Friendly Fires

May 26, 2000, 3 pm

Joe Tatsunoko jerked awake as the phone rang. His hand groped for the phone. As he reached it, it stopped ringing and with a groaned. Another all-nighter, he had crashed a small time drug deal but still no clues to what he needed.

Thank god its my day off, he thought as he stared at the ceiling. Struggling to his feet he hit the shower. Feeling a little more human he grabbed a glass of juice and the paper. The front page caught his attention.

Half way through the paper the apartment door slammed open and his fiancée Lyta Forrester stormed into the small condo.

"Okay," she snapped, throwing her briefcase on chesterfield," I agreed that you had to do something about the people who killed your parents." She grabbed her shoes off and threw them at him one at time. "I said nothing about you staying out all night, night after night looking from some starting point. But goddamit Joe you could at least remember your promises!"

With that she stormed into the bathroom.

"Ouch!" Joe sat stunned in his chair, his thoughts whirling "Oh, hell, did I forget our anniversary? No, can't be, that's August 30. Why is she so angry? She's not usually like this."

A sudden stab of guilt and concern ran through him. What was it that I had promised and forgotten, anyway? Did we agree to limit Darkling to only a couple of nights a week? Am I not supposed to pull all-nighters? Did Lyta just put a final lacquer coat on the armour suit and ask me not to use it for another 48 hours until it was dry? And then a touch of annoyance coloured his thoughts, Hey, after all, they were almost Lyta's in-laws, and they both adored her. That was quickly squashed by curiosity and concern as to what Lyta might have just found out that made her so angry.

Quickly dropping the newspaper, Joe pushed the chair back and stood up, muscles still cranky from last night's exertion. He paused outside the closed bathroom door, took a few deep breaths to clear his mind, and rapped his knuckles softly against the wood.

"Lyta, sweetie, I'm sorry about that. Can we talk? Why are you so angry?"

The bathroom door slammed open and Lyta emerged with eyes blazing. Stabbing a finger into his chest, she backed him slowly down the hallway. "Why am I so angry? Two weeks, Joe! Two weeks ago my parents called and said they were coming down to finally meet you and talk about the God damn wedding. Two weeks ago, you promised that you would be at the Queen Victoria with me when they arrived or that you would be there by 1 o'clock. 1 PM Joe!! What time is it now! 3 PM Joe. I called, where were you? When you went out last night, you promised you would not forget. I even set the alarm when I left this morning. Do you have any idea what it is like trying to answer my mother's questions about where the nice young man I have been telling them so much about is? Do YOU!"

Whoops. Guilt sloshed over Joe like a bucket of ice water. He had promised to meet them, hadn't he? And instead, here he was, gallivanting around the docks in his new toy, the Darkling suit that wouldn't even have existed without Lyta's help, and…

Wait a minute. Her mother's questions? Oh, hell. More like her mother's endless machine-gun stream of verbal bullets. Joe really did like the Forresters, but sometimes he emerged from conversations with Mrs. Forrester feeling like he'd gone nine full-contact rounds at his sparring class. Regardless, however, he had to make it up. To them, and to Lyta.

"Lyta, sweetie, I'm really sorry." Joe reached out to her. "They're going to be in town for a few days still, right? How about I take us all out to dinner tonight? You can pick your favourite restaurant. And I promise, no Darkling tonight."

Joe sighed, tried to arrange his features in a winning smile. Maybe she's right, he thought. Maybe I'm throwing myself into this too hard. I'll burn myself out in a week if I keep doing this. It's not like medical school, when enthusiasm was an effective substitute for knowledge. I've got to start working more intelligently.

"Nope," she shook her head, "you blew it, buddy boy. They are coming here for dinner. My mother figures its the only way that they will be sure to meet the voice on the phone."

She suddenly speared him with another glance, "Anything happen last night?"

