(for ePub and PDF formatted editions of this story see: jongraeme .blogsite .org )

Prolog: Previously on The Tomorrow People...

"Arms out." Jake scanned again. This time there was no response when he scanned past Damon's chest, but as he reached Damon's arm, the blinking light returned.

"That's my arm. That's my sodding arm, how can there be a tag in my sodding arm?" Damon sat back down, he was looking visibly uncomfortable. "He bloody, he knows where I am. He can come and get me any time he sodding wants. I'll tear the thing out of my sodding arm, I'll tear my sodding arm off."

"We can work this out. Alright? Okay, it's an RF chip. Easy enough to fry, electromagnetic pulse."

"Without frying my arm?"

Damon broke down. ~Damn it, Jake, she's going to be tortured and killed.~

~I know.~

~We have to do something, I can't let this go, Jake, I can't. I was abducted and tortured by a psychopath, and I, my head is so messed up that I don't really know what I'm thinking anymore. We have to make the police understand, whatever that takes, we have to.~

~They're useless. The police are totally bloody useless.~

~I know that, tell me about it.~

~So. Sod them. We go after Stellman ourselves.~


~You're right. We have to do something. But there's no point trying to convince the police it's Stellman. By the time that works, Misako will be dead. We act now, you and me, we might still save her. So. We go after Stellman ourselves.~

~We can at least get Misako away then.~

~She has to be here or the police have no evidence. Without that he can walk away, this whole thing just starts all over again.~

~Then what the hell do we do?~ Damon was getting irritated.

~You got Misako's home telephone number?~ Jake was thinking through ideas, desperately hoping something he thought of would make sense.


~Right. When we hear Stellman get back, call that number, say nothing. Keep the call up for a few seconds, disconnect, leave the phone on, turn of the ringer. The police'll be tracing every call, like they did on your home number. That'll be enough.~

~I made the call. Someone answered. Got freaked by the silence. She was shouting down the phone in a panic. I gave her a minute or two then ended the call. Felt bloody cruel. But, she was scared enough, it'll work.~

"I'm stuck in this sodding wheelchair for another four more weeks they figure, I can't even get up and hobble around on crutches until then with my shoulder being as trashed as my leg. You're laughing, but do you know how sodding embarrassing it is when I need to go to the toilet right now?" Jake ranted. His first day home after a week in hospital had not been working out so well.

"Serves you right for getting yourself shot." Damon wasn't in a mood to offer too much sympathy.

"Piss off, Damon. I still get nightmares about that."

Damon hesitated, "What do you think, are we safe now?"

"Still paranoid?"

"The last thoughts going through Stellman's head were about friends in high places who could step in and get him out of any trouble, then a realization they were more likely to kill him to keep him quiet. I don't know, it was confused, none of his thoughts were that coherent by that point."

"You get any chance to talk to Misako yesterday before you left the hospital?"

"No. She's still so messed up she isn't talking. Not to anyone."

"Not even to the guy that saved her life. There's gratitude."

"Anything?" Masters was asked as he got back in the car to leave.

"No. Unfortunately it seems Stellman took his secrets to the grave with him."

"And was he working alone?"

"Stellman was intellectually half baked, he couldn't have pulled all that off on his own. Plus there remains the matter of the disc and those prion samples missing from his house, someone had to be responsible for that, and it wasn't Stellman."

"What about our friend with the red hair?"

"It does not benefit us to jump to conclusions. He certainly has the means and motive to be connected with all this, the missing items could be his work. But that is idle speculation. For now it is important we keep an open mind."

"The kids?"

"Keep them under discreet surveillance. And I mean discreet. If our red headed friend was involved he'll be going after them soon enough."

Open Your Eyes

Misako Haruaki stared nervously at the stark, unsympathetic double swing doors opposite. The doors were green, scuffed, and didn't quite seem to hang straight; bright light escaping through the cracks around the edges gave them a slightly surreal aura.

The waiting room itself was illuminated with cold, harsh fluorescents, one of which was just starting to flicker; the air was heavy with the stench of disinfectant and floor wax; the batteries in the wall clock were all but dead, the second hand twitching, trying valiantly, forever failing to make it to the next second. The clock was old, neglected, like the rest of the hospital, like the rest of the health system.

Misako had been sat there in silence, ignored by the doctors and nurses for more than twenty minutes now, waiting impatiently, waiting her turn. She wanted it over with.

In the corner there was an old, box-shaped television set. The volume was turned right down, there were subtitles but they weren't worth reading, it was a re-run of some old game show, it was only there as a distraction, and it wasn't working, because it was the treatment room behind the green doors that Misako was incapable of tearing her attention away from.

She could hear way too much of what was going on in there.

The kid who had escaped, Damon his name was, he was in there now, he was in there arguing the toss with the surgeon. The surgeon was being ridiculous, intransigent to the point of stupidity, but Damon was just as bad. And alright, she could kind of see where he was coming from; no one in the world had the right to tell Damon he didn't understand pain, but there wasn't a need for him to be a total prick about it...

~Alright, give me the bloody scalpel. I'm a big boy, I'll hack the thing out all by myself. All you need to do is clean up the mess. Or do you have a problem with that as well?~

~"Hey, I'm just trying to be helpful here. I don't think you understand how much this is going to hurt. All I'm recommending is a simple local anesthetic..."~

~No. No anesthetic. No needles, no pills, no painkillers, no general, no local, no nothing. That's the condition on the consent form, it's not negotiable.~

~"I'm just a little uncomfortable..."~

~If you have a problem, if I walk out of this room with that sodding chip still in my arm, I'll go do the job myself with a rusty penknife and hold you responsible for the consequences.~

He wasn't joking. There was an undertone of desperation pervading his thoughts that left Misako feeling distinctly uncomfortable. It was like he knew something, some specific reason why he should still be scared shitless of that tracking chip. A reason that apparently left him willing to suffer whatever magnitude of pain it took to get the thing cut out. It would be easy to argue after everything he'd been through that he maybe wasn't thinking straight, but Misako had been accused by people of over-reacting once or twice in the last few weeks and she'd been about ready to rip their throats out for saying that. Nothing was an over-reaction after going through shit like he had, like she had, nothing. Whatever Damon was afraid of, his fear was rational.

It was now three weeks, four days, two hours and thirty seven minutes since she'd woken up alive. Her last memory of Stellman had been of him swinging a golf club at her head to test her resilience to concussion, she'd been surprised to wake up at all. The only reason she could sleep at night was because she knew Stellman was dead; bullet in the brain dead. So if there was some reason for Damon to be afraid still, that was something she definitely wanted to know about.

And yes, she knew counting the minutes wasn't entirely sane.

~"It's embedded deep in the muscle tissue, this has to be done right if you want your arm still working afterwards."~

~What the hell do I care? It's not like it's my wanking arm. So just sodding get on with it.~

The green doors were there to isolate the treatment room from the waiting room, but she closed her eyes and she could see inside with remarkable clarity, and when the scalpel went in she'd probably feel it with remarkable clarity as well. Same way she could hear every word being said in there right now, same way she could see the tray of surgical implements, same way she could feel the rough paper that covered the cold, hard surgical table; because Damon could see it, hear it, touch it, and somehow that all got relayed telepathically through his thoughts. She'd been led to believe that there was a way she could filter shit like that out, only right now her attempts at filtering didn't seem to be working right and she had no clue why. Misako was still trying to get her head around all the telepathy stuff; very little of it made sense to her just yet, and the explanations Damon had given her the one time she'd spoken to him, they'd been pretty half-arsed at best...

"It's something to do with distance."

That voice was Jake's, that one was out loud.

"It's like, the closer you are, the harder it is to ignore. Sitting this close, when they put the scalpel into him, I'm guessing it's going to hurt like buggery. Probably way worse than buggery. Don't know, never actually been buggered before."

Misako had no clue what to make of Jake.

"I know this guy who says buggery isn't nearly as painful as people make out," he continued. "Claims it's actually kind of fun. Always had my suspicions about him though, I mean, I picked up this definite sense of ulterior motives when he said it to me, so he might just have been saying."

Damon might be awkward, but Jake was batshit.

"Worst pain I ever experienced was getting shot through the knee," he observed clinically. "That kind of hurts. Doubt this'll be that painful. But, you see, what the little bugger doesn't understand is that it's not for his sake he needs to be taking the anesthetic, it's for ours."

Jake was a contradiction. He came across as cocky and way too sure of himself, but that was all for show; a veneer of youthful arrogance concealing an intense emotional turmoil that festered away just beneath the surface. It was a disconnect that bordered on the creepily sociopathic.

Unfortunately he was also the guy who'd saved her life, at least according to the police, which made him a lot harder to dismiss out of hand than she would have preferred.

The wheelchair he was confined to was parked up against the wall two seats across from Misako. He looked incredibly uncomfortable, Stellman had left him in a mess. An upper body cast covered most of his right side, his right arm was strapped awkwardly across his front; his right leg was in another full cast that made him look all lopsided. He was dressed in oversized board shorts, and a black silk shirt that he was wearing normally over his left arm, and on the right side he had it wrapped around and then tied something like a toga on the right. His eyes were slightly bloodshot and looked like he'd barely slept in three weeks. She could sense he was still in constant pain from the bullet wounds, painkillers or not, and then there was the discomfort from the casts to contend with. No escape, no respite; he was understandably miserable.

"Okay, knife just about to go in. I hate the sight of blood. If this was TV, this is where I'd close my eyes," Jake kept up the running commentary. "Unfortunately that isn't quite so easy telepathically."

Through Damon's eyes she watched as they strapped his arm down, gave him something to bite on.

"So you think that actually helps with the pain, or just stops him from screaming too loud?" Jake tried to engage her.

