2010-07-01: The Inquiry, Part 4





Date: July 1st, 2010


The first cut is the deepest.

"The Inquiry, Part 4"

Trenton Worksite

Monday, June 28th

Though warm in weather, the day's been plagued by constant threat of storm and now, plunging towards night, the temperature blissfully drops but the thick grey clouds mute the sky, releasing tense droplets in unpredictable patterns across the city. But never a real break in the atmosphere, building mass of moisture in the air — no storm — just a waiting game. A want for release.

A few people pick across the narrow streets in the backs of the burroughs, minding their own business with heads down and jackets drawn. Among them, seemingly as anonymous as the other turned away faces, strolls Laurie in mild imitation of the masses. His thick black jacket is long, hanging past his waist, and one that absorbs any falling water quite completely — as it's done in the past. The collar opens just slightly at the top for a hint of white against blue — a dress shirt — and the swinging bottom of the coat brushes against jeans to tennis shoes. Casual side of business casual. Just right for walking home: which is, indeed, the direction that he begins to turn with each passing corner and block he gets closer and closer to the apartment given to him by those who have been dictating his schedule lately.

Though it's not, interestingly enough, the people to whom he dials as he cuts another corner, hopping a step down from the sidewalk and into the street without a glance for possible cars around. As the phone presses to his ear, he passes under a make-shift overhang and into a large, abandoned for the night, construction site. Each of its mostly unfinished walls have been covered haphazardly with tarps that flutter like living creatures in the growing darkness. Laurie's steps crunch loudly and alone in the quiet that swims up once away from the streets.

"… … Remember— I believe in you." Click as the phone hangs up, though his thumb lingers on the button.

She's on the roof. Of course, there's a reason for that, as Mandy always has a reason. Like a spider, she can hide in the nooks and cracks in the city where no one would think to search for her. How many spiders go their whole lives without ever being seen by a human eye? She has resources. Her technological prowess is second to none, and it was easy enough to find her name if she knew where to look. A coward? Her? Dark eyes narrow as she drops from the top of the building, landing quietly, almost as if landing on a pillow of air, behind Laurie.

A blade presses ever-so-pointedly to the small of his back. "Did you ever think about what you wanted to do before you died? Raise a family, plant a garden, get fat and old? All you had to do was leave me the hell alone." Mandy shakes her head. "Now it's personal. Always thought - hoped - you'd be the one. Does this hurt, Laurence?" The tip of the knife presses through his clothing, touching his skin, drawing the smallest drop of blood. "It's going to get worse. You're going to beg me to end it, but I won't."

She makes her point; blades are quite good at that. Fingers on the phone in his palm drift downwards to the numbers they had just been on. A quiet, understated motion, though it stands out as the only one Laurie makes as he contemplates that sharp pressure at his back. Statements she makes, questions, they flutter by into the abandoned air. It's not until she draws blood, that first hint, that he tips his head every so slightly to the side to try and get a look at her there: some glimpse in his periphery of hair or face. "You're going to… beg me to end it," he muses, copying her delivery in his lower timbre, "Now that's cliche. Always hoped you'd be the more creative one. But you're not really that special after all, are you?" A finger depresses against the first number to dial.

"It's not cliche," she says quietly, a hint of amusement in her voice. There's a pause. "Okay, I guess it is, but there's a reason things are cliche, isn't there?" The knife digs just a little deeper. "Because I'm a psychopath, because I'm dangerous, because there's… always… a… bad guy." A little deeper. "I like to hear them beg. Do you know what I am? I'm the future of the human race." She pulls out the knife, and in its place, she slips her hand through the hole she made in his clothing, and touches skin. Where she touches, it burns. Badly. And it's not just because of the fact that he's cut. "They call me evolved. I could reach through your skin and crush your spine. But you know what? For all you put me through, I'm gonna make this nice and slow and traditional. So here's what you're gonna do, Laurence Miles."

For a brief moment, there's no contact. It's like she's disappeared. And then, something very hard hits Laurie across the back of the head, with considerable force.

Laurie remains still to the knife's touch, almost oblivious; he indulges a chuckle as she waxes on 'because's. "Putting yourself— in a bit of a box, aren't we?" The rest is accepted with a noise of interested listening. It's when she actually removes the knife's feel that his body imperceptibly tenses for something, expectant to the point that a touch of the hand is possibly strange — until that burn. The slight turn of his head reverses, following the tightening of his jaw. But no noise, not even a hiss or hitch of breath to reward the pain. Again, there's that moment where she's moved away and he shifts, "You should know I— "

Thdddd A thick impact. Body crumpling forward, slightly twisted, all of the tension vanishes with consciousness. Hands slacken at this sides, letting his phone slip through fingers to tumble in rejection to the gravelly ground.

Awareness returns first — not completely — but enough for Laurie to process that he's horizontal before his eyes open to a sideways view of the site: a workman's table, hammer left out of the toolbox near it, the tarp beyond, always fluttering. A breath. Then the uncomfortableness begins to trickle in. Tightness against his middle is rope, the thick prickly material already scratching as hands twist experimentally behind him, getting a picture of binding around wrists, arms. His shoulder already hates the position, the amateur stitches not quite getting the job done. That drumbeat in the back of his head from what was likely a very hard blow isn't exactly helpful, either…

Mandy is nearby. She's patient when it comes to things like this, as being here makes it all the more rewarding when he opens his eyes. Seeing movement, she appears before him, crouching down and turning her head sideways so that she meets him eye to eye momentarily.

