna seemed to be asleep in her crib crate a bit beyond that. On the far side, the two windows at the top of the wall—so short Mark could cover them with his hand—let in gray-blue light, water beginning to pool up slightly against them. Ever-so-faint was the sound of rain hitting the ground, hitting the leaves of the bushes blocking their view to the outside world.

Mark pulled himself up by crutches and moved over to the closest window, staring up at it. The view was the same as it always was, the roots and leaves of the bushes keeping him from seeing out and, more importantly, from anyone else seeing in. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to look. Maybe he could figure out where they were. It was the second speakeasy location with a basement, he knew that much. If he could just get a glimpse...

Mark strained, painfully half-climbing onto a crate below the window and peering out of the window. It wasn’t a view he was used to, seeing the world through yellowing leaves and mud; seeing feet splashing through puddles before he saw horses and cars on the street before he got a glimpse of what laid across the street.

It was certainly a busy street. A central part of town, probably.

He squinted. There weren’t actually buildings on the other side. It was all green, and open, and-

Mark caught his breath.

The Common.

Mir had opened a speakeasy this close to the center of town? Nobody had recognized Mark yet? He used to be here all the time, socializing with passersby and shopkeeps while on errands and the few times he managed to pull Tom away from his work to eat lunch with him.

His heart dropped.

No, of course no one had seen him. He was a dead man. He was a ghost.

Chapter Text

The radio had drifted into static a while ago, but MatPat didn’t particularly care to get up and turn it off. Not with rain pattering against the small round window between the beds in the room, the lamplight from the street below casting moving shadows on the far wall; not with the cool fall air lulling him to sleep. Not with Steph curled into him, asleep herself, one arm wrapped tightly around him and the other just as tightly pulling a blanket in.

MatPat looked over at her and smiled softly, but didn’t move. He didn’t want to wake her.

He knew the rumors about him visiting a Greenhouse were spreading, but frankly (since nobody seemed to be judging him all that much,) he wasn’t going to worry. Especially not these next few days. He had them off work, and he was going to spend as much time with Steph as he could.

Even if it did mean Marie was spending the next little while living with the Orchids downstairs.

At least he knew the two of them wouldn’t be walked in on. Knocking and locked doors were very valuable in Greenhouses, even if all that was going on right now was sleep.

Steph stirred, nestling closer to him, and he couldn’t help the smile that touched his face. How long had he thought this would permanently escape him, that he’d never be able to hold her like this again, that he’d never be able to quietly enjoy her presence?

He was so glad he’d been wrong about that.

Then, his smile fell. Patrck was... most definitely dealing with those same feelings. MatPat had wanted to offer support more than once, but Nate had warned him away. Nate had, in fact, been the one to suggest that MatPat take a few days off when he pressed wanting to help Patrck. It hadn’t exactly been a friendly suggestion, per se, but it hadn’t quite been an order, either.

Steph’s breathing caught and she stiffened, pulling away before fully waking. MatPat let her, though he frowned softly. It was only after she opened her eyes and stared blearily at him, recognition coloring her expression, that she leaned back into him.

“Matthew,” she murmured sleepily, “I forgot you were here.”

“Until Monday,” MatPat reminded her gently, wrapping his arm back around her.

“I’m not used to sharing a bed anymore,” Steph admitted, burying her face into his shoulder. “Didn’t remember for a minute.”

“It’s okay,” MatPat assured. “You didn’t scare me at all.”

Steph snorted softly, then rolled her head to look at him. “Why are you up? It’s late.”

“I know.” MatPat’s gaze drifted to the ceiling. “I’ve been thinking about Patrck. I’ve been worried about him. I know what it’s like to believe you’ll never see your loved one again. We know how that turned out for me. And I wasn’t even the primary suspect for a murder investigation.”

Steph sighed. “Nate still won’t let you see him?”

“No.” MatPat quietly pressed a kiss to her forehead, trying not to dwell on the full implications of what was probably going through Patrck’s mind. “Gar’s been begging for weeks to work something out. I don’t know if he’ll get to or not.”

“Patrck’ll pull through,” Steph promised.

“I hope so,” MatPat murmured, “but... the latest rumors I’ve heard weren’t promising.”

“Is that what you were talking to Molly and Marie about earlier?”

“Yeah.” MatPat frowned. “Apparently he’s passed out a few times. He hasn’t been eating, or drinking, or sleeping. Rumor has it they have him on constant watch to... to make sure he doesn’t die before a trial. Lots of people are taking that as proof he did it. The guilt is finally getting to him, they say.”

Steph’s fingers curled into his. “...He’ll pull through, Matt. We have to believe it. He just has to hang on until Molly’s plan is ready.”

“How much longer will that be?” MatPat sighed. “It’s been a month.”

“I don’t know. She’s having trouble setting up some of the scene. All I know is that Entoan’s been working on it for a while, and he’s still not convinced it’ll work.”

“I’ll... take a look at it in the morning. Maybe my experience as a detective in the force can help.”

“He’s a competent officer.”

“Ignoring that he’s the definition of a crooked cop, yes. But I have significantly more experience than he does. It would be worth a try.”

A long pause.

“Thank you,” Steph murmured. “You don’t have to help them, but here you are.”

“Yes, well,” MatPat murmured back, a confidence in his voice and a smile on his face that felt more like a mask than something real, “I won’t get caught helping here. You won’t need to worry, I’m not putting myself in danger for this.”

The lie fell easily—much more easily than it would have if he wasn’t wearing that emotional mask—and while he was sure Steph caught it she merely narrowed her eyes at him, fully aware him doing such things to help could very well cost him his job.

“Anyway,” MatPat said, “this is a sad conversation. How about we talk about something more interesting? What’s new around the Greenhouse?” He paused, unable to hide his sly grin. “Perhaps... you would like to show me?”

♣♥♠♦

Silence reigned in Interrogation 2, the only sound the distant rumble of thunder outside, the soft hum of the electrical light in the ceiling, and similar buzz from the microphone recording on the table.

“Why’d they send you in,” Patrck finally murmured, breaking the silence. His voice was barely audible, broken and despondent, a far cry from the exuberance Gar was so used to hearing. Granted, all of Patrck was a far cry from what he used to be—from even a month ago. “Do they want you to get a confession out of me?”

