A/N: All characters belong to their respective Deviant Artists. David Carter is me (Weskerian); Alana Rayner (Shakahnna); Alka Kunnas (ES-Dinah); Angela Leavantis (Paul16); Amy Adamaris (Twistazoomalark); and Leanne Rosier and Anthony Castleman (123LeaLea).

Intermission Three: Coping

Angela parked up in the lot across from the office and killed the engine. She was a little late. A couple of hours late, in fact. She flipped down the sunscreen and took a look at herself in the mirror on the backside. The evidence was staring her right in the face. Those bags. Those chapped lips. Those bloodshot eyes. And no makeup to paper over the cracks. No one could have mistaken her for someone who'd had a decent night's sleep.

She'd spent most of the night interrogating a stubborn fire marshall about the orphanage blaze. He hadn't given much away. In fact, he'd been the most reticent public official she'd ever had the displeasure to run up against. All she'd been able to learn, from his occassional bouts of contradiction, was that the fire hadn't been electrical. From that, she could assume it had been arson. Why else would they be looking to cover it up?

But even that was conjecture, and she couldn't take conjecture to her boss. Conjecture didn't pay the bills or put food on the table. She was still the golden child after the Officer Carter incident, but even those kudos wouldn't last her much longer. She needed something, and soon.

She clasped the two coffee cups against her chest, feeling the warmth through her suit jacket, and jerked her laptop bag up onto her shoulder. Then she locked up and slipped her keys into her pocket.

She started to walk towards the building and then ground to a halt a moment later. There was a crowd gathered at the front entrance, ten people deep. In all her years, she'd never seen a sight like that.

She hurried across the road, ignoring the blare of horns as she weaved through the traffic. The coffee sloshed. Errant drops soaked into her shirt and scalded tiny patches of her skin.

The mob at the door were reporters one and all. She could see camcorders and microphones on shoulders and in hands, and all were aimed at a figure in their midst. A girl wearing a blue blazer and skirt, her arm bound up in a sling. Alka.

"Miss Kunnas, what can you tell us about the hospital massacre?"

"Is it true the Scissorman was involved?"

"How many people were killed last night?"

Angela blanched. She didn't know what those people were talking about, but she could already tell she'd missed something big. Maybe heading back to her apartment for a nap hadn't been such a great idea after all. All the best stories dropped while you slept. Any seasoned reporter knew that.

Alka was floundering in a sea of hack journos. She'd been temping at the office for a couple of weeks and Angela had always thought of her as ready to take on the world. She had a reporter's sharp tongue and hard head.

But Alka the wannabe-newshound was gone. This was her first glimpse of Alka the college girl, lost and afraid, and the people around her were getting impatient for answers. This was going to get ugly.

"Alright, that's enough," Angela said.

Her voice was drowned out by the incessant questions, but she wasn't relying on her voice. She shoved the nearest cameraman aside, elbowed a microphone-toting woman in the back, and grabbed the temp by her undamaged arm. The coffee sloshed again. Hot water streamed into her cleavage and stung her in the naval.

"Next person who jostles me gets punched."

A hand snatched her elbow before she'd even made it out of the crowd. She glared back over her shoulder and locked eyes with Nolan Campbell, the Weekly's star reporter. Her main competition.

"C'mon, Angela. You think you can monopolise the exclusive just because she works for your office? She was only good enough for fetching coffee yesterday and now suddenly she's your best friend?"

"Don't touch me, you jerk," she snapped, wrenching her arm out of his grip.

One of the polystyrene cups slipped its styrofoam holder and burst on Nolan's chest like a water balloon. Everyone leapt back as hot coffee sprayed in all directions, then watched as he retreated, swearing and yelling, down the street.

It couldn't have been more perfect if she'd tried to do it.

She grabbed Alka and dragged her into the office, heading for the break room.

-x-x-x-x-x-

"Coffee?" Angela asked, setting the cup down on the table in front of Alka.

"Will it help?"

"Depends. If you've got a hangover or a deadline coming up, sure. Its less useful for a sprained wrist. It's black, so do you want cream or sugar?"

"I don't know. I don't usually drink coffee."

Angela blew out a breath. Trying to help this girl was hard work. She was proving just as reticent as the fire marshall from last night. Still, at least she had an excuse. That guy had been an asshole for the sake of being an asshole.