She knows this guy. Took her awhile to remember him, but she did - the guy from the lake. The one who shot her, then saved the detective bitch who'd been on her case. "So what can I say that isn't boxed in?" she asks. "I guess shit like 'I remember you,' or 'I owe you one' are out, aren't they?" She holds the knife in front of his face before planting a foot on his shoulder - the injured one - and flipping him onto his back.

Meanwhile, a shadow is moving over the sun.

Straddling the man, she presses the tip of the knife to his cheek and makes a very rapid downward slice to his jawline. "I could just burn your face off. Sometimes this is just more satisfying."

"They're not out if you want to use them. We've already lowered expectations, haven't we." A flare of protest from that laboring injury when Laurie's body twists to meet Mandy's foot's demand — nothing from Laurie, himself, as his back plants against that dirty, dusty construction floor, weight trapping his hands underneath him and squashing much chance of movement. But he still works his palms against the ground where he can. Leverage, as she adds to the weight with her own.

Head back, he can look her right in the eye as the knife first touches down, but it instinctively drops some, minutely following the draw of the blade. Blood wells swiftly to the surface, forming a thick line that holds for one surreal moment before beginning to trickle downwards. "Quite a personal attack. The face." His jaw moves with the speech, working the bottom of the cut she just made.

Mandy smiles. On a normal face, it would almost look pleasant, but on hers, it's sort of deranged. After that, she doesn't initially respond to Laurie… She just picks the knife up, puts the blade down in the wound she just made, and trails it through the already ravaged skin. She plays with the trickling blood with the cold metal, drawing little patterns on her captive's cheek.

"I don't need you to talk. I don't need anything from you. All this is very personal, but even if it wasn't…" The blade finds brand new home on Laurie's forehead, and then, with a single ripping movement, she takes it across the bridge of his nose and to the opposite cheek. "Was goin' for an eye there. Looks like you got lucky that time."

Reactions otherwise hidden to sight are communicated easier to Mandy; by sitting on him, she is privileged to Laurie tensing at her second ministrations to the freshly bleeding wound. His hands hold in place beneath him, but similarly bound feet move, also getting a good brace against the floor to the tune of her playful movements. "If it wasssssn't— " A bit of a clenched jaw locks his words into a hiss at the second strike along nose, but the sentiment recovers quickly, "You wouldn't be trapped by this ritual."

The spared eye begins to narrow, reflexively, as blood from the cheek threatens to travel towards it. Through this, he masters the observant tone so dry and curious it's drastically disconnected from the gruesome happenings even as they occur simultaneously. "… But you do, don't you? Need. You've always needed. Messages, by their very nature, are sent to be heard."

This guy's actually pretty clever. She thinks about what he's saying, even as she enjoys his pain, and the subtle reactions from it. "I'm using you, though. I mean, there's nothing in here…" The blade presses against his temple and she spins it, digging into soft, sensitive flesh, "that I need. So from you, no, I don't need a thing. But you'll be a message, yeah. Just like your pretty bitch. The one who was supposed to drown. How's she doing, by the way?" Mandy smirks. "Haven't seen her around lately. She hiding under the bed?"

Removing the knife from Laurie's poor, abused capillaries, which are now bleeding quite profusely, Mandy does what every deranged murderer ever has done. She licks the knife. She just wouldn't be insane without adding that bit of disgust to this conversation. "So it'd still be cliche if I took an ear, yeah?" She presses the tip of the knife to his lips. "How 'bout I take your tongue? I'll even have it framed. C'mon. Open up for Miss Mandy." Spinning the knife again, she literally tries to drill through Laurie's lips.

An eyebrow twitches down, conveniently the same one so close to the bleeding temple, but it does so in thought — confusion. Bitch? Bitch? He can't quite place it— ohh. A bit of a realizing 'ah' from Laurie, affected revelation as to who Mandy must be referring to when it comes to drowning. "Our mutual acquaintance," he describes, "Seems to think she's coming after you." It'd be hard to miss the squinting, disaffected expression as she gets to licking but for the same blood still covering him — the idea that he's only hurting himself more making these looks for her.

When knife touches lips, he breathes in through his nose, the rest unmoving. Eyes challenging. Then she twists — and so does he. Palms against the ground, feet braced against the ground, he bucks to displace her, the knife, her grip on it entirely if she's not too careful. "Ah, ah, ah," daring to chastise like he owns the situation around fluid, swelling, and the threat of tongue-loss, "But then how will we banter?"

The move was hard, though. Shoulder rebounded, and the shifting of Mandy seems to agitate another old story; his chest stutters on his next breath.

Mandy simply laughs, shaking her head. "So far, there's no one even remotely worthy of catching me. I'll say, she came close. So did you, actually." A pause, and she shakes her head. "I'm starting to think that— " She's cut off by the abruptness of Laurie's retaliation, rolling across the floor. The blade of the knife, sharper than it ever needed to be, slices into her arm. That? Just makes her angry.