“I sure hope not,” Gar said, sitting forward, making sure to keep his hands visible on the table. He wasn’t going to give Whittaker, who was watching from the far side of the room, any reason to be suspicious. “It’s taken me a month to convince Chief Sharp to let me talk to you, I’m not going to waste fifteen minutes trying to get you to confess to something I know you didn’t do.”

“They’re recording this,” Patrck pointed out dryly. “Clearly, they want you to get me to confess.”

“Too bad. I’m going to talk about life. Like friends do. Just wait until you hear about my new next-door neighbor.”

“Oh?” Patrck slumped further forward in his seat, though he lifted his head some to look Gar in the eyes. The action revealed just how unwell he looked, but it was probably best not to comment on that at two in the morning when everyone would rather be asleep. (Why Chief Sharp had scheduled Gar’s visit for such a late time, he wasn’t entirely sure, but he certainly wasn’t going to do anything but be friendly towards Patrck.)

“So he moved in at the end of August, and for the first few weeks he was fairly quiet. We’ve talked a little, when I had the time. He grew up in Ireland, in a small rural place where he actually had to learn how to hunt at a very young age to make sure his family was fed.”

“Exciting,” Patrck said impassively, though his eyes were starting to focus.

“Oh, yes, for sure.” Gar shook his head. “So I’ve taken to talking to him more, now that I’ve had so much free time on my hands, and he’s a delight. He’s not too much older than either one of us, but he has all these stories of being a little kid and causing all sorts of mischief. Apparently, when he was fifteen or so, before he got drafted into the war, he and a few friends decided to show off their shooting skills. They were all in some field or forest, I can’t really remember.”

“Was anyone hurt?” Patrck squinted at Gar.

Gar shook his head. “He didn’t say. What he did mention, though, was that there was this betting pool, and whoever could hit increasingly smaller targets most accurately won that round of betting.”

“Oh, a wonderful habit for a fifteen-year-old to have.”

Gar laughed. “Oh, like we’re going to pretend that either of us were smarter at fifteen.”

“You’re a detective. I’m sure you were doing brilliant things at fifteen.”

Gar snorted, shaking his head. “At fifteen? I don’t know of a single person who was smart at fifteen.”

Patrck bobbed his head in agreement. “You got me there.” He glanced over at Whittaker, smile dying. Then he turned back. “So what happened with the shooting range?”

“Well, once the war started, when my neighbor was... seventeen?” Gar squinted a little bit. “Eighteen? Right around there. He and all the boys he used to play with got drafted, and in basic training, he was informed that, uh,” Gar shifted his voice to be a clear parody of a military officer (or Whittaker, he wasn’t quite sure himself), “‘Young man, you have no idea how to shoot properly and you couldn’t hit a target if it stood three feet in front of you.’ And he, uh, he didn’t take too well to that, and when his next turn came for shooting practice, he walked up to one of the snipers practicing, ‘cause they were using rifles similar to the ones he used to hunt, and asked if he could do it. And his commanding officer laughed, ‘if you can hit the bull’s-eye of the furthest target out, I’ll get you transferred to the special forces’ and he- he took the offer.”

“Did he make the shot”

Gar scowled, sitting back in his seat. “I don’t know.” That was, of course, an absolute lie: Jack had made that shot, something he was still very proud of. “When I asked, he grinned at me, winked, and walked off.”

“Oh, Gar,” Patrck said, shoulders beginning to shake in the first laugh he’d had since this all started. “He’s pulling your leg.”

“Someone lying about what they accomplished in the war?” Gar scoffed sarcastically. “Nobody’s ever done that, what are you talking about?”

Whittaker’s soft snort made Patrck laugh all the harder.

“It’s not like he lied about anything, as far as I can tell.” Gar argued. “He just thinks it’s berries to keep the ending of the story from me.”

“Gar,” Patrck managed through laughs, “you- you need- get a hobby. Please.”

Gar narrowed his eyes. “I have hobbies.”

“Like what?” Patrck snorted through his chuckles. “Bothering your neighbors?”

“Well, yeah.”

Patrck’s laughter pealed out, and he laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. “Gar- Gar, buddy.”

“What, that doesn’t count?”

Patrck shook his head, laughing too hard to speak.

“Aw, but how else am I supposed to make friends?” Gar blinked innocently. “Talk to them like a normal person? That’s boring.”

Patrck doubled over laughing again.

Whittaker’s hand came down on the table between them, cutting the laughter short.

“It’s been fifteen minutes,” he said, a smile in his eyes despite his gruff tone. “Time’s up.”

Gar stood, dipping his head and struggling to contain his wide smile. “Alright.” He glanced at Patrck. “Take care, buddy. If I can swing another one of these, remind me to tell you about the flower garden incident.”

“Oh no,” Patrck gasped. “What did you do?”

“I... learned how to plant flowers.” Gar ducked his head. “It was kinda messy.”

That set Patrck off again, his laughter following Gar out of the room.

Chapter Text

The warehouse was old, halfway to collapse. The air smelled of mold and rot even from the relative safety of the car more than fifty feet out. What had once been gravel and sett underfoot had been overgrown by grass and weeds. 

MatPat eyed the scene sourly, mentally running through all the ways this could go wrong. They were supposed to be collecting three Faceless who had been tied up here by that same anonymous vigilante—the one who always left tips on where to find the next Faceless. Or in this case, three. Three highly-trained murderers with just him and Bob to bring them in, as Gar was still off duty... and Patrck, of course, still suspended and under close watch until the trial.

It had become increasingly obvious the past few days that Whittaker was trying to keep Patrck’s case from going to trial. He didn’t seem to think there was enough evidence to support the claim that had been pinned on the precinct door just over a month ago. Not yet, at least. The detective was still searching for answers. MatPat wasn’t sure he’d ever find them.

And yet, the first trial date had been set: the twenty-fifth of October. A Saturday. The trial was private, but the story had gained enough traction in the news that the courthouse grounds were bound to be lined with people waiting to catch a glimpse of the supposed police-turned-murderer.

Madame Foxglove had gone silent on the other end of the line when he’d called to give the news.

He desperately hoped Madame Foxglove’s plan would work. There was no chance Patrck would get an innocent verdict, not with the way things were going. Not with the judge’s suspicious refusal to allow any co-workers to testify on his behalf because it would “muddy the evidence.”

Whoever the blackmailer was, whoever it was who’d caused this, they were determined Patrck would die as the only person who’d ever dared to go against them.

