PennTheWriter: Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it. :)

VioletPG: Wow, thanks! Yeah, having both of the teams meet would be pretty funny with the parallels...maybe I can fit Lockwood or someone into the story.

CHAPTER 14

I stared at Toby, my mouth hanging open, my eyes drawn wide with shock. At the same time, anger and resent burned steadily deep in my chest; how quickly Toby resorted to this...

"No." The words felt lame on my tongue; weak and softly spoken. I shook my head and spoke louder. "No way I'm letting you do this, Toby."

Toby blinked, as if taken by surprise. "Made-"

"Shut up." I cut him off. "Please. You're not going to give up so easily, are you? What happened to the dreams of making a difference against the Problem? What about all of us?"

"There's no other way, Maddie." Defeat hung on each word.

"Really?" I shrugged my shoulders. "Timing's perfect, then, huh?" I muttered to myself. "Toby, would having an extra, skilled agent help us out change your mind?"

Toby hesitated. "There's more to it than that, Maddie."

"Is there? Afraid we'll break some more glass?" My voice was sharp, sarcastic, and dry. William and Eliza were staring at me in confusion and awe, like watching two wild animals at eachother's throats. "Toby, we're going to break things no matter what. It's apart of the job."

Toby's eyes narrowed; he stared at me. "Then what do you purpose then, Maddie?"

"Hire another temporary agent," I said simply.

"I thought you said that you couldn't find anyone," Eliza spoke this time. Her glasses reflected the crackling flames burning steadily in the fireplace.

"Not until about thirty minutes ago," I said. "Remember the agency that neutralized the Brixton Cannibal's source?"

The others gave small nods, and I continued.

"A member of that agency, Lucy Carlyle, I met her. She's willing to help us out for a week or two."

"So," Toby said slowly, "You want to hire a random agent you met ?..."

"At a cafe." I said helpfully. "And how is this worse than answering the ad of some pitiful Sensitive? Lucy has far more experience than most of us, I assume."

William glanced halfheartedly at the coffees sitting idly and un-sipped on the tabletop. "So that's why you took so long."

I nodded. "Yes. We had a nice long chat, actually."

"Exchange numbers?"

"Yes."

Toby stood up. "Call her up, will you? We can make arrangements for the following week, hopefully."

I looked up at him. "And what about forfeiting our license, then?"

"I suppose that's not necessary..."

I couldn't keep the smug contempt out of my voice. "Thought not." I lurched back against the sofa. Toby rolled his eyes and scoffed, skirted around the living area, and disappeared up the stairs.

"You..." Eliza stared at me, as if struggling to grasp the correct words, and at the same time was putting off the idea of strangling me. "Maddie, sometimes I don't quite understand you."

William grinned; he took my hand. "Well, looks like you just told off Mr. Gallenhood, and saved our agency. Not bad, if I say so myself."

Eliza glared at him, but said nothing.

"I didn't tell him off," I said defensively. "I just told him not to throw everything away." Even so, at the back of my mind, I understood why Toby was so willing to surrender. The purpose of an agency is fixated on destroying Visitors; returned souls of the dead whom seek harm upon the living. Toby had acquired Sarah Park, a close friend of his, as an agent, and that led to her losing her life. Perhaps Toby thought that our agency was doing more harm than good towards those who operated it.

I shook the thought off. I didn't want to think about Sarah Park. I didn't want to think about how she was just like me in some ways-headstrong, stubborn, and reckless. Just like me, she disobeyed her leader, and that ended up with her being killed.

Even now, I could feel the presence of her. There was a cold prickling at the back of my neck; subtle, but it was always there, if I thought about it.

"Anyway," Eliza said slowly, "You met Lucy Carlyle, didn't you? What did she tell you?"

I thought for a moment, recalling Lucy's warming stories about her colleagues, the chilling cases they had undertook. Honestly, most of the conversation seemed to be her wistfully replaying old memories; memories in which mostly revolved around her friends.

"Mostly about the agency she used to work at," I said carefully.

William nodded. "What was the name? Lock-something?"

"Lockwood & Co." Eliza said. Then her gaze returned to me. "What do you mean, 'used to work at'?"