"You little fuck," she hisses, crawling back toward the knife, gripping its handle with a white-knuckled hold as blood drips to the floor. The first few drops hiss and sputter as they hit concrete as if they're made of acid. The next ones do not.

But that doesn't matter now that Mandy has the knife in her hand again. She kneels on Laurie's chest. The only thing preventing his sternum from breaking is the layer of rope there, but his face…

She slashes at it, again and again, sometimes feeling the ripping of flesh, and sometimes hitting only air. The point is, she wants him to pay.

Laurie slithers a few inches to the side and back, but it's mostly readjusting — and nothing that seems to matter as Mandy's fury, and knee, descend. Cut and cut again open, blooming red in vicious criss-cross patterning that appears delayed as the skin reacts slower than she attacks. As one swell of blood comes to fruition, another tear is already appearing.

Blue eyes roll towards his forehead, neck pulled tight with every muscle, and shoulders squeezed to the ground. His hands twist, bones in the wrist cracking with strain as the rope creates a smear of angry welts of its own.

Yet the sheer violence of the knife is secondary to this other event: this bruising pressure against his chest. Rib-cage groaning, a point other than the one Mandy wields wiggles its way against bone. Pushing, pushing. It's with breathing that he struggles, even more than each lancing, slicing effect.

When she finally grows tired of slashing his face again and again, she wraps her fingers in his hair and jerks his head up so she can stare at him. "Look at me, asshole." Her own blood drips down her arm from a rather deep gash, but she doesn't pay it any attention at the moment. "That little maneuver you just did? Last fucking thing you're ever gonna do. And after I kill you? I'm going to rip off your head and stick it on a fence post outside the fucking police station for the world to see. Think she'll cry?" Her smile is wild. There's nothing sane in her expression at all. "You know what's just too bad for you? That she isn't here to save you like you were there to save her."

Releasing his hair, she allows his head to drop back down to the cement, and then she presses her thumbs against his eyes. What she expects to happen is that she'll melt right through them and into his brain. What actually ends up happening is…


Removing her hand, she tries again. Nothing. "Fuck this," she mutters, picks up the knife, and rests the point right between the man's eyes. "Goodbye, Laurence."

Even when his head drops, just a bruise on another bruise that could hardly matter in this exact moment, she's granted all the eye contact she wanted. Her thumbs only briefly darken those bright blues as they stare out amongst blood and scarred tissue. Laurie's focus falters not — not for anything — not even the knife's resting point as it cuts that gaze in half with the finality of her declaration. Breathe in, breathe out. And his eyes only dare the threat to go through.

But just then, into the moment, comes a rattle. Those tarps that are always fluttering shudder aside. A Tink, tink…

Movement is instantaneous. Before the second metallic ding has time to fully be realized into the space, Laurie heaves his stomach upward, tempting the knife further, but opening up just enough space for his arms to fly out from under him — rope scattering with a few fierce struggles. His grip immediately envelops hers on the weapon handle, shoving down with full-force in the most natural direction for her arms to go. First, the knife digs right into his own skin even as he jerks his head to the side to avoid the worst — but one slip of blade between the eyes is scant to the collection already bleeding — and the end of the motion is the prize.

Directed by her own started movement, and his push, Mandy's knife swings around at her, burying greedily into the thick of her thigh, pining for all those precious tendons and muscles with its morbid sharpness.

And, as it does, the stun grenade goes off with a brilliant pop-BANG lighting up the vicinity with its shocking attack of disorientation and blindness.

The flash is only disorienting for those inside. Outside, it's provides the opportunity for footsteps to enclose on the site beneath the noise of the pop-BANG, for the dark-uniformed, heavily armed bodies to use the easy access of the tarps to barge in the second the blinding light clears.

There's no such thing as overkill when it comes to pursuing a serial killer of Larson's caliber: the SWAT team means to vastly out-number and out-weapon her. The out-smarting has — one can hope — already been taken care of. As they march and come to a halt, running out in a circle around the figures of Mandy, and by proxy, Laurie, their weapons are drawn. All is loud even after the grenade. Shouts of "don't move don't move!!" among others fill the air.

Behind them: a few members of the NYPD, headed (by sheer will, rather than orders) by Detective Powers, her own weapon held at the length of a strong arm and one for support. Her expression is fierce, even sharper with her hair scraped away from her face and tied, but she's focused under pressure, trying to get a clear picture of the scene. She's fitted in an NYPD bulletproof vest in police blue, with barely enough time to have strapped it on over her lighter blue blouse; but it's secure. She comes to a halt behind SWAT.

Time doesn't actually slow down. Mandy doesn't see everything in slow motion like people say happens when their plans get all screwed up. She should have taken it as a warning when her attempt to melt through Laurie's eyes failed, but she just had to take it further. Had to leave him dead.

Her other hand rests on the pommel of the knife and she's just about to drive it through his skull like a hammer hitting a chisel when—

The next time she has a conscious thought, she's on the floor and someone is screaming. Less than a second later, she registers that it's her that's screaming, and in the next moment, she feels the pain. Her hands grab for her thigh, feeling the dagger protruding from it. It makes her sick.