“You ready?” Bob asked quietly.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” MatPat murmured, accepting the spare clip of bullets Bob was holding out to him. “Let’s just... get this over with.”

And then there was the matter of whatever was going on with this whole Faceless thing. Nate had been getting a couple of anonymous tips a month, and except for that first time where Gar’s friend had been murdered, they’d all turned out right. It was odd.

It was more than odd. It was suspicious, was what it was, and every time MatPat got the address for one of these things it took all of his practice being still, being a mask, to contain his panic that Gar was the one who’d been caught this time.

“Right,” Bob agreed. “Oh, are you going to go visit Gar after this? Isn’t it his birthday?”

MatPat fixed his gaze on the steering wheel, not daring to answer for a moment. If this was Gar... If Gar had been captured and MatPat had to arrest him... If Gar was dead on his own birthday...

“I think I will, yeah.” MatPat opened the car door. “Let’s go.”

The two moved quietly, unsure if they were heading into danger. They had their revolvers drawn, and flashlights in their supporting hand. It only took a moment to clear the entry area, but both of them hesitated as they ducked into the office near the door. The area ahead of them was stacked with rotting boxes and no lighting. They had their flashlights, of course, but... anyone out to get them was at a distinct advantage here.

MatPat glanced through the window, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness, trying to pick out details. Nothing caught his attention. Everything was irregular shapes and shadows.

He glanced back at Bob and nodded, and the two of them prepared to step out.

Unsteady footsteps sounded softly from above them.

MatPat and Bob exchanged a glance and he jumped out towards the stairs to the second-story catwalk, Bob immediately guarding his back.

A curse, and footsteps pounded on the metal grating. MatPat made it up the stairs just in time to see someone jump out of a broken window and two people standing between him and there. One was obviously injured, an arm wrapped around the shoulder of a familiar figure.

MatPat swore softly. Even with a mask covering his entire face, he could still recognize Gar.

“Go,” Gar’s voice drifted over slightly, shoving the injured person towards the broken window. “I’ll hold them off.”

“But- Pup-”

He shoved them out the window and turned to face MatPat and Bob, bringing them up short. He crouched slightly, hands hovering near his waist and a sleeve as if he was ready to pull weapons on them or just straight up brawl them, whichever came first.

MatPat’s gun slowly dipped towards the floor, and he was suddenly grateful that he and Bob were here alone. Of course, Bob didn’t know about Gar, but it’d be easier to deal with him than several men. He was hoping it wouldn’t come to that, that Gar would come to his senses and just run, but... if it did, he knew who he was choosing.

Gar turned tail and ran, and he ran. He was halfway down the walkway before MatPat even had time to process that Gar had moved, and then he was vaulting the railing and dropping down into the crates below. Something crashed, but as MatPat ran up to the spot where Gar had dropped down, the only evidence that he’d ever been there was the dust settling on a pile of broken crates and cut ropes.

“He got away,” Bob said in the sort of tone that suggested he didn’t really want to chase Gar. “Oh no.”

MatPat looked over at him, eyebrows furrowed.

“You can’t tell me you don’t know by now,” Bob said, holstering his pistol. “That was Gar.”

MatPat pursed his lips and tried not to look too surprised. “I didn’t know you knew.”

“Oh, I’ve known for pretty much a year.” Bob squinted down at the crates. “Do you think he hurt himself with that drop? It’s like fifteen feet, and that couldn’t have been a comfortable landing.”

“I... don’t know. I guess I’ll find out later.” MatPat holstered his own pistol. “They’re no doubt long gone. Let’s head back.”

“Of course they’re long gone,” Bob said, glancing at MatPat. “The ropes were cut when we got here.”

Despite himself, MatPat smiled.

As soon as they stepped outside, though, he found himself being slammed into the ground, a knife pressed underneath his jaw and a knee pressing into his chest. An ocean-colored mask glared down at him, no light reaching the lenses behind the eyeholes, leaving nothing but darkness.

“Hi,” MatPat said. “Can I help you?”

“What did you do to him?” The Faceless demanded, pressing the cold blade harder into MatPat’s flesh.

He winced as warmth began to run down the side of his neck. “Nothing,” he rasped, even though speaking only made the wound worse. “He got away.”

“Then why-”

A shadow passed over both of them, and then he heard a familiar, if irritated, sigh.

“Get off him,” Gar ordered. “We need him.”

“Pup!” The Faceless exclaimed, immediately scampering away from MatPat. “I thought-”

“You made things a lot harder, is what you did.”

“Pup?” MatPat remarked quietly, bringing fingers up to the cut under his jaw. “Such a scary name.”

Gar didn’t spare him a glance, instead turning to the other Faceless. “Get out of here. I’ll deal with them.”

“They’re going to snitch,” the Faceless insisted. “They’ll blow your cover.”

“I’m right here,” MatPat complained. “If I hadn’t put things together in the past few sentences, then I’d be in trouble.”

“Thanks,” Gar said dryly.

“Pup-” a third voice said. “Pup, do you have things under control?”

“Yeah, I got it. You three go.”

MatPat glanced over at Bob to see a fourth Faceless step away from Bob, sheathing a knife.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Let them know I’ll be delayed.”

“Should I tell them you’ve been compromised?”

Gar looked down at MatPat, mask glinting dully in the autumn sun. “No. They’ll keep quiet.” He threw a key in the direction of the others. “Take the car.”

“But-”

Gar lifted his head, as if irritated, and the others went quiet. A moment later, footsteps left.

Silence.

Gar crouched next to MatPat, who had yet to get up. He didn’t want to spill blood all over his shirt—no more than what had already reached his collar, in any case.

“You’re bleeding,” Gar murmured, concern blatant in his voice.

“Knife wounds do that,” MatPat replied, closing his eyes for a moment. If Gar hadn’t shown, he was more than sure the Faceless would have killed him.

“Here.” A pause, then fabric pressed to his neck and he opened his eyes to realize Gar was holding a handkerchief to the cut, staunching the blood.

MatPat reached up and hooked his fingers under Gar’s mask, pulling it up. Gar immediately froze and seemed to flinch, but didn’t stop him.

As Gar’s face was revealed, his expression was impassive, brown eyes somber as they met MatPat’s.

“I like the detective better than the Faceless,” MatPat said quietly. “But... there’s no separating the two.”

Gar shook his head, pulling down his mask. “No. There never will be.”

A pause.

Then Bob spoke.