"She left and was a freelance agent for a while, and I think she's considering rejoining her old agency," I gave a casual shrug of my shoulders. "I didn't want to pry and bombard her with a hoard of questions."

"Let's hope she's good enough then," Eliza gave a stretch and stood up, yawning. "I'll be off to bed, I suppose. Behave."

Before I could mutter an indignant retort, Eliza was off, her footsteps on the stairs echoing quietly throughout the house.

The fire crackled.

"That really was some great luck you had with Lucy Carlyle," William offered. He gave a little laugh. "To think-if you hadn't went out to get some coffee, our agency would be over. Funny how the little things take effect."

I nodded in agreement. I felt too tired to say much. Weariness dragged down my bones and my mind. The warmth of the fire didn't help on account of keeping me awake.

"Yeah," I agreed. "I just hope it'll work out."

William squeezed my hand. "It will. Don't worry. You've had enough to think about, Maddie. I wouldn't stress, really."

"I've had enough to think about?" I stared into the flames. I was dimly aware of black spots dancing around my vision from the sudden attack of brightness. "William, you've been constantly overworked. I don't think I'm the one who shouldn't be pulling my hair out."

"A few extra cases is nothing," William promised. "You need to stop blaming yourself over that Whitewood incident. Quite honestly, I could have used being busy. I've grown a bit lazy."

I could have rolled my eyes and unloaded a series of dismissing comments, but instead I let myself lean against him. I slumped against the sofa, enjoying the warmth. For a moment-just the briefest flash-everything was alright in my little world. I could have stayed there forever, lounging beside the fire, holding hands with William.

I felt my vision growing darker, and my tensed shape slumped against the sofa, the world around me dimming into nothingness.

Luckily, I was the first one in our household to wake up that morning.

William and I were still slumped against the sofa together, holding hands, while the fire was reduced to some burning embers. Instantly, I unhooked myself, rubbing my eyes while my mind cleared.

I shook William's arm. "William! Wake up."

A few more blunt shakes, and he was awake. "Wha-? What did I do?"

"We fell asleep." I said simply. "There others will be up soon."

William noticeably blushed. "Oh. Right." He cleared his throat. "What time is it?"

I glanced down at my watch. "Seven-thirty."

"Oh, it's bloody early," William complained. "Eliza and Toby won't be up until ten. Couldn't you have let me sleep in?"

"No." I said. I was only half-listening to him; I gazed around at our messy home. Papers were strewn across the floor, and large, unsipped mugs of coffee decorated every table. The rugs were stained with mud tracks, and I sensed that someone left some pungent snack or other to rot, do to the foul smell. The house was definitely not work-safe. "We've got work to do," I muttered.

William blinked. "Work? I think I've had enough of that."

"Not yet." I looked at him. "We have a case tomorrow, don't we?"

He nodded.

"And we're out of supplies?" I guessed. William nodded again.

"Okay." I stood up. "I'm running to the shop, then. You can clean up here."

"But..." William protested weakly. "Oh, fine. I'll clean up."

"Just make the house look like it's not been infested with some sort of disease," I said. I frowned. "Or maybe it's too late for that..."

"The house isn't that bad," William said. "Alright, you're right, it is fairly catastrophic." Reluctantly, William got to his feet, stretched, and looked around. "Oh, boy. This will be fun."

I rolled my eyes. "I'll have to be off. Tell Eliza and Toby where I've gone, will you?"

William nodded. He was gathering scattered papers from the floor and rounding up mugs of coffee and moldy food. "Will-do..." His face grew into an expression of disgust and horror. "What the hell is that? Is it supposed to be green?"

"Ah!" I stopped by the door. "You know that patch of wall near Toby's desk? Needs to be repainted. Good luck."

William gave me one last look, as if saying, Please don't leave me here. But I was already out the door.

Perhaps I should have given leaving the house more thought.

I was still wearing the same clothes as yesterday, my hair was unbrushed, and I had spilled coffee on my sweater.

I admit, I probably left so quickly on account of being flustered. I was still tingling from head-to-toe, and my face might have been flushed.

The streets of London were busier than they were yesterday. Everything seemed slightly more colorful-a sharper gray, if you will.