Misako kept silent, kept looking ahead, avoided eye contact with Jake. Eye contact would just encourage him, and she really wasn't interested in getting into this particular conversation.

The incision, when it came, wasn't so bad, the real challenge came a moment or two later when they twisted the pair of pliers around in Damon's arm trying to get a grip on the tracking chip. Misako clenched her mouth shut, blocked as much of the telepathic stream of consciousness as she could, but the sensation still brought tears to her eyes.

Somehow Damon managed to lie there completely motionless, feeling all the pain, but not letting any of it get to him.

His mind flashed back. Misako tried desperately to look away but the images came through whichever way she looked. Images of Damon waking up to find himself clamped into some kind of surgical frame. A frame that kept him immobilized but conscious while a needle was driven through his occipital cavity and into his brain. It wasn't the worst of the pain he'd been subjected to, not by a long shot, but it was the moment he'd hit his emotional low point, the moment he'd lost all hope. The pain meant nothing, what got to him was the emptiness. The fear of being alone, in the dark, without hope, that was what he couldn't handle.

Jake, meanwhile, kept on talking nonsensically. "I really didn't think it would hurt this much, though. I sort of had this wondering thing, because, I'm on these industrial strength painkillers for my knee right now, seriously, freakily strong, I spend half the time feeling like I'm on the ceiling having tea parties with little green faeries, so I was thinking I shouldn't be able to feel any pain at all. But I can, so I guess telepathy doesn't work like that, it must bypass whatever pain receptors the drugs block. Which sucks, really."

Misako could sense that Jake was more than mildly irritated by her refusal to acknowledge him, but that did nothing to shut him up.

"My own bloody fault in a way. They weren't going to let him refuse the anesthetic, and he got all pissed off, and came asking for advice. So I told him what I figured he needed to do, and I guess it worked. I gave him all this stuff about bullshitting the doctors into treating him as an equal rather than as a patient. Use long words, sound like you know what you're talking about, Not that he needed much help there, you want to hear him talking to the doctors, the kid's a biology genius or something, uses long words that even the doctors don't understand. And he's not bullshitting, seriously, he hangs out in these online medical chatrooms where half the students think he's a research professor or something, no clue that he's actually this sad, spotty teenaged geek with no dress sense whose balls only dropped about five months ago.

"Point is, he knows what he's talking about. He's not just using arbitrary long words, he's using the right long words. He understands how the whole pain thing works, he can sit there and explain to them how he rationalized the pain of being tortured, Which, well, that part is total bullshit, I was there, kind of, so I know he didn't rationalize anything at all at the time, he endured it because he had to, because he wasn't given any choice.

"But he can bullshit the Doctors into making them think he understands. And he'll deal with the pain, because in the scheme of things he's dealt with far worse.

"He's not batshit insane, I get where he's coming from, I know what he went through. I know why he's afraid of needles. In four days Stellman injected him with twenty-seven different varieties of bugger knows what. They only ever identified half the shit in those syringes. No clue what the long term health consequences might be. Left him so paranoid he won't even take aspirin, and maybe that's him gone a little over the top, but, what do I know? Only thing Stellman shot me up with was a gun. The kid's got balls, you have to respect that.

"I couldn't have refused the anesthetic. Me, I guess I was lucky, well, in a way. They took my chip out same time I was in surgery to try and piece my knee and shoulder back together, under a general anesthetic, so if there was any discomfort from where they'd cut the tracking chip out, it kind of got lost in the rest of the pain."

The tracking chip was dropped in a surgical dish and Damon's arm was now in the process of being glued back together and bandaged up. The whole procedure had only taken a matter of seconds.

"And I know, you're wondering what the hell I'm doing here if it's not to get my chip removed. I'm kind of wondering the same thing myself. I've spent so much time here for surgery over the last few weeks you'd think I'd be sick of the place. Which I am. But, it's for Damon really, moral support, I guess that's why I'm here. That and it's a day off. School's okay, I suppose, I mean, I have nothing better to do. Got so bored stuck at home day in, day out, I was actually glad to get back to school. Sad, really. Very sad."

Misako closed her eyes, tried to calm herself. Jake talking about school was winding her up even more, and on top of that they were done in there with Damon, it was her turn now.

"So hey, I'm Jake by the way, you must be Misako. Good to finally get to meet you."

Misako said nothing.

"Don't talk much, do you?"

"Not as much as you do," she pointed out bluntly.

But his incessant babble had served its purpose, it had kept her distracted, and at some level she could see that had been his whole intention. Jake wasn't someone to underestimate, even if he did seem to have trouble taking anything much seriously.

He definitely wasn't anything like the vigilante folk hero the newspapers had made him out to be. Well, as much as they could make him out to be anything without violating reporting restrictions. Technically the three of them were protected by a court injunction that guaranteed their privacy, but that only meant the papers ran endless speculative stories about 'Survivor J', 'Survivor D' and 'Survivor M' instead. Not much bloody good when their full names and faces had been plastered all over the front pages of the same newspapers back when they'd been missing, headlines that were still readily available to anyone who cared to search online. The whole thing was a mockery.

'Survivor J', though, he was a bona fide national hero. The kid who'd fought back, taken matters into his own hands, who'd succeeded where the authorities had failed. Stellman was dead and Jake was the poster boy for every anti-establishment whacko there was out there.

He was also Misako's own, personal knight in shining armor. And she conceded she'd had a few questionable fantasies along those lines. The reality, as always, had turned out to be something of a disappointment; she'd have settled for a thoughtful altruist, instead she was stuck with a hero who was two parts oblivious mixed with a definite dose of the narcissistic.

"I probably ought to thank you for saving my life," she said.

"You don't seem all that sure."

He had no interest in being a knight in shining armor, and she could see that he took issue with the accusation of narcissism. He'd heard everything she'd been thinking about him, and telepathy was screwed up freaky any which way you looked at it.

"You always reading my mind?" she asked.

"Sorry, but It's difficult not to when you're sat this close."

The revelation left Misako feeling uncomfortable. He could listen in on every aspect of every thought at every moment, with him sat there she couldn't have any privacy at all, and there was nothing she could do about it. It wasn't just a little freaky, it was a lot freaky, it was beyond freaky. And there wasn't even any way of knowing...

"Actually, so you know, there is a way of knowing. It's a sensation you get, kind of like when someone pushes past you on a crowded tube train, getting really close, never quite making contact, but you can feel the proximity like a static charge or a current of air. Don't know if I'm explaining it very well..."

"It's, kind of. I think I know what you're getting at. I do sense something," she conceded.

"And with a bit of practice you can keep the thoughts from leaking quite so much. Not completely, at least not that I know how, but, enough that it's not quite so freaky. And look, I wouldn't worry about it, all I've seen, you just think normal stuff. You want to try reading Damon's thoughts some time, totally not normal. I mean, he's in therapy. He's, well, sometimes the things he thinks, they're just not right. But, there's not anyone perfect. Telepathy kind of forces you to confront truths like that."

Damon had told her the same thing, but then he'd said a lot of things in the whole ten minutes she'd known him, and most of that had sounded so outrageous that she'd had trouble believing any of it, so she'd written it off as the usual exaggeration of youth; typical teenage bravado over-compensating for deep personal insecurities about penis size.

Except maybe he hadn't been exaggerating anything.

"So what about the rest of it?" she asked cautiously.

"What do you want to know?"

"It's been two weeks since I, what did Damon call it? Since I broke out? I've got the telepathy under control, he mentioned there's other stuff like teleportation. And, I'm reading your mind right now because I can see that the teleportation is definitely real, I guess what I want to know is, is there any more than that?"

"I don't know," Jake answered, not sounding too certain.

"Why not, shouldn't it be obvious?" Misako was skeptical.

"None of this stuff is all that obvious. You've been telepathic for years without ever realizing. It's not like people ever randomly try to jaunt, you know, just to see if it works, how would we know about it? I don't think we even know the half of what we're capable of."

"You did work out the jaunting though," she pointed out.

"True," Jake admitted with the beginnings of a grin, "but most of what we've learned, it's been when we've been pushed, pushed by circumstances that were extreme by any definition. I didn't learn to jaunt by accident, I learned out of desperation. I was desperate to avoid screwing up," he joked.

That same attitude of his again, like he had to turn everything into a joke. All she wanted him to do was to take her seriously for a moment. This was important, this was something she needed to get her head around, and he wasn't helping. "So what are we supposed to do about it?"

"I don't know. I don't have that answer," he shrugged.

"Damon said something about this big mission."

"Damon has this big mission. Me, I just want to get the casts off, get out of this wheelchair, and get off these painkillers so I can go out and get completely and unapologetically rat-arsed."

"You aren't interested in finding this number fourteen then? Interested that there might be someone else out there with the same powers we have?"

"Interested yes, obsessed no. Damon's obsessed. He gets like that about everything. You want to see obsession? He's even more obsessed with tracking down Stellman's accomplice. Now there I have some sympathy, although I'm more bothered by how the bastard's managed to evade justice, and Damon's driven by this idea that the guy might still be some kind of threat. But we don't have any leads, no clue where to even start looking, I'm trying to be pragmatic about our chances of finding him, but try telling that to Damon."

Totally mentally unbalanced was what he was. Misako could sense the underlying paranoia and it was very obviously clouding Jake's reason. "Stellman didn't have any accomplice. The police thoroughly investigated that possibility and rejected it. You're delusional, you believe in all the conspiracy theories?"

"The police are incompetent. They profiled the killer, said he was a psychopathic loner of low intellect living on the fringes of society. We found out he was a college professor who had to fit the killings around the demands of a promotional tour he was on to publicize his latest book. If you want to accuse me of being delusional, fine, just remember your survival was a direct consequence me trusting my own delusion more than I trusted all the certainty of the police. Think about that."