“I hate to break up the moment, but... Matt’s still bleeding.”

“Yeah. It’s a long cut. He’ll need stitches.”

“And what are we supposed to tell them when we come back empty handed and otherwise unharmed?” Bob demanded.

Gar stood, tucking the bloody handkerchief into his pocket. “That they’d just about gotten away when you got there, but one of them ambushed you and got a cut in before being dragged away by the others?”

Bob sighed.

“Gar,” MatPat said, even with fresh blood running down his neck, and Gar looked down. “The Pup?”

“Uh, well...”

“It’s more cute than intimidating,” MatPat accused gently.

“Well, I am adorable.” Gar turned to walk away. “We’ll... talk more later. Get stitched up, okay?”

And then the Faceless was gone.

Chapter Text

This speakeasy had always been cold, Mark noted bitterly as he watched Sophie set up her sleeping roll, and he hated living here. He’d known it was coming (it had been next in the standard rotation, after all) but he really wasn’t looking forward to the next two weeks. This speakeasy, and the spare room where they slept, had always been cold. Even in summer.

He certainly wasn’t looking forward to the colder months. Mir had bought this building near the end of spring, when things were already warming up outside.

If it was this cold now, though, he thought as he pulled his blanket tight around him and Luna on his lap, winter was going to be hard.

The thought of having been in Mir’s grasp for a year, though... it had already been eight months. Eight months. The longest eight months of his life. Imagining getting through winter, surviving another six until spring came, he... could he do it?

He honestly didn’t know.

“Okay,” Sophie said quietly, “that’s the last of it.” She sat on her sleeping roll. “Well, we have the rest of tonight to ourselves while they finish the move.” She stretched slightly. “What should we do with our spare time?”

“Sleep,” Mark deadpanned.

Sophie snorted softly. “If you’re hoping I’ll forget your exercises, then that’s not going to happen.”

Mark groaned softly. “Sophie-”

“Come on, let’s get them over with.” She gave him an encouraging smile.

“Please? Have mercy.”

“No.”

He sighed and unwrapped the blanket enough to set Luna on his bed and wrap it around her, then slid off the bed and onto the floor into a rather painful heap.

“You just like torturing me,” he accused.

“They’re not that bad.”

“They’re not?” Mark raised his eyebrows. “Guess I’ve just been imagining hurting so much I can’t stop shaking.”

“They do you good.” Sophie patted the floor. “Come on, let’s start.”

Mark muttered rather uncomplimentary things under his breath and laid on his back, allowing Sophie to kneel at his feet. His stockinged foot went against her hands, with his knee at a right angle, and he pushed as hard as he could.

She didn’t so much as budge.

“You’re awful,” Mark muttered. “You know that, right?”

“One.” She looked up, raising her eyebrows. “Nineteen left.”

Mark sighed. Nineteen this round. Then they’d work through a couple of other things—all exercises to strengthen his leg so he could stand on it without a crutch—and he’d go back to doing these.

Three times.

And then three times with the other leg.

He’d almost rather get his legs broken again than go through this.

It took two and a half hours, and Mark’s entire body was trembling by the time they were done. Mark, too exhausted to pick himself up and climb onto the bed, remained sprawled on the floor.

Luna crawled next to him and put her teddy bear on his chest.

“Hi,” Mark said, glancing down at her. “How was watching that?”

Luna bounced the teddy on Mark’s chest and babbled something he didn’t quite catch. She was starting to learn words fast now, in Russian and in English, and he didn’t always pick up on what they were the first time around.

“Don’t ever have to do it yourself,” Mark said seriously. “It makes you tired.”

Luna brightened at that and toddled off.

Mark sighed, staring back at the ceiling.

“Hey, Sophie?” he called after a moment.

“Yeah?”

“What’s Luna doing?”

“Playing with her teddy.”

“Oh. Okay.”

A long pause.

“Sophie?”

“Mark?”

“Do you know any Italian?”

“Some. PJ was teaching me, but... I didn’t get very far.”

“Should we teach what you know to Luna? I... know we can’t stop her from picking up Russian, but... maybe...”

A pause.

“Yeah. We should.”

“Marg,” Luna declared, toddling over, “sleppy.”

“What?” Mark lifted his head to look at her, only to see her dragging a blanket across the floor to him. “What are you doing with the blanket?”

“Sleppy.” Luna dragged it over him as best she could, then set her teddy on his chest, then sat next to him on the floor and laid down, curling into his side. “Shhh.”

Mark blinked down at her. “We’re on the floor.”

“Mmhm,” she murmured, staring up at him with big eyes.

“Do you want to sleep on the bed? Or on the sleeping roll?”

Luna reached up and put her hand on Mark’s mouth. Well, some of it. “Shhh. Sleppy.”

“Luna-”

“Sleppy,” she insisted. 

Mark nodded, and she smiled and curled deeper into his side.

She was asleep within minutes.

“Did you get a glance out the window?” Sophie asked quietly. “The leaves are orange and yellow.”

“It’s October. That’s not surprising.”

Sophie hummed softly. 

“Do you... ever wonder what it’s like for the others. What they’re up to?”

“I sometimes steal a glance at the papers. Buttons-” what Mark had less-than-fondly dubbed one of their regular guards “-picks up a lot of tabloids and reads them in his spare time.”

“Oh? What’s going on in the city?”

“A police officer has been accused of murdering his girlfriend on Christmas and he says she was kidnapped and he’s been being blackmailed. They have a trial set for next week. Uh... PJ is sick. Hasn’t been admitted to the hospital yet, though.”

Sophie frowned. “Yet?”

“Rumors have it he’s pretty sick. Tabloids aren’t known for being the most solid of sources, though.” Mark wrapped an arm around Luna, keeping her from rolling into the leg of the metal frame of his bed. “The Bumblers are back on the air; have been for a little while. The Herald has started marking the news stories they’re covering on the show with a little ‘BB’ in the bottom corner of the column.”

“That’s nice.”

Mark nodded. “It’s helping me follow things, at least.”

“When are you reading papers?” Sophie asked. “I thought Mir didn’t allow that.”

“Buttons doesn’t seem to care too much, as long as we’re alone.”

She hummed softly.

Mark opened his mouth to say more, but paused as the door to the storage room opened and Kostya walked in. Kostya’s eyes dipped to Luna sleeping against Mark, but he said nothing. Instead, he just walked to the far side of the room and opened up one of the crates that had been there for a while, pulling out a small handled bag that looked like an unmarked medical kit a doctor might carry.

