Warrick didn’t know quite what to expect. Glasner’s Corner was a middle class neighbor hood, but that didn’t mean it didn’t have its share of palaces and dives along the edges.
Either one made sent to him. He imagined a single room cell with a bare floor and just two outlets: one for a hotplate and another for a charging station for an unregistered palmtop. Then again, he could also see a huge apartment either the penthouse or damn near with that modern type furniture that was really art not meant for mortal asses to sit on.
Both dissolved when he actually saw the building. It was a happy little apartment tower: thirty stories with some stores on the ground floor as well as a small courtyard that was probably a park in better weather. It was the kind of place young families lived.
The whole thing felt like looking for a rare fish on the Great Salt Flats: the wrong environment for who he was looking for. There was a good chance that the staff directory he checked had a fake address in it. Nonetheless, he took his grocery bags and took the elevator to the fourteenth floor.
There was no button for a bell, so he knocked. There was no reply.
Maybe that was what he’d been hoping for. Whatever possessed him to do something like what he was trying to do, perhaps Fate was stepping in to save his dumb ass before he made an even bigger mistake. He silently counted to ten, then decided five was good enough.
After all, he’d given her a chance and she hadn’t been there. It was the thought that counted, and anyway, maybe there was a family in the same building that could use what he had hauled up in the grocery bags. He felt lighter as he started to turn to leave…
Only to stop when he heard a sound, and felt metal flexing in his metal sense. With a bit of focus, he defined the metal bits as stairs, flexing as someone stomped down them.
‘Crap’. The word flashed in his head and whispered out of his lips. He was going to go through with his idiot idea after all.
A moment later, the door was pulled open forcefully, sending a light wind rushing through the hall. “What.”
It wasn’t a question, or an answer. It was more like an entire sentence, mostly ‘If there is no good reason for you being here, something not nice will happen to you and your pancreas—separately’.
No sooner than the word left her than Zoe McNamara saw that she wasn’t addressing a proselytizing Evangelist or soccer mom peddling ornaments and overpriced specialty candy for her kid’s school fundraiser. No, it was her cousin; the one who in theory should be there to try and bring her in to the police.
A small, skittering part of her wondered how that fight would go. While he lacked a killer instinct, she didn’t want to kill him either, so that wouldn’t be a problem. Before, her powers had been able to counter his even if he could control much more metal than she could, but he might have learned a few tricks since the last time they fought.
While she ruminated on this, the silence was growing and Warrick was fidgeting under her gaze. “Um…” He finally broke the silence and raised the bags he was carrying up in front of him. “Hey…Stephanie, I guess? Can I come in? I bought a gift.”
Zoe stared at him hard enough that he started fidgeting again. No matter how long she did, however, she could make out no reason for him to ever bring her a gift, much less come to her apartment peacefully.
Left in silence once more, Warrick felt compelled to fill it. “Look, are you going to say something or…”
Part of Zoe’s mind traveled back up to her loft and Stephan who more than likely was still waiting to here an answer to his question. It was against her better judgment, but she would much rather hear the why’s and wherefore’s of Warrick’s sudden appearance.
“Come in.” she finally said, just as he was about to set the bags down and go.
She stepped to the side instead of back into the room. If they was something more official to his visit, she wanted the door closer to her in case of a need for a hasty retreat.
Taking her cue, Warrick edged into the room in a sideways shuffle, never putting his back to her. She had to give him credit for that at least. His eyes flicked around the room, taking in the mismatched furniture and the old movie posters on the wall. “Nice place. Not what I expected. Actually, I kind of expected this to be a dummy address.”
Zoe swept the door closed with her foot. “The Institute’s security detail is very thorough—they check to make sure you actually live where you say you do.”
“Not thorough enough that they figured out that you were well… you.” Warrick said with a frown. He found any empty spot on an end table and set his bags down. “I hope there aren’t any other bad guys that are as good at what you do trying to get an in at the Institute.”
“They won’t be there long if they plan to do anything to the kids and I find out.” Zoe said coldly, leaving no question as to just how a given aggressor would be driven from the school for descendants: fatally.
Warrick swallowed an argument he wanted to make over how it would be more useful to imprison and question any such perpetrators. Now wasn’t the time for that. In fact, he shouldn’t have said ‘other bad guys’ in the first place. Instead, he took a breath and did his best at reciting the speech he’d worked out in his head on the elevator ride up.