Misako disliked both the attitude and the conceit, and as for his risk taking... "You claim you knew all that about Stellman and you didn't tell them? How the hell do you justify that?"

"They'd have asked for evidence. We didn't have evidence, we only knew it was him because we read his mind. If I'd told the police that I'd have been carted off to the funny farm, I'd have been slapped back for wasting their time, and you'd be dead."

"So instead you tell them whatever bullshit came to mind because you figured that's the lesser of two evils?"

"You talk like the lesser of two evils is a bad thing. It's a good thing, it's less evil," he quoted back at her defensively.

Misako lost patience with him. Of all the people in the world who could have saved her life, she was the one who had to get herself saved by a complete tosser. He was a vigilante out on a vendetta and he didn't have anyone else to lash out at, so he'd had to make someone up. Jake was nothing but an arsehole, a sad, lost, self-serving arsehole.

The conversation stalled; Jake had finally disengaged his mouth and Misako had absolutely nothing left to say to him. The silence was uncomfortable.

They were finally rescued from their impasse as the door to the treatment room opened and Damon walked out escorted by a nurse. He was clenching his teeth, still evidently in some pain and desperately trying to pretend otherwise.

He looked swamped by his clothes, like everything was a size or two too big, and it didn't help that his hair was long and unkempt. He was so much the antithesis of Jake; Jake wore clothes that said something about style over substance, Damon tried, but his style said clueless. Something about the two of them together didn't make any sense.

"Hello, you must be Misako," the nurse introduced herself. "Give us a few more minutes to prep and we'll be ready for you." The nurse turned back to Damon; "there should be someone along shortly to escort you back to the main waiting area where your parents are, and don't forget there's a prescription for painkillers at the desk for you to pick up, and please, pick it up even if you don't plan on taking them, just so you have them, just in case you change your mind." She smiled, turned, and headed back into the treatment room.

Damon smirked as the nurse departed, waiting until she was out of earshot before he spoke. "When I first saw her, for a moment I thought her breasts were actually glowing red."

Jake nodded. "I know you did."

"Then I realized, it's just that she's wearing a bright orange bra underneath that thin white shirt."

"Can we please not talk about this."

"You were looking too, I can read your mind remember."

"Yes I was looking, okay, I don't need to be reminded."

"What's your problem?"

"My problem is that I'm stuck in a wheelchair and it's hard enough dealing with the frustrations of that without you bloody making it worse by thinking what you're thinking of right now. And mostly I can cope, and I'll cope better if you can just drop it, so, can you just drop it? Seriously. I'm struggling here."

"Sorry. I..."

"Don't be bloody sorry, that's even worse. Just. Sodding. Just... Okay, forget it. Just don't say any more. That's..."

"You made your point, move on."

"And secondly, Damon, you know we were having that discussion about basic social skills?"


"You don't talk about staring at breasts when there are girls around. It's impolite."

Misako stared at them, feeling very uncomfortable and very, very much the outsider. For a moment the two of them had been so intensely focussed on their own little world that they'd barely even seemed aware that she was there. They were insular, inward looking, reinforcing each other's uncertainties. "You two, you scare me, you really do."

"We're damaged goods. I'm in therapy," Damon admitted.

"Me, I probably ought to be in therapy, but I have this hate-hate relationship with therapists," Jake joked.

Damon frowned. "So instead you lumber me with all your problems?"

"You give good advice. Better than any shrink."

"I get that advice from my shrink, relay his answers back."

"Of course mostly your answers are crap, you just state the bleeding obvious..."

"Right, but having the bleeding obvious pointed out to you is exactly what you need if you're a nutcase like you are," Damon pointed out.

Two minds, one voice, Misako had lost track of which of them had been speaking there. The words might have come from separate mouths, but the thoughts had come from the both of them in almost equal measure.

Misako shook her head; "I can't deal with this."

All she'd wanted to do was to make some kind, any kind of connection with them, emotional or intellectual, it didn't matter. Was that really so unrealistic an expectation? She was just desperate for someone to talk to, anyone who might understand any small part of what it was she'd been though.

It was enough effort to deal with the trauma of having been kidnapped and tortured without having to deal with the added troubles of two immature boys who were even more emotionally screwed up than she was; one pathologically irresponsible and the other socially inept. And Misako immediately realized both of them could hear her thinking that.

Jake's response was unexpectedly patient. "No, we aren't perfect. Look, at least let us try and explain, at least listen. It's not all what you think it is. Okay, we're going for pizza. Not just any pizza, this is good pizza. Damon here still isn't eating enough, I mean, look at the guy, still looks emaciated, I've seen famine victims with more meat on them. I feel the need to try and fatten him up. We could talk over pizza. There's so much we have to try and explain."

It was no good. Reluctantly Misako made up her mind.

"No, there isn't. I'm not interested. Sorry. Thanks for saving my life and all, but, we're done. Goodbye."

One Day At A Time

The police car was parked up on the grass verge directly across the road from Misako's house, behind it stood a casually dressed man with fiery red hair who was remonstrating loudly with two police officers, crowding them, trying to push past them. His back was turned, she couldn't make out his face, but he didn't act like one of the regular reporters, they weren't usually so belligerent. The officers were resolutely standing their ground, obstructing him at every move; the exchange was heated, it was a miracle it had managed to stop short of turning violent.

She contemplated having the taxi driver escort her all the way up to the house, play it safe. But that was nuts, that was over the top, that was just giving in to the fear, and she was tired of giving in to the fear. She waved goodbye to the taxi at the front gates; it was only a fifty yard walk from there to the front door, she could make it.

Misako trudged dolefully up the pathway. Fall had fallen and the evidence was everywhere she looked. Glorious yellow and brown and red leaves trodden into a muddy sludge on the ground. She had no great admiration for autumn, certainly not when it was mixed with the Great British drizzle.

The path led up to an old, slightly crooked house. Part Tudor, part Georgian, extensively renovated in Victorian times; a confused relic of a bygone age whichever way you looked at it. Set in about five acres of gardens; the gardens were well kept, Misako's grandfather was an enthusiastic gardner and very handy with a machete, although these days he employed a couple of horticulture students part time to do most of the heavy work for him. Misako had grown up playing in those gardens, knew them intimately, and normally felt safe surrounded by all that familiarity, but on this occasion not so much. She spotted some newly planted Japanese onion seedlings and easily resisted the temptation to go check out what else her grandfather had been up to.

Across the street the shouting had subsided; either the man had finally given up or they'd lost patience and taken him down with a taser. Misako didn't particularly care which. She didn't look back, she didn't stop until she was inside the house and the front door was closed behind her, bolted, sealing her off from the outside world.

Alone at last with her disappointment.

And the morning had been a pretty major disappointment; all she had to show for it was an arm that was hurting so much that it was driving her to distraction. The painkillers weren't nearly as effective as the nurse had promised her they'd be.

Reaching for the front door she'd picked up another sensation of pain; not her arm this time, this was something else. A pain she couldn't quite place, a pain associated with the front door itself, specifically with the handle.

She'd always been able to do that, pick up reflections of feelings from inanimate objects, especially strong emotions like pain, or fear, or love. Occasionally objects could even reflect abstract ideas and concepts, but that was a lot more rare. Damon and Jake hadn't mentioned anything about psychometry being one of their powers, but then by their own admission they were both pretty clueless. Psychometry was the only rational explanation Misako could come up with.

Which implied that whatever poor sod had been the last to come in contact with the door handle had been in some serious pain at the time. She had a few ideas.

"Gran?" she shouted speculatively across the hall. "What's with the police car outside?"

"Just a little reporter trouble, dear," the voice floated back. "Don't worry, I left him alive so he'll warn the others about what happens to people who trespass on the front lawn."

Misako frowned. Her gran was a wonderfully cheerful and approachable old lady gifted with an innate dignity and the most impeccable of manners; the police wouldn't for a moment think her capable of common assault, which only went to prove Jake's point about police competence.

Anyway, Charley Grace only incapacitated people who deserved it, and she'd mellowed a lot in retirement; seldom these days did the injuries she inflicted go as far as broken limbs. There wasn't exactly any denying that the woman was a homicidal maniac; an absolutely sweet and charming homicidal maniac, but a homicidal maniac nonetheless.

Misako had never really stopped to consider whether behavior like that was normal for a grandmother, it was just the way things were, the way they'd always been, as long as she'd been living with her grandmother, which was just about as long as she could remember.

Misako's parents were gone. They'd been gone a long, long time. For the most part Misako didn't really miss them, she didn't remember them well enough to miss all that much. Her grandparents were all the family she had, well, other than an older sister, but Misako had almost no contact with her these days. Their relationship had always been fraught at best, Misako had never really understood why.

The arrangement worked, her grandparents were seriously cool. Alright, the extended generation gap could get in the way a little at times, but pretty much she'd been able to talk to them about anything, at least until now. Now Misako was beating herself up wondering why she'd survived when ten other kids had been murdered, she was asking herself what the hell she'd done to deserve her freedom, her life, when the other victims had ended their days disposed of in medical incinerator, and those weren't questions Charley Grace would ever be able to answer. As much as Misako loved her gran, there were limits to anyone's ability to understand what she'd been through.

The only two people in the world who had a clue were Damon and Jake, and she'd bailed out on the both of them. And no, that wasn't fair; she'd sensed they were as desperate as she was to have someone else they could talk to, and she'd hadn't enjoyed pushing them away, but what the hell other option did she have? They both had way too many other issues they needed to deal with first, issues she couldn't even begin to help them with.

Misako was on her own.

She stopped at the bottom of the stairs trying to work out exactly which room she'd heard her gran's voice coming from. She'd always been able to instinctively sense where people were; another ability that made a whole lot more sense now that she knew she was telepathic. Normal people might not be able to project their thoughts intentionally, but enough leaked out, not often to the point she could tell much of what they were thinking, but always enough to at least be able sense that there was someone there, if only as a presence on the distant edge of perception. As a kid she'd never once lost a game of hide and seek.

