They end up back at the cabin, discussing their next move. James flatly refuses to discuss the kiss, saying it was just “for the cover”.
Agatha, having seen many, many men kiss - the perils of having a best friend who’s always got a new man over - thoroughly disagrees.
Which begs the question.
What are they going to do now?
“Not all polyamorous couples go every which way.” Charles muses, sitting down at the dining table. The chair he’s sitting on is slightly too short, so his knees are very close to his chest. He doesn’t look very comfortable. “It must be very hard to have a list of rules that stringent for her own relationship. Boring, if you ask me.”
“Yeah, well, we did what she wanted.” James huffs. He’s looking vaguely annoyed. “Hopefully that’ll give you some purchase with them, Aggie.”
“Mhmm.” She hums. She’s still not convinced, but she drops it. These things take time.
Charles, however, is apparently much less subtle. “How long have you known you liked men, James?”
“I-” If there’s one thing James doesn’t do very often, it’s lose his composure. He clears his throat. “I don’t like men.”
“It’s okay to be bisexual, James. I’m a little bit bisexual and I’ve never mentioned it.” Charles replies, a little placatingly, as though he’s not been dropping hints for months. “I think a lot of people are bisexual and never really realise.”
“Aggie?” James turns to her, like he’s actually expecting an answer.
Well, if there’s one thing Sir Charles Fraith doesn’t need to know about, it’s the goings-on of single-sex boarding schools for girls, and Agatha’s… interesting teenage history. “...No comment.”
Charles raises an eyebrow at her. Wonderful. He’s never going to let up asking about that.
James huffs and doesn’t say anything. Which is curious. Bicurious, if she’s feeling cheeky.
Charles smirks. “Shelving that little bit of experimentation for the moment, where should we go from here?”
“They’ve obviously got a problem with us.” Agatha replies, “So who’s to say that they didn’t have a problem with the other two triads too?”
“I would comment on the nonsensical reasoning behind caring about the minutiae of others’ relationships, but I think history has already done that for me.” James remarks. “Shall we split up then? Try to talk to them all separately?”
“Sounds good.” Agatha says, though she knows she’ll be given the hardest job - talking to Elizabeth.
Not at all to her surprise, it’s troubling.
She catches the woman at one of the times when she’s alone from her partners - on her way towards Forrest’s cabin. Agatha wonders why she’s heading in that direction, but she ignores her desire to ask, pastes on a smile, and says brightly, “Hi - Elizabeth, was it? I’m so glad to have the chance to talk to another woman here - love those two I do, but you know how men get, first thing they’re alone together.”
She doesn’t much care what she’s implying. It’s idle chatter. Pointless.
“I… don’t.” Elizabeth says, her brow furrowed. At least it’s not an out and out rejection - Agatha was a little worried she’d just refuse to talk to her.
“Well, that’s fine, hun-” She’s never used the word hun in her life, and she hates herself just a little, “But sometimes I just need that feminine energy, you know? Another woman around. To chat.”
“Yes…” Elizabeth says, but she still looks… puzzled. Like she’s confused as to why Agatha is talking to her.
Honestly, Agatha’s a little confused as to why herself. Obviously, the case - but she still doesn’t know why she focussed quite so much on Elizabeth. “Wonderful, dear. Shall we have a chat? I do so love the fresh air out here.”
And so, they talk.
It’s all very boring. Agatha learns a few details about Elizabeth’s triad, surface things, mostly trivial - and personally says very little about herself.
She’s not openly hostile, which is a relief, but visibly suspicious. Agatha just needs to figure out a way to catch her in the act.
Or, find some evidence.
She’s better than this. There’s got to be something.
However, she finishes the conversation feeling irritated. Elizabeth is a closed book.
Dinner is wraps and a variety of salads. Agatha still doesn’t know where either of the men are, so she takes her plate outside and sits on a stair by the edge of the barn. It’s nice outside, cool and calm, and she honestly doesn’t hate it.
One of the reasons she moved to Carsley was to find a little peace and quiet - to get back to the ‘homely’ kind of life, and the commune, surprisingly enough, has that.
“We were wondering where you got to.” Charles says, walking into her line of sight. He’s also carrying a plate, piles high with bread and salads. James is right behind him, with the same.
“No luck for me.” Agatha shuffles over so the two can perch on the stair near her. There’s just enough space for them to space themselves out over a couple of steps, and it’s even reasonably comfortable.
“No luck for us, either.” James says. He leans up against her a little, not much, just enough for her to feel the warmth of his presence. That’s nice, too. “They don’t seem to want to talk.”
