The doorbell rings as Carey has just finished scrubbing the last of Killian's shirts. She drops her washboard and goes to stand up, but Killian yells from inside that she's got it, so Carey rinses the shirt out and then walks across their wide, sunny garden to start hanging things on the line.
She hears the murmur of voices, and then feet pound down the porch stairs. There's only one person that could be -- moving fast, barreling forwards, rushing in .
Magnus bursts into the fenced area.
"Carey!" he says, all enthusiasm. "I had an idea! I remembered something I used to do in Tûsun! You gotta help me. It's gonna be great."
He picks her up and swings her around for a bit, and Carey holds on for dear life and laughs.
It's been a while since she's seen him. Magnus has been off at woodcarving festivals, and also apparently joining up with other adventurers to give them advice, and she's missed her best friend.
Killian comes up to them much more sedately.
"Is it something illegal?" she asks.
Magnus shrugs. "Eh," he says. "Probably not. I'm gonna steal your wife for a bit, though."
"Sorry, babe, I gotta see what this is about," says Carey.
Killian nods, leans down to kiss her, and then shakes her head. "Just don't get arrested."
"Nobody's gonna arrest Magnus Burnsides ," says Carey. "I've got, like, amnesty and shit by association. Leniency . It'll be fine. I'll be back to check the laundry in a bit! Please bring it in if it rains."
"I'm famous ," says Magnus.
"We know," says Killian. "Be safe."
"Okay!" Magnus says, and hugs her. "We will! Bye Killian! I love you!"
He's not saying I love you in that flippant way people do sometimes when they get what they want, a half-ironic line tossed out as a joke. He really means it, is the thing. Carey can tell he really means it.
Magnus grabs Carey's wrist, pulls her out the door in the gate.
"This is gonna be great ," he says.
"You gonna tell me what we're doing?" prods Carey.
"Have you ever made a potato cannon?"
"A potato cannon?" Carey repeats.
Magnus leans down, takes her face in his hands, and looks at her intently.
"Lizard girl," he says. "Prepare to be amazed ."
Magnus leads her to the more industrial area of the town, through the central square. He explains the materials they'll need: light pipes, potatoes, an adapter, a fuse, hairspray. He's got the tools and a wick already.
He waves at a middle aged woman who’s staring at him, and she squeaks and hides her face.
"Aw man," he says, deflating. "Nobody wants to talk to me anymore. People used to give me free shit, you know!”
“Don’t they still?”
“No!” he said. “Well, yes, but because I’m famous, not because they like me. What happened to all my rustic hospitality?"
"The whole world found out you were a literal alien?" Carey offers.
Magnus opens his mouth to respond and then pauses comically, eyes wide. He slaps a big hand down on her shoulder.
" Carey ," he says, very intently.
"Is it a dog?" she asks.
" It's a dog ," he says. "We gotta pet it. Oh boy oh man. It's so tiny. Holy shit. Hello sir! Hello sir can I pet your dog! Please!"
The man he's talking to stops and turns. He's got a duffel bag worn across his chest, and there is indeed a puppy head peeking out. Magnus, beside her, is vibrating. The man looks starstruck.
"Oh, of -- of course!" he stutters, and gently scoops up the puppy and holds it out. Magnus takes it reverently. It's so small it fits easily in one of his giant hands.
He pets the dog (he uses a single finger) for what Carey estimates to be about ten minutes, give or take. The man looks increasingly uncomfortable the longer this goes on. He probably has something to do, and one of the saviors of the known universe is preventing him from doing it by babytalking a puppy.
Carey is intimately familiar with people wearing that particular expression because she sees it almost every time she and Mangus hang out. Magnus is a human steamroller.
"Hey big guy," she says. "We should head out. I gotta get back to the laundry sometime."
"Aw man," says Magnus. He holds the puppy up to Carey’s face, letting it lick her nose, and then hands the puppy back. "Thank you for letting me pet her she is wonderful and perfect."
"It's no problem!" the man squeaks, and then flees.
Carey rubs dog slobber off her scales.
They visit a plumbing store, get some pipes and supplies. The adapter is harder to find, and they wander a bit before deciding to look somewhere else. Magnus says they'll get the potatoes from Merle's stock during the solstice, which is when they'll use the cannon, so they don’t rot or sprout any wrigglers.