For the first time in— god, she doesn't even know how long, Mandy begs. "Don't— don't hurt me. Don't hurt me." Maybe it's instinct more than an earnest plea, but it's there, the words have been said. She can't take them back.

As if that wasn't enough, she has absolutely no time to recover before the grenade robs her of her sight.

She shock of the pain and the dizzying flash are very slowly wearing off to a point where her pleas become more angry - cursing, threatening, "I'll kill you all!" and the like rage from the woman's mouth. She even tries to get up, but that only ends in disaster when she realises she's still not sure what way is up. Then Mandy does something stupid.

She pulls the knife out of her leg. Mandy's will easily matches Maggie's, and she's not going down without a hell of a fight. Yes, she's bringing a dagger to a gunfight, but since she doesn't have a gun, and apparently her ability isn't working, she's going to have to use what she has. If she's on the floor, that means that must be down. Gravity doesn't just reverse itself! And so she hauls herself to her feet. "I'll move if I want to, you— " … insert string of profanity here that isn't appropriate for ANYONE of ANY age…

After the distinctive pop there was only the ringing in Laurie's ears that compensates when all others have been smothered by deafness. Some screaming reaches him, as though from across a great distance, but even before the weight vanished off him, he was moving — tossing himself to the side in a roll that only puts more distance between himself and the murderer when she flails aside from her injury.

Blinking the whitened spots from his eyes takes a bit more than it should, and some haziness remains even as the ground rears up towards his face in startling focus a few seconds later. Splatters of blood rain down, melding into one messy pool when, aiming to catch the breath that seems eternally hung up on his ribs, Laurie instead fiercely hacks up all the liquid that was pooling in his mouth.

Even as this happens, he begins to draw his knees up towards himself as best the stiffness and disoriented waves will let him. The action first requires that he shake out one arm then the other until all the half-stuck rope falls away from his chest and shoulders.

Maggie sidesteps around and past a member of SWAT to be fully in line of Mandy's sight and vice versa. The anger, the yelling, the swearing, none of it changes the intense stare that the detective bears down on the knife-wielding woman; there's already anger in her own eyes, powerful but walled in. It was there before she stepped foot on the site. It's only the movement of Laurie (movement; encouraging) that hedges her attention away from Mandy, stealing a second here and there to quickly check on his position. "What's the matter, Mandy," she says evenly to the murderer, "isn't this what you wanted."

The SWAT team exchanges rapid-fire chatter and gestures before a pair of them try to grab Mandy from behind, going for her arms in an attempt to hold her secure. If it comes to it, their body armor can handle the worst of a few slashes. It's only as they move that Detective Powers (unmoving herself save to keep her weapon aimed, which seems more of a controlled effort than anything else, not rushing in to do SWAT's job) raises her voice, heated as she spits out, "It's game over."

It's not possible for two women to hate each other more at this moment. "You would have made a better Cop-sicle," Mandy says, still brandishing the knife as the ripped artery in her thigh bleeds profusely. "Were you afraid? What was it like, looking up and thinking, 'you know what? I'm never going to see the sky again? I'm going to die right here in this fucking frozen lake'? I wish I could have seen the look on your f-face." Mandy falters, catching herself, but the knife falls out of her grip, clattering to the floor.

There's nothing left to give, there's just no escape. She wants to go down fighting - check mate, game over indeed - but she can't even summon the energy to pull her eyes away from Maggie's. "If you don't kill me now, the game's still on, Maggie," she says, voice raspy as the SWAT members grab her. "Do it while you have the chance. You won't get another."

The knife clatters to the floor — SWAT hauls Mandy back, wrenching her arms behind her back, overcompensating in their numbers as another swoops in to make sure she gets cuffed. Maggie watches every second of it. There's barely a trace of satisfaction to be found in the detective's intent blue stare. She doesn't plan on giving Mandy any satisfaction, either — the questions go unanswered save for a minor twitch of her mouth, a toughening of her features even more.

"No," she states boldly. "I'm making the rules now." Her handgun starts to lower as SWAT seems to have things under control. She's skeptical of whether it's true; her arms don't lower completely. She's at the ready, just in case. Despite her obvious anger — the hate that plays off of Mandy's — Maggie's words are steady, commanding. "You … deserve to live. This is exactly how the game ends. You deserve to be locked away for the rest of your life and live with yourself." The question is, can she stay behind bars? The detective starts to side-step, moving closer to the bloodied man she knows to be her partner, this time without taking her eyes off of Mandy. "Now," she says slowly. "If you manage, to slip those handcuffs— " Or burn through them… " — or find some other way to try to escape — " by burning through her prisons with acid… " — then maybe the rules will change."

Bloodied has become a bit of an understatement when it comes to Laurie, whose efforts to shed the rest of the shredded rope bindings and loose his ankles are both aided and hindered by the man approaching in the bright, medical uniform. Kept at the back of the line until the scene was deemed safe, the EMTs rush in now, goaded by the sight of all that blood around — most of it originating from the consultant's well-marked face, though a cut here and there bothers his wrists where the bindings were also sliced. His own knife — one Maggie's actually been friendly with before — sits on the ground by the unorganized pile of rope, bloodied just the same.

