Disclaimer: Threshold is not mine. If it were, I wouldn't have this disclaimer, now would I?
A/N: Celeste, be warned- I mention the toe. Again… And a general note- I'm not around kids much, so don't mind my girls here being rather mature for their age. There have to be some children somewhere that are intelligent and articulate as well as wise beyond the sum of their tender years. Right?
In Search of Respite
"I thought I told you to take a vacation, Molly," Baylock said with resignation. Really, Caffrey was quite a revelation in the manner she compulsively accepted additional responsibility when most would seek to avoid it. "The words 'refreshed' and 'rejuvenated' come to mind. I'm sure I conveyed them quite clearly."
"Yes, you did, JT," she said agreeably, sitting on the floor in her bedroom with Monster beside her for moral support as she phoned in to JT. "And here we five are, having the time of our lives at my humble residence."
"I take it all is going well so far? The guards report no disturbances."
"As well as can be expected," Molly answered, her tone communicating a slight hesitancy with her response.
Baylock half wished he'd had the foresight to install bugs in her new house. What scenes they would have recorded…it was a shame he was not witness to the chaos that was inevitably occurred when one put five people with wildly varying personality types into one house, with limited contact with the outside world and only each other to turn to- or against. Now this would have been reality television worth viewing.
It was a good thing that Molly was unable to read the thoughts going through his mind. She might have been strongly tempted to do something rash and impetuous. No one had seen her lose her temper yet, but she was highly strung these days, and who knew what might unleash the ferocity within that serene, unflustered heart?
"Ramsey and Fenway weren't able to share breakfast with each other in a sociable manner," she went on, "but it would be unreasonable to expect great strides in the enhancement and strengthening of our team dynamics after one night. Lucas is probably the most well-adjusted. He's set up my X-box, which is serving him well as a de-stressor, and for relaxation purposes. He's also still in bed, so I'm sure you'll be pleased he's heeding your dictate to sleep our way to improved wellbeing and good health."
Monster raised his head to eye her questioningly, and there was only silence on the other end of the phone line.
"I did not mean that the way it sounded," Molly hastily clarified as she realized the way her words could be interpreted. "It was a-" she broke off and released a sigh of chagrin. "A figure of speech, you know what I mean. After all, you did tell us to get some sleep."
"All right, Molly," he decided to go easy on the woman. She did not need ribbing from him to make her life any harder. "I'll forget what you said."
"Isn't that the wonderful thing about covert projects? Nothing ever happened. People deny everything. But that's also the drawback- pf these projects, conspiracy theories are born. Why don't people ever believe the government has their best interests at heart?"
"Because it so rarely does. DC politics have a way of forcing the good guys to battle with the bureaucracy even more so than the bad guys. It's an uphill struggle all the way. And the ordinary people don't appreciate the points we have to concede only because it's the way things go, because we aren't guaranteed all we need to succeed, even if it's in the nation's best interests, or even the whole world's best interests. They see it as selling out, when we have no choice but to compromise."
"Now that's the magic word: compromise. I'm doing what you wanted, now it isn't such a big deal to add my nieces to the mix, is it?"
"I don't see how you plan to relax at all, what with kids running around in need of supervision," he warned.
"JT, really. Look at the situation, I already have four big kids that require constant supervision. I'm shuddering to think what they're getting up to while I'm on the phone with you. The girls will add a bit of cheer to the place, their vivacity will just pep everyone up. And hopefully give some perspective to encourage the rest of the team to act their age. It can work."
"Who are you trying to convince, Molly?" he said gently.
"You. I'm definitely trying to convince you, I don't need it myself."
"And if I say it's not a good idea, you'll wear yourself out trying to maintain order with the extra responsibility of two girls? Just because I'm concerned for how you'll cope? Your cousin could always have someone else take care of them, hire a babysitter to look after them, for instance, rather than impose on you."
"I don't work like that," Molly said sharply, and then realized she had said it the wrong way. Probably reinforcing his notion that she ought to take time off and put her feet up. Rubbing her forehead, she rephrased, "Our family isn't like that. It's not an obligation, or a duty, it's…look, I don't need permission from you. Anyway, I'm taking leave at the moment. Technically, you can't give me orders right now."
"Then why did you call me?"
She narrowed her eyes. If he had been before her at that very moment, Baylock might have succumbed to spontaneous human combustion right then and there. Instead, the potted fern that was in her line of view did not seem to be vulnerable to the furious intensity of such hostile gazes. It was one of those things that only human flesh was defenseless against. Then she cooled. "I'm not sure, really. Force of habit, I guess. Reporting back to you on the situation."
