It’s all Roy’s fault.
A lot of things in Agatha’s life have been Roy’s fault. Her dreadful milestone birthday - she’s absolutely not going to think about which one, because a lady never tells her age, and she’s not technically a lady but she still doesn’t want to think about it - the thing with the stripper, and then the terrible Carsley School Gala (which, in hindsight, was mostly her fault, but she’ll easily blame Roy anyway).
She loves him to pieces, always has, always will - despite whatever gorgeous but short-lived men he brings home - but a lot of things are his fault.
“Absolutely not.” James says, and is rather forceful about it.
Agatha likes his forceful voice. Usually she doesn’t take a lot of nonsense from men and their endless peacocking, but she knows James, and she knows that voice, and sometimes that voice makes her feel things wholeheartedly inappropriate for the current discussion.
Roy rolls his eyes. “Boring.”
“I think it could be quite fun.” Charles interjects, leaning gracefully on one side of her kitchen island, a smug smile on his face.
He’s always smug, that man.
“Well, you would.” James continues. “With all of your… finangling.”
“Finangling?” Charles replies, still looking far, far too amused. “You’re twisting the definition there, James, and I’d have thought-”
“Ladies.” Roy interrupts. “We’re doing this for a reason. A good reason. Aggie?”
“I mean,” Agatha shrugs, because she’s not really upset about the idea of having two gorgeous men fawning over her, no matter how fake it is. “It is for a good cause…”
“Ugh.” James throws up his hands and stalks out of the kitchen.
Charles just remains, staring at her, for a moment. “For the record, I never had a problem with it.” Smugly, he wanders out of the room, probably heading back off to his estate, or something.
Agatha huffs. “Did you really think that would convince them? Really, Roy?”
“No, Aggie, I didn’t think ‘why don’t you two join Aggie and form a polyamorous triad in order to infiltrate a poly commune that’s suffered a handful of mysterious deaths’ would do it, but what exactly would you have tried?” Roy asks, pointedly. “I did my best.”
“Yes, and I love you lots for it.” Agatha replies, only half seriously. “Convincing James is… not going to be easy. Why can’t you just do it?”
“One, because I have work.” Roy replies, “Two, because I absolutely do not want to pretend to be your lover, even though I do love you. No thanks. Yuck.”
“Should I be offended?” She replies, though she’s not.
“Absolutely not.” Roy says, “I’m just very, very gay. If I was straight you’d be the first woman I’d go for.”
Roy rolls his eyes. “No respect, honestly. Come on. Do you have any other ideas?”
“No.” And that’s the problem.
Sundown is a commune, somewhere in the rural depths of Ansborough. They’ve had a spate of deaths, unknown, mysterious deaths - but they won’t let the police in because of their strict adherence to a rule of ‘threes’ - every member of the commune must be in a polyamorous triad. It seems suspicious, though all the deaths are of natural causes, but...
“And then,” Roy had said, “I thought - who do I know who has two hot men fawning over her, a love for solving crimes, and a track record of doing ridiculous things?”
“Thanks.” Agatha had replied, but she’d been interested.
The only problem is convincing James.
He’s sulking outside the agency when she wanders outside, looking rather put-upon.
“I’m not happy with this.” He says, and refuses to meet her eyes.
That’s very him. She sighs, and takes his arm. “James, nothing untoward is going to happen.”
“You two have a history together.”
She laughs, gently. “James, Charles has ‘a history’ with almost every single woman in the area, and probably some of the men too. I’m living in sin with you, remember? You don’t need to worry.”
“Mhmm.” He hmms, but doesn’t look convinced.
“Don’t worry about it.”
James mightn’t be keen on the idea, but he’s got good principles, and as such, Sunday morning finds them all jammed into a shabby little car - Gem has good contacts, even when she’s not in town - and well on their way to Sundown.
They’ve all dressed down for the occasion. It’s utterly bizarre to see the boys in jeans and tees, and Agatha doesn’t think she’s worn anything so… frumpy since she was a student.
Roy had laughed. Repeatedly. And then he’d said, “You do look the part. Born again, middle-aged hippi-”
She’d threatened violence then, and fortunately for him, he’d shut up.