There's gloved hands at his face, his back, pressing urges on sore shoulders that he accommodate himself onto the stretcher for immediate attention. But Laurie's nothing if not… a bad patient. With a hand out-stretched, he wards the EMT off to wait, 'a moment' by that particular gesture, and he walks stiffly but purposefully to where the rapidly fading Mandy is being restrained. By the same blue eyes that placidly nearly watched her finish him, the sight of the killer in custody is equally absorbed.

A twitch of the lip is more than that; it irritates the hole she drilled there, fresh blood welling next to clots and wetting his lips. "As I was saying…" announced only when he knows Mandy is seeing him there, meeting gazes; though he takes the time to glance to the side and spit a wad of blood that forms awkwardly in the corner of his mouth: "You should know I — called the police."

Maybe this is her time. It's not quite the blaze of glory she wanted - deserved - but maybe all this is over and she can stop being the world's anti-hero. That's what she always imagined herself to be… Everyone has to die sometime. If Mandy didn't do it, something else would. Not only that, but she became addicted to the art, going far too long without it when the Company had her restrained in Level 5.

"Now who's… who's… being cliche?" she asks, looking from Maggie to Laurie. A grin lights on her face. There's no doubt in her mind that she'll escape. She escapes everything. She can't not. "Figure it— Fig— " She breathes deeply, but her head is swimming. "…Power— " She manages, though whether it's an attempt at Maggie's last name or some sort of cry of defeat goes unanswered. Maybe it's both. All she can do with the blood (Or what's left of it, anyway) pounding in her head is laugh. They have no idea what they're up against. "I told you morons. I'm God."

Oddly clear for her state of distress. And yet, after that, her eyes flutter and close, and she says no more.

Maggie is reluctant to leave the murderer alone, even after Mandy goes limp. Of course, she's far from alone at all; there's a veritable swarm of armed law enforcement and men and women in FNDY EMS uniforms around her. Mandy will be highly guarded and restrained even when given medical care. It takes a moment of watching them do their jobs — hauling her off — for Maggie to become halfway convinced that, even though they don't know Larson like she does, they can handle the situation without her interjection. For now.

It's only then that she really gets a good look at Laurie, holstering her weapon while studying his tortured face. Sighing, Maggie's urgency and anger starts to simmer — or at least re-direct — and she shakes her head. He's met with a look full of clear concern — while being exasperated, and in a way, disappointed. For all that, her words are lighter. "What am I gonna do with you."

Attention to his torn appearance can be felt as sharply as the wounds themselves, even as he doesn't immediately return her look. This study he allows for several seconds before: "Cuttin' it a bit close there." Not meant, except as a way to provoke a response, it's spoken clearly in a light-hearted manner. It'd be difficult to find a facial expression behind the violence, but he gives it a gallant effort just for her. "But really, very good at directions…" When she returns in kind, Laurie's eyes do meet hers. Some of that disappointment is reflected in him — though not directed at her — the target of their separate disapproval, perhaps, not so different at all.

"Be annoyed," is the nonjudgmental declaration, "For a little while. Scold — perhaps. Think things you'll never say. Urge me to get the medical care I am currently ignoring." The split lip doesn't just make him speak a bit crooked but forces another gurgle and spit of blood, as though he were at the dentist of everyone's nightmares. Inspired by some morbid curiosity, he reaches up a hand, itself swollen by angry red rope burns, and presses thumb to the extent of the cut ending on his jawline. "Beyond that," glance to Maggie, "I imagine someone soon will have something to say about how very much the answer to that is nothing."

"Sir, please," the EMT hasn't gone far, and now he's brought back-up. And a wad of material to put to all that blood. "You shouldn't be talking. If you'd just— " Step this way, mostly, though the man does begin by getting the closest of Laurie's hands and starting there. Baffled — (yeah right) — Laurie casts another glance over his shoulder at Maggie even as he's urged a few steps away from her. Free hand passes in a circle in front of his face as he mouths the sentiment: //is there something on my— // — searching gestures at the whole, ripped apart features. "Careful," he's heard to say as he turns back to the medical personnel, "I'm very sensitive…"

* * *

The Office of Internal Affairs

July 1st

"You got pretty beat up for your efforts… you put yourself in danger; you collaborated outside of … well, any jurisdiction; you disobeyed the general rules of your operation with the FBI and you blew your cover to a slew of people— you're happy with how the events unfolded?" Hellman asks the latter guardedly. He doesn't want to keep putting words in the guy's mouth, but come on… "Do you feel all this was justified?"

Patient in listening, Laurie's arm has found its way behind his chair again, draping just over the back to grasp his other wrist in support. There's also a bandage here, but this one he doesn't harass, only choosing to tap-tap-tap several times while his mouth twitches in a disappointed quirk at the resulting questions. His first go at answering is reconsidered before it can even become a sound; he shifts forward, sits back. Finally shrugs — lost for words he might have otherwise, this time, said. "None of those things weigh into my conclusion — but if you're asking — I'm satisfied that a killer was stopped and the police were able to avoid violence on both sides."

After a critical nod from Hellman, a hand hovers over the steadily recording device in front of Laurie — but the stop button remains untouched. "I believe you were… both — that is, you and Detective Powers — both approached after the incident by Internal Affairs to discontinue communication until this investigation was complete — it's been brought to our attention that didn't happen… so before we end for the day, Mr. Miles, if — if you're placed back into the field, will this kind of disregard for barriers continue to be a problem?"