She'd heard from some of the others about the events at the hospital. It was weird to think of something like that happening in Greenville, of all places. Almost surreal. She'd already considered that it might be some kind of sick practical joke. Even that seemed preferable to the idea of a real-life mass murderer.

Her reporter side was excited, practically slavering at the idea of a scoop like this. It was hungry, and the scraps she'd been able to feed it of late weren't enough for it. The part of her that still thought like a civilian was nauseaous with worry.

"Why did you bring two?" Alka asked.

She shrugged. "Long night. Good job I did really, or we'd never have gotten rid of Nolan. What's the matter? Don't like it?"

The girl's face was wrinkled with disgust. She'd taken one sip, and that looked like it had been enough to sour her on the idea of black coffee for life. Maybe with a couple of years of reporting under her belt, she'd develop a taste for it.

"It's bitter," she said, "and revolting."

Angela laughed. "Yeah, sounds like French Roast. But, its not the taste we drink it for. Caffeine. It's every journalist's best friend."

"I'm not sure I even want to be a journalist anymore."

The chair screeched as the older woman pulled it back from the table and slid into it. She looked the girl dead in the eye. All sorts fell into journalism as a profession. Failed writers. Wannabe novelists. It was a last resort or a stop-gap, mostly. There were better ways to get famous or rich than print journalism. It was more honest than television at any rate. Even so, true believers were rare.

Girls like Angela, who'd grown up on stories about the integrity of the newspapers, bent their whole lives towards being reporters. Alka had seemed like a kindred spirit. If she was planning on giving up then this was serious.

"Alka, what happened last night?"

She hesitated, and blew out a shaky breath. "I went to the hospital chasing a story. It's where the survivors from the orphanage were being treated. And now, because of me, a good friend of mine is dead. I should just ... never have gone."

Angela listened, her lips pursing tighter with every word. The little brat had tried to scoop her, and learned the hard way that actions had consequences. And that sometimes those consequences were terrible. But that kind of guilt? She didn't think she'd ever had to wrestle with an inner demon like that before.

"How did he die?" she asked. She'd heard the rumours, about the killer, but she wanted to hear it straight from the source.

"He was murdered. By the Scissorman."

Angela sat back in her chair. This was stunning. The Clock Tower Killer, alive and in Greenville. And here she was, with one of the only witnesses. Hell, the only witness free to give a statement.

"Feels good to let it out, doesn't it?" Alka nodded. "Look, just start at the beginning. Tell me everything. Maybe I can help."

The girl was quiet for a few moments, and then she started to talk. When the gates opened, the truth rolled out like a flood. It didn't stop until the tale was done. She told Angela where she'd gone after they'd separated the night before. She explained why she'd gone to the hospital and how the boyfriend of a friend had smuggled her inside. She recounted the massacre that had followed, and the other two survivors, and the killer who had pursued her right up until the end.

"That's one hell of a story," she said, when she'd finished.

Alka sighed and stared into her coffee. Somehow, she'd managed to drain half the cup while she spoke. "You're right. It does feel good to let it out."

"Nothing was your fault, Alka." She stood up. Her seat let out a squeak of protest as it skidded backwards across the linoleum. "It wasn't your fault that there was a killer running loose in that hospital. And from what you said, that boy and his caretaker were lucky you were there. Don't beat yourself up about this. Don't let it ruin your life. You'll make a great reporter one day, if you stick at it."

"Thanks, Angela," the girl said, "I just need some time to think. That's all."

She walked around the table and put a hand to her shoulder. "Why'd you even come in today, anyway?"

"I thought work might distract me. I wasn't expecting so many people to show up outside."

"Some people are vultures in this industry. But then, it's not like there's an industry where that isn't the case. Sometimes, you've got to shelve the morality. Sad, but true."

"To make sure the truth gets told?"

She gave her arm a squeeze, hoping it was reassuring, and then turned to leave the room. "In the end, that's all that's important. I'll make sure no one bothers you. Take as long as you need."

"Thank you. Again."

"No problem." She stepped out into the corridor, out of earshot, and hit 'stop' on the dictaphone in her jacket pocket. "Least I can do."

-x-x-x-x-x-

"This is just frigging great."