Crowds milled around, pouring through the streets, coming in and out of nearby shops and cafes.

I'd managed to grab my rapier on the way out, but I wasn't sure whether that helped or not. But I liked the honorable assurance I felt when I wore the subtle (or, not very subtle) markings of an agent. It made me feel important among the sea of chaos-I was a vital contributor in our panicked society, whether they appreciated me or not.

Right, I thought, brushing crumbs off my skirt, why did I leave the house again? Oh, yes. Supplies.

It was an obvious rule that every agency must be properly equipped with the essential equipment that could provide safety against Visitors. And, right now, the Ivywood Lane Agency probably owned a total of two magnesium flares, and a few pouches of salt and iron.

That simply wouldn't do.

Over the years, Europe had grown warily accustomed to the threat of the undead walking at night, and so products such as iron and lavender suddenly appeared everywhere you looked; fragrant purple plants lined gardens, stuffed into windowsills; iron was a grim marking on almost any household, marring what used to be a beautiful building, contorting the image into one similar to a prison's; salt was scattered across the streets, it would lay like a thin layer of snow at your feet almost anywhere you ventured.

And so, this was something of convenience if you were an agent; you could walk into a nearby grocery store and leave the establishment with a cartload of overpriced Visitor-wards.

Right now, I was strolling down Ivenson's St., heading to a nearby stand around the corner that usually catered to agents during night and day.

I would have reached it if it wasn't for the homely building standing to my side; a perky sign poked from the doorway: Ferngarden Library.

I shrugged my backpack off my shoulder and peeked inside. Aha...yes, I had brought it. Good. They were almost overdue.

Around a week or two ago I had borrowed a few fiction-novels from the little library, and I wouldn't want to be banned from my colleague's girlfriend's library because I hadn't returned it.

That was still admittedly shocking to me. How could I have not noticed Eliza had a girlfriend? And the chances that I met Melody without knowing?

I clasped the doorknob and pulled it aside. A bell made a little jangling sound as I stepped from the cold winds of London into the drab warmth inside.

Melody Ferngarden was sorting a cart of books into a nearby shelf. She looked the same as I'd last seen her; jeans, a frilly-collared green blouse, curly red hair. My first impression of Melody was of a soft-spoken bookworm, but now I didn't know what to think. Kind, gentle Melody dating sharp-tongued Eliza? Well, opposites do attract, I suppose.

Melody heard my entrance. She turned towards me, and with little to no hesitation, gave me a radiant smile. "Madeline," She said, "it's been a while."

I responded with a less gleaming smile of acknowledgment. "It's nice to see you," I said. "I've just come to return these..."

"Ah," Melody nodded. I pulled the novels from my backpack and handed them to her. "My two favorites...they're from my personal collection, you know."

I blinked. "Really? You loaned them to me?" Suddenly I felt a sudden fear that I'd gotten ectoplasm burns on the books, or maybe stained them with molten iron...if you can do that to a book.

Melody's eyes sparkled. "Any favor for a friend of Eliza's."

I frowned. "Wait...you knew I was Eliza's friend when we met, and you didn't say anything?"

Melody turned away briefly, setting the two novels down on the cart. "I was...nervous," She admitted. "And I didn't know if Eliza wanted to tell you first...she's not keen on sharing her personal life."

I nodded. "Yeah. But I'm happy for her, and you."

"Thank you," Melody said. She looked relieved. "Honestly, I'm slightly worried about Eliza. We rarely get to see eachother anymore."

I felt my heart drop. "Oh...because she's working a lot,"

Melody looked up. "Is that it? I thought maybe I did something..."

"No, really," I said, my heart plummeting a few more miles down, "Eliza's just busy with the job. That's it. She would spend more time with you if she could."

Melody smiled. "I hope that's the reason," She said. She slid another book into the shelf. "Sorry for unloading my worries onto you."

"No problem," I said. "But seriously, don't worry about Eliza, alright?"

Melody hesitated. "Alright...thank you for returning them."

I stared at the rows of bookshelves; the gentle, soft glimmer in Melody's eyes. Suddenly I could imagine why they liked eachother so much.