Carey agrees. Moldy potatoes are not her jam.
"I kinda need to go to the moon, too," Magnus says once they've clarified their list. "Wanna help me move some chairs?"
"Sure," says Carey. "Killian'd love that too, can I call her?"
Magnus gives her a thumbs up.
They meet up with Killian at Magnus's workshop and summon a cannonball right behind it. Killian and Magnus both carry six chairs at once; Carey can manage two. Then they're lifting off. It's nostalgic, in a way; while Carey and Killian both still work for the Bureau, they don't live on the moonbase, and it's odd to work without the shadow of forgetting hanging over their heads.
Three years on, and it's strange to think about how much has changed in that time.
The Director probably should have thought more about changing the name of her bureau, though. "Bureau of Benevolence" sounds insincere and menacing. Carey cringes every time she hears it.
Avi meets them at the landing area with a cart large enough to hold all the chairs. He's a little wobbly but pleased to see them all, and asks Magnus for a cool chair for himself. Magnus claps him so hard on the shoulder he almost falls over backwards and assures him that he'll get a special cannon-stool, which seems to please him. Killian rolls her eyes and loads all the chairs onto the cart; Carey perches on the handlebars as she pushes it away, and swings her tail back and forth. This makes the cart wobble, making it slightly harder to push, and Killian's arm muscles flex to keep it steady. She’s got a sleeveless shirt on, too -- the way her shoulders work to stabilize the cart is excellent . She gives Carey a Look, because she knows what she's doing, and Carey tries her hardest to appear innocent. If she had lips she'd whistle.
Killian doesn't tell her to stop, though. She doesn't mind the chance to show off.
As they head away from the cannons Carey wonders idly if Avi has ever experimented with potatoes as projectiles, but she's pretty sure his interest in root vegetables begins and ends with vodka.
Magnus comes thundering after them when he realizes they're leaving without him.
"I think Lucy's usually in the library this time of day," he says. "But usually I drop the chairs off in the cafeteria, and she knows I'm coming, so she might be there."
Killian nods and starts pushing the cart towards the cafeteria.
They run into Angus McDonald on the way; he's got his nose in a notebook and isn't paying much attention to where he's walking, but when he sees them he grins.
Magnus hefts Angus into the air and his eyes widen slightly. He huffs out a little whoof before readjusting Angus's weight.
The kid is getting quite tall. He's definitely taller than Carey at this point. He's scabby-kneed over his neat argyle socks, and moves like he hasn't gotten used to the decimeter long addition to all his limbs.
Angus beams and launches into one of his cheerfully disturbing rambles
"Hello sir and ma'ams!" he says. "Are you getting ready for the solstice? I had a very good Shavuot two weeks ago but I'm excited for all the many very fun festival activities! Also I recently solved a murder so things are already going quite well! The murder had a lot of blood involved but the Director gave me a present of more luminol. Kravitz is back too from being pulled apart and that is very good, he is in a person body again. Are you planning mischief? Are you planning to do crimes?"
That is an awful lot of information that Carey does not know how to process.
"It's a secret," says Magnus.
"Oh, wonderful, sir! I love secrets," says Angus. “Am I allowed to investigate to try and discover what it is that you are hiding, or would you be upset if I were to do that?”
Carey is reasonably certain that Angus isn’t so much asking if he can investigate but rather feeling out how sneaky he has to be when he does it. She kinda wants to teach him some levels in rogue, although he doesn’t seem to mind how blatant Taako is about turning him to wizardry.
"You're so nosy, kid," Magnus complains, not actually answering the question.
"I know!" says Angus, cheerful. “I think Madam Director is waiting for you in the cafeteria. I need to get home; is Avi still in the hangar?”
"Yeah," Killian says. "Sober enough to get you home safe, too."
"That's very reassuring, ma'am," says Angus, and Carey can't tell if he's joking.
He waves to them all, sticks his nose back into his scribbly notes, and wanders off down the corridor. Magnus charges ahead.
Carey hops down from the cart to make it easier on Killian, and her wife drops a quick kiss on her head before they enter the large space.