* * *

It's perhaps more conspicuous to have two suited men consistently sitting outside the same room with newspapers they aren't quite invested in, but the choice of safety over subtlety was made by a higher power that also demands they check everyone coming through. And they will. Right after the sports section.

The room itself is standard hospital fare, though with only the one bed for added privacy. A bed that currently sits… empty. But only because the errant occupant is standing at its side.

As Maggie enters, Laurie's back is to her — an exposed back, laying plain a puckered spot near the shoulder the detective is quite intimate with, and now a pattern of angry red skin, the slick sheen of the burn at the small of his back that tattoos him with several fingerprints. The sight's there — glaring at her — before the light fall of fabric from Laurie dropping the shirt that he'd been pulling over his head. It isn't one of his; breezy, loose-fitting, it's hospital garb and it hangs purposefully so as not to graze the wound that it now hides. Pants are also little more than sleepwear, a tie around the top sitting them loosely around his hips.

But he's up and at 'em despite wardrobe — the couple of machines near the head of the bed bleating uselessly. And at the suggestion of disturbance in the room, his face — stitched up like a patchwork quilt — tips just ever so slightly towards his shoulder, and her.

In the short time it takes for Laurie to acknowledge her presence, Maggie has shut the door behind her, gotten a good (if quick) look at damage new and old, and come to a halt between the entrance and the hospital bed. "I'm surprised you're actually still here." It seems the guards don't factor in, nor the various parties who likely want Laurie to stay put — her surprise is legitimate despite them.

The detective takes a small step, observing the somehow unlikely patient reticently; she folds her arms, holding her badge in one hand, pressed now against her bicep. It was her ticket in, no doubt. "It looks like run-ins with Larson always put one of us in hospital clothes," she says, her tone joking but falling slightly flat. Unpleasant. "She's sedated," she says informatively instead. "Hopefully for a long time." There's a tense and barricaded quality to her normally open stare — stalling, and thinking things she doesn't say, as Laurie so recently called out. So she offers a reserved: "How are you?"

"I'm here for the food." Whether a legitimate joke or a deflection, it's stated too neutrally to commit to much, as he slides a foot to the side in preparation for a turn without continuing the motion right away. Laurie stays facing the neatly made bed a moment longer. Information on Mandy is what motivates him, slipping in a circle to be face to face with the detective. He isn't exactly pleased, isn't exactly annoyed. Really, emotions already difficult to pry from him are damaged goods inside the tight stitching of cuts that give his face new lines.

If he knew she would be holding back, he surely knows it now. No prompting comes forth, but he does put his also wrapped hands down on the edge of the bed and ease himself into a half-hearted seated position, even when this contradicts his reply: "I'm on my way out."

Though, framed as it is by the consultant in uncharacteristic hospital wear, unusually sensible setting — that bland tone — it's vague enough to, perhaps, not mean the door at all.

Vague enough for Maggie to, with some concern, make her way over to the bedside. She stands there in limbo, as unconvinced that he's not going to get up and leave as she is unconvinced that he's not going to, say, pass out. She's against both. "Don't go anywhere yet," she tells him, a command without aggression, though her eyes break their barrier to flash with a hint of antagonism anyway. Her arms unfold only to angle behind her as her hands, badge included, tuck into her back pockets. Despite the anchored position, restlessness wins through, elbows moving this way and that as her hands shift about and hook on various parts of her jeans. "Miles, you were lucky to come out of that alive— "

His scar-framed gaze follows her to where she plants nearby, edging a bit along the bed in order to give her all the room she may need. It's Laurie's only adjust; so far, there's no springing for the door now that she's not there by it. The command is, in the now, heeded. Exaggeration he usually wields softens, in some unexpected regard for the material holding his face together, but that only removes the playfulness and leaves the airy uncaring: the suggestion that nothing is quite so serious as Maggie would like to make it sound. "Correct," the only split that still gets stretched is the one on his lip, "That is one way to look at it."

Eventually, Laurie's uncaring attitude only prompts the opposite in Maggie. She observes him quietly, her calculating of becoming more obvious as a frown pulls tensely across her lips in a frustrated fashion. And then—

The woman's right hand, that had found its way to a belt loop, now flies up to point at the stitched-up man, never staying still, sharp and fierce in the sedate hospital room. "No," her voice starts to raise, insistent, serious because it is serious— "if I hadn't followed your directions, if we had been any later in getting there, you would likely be dead, and— " if that's not enough for him, " — Larson would be in the wind." Maggie's voice slowns down. Marginally. "Don't get me wrong, I am glad that we got her. For now, we have her, she's safely out of the way — for now — but Miles— "

All the finger waving in the world doesn't budge Laurie from his stance once he's gotten arms loose across his chest, head tilted slightly downwards at her. Having shifted forward once to get his ankles also crossed, he's now the picture of relaxation — at least in body. Nothing at all seems to be enough, because nothing at all stops him from regarding her with what is visibly falling estimation. The dismissive sniff, wrinkling nose and the diagonal cut across it, is his equivalent of but it didn't. And, as she slows, he does affect something more animated to echo: "But Powers…"

It might be hard to say whether Laurie's echo cuts Maggie off, or if she cuts herself off before she assails him with more words, but the result is the same: her hands jolt and splay in the air and clutch nothing, Laurie is given the most frustrated of grimaces, and she spins around to face entirely away from him. Their poses could not be any more opposite. She paces away and levels an firm stare over her shoulder. It considers, for a moment; but whatever thoughts pass hidden through her mind, they don't hold her back.