“What’s that for?” Sophie asked softly.

Kostya glanced down at it. “Halloween.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’ll see.” Kostya glanced around the room, expression critical. “Don’t get too comfortable. We’re only spending a week here instead of two.”

“O- okay.” Sophie paused, then asked hesitantly, “Why?”

“You’ll see after Halloween.” Kostya turned and made to leave the room. He paused in the doorframe and glanced around the room again, his expression sad. Then his face straightened and he left.

♣♥♠♦

MatPat leaned on the doorframe to Nate’s office, holding his still-damp trenchcoat in an arm. He’d thrown it into a corner of the office to dry from that morning’s rainstorm. As a heap of heavy fabric thrown in a corner, it hadn’t dried very well.

Nate glanced up. “Hey.”

MatPat grinned widely at him, even though he was frozen internally. It was according to the plan that he and Steph had worked out with Madame Foxglove, he knew that; he knew this needed to happen today, but... somehow, he was nervous.

Nate leaned forward over his desk, careful not to knock over his jar of ink. “What’s with the grin?”

MatPat glanced at the clock. “Have a minute?”

Nate gestured to the chair across from him.

MatPat stepped in, closing the door behind him. Nate raised an eyebrow, but said nothing until MatPat had dropped into the chair.

“What do you want to tell me?”

“I found Steph.”

Nate’s expression went through shock, doubt, and then delight in about two seconds flat. “You- how? Where? Is she-” He went to stand.

MatPat held out a hand. “She’s with her parents right now.” That much was true.

He’d never seen his in-laws cry before.

“Is this why you took those days off recently?”

MatPat nodded. “Yeah. I got her settled, and visited her.” He frowned. “She’s... not talking about what happened to her, not yet, but... she seems unharmed. A little worse for the wear, but unharmed.”

“Where was she? Who took her? Matt, you can’t just leave me hanging out to dry like this. Give me information.”

“We don’t know who took her.” MatPat curled his hands into fists around his trenchcoat. “They trafficked her. She was lucky, ended up in a factory making flour sacks. A few weeks ago, she managed to get out, made her way back here. The Orchids found her, contacted me.”

Nate let out a long breath, sinking back into his seat. “She’s... really okay?”

“I’m... not entirely sure, honestly.” MatPat rubbed the back of his neck. “She’s... a little paranoid. Whoever took her kept telling her it was for her safety. That’s why we settled on her going to her parents--they live in a small town, so there’s... not much chance of anyone finding them.” He frowned. “I’m... I want her home, but... she needs the reassurance her parents give her.”

“Do they have a phone?”

MatPat nodded. “You wanna talk to her, I’m guessing?”

“I do.” Nate nodded. “Nothing against you, it’s just... with everything going on...”

“Yeah, it’s no problem.” MatPat glanced at the phone on Nate’s desk. “May I? She should be there, and I told her I’d call once I was off work.”

Nate wordlessly pushed it towards him.

MatPat dialed, and then sat in silence as the operator connected him.

“Cordato household,” Stephanie’s voice said simply.

MatPat grinned. “Hey, Steph.”

“Matt!” she gasped. “You didn’t forget.”

“Of course I didn’t. Uh, so... I told you that Nate is the new chief, right?” He paused. “He wants to talk to you about what happened.”

“Oh. I... I guess.”

She was doing a marvelous job at her end of acting things.

MatPat just handed the phone over to Nate and sat back in his seat, hands clutching each other tightly. Just a few more weeks, and if things went well, Steph would be able to come home. They just had to make sure the police were involved in things, give MatPat enough time to hire a bodyguard disguised as “house help” for Steph’s safety. They already knew who it would be: Foxglove had a friend, a boxer named Tyler Scheid, who was good at that sort of thing.

It had taken forever to negotiate that, to get Steph started on the path home. But it was finally, finally, coming to fruition.

“Yes, I see,” Nate was saying seriously. “We’re fully equipped to take a telegraph, if your local chief feels that’s the better way to do things. We’ll still have to get a full statement from you when you return to Boston, though.” A pause. “Of course. I understand. Given the circumstances, I’ll be letting Matthew choose who hears about this until you return.” Another pause. “I’ll certainly discuss details with him, and I’ll make sure to run a background check on the bodyguards he considers.” A long pause. “Absolutely, yeah. We’ll try to make this as painless as possible for you. I understand this situation isn’t easy in the slightest, but understand that Matthew is very concerned and very determined to ensure your safety and wellbeing. Things will work out.” He glanced at MatPat, pausing as if Steph had interrupted him. “Of course. I’ll send him home right away so the two of you can discuss things in private. If you don’t mind staying on the line for a few minutes more so I can make adjustments to your file?”

Nate shooed MatPat out of the office, then reached for a pen and a clean piece of paper. “Yes, I understand that. I just have to follow protocol, and your case is a rather unique one...”

MatPat let the office door close behind him, letting out a long sigh. This time, the small smile on his face was fully genuine.

That was it, then. Steph would be home before his birthday; before her year anniversary of her disappearance.

Finally.

Chapter Text

Early morning light painted the wallpaper in bright colours. Felix leaned over the arm of his dining chair and scratched behind Chica’s ear, getting an enthusiastic tail wag in response.

“I can’t imagine you brought me here just to talk,” Jack said, leaning against the wall of the dining room. “Not with your schedule.”

“I have to go in twenty minutes,” Felix admitted as he slid his mostly-empty breakfast plate to the side, aware of Cry quietly holding the car keys. “But... I’ve been thinking, and it’s too important to talk about over the phone.”

Jack raised an eyebrow and gestured for him to continue.

“It’s... about PJ.”

Jack’s expression darkened. “What about Liguori?”

“Just how mad are you at him?”

“He tried to kill me,” Jack growled.

“You tried to kill him, too,” Felix pointed out. “And you did it in front of nearly a dozen innocent witnesses, when he couldn’t run.”

Jack scowled. “What’s your point.”

“Have you ever considered forgiving him? Maybe even becoming friends again?”

Jack looked away, his expression suddenly distant. “That’d be nothing more than a dream, Felix. He and I burned that bridge a long, long time ago.”

“Bridges can be rebuilt,” Cry’s voice said softly from behind Felix. “I know I’m not one to talk, not with... not with some of the relationships I’ve destroyed, but... speaking as someone who alienated my entire Faceless team in one move and giving myself no choice but to move on alone... It’s a mistake, not trying to repair things.”