Magnus hugs Lucretia like he hugs Carey, which is to say that he picks her up off the ground and squeezes . Carey can imagine quite clearly the sound the Director's ribs are making right now; she thinks that, subconsciously, Magnus still thinks of Lucretia as the teenager from the Story burned into Carey's mind rather than the old woman Carey has always known her as. She thinks the real Lucretia is somewhere in between, but she thinks that maybe not even the Director herself knows where that is.
Lucretia taps Magnus's shoulder and he sets her back down. She smiles at Carey and Killian.
"It's good to see you both back on the base," she says, bending backwards slightly to pop her back. "Magnus, are you sure you won't accept payment? A table and a few chairs as a gift I understand, but a whole cafeteria just isn't a good business decision. I can talk to Brad, he's doing most of the administrative work right now--"
"Ugh, Brad," says Magnus. “Nah, Luce, this is a present!”
"You don't like Brad?" Killian asks.
"He looks like he gets out of the shower to pee!" says Magnus.
There’s a brief pause before Carey lets out a cackle so loud that it hurts even her own ears.
Killian rolls her eyes and mutters, "Disgusting." She pauses, then adds, "But not inaccurate."
Lucretia's gaze goes distant. "He does ," she murmurs. "Thank you, Magnus, I'll put it on his next performance review."
Killian takes all the food from their cold-spelled pantry and carries it to their neighbor’s so that it won’t go bad when they’re gone. Carey starts setting up what she refers to as the “security system;” a series of booby traps in the places she’d try to enter the house if she wanted to do a bit of light burglary. Small devices that deliver electric zaps to anyone who touched their windowsill, a glove covered in red paint meant to smack someone in the face if they tried to jimmy any locks, a few smoke bombs and one stink bomb, relegated to an outside-only trap, that Carey knows from experience is almost impossible to scrub out of skin.
Killian says she’s being paranoid, but Killian doesn’t realize how fun all of this is. Carey’s found her joy, and it’s viciously booby trapping the nice suburban white-picket-fence house in which she and her wife live in marital bliss. They helped save the world; they deserve a bit of fun.
Then she packs almost all she was planning to bring, realizes that her suitcase is too small for it all, and unpacks and repacks it. She tucks her lockpicks into a special pocket in her bag and looks around the room, hands on hips.
Killian knocks gently on the door as she comes back into the room. “All done?” she asks. “Are my clothes so tightly rolled into my suitcase I’ll need a pry bar to remove them?”
"Almost as neat as Noelle would pack them," Carey confirms, and then pauses.
Killian puts an arm around Carey's waist and pulls her close. Carey knows she's probably feeling that same sharp stab of grief that's growing in her own chest.
It's one thing to know that someone you love is dead, that she made a deal for a second chance and her time is limited. Noelle wasn't even the only dead person Carey's ever met; she knows two liches and Literal Death personally, after all, and even Magnus kind of counts. But Noelle is the only one who's gone now.
"Well," says Killian after a pause. "If I can't yank a shirt out I'll just assume you're carrying on her legacy."
"Deal," says Carey. "Why don't you carry on her legacy too and give me a real good hug?"
Chesney’s is bustling this time of year -- lots of locals making money, lots of tourists, and of course the extended Bureau/IRPE family, which should possibly be classified as a natural disaster.
Carey is aware that she is going to contribute to the disaster. She does not feel guilty about this.
She and Killian are cornered by Merle, who welcomes them bombastically to his “little shindig” Then they find their usual room and then wander out to the crowd-filled quad. There is music, and food, and chatter, and of course lots of alcohol.
Killian heads off to the buffet, which is as always officially catered by Taako and Ren and unofficially supervised by Lup, promising to bring Carey back some punch and some sweets.
Magnus sidles over to Carey as soon as she’s gone, trying to look inconspicuous and failing.
“You got the goods?” Carey asks. “Those sweet sweet goods?”
“Most of them,” says Magnus. “I got all the other parts, and also these taters. A valiant quest to Merle's weird cold underground vegetable room." He places his hands on his hips and puffs his chest out, but his eyebrows stay furrowed. “Forgot hairspray, tho.”