"Hmm, no, not really." Joe picked up the newspaper, grateful for the subject change. "Busted up a few druggies. No leads. The armour's working great, though. You're terrific." He relaxed back into his chair. Crisis disarmed, for the moment…

"Wait a minute." Joe suddenly sprang to his feet. "Your folks are coming over tonight? Like, in-a-matter-of-hours tonight, you mean? Aaargh!" He dashed for the bathroom, stopping short to fuss with a pile of magazines on the couch. "We've got to get the place picked up! And what are we going to make for dinner? Do you think they'd like my chicken tetrazzini? Do we have all the ingredients?" Lyta rolled her eyes as Joe swept past her, into the kitchen, where he began rummaging frantically through the pantry.

"Of course," Joe smiled, balancing a box of mushrooms precariously on top of a jar of spaghetti sauce, "we'll also have to remember to keep the basement door locked."

Joe frowned as he realized that he was speaking to thin air. Looking around he noticed that the basement door was open.

"Lyta…?" Joe called down the steps, noting the dim glow from below. He carefully set the mushrooms on the counter and, almost as an afterthought, picked up the newspaper again. "Gee, honey," he continued facetiously, padding down the stairs after her, "does the mere mention of my chicken tetrazzini drive you into hiding?"

A slight misgiving seized him as he rounded the base of the stairwell, headed for their mutual laboratory and workshop area. Lyta can be pretty protective of the Darkling suit, Joe thought ruefully, and I did block that one dirtbag's baseball bat with my forearm last night. I didn't think it left much of a mark…

He found Lyta sitting at her workbench, her back to him. Impulsively, he sidled up behind her, put his arms around her, and kissed her on the back of the neck.

"Okay, so maybe not tetrazzini. Do you think they'd like my gourmet-style okonomiyaki instead?"

Lyta jumped, dropping the tools she was holding in a clatter. "Don't DO that!" She squirmed and hit Joe's arm. "I'm trying to see how much damage you've done to the suit." She shrugged out of his embrace and went back to work.

That went well, Joe thought. He took a few steps back and watched Lyta work for a few moments. He turned to go back upstairs when he heard a shriek.

"Oh my god! It worked!" Lyta jumped up and whirled to face Joe. The stool fell to the floor with a bang "Joe! It actually worked!" Lyta flung herself into Joe's arms and started covering his face with kisses. She wrapped his arms around him and hugged him tight as her lips hit his.

Mmmm. Joe felt himself relax as he wrapped his arms tightly around his fiancée. A dispassionate part of his mind briefly pondered the significance of Lyta's exclamation—was she referring to the biofeedback reflex modulators, or the chitin-based ceramic armour plating that he had invented, or what?—but curiosity was quickly swept aside as he became acutely aware of the warm, supple form pressing against him, and the faint, sweet scent from her freshly-washed brown hair.

"So, am I forgiven, then?" Joe looked into Lyta's brilliant green eyes, and smiled mischievously. "Or does the mere mention of my gourmet okonomiyaki do things for you?"

"No, you idiot." Lyta gave him a playful swat. "The lacquer I used for the joints and wiring worked! I've been working on it for three years without results. Now this!" She hugged him excitedly. "I can't believe it."

"I have to run some tests, just to make sure." Lyta moved to go back to the workbench.

"Well, it did seem to work pretty well last night," Joe commented. "Lucky we put the IR and UV sensors into the visor, though; otherwise the 'shadow cloaking' might have been more trouble than it was worth."

Joe stepped back, glanced around their workshop—the rough, unfinished concrete basement walls, the bare bulbs casting harsh shadows across Lyta's tool-strewn workbench and Joe's drafting table. They had spent so much of their time together down here—had it really been only a couple of months ago when Lyta had driven home late from work with a load of "discarded" components from work? Then came the late nights, the stream of pizza-and-Coke sessions translating Joe's elegant molecular and biomechanical theories into Lyta's deftly-engineered and sleek reality.

Lyta was always such a tinkerer, he thought, his gaze straying over to the rows of shelves along one wall where Lyta kept her model collection. All the mecha models they'd bought over the years, modified to fit their own visions—Joe was never satisfied with the decals that came with the kits and spent hours painting them himself; Lyta insisted on installing tiny motors and flashing lights.