Jack glared at Cry. “That’s different, and you know it.”

“How? How is what you and PJ did any different than what happened between Ohmwrecker and me?”

Jack’s shoulders slumped. “I... I don’t know. But you haven’t fixed things with him. I don’t think you get to talk.”

“And I’m telling you that I regret it . It’s a decision that’s been haunting me for years, Jack.” Cry dangled a piece of bacon from his fingers, getting Chica’s attention. “It’s...” He sighed. “What are you going to do, then? Avoid him for the rest of your life? You both share friends. You run in the same circles. You will, inevitably, run into each other. Are you willing to live the rest of your life, wondering if you should finally make the killing blow?”

Jack sighed. “I- no, but- it’s not that easy, Cry.”

“I never said it would be easy.”

“It’s probably going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done,” Felix added quietly. “But I can’t sit here on the sidelines and watch it destroy the both of you any longer. Just... think about it, okay?” He stood, folding his napkin and laying it beside his plate. “For your sake.”

Jack hummed noncommittally, stepping away from the wall. “We’ll see.”

“Thank you,” Felix said.

Jack nodded, clicking his tongue. Chica darted over to him, tail wagging and bacon hanging out of her mouth. And then they were gone.

Felix sighed, straightening the jacket of his morning suit. Well, time to head over to PJ’s.

♣♥♠♦

Felix had to wait to see PJ. He didn’t mind—he was planning to spend much more time visiting PJ than he had with Jack (Jack had been a rather last-minute thought)—and he was sure that whatever PJ was doing was important. He was unclear whether it was seeing a doctor or taking a bath, but either way. PJ needed it.

“How has he been doing?” he asked Jordan quietly.

Jordan looked up from a pile of paperwork. “He’s...” He frowned, glancing around. “He’s... honestly not doing well. I’m sure you’ll see what I mean in just a bit, but...” He shook his head. “He briefly passed out yesterday, but he wouldn’t let us take him to the hospital. Not with Mir controlling them all.”

Felix frowned. “Do you really think the staff would give him away?”

“For an extra $200? It’s almost a month’s wage at a hospital. I’ve seen so much betrayal over less.”

Felix dipped his head. “I see.” He looked up. “But... do you think he’ll need it?”

Jordan nodded. “Sooner or later... yeah. It’s why I’m working on this.” He gestured at the papers he was working on. “We’re... gonna get him a fake ID. Just in case.”

“Probably smart.”

Jordan flashed him an exhausted grin. Clearly, PJ being sick for so long was putting a lot of pressure on the other members of the Family.

“If...” Felix hesitated, thinking of the newly finished cottage he had in wait for Mark. “If he needs it, I’ve recently acquired a small cottage outside city limits. The fresh air and quiet may do him good.”

“Maybe. I think for now, it’s best to keep him in the city.” Jordan sighed. “I’ll keep it in mind, though.”

Felix nodded, then looked up as someone approached them.

“PJ’s ready for you,” was all he was told before the person walked off.

♣♥♠♦

PJ was in bed, propped up on numerous pillows, his hands wrapped around a steaming cup of something resting on a tray.

“Hey Peej,” Felix greeted, allowing the door to be closed behind him. PJ had given standing orders to be left alone with him, he knew that, and Cry would wait outside the door anyway. “How’s it going?”

PJ shook his head. “I’m sure Jordan told you.” His voice was whispered and wavery, as if he didn’t have the strength to speak any louder. “The doctors want me to go to the hospital.”

“You really should.” Felix sat in the chair next to PJ’s bed. “You’ve been sick for almost two months.”

“Oh, I know.” PJ looked down at his cup, grimacing. “But Mir controls the hospitals. No matter how hard we push against his control, he’s holding them. We’ve almost entirely cut off Mass. General from the rest of his territory, but... we can’t get the hospital itself. He’s tied his influence in too deep.” He took a sip of his drink, hands trembling, and coughed softly. “He knows why we want it.”

“Have you considered a hospital in a different city? Newton, perhaps?” It was close, but at least it was out of Boston.

PJ smiled weakly. “I have. The-” he coughed again. “The doctors say I shouldn’t travel. Considering I can barely stand anymore, it’s probably for the best.”

Felix frowned. “Peej...”

PJ shook his head, then doubled over coughing.

And kept coughing, the coughs getting more and more desperate and any momentary break filled with gasps for air. Finally, the fit eased, leaving him slumped over and gasping for breath. As he slowly pushed himself back onto the pillows, arms trembling, Felix couldn’t help but notice the flecks of blood on PJ’s cuff.

“Peej,” he said, letting his gaze drift to PJ’s exhausted face. “Peej... you need the hospital. Something’s wrong. You can’t just hope it’ll go away.”

“Mir will kill me if I go,” PJ murmured, falling still. “We both know it.”

Felix leaned forward, putting his hand on PJ’s. His hand was frightfully cold, almost as cold as the rain that had been sweeping the city recently. “You’re going to die if you do nothing, Peej.”

“What can I do?” PJ’s eyes drifted closed. “I can’t go to a hospital here. I can’t travel to a different one. I’ve been following the doctors’ orders.”

Felix sighed, despair creeping up on him. PJ was so much worse than Felix had thought. It frightened him.

“At least... if...” PJ coughed softly again, eyes opening and revealing themselves to be dull with pain, “if I die... I’ll have done my best.” His gaze turned to Felix, searching, pleading. “If... I do die... find Sophie and Mark. Get them out of there.”

“Of course.” Felix said, remarkably steadily after PJ ripping his heart out with those words. “I wouldn’t abandon them for anything.” He stood. “You need your rest. I’ll be back for another visit later, okay?”

PJ nodded, letting his head fall back against his pillows, his eyes drifting closed.

♣♥♠♦

Calypso was quiet tonight. Granted, it was a Wednesday night. People had work in the morning. Most people wouldn’t be out.

Felix almost preferred it to the bustle of the weekends.

“I... I don’t know, Moll,” he admitted, absently stirring his drink with the straw. “Something seems... wrong. More wrong than just... him being sick for so long.”

“He’s been seeing doctors,” Molly pointed out. “They know what they’re doing.”