“This is all rather… common.” Charles plucks at his t-shirt, a raggedy yellow one that James had provided, from the back seat.
“If you don’t like it…” James starts, but Agatha swerves the car quite thoroughly to the edge of the median strip, and he shuts up.
This is going to be absolute hell, and honestly, Agatha’s fairly excited to see it.
Sundown is surrounded by a shabby wooden fence that has daffodils along the border. The gate itself has ‘Sundown’ painted on it, in peeling yellow paint. There may even be a sun painted on there too.
Agatha hates it immediately.
“Good morning, sister!” Forrest, who apparently is the de-facto leader of the commune, greets them with wide arms and welcoming eyes as she pulls the car into a spot next to several kombi vans. He kisses her on both cheeks and pats her thoroughly on the back.
His beard is itchy. She’s not a fan.
However, because she’s a professional private detective now, or something, she grins and bears it. “...Brother??” She replies. “It’s so… good to finally meet you.”
“Of course.” Forrest chimes, and proceeds to greet the men in the same way.
Charles goes along with it, of course. James looks a little like he wants to run away.
“Everyone is doing their daily activities right now, but you will be able to meet them later.” Forrest says, and leads them and their bags (Agatha had only packed one, for their cover’s sake) towards a set of small cabins.
There’s about eight, including one that is horrifically burnt out. Theirs is third from the left.
Forrest unlocks the door and gives Agatha the key, a thick metal sort she’s not seen the likes of in years. He pushes the door open.
The room itself gives Agatha pauses.
There is only one bed.
And not much else.
“Where’s the rest of it?” Someone voices her unanswered question, and it takes her a moment, brain reeling stupidly, that it’s James.
Forrest looks uncomfortable. “We’re only a small commune, Brother - I know you might have bigger facilities in the likes of London, but-”
“It’s lovely.” Charles says, beaming in a way that’s only mostly a dig, and pushes past them, throwing his bag on the floor and flopping down on the bed. “Come on, my loves.”
Agatha pulls a face at him as she strides past Forrest, and drags James along too. “Thank you, Forrest. We really appreciate this welcome to your little community.”
“Well, I’ll leave you to get settled in.” Forrest beams at the three of them, all sitting on the bed. “There’s a rough itinerary on the table, but you’re welcome to essentially do whatever you feel is calling you. Until next time, Sister, Brothers.”
He pulls the door shut behind him. At the very same moment, James leaps off the bed and lurches towards the wall. He props himself up against it.
Agatha takes the moment to take a proper look around the cabin. Aside from the overlarge bed, there’s a small kitchen, made of rustic furnishings, a table and three chairs, and a door that presumably leads to some kind of bathroom.
It could honestly be worse.
“Well, this is rather quaint, isn’t it?” Charles says, jovally, obviously just doing it to be irritating. “I’d like the right side of the bed, though I am rather partial to the middle.”
James clears his throat, looking uncomfortable. He appears, Agatha notes with some amusement, to be turning an odd shade of grey. “We have a case to solve. Can we discuss this… later?”
“My compatriot is right.” Charles says, and shifts away from where he’s leaning against her side. “Who had the case details?”
“Compatriot?” James mutters, but fossicks through his bag anyway.
Allen Keynes, his wife Samantha Keynes, and their partner Lily Redford were the first to die. All in a tragic accident - ingesting the wrong type of berry after a foraging expedition.
The others, the more recent case, were Jane Henries, Alexandra Jones and Kara St Lukes - who had died after a mishap with their kitchen’s stove.
It was all a bit fishy. Six deaths, at the same commune, within about three weeks? Far too far-fetched to be coincidence.
“Well, I’ll look into the stoves.” James says, just as the same time that Charles says, “I’ll take the stoves.”
They stare at each other for a moment, pensive. Agatha looks between them, expectant. She’s not going to make any of their choices for them, they’re grown men.
Charles waves a hand at the other man. “You’re handier, you do it.”
“Yes.” James says, slowly. “I am.”