“Yes, they’re insular.” Charles waves his hands around, fancifully, and nearly knocks his plate off the steps in the process. “I’ve seen their type before, but this is much more than I expected.”
“There’s only one thing for it.” Agatha decides. “Tomorrow. We break into their cabin.”
“Well, that’s a bit-” Charles starts.
“Dramatic?” James continues, not looking convinced. “Will that prove anything?”
“We can’t just keep on sitting here.”
The night goes by quietly in their cabin. It’s chilly, too. The walls are very thin, and even though the weather’s not that bad, she still feels the cold. She wanders around the room trying to find the source of the draft. There’s a chill coming through a thin plasterboard slat to the side of the kitchen table, so she covers it with a scarf. It doesn’t do much, but it does do something.
James and Charles play a round or two of cards. Agatha writes up her thoughts on a pile of napkins that she pinches from the kitchen, and slides them around on the floor, trying to make some sense of the whole case.
Why Elizabeth? What was the group’s motive? Why did they choose such strange ways to kill their victims?
And more importantly, why ?
Charles gets up around nine pm, having lost at cards for the third time in a row and says, “That’s me. Good game, James, but I’m going to go for a stroll. Anyone else interested?”
“I’m stuck here, I think.” Agatha replies, still looking over her napkins. There’s something she’s missing, and she can’t figure out what. She looks over her suspects again. Forrest, Elizabeth and her partners… What else?
“I’ll stay here too.” James replies, looking over at her with an oddly fiendish look in his eyes.
He can’t mean- honestly. In this tiny, shared room? Men.
“Your loss.” Charles shrugs. He looks between them with his own odd smirk, and says, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“There’s nothing you wouldn’t do.” Agatha retorts. “Go on. Get off.”
“I was trying t-” Charles stops himself. “Sorry. That’s crass. I’ll be back in a bit.”
And without any kind of farewell, he leaves.
“Well, that was odd.” Agatha says, and goes back to her ‘moodboard’. What is she missing?
“He’s an odd man.” James moves over from the table and sits on the edge of the bed. He peers down at her fossicking. “I like your moodboard.”
“It’s not nearly as colourful as my usual,” Agatha sighs, “But we’re operating with a distinct lack of options here.”
“Mmmm.” James reaches out and pulls her close to him.
She settles back against his legs with a contented sigh. The floor’s not that comfortable, but he is, and the feeling of his hands against her shoulders, rubbing into the nape of her neck, feels good.
“Don’t start anything you can’t finish.” She warns, but there’s no heat in it, not really. The contact feels good, even if it’s not going to go anywhere else.
“I would never!” James replies, mock-apologetic, his warm breath tickling the side of her neck. “It’s not as though he’d mind .”
He’s probably not wrong about that, and the thought is… interesting. Agatha might have a sordid youthful past, but that’s one thing she hasn’t tried. “You’ve gotten a lot more free-thinking in the last day or so.”
“Consider it learning on the go.” He replies. “I may have been… a little jealous of him.”
“You, jealous?” She drawls, “Never. I’d never have thought so.”
“Mmm.” He says, again, mouth very close to her ear. “I’m never jealous.”
Agatha’s had quite enough of playing, and the case isn’t going anywhere with her staring at it. She turns around, kneels up between his legs and kisses him, pulling him in by his collar.
It’s nice, at first, comforting, but the kiss soon turns filthy, and she pushes him back onto the bed with a contented sigh.
He stops her, just as she’s reaching for the hem of his shirt. “He’s going to walk right back in in a moment.”
She really doesn’t care. “Let him.”
“Do you want that?” He breathes, looking straight up at her.
Well, that’s a question. “Do you?”
And that is as well.
He doesn’t answer.
It’s probably for the best, because the door bangs open and Charles strides back in, looking triumphant. He’s holding three dessert cups in his hand. “I just got- oh, sorry, am I interrupting?” He doesn’t look sorry at all.
“No.” James says, just as Agatha says, “yes.”
“Oh well.” Charles sits down on the bed and toes off his shoes. “I sweet-talked my way into getting more dessert.”
Agatha just rolls her eyes, and rolls off James. “Why are you like this, Fraith?”
“My unpredictability is why you like me, Aggie.” Charles says, spoon halfway to his mouth. He pushes a dessert cup in her direction, and she declines, and to James, who takes one. “Oh well, more for me!”
Agatha just groans.
It’s the damn spring in her back that wakes her up. Her back aches.
And the first thing she smells is smoke.
She sits up, alarmed. Outside the window, she can see the flickering of flames.
She runs to the door. Tries the knob. Nothing. It’s locked from the outside.