Felix sighed, shaking his head. “I guess.” He stared down at his drink, at the swirling amber and gold. “It’s just... it started with a cold. It... doesn’t seem like he should be so...” He sighed, putting his hands on the table and looking up across at Molly. “He’s dying, Moll. He coughed up blood when I visited him earlier today.”

Molly looked up from her own drink sharply. “How much?”

“Flecks. I wouldn’t have noticed it if I wasn’t watching.”

Molly frowned. “He’s supposed to have a cold?”

Felix shrugged a shoulder. “Two months ago, yeah. I think it’s far past that now.”

“Obviously. But they let you visit?”

Felix nodded.

Molly stared down at her drink, fingers gripping her cup hard. “It couldn’t be.”

Felix sat up straight, frowning at her. “What?”

Molly looked up, eyes sharp. “You’re right. Things aren’t adding up.” She tapped her fingers on the table, then glanced at her watch. “It’s... almost eleven?” She met Felix’s eyes, her own slowly filling with a quiet anger. “Do you have my address?”

Felix nodded slowly, confused.

Molly turned to Cry, who had been watching the conversation quietly. “How heavy is the security at Family headquarters now?”

“Heavy enough. Why?” Cry sounded like he already knew the answer.

Molly turned back to Felix. “Can you contact someone on the inside of the Family, get them to let you in?”

“At this time of night?” Felix hesitated. “Maybe.”

“Good. If you can, do it that way. If not, you have to break in. Kidnap PJ if you have to. Take him to my place. I’ll meet you there in an hour. I’m bringing Minx. One way or another, we’re getting answers.” She stood. “Let’s keep our friend alive.”

Felix stood himself. “How am I supposed to do any of this?”

“You employ a Faceless,” Molly said dryly as she walked off. “Figure it out.”

Felix turned to Cry helplessly.

Cry stood. “Come on. We don’t have time to waste. Let’s give Jordan a ring.”

♣♥♠♦

If Jordan hadn’t become so familiar to seeing Felix around, Felix was sure he never would have listened to him or his plea. As it was, Jordan grumbled—but here they were, at the Family headquarters, where there were a suspicious lack of guards.

Felix wasn’t going to question it. It was much easier to sneak PJ out than have to run from people with guns.

As it was, he had no idea how Jordan could navigate the house in the dark. He could barely see Jordan’s form in front of him. Still, he seemed to know what he was doing, so Felix followed.

“Where are the guards?” Cry asked softly. Looked like someone was going to question it, after all.

“I sent them to find more medicine for PJ,” Jordan said by way of a weary explanation. “They’ll be gone for another fifteen minutes or so.”

“They’ll find PJ gone, then?”

“I assume so. If not, I’ll have to have strong words with the fellows doing the training these days.”

Cry fell silent, apparently satisfied with the answer.

“I can’t believe this,” Jordan muttered as he moved to a door. “Kidnapping my own godfather to get a second opinion on his illness because some egg is suspicious.” He pushed the door open, revealing a room lit only by the moonlight slipping through cracks in the curtains. There, on the bed, was PJ… and as Felix and Jordan walked up, it was immediately apparent that PJ was shivering uncontrollably in his sleep.

“The fever was starting to go away, but...” Jordan trailed off, sighed and carefully slid his arms under PJ, lifting him and blankets both in one fluid movement. “Tuck the blankets around him. I don’t want him getting cold.”

PJ’s head lifted slightly from Jordan’s shoulder at the sudden movement. “Jordan... what’s...” His faint voice was full of confusion, pain, and exhaustion.

“You’re okay,” Jordan assured him gently. “You have a doctor’s appointment.”

PJ glanced around a bit before his head lolled on Jordan’s chest from exhaustion. “Fe? Cry? Am I dreaming?”

“Yes. It’s fine.”

“Good,” PJ murmured. “Otherwise I’d have to call the alarm.”

Silence, where Cry signalled it was clear to continue. The guards hadn’t returned yet.

Then: “Why am I dreaming you?” PJ mumbled.

“Because I’m your friend,” Felix whispered back, holding a door open for Jordan to carry the deathly ill godfather through. “Do you not want me in your dreams?”

“Can you skip the dramatics for five minutes,” Cry said a few feet away. “We’re kind of in a hurry.”

PJ didn’t respond, remaining limp in Jordan’s arms.

As soon as they arrived to the car, Cry climbed into the driver’s seat and Felix into the back, and Jordan eased PJ onto the rest of the backseat, his head resting on Felix’s lap. That done, he climbed into the shotgun seat.

It quickly became apparent that PJ’s fever was high, as Felix’s hand came away damp when he went to steady PJ’s head. He frowned, pulling out a handkerchief.

Felix pressed the handkerchief on PJ’s forehead, trying to keep the sweat from running into his friend’s eyes. It was a futile task, he knew, even with Cry driving as carefully as he could, but he needed to do something.

They hit a pothole, and PJ’s limp body nearly slid off the seat. He would have, if Felix hadn’t grabbed him.

Still, PJ didn’t murmur. He didn’t so much as stir. Felix was hoping PJ was just in a deep sleep, but... it seemed more likely that he’d succumbed to the illness and had slipped into unconsciousness.

“Come on, Peej,” Felix urged softly, brushing sweat-soaked hair out of PJ’s face. “Stay with us. We’re getting you to help.”

♣♥♠♦

Wade came and sat with them while they waited. Minx had taken one look at PJ and ordered Jordan to put him down on the bed in the guest room, then kicked them all out to the living room—except Cry. He was allowed to stay, and he’d rushed past several times fetching things.

Wade didn’t make any awkward attempts to lighten the mood. He just sat down and quietly murmured to the black cat that had hopped up in his lap.

It didn’t take long for Jordan to get the cat’s attention, though, and then Keeters was cheerfully bouncing between the two men according to his whim.

Jordan did leave for a few minutes to use Molly’s phone, though, and returned without saying anything. Felix glanced over, and he just shrugged. “Had to tell the others I took PJ to a doctor so they didn’t freak out.”

“I see.” Felix sighed, glancing down the hall in a vain attempt to get a glimpse of what was going on behind closed doors.

He hated not having answers.

“Minx’ll do her best for him,” Wade said quietly, scratching Keeters under the chin.

“And what will it cost us?” Jordan asked.

Wade shrugged. “I haven’t asked Moll. Between you and I, though, I think she’s really just worried about PJ. I’m not sure she’ll charge you.”

“...We’ll pay anyway.” Jordan looked away, trying to lure Keeters back over to him. “We don’t want to strain your resources.”