“Great, then Charles can find out about the poisonous berries and I’ll… talk to people.” Agatha says, “Reconvene at… uh…”
“Dinner time.” James waves the brochure sitting on the table at them. “7pm, in the Barn.”
“Great!” Agatha says, cheerily, and hops off the bed. “And remember, if anyone asks, we’re all madly in love!”
James just grumbles as she walks past him and heads out into the commune proper.
About five minutes later, she really wishes she brought her wellies.
There’s not that many people in the commune. There’s a group of three young men who she’s sure didn’t commit the murders - not just because they’re basically children, but because they weren’t even at the commune at the time.
There’s one more group of three - two women and a man. Elizabeth is a redhead with big hair and even bigger sunglasses. Her partner, Joan, is smaller, more waspish. The man of the group is Jonathan, and he’s significantly older than them both. None of them are very talkative.
Agatha decides to focus her investigation on them. If there’s one thing she’s sure of, it’s that her first impression is usually right, and the group seems… off.
She’s sure she’ll figure it out.
They reconvene at the Barn - the big meeting room, a literal barn as it happens, and discuss the case over light salads, eggs and thick fresh bread. The cook is someone she’s not yet spoken to, so she makes a mental note to talk to her later.
“Yew berries.” Charles says, between mouthfuls. It appears that any sort of propriety has been lost in his few hours at the commune. “I found my way into Forrest’s cabin - the type of berries that killed the first group were yew berries. There’s lots around here, apparently.”
“Yew berries?” James asks, “Are you sure?”
“I can read, darling. Forrest had expansive journals.”
“They can’t have been - look, I don’t want to immediately jump to conclusions, but yew berries look nothing like anything edible. No-one would accidentally pick and eat them, unless they were really daft.”
Agatha stares, just for a moment. “How on earth do you know so much about the wilds of Greater Carsley’s woodland?”
“My, uh… mother was a forager.” James replies, looking a little embarrassed.
“How wonderful, James.” Agatha says, glaring daggers at Charles before he says anything rude. She’s going to make them get along this week, she swears it. “What did you find out? About the stoves?”
“They’re induction…” He says, still looking puzzled. “Not gas. They wouldn’t just explode unless something was really wrong. How on earth did the police miss this?”
“I’m sure Bill considered it and then the usual happened.” Agatha placates. It’s odd for her to act as the mediator, but there’s no point in being divisive when she has to spend basically every waking moment with others for the next few days. “You know how they are.”
“Yes.” James says, brow furrowed. “What did you find out?”
She outlines her thoughts on the other people at the camp. “They all, however,” she says, “Seem very much in love. Unlike us.”
“For all they know, we might show our love in the…” Charles wiggles his eyebrows in a way that she never wants to see again, “...bedroom.”
She just rolls her eyes.
This is going to be a long few days.
The chef’s name is Frankie, and she’s a heavy-set, smiley woman, with thick patches of freckles sprinkled across her nose. “It was such a tragedy, dear.” She says, hands busy as she scoops vegetables into a large bowl. “Samantha and Allen always wanted to help me in the kitchen, and Lily… well, she was a wild sort, but ultimately very kind underneath. I always wondered why Forrest never asked the police in - though I do expect he felt they would have undermined the sanctity of the place.”
“Are you in a polyamorous relationship, Frankie?” Agatha asks, curious despite herself.
Frankie laughs. “Oh no, not for me. I have enough trouble with one husband, couldn’t handle two. You seem to be the one negotiating everything over there.”
“That’s one word for it.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, dear. I’m sure things will sort themselves out. True love takes time.”
Agatha is one to follow her gut instincts, and she’s very rarely wrong. Frankie is harmless. A little bit invasive, perhaps, but harmless.
The men are huddled in the cabin when she gets back, looking a little worse for wear.
“What the hell is going on?” Agatha doesn’t quite bark at them, but it’s a near thing.
Neither of them meet her eyes. There’s a bruise on Charles’ cheek.
For the love of- “Did you two have a fight?”
“No.” Charles says, while James mutters, “Yes.”
It’s like her annoyance from the rest of the day has finally boiled over. “You two do realise that people have died, right? Can you perhaps attempt at putting aside your excessive masculine egos so we can get this case done without any more people dying?”