Right now Misako could sense someone up the stairs and to the right; that put her gran in the exercise room.

"You said that 'leaving them alive to warn the others' thing about the photographer who climbed the fence into the back garden as well, you know, the one who tripped and managed to accidentally clobber himself in the groin with a cricket bat. Do these people ever really learn their lesson?" she shouted up the stairs.

Charley Grace appeared on the upstairs landing and leant meaningfully over the bannister. "Of course they learn, darling. But it's like training any animal, you need a little patience and you have to expect it may take a few attempts at correcting them before the lesson sinks in."

"I'm just sick of them. Sick of this whole circus. I have enough shit to deal with right now without reporters and..." Misako trailed off. She was getting angry, and her gran had always reminded her that anger was nothing more than an admission that you were letting the bastards get to you.

Charley Grace smiled. "You have every right to be angry, darling, and I admire your control, but it will take patience. One day you'll find your peace, one day the frustrations will start to fade, that's the only hope I can offer you."

She swept down the staircase and headed into the kitchen where she fixed herself a freshly squeezed orange juice.

Misako followed, hovering by the doorway. For a moment she hesitated. She knew exactly what she wanted to say and she knew that with Charley Grace there was no point in subtlety; she got straight to the point.

"How long though? Another month being escorted everywhere for my own protection? Another six months stuck at home isolated from the entire world? I appreciate that you want to hire a private tutor to get me through to my exams, but, I've decided I want to go back to school. I need to go back."

Misako wasn't been quite sure what her gran's reaction to that would be; the tutor had already been a compromise solution. Charley Grace had wanted Misako to take a year off, take the time out to recover properly. Go do something crazy, travel the world, enjoy life without any pressures or expectations for a while. The school had recommended the same course of action, tried to convince her to defer her exams for a year, although their motive was more likely attributable to a concern her grades might suffer and drag the school down in the performance league tables.

Misako had been seriously tempted by the gap year idea, but she could see the dangers; to get back from a life changing experience like that only to have to face another year back at school, especially not when all her friends there would be gone, that would suck. She'd do a gap year, but she'd do it in her own time, and she was finishing school first.

So now she spent most of her days reading school books, doing everything she could to keep up with her lessons. She was increasingly aware that if she intended to go back to school full time this year then time was fast running out; waiting until she was completely recovered wasn't an option, she had to act now.

And anyway, if a couple of half-baked idiots like Damon and Jake could handle being back at school, then it couldn't be that bloody difficult.

Charley, however, sounded pragmatically doubtful. "You've thought about this?"


"What brought this on?"

"Waking up on a Monday morning with nothing to do. Trying to talk to Damon and Jake today..."

"Good, you spoke to them finally. What are they like? That Jake looked cute from what I saw of him. Casual elegance, a little youthful for my tastes, but if you brought a young gentleman like that home I think I'd quite approve."


"Sorry. But I do feel you over-compartmentalize your life."

"Right now I have to, that's how I stay sane day to day."

"Which is why the school will question the wisdom of you going back there so soon. Darling I know I've always encouraged you to be strong in the face of adversity, but in this case I think you have a good reason to pace yourself. Try to recover too quickly and you'll only end up in denial."

"Gran, I appreciate the advice, but this isn't about dealing with everyday adversity." Misako kept the tone conciliatory, her gran had all the best motives in the world, but, sometimes just seemed to miss the obvious. "What happened, it wasn't everyday. I know you're trying, but... I don't know how to explain..."

"Which is why talking to that Damon and Jake might help..."

"Not going to help. They're... they're complete tossers. And I appreciate the advice, but I have to handle this my way, it's just not something that can be dictated..."

"I'm not telling you what to think, Misako, dear, I've never done that and I never will; I've taught you to think for yourself. But you don't have all the answers." Charley Grace always spoke her mind. It was a trait Misako appreciated; the words might be blunt, brutal sometimes, but they were always honest.

"Sometimes, young lady, it helps to give others the benefit of the doubt. Even that Damon and Jake. Especially as you're expecting the same benefit of the doubt from school."

"You think the school will have a problem?" Misako questioned acerbically; she could already guess the answer.

"You know they will, dear. They want a reassurance you aren't mentally unstable and liable to go berserk in class one day and hack your friends into little pieces with a machete. And as long as you continue to refuse all offers of help, they're not going to get that reassurance. If you'd at least agree to talk to a therapist..."

"I don't need to see a therapist."

"Darling, I know that, but try to see it from their point of view. They're worried about liability, they're worried about lawsuits."

Misako could see where the argument was leading. "Meaning they won't let me back otherwise?"

"Of course they will, but you'll have to work a lot harder to convince them. Why expend that effort unnecessarily? Why not take the path of least resistance?"

"Open up to a shrink?"

"Good gracious, no," Charley Grace was taken aback. "That would be ridiculous. You simply need to go through the motions. It's a means to an end dear, you don't need analyzing."

"So I sign up for therapy, fake it..."

"Then I'll talk to the school."

"And I can drop it as soon as the school is satisfied?"


Misako hesitated a moment. It wasn't ideal, she hated the idea of therapy, but the idea of being stuck at home month after month was worse. What was it Jake had said about the lesser of two evils?

"Okay. I'll do it."

Charley Grace smiled graciously at her. "Splendid dear. Go sort yourself out a therapist and then come give me his name, I'll call in a few favors and dig the dirt on him. Always makes sense to go into these things with an exit route planned. We might want to consider a raid on his office as well, a chance to rifle through all his private files. As I always say, you can never be too prepared..."

"Gran..." Misako said grudgingly.

"Yes dear?"

"This is why I love you."

Misako turned on the garage light. Not using the switch, she did it telekinetically. Damon had shown her the basic principle; she'd made out that she'd ignored him, not wanting to encourage him at all, but she had listened, every word. It was a neat trick.

She waited a moment until she could smell the dust burning off the bulb. The thing hadn't been replaced in over a decade, incandescent light bulbs weren't meant to last that long. It got used sufficiently infrequently that it would probably last another ten years, but Misako still hesitated every time she turned it on, waiting for the old fashioned pop she'd likely never hear again when this one went. Another relic of a bygone age, a lot like half the junk Charley Grace kept in there.

It was a three car garage, converted from old stables, but there were only ever two cars in there; the rest of the space was taken up by stacks of shelving that went all the way up to the wooden roof lofters. Shelves loaded with relics of Charley Grace's former career.

Misako had grown up entranced by the spy stories her grandmother would tell her; bedtime stories when she'd been younger, stories whenever she'd been ill, and these days more often as stories to make sledgehammer philosophical points when she was being told off; but always stories about fantastical secret missions, all manner of futuristic gadgets and gizmos, and of course always, always about the evil super villains who were out to subjugate the world with their fiendish plans. Incredible, unbelievable stories that Misako had quickly worked out weren't anywhere near as made up as Charley Grace tried to imply. The sex and violence had been toned down to make them more suitable for a young child, names sensibly changed to protect the innocent, but even aged six Misako had been able to read minds well enough to work it out; all her gran's years as a Foreign Office attaché, the job title had been nothing more than a euphemism.

And anyway, if Charley Grace hadn't been a spy, then how come the garage had ended up stacked high with all manner of futuristic gadgets and gizmos? And did the government have any clue that she'd nicked all this stuff? Misako wasn't so anxious to dig too deeply there.

She grabbed for the step ladders, then stopped. Most of the boxes containing the really useful toys were stacked well out of reach, but there was no point starting to search through all that crap until she actually had a use for it. Which meant there was a phone call she reluctantly had to get out of the way first.

They'd given her the number of a therapist, tried to get her to call a dozen times. Told her there was always someone out there she could talk to, someone she could trust, just a phone call away. Someone called Doctor Russell.

Yeah, right, like he would have any bloody clue.

She could just imagine how he'd react if she told him the truth; told him about the agonizing headaches she'd suffered shortly after her escape, about hearing all the voices. He'd have her on medication, he'd have her locked up. Which was bloody stupid, because the headaches and the voices were completely normal, at least they were completely normal for people like her.

Misako had always known she was different to other kids. It had never bothered her that much, she'd never felt a desperate need to fit in. That was her grandmother's influence again, Charley Grace encouraged independence and free spirit; Charley Grace, face it, was something of a free spirit herself. She'd sent Misako to a school where individuality was celebrated, where self-belief was applauded. So, when the time came, it really hadn't been difficult for Misako to accept that she had a bunch of weird special powers. Special was normal for her.

Telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation, the only part she couldn't get her head around was the teleportation. There had to be a knack to it, but as Jake had pointed out, it wasn't anything obvious. Now if she could find a therapist who could help her with jaunting, great, otherwise what the hell was the point of therapy?

The phone was still ringing. She glanced at her watch, it wasn't quite midday yet, but it was close enough that they might be sat there anticipating lunch and ignoring the phones already; so much for being able to call them at any time.

Misako started to hunt round in the garage while she waited; there had to be miniature spy cameras in one of the boxes there, she clearly remembered her gran talking about them once.

She stopped abruptly, half way up a ladder, as the phone was finally answered. Bloody typical timing, but the receptionist was polite and helpful. "Yes, you're right, you had Doctor Russell assigned to you, and, you'll have to bear with me, so much has happened here in the last three weeks. Doctor Russell is still with us for now, but he's moving on in a few months to take up a research fellowship in Boston, so he's not taking new clients, let me look on the system here, sorry it's a little slow, seems to get that way at lunch time, I imagine it'll be Doctor Milman. And... no, not her. You're on the list for Doctor Russell's replacement, which is odd, because I thought he was still in the process of relocating to the area. Hold on just one moment... Well, very odd, the computer shows him as already available for appointments. Which makes no sense, he doesn't even have an office assigned yet, this has to be a computer error... Look, I want to double check this with the boss before I make any definite appointments. Did you say you were available to pop in this afternoon?"