"Thank you for keeping me informed," he said gravely. "I'll let the guards know not to shoot down any approaching vehicles with a female driver and children inside. Your threat assessment for the subjects is low, minimal risk. You're sure you trust them? They're not going to turn nasty on us and bring in a bomb with them?"
"You'll be the first to know," she quipped.
"Very well then, proceed with caution."
"Sir, yes, sir," humor laced her tone. "I feel like I should salute or something."
"No need to worry about that," Baylock relaxed his language, reverting to informality again. "Hopefully you haven't bitten off more than you chew, Molly."
"Trust me, JT. I can handle it." She hung up, trying to maintain that sense of bravado that had punctuated her parting words. With a sigh, she leant over to rub her head against Monster's, murmuring, "Well, at least I can trust you not to give me any trouble."
Maternal instincts had never bothered Molly overmuch, despite Fenway's clichéd reference to the supposed biological clock that held such immense sway over otherwise mature and level-headed women, it actually convinced them that conceiving offspring was the most vital task in the entire world. Sure their bodies were built for it, but really. She had always found the suggestion that women were little more than brood mares, designed to bear children and then be left with the chore of rearing them, one that was quite offensive. It was a choice, not an obligation, and one that needed to be carefully thought through and well considered.
True to form, she had prepared a plan to regulate this aspect of life as well. It catered for two children by the age of 39, preferably one of either gender. However, the recent crisis had somewhat effectively put a screeching halt to those plans. What with this alien interference, who knew what civilization on Earth would be like by the time she reached that age? If the planet had not fallen apart by then…if she would even still be around by then. Living day by day, one crisis at a time, had the result of diminishing the importance of finding a male partner to create those children with, considering how men were a rather necessary component of the entire process, even in these times. She had, however, occasionally come across hysterical speculations of scientists doing away with the need for men in procreation in the future. Those articles were always good for a chuckle.
For the moment, any latent nurturing instincts were satisfied by visiting her adorable nieces or having them over for a few days. That was the best role, she had concluded. Spoil the kids rotten and then send them back to be educated, disciplined and instructed in manners and responsibility. They adored her and she had fun with them. It was a win-win situation.
This situation was a new one, though. Molly tried not to let the thought preoccupy her. Cavennaugh had once characterized her as a person that thrived on worst case scenarios. That was not entirely accurate- she savored the sweet heady feeling of success at another crisis weathered, each disaster averted; there was a surge of satisfaction she experienced when implementing a new set of protocols that forced another catastrophe into submission, watching it cave to the rigorously planned procedure she had designed. Control, in other words. What person could resist its allure? But the fact that she carved a career in pursuing it meant that when she was faced with something new, something she had no plan for, that bothered her. Molly was not free of anxiety, she merely minimized the ways it could impact her. And when it found a way to sneak past the defenses she had so painstakingly set in place to confine it…that unsettled her. She looked to prove herself. This was just the opportunity.
The smile on her face was warm and genuine as she greeted her cousin. Cassidy was tall and blonde, with a slim and straight figure. She had woefully bemoaned her boyish body in comparison to Molly's more curvy figure when they were teenagers, but this self-perceived flaw certainly hadn't deterred the boys from pursuing her. Even now, after two pregnancies, she had maintained her slender shape, her good looks and the youthful glow of vitality that abandoned many by their late twenties.
It was positively criminal. And yet she was so cheerful and pleasant, it was difficult to dislike her. Perhaps if one tried to actively hate her, it could be managed, but she tended to win over most people eventually. Of course, they were still occasionally given to slight twinges of envy, but that passed fairly quickly. After all, one could never envy a mother's work, and with the father out of the picture, she certainly had her hands full coping with her two girls.
Speaking of those hellions, they scrambled out of their monster of a car, hopping down from a perilous height, and raced over to join in the embrace the two women were exchanging, turning it into an exuberant group hug that threatened to bring them all crashing down to the ground.
Kate was the younger of the two, with the hazel eyes that were common to their family and the fine blond hair she had inherited from her mother, which she carelessly left to loosely flow as it pleased. Lucy, in contrast, usually bound her darker hair in a tightly controlled plait, one that reached all the way down her back to about waist length. It made her feel like Lara Croft, the main reason she maintained this vanity. To achieve the image she aspired to, Lucy wore a plain black top with jeans tucked into the requisite in-season boots, and a wide belt with elaborate silver detailing to complete the outfit. Kate relished brighter colors and patterns, today modelling a blindingly white peasant skirt with a sky blue singlet, over which she wore a knotted crop top, one that was a riot of jungle inspired greens and yellow and oranges.