“Agatha, I-” Charles clears his throat and starts, but she doesn’t have time for his nonsense right now.
“No. People have died. ”
It’s a very quiet night after that. They share the bed, for the sole reason that there’s not enough space in the room for anyone to sleep on the floor.
(Plus, they’re all past their 40s. It would be a very bad idea.)
Agatha sleeps badly. The bed’s large, but not particularly comfortable, and she’s got a spring or something sticking into her back the entire night. As such, she gets up at 7, annoyed and hungry, and goes to fetch a cup of coffee and something edible from the Barn.
Frankie smiles at her and gives her a mug of coffee, which does wonders for her brain. She has a banana and some toast. Edges come back to the world.
Though her back still hurts.
She needs a moodboard, needs something to articulate her thoughts. She doesn’t have anything, so she starts jotting her thoughts down on a table napkin.
As she’s writing, she notices the other triad - Elizabeth, Joan and Jonathan - watching her from a couple of tables away. She gives them a wave, and they all turn away again. Weird.
“Morning.” James sits down opposite her, still looking a bit sheepish. He’s got a couple of bruises around his face, too, that she hadn’t noticed the night before.
“I still haven’t decided if I’m talking to you yet.” Agatha says, honestly, and sips at her coffee.
“I know you’re doing this reluctantly, James, but would it kill you to try and get along with him?”
She can see how much he’s trying to hold back. It’s obvious on his face.
“Considering your history…”
Agatha blinks. “You’re honestly bringing my history with Charles into this?”
“It’s hard not to think about, love.”
She’s annoyed with him, but she’s… tired too. And irrational. And she wants to touch him. “I’m living in sin with you, remember?” She reaches across the table to kiss him, and nearly puts an elbow in her coffee.
It’s less than graceful, and not quite what she’s wanting, but it’s good enough for the moment.
James looks less annoyed when she pulls back, and he grasps her hands, gently. It’s a start, but as she’s running her gaze across his face, she glances past him, and the other triad are staring at her again.
What on earth?
Before she has a chance to point it out to James, Charles sits down next to them. “Morning, campers. How are we all today?”
“Fine.” James says, but he’s not actively being bitter while he says it, so there’s a start.
“Had a spring from the bed sticking into my back all night, but I’m fine.” Agatha says, only a little bitterly, and takes another sip of coffee.
“Well, you should have seen my side.” Charles says, luxuriously, “I slept well.”
“You would.” James mutters.
Christ. She’s going to kill them both. “So, what’s our plan for today?”
They do some more investigating. Agatha follows up on a few leads, tries to get a little closer to the other group of campers, but they all seem fairly wary of her.
She runs into Forrest just before lunch and asks about them.
The old man shrugs, looking off into the middle distance. “I can hardly tell. We live in such a diverse world now, people come to Sundown for a variety of reasons. Elizabeth, Joan and Jonathan… they are an odd sort.”
“Odd how?” Agatha asks. “I would really like to make some new friends here. I need more gal friends in my life. I’d love to see how I could… make friends with them”
She internally winces at the term, but just manages to stop it showing on her face.
Forrest rubs his beard thoughtfully. “Sundown welcomes triads from any walks of life… but those three- they’re from an obscure religious group that sees a triad relationship as the only form of love. They’re not especially fond of duo pairs. I suppose if they… saw you being close to all members of your triad, they’d probably be a little more welcoming. I know love is displayed in all forms, and I’m sure your men,” he winks, “are more verbose indoors, but it could be worth a try.”
Closer. With the men. And presumably, them with each other.
Oh yes, she’s sure it’s all going to work out so well.
Charles settles down with her at lunch. She’s not quite sure where James is, off researching something, probably, but Charles seems chipper.
As he’s likely the most free-thinking of the men, she brings it up.
“Close?” Charles laughs, tipping his head back. “If only they knew.”
“Yes, well I’m presuming you’ve not had an illicit romance with James lately, have you?” Agatha says, irritated by both his attitude and his general being. UGH.
Her back still hurts.