"Okay, McGyver." Joe shook himself out of his brief reverie. "Don't we need to be getting ready for your parents' impending visit? You still haven't told me what they might like for dinner."

"Whatever," Lyta mumbled around a pencil, "I'm sure they will eat whatever you cook, Bug Boy." Lyta disappeared behind the armour and Joe walked upstairs feeling dismissed.

Hmmm, didn't get a chance to show her this news article, he thought, dropping the newspaper on the coffee table. Her parents' visit must really have her on edge. I guess I've seen Lyta act like this right after talking to her mom on the phone, but geez… Joe stopped to rearrange the ingredients for tonight's dinner on the kitchen counter. If she keeps on like this, I'm going to have to evaluate her for bipolar disorder.

Mixing up the batter for okonomiyaki provided a pleasant enough diversion, helping take his mind off things. Had he been like this the first time Lyta met his parents? Granted, she hadn't stood them up, but still…

Poor mom, poor dad. A lump grew in his throat as he opened a package of soba and set it aside for boiling. This was originally his mother's recipe, after all. At least there was something left of her besides cold, unanswered questions.

May 26, 2000, 10 am. New London Police Headquarters

Flashpoint sighed. When she had agreed to help keep Fuji quiet by keeping her presence near him, she hadn't realized that it would take the better part of a day. But it did seem to keep the big guy quiet. Flashpoint glanced over at Fuji.

Fuji huddled in his cell, pretending that he was not staring at her. When he noticed she looking at him, he began bowing. His head scraping the cell floor, he babbled Japanese at her again. Flashpoint tried her best to look all knowing and powerful.

Over in the corner, the police officers held a conference.

"What do you mean you can't find anyone. Are you telling me that no one in this whole police station speaks goddam Japanese?"

"What about Davis?"

"The shrink?"

"Yeah," a younger officer spoke up, "I saw her and Gear speaking French and Spanish to each other, I bet she knows Jap talk."

"But, but she's a shrink!"

"She's also a cop," an older officer, with grey in his hair and stripes on his shoulder spoke for the first time. "Go get her."

He walked over to Flashpoint, "Sorry for the delay, miss. We wish to thank you for your assistance. We never would have been able to keep him quiet without you."

Flashpoint replied in an obviously tired voice, "I'm glad I could be of assistance. I hope you find someone who speaks Japanese soon, though, 'cause I'm just about dead on my feet. Speaking of which, is there any more coffee to be had?"

The sergeant motioned to one the other officers and the young man dashed to get the coffee.

"Thanks." Unexpectedly, Flashpoint giggled. "Poor man. I think he's afraid of me."

Meanwhile, upstairs…

Zoe balanced the take out bag, her purse and the police reports on the whole gallery incident in one hand and opened the door to her office with the other. As she closed the door with her foot, the take out bag threatened to slid out of her hand. Reaching out she quickly shoved the whole lot onto her desk. Before she could congratulate herself, there was a knock and her door opened.

A young police officer stood in the doorway, "Sorry to bother you ma'am, but we have a metahuman downstairs that doesn't speak English and the sergeant was wondering if you could help."

"Certainly officer. Lead the way."

As the two leave her office, Zoe asks, "So what can you tell about this meta? Does he have charges against him?"

The young officer stopped short and looked at her in amazement, "You mean you didn't hear about the Duke's Bridge holdup yesterday?"

"Well, the guy," he resumes walking, "one Fuji, doesn't speak English and we can't book 'em for extortion, and damaging city property if he doesn't understand what we say. The Sergeant doesn't want this one walking."

"Some supervillians tried to hold up the commuters yesterday morning. But some other supes stopped them. One is inside now watching him, because Dr. Jackson said he was exceptionally strong. He seems to be afraid of her. Witness said he fainted at the sight of her. Did you want to maybe go for supper some time?"

Zoe looked at the officer, a bit surprised.

The young man, whose name tag read Jenkins, grew red. The blush started at his neck line and enveloped his whole head within seconds, even his ears.

She smiled as she looked down the hall. "Thanks for the offer, but I've been really busy lately. Besides," she turns toward him with a slightly impish grin, "I don't date younger men—sorry."