"That's great. That will let us get the preliminary stuff out of the way, and I will have a definite answer for you by then on scheduling appointments."

"I don't know, I'd prefer someone with a track record."

"He was highly recommended by his former employers..."

Misako wasn't convinced. "I'd rather speak to someone tried and tested," she pressed.

"That's understandable, I respect your concern. Look, a little bit off the record here, there's absolutely no pressure; the system allocates you to a particular doctor, but it doesn't matter, you talk to me, we can switch it around, no questions asked. You make the final decision. But, you know, doesn't hurt to talk to him, give him a chance?"

So it wasn't a decision she had to make immediately. Misako figured that the best approach for now was just to play along.

"Tell me about him."

"Named Mark Omuda."

Too Much Information

The psychiatrists' offices were in a converted Victorian terraced house just off the main square in town. It sat anonymously between a firm of lawyers on one side and a pole dancing studio on the other. Not the easiest of places to find; an infeasibly small plaque on the door listed the names of the doctors and that was it. Made sense though, best to be a little discreet about it when you have dangerous lunatic nutcases walking in and out the whole time.

The interior was equally anonymous; clean and tidy, and a little sparse with regards to the décor. The waiting room had a few mismatching chairs that would have been more at home in an Edwardian dining room, a side table with the usual well thumbed old editions of National Geographic and Hello magazine, and a receptionist's desk, behind which stood a couple of old burnished steel filing cabinets.

The receptionist herself was sorting through a pile of fresh paperwork with a degree of inappropriate glee that only a career receptionist could muster. "So what we'll do today is get a routine history from you, background stuff really, nothing more than that, but it helps the doctor speed things up a little. Oh, I managed to speak to that Doctor Omuda I told you about, he's still in the process of moving, not supposed to be taking appointments yet, your getting assigned to him was a computer glitch as I thought, but, he did say he's keen to get started, and who's to argue with the computer's decision? Regarding that other little matter we discussed, just to reassure you he's human, I could set up an informal meeting for Friday at two o'clock, see what you think about him."

"Yes," Misako answered quickly. She'd spent the entire taxi ride over thinking it through; if she was doing this then she might as well go all out to fake her co-operation, try make the experience as painless as possible. "Not like he's going to tie me up, throw me in a water tank and see how long I struggle to stay alive like the last guy did," she added cheerfully.

The receptionist headed for the filing cabinets which were situated underneath the one concession to ornamentation on the otherwise bare walls; a portrait painting of some ancient wrinkled guy called William Glasser. Misako didn't know who he was, and she didn't particularly care, but by pretending to take an interest in the painting she was able to position herself where she could get a clear view of the receptionist unlocking the filing cabinet. She already had a decent close up shot of the keys lying splayed out on the desk, good enough to be able to fabricate a copy of any of them, but knowing which one of the dozen or so keys on the keyring she was after, that would save her a lot of time.

"First thing we need then is a brief medical history, there's a form to fill out... sorry, I know, there's always a form to fill out. They're all very basic questions, age, major heath problems, allergies. No, I don't know why we need to ask again, I know it's already in the system on some database somewhere, but of course they won't ever let us have access..."

"Do you have a pen I could borrow?" Misako asked politely, skillfully concealing the camera as the receptionist turned back around.

She took the forms over to the side desk and started to read through the questions. Intrusive, inappropriate questions; they wanted personal details about drink, drugs habits, sex life... this was what they called standard background information?

Misako was in danger of getting pissed off and she hadn't even met the shrink yet. She kept reminding herself that If she wanted to go back to school then she had no choice but to jump through the hoops. It was cold comfort, but it kept her from tearing the pages up and storming out in frustration.

She was on to question twenty-seven, one about sibling relationships, when she first sensed a commotion developing. Her answer so far consisted of one word; complex, and she knew that wasn't nearly enough, but she couldn't think how else to categorize it. And she couldn't concentrate because there was someone somewhere nearby who was upset, whose thoughts were leaking a whole mania of behavioral disorders that were escalating rapidly out of control.

Misako looked up, trying to work out where the disturbance was coming from. Then she heard the raised voices, then the door to one of the psychiatrists offices was slammed open and a woman stormed out. She had a face ravaged by sun-beds and cigarettes, and was dressed like a skinny teenager, which really didn't work on account of how she wasn't exactly either a teenager or skinny, although she was probably a lot younger than the forty-something she looked. The woman also had one of those screeching, penetrating, uncouth voices that would have been audible a mile away even if she hadn't been ranting furiously:

"He's the one with the small penis, who gets so drunk it's no bloody good for anything, I had every right to complain. He's the one hit me, why am I the bloody one stuck seeing you? It's him that's barking. Why don't you give him some of that fancy talk? No, too shit scared to psychoanalyze him, that's why you do me isn't it. It's easier. Well you're sodding useless. Once again, looks like if I want anything done about it, I'll have to do it myself."

The woman was waving her handbag around and managed to clout the receptionist across the back of the head.

"Excuse me," the receptionist said as she dodged quickly out of the way of the flailing arms.

That just wound the woman up even more. "Get out of my face, bitch, no I won't bollocking excuse you. You people make me sick. Why can't you just lock him up and throw away the key. He's guilty. Guilty of being a right twat, isn't that enough?"

"Could we please have this conversation in the office." Doctor Russell was stood in the doorway, unsuccessfully attempting to calm things down. Not doing a good job of it. Misako felt a certain relief that he wouldn't be dealing with her case after all.

"No we bloody couldn't. I've had enough. I need a smoke, I need a drink, you won't even let me smoke in there. What bloody good is that? Where's the nearest place to get a drink?"

"I don't know if there's..." the receptionist started.

"Oh piss off you self righteous tart, there's a wine bar right across the square." The woman pulled the file off the Doctor and deliberately threw it upwards, scattering leaves of paper in every direction.

Misako felt uncomfortable as the woman set eyes on her and stared at her for a moment.

"So what are you in here for? Anorexia, right? I would kill to be that skinny. I'll save you the bother of the therapy; eat pork pies. You think this lot can help you, darling? Well you're dead wrong if you do. They're a complete waste of scrote, like my husband," she gestured something small. "Got himself caught dealing drugs, he did, idiot couldn't even do that right. Now he's out on probation and holding down a job as a hairstylist. I mean, seriously, learned it inside he said. I know they make them bend over like fairies in there but I didn't think it was a permanent thing. I mean, what was he thinking? That doesn't pay enough. I have a mortgage, I have a gym membership, what about my car payments? They came and repossessed my car, while I was at the gym, do you know how embarrassing that was, how humiliating? As he has the nerve to say I'm spending too much, what the hell right does he have to tell me how much I can spend? Well I told him exactly what I though of that, and then you know what he did? You see this bruise? He hit me. I tell the police, no evidence against him they said, no evidence? What do you bloody call this bruise? No, he has no history of violence. He's on probation for drugs offenses, but apparently beating me up doesn't count as a violation. So what do they do? They accuse me of wasting police time because I won't stay away from him. He's my bloody husband, how am I supposed to to stay away from him? And after they look through all the evidence, then, they send me to therapy. Useless bloody useless. So I tell them, he does it again and I'll have the bastard's goolies off with a rusty razor blade. That'll sort him. And they're like, oh my God, no, no, you can't do that, that'd be a crime. Whose bloody side are they supposed to be on? This is meant to be about me. Nobody here seems to care about me. I'll do it, I'll bloody well do it, see what they say then."

The woman swept an arm across the receptionists desk scattering even more debris across the floor before storming angrily out.

Misako stared after her. Stared too hard, saw too much.

The Doctor and the receptionist were calmly picking up the mess, didn't seem aware of the problem. Misako wasn't sure what to do, she jumped in to help, managing to catch the name of the woman from one of the pages of the file now strewn everywhere; Tracy Thropston.

Misako gave it a moment, then tackled the Doctor. "I know it's none of my business, but, did that woman just walk out of here threatening to attack her husband with a razor blade? Shouldn't we call the police or something?"

"Don't worry about it," the Doctor sounded unconcerned. "I obviously can't discuss the details of the case, but I do want to reassure you there isn't any danger or need to call the police. I'm sorry I can't explain why, I'm afraid you'll just have to trust us. It happens, people who come here are often upset, that's why they come. She's angry, and we respect that, and we will follow this up, but I assure you absolutely, she isn't a danger to anyone."

Misako stared at him. Into his eyes. Through his eyes and into his mind. The doctor's unspoken professional opinion was that Tracy Thropston was an attention seeking misanthrope. As far as he was concerned the woman was full of it.

But Misako had no faith in therapists and his opinion didn't much convince her of anything. Telepathy wasn't completely reliable either, Misako would be the first to admit that, but Tracy's thoughts hadn't exactly been ambiguous.

For a moment she contemplated reporting the incident to the police. Except she knew how pointless that would be; first thing they'd do would be to contact Doctor Russell who'd give them the same bullshit disclaimer he'd just given her. Nothing would get done about it.

What was it Jake had said about having to trust your own delusions? What was it he'd said about the police being incompetent, about having to do the job yourself?

Misako closed her eyes. This was not her battle, her own life was enough of a mess already without going off on some crusade to fix someone else's problems. She dismissed the nagging doubts, and turned her attention mindfully back to the paperwork she'd been given.

Half an hour later Misako found herself loitering next to a shelf stacked high with lava lamps, peering discretely across the shop aisles, trying to work out exactly what Tracy Thropston was up to. Tracy was making some aggressive-looking thrusting gestures, but Misako couldn't see exactly what it was she was holding. Misako's view was obscured by an enormous advertising display for hypoallergenic microwavable seat cushions; the only real way she'd be able to see what Tracy was up to was to get closer.