"Hi, Auntie Molly!" both girls competed to see whose shriek could reach the higher decibel, and she winced at the penetrating volume of their combined voices.
"Stop that, you wretches," she pretended to scold them even as she was kissing their cheeks, the skin soft and smooth with youth, and lightly chucking their chins. "You'll make us the spectacle of the whole street. I won't be able to face my neighbours after this shameful display." Molly wilfully ignored the fact that she did not socialize much with anyone on the adjoining properties, probably since Threshold had monopolized pretty much every aspect of her life since the protocols had been activated.
After looking at the house and around down the street, Kate said, "Auntie Em, Auntie Em…we're not in Kansas anymore. You didn't tell us you'd moved!"
"Good thing we decided not to run away and embark on an epic journey to your place," Lucy said musingly. "Wandering the streets by day and robbing stores by night for food to nourish us on our travels."
"I thought we were going to rob a bank," Kate objected. "So that we only had to risk our lives once, and then when we had the money, we could go and buy food legally. We do have to worry about the state of our souls, you know. If we only steal once, that should make us less wicked than if we went and stole from a store every night. What do you think, Auntie Molly?"
"I think that logic is a little warped," Molly said wryly. "Although you could bring it up with a priest. They might be better equipped to handle this sort of religious dilemma."
"But then I saw Prison Break on tv," Lucy returned to topic with a shudder. "Have you seen it?" she questioned Molly, who shook her head.
"I'm afraid I've been a bit preoccupied with work lately," she confessed.
"Well, the main dude robbed a bank and got put in prison, and some other inmates cut off his toe," Lucy made an expression of disgust. "I didn't feel like plotting to rob a bank after that. You feel free, though," she said to Kate.
"I'll thank you both to get your things out of the car," said their mother. "I have a million other things to attend to, and since you darlings have been taken off my hands, I'd like to get to them. Now, the only immediate problem is lugging your bags to the house…" she looked at Molly and explained, "They thought there was a slim chance they might never see me again, and if I was going to abandon them here, they might as well have every single possession they ever owned with them. Ready to start a new life without me. I swear, we practically needed a removalist to come transport all the suitcases they'd packed before I put my foot down." Cassidy would have continued, much entertained by her daughters' twin looks of outrage, but was struck dumb for a moment by the sight she saw emerging from the house. "Molly, you fraud," she accused, once she had recovered the power of speech. "All that talk about being preoccupied with work. I'm guessing that's not the only thing you've been busy with," she said slyly.
Molly turned to see what had caught her attention, and saw Cavennaugh approaching them. "It's not what you think," she said lamely. That feeling was reinforced by Cassidy's look of incredulity, and she groaned inwardly. Her cousin was like a dog with a bone, gnawing at it relentlessly, burying it for a while and then digging it back up at the most inconvenient of times. This was exactly the sort of bone she adored playing with.
"Ma'am," he said with a nod to Cassidy. "Ladies," he directed towards the girls. "Need any assistance with carrying in the luggage?"
Cassidy smiled appreciatively. "My knight in shining armour. I'm afraid they're rather heavy, the girls over-packed. Considerably."
"No problem," he assured her, catching the keys she threw to him and headed for the car.
"You have a man staying over with you," she hissed to Molly in a low tone. "What's not to understand?"
"The nature of our relationship, for one," Molly hissed back, and then hesitated as she wondered how to account for Cavennaugh. Oblivious to their conversation, he reached into the car, easily grabbing hold of two suitcases and lifting them out. He was clearly not the type of man she could explain away as just another academic. The man's entire demeanour boasted his physical prowess and overpowering masculinity, an impression rather difficult to reconcile with a paper-pusher, for whom the most intense exercise would amount to chasing a pen around a table all day. She had vast experience with those kinds of people, and they would find it impossible to casually lift out fully loaded suitcases in the effortless manner he had just demonstrated.
"Yeah, about that, my girls are fairly pure and innocent- think you can restrain yourself enough to keep them that way? I wouldn't blame you for struggling, he's that attractive, but I would like to find them naïve and uncorrupted when I pick them up."