“Oh, there’s gotta be someone here with hairspray in their room,” Carey says. “I’ll steal some. Easy-peasy.”
"Try Taako first," Magnus whispers. "He almost definitely has hairspray. He's super distracted by the kitchen, it'll be an easy caper. I'll stay here to avoid suspicion."
Carey gives him a thumbs up and slips away. Taako, Lup, and Ren are indeed in the kitchen, and they’re being quite noisy; even soft-spoken Ren has raised her voice. Carey's got time.
She’d steal the log book behind the front desk of the Chesney’s hotel, but everyone stays in the same room every time they come, so she goes straight for the window to Taako’s room, lifts the shutter, and climbs in easily.
She's looking for hairspray; it's likely to be in the bathroom if Taako's unpacked and in a small separate bag in a suitcase if not. The general state of the room indicates the former (a few piles of clothes on the bed, a book laid face down on the dresser) but when Carey peeks into the bathroom cabinets there's nothing.
She hisses to herself, annoyed, and drums her claws on the tile.
But she's got time , and also she's nosy, so she does a little bit of poking around. Maybe she'll find something she can use as blackmail, or pass on to Magnus so that he can use it to make jokes.
She skips the bag that's clearly Kravitz's. Then she digs through a truly absurd number of spell components, fifty layers of fabric which upon further inspection are all part of a single pair of culottes, and some shoes, one pair of which is obviously Lup's, since they're broken in but don't have that distinctive wear pattern all of Taako's have, the left sole worn down more than the right from him dragging his bad leg slightly. (He doesn't know that she can pick out his footprints easily, and she's not going to tell him.)
She finds the hairspray in his cosmetics bag, repacks the luggage, and swings out the window.
Carey has deep pockets, literally (if not exactly figuratively) and the hairspray fits easily into one by her hip, hidden in the folds of her pants.
Magnus is talking to Angus and Kravitz, but he zeros in on Carey as she approaches. She informs him of her success in thieves’ cant and he quickly abandons them to pull her away, over to the big weeping willow tree in the center of the quad. He’s frowning slightly, like not everything has gone like he wanted.
"Awesome," Carey whispers back. "Any hitches in the plan? You seem grouchy."
"Nah, just met some famous moving pictures star," says Magnus. "Apparently he's attractive but I just can't see it, he's so rude!" He makes a face. "Never understood why people can be hot if they're mean."
"For what it's worth, I wouldn't find him attractive," Carey offers.
Magnus laughs. "I know," he says.
"Lesbian perks," says Carey. "No tolerance for rude men."
"Let's shoot him with the cannon," Magnus says, smacking a fist into his open palm.
"Listen, you can get away with a lot of shit," Carey replies. "I don't think you'd get away with this. Merle'd be mad two MP stars got offed in his earldom."
Magnus pouts a little.
“What should we shoot?” Carey asks.
Magnus hums. “Decisions, decisions. Maybe that wasp’s nest, over there? Merle’s been saying he wants to take it down. We’d be doing him a service.”
“I think that would land us with a lot of angry wasps,” Carey says.
“I’m big and strong!” Magnus protests.
“I don’t think that matters against wasps,” says Carey, “But let’s do it.”
Magnus grabs a potato from the sack and shoves it into the neck of the cannon, letting the excess root not forming the plug fall to the grass. From the corner of her eye Carey sees Killian, carrying a fantasy fire extinguisher, set out across the grass towards them, face set.
“We gotta do it soon,” Carey hisses. “Hurry it up!”
“I’m hurrying!” Magnus says back, though the thick purple haze and scent of the hairspray. He pulls out a book of matches and gets one out.
Carey steadies the cannon, aims it at the wasp's nest, and holds on tight. Magnus strikes the match and lights the cannon up.
It makes a satisfying thwock as the potato plug flies out and the recoil makes the cannon jerk in Carey’s arms. Across the quad the wasp’s nest explodes in a tornado of paper.
Magnus is yelling, a long, drawn out YEEEAAAHHHH !, and Carey herself feels like her face is going to split apart from beaming.
“Okay, alien boy,” she says. “There’s no way we’re going to be allowed to do that again, but you were right. That was awesome .”