“That’s kind of why I’m here. You know, you really helped me that time we were kidnapped, and the whole thing with Tammy last spring…”
She folded her arms. “None of that actually changes anything. Yes, I saved Tammy and the other girls—that’s my job at the Institute; watching out for my stupid, overly energetic, super-powered charges. IF kids start dying on my watch, I wouldn’t keep this job and I’d have to move on to a cover job that I don’t care so much about. And as for you—”
“Look.” Warrick cut her off. “Cut the crap, okay? Yeah, you’re a killer, your a badass and you don’t need anyone or care about anyone. I get what you’re saying and what you’re trying to do and it’s kinda played out. Seriously, every ‘lone wolf’ guy in every TV show I ever watched does the same damn thing. You only helped because it was convenient or it helped your plan, right?”
Zoe recoiled from his change in tone, but that only last a scant second before she narrowed her eyes and reasserted herself. “You don’t know anything. Everything you pretend you understand you learned form TV or comics or some other stupid thing, but those aren’t real.”
“Maybe not.” He snapped back. “But maybe just because they’re not real doesn’t mean there aren’t some things in them that are true. I know what I do know though: that this year isn’t the first time you helped me. Remember Sammael during Morganna’s attack? You helped take him down after he damn near killed me, but first you calmed Hope down enough that she could heal me.
When the only reply he got was more silence and a stony glare, he pressed on. “I know why too—because even though I didn’t know who you were, you always knew who I was. And as much as you want to be the bad girl, I’m still that little kid you babysat back in the day and that still means something.”
A low growl formed in the back of Zoe’s throat. “Whatever. None of that explains why you’re here and—“
“Because you’re family, damn it!” Warrick said, throwing his hands in the air. “My reasons are the same is yours. We’re family and it’s Thanksgiving… but I can’t exactly invite you over to the hotel for dinner with me and mom and dad and Tammy, now can I?”
He was running out of anger, steam and breath by now and distracted himself by opening up the bags. “So… I bought you over some Thanksgiving stuff so you could, you know, at least have a good holiday meal.”
When Zoe just stared at him as if expecting him to leap an attack her, he blew out a sigh and started extracting the items he’d bought from the bags. “I should’ve expected this. Anyway, I got some yams, creamed corn, cranberry sauce—the good kind, not the stuff with the bits of pulp and skin in it—a box of stuffing mix, pouch of instant meshed potatoes, heat and serve rolls, and…”
One of Zoe’s eyebrows twitched. In spite of herself, she had to ask, “What is that?”
The thing Warrick had just pulled out was the size of a freshly baked loaf of homemade bread and roughly the same lumpy, rectangular shape. As he lifted it, the thing quivered in an unseemly manner.
He shrugged, making it wobble even more. “Turkey loaf. I figured, I couldn’t count on you even having more than a microwave, so you might not be able to cook a turkey, but with these, you just nuke a slice and it reconstitutes into a slice of turkey.”
“And you brought this to me to say thank you?” She asked. It wasn’t often that someone even had reason to thank her and she had never been more thankful for that. More than one uncomfortable moment like this in a year was enough.
“Not turning you in or coming after you myself was my ‘thank you’.” said Warrick .”I told you: this is because we’re family.” With everything rescued from their bags, he looked at her with an expression Zoe didn’t recognize. As if he was seeing someone besides herself there.
When she caught his eye with a glare, he lowered his own gaze. “I remember you, ya know? Back in the day when you’d play with me, or tell me stories? Not that there was a lot of competition, but you were my favorite cousin, Zoe.”
She wanted to tell him not to call her that. No one had called her that in that familiar way, in years. Suddenly, she felt ill.
Warrick read her silence as someone else. “Yeah, a lot’s changed. I just hoped… I mean maybe things…” He rolled his eyes at himself and shook his head, shoving his now empty hands in his pockets. “Never mind. Just keep looking out for Tammy at the Institute and don’t let me find any bodies cut up by razor filaments and we’re good… for now.”
No longer concerned, it seemed, with showing his back to her, he slipped past her and opened the door. In the doorway, he looked back at her. “Happy Thanksgiving Zoe.”
Atalaya Utt grunted as she hauled the turkey before her over so she could truss it on the other side. It hit the cutting board with a solid thunk that traveled through the counter-top and made the silverware in the drawers jump and rattle.
Breathing hard through her nose, for she was a small woman and it was a big turkey (they were having some of their new neighbors who didn’t have family nearby over for the holiday), she wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her hand and shot a look over at the two men at the dining room table.
“I thought that the two of you were supposed to help me with the cooking.”
Raimi Utt looked down at the wooden tiles in the tray before him and then at the game board. The game was an antique passed down form his father to him when he first went to college, they didn’t make physical versions anymore because digital one were much cheaper to produce.
“That is what this game is to decide, sweetness.” He said, distractedly. “You will play the winner and the loser will not only do the rest of the night-before prep, but will have to get up early to put the turkey in the oven.”