Detective Carter sat back in his chair, fidgeted, put his hand to his head, then thought better of it and banged his fist down on the padded arm. Amy watched him from across her desk, trying not to betray the fact that his aggression was making her nervous.

"Not even twelve hours after what happened at the orphanage, and we've already got another massacre. Who the hell is this guy?"

"I understand that you're frustrated, Detective," she said, sifting through the files laid out in a spread across the desk, "but this won't help us solve the case, and unless we can offer a timely resolution, more people are likely to die."

It was an odd request to receive from the Greenville Police Department. In all the years she had been at the University, she had never profiled a murderer in Greenville itself. In the state's larger cities, yes, but never here. And now it seemed the first case would also be the most brutal she had ever seen.

With the lack of physical evidence and concrete eyewitness testimony, the police had turned to profiling, and Amy Adamaris's team, in the hopes that they might be able to fill in the blanks. She hoped she wouldn't leave them disappointed.

He sagged in his seat, glowing with embarassment and curtailed anger. She did her best to offer a warm smile as consolation.

"We've sent samples from the hospital to the lab in Empire City. We should hear back from them in under a week. It's not looking promising though. The witness statements don't reveal much. We can assume that the killer was targetting Edward, the boy who survived the Clock Tower. That and the scissors suggest it might be the same killer in all three cases."

"I thought the G.P.D's official stance was that Mary Barrows was responsible for the Clock Tower Killings," Amy said. Carter balked, and she hurried to reassure him. "As the investigating officer, I'll defer to your deeper insight on this case."

"Thanks, Prof. The fact is, the official line is that Mary Barrows is the perpetrator. But I think it'd be remiss of us to disregard Leanne Rosier's statement about the Scissorman."

"You may be right. All the same, this MO isn't consistent with the one used at the Barrows Mansion. There's no ritualistic aspect to these murders, and the victims aren't confined to children alone. There is a possibility that we may be dealing with a copycat styling themselves on Miss Rosier's testimony."

"Yeah, that's what Weaver thinks too. I'd like to know how a profile would change taking into account the first murders, assuming Barrows had an accomplice, and assuming that accomplice survived."

"Of course, Detective," she said, "I'll have my team work up both profiles tonight, and fax them to you in the morning. I'll let you decide what reaches Chief Weaver's desk."

"I appreciate it, Prof."

There was a crash from the next room, followed by lots of shouting. A slender eyebrow rose over her spectacles as she looked towards the door. Amy encouraged quiet speech. It was more conducive to a productive atmosphere. She hoped it wasn't her team causing the disturbance.

Carter was on his feet and at the door before she could react. All she could do was follow.

-x-x-x-x-x-

"I hope Kay's okay," Leanne muttered. She'd taken to chewing on her left index finger when she was bored. Right now, she was pretty bored.

"Kay?" Alana asked, without looking up from her monitor, "oh. You mean that little creep from the hospital?"

She huffed. "He wasn't a creep, Alana. How can you even say that anyway? You didn't stop to speak to him. You just scared him away."

"I'd only have hurt him if he'd been up to something. He ran away. Therefore, he must have been up to something. That's logic."

She didn't seem to notice when Leanne gaped at her. She couldn't think of anyone who wouldn't be intimidated by the sight of the two hundred and fifty-plus pound redhead storming towards them with murder in her eyes. The fact that Kay was no exception didn't mean anything.

"When are we going home?"

"As soon as Dave's finished talking to Professor Amy, and I've got my cunting back up of my dissertation off this fucking drive. Still can't believe that piece of shit laptop crapped out on me. We'll be home soon. What did you wanna do tonight anyway?"

"Watch a movie? Maybe order some takeout?"

"If that's what you want, sweetheart."

She sighed. What she wanted was to be out of that office. Everyone kept staring at her. Their desks were covered in newspaper clippings and file photographs from the Clock Tower. She felt like a freak.

She wanted to speak to someone who really understood. Not someone who was being paid to listen. Not someone who pretended to know what she was going through. Someone her own age.

She'd thought about going out looking for Kay, but they were keeping his location a secret now that it seemed like the killer was after him. There was the girl, Alka, too, but Alana had warned her to stay away from reporters. And the police officers escorted her everywhere these days anyway. Even if she could lose Alana, which she couldn't, the cops were always close at hand.