"It's fine." I said. "And I think you'll have more time with Eliza soon. We're hiring another temporary agent to help out for a while."

Melody glanced at me. "Really? Who?"

"Lucy Carlyle," I said. "A real talented Listener."

Melody's green eyes sparkled playfully. "I've heard of her," She said. "She's cute."

I laughed. "Yeah, I guess." I let my hands fall into my jacket pockets. "Um, I suppose I'll be off. I need to restock our supplies."

"Oh, don't let me stop you," Melody said. "Go on."

We exchanged brief goodbyes, before I wondered out of the library. Suddenly it's warmth didn't seem so enticing.

Guilt weighed down my movements, making me sluggish. I couldn't help but think that I had thrown a brick at their relationship, so to say.

I mentally chided myself. For once, Madeline, it's not completely your fault. Toby helped screw that case up, too.

I recalled that foggy night at the Whitewood Church; the terrible, nightmare-inducing creature dragging itself along the floors, leaving a thick trail of blood in it's wake. It had caught Toby and I completely off-guard.

However, one thing that struck my memory more than the Limbless was Toby, in that moment. He was never one for sharing, and I hadn't ever heard him speak of his parents. My guess was that they were dead. My mother took me here when I was little...that's what he had said.

I imagined Toby as a little kid, squirming and bored, sitting in one of the rows in the church, being chastised by his mother. I wondered what he was like before Sarah Park's death, and before whatever had happened to his parents.

I knew now not to take information by force. It only induced painful heartache. All I had done by holding that pendant was taking some of Toby's burden, even if it was just an echo. The physic element of Touch did that to you; it was one of the more elusive, unstable, and unreliable Talents that could take your emotions at any moment, and leave you rattled permanently, and, of course, it was one of my primary physic abilities.

The following evening was painfully mundane; at least, it was as mundane an evening could become for an agent. I spent several long hours haunting the nearby agency set-ups, and by the time I was finished, I was stocked with a duffel-bag full of supplies.

I hated shopping, even when I was purchasing fatal weaponry and Greek Fire in a bottle. There were several occurrences that evening in which I nearly dropped a magnesium flare and set fire to a nearby McDonald's, and I nearly skewered a burly middle-aged woman, barely managing to avoid her wrath by slipping out of the establishment's window.

Due to those unfortunate incidents, I was the equivalent of a fugitive among Mullet & Sons, and many other shops that catered to the needs of agents.

On the bright side, that probably meant that I wouldn't be going on another shopping spree soon.

By the time I pattered up the steps of our Victorian townhouse, my legs and arms were aching from the trouble of lugging around a duffel-bag stuffed with supplies. However, I did notice that our little sign indicating that we were a physic investigative service was newly painted; it actually had an i in 'service'.

Yes, things did look quite chipper...the azaleas in the garden were freshly watered; the porch had been swept free of salt, and was repaired from ectoplasm burns; there was now a shiny new ghost-lamp hovering near the door.

The others must have been fairly busy, I thought, impressed.

I pushed open the door, which luckily had been relieved of the annoying creaking sound it recently developed. Turning my back to ease it shut again, I let the duffel bag fall to the floor.

"Hiss!" Came the noise; similar to a ghost suffering under the slashes of a rapier.

I gave a sudden jolt, turned, and unsheathed my own rapier, and faced...a cat.

"Maddie!" William appeared, scurrying out of the kitchen. His eyes were wide. "Oh, put that down! It's just Maverick."

Hesitantly, I lowered my rapier, scowling. I got a better look of my 'enemy': it was a little black kitten with wide yellow eyes.

"What the hell? Why is there a cat in the house, William?" I sheathed my rapier and glared at him.

"Ah," William said, rubbing the back of his neck and looking away, "well, remember when you told me to clean up the house?"

I nodded slowly, raising my eyebrows.

"well," William continued, "I ran to the shop to grab some cleaning supplies, and someone was giving away a litter of kittens by the entrance."

I gritted my teeth. "You didn't. You adopted a kitten? I leave you alone for a few hours, and now we have a new addition to the agency?"

Maverick, the kitten, simply brushed against my legs and purred. I ignored it.