She peeks out the window, can just see someone - and she can tell exactly who is is by the silhouette - rushing away from the place. That bloody woman. Of course. Not the time.
The smoke is thick, and Agatha can hardly see. She coughs, splutters, drags a tea towel from the kitchen drawer, wets it, and ties it over her mouth.
“Charles? James?” She can hardly see through the thick smog filling the room, but she stumbles back to the bed, shakes them both - nothing.
Still nothing. Asleep? Poisoned? It doesn’t matter.
God, she’s got to get them out of here.
Brain firing, just on the edge of hysteria, she drops to the floor.
Window’s too small to get out of. Door’s blocked. Think.
She goes for her phone.
No signal. This damn place.
Where on earth are the others? If they didn’t do it… How could they sleep through such a thing?
She dumps the pillows, duvets, everything soft she has on the floor around the bed, and using all her strength, drags both Charles and James onto the floor. It’s not enough. Not quite enough, but it’ll do. For now.
She needs to do more. Think.
The building’s fairly old. Flimsy. The other one had gone up in smoke easily. Perhaps…
She crawls over to the kitchen again. She dumps out the cutlery drawer, rifles through the cupboards, finds a heavy metal pan.
It might do. It might.
Agatha pulls the scarf away from the broken slat and starts thumping the pan against it. She can hardly see, only illuminated by the faint orange glow outside.
“Come on .” Agatha huffs, sweat pouring down her back, and hits the broken slat again.
“Come on. ”
Clang! She hits it again, and the vibrations shudder up her arm.
“Come on, you bastard.”
Her hands are raw and bloody, but she can’t stop. Can’t think. She needs to break it, needs to get out of there, needs to-
“Ah!” She gasps, as the slat gives away, and a wave of cool, smoke-tinged air rushes through. She drops the pan to the floor and coughs, the smoke finally getting to her.
She needs to get out.
“Charles-” She calls, through chapped, bloodied lips. “James.”
The two metre crawl back over to the bed feels like a thousand miles, but by the time she gets there, Charles is beginning to stir.
She shakes him, jabs two fingers into his shoulder, but nothing speeds it up. Sorry, she thinks, but doesn’t really mean it, and slaps him across the face.
“Wha-” Charles mumbles, splutters, then sits up. He sniffs. “Fire?”
“Fire.” Agatha tells him, quickly, and throws him a damp tea towel. She ties the other over James’ mouth and nose, and hauls him slightly more upright so he won’t choke. “Hole.” She wheezes, breathing hard now. “In wall. Made it. Help me.”
Charles, to his credit, doesn’t say anything, just stumbles onto his knees, moving slowly like he’s pushing through syrup, and grabs James under the arms.
The fire licks down the wall, across the floor towards them. It’s closer now, violent, hot.
Together, they manage to move James, pulling him towards the hole. Agatha coughs, eyes streaming, and it’s just-
She can hardly breathe.
But she pushes on, drags, forces herself to survive. She’s not going to die her, surrounded by smoke, on a bloody commune.
They get to the hole.
Charles, looking like he’s about to pass out, kicks at it slightly, widens it. He ducks outside, hauls James by the shoulders with one last push, and pulls him out as well.
Agatha’s so close. So close to fresh air… She’s just got to-
She drags herself out of the hole with moments to spare, feeling flames lick at her heels as she does. Collapsing down onto the wet grass does her no favours, but she’s out of the fire, and they’re safe.
She’s definitely lost a bag and some clothes in there too, but it doesn’t matter. They’re alive.
Charles is awake, just, and she can see James blinking. She doesn’t care, doesn’t care about the case, just wants to feel and touch and see them alive. Crawling over isn’t easy, but she collapses between them, head on Charles’ lap, and is about to fall asleep when-
Forrest comes running up to them, face just illuminated by the light of the fire consuming the cabin. He looks horrified.
“What on earth have you done?” He gasps, and looks over at the cabin.
Charles is about to speak.
Agatha stops him, voice raspy from all the smoke. “Nothing. It’s arson. It wasn’t us. You will call the police, now. Get DC Bill Wong from Carsley up here now. And, stop that cook of yours from running off. She did this. Dinner’s over for her.”
Forrest does nothing more than blink at her, but after a moment, he mutters, “Fine…” and plods away in the direction of his cabin.
“Forceful.” Charles says, and nudges her with his elbow. “I like it.”
“Mmmm.” Agatha says, and drifts away. “Stick around and you might get to hear it again…”
In the end it’s all very uncomplicated. Frankie gets caught with a ton of lighter fluid in her kitchen, and a penchant for hating polyamorous couples. She breaks under the slightest interrogation and admits to all the other deaths as well.