Getting closer was stupid. Then again, the fact Misako had traipsed half way across town to this hardware store in the first place was already beyond stupid. She couldn't work out what the hell she was doing there, she didn't need to be doing any of this.

Back at the therapist's office she'd quickly abandoned any pretence of completing the therapy paperwork conscientiously. Making up shit that sounded good required a lot less effort, and Misako had been in a hurry to get out of the place. She hadn't been able to get the Tracy Thropston incident out of her mind and she wasn't going to be satisfied until she'd convinced herself, or at least near enough, that the woman was genuinely no more than the vitriolic windbag the therapist considered her to be.

Tracy Thropston hadn't exactly been hard to find. The wine bar was right across the square just as she'd said, and true to her word, that's where she was sat; in the smoking area out front, puffing her way through a cigarette, with an already half empty bottle of wine on the table beside her.

Misako had sat down on a park bench over by the fountain to keep a discrete eye on proceedings. Tracy hadn't taken long to down the rest of the wine and had then headed back inside, presumably to buy another bottle.

A couple of minutes later she'd been ejected bodily from the premises, drunk, bitter and clearly more irritated than ever. The bouncer was refusing to allow her back inside until she put out her cigarette, and she didn't exactly do herself any favors by trying to stub it out in his face. She spat at him, screamed abuse at him, and at one point had threatened to call the police; it was laughable in a tragic kind of way. Finally she'd beaten a retreat. Misako, decidedly not reassured by the incident, had decided to follow.

Homebase was the last place that Misako had expected to follow her to. Tracy didn't exactly come across as the DIY sort; more like the sort who would employ sixteen year old schoolboys to do the DIY for her, then get them drunk and try to seduce them. Misako had given up on objectivity; the immediate, intuitive dislike she'd taken to the woman had now developed into a dislike based on hard evidence.

Tracy Thropston had an attitude like everyone in the world was placed there to serve her. She had marched into the store, arrogant and clueless, and immediately proceeded to accost some poor seventeen year old sales assistant who'd been diligently helping an elderly lady pick out a new bench saw. Tracy had interrupted their conversation mid-sentence, thrust her obviously augmented assets in the sales assistant's face, and demanded to know, well, Misako was too far away to work out what Tracy had been demanding, but whatever she'd said had embarrassed the hell out of the poor kid, turned his face bright red and had left him falling over himself to apologize to the old lady once Tracy was gone.

Now Tracy was stood investigating something in the hand tools department, and taking her bloody time about it. Another three or five minutes managed to pass before she finally reached a decision, dropped whatever it was she'd been looking at into her shopping basket, and headed over to a checkout desk to cut in line.

Misako hung back, circled round in the opposite direction, and came out face to face with a display of wire cutters and other assorted, dangerously bladed garden implements. They weren't exactly the reassurance she'd been looking for.

Misako grabbed for the heavy duty cutters that had left balanced precariously on top. What was left of the emotional imprint was fading fast, but it wasn't exactly a happy clappy kind of feeling; vindictive bile mixed with Tracy Thropston thinking how easily she'd get away with it all. She'd plead diminished responsibility, claim she was provoked. The judge would be on her side, the sexually repressed old bastard was bound to fancy her. The jury would be on her side too; she could play on their sympathy, the men would want to shag her, and the women would think she was the dogs bollocks for standing up to her husband. She could commit any act of brutality she wanted and she just knew she'd get away with it. Maybe even make it on TV, an interview, a mini-series starring that Paris Hilton, or at least sell the story to a newspaper, she could pose for page three. A chance to cash in, she deserved a chance to cash in.

Come Friday night, her husband was going to get the surprise of his life, and Tracy Thropston was going to be famous.

"Objectionable woman, but, she does have a right to defend herself." Charley Grace observed as Misako replayed the video of the episode at the psychiatrist's office to her.

Misako sipped on a freshly squeezed orange juice.

"This isn't about defending herself, this is about cold blooded vengeance."

"After what sounds to me like a great deal of provocation."

"That doesn't make it right, gran."

"And what other choice does she have it the police won't listen?" Charley argued.

"I'm not questioning her objectives, just her methods. Vengeance never works, you're the one taught me that. Too many emotions get in the way. Dig two graves before you start."

"I do like it, darling, when you find a way to turn my own words against me. You're completely right of course."

"I understand that people think things at times, think of doing things they think would make them feel better, and it doesn't mean they're capable of going through with any of it. But she bought the cutters, I really think she's serious, I just can't prove anything, I can't flat out contradict medical opinion."

"And if she does hurt him? Is it the end of the world?"

Misako shrugged. "The problem is she already mentioned the idea to her shrink, so he'll testify in court that it was pre-meditated. Whatever she thinks, she's not going to get away with it. She's throwing her life away. And yes, she's objectionable, but maybe she'd be a lot less objectionable if she didn't have a drug dealing, wife beating, shit-of-a-husband controlling her. It isn't about whether he deserves it or not, because, you know, he does, but she'll suffer as well, it'll be the end of the world for her and that definitely isn't fair."

"So you intend to stop her?"

"I don't know. I don't even know if she's serious. And I know I can't control other people's behavior, you taught me that. All I can do is try to find a way to make her see reason, see she has to change her own behavior. I have three days. Maybe if there's a way she can get him out of the picture without having to commit a crime to do it. That's all I'm looking for, a way out, I just want to prove..."

"Why do you want to prove anything?" Charley interrupted.

"What?" Misako didn't understand the question.

"Darling, you have nothing to prove, not to anyone except yourself. So this isn't about that Tracy Thropston, it's about you doubting yourself. And, and that's not like you, dear."

Misako was silenced. Her gran was a far too perceptive at times, forced her to confront truths she'd much rather ignore.

"So what's your real problem then?" Charley Grace persisted.

Misako had lived her life taking each day as it came, not letting anything in life phase her, believing that there was no such thing as a day that was out of the ordinary. For the most part that philosophy worked, but there were times it was hard not to get carried away by events and miss the more subtle truth that was hidden in the noise. Sometimes her philosophy fell apart.

"What do I do, gran, when it feels like there's nothing I can do? When I know what I needs to happen, but it's beyond what I can make happen. When I want to walk away, because that's the easy thing to do, but I shouldn't walk away, because that's not the right thing to do."

"Darling it seems to me you already know exactly what it is you ought to do. You just haven't worked out how you're going to do it yet. That makes it a matter of self confidence. Now, what is this really about?"

Misako could see she wasn't going to avoid the issue.

"Damon and Jake. I did try to talk to them, but, they're paranoid, lost in conspiracy theories. They think the police are out to get them, they refuse to trust anyone."

"I see." Charley Grace nodded knowingly. "And let me guess, they need help, but they refuse all the help offered to them, and it bothers you that not everyone in this world is as objective and rational as you are."

"Yes, gran."

"Even though you're just as bloody obstinate as they are, and you accept there's an outside chance they might have a point."

"Yes, gran."

"And you don't really want to avoid them, you really do want to talk to them, understand them, but at the same time you need them to understand and take on board your concerns and frustrations."

"Yes, gran."

"And you don't know how to do that."

"Yes gran." Misako conceded with a wry smile. That pretty much covered everything.

"Well, as I see it, you'll never convince anyone by confronting them. You'll also never convince anyone by walking away."

That sounded like the kind of bizarre philosophical advice that Misako's grandfather came out with at times. Always true, rarely all that helpful. "I don't know what to do."

"Oh, I don't know, darling. You'll think of something, you're resourceful. You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. Nice surveillance footage by the way. Thorough. Well planned out. I'm sure I have better spy cameras than that, though, where exactly in the garage did you find them?"

The exchange as Misako had been on her way out of the house that evening had been even more surreal, even by Charley Grace's standards.

"You off out, dear?"

Misako had hesitated as she reached the front door. There wasn't much point trying to hide anything from her gran. Luckily there wasn't ever any particular need to either. "Breaking into the psychiatrists' offices to get a look at the files on the shrink they assigned me."

"Wire cutters?"

"I have wire cutters," Misako replied patiently.

"Smoke grenades?"

"I don't need smoke grenades, it's a shrink's office."

"Darling, please take smoke grenades. You never know when you might need them."


"I'll feel a lot happier..."

"Fine, I'll take smoke grenades."

"And I'll stay up and make that special cocoa you like for when you get back."

"Thanks gran."

Twenty-five minutes later Misako had been stood in the psychiatrists' office for the second time that day. She had the alarms deactivated, the filing cabinet open, and curiously enough there hadn't been any need for the smoke grenades. It hadn't been worth arguing though, Misako had always found it was easiest to take the path of least resistance with her grandmother.

She hadn't actually needed the wire cutters either, she'd managed to deactivate the alarm using nothing more than the code that was conveniently written on a sticky note that, for security, was kept safely inaccessible in the receptionist's drawer. Misako had managed to grab a video frame of the sticky note when the receptionist had gone to retrieve a Cadbury's Flake she also kept locked away in there. The weakest point of any security system was always the chocolate bar.

Misako flicked through the index and pulled out Mark Omuda's file. Ironic, really, they kept the files physical, kept them offline, thinking that would protect them from attempts at online hacking. Which of course it did. She spread the pages out on the receptionist's desk, pulled out her cellphone, and started taking pictures.

It was a disappointingly lightweight document. Only two items really caught her attention. One was his budgeted salary; he was either a bloody good psychiatrist or a bloody good bullshitter, he was all set to rake it in. The other was a snapshot, mugshot, portrait of the guy paper-clipped to his resumé, which didn't exactly inspire Misako's trust in his professional ability. Goofy looking grin, pale complexion like he didn't get out much, and infeasibly copper colored hair. She'd have judged him as in his late twenties from the picture, the file put him as late forties, that implied it was an old photograph, that or he was lying about his age and experience to try and bump up his salary.