"She's just a cat," William argued. "What harm is it?"

"What, Toby and Eliza are fine with it?"

William shrugged. "Eliza loves cats, and Toby, well, he doesn't really care."

I glared down at the kitten, which was now prodding the duffel bag experimentally. "You're impossible," I told him. "No more pets. Understand that?"

"Well, 'no more'? Shame, really, I was thinking that we could use a dog-"

"William." I interrupted, folding my arms.

"Oh, fine," William said. "Have it your way...but is the cat really that bad?"

"I'm just not a cat person," I shrugged.

"That's the saddest thing I've ever heard." William said. Meanwhile, the kitten wove between us, purring and blinking innocently.

"Whatever," I muttered. "Just-you're taking care of it, got that?"

"She's not an 'it'," William said defensively. "The kitten has a name."

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, really? Maverick, was it?"

"Mhm."

"You named the kitten Maverick?"

"Not just me. Eliza helped."

"I can't believe Toby let you do this," I grumbled. "We've already got tons of problems on our plate, and you decide to get a cat?"

William frowned. "You're awfully grumpy today, Maddie."

"Yeah, well, lugging around thirty pounds of agency supplies in the cold tends to do that to a person," I said.

William scooped up Maverick and stroked her chin; the kitten purred contentedly and blinked her wide yellow eyes. "On the plus side," He said, leading me into the kitchen, "We got a lot done today. Eliza filed some updates on our agency license, since it was about to expire. I tidied up the house-even painted that bloody sign. And Toby made some arrangements with that Lucy Carlyle."

I looked up. "Arrangements?"

William nodded. He set Maverick back on the floor, slipped into a kitchen chair, and began to sketch on a piece of paper absentmindedly. "Yup. The Ivywood Lane Agency is hiring one Lucy Carlyle as a temporary psychic investigative assistant from...what's the date today?"

"September 7th."

"Ah, yes. September 8th to September 18th. Loose contract or something. Nice pay. Looks like you fetched a nice agent, Maddie." He grinned.

I crumpled into the chair across from him. "So," I said, "We've adopted a new agent and a cat."

"Basically," William agreed. "Ms. Carlyle is housing with us for ten days as part of the contract, I think. She agreed to help us out on that case tomorrow."

I frowned. "The one DEPRAC threw at us? The girl in a white gown walking the halls of some abandoned hotel that needs to be torn down?"

William nodded in response. "That's the one. You and Ms. Carlyle are going on it together while Eliza and I get some rest."

"What?-just me and her? What about Toby?"

"He's still recovering remember? Doctor's orders," William snorted. "Trust me, he's not happy about it, either. Spent half the day in the basement practicing with his rapier, muttering and complaining."

"Complaining doesn't sound like him." I noted.

"He's been…" William frowned. "I don't know, less Toby-ish the last few days? We actually had a lengthy conversation, which is new."

"That is odd," I said. Maybe when Toby opened up to me a few days ago that knocked down a wall-or at least, one wall.

Of course, I knew why Toby never opened up. It was much easier to not form a bond with someone who could die so easily...someone that you were responsible for.

"Anyway," William said, "I have to get some rest. You should, too, if you're going on that case-"

Knock, knock.

I frowned, glanced out the kitchen window; the sun had dipped below the horizon, and day was sinking into night once again.

I frowned. "Not a ghost?..."

"Couldn't be. That ghost lamp's pretty handy when it comes to repelling Visitors."

"So..." I said, "Who is it?"

"Ah!" said a new voice. I looked up; Toby had just skipped down the stairs. He was dressed business-casual, with the same messy black hair and guarded gray eyes. He had healed well since the infamous incident on Whitewood Lane, and didn't even walk with a limp now. "I forgot to tell you, didn't I?" He said. "Our guest is staying tonight. Must be prepared for tomorrow."

I tensed. My eyes widened. "What?"

Toby didn't say anything. He simply strolled towards our door. A moment later, I heard the twist of a knob; "Ms. Carlyle. Please, come in."

Well, that's it. Sorry if I didn't get a lot done with this chapter. I think the next one will be longer, with the new case and all. :P