Still blushing, he pushed open the holding block door and gestured grandly. Inside were Sergeant Benz, and 3 other police officers. A woman in a brightly coloured costume, red fading orange to yellow at hands and feet, with the top half of her face covered, stifled a yawn and stared at the largest man Zoe has ever seen.

A small wait later the younger officer returned with a woman in white 'power' suit. Her hair was long and tied back in a simple tail, she carried herself with an unconscious grace and confidence. Flashpoint could see the men in the room standing straighter and watching her when they were sure that she wasn't looking. She glanced around, her eyes falling on Flashpoint and Fuji.

I really hope she speaks Japanese… I need to go home, get out of this suit and take a shower before I get rubbed raw in several uncomfortable places, Flashpoint sighed.

"Hello, Sergeant. What can you tell me about Fuji? Is there no record of him?"

Sergeant Benz straightened, "Dr. Jackson seems to have a full file on him. But he doesn't have a police record here. Strong bastard, but the little lady has him in hand."

Fuji was almost as tall as her sitting. His hair was pulled back in a top knot and he wore traditional sumo wrestler gear. And he was very frightened. Of the costumed woman.

Noticing Fuji's obvious fear, Zoe smiled over at the female meta, "Looks like you made an impression."

"Well, I'll admit I was trying to startle him when I came out of that fire, but I didn't think it would have such a spectacular effect."

Turning to Fuji, she switched to Japanese. "My name is Zoe Davis, and I'm going to ask you a few questions. First of all, what's your name, your real name?"

Fuji started and began bowing to her almost immediately, the bow of the inferior to a superior, as was his speech. "Please Great Lady, dismiss your demon. Fuji will be good. So sorry. My name is Hiroki Great Lady. So sorry."

"She will not harm you Hiroki…as long as you behave and answer all my questions. You will cooperate fully, won't you Hiroki?"

"Yes Great Lady. So sorry."

"How long have you been in Canada?"

"One month, Great Lady." Each answer was accompanied by a low bow.

"Do you understand why you've been arrested? You were supposedly involved in extortion and damaging of city property. Why were you involved in this, and who put you up to it?"

"Yes Great Lady. We were hired Great Lady by one who calls himself Top Hat. I was there for intimidation purposes. So Sorry."

"Tell me about Top Hat. How do you know him and how do you communicate with him?"

"So Sorry Great Lady but I only met him two days ago at a bar. The Neon Samurai."

Zoe translated for the Sergeant and then asks him, "Do have any questions for Hiroki, or do you want to proceed with booking him?"

The sergeant chomped on his cigar, "Let's just get him booked."

Zoe noticed the woman leaving so she turned to the female meta. "What do you call yourself?"

"Call me Flashpoint."

Zoe smiled as she offered her hand and introduced herself, "I'm Zoe Davis. Pleased to meet you, Flashpoint."

May 26, 2000, evening. Joe Tatsunoko and Lyta Forrester's condo.

Joe took a last glance around the house before heading to the bathroom; it seemed clean enough, for the moment. The warm shower was comforting, and Joe was actually starting to feel slightly human again as he emerged from the bathroom in a billow of steam, a towel wrapped around his middle. By the time he had finished drying his hair and changed into a clean set of underwear, his mind was beginning to turn in downright mischievous directions.

Okay, what to wear, what to wear… Joe inspected the contents of his wardrobe, finally settling on a light blue shirt and navy slacks. Given what Lyta's told me about her mother, I suppose they'll be expecting me to wear a tie, too. Joe entertained himself briefly with the idea of wearing the van Gogh "Starry Night" tie that Lyta had given him for his last birthday, but settled for a somewhat more conservative dark blue Escher mosaic.

I suppose there's still a small chance for a disapproving glare, Joe thought, and grinned to himself. If not, well, next time I'll wear the Munch's "The Cry" one.

An hour later Lyta jogged up the stairs, locked the door and fled into the bathroom. Joe listened to the sound of running water as he adjusted his tie.