It is all very simple, in the end.
“There’s so much bigotry.” Bill says, as he leads her out of the station after taking her final statement, one week after the incident. “It’s awful, truly.”
“I know.” Agatha replies, “All those couples, from what I heard, were lovely. It was just Elizabeth and her gang that weren’t.”
“Speaking of-” Bill asks, and gives her a cheeky look, “When you weren’t nearly being burned to death, did you have a good time at the commune?”
“No comment.” Agatha says, and shoots him a look.
She goes home, after stopping off at a couple of local stores to pick up replacements to the lingerie she lost in the fire. She’d not bought her best things, because it was a commune, but she’d still lost a couple of nice pairs.
Home is, interestingly enough, where Charles is waiting. She’s not seen him since everything… happened, not seen James either - too caught up in trying to get her life back, spending a couple of days recovering in the hospital, and then sleeping for nearly fourteen hours.
He’s leaning against her fence.
“What a lovely surprise.” Agatha says, dryly, though it is. She unlocks her front door, and looks over to him, where he hasn’t moved. “Coming in?”
“No, I was waiting for Hodge to allow me.” Charles says. Hodge had bitten him last time he was around, for good reason.
“You’ll be fine.” Agatha shrugs. “Come on.”
Agatha scoops Hodge up when she gets inside, and smooths a hand across his back. He nuzzles into her hand, but bares his teeth at Charles.
“What have I done to deserve this?” Charles complains. “I have done nothing but give love to that cat.”
“Cats are empathic, you know.” Agatha says, and scratches Hodge behind the ears. “They don’t like troublemakers.”
“I am hardly a troublemaker.”
“Something, something - you kissed me for a cover during the case?” Agatha says, because it’s not like it’s weighing on her mind or anything… “You’re not a troublemaker at all.”
“It was for the case.” Charles shrugs, and leans back against her countertop. “Possibly. Maybe. It worked though, didn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Agatha replies, but she can’t quite stop staring at him. Damn that commune. She’d started thinking… things. Things that weren’t really possible in polite Carsley society.
“And you liked it.” Charles’ tone is still casual, but his eyes aren’t. He’s not being pushy, just… curious.
“Agatha. It was obvious.”
“Why does it matter?” She snaps, and turns away, carrying the cat with her. The couch is comfortable, so that’s where she goes. “No matter what I thought, it was for the case. It can’t happen here.”
He moves from the kitchen and sits next to her on the couch. Hodge hisses at him, but he still, gingerly, puts a hand on her knee. “Why not?”
“James isn’t- he’d never-”
“James is-” But whatever Charles is about to say is obscured by a knock at the door. He raises his eyebrows at her. “Might want to go and answer that.”
She places Hodge down, right on Charles’ arm. Judging by the cry of pain she hears as she walks toward the front door, he’s been bitten. Good.
And surprisingly enough, James is standing on her stoop.
“Seriously?” She asks, because it’s all a little too convenient. “Did you two plan this?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” James replies, too politely. “Can I come in?”
“Charles is here.”
When they get back into the living room, Agatha is stunned to see that Charles is patting Hodge, and the cat is purring.
Honestly, the loyalties of some. “How on earth did you do that?”
Charles shrugs, looking smug. “Negotiation. Works for most things, you’d find.”
“Hmph.” She sits down next to him, again.
James takes the other sofa.
“What’s all this about?” She asks, though somehow, she feels she knows.
“Aggie, we’ve been… talking.” Charles says, and that’s an incredibly frightening sentence on its own.
James looks like he can’t hold it in any longer. “I am… too old for a sexuality crisis.”
She doesn’t interrupt, even though she knows what he’s about to say. It’s obvious in his eyes.
“I’m too old for a sexuality crisis, but the commune…” James heaves a sigh, looking slightly irritated. “I would be loath to say that I didn’t… like some of it.”
And that is… almost… a surprise. But the thing is, Agatha is observational. She’s got eyes. She’d seen as much at the commune. However, she gets it. It’s got to be a strange feeling.
If she was more empathetic, she might even let him wallow in the silence. But she’s never really been very good at that. She looks between the men, consideringly. “Is this your way of asking me for a threesome?”
“Well- uh-” James stammers, because he’s always been a bit repressed.
However, Charles reclines slightly, looking pleased with himself, and says, “ Yes.”
“Good.” Agatha replies. “Shall we get on with it then?”
And the strangest thing is - it all works out. There’s a little jealousy, perhaps, and a few things to work around, but it’s hot.
There’s nothing like having two men fawning over her.
The fine people of Carsley, if they decide to have thoughts about it, can politely, get stuffed.