“Mhmm.” Charles replies. “Not for lack of trying, but the man’s a concrete block.”
“No.” Charles says, and smirks at her bemused expression. “I wouldn’t do that to you, first off, and he’d probably punch me in the face again.”
“Probably for a good reason.” Agatha says, but her eye is drawn behind him to see the triad of Elizabeth, Jonathan and Joan walk in.
Good lord above, do they always spend their entire lives together?
Elizabeth seems to fix her with a glare as they walk on by. Honestly. Some people.
“Darling?” Charles asks, and she snaps back to him. “Would you mind terribly if I kissed you?”
“Yes.” She says, though she’s definitely thinking the opposite. It’s not as though she’s into the whole polyamory lark, she’s just… Charles is very good at what he does.
“Pity.” Charles says, “because I suspect they’d be less frosty if they believed in our little ruse.”
“You are an absolute cad, Charles Fraith.” She says, only mock upset, because he’s right. They’d likely be more amenable if they saw… if they heard...
No. She stops that train of thought right there. “You’re incorrigible.”
“I truly am.” He says, and pouts at her. “Not even one? I can promise you won’t catch on fire.”
She sighs. There’s really no use in fighting, especially when she doesn’t really want to. “Oh, go on.”
Charles smirks, grasps her chin in both hands and kisses her. It’s only a little bit filthy, perfectly polite for company, but she’s still flustered when she pulls away.
Which is when she notices James standing at the edge of the table, sandwich plate in hand, not looking angry - instead rather… curious.
“We have company.” Agatha says, and jerks her head subtly towards the other group. “Playing the role.”
“Of course.” James seems to take a moment to move, but he eventually sits down beside her, looking pensive.
“Found anything out?” She asks, because the silence already seems a little bit long. Her lips are tingling. She can’t even meet Charles’ eyes.
“Not really. Still think they’re our best bet.” And James gestures towards the other group as well.
“They’re being rather stingy around their affections towards us.” Agatha says, though that’s not exactly true within the other group themselves. They’re all touching, at the moment. Joan has her arm slung around Elizabeth’s back, and Elizabeth and Jonathan are holding hands.
It’s that sort of casual intimacy that they’re missing.
So, she notices. She leans into James, feeling the heat under his warm t-shirt, and reaches a hand out for Charles. It’s not much, but he grasps her hand with his, and everything feels a little more connected, all of a sudden.
Which is when Elizabeth, who Agatha thinks is the leader of the little ‘gang’, gets up from her seat and storms over to them.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?” She almost-shrieks, and wow, she is even less appreciative of them up close.
“Think it’s as clear as anything, darling.” Charles says, waving their conjoined hands. “Spending time with the loves of my life.”
He only just manages to sound sincere.
“For romantic partners, you hardly show it.” Elizabeth sniffs, and draws their attention over to her table, where… well, snogging is not quite the word for it.
It’s almost grotesque.
“We’ve learned to… manage our carnal appetites outside of the bedroom, Elizabeth.” James says, managing to look disapproving and mollifying at the same time. “Carsley might be… accepting, these days, but it certainly wasn’t when we were younger. You haven’t lived through it.”
The thing is, James sounds like he’s speaking from the heart. Which is odd. Agatha wonders if he knows anyone gay - well, aside from Roy - to have such a point of view.
Perhaps a close friend?
She files it away to ask him later.
“Regardless.” Elizabeth sniffs at them, derisively, and says, “You’re in a camp with like-minded others now. Prove it.”
She waves a hand between James and Charles. Good lord. This whole situation is very surreal.
“You can’t ask them to-” Agatha starts, but she’s completely blindsided by what happens next.
James rolls his eyes, grasps Charles by the lapels of his rough denim jacket (he’s wearing it to be in character , not because he actually likes it) and kisses him.
And it goes on.
For a while.
Elizabeth just huffs and stomps off back to her table, while it’s still going on, and Agatha… just doesn’t really know what to do.
It takes her clearing her throat twice to get them to stop, and they break apart, looking far too engrossed in each other’s faces for it to still be just a ruse...
“Do you two have something to tell me?” Agatha asks.
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.