Molly came closer than she ever had to actually spluttering in a conversation. She certainly was floundering, though. The cover stories- or lies, as Fenway would call them- that she readily used when out in the field came to her lips without hesitation, but here, she was out of her depth. Mixing personal and professional lives was too much to juggle, and at a loss for anything else more convincing, Molly decided she would just give in and let Cassidy think what she was thinking.
"Thanks, honey," she called out as he went past them. There was the slightest of pauses, Cavennaugh seeming to start a little, but Molly only noticed as she was looking for signs of surprise. This sudden use of endearments rather contributed to startling a person.
"No problems, sweetheart," he replied easily. Their brief stint as a married couple had probably aided this swift recovery. "Always glad to be of service."
"What a charming man," Cassidy murmured, watching the departing Cavennaugh with as much enthusiasm from behind as when he had approached. She slanted Molly a teasing look, as though expecting her to be jealous, "Don't worry, there's no harm in looking. I can't remember the last time we fought over a guy."
"You fought over guys?" Lucy said with distaste. "Lame."
Kate nudged her mother. "Depends on the guy, I guess..."
"Hey, you're not meant to be so precocious. You're my little girls, don't even think about boys like that yet," Cassidy warned them.
"Don't worry, mom, I'm a long way off that," Lucy assured her. Despite being the elder daughter, she was rather less outgoing than the sunny, playful Kate, who tended to adopt a manner around boys that would be termed 'flirtatious' in a teenage girl.
"I promise you, Cass, I will keep them away from all the eligible boys on the block. You won't come back to find them in the throes of young love or nursing a broken heart."
"Speaking of coming back, I suppose I'd have to leave before I can do that," Cassidy said. "All right, girls, come give your mother a kiss good-bye."
Molly tactfully stepped apart from the others to give them a bit of privacy. Just for something to do, she went to unload the rest of the luggage so that her cousin could actually leave without being weighed down by excess suitcases containing- who knew what. Distracted by ruminations on what her nieces could have possibly decided they absolutely couldn't live without for the next few days, Molly reached for the case at the top of the tower stacked in the back of the car. Taken aback by the reality of how true Cassidy's words were, as she staggered under the weight of the case, she came perilously close to dropping an uncomfortably heavy weight on her feet- something generally not desired by most people, ranking up there with slamming one's hand in a drawer or being bitten by a rabid dog.
Fortunately, her newly acquired significant other came to the rescue. Observing Molly's struggle, Cavennaugh reached around her petite frame to stabilize the awkward descent of the case, preventing any unfortunate injuries that could have been sustained by its plunge to the ground. He rather liked Molly the way she was, and watching her feet undergo immediate and painful amputation would have caused him a twinge of anguish on her behalf, and perhaps even a few tears. Hence his gallant intervention- it was the only way to be sure of preserving his manly pride.
It also had the effect of winning her gratitude. "And they say chivalry is dead," she managed a chuckle as they lowered the troublesome suitcase to the ground. "Thanks, Cavennaugh. This is exactly why I keep you around."
"I live to serve. You couldn't beat me away with a stick," he said solemnly.
She turned to face him and was forced to lean back against the car and look up, their close proximity highlighting the difference in their heights. Adopting a challenging smirk, Molly said, "Of course, you did teach me how to shoot…straight for the heart." She emphasized the point with a testy jab over the aforementioned organ. If the dratted man decided to loom over her so aggravatingly, then she was perfectly justified in resorting to jabbing.
"But good partner substitutes are so hard to find," he pointed out, "Imagine, if you did away with me, the next time you need to go undercover, you might find yourself married to Ramsey."
With a moue of distaste, Molly conceded, "Excellent argument. I choose the lesser of the two evils." She patted him on the cheek, in a manner some might call 'condescending', or others 'insulting'. Cavennaugh chose to take it as a sign of affection. "Go on then, less dawdling, more carrying. I'll leave you to it." Then again…
He refused to budge, trapping her against the car. "Don't I get a something out of this?" he asked innocently, watching her eyes. While they did not offer extensive insights into her soul, they were quite expressive, and right now, they expressed her indecision over whether to hurt him severely or let it slide. Cavennaugh watched them narrow as she considered the matter, then sparkle with unexpected merriment.
"Sure, Cavennaugh." She raised herself slightly and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Let's be friends, shall we?" Molly ducked under his arm, leaving him shaking his head with amusement before returning to making himself useful, as she went to farewell Cassidy.