She felt trapped.

"You look distracted, Leanne. Is something on your mind?"

She looked up. Anthony Castleman, the shrink paid by the police department to hang on her every word, was looking back at her. He was standing next to Alana's desk, hands folded behind his back, suit creased to perfection.

"You didn't attend your session this week, dear. Are you unwell?"

She shrank back in her seat. He'd been pushing for her to return to Greenville Psychiatric Hospital since Alana had discharged her weeks ago. She didn't want to go back to that place, with its plain white walls and its doors locked and barred, and its patients mumbling and muttering and squawking at their own shadows.

"N-no. I-I'm fine."

"A lot's been going on, Doc. That's all," Alana cut in. Her arm moved across Leanne's chest, like she was trying to shield her.

She'd never been more grateful for that protective streak. It was hard to believe she'd been bemoaning it only a minute ago.

"It is still important for her to attend her sessions, Miss Rayner. Even more so if she has been under strain. I wouldn't want to see her relapse into her former distressed state."

"Yeah, well you don't need to worry about that. Dave and I are taking good care of her, so you just back off."

"Is that so? And I trust there has been no anxiety for you, Leanne? Perhaps you'd like to come back to the hospital with me. We can have your session now."

He put a hand to her shoulder. It made her skin crawl to be touched. Even Alana couldn't get away with doing it yet. She shrugged him off, but her self-appointed sister shot out of her chair like a rocket, fists balled. Her seat tipped over and slammed to the floor.

"Perhaps you'd like to fuck off!" she snarled, dragging Leanne up by the arm and standing in front of her.

The room fell silent. The only noise was one of the desk phones ringing. One of Alana's colleagues was in the middle of a call, and just stopped, mid-conversation. They were all gaping at her. Leanne wondered if they'd ever seen her get mad before.

Dave emerged from Professor Adamaris's office, frowning as usual. Alana's boss followed close behind. She was an average-looking middle-aged woman. Her blonde hair was tied back in a tight bun, and she wore spectacles and a suit that rivalled Castleman's for the sharpness of its creases. She almost looked like his twin.

"What the hell's going on out here?"

"Detective Carter. Your partner and I seemed to be experiencing a difference of opinion. I think Miss Rosier should come with me. She is clearly distressed."

Leanne glanced down at her own hands and saw them trembling. She clenched fists, trying to stifle the shaking. But it was too late. He'd already called attention to it and now everyone was looking at her again. Little lost orphan girl. Survivor of a killing spree. Side show freak.

But she wouldn't cry. Even if she could feel the tears burning her eyes. Then they'd make her leave with him.

"She looks fine to me, Doctor," Dave said, "I think you should listen to Alana."

"That's not a helpful attitude, Detective," the other man replied. His tone wasn't as heated as the others. If anything, it seemed to have grown colder. "The Chief of Police might not be happy to hear about your unwillingness to cooperate."

Leanne looked from him, to Alana, to Dave. Her minders looked like they were moments away from fighting over who got to wring his neck. Professor Adamaris adjusted her eyeglasses and coughed. The cough was meant to be noticed.

"Is there a problem, Doctor Castleman? Did you have business with me, or my staff?"

He frowned at her, distracted from the confrontation, and now he looked like he'd lost his place. "I was asked by Hank Weaver to bring you my notes on Leanne Rosier's mental state at the time of the Clock Tower Killings. He wanted you to consider it when producing your profile."

"I will consider all of the available evidence, you can assure Chief Weaver of that. Perhaps you'd like to help me form the basis for my profiles. I could certainly use your assistance clarifying some of the finer points of this case, and your expertise of psychopathologies like these is well-documented. I'm sure David and Alana are eager to get Leanne home so that she can rest."

He eyed them all in turn, first her, then Dave, then Alana. When he got to Alana, she flipped him off with a grin. He scowled at her, but that just made her grin wider.

"Of course, Professor," he said, turning to follow the blonde into her office, "whatever you wish."

Leanne watched him go, half-expecting him to round on her. But he didn't. He just disappeared through the door.

She didn't want to go back to that hospital.

Alana touched her on the arm. She didn't shiver quite so much this time.

"Come on, sweets. Let's go home. I'm done here, anyway."

-x-x-x-x-x-