"I came to you because I wanted your help," she starts in again, picking up more intense than when she left off. Word by word Maggie starts to turn, back around, returning to point at Laurie. It's more than likely that anyone in the hall can hear the detective's rare shouts. "So that we could do this, put Larson away. Together, both of us. Not for you to trick me with fake plans on top of fake plans. It gets the same result," an especially punctuated point jabs the air, "but it is not the same thing."

The anger is spark — a flash before it's controlled to a simmering ember.

Purposefully, with only seconds passing, Maggie sits down on the edge of the hospital bed beside Laurie, staring him down all the while without pause. "When you're going to run off, and do something reckless," she says levelly, but with no less intensity. "At least … tell me, so I can get your back."

It'd be redundant to describe for each act of Maggie's how nothing on Laurie changes — instead, a lump sum; he barely bats an eye. This isn't to say that he isn't paying attention, as his focus is both patient and sincere throughout without a flinch to say he's moved to react poorly to her — also predicted — scolding.

When her place becomes next to his, his lips tug automatically to a smile he has to contain, leaving just a subtle reaction easily missed, then, in the companion move of his hand up to his jaw. There's more stubble there than ever, barely shaped, and now interrupted by that longest cut right through. Idly, he rubs a thumb against his mouth, giving his words a good think. "You should probably know… that I will always be running off. And doing something reckless." As the smile surfaces, it's a new note: pitying.

"And you're right," when he turns his head away from her, the smile's vanished for, not seriousness, but more of that casual honesty. On the beat of his words, he undoes his arms' posture and slaps hands decisively against his legs. "That was a dick move, and I did it. Leading you around is an insult to your work and your intelligence, both of which I have experienced great admiration for."

A lean to the side is prelude to pushing away from the bed, but that doesn't quite come to fruition. Angled away from her, he lifts the closest hand in open-palmed surrender. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," the hand comes in, scratches under his nose, falls to his side; "But I'm not sorry you didn't know."

For all his readied answer might seem, tailed on the end with a wordless so there it is, he's not mocking her, sounding put-out or forced, nor saying these things simply to appease. Or — if he is — he's very good at pretending he's not.

Maggie takes it all in with the calm, observant silence she's more known for above the burst of shouts that have passed, though it's beneath knitted brows. She's nearly unblinking until, when Laurie seems to have finished, she looks down, grabbing the edge of the mattress and easing ahead, shifting plain black boots, too dusty to fit in with the antiseptic-looking state of the room, against the floor as if preparing to stand, too. She doesn't, either. A little twitch of something passes her lips — a smile, a frown, it doesn't form.

"I had my suspicions when you started talking about bait," Maggie then states without ego; but what her voice does hold is a soft touch of warning. She looks over only after the fact. He's right, she's intelligent. So: "Next time," she begins — since he will always be running off and doing something reckless, "You tell me." With that, she pushes her way into a stand and makes her way toward the door.

* * *

Laurie pulls in, tugging his jacket around him, bringing arms down and uncrossing legs for a grand finale push to his feet as soon as there's even a suggestion that Hellman's going for the recorder. When he pauses, Laurie doesn't quite; he fixes here and there a stray wrinkle before addressing this final issue. Before answering, he reaches, hand sliding right underneath Hellman's, to claim that button for his own control. Eyes lock across the way. "I will continue to do whatever task assigned me to the very extent to which it requires and with all of my abilities. For the record." click — stopped. The whirring halts abruptly. "Unofficially."

The line drawn, he reaches behind him for the chair only to navigate around it, taking firm steps to the door that he opens now himself without the escort.

A pause.

A bit of a smile trails underneath stubble and scars.

"And that's the truth."

* * *


One room. Two benches. No escape.

… At least in theory. For the two people meant to be in this room, leaving now might have even worse consequences than going through with their purpose for being here.

The fluorescent light above is half-broken, but the room is otherwise … tidy. Small, dim, the tan walls don't offer much to look at, for those meant to wait here. It's definitely meant for that function: waiting, with an entrance on one side, and on the other, a hall running crosswise with doors to offices along it, which, so far, all remain closed with sounds of business — muffled talking, hums of computers — behind them. All in all, however, it's very quiet. Too quiet applies.

In the center of one bench — facing the other — is Maggie. She looks slightly less prepared to go running around out on the field today; that is, her wardrobe is not vastly changed, but her black slacks are very slightly dressy, the high-waisted belt polished and the gunmetal grey blouse tucked in. At present, she's stoically watching the hallway. As it turns out, this is a minor hiatus from reading the hardcover novel she has situated on one knee of her crossed legs. Her attention, calmly, goes back to the poorly lit words; she doesn't seem initially bothered by the wait or her particular reason for being here. Every so often, though, one of her fingers tap-tap-taps against the upper corner of the book's cover.