Which was okay, inoffensive was good, Misako wasn't expecting a psychiatric solution to her problems, and having an inexperienced nobody on the job might actually make for an easier ride of it.

She finished snapping the pages and returned the folder to the filing cabinet. She was about to lock up and head off when her curiosity got the better of her. She turned back and shuffled through looking for the file on Tracy Thropston. She found it conveniently stashed under the letter 'T', with a sticky note on the front warning the pages might not entirely be in order.

Misako hesitated. This was in danger of becoming an obsession, she had to let go... And it would be a lot easier to let go, she rationalized, if she understood why Doctor Russell's dismissed the danger so casually. And his reasons had to be documented in that file...

She spread the pages out on the receptionist's desk, and once again reached for her cellphone.

You Can't Arrest People For Thinking Bad Things

Charley Grace was incapable of compromise. On anything. Cocoa, for example, wasn't a couple of spoonfuls of something out of a packet that you added boiling water to; no, for Charley Grace, cocoa involved slowly melting a bar of organic dark chocolate into simmering whole goat's milk along with just a dash of unrefined cane sugar and a couple of French vanilla marshmallows. It was anything but healthy. Not that Misako was worried, with all the weight she'd lost as a result of her ordeal she could afford the indulgence. It was over the top, it was gorgeous, it was the perfect way to chill out after a long, frustrating day.

The cocoa also seemed to have the capacity to make time do strange things... She'd been sat there at the kitchen table chatting with her gran for what had felt like little more than ten or fifteen minutes, it was only as she climbed the three flights of narrow, twisting and uneven staircases up to her bedroom that she realized they'd been chatting for well over three hours. Which might just have been down to Charley Grace and her infectious social nature, but Misako couldn't help wondering if there were maybe some more exotic ingredients in the cocoa that her gran kept diplomatically quiet about.

Given the lateness of the hour, Misako probably should have opted to go straight to sleep, but her day remained unfinished and Misako was almost as incapable of compromise as her grandmother. So on reaching the attic she logged in to the printer from her phone and started printing out the documents she'd photographed earlier; it was old fashioned, it was a crime against the environment, but it was way easier than trying to view them on the phone would have been.

She grabbed the first page as it came off the printer and started to read.

Misako decided that if she ever had to work in surveillance, she wanted to do it in Paris. The hustle and bustle of Parisian life parading past while she sat out on the pavement of some quaint little bohemian bar-restaurant, sipping Champagne and eating foie-gras with peppered breadsticks while she surveilled.

A retail park next to an industrial estate just off the M1 where she might just get to sit outside McDonalds on a damp wooden bench if she moved the trash out of the way first; it just didn't have quite the same romantic charm.

Then again, given that Tracy Thropston's idea of romance appeared to be the chat up line that preceded a drunk shag in a public toilet, maybe McDonalds wasn't so downwardly mobile in comparison.

Misako huddled down in her thick jacket and sipped her McDonalds' tepid-because-some-idiot-will-sue-us-again cocoa in a rather futile attempt to stay warm. She'd much rather have still been sat inside the amusement arcade, but there was only so long she could have continued to loiter on the premises without raising too many suspicions, she couldn't afford to push her luck.

There was only one way in or out of the place, she figured she'd pick up Tracy Thropston's trail again without much trouble.

Yes she was following Tracy Thropston again. She'd spent an hour pouring over Tracy's file, trying to convince herself to give up on her obsessive stupidity, unfortunately Tracy's rather harrowing accounts of the abuse she'd suffered over the years at the hand of her husband hadn't made for easy reading. How many victims of domestic abuse continued to suffer because passers by chose to look the other way?

Looking the other way was like saying the violence was okay, and Misako couldn't condone violence, not ever, not after what had happened to her. And what was the point in having survived Stellman if all she did when other people needed help was to look the other way? Even a tit like Jake understood that one. He could so easily have walked away, saved himself, left Misako to die. Except he didn't. He was a tit, but he was a well-intentioned tit.

So as loathsome as she found Tracy Thropston, Misako felt morally compelled to help. Even if that meant sitting on a damp bench, her rear end soaking wet, bitching about the crap cocoa, and waiting expectantly for nothing to happen. Surveillance work could be seriously, painfully, bum-numbingly boring at times.

Parisian numb-bum at least would have been sufferable.

It wasn't even like Tracy Thropston had a life worth spying on. She seemed to take pride in idling away her time and achieving nothing. Like today; for starters she'd headed to the gym, where the extent of her workout was to have lunch in the bar with a few cocktails. Misako strongly suspected that had been Tracy's normal routine even before her gym membership had been cancelled, being seen there was more of an image thing.

Lunch was followed by clothes shopping, which involved trying on a lot of different outfits in several of the more exclusive boutiques, but didn't seem to involve actually buying anything. She wasn't playing it as an act of austerity though, she was giving the store assistants lip about the poor quality of what they had to offer and how she'd never lower herself to buy anything that cheap. All a facade, all about the image she had to maintain. And it wasn't any of it in the slightest consistent with the story she'd told her therapist about how she was too ashamed to show her face in public any more.

The bruising on her face was suspiciously less noticeable today as well, although that might have had as much to do with the way she'd layered on the makeup. Maybe it was the reason she'd layered on the makeup so thickly; no one would choose to look, well, her intent had obviously been to try and look alluring, but she'd failed; the result was more evocative of a council estate prostitute than it was of the middle class suburban trophy wife she saw herself as.

Finally she'd settled in for an afternoon spent playing the slots at the amusement arcade, and of course treating herself to a few gin and tonics along the way. She finally emerged after a couple of hours looking decidedly the worse for wear.

Misako shook off the stupor she'd been sinking into. Some action at last! Even if in all probability this was Tracy heading to the bus stop to catch a bus home. It had to be galling for a sophisticate like her, catching a bus, but with her car repossessed and with no cash-flow for taxis, her transport choices were somewhat limited.

Misako held back a couple of moments, there wasn't any hurry. Unlike Tracy, she did have a car. Well, her grandfather's car; a black Lexus convertible she'd borrowed for the day. Not exactly ideal, but it was a little more suited to a discrete surveillance operation than her gran's hot pink Porsche was ever going to be.

If Misako ever bought herself a car, she figured she'd get something practical, something anonymous... Something she wouldn't be afraid of denting.

Tracy pulled on a pair of sunglasses to protect her premature hangover from the overclouded daylight, and walked off. Misako joyfully abandoned her third cup of second rate cocoa in order to follow.

Tracy was nervously checking the time on her phone. Even from a distance Misako could sense how jumpy she was. Something was up, no one got that worried about missing a bus. Misako checked; the bus wasn't even due yet.

Tracy walked right past the bus stop and headed out towards the exit to the main road. That would have been odd behavior for anyone; the retail park was out of town, there wasn't anything of interest within walking distance unless you counted sheep among your interests; it was particularly odd behavior for someone who was wearing five inch stiletto heels instead of the more ubiquitous green wellies that went with the territory.

Misako weighed up her options; she absolutely needed to keep following, but she seriously needed to keep a cautious distance; otherwise even someone as thick as Tracy would spot that something suspicious was going on.

The road headed towards a bridge over the motorway. Tracy's compulsive glancing around reached a fever pitch as she clumsily stepped over the crash barrier by the side of the road and disappeared into the no man's land of the heavily wooded slope that ran along the side of the motorway.

Misako half watched, half vaguely sensed the presence of Tracy Thropston weaving her way down through the trees on the other side of the road, until she came out by the hard shoulder of the motorway itself. It was a risk, but Misako needed to see what was going on, she climbed over the crash barrier and concealed herself in the undergrowth nearby. She peered warily between the trees.

Tracy walked a little way along the verge of the motorway and stopped. She reached into her her Prada handbag and pulled out a package wrapped in an old Sainsbury's carrier bag; it took her a couple of attempts to hang the thing precariously on the end of the crash barrier.

Misako watched, puzzled. Was Tracy hiding something? Hiding evidence? Hiding the murder weapon?

Tracy meanwhile had traipsed back up to the overpass where she leant over the barrier and lit a cigarette, like she was waiting for something.

Misako tried to work out the lines of sight. Was there any way she could get down to the crash barrier and take a look at the package without Tracy seeing? Jaunting might have done it, but that wasn't an option on account of how she'd need Damon or Jake to teach her properly first. And as neat as the ability might be, Misako wasn't sure she was that desperate to learn.

She couldn't even get back up to the overpass without being seen. Until Tracy made a move, she was trapped. Misako resigned herself to another long wait.

At least this time she had some entertainment; a car had just broken down. She watched it pull erratically onto the hard shoulder a little way down the road. Maybe just little too close to where Misako was hiding for her comfort.

Both occupants of the car looked to be in their early twenties. The driver jumped out and had the hood up, the guy in the passenger seat meanwhile headed purposefully into the bushes. Nothing suspicious there, he was bursting, unfortunately he'd chosen to go pee in the bushes Misako was hiding behind.

She kept her head down. He couldn't see her from that angle, and he wasn't telepathic, he wouldn't be able to sense her presence. Misako, on the other hand, had a ringside seat; she could see everything, even the cute tattoo. Bonus points that almost made the rest of the day seem worth it.

He got done and looked about to head back down towards the car when he unexpectedly took a detour towards the crash barrier. In a matter of seconds he'd grabbed the bag, jumped back in the car which was miraculously running fine now, and the two of them had sped away.

A pretty smooth operation, Misako was impressed.

On the overpass above, Tracy continued to watch with disinterest, puffing nervously away on her cigarette.