Hope she's feeling a little better now, Joe thought as he carefully knotted the dark blue silk. Tinkering with stuff almost always gets her in a better mood, even if it doesn't work the way she hoped.

Joe conducted at last minute inspection of the house and nearly jumped out of his skin as the door bell rang. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door. Standing just outside were the two people from the photos that sat on the couple's mantle.

A quiet voice spoke somewhere in the back of Joe's mind. And so it begins.

Kevin Forrester was a large man, standing almost a half a foot taller then Joe's 5'9"; he had sparse brown hair and Lyta' warm brown eyes. Catherine Forrester was a head shorter then her husband, with blonde hair carefully done and piercing blue eyes. She held herself ramrod straight and the slight tilt of her head made her seem to be looking down on everyone. Her eyes moved measuringly over Joe and he suddenly felt like a horse on the open market. Before she could check his teeth, Joe invited them in.

Plastering what he hoped was a disarming smile across his features, Joe held out his hand. "Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Forrester. Please come in, make yourselves at home." Silently he hoped they would notice the shoes lined up neatly on the mat beside the door, and take the hint, but as Mrs. Forrester clacked into the front hall in her heels and turned imperiously to face him, he realized he would just have to suffer.

At least I remembered not to bow. The thought of his childhood-ingrained reflex that had often made him the subject of amused or bemused stares brought a smile to his face. Kevin Forrester noticed the slight flash of amusement cross Joe's face, and arched an eyebrow slightly, but said nothing.

"It's lovely to finally meet you in person." Joe felt himself cruising on 'social mode autopilot.' "In case you hadn't guessed, I'm Joe Tatsunoko."

"Of course you are young man, who else would my daughter have in her home at this late hour? Well lets take a good look at you then," she motioned him to turn around.

HER home? Joe found himself surprised by her choice of words. Hadn't we split the down-payment on this place? Don't we both contribute to the mortgage? Hmmm.

"I take it you are fertile and will be doing you duty after the marriage? I am not getting any younger. Eating lots of bananas? Well I brought some just in case." With that she pulled several bunches of bananas out of her purse and handed them to Joe.

Joe accepted the gift with a broad smile. "Why, thank you, Mrs. Forrester! I love bananas!" He set them delicately on the kitchen counter as the three of them headed for the living room. "As for being fertile, well now…" Joe arched an eyebrow and smirked. "There's really only one way to know for sure, and wouldn't it just shatter your image of me if I told you I'd already verified that fact in the past?"

"Mother." Lyta's voice cut short her mother's incipient response, and for that, Joe was grateful. Lyta emerged from the bedroom, her hair carefully done and in a very conservative dress.

Joe felt his features relax into a genuine smile of pure delight. Lyta was absolutely beautiful; her long brown hair was piled lushly atop her head, complementing the moonstone earrings Joe had given her last Christmas. Her dress… Joe blinked in puzzlement. Where did she get that dress? I've never seen her wear it before… ah! That must have been what was in last year's birthday box from her mom, that she didn't want me to see!

Joe shrugged inwardly. Don't see why, he thought. She looks gorgeous in it. Of course, I've always thought she looked great in anything.

The two women meet and kissed the air over either cheek.

Good lord, Joe thought. Did I wake up and find myself in Los Angeles?

"Dad!" Lyta's smile was genuine and she threw herself into her father's arms.

"How's my little engineer?" Kevin's voice was soft and full of warmth and humor.

"I do wish you wouldn't encourage her, Kevin. Heaven knows if it wasn't for you she would have been married long ago. But know that she has found a doctor, once they marry I am sure she will give up this foolish nonsense of a career and settle down. Tell me more about your job Joesph." Catherine linked her arm through Joe's and headed into the dining room. "Lyta has told us you cut up dead bodies, but I am sure you are responsible for much more than that."

And I'm sure I've asked her more than once not to call me Joseph, Joe thought. Although I suppose it's better than listening to her try to pronounce Joichi.

Looking behind him, Joe noticed Lyta glaring at the two of them, hands clenched at her side and grinding her teeth. Her father touched her arm, and whispered something to her. Lyta relaxed and smiled up at her father. The two turned and headed for the secondary workshop.