Kareem looked up and smiled sheepishly at his mother before turning it into a grin. “It will not be long, mother: I am ahead by am ahead by thirty points and there are no more letters.”
Raimi let out a deep chuckle. “Now you’re being boastful. Nothing good ever comes of that, son. For example…” He leaned over the board and set letters down starting at the top corner, T-H-I—the ‘E’ was already there from where Kareem had put down ‘grade’ and later turned it onto ‘retrograde’—F. Beaming pridefully himself, Raimi sat back. “That would be forty-five points.”
After the initial surprise of seeing the high-scoring word dropping onto the board, Kareem chuckled and shook his head. “The best I can make of that it ‘of’.” He extended his hand, “You win.”
His father took the offered hand and shook it. “You’re a very smart boy, son, but it just wasn’t a match for my strategy: the biggest vocabulary in the world won’t help you win if you don’t have a strategy to get to the spaces that increase your score.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” said Kareem, standing from the table to go lend a hand in the kitchen.
“I see your father is getting full of himself again.” Atalaya said as her son rounded the counter. “I suppose I should go do what I can to put his pride in check.”
Kareem chuckled at that. “What do you need me to do while you do that?”
Atalaya turned on the hot water at the sink with her elbow and started washing her hands. “I’ve already trussed the turkey, I need you to make the brine so it can soak overnight, plus the cranberry sauce so it can be chilled properly in time for dinner tomorrow.
Strolling over to the counter, Kareem found a printed sheet of paper that had been slipped into a document sleeve to protect it from kitchen mess. “This is the recipe?”
“Mmmhmm.” Atalaya nodded, “They shouldn’t give you any trouble.”
He read the instructions for the brine again to commit it to memory. It was a bit more complicated than a simple salt solution with more ingredients to flavor the bird. “This will actually be the first time I’ve done any real cooking since…” he hesitated, thinking too late that it might bring back bad memories for his parents. It was too late now, so he finished, “…I left for the Academy.”
There was a moment of tension before Atalaya said, “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that, maybe I…”
“No need, mother.” Kareem waved her off. “I have watched the others cook, including turkey and chicken. Plus, I don’t imagine that adding things to hot water has a great chance of catastrophic failure. I may ask questions when I get to the cranberries, however.”
His mother smiled at him. “Have I told you lately how happy we are to have you back and at home with us?”
“As recently as I’ve told you how glad I am to be back.” he assured her.
At the table, Raimi had finished stowing the letter tiles back in their little velvet pouch. “By the way, I imagine you won’t have to patrol tomorrow?”
Kareem shook his head. “No, none of us are. If there is trouble, we’ll know soon enough, but we all agreed that it was important to spend time with our families.”
Raimi nodded, “Oh, and your young lady friend, you said you wanted to invite her?”
While he didn’t exactly blush, Kareem’s face darkened just a bit. “I spoke to her online earlier today. It seems that for the first time in years, her father actually will be in town for them to have dinner together. I do hope I’ll be able to finally meet hm this weekend.”
Atalaya sniffed, wiping her hands on a rag. “Forgive me if I say I’m happy she won’t be coming. I know she makes you happy, but there is something about her that I just don’t like. Everything she says simply sounds so disingenuous.”
“She seems perfectly nice to me.” said Raimi, “Very confident in herself, but that’s a good thing, especially considering the self esteem issues most protomorphs have.”
Kareem frowned on his way to gather ingredients out of the kitchen cabinet. “Desiree seems to have that effect on people. They either love her or hate her. Cynthia almost refuses to be in the same room as her, but then Cyn is very… particular about people. On the other hand, Juniper always seems uncomfortable with her as well and Juniper is always friendly toward people.”
“Maybe they’re just more perceptive of that girl’s attitude.” suggested Atalaya as she sat down across from her husband.
Selecting the salt first, Kareem shrugged. “I’ve never seen this attitude. I suppose I could look for it with my powers, but how could I live with myself after invading my girlfriend’s mind without permission?”
“You attack the minds of your enemies without any problem.”
Raising a brow at his mother’s uncharacteristically aggressive suggestion, Kareem carried what he needed back over to the stove before going in search of a big enough pot. “Those are two very different situations, mother. I have to draw the line somewhere.”
He didn’t mention that he had been tempted. Not specifically when it came to Desiree, but many times in his day-to-day life. People were often hard to understand no matter how much empathy one had for them. To be able to sift through their thoughts and figure them out would be both a great boon, but also a terrible violation. And even knowing that and knowing what he didn’t want to do, sometimes he felt himself mentally reaching out before catching himself.
Like at that moment, for example. He really wanted to see exactly what it was his mother saw when she thought of his girlfriend.
Instead, he resigned himself to measuring out cups of salt while his mother argued against ‘yo’ being a word.
Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.
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