“It’s appreciated.”

It was nearly dawn by the time Molly came out and sat next to Wade, expression somber and frame slumped.

Jordan looked up at her.

“They’re almost done,” Molly said quietly. “Minx will explain it better than I could.”

It was an agonizing few minutes to wait, even as sunlight seeped further into the room. PJ obviously hadn’t died, Molly would have said so; just as obviously, something was seriously wrong. With the way Molly was acting, it quite possibly something that couldn’t be fixed. 

Felix braced himself for the worst.

Minx emerged into the room shortly, though, followed closely by Cry. Cry, with PJ in his arms.

Jordan went to stand, but Minx shook her head and Cry laid PJ out on the couch.

“I imagine you want the good news first,” Minx said quietly. “The good news is, he should make it.” 

Felix slumped with relief in his seat, the strain of being up for nearly twenty-four hours straight and worrying over PJ drawing heavily on him.

“The bad news is, it’s not a coincidence he’s been sick for so long.” Minx looked over at PJ, then back. “Someone’s been poisoning him, and they knew what they were doing. I’ve done what I can for now to halt the progress, and there’s nothing that will worsen without continued doses of the poisons. But it will be a while, potentially months, before he’s back to full strength. It’s honestly a testament to his will that he survived this long. As long as you can manage to avoid whoever was poisoning him, then he’ll get there.”

“Who...” Jordan trailed off, then scowled. “Mir paid off the Family doctors.”

“I’d bet on it,” Minx said. “I’ll leave you to manage your internal affairs.” She gestured to PJ. “He’s stable enough to travel. I recommend putting him somewhere where Mir won’t be able to find him, at least for a week or so. That’ll be the worst of it, as his body gets rid of the rest of the built up poisons. It’ll be pretty miserable for him.”

Jordan glanced at PJ. “Is he unconscious? Or...”

“For now, sleeping. Admittedly, he’s drugged, but it won’t hurt him. I’ll write a prescription for it, if he has troubles sleeping for the next little while.” She put a hand on her hip. “Under no circumstances should he at all have any sort of alcohol within 24 hours of taking it. I know full and well speakeasies are great fun, but just don’t.” She hesitated, then sighed. “Keep him away from sick people, especially since winter is coming. I’m particularly concerned about influenza or, worse, bronchitis. If he gets either one of those, his best chance is a hospital.” She stretched slightly. “Any questions?”

“When will he wake up?”

“Well, the drug will wear off in about four hours, but he’s so exhausted I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a couple more hours for him to wake up. If he’s not awake by tonight, then you can panic and ring me.”

Jordan nodded mutely.

“In the meantime, get him home. Get some rest yourself, all of you.” Minx glanced around the room as she spoke. “Even you, Cry.” She glanced over to Felix. “Tell people you were dealing with a family emergency all night and don’t have time for a meeting if someone tries.” She nodded. “If that’s it, you can all go.”

Felix nodded quietly, slowly getting to his feet. He and Cry and Jordan (with PJ in arms) returned to the car, where they all just sat for a minute.

“Jordan?” Felix asked quietly, gaze fixed on PJ’s sleeping face.

“Yeah?”

“The doctors who did this?” Felix swallowed, and lifted his chin. “Make sure they’ll never do it again.”

“Oh, trust me,” Jordan said darkly. “They won’t ever get a chance.”

Chapter Text

Madame Foxglove looked tired as she slid the newspaper across to Marie and MatPat. “The trial is set for the 25th. Next Saturday. We still have time for the plan.”

Marie’s shoulders stiffened. “And if they move it up?”

Foxglove looked at MatPat. “How long will the trial take?”

“There's not much evidence. Likely no more than a few hours."

“Likely?” Marie narrowed her eyes.

MatPat twisted his wedding ring on his finger. “There... are rumors. Stories that say the judge assigned to the case is already convinced of Patrck’s guilt.”

“But- he can’t do that.”

“It’s very likely the blackmailer is bribing him.”

“Do... you know of any way to get someone else to do it?”

MatPat shook his head. “I’m not allowed anywhere near the courtroom unless I’m expressly summoned. I’ve been told that several times. Apparently, they don’t want me interfering.”

Marie turned back to Foxglove. “Please. They’re going to condemn him.”

Foxglove closed her eyes and sat back in her chair. “I promised I wouldn’t let you come into harm's way. The only way you’re getting out of here is by following the plan.”

Marie leaned forward, eyes flat. “And what if it’s too late?”

“I doubt it’ll be so late that they’ll have done something irreversible,” Foxglove said simply, opening her eyes. “I’m not having more of this conversation.”

“But-”

“You’re dismissed.”

♣♥♠♦

MatPat arrived home to silence.

This was suspicious. Skip was usually immediately darting to his feet and mewling at him. 

More from training than anything, he reached for his gun, scanning for danger. Nothing in the entry foyer. Nothing in the living room.

There was someone sitting in his kitchen, petting Skip.

“Hi, Matt,” Gar’s voice said quietly. “Sorry for sneaking in, but... I didn’t want to wait for you to be available tomorrow.”

MatPat sighed and holstered his gun. “Gar, if you want to come here, just let me know and I’ll make you a key.” He walked up to the table, pulling out a seat and sitting next to Gar. “What’s wrong?”

“Outside of my best friend being tried for a murder he didn’t commit?” Gar shrugged one shoulder. “There’s people out there hunting Faceless. Chief Sharp used to be Faceless, and I finally found out the entire story behind him leaving.” Gar leaned forward on his knees, head hanging. “It... was a lot worse than I was expecting.”

MatPat stood wordlessly and walked over to the icebox, pulling out a Coke for himself and a Dr. Pepper for Gar--he’d started keeping them around after Gar had gotten back, just in case. He handed the Dr. Pepper over, and then sat and opened his own bottle.

Gar stared at the drink for a long minute before sighing and sitting up, placing it on the table.

“Want to talk about it?” MatPat asked.

Gar shook his head. “He killed over eighty people.”

MatPat raised an eyebrow. “All at once?”

Gar looked up, expression filled with grief. “He was on a recon mission. He wasn’t supposed to kill anyone. He wiped out everyone on the night shift at a military facility a few states over. He... two of his team... they were captured and killed. The third member... Thomas Sanders? He... he was shot, but he lived. But for a while it looked like he wouldn’t. And... Sharp... he...