Well, it looks like the two of them are going to be enjoying themselves, at least, Joe thought, ruefully watching his fiancée disappear into the back room. Mr. Forrester mentioned that he'd be interested in seeing some of my designs in structural engineering based on insect biomechanics. I wonder if I'll get the chance to show them to him.

"Why don't you show me the kitchen, Joseph. Lyta tells us that you are a good cook. Lord knows you'll have to be. Lyta could burn water. She never would learn the proper things. I do apologize for failing to provide you with a proper wife Joseph, but I am sure you will teach her all the things she needs to know to do her job properly."

"Now, now." Joe smiled, although inside he was beginning to seethe a bit at all the mentions of "proper wifely duty." Didn't she care that Lyta was happy, doing what she wanted to do? What was with all this domesticity garbage? "Our household is quite egalitarian, actually, and Lyta has learned quite a tasty selection of recipes…"

Joe chatted on desperately, trying to keep his future mother-in-law from interjecting any more banal reflections on the proper married relationship.

When they reached the kitchen, Catherine walked around, inspecting it was all Joe could think of. Well, he thought, I suppose she can do whatever she wants, as long as she doesn't get in the way. Moving briskly, he flicked on the gas burners and tossed a quick drop of oil onto the skillet. As he turned to retrieve the batter and a bottle of okonomiyaki sauce from the refrigerator, he felt a hand patting his bottom.

Joe straightened up quickly, nearly banging his head on the freezer door handle, his heart pounding. What the hell was that all about? His right hand had already started in a vicious downward knife-hand block; at the last second he caught himself and pretended he had just lost his grip on the bottle momentarily. He quickly set the bowl and bottle on the countertop, narrowly missing burning his hand on the rapidly-heating skillet.

"Are you Catholic, Joseph? Lyta wouldn't tell us. And I wholeheartedly disapproved of the two of you living together." She was eyeing Joe again, slowly inspecting every inch of his frame. "However, I suppose you needed a head start on teaching her to be a proper wife. It is so good to finally have a son-in-law, and a handsome one at that."

Okay, that's it. Joe's slowly-growing annoyance finally boiled over.

"Mrs. Forrester, would you please wait here for a moment? Please, have a seat." Joe motioned at one of the kitchen chairs as he dashed into the bedroom. Come on, come on, where is the damn thing? he thought impatiently as he rummaged through his closet. Okay, so I haven't used in years and years, but I never tossed it or sold it. Aha!

With a tight, triumphant grin, Joe returned to the kitchen, confronting Mrs. Forrester's surprised glare with a slightly dusty black leather bag. "I appreciate your concern for the likely source of your grandchildren's genetic material, and I feel that I have been remarkably compliant in your multiple attempts to physically verify to your satisfaction that I am a reasonably healthy specimen. Therefore, I must request that you return the favour and allow me the same liberty, as you are the source of the other half of my future children's chromosomes." Joe flipped open the catch on his old medical bag and extracted his stethoscope. "Are we understanding each other here?"

Mrs. Forrester continued to glare at him for a few moments and then smiled. "I knew there would be more benefits to having a doctor as a son-in-law. Do we have time before supper, or shall you give me an examination after?"

Well, Joe surmised, with any luck she got the point, and was just trying to save face. That's fine, I'll just play along with her and maybe she'll start to behave. "Well, we wouldn't have time to do a really thorough job before dinner, so I think it'll have to be some other time."

Some other time, much, much later, Joe added silently.

Supper was an interesting affair, with Mrs. Forrester doing most of the talking. Her conversation covered a wide range of grievances including grandchildren again, Lyta not sitting up straight, and wasn't it fortunate that Lyta had found such a good cook and such a handsome young man. Kevin talked around her, asking Joe questions about the city. Near the end of the meal, Mrs. Forrester started an argument between Lyta and herself by suggesting that her and Mr. Forrester move to New London. Unfortunately, Lyta won with the prize being that they would come down for Christmas.