Perhaps not so quiet.

Once in a while, a spark of noise opposite Maggie disturbs that atmosphere. Fantastical, whimsical and wild — whistling.

Each trill tests the limits of the red healing marks not too soon to leave Laurie's face, now in the stages of being watched for infection, they seem to be behaving behind new, less brightly colored, stitches. With each random burst of note-making, his eyes wander to the door or the hallway or even the ceiling, but — disjointed noises turning Mozartian briefly — this doesn't seem to be an exercise in boredom. Not expressly.

The occasion has brought about no grand transformation in the consultant; his hair's been given a slight trim, but that only makes it stand up in an unruly fashion. Otherwise his palette is just on the color side of neutral. Blue shirt, dark jacket, the darkest yet in pants whose finer qualities are thrown off some with their cuffs falling over the sides of worn sneakers. By the way he sits — nearly straight, with his hands clasped in his lap — the shirt hangs loosely behind him with the jacket. It isn't just a fashion statement; this time, it's doctor's orders.

The latest round of whistling has Maggie's eyes lifting from the pages of her book again; and like every time before, she takes the moment to glance toward the hallway again, too. The doors remain closed, the talking still behind walls. Her attention goes right back down to her book — but, after she's prompted to turn the page, the remaining pages grow scarce. The end.

The distraction is over, and Maggie shuts the book, holding her hands around it on her lap, over the paper sleeve that declares it to be Stephen King's The Stand. With nowhere else to go, her gaze settles on the cut face of the person straight across from her. There it stays, with the same composed quality her voice holds when, after several moments of only observing, she poses: "What are you going to say in there?" More to the point… "The truth?"

Laurie's entertaining the first start towards literal thumb-twiddling when the sound of Maggie's voice undercuts his whistling, bringing it to a slow, staggering, and somewhat sad demise as the noise peters out tragically and finally… stops. His stare finds her, meeting halfway across the room at this invisible border that has them facing off on opposite benches, different seats. To her question, he also takes a detouring look to the hallway, but his is quick and conspiratorial, as if to catch eavesdroppers on their illicit communication. "… The answer's C," he informs her, "Or, it could very likely be, statistically speaking." Straight after the joke, however, he spreads his thumbs out in line with a shrug, the light bunching of his mouth in whatever. "Similar statistics suggest that I will, at least, speak a truth. It's a frequent and terrible habit of mine. But really— " He cannot be said to much be on the point, "When do we ever get the truth?"

By appearances, Maggie could be said to not take well to that answer — she hardens to it, silent and pensively glancing off to one side, toward the hallway again, darkening there with consideration for what's looming. As she looks back to the opposite bench again, however, a tiny flicker at the corners of her mouth proves to be a smirk, good-humored enough to warm an otherwise stoic expression. "Mnneh." A casual, overplayed sound of thought. "Pretty often," she answers, lighthearted but factually as can be, "if you know where to look."

"Aha. Everything's out there, all the time." Not precisely a response to hers so much as an extension, mused and muttered, before Laurie addresses Maggie with a nod, a mouth pulled straight into something not smiley but generally approving. "One of the better answers that one's gotten." Her reward is that he looks away, attention drifting off to some other portion of a room with nothing to look at. When he's properly distracted, one hand lifts away from the clasp, pushed upwards by the once or twice bounce of his knees. A thumb traces a cut, absently, yet eventually firmly and with enough repetition that the edges of the wound brighten with irritation.

With still a hint of that smirk left behind, Maggie lifts her brows. "You're just going to make it worse," she points out the obvious with the sort of chastising concern a mother might give a child who scratches their mosquito bite too much. The casualness fades, she brushes hair behind an ear and leans ahead, that same hand flowing into a gesture toward Laurie. Her voice lowers. "How much — "

The detective's conspiratorial question is cut off before it can be asked. A door in that nearby hallway opens — a door to a very quiet room, no noise drifting out from that void. A man perhaps less than a decade older than the waiting pair emerges to address them. Clean-cut, he wears a pale business suit and a lack of humour. "Detective Powers. Mr. Miles. Detective, if you'd come with me…"

On her cue, Maggie, sufficiently interrupted, gives the man a polite, obliging smile. "Sure." She rises, pushing right up out of her lean. As she makes to follow her apparent escort, she starts to tuck her book under one arm. She rethinks midway through the movement; instead, the novel is offered to Laurie in passing.

That man might as well not even be there for all Laurie pays him any mind, choosing to track Maggie's movements as though she makes them of her own accord — though this is partially true as is. To the offering, he drops the hand away from the wound it was harassing and lifts the other to accept, this thumb pressing on top of Maggie's instead of an injury. His eyes bright as they are on her, they show a bit of tenseness around the edges. But his lips curve up reassuring and meditative: "Everything, all the time."

Cryptically spoken, if but an echo of their conversation before, he begins to sit back, letting the hand with the book relax in his lap momentarily as the other darts rebelliously to his face — only to skim past the swollen cut to tap the side of his nose. "But only as much as you want." And he situates himself on the bench, easing open the front flap of the book to the first page, and pursuing his lips as if to whistle.

(END… like, finally)

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