As Lyta helped clear the supper dishes, Mrs Forrester stood up. "Well, Joseph, where do you want to do this?"

Everyone stopped in mid stride and looked at Joe.

Damn! Joe nearly dropped his plate. On the spot again!

Lyta arched an eyebrow. "Well…?"

Joe grinned weakly. "Well, there was the question of a physical exam…"

Lyta looked at Joe as if he had grown a second head. But he was saved from answering by Kevin breaking in. "Not tonight Catherine, it is late and I am very tired."

"But Kevin, a free examination…"

"I am leaving, Catherine." Kevin suited words to actions and headed for the door.

Mrs. Forrester hesitated and then clucking to herself kissed them both goodnight and headed for the door. As Mrs. Forrester walked toward their rental car, Kevin turned to Joe.

"I've watched you tonight, son. You handled yourself well, not many people can do that with Catherine," he smiled softly at Lyta and hugged her, "and not many people love my daughter as much as you do. I am happy to finally meet you."

He shook Joe's hand and kissed Lyta on the forehead. Joe heard him mutter to her, "You picked a good one, L.E."

As they drove off, Lyta leaned against Joe's chest, "You promised to give my mother a free examination?"

"Well, in a way." Joe looked into her eyes and smiled impishly. "I mean, she kept on poking me and running her hands all over me and everything, so I thought it was only fair. And anyway, sweetie, what I didn't tell her was that, yes, I'll do the examination for free, but if she wants to know the results, she'll have to pay for it."

May 26, 2000, at that moment. Police Headquarters

The police station was busy and Zoe closed the door of her small office with a sigh of relief. Why didn't I go into private practice, she thought with her head in her hands. Why was it that people fell on one of two ways of thinking about her line of work. Either she was a crack pot or could pull miracles out of a hat. The man they had brought in should be in a hospital. A classic case of combat fatigue from his time in 'Nam. Still, that bit about the spirit plunging to earth yelling Geronimo could have been a meta. Maybe I should find out more about this case, she frowned into the desk. A bottle of Clearly Canadian came into her view.

"Looks like you need it."

Zoe's eyes light up as she raised her head, fingering the cold bottle covered with beads of condensation, she smiled. Sitting on the edge of her desk was a six foot, blonde blue eyed man, wearing only a black shirt which highlighted his chest and arms and tan dockers. His gun was slung in a shoulder holster. Terry Gear smiled down at her.

"Need to talk about it?"

"Actually," Zoe sighed and smiled at him again, "I need to get out of here and do something fun tonight. These last few cases have been the pits! If this keeps up, I'll end up being the patient!" she half-joked.

"That latest post-combat case does however warrant further investigation—there's something different about him. Might even be a meta."

"DragonHeart is playing at the Odeon. Or we could go to Oceanview Center."

"Oceanview sounds great. I think a nice evening walk on the beach would be the best cure right now."

She smiled, feeling relieved as she imagined a relaxing evening at Oceanview. Sitting back as she took a drink of the Clearly Canadian. Looking a little less frazzled from a long day, she smiled at Terry again. "Raspberry—my favorite! You always know how to make a girl's day."

"I do my best ma'am," he smiled, tipping an imaginary hat. "Give me a half hour and then I'm off shift."

May 26, 2000, Midnight. The beaches of Oceanview

The moon was half full and glittered off the water. The surf made a rhythm in the night as it washed up along the sand then fell back. The couple walked along the water's edge, occasionally straying into the swell. They laughed as they walked, talking quietly. They walked side by side rarely touching and then only to steady the other to fresh bursts of laughter.

God I needed this night as much as Zoe did, Detective Terry Gear thought to himself as they dropped into one of their comfortable silences. We both have been working too hard. With an effort he pushed thoughts of work away.

Zoe glanced sideways at Terry and recognized the look on his face. Oh no, she thought, this is a non-working night. Reaching out she gave him a playful shove, which caused her take a step backwards. The ocean swelled as if it had been waiting for just such a mistake and the surf swirled around her legs, pulling her backward into its wet embrace.

Before fear had a chance to set in, strong hands grabbed her and pulled her to safety. She gripped Terry's shirt feeling her heart pound, from somewhere she dragged up a shaky laugh.

Terry chuckled with her and gave her arms a quick rub. As his hands did the same for her back, she leaned her head on his chest. Terry froze, feeling her breath through his shirt, her body heat through her light dress.

Zoe felt the difference in the way Terry held her and looked up. Laughter died in her throat as her eyes met his.

They stared at each other of what seemed an eternity. Zoe's lips parted and a random thought floated through her mind. He's going to kiss me.

Terry tore his eyes from hers and took a step away. "You have to be more careful, Zoe." Inside, his mind went in circles. What the hell was that?

Zoe felt a vague sense of disappointment move through her, a sudden chill caught her and she hugged herself.

Trying to restore conversation, Zoe asked, "So, have you thought much about the future—I mean, do you know where you want your career to go? Is your job what you expected?" Immediately, she chided herself, Dumb question, girl! Especially that bit about the future—he's really going to get the wrong idea. Her eyes moved to the uneven patterns in the sand.

Terry cleared his throat and began walking. "I like what I am doing now. I know that sounds callous, I mean I enjoy that I can put some of these sic… ahem, people in jail."

"What about you?" he asked, pointing up at her car, angling his walk toward it. "I know you always wanted to help people and the criminal mind fascinates you as much as it does me. But are you happy, Zoe? We haven't had much time to talk lately. What with the Johnson case and all."

As they climbed up the hill leading to her car, Terry cast her a sideways glance. What are you thinking, Gear, she's like a sister.

Zoe returned his glance with a smile. "You know, I don't really seem to be helping people as much as I thought I would be. By the time I come into the picture, the criminal has already been brought to justice and then I end up spending my time finding out why the person performed such awful acts. I wish I could play more of a preventative role, possibly even finding a way to cure the criminal mind before something bad happens. Such an approach could really make a difference, given that the majority of so-called patients that come my way are recidivists. Unfortunately, such preventative action is more of a dream than possible reality." She stopped walking and looked at Terry more intently. "I just want do anything possible to help keep innocents like my brother from becoming senseless victims, especially at the hands of over-powered metas."

"Uh oh. We're talking about work again," she says with a half-smile. "Why do we do this to ourselves? Sometimes I wonder if I really do it because I care so much about people I don't know, or if it's just because I'm scared of losing people I care about, like my brother."

"Maybe I need to get away from it all for awhile. Any ideas on where I could go for a vacation? Something different… I've been to Vienna and Paris, so maybe somewhere tropical. I'm not sure, but I have plenty of time to plan. I probably won't be able to get away until this Fall, but it can't hurt to dream—it really helps when you know something special is coming up."

Terry sighed as he slid into the passenger seat. "Vacation? What are those doc?"

They drove in silence for the a while. Eventually Zoe reached down and turned on the radio. They listened as the local late night talk DJ, took calls on the Blanchard Kidnapping. Zoe looked over at Terry as she pulled into her security building. She waved to the security guard as he punched open the garage door.

Terry got out of the car and unlocked his bike. As if feeling the weight of her stare, Terry sighed again and looked at her, his eyes troubled.

"I'm worried about Sam. She gets morose every year about this time. But lately, she seems to be getting more so. I. I'm afraid she might do something drastic. But she won't talk to me."

Zoe had met Samantha only a few times.

What is it about Sam that Terry keeps locked up inside? Zoe wondered silently.

She moved closer and touched her hand to his arm. "I have a good ear that cares. Do you want to talk about it?" she asked with a very sympathetic look of concern.

A look of indecision crossed his face, standing up quickly, he shook his head. "Thank you, no. I made a promise. I'll see you tomorrow, if I don't get going now I'll never get home."

Zoe watched as Terry walked his bike to the gate, spoke to the security guard and waved good-bye to her. She frowned. That was the first time in a long time that Terry had not insisted that he walk her to her door.

I sure hope it's not something really serious. God, I wish he'd open up about Samantha! Something about her is very wrong.