Misako guessed what was happening; her suspicions were confirmed very quickly when a car headed in the other direction slowed, the passenger side window opened and a bag was thrown out. Anyone seeing would likely just have written them off as a bunch of litter louts, but Misako knew otherwise; it was a three way drop, intended to make it as difficult as possible for a surveillance team investigating any one of the parties to get a make on either of the other two. Someone had put a lot of thought into the operation, and from what Misako knew, that someone couldn't possibly have been Tracy Thropston.

Tracy, meanwhile. had climbed over the barrier on the other side of the road. She unenthusiastically trudged down the hill, grabbed the package, and even less enthusiastically trudged back up again. She then disappeared off back in the direction of the retail park.

Misako knew there was little chance of catching up, but it didn't matter; whatever happened now, the day had turned out pretty successful in the end.

Tracy's life was starting to add up. Her husband was on probation for drugs related offenses, he couldn't afford to get caught again, so it looked like he was using Tracy to do the dealing for him. Not likely giving her much choice, hence the bruises. And alright, that was all a lot of supposition, but it explained the violence, the beatings.

It also left Misako of the opinion she should just let Tracy have at it and cut the guy's goolies off regardless. But violence was never the answer to violence. Get her bastard husband out of the picture and then maybe, just maybe, Tracy could start to pull her life back together. That was the justice she was missing, that was what Misako had to deliver.

What Misako was missing still was a plan, and time was now rapidly running out.

On Wednesday Tracy Thropston had gone out to pick up a brand new car. Flash car, red car; whatever she'd been up to, it had obviously paid well. Anyone sensible would have reigned in the conspicuous spending so soon after the crime, but sensible wasn't particularly one of Tracy Thropston's talents.

On Thursday Tracy had become involved in an altercation at a hairdressing place called Xavier's. Misako couldn't quite work out what Tracy had being doing somewhere like that in the first place; the salon wasn't obviously her style. It was a little too, well, cheap looking. Hairdressing for poor people; not nearly ostentatious enough for the likes of Tracy Thropston. Certainly not ostentatious enough for her now she was in the money again.

Misako played a hunch and wandered in to check out the prices. She'd only been able to speak to Xavier's assistant; Xavier it turned out was out of town, back Friday. That, at least, was one piece of the puzzle clicked into place. Misako speculatively made an appointment for Friday at 4:00 PM.

Then it was back to the bloody amusement arcade again, except this time Misako decided to risk loitering inside instead; mostly on account of how it was absolutely pissing it down and she wasn't bloody sitting on the bench outside McDonalds in sod-awful weather like that.

She bought herself a root beer float, and found somewhere inconspicuous to sit, hoping she wouldn't be stuck there too long. The place was dark, dingy, and it still stank of stale cigarette smoke even though it had been over a decade since smoking had been banned in there. And why clean up when the patrons stank of smoke just as bad? Misako felt seriously out of place.

Tracy was sipping cocktails and playing the slots. Well, playing the slots when she wasn't chatting loudly on her cellphone, and sipping two or three cocktails more than was exactly legal for anyone planning to drive home. But then she was hardly the sort to care all that much about legalities.

Tracy didn't seem to care all that much about personal property either, even her own; she'd left her Prada bag on the floor by her stool, in full view, open season for any bag snatcher who happened to walk by. The woman was oblivious, or she had an ulterior motive...

Two cherries. A pay out of five pounds, it had Tracy all inappropriately excited, it looked like she was texting people to tell them about the win. A win of five pounds when she must have fed ten times that into the machines already, the arcade owners had to love people like her.

Misako blinked. There was a cleaner pushing a trolley and picking up trash from the floor with one of those long sticks with a claw on the end so that he didn't have to bend down, he'd been reaching for an empty glass that had been left perched on top of one of the slot machines, and somehow he managed to fumble and drop it. The distraction had been near perfect.

Tracy grabbed for her bag and pulled out an envelope stuffed with cash, a serious amount of cash. It had to have been stashed there by the cleaner using the claw thing while everyone was too busy paying attention to the broken glass to notice. There was something written on the front of the envelope, but Misako was too far away to be able to read it.

Another pay off, or another drop? Misako had to know, if this was another drop then she might just have the beginnings of a plan. There had to be a way to get a look at the envelope, but it wasn't going to be easy, Tracy had pushed the bag down between the slot machines; it was going to be a lot harder to get to now.

Misako needed a distraction.

Tracy fed another 50p into the slot and kicked the machine when it failed to come up with a single cherry.

Misako smiled.

These were old fashioned slot machines; mechanical slot machines with wheels operated by relays. And relays were easy to control telekinetically, at least that was what Damon had said. Not far different from light switches, and she could certainly handle those.

Three cherries for a jackpot, one hundred pounds.

Misako looked for a vacant slot machine to test her theory out on, turned out to be easier than she'd figured; two or three practice attempts and she could pretty much stop any of the wheels anywhere she wanted. Better still she worked out she didn't need to be able to actually see the wheels to do it; the theory was starting to look more than practical.

She quickly dodged around behind the line of slot machines and slid into the narrow gap between them. If anyone asked what she was up to she would claim she'd dropped an earring that had rolled under the slot machine. She relaxed her mind and felt her way inside the relay.

It was kind of funny to watch the consequences; lights flashing, Tracy bouncing up and down and scooping up coins, wildly ecstatic, and no one else in the place paying her the slightest attention.

Misako reached for the bag, it only took a moment to slip the envelope out far enough to see the words on the note; 'Friday, 3PM'...

Then it all went wrong.

She should have known better, the idea had been way too spur of the moment; spontaneity led to unpredictability, and unpredictability generally led to things going wrong. Tracy was trying to gather up the coins with one hand, trying to make a call on her cellphone to boast about the with with the other, and between the two she managed to fumble and catapult her winnings all over the floor.

Misako pulled back, but there wasn't the space to pull back far enough. There was no way out, and any second now Tracy would look round the side of the slot machine as she scrambled to pick up the scattered coins.

Misako had a need to stay in control, she had a need for predictability, this sucked. Sure, Tracy Thropston was never going to press charges, not with that much illegal cash to have to explain away, but getting caught screwed everything up. This was why she hated spontaneity.

She needed another distraction.

Her mind lingered a moment over the thought of the two smoke grenades in her bag, she'd never quite gotten around to putting them back in the garage. Could she trigger one of those using telekinesis? Alright, it was more causing absolute chaos than it was causing a distraction, but it was better than getting caught. The lesser of two evils, Jake and his bloody lesser of two evils again...

She tried to remember what it was Damon had explained to her. She reached out with her mind, over to the table where she'd left her bag. The smoke grenades weren't operated by a relay though, how the hell was that supposed to work?

She could hear Tracy moving closer, she was out of time.

Why the hell was it so difficult anyway?

Damon had said something about how to project your mind into something, and something about a purple mist, and something about everything having a feint yellow glow around it for a moment. As instructions went they were bloody useless. Almost as bloody useless as Damon and Jake were.

Misako focussed; nothing happened.

She relaxed and tried again, still nothing happened.

She screwed her face up in intense concentration; that didn't have any effect either. This was ridiculous.

She stared desperately across at her bag, willing for some way to reach out and trigger the smoke grenade to go off. There had to be a bloody way.

Misako closed her eyes. over there. She could see the bag like she was standing next to it. She pushed sideways, last chance to make something happen. Around her the world seemed to lurch, kind of like the feeling of being in a lift when it came to a stop. Misako reached out to steady herself, and her hand hit the table top.

She opened her eyes abruptly. She'd materialized crouching right next to the table in full view of bloody everyone.

Misako looked around in a near panic, terrified that someone might have seen her, but thankfully no one was paying any attention. She grabbed her bag and nervously dodged into the toilets to splash some much needed cold water on her face.

She might not have worked out how to trigger the smoke grenades, but she'd finally managed to work out how to jaunt.

What was it Jake had said about desperation being a great motivator? And why was it that however much she wanted to dismiss him as being just another clueless, self-absorbed teenage twat, he managed to say so many things that made an infuriating sense.

Misako lay on the bed. It had been long day, she was exhausted, but she still had work to do. She had a plan pretty much worked out now, but there were a couple of loose ends still needed tying up.

Intercepting and switching the drugs was the easy part. Getting back to the retail park ahead of Tracy Thropston, that required being able to jaunt and it required her to get it right; she was also going to need someone to keep Xavier Thropston distracted while she planted the drugs in his car.

Two problems, with one solution.

She couldn't be sure they'd listen, especially not after the way she'd given them the brush off, but she had to try. If necessary she'd just have to bloody well make them listen, sort their problems out for them at the same time. And sooner or later she was going to have to confront Jake about that little matter her gran wouldn't let her hide from; it might as well be sooner.

Her gran was right, Misako couldn't ever walk away.

She picked up her cellphone, then put it down; she didn't need it. It was time to stop thinking like a human. Misako reached out into the darkness with her mind.

~Damon, Jake? We need to talk.~

Didn't We Just Leave This Party?

The taxi pulled up in the driveway at Misako's house at about eleven o'clock on the Friday morning. It took Damon and the driver a couple of minutes to manhandle a less than enthusiastic Jake out and down onto the ground. His face was sour.

"Problems?" Misako asked.

"Three hours by train," Jake pointed out. "My sodding butt itches and it isn't funny. You sit in a wheelchair for three hours, moist, sweaty, itchy butt crack is what you get, and no they don't warn you about that, the bloody doctors. Bloody useless. And we had to change trains twice. Of course one of those stations wasn't wheelchair accessible."

"If it wasn't wheelchair accessible then how did you..."

"Bloody minded determination."

~And an ability to teleport,~ Damon chipped in. ~And then he decides he needs the toilet. And I'm not blaming you for that, Jake, before you get yourself in a strop, I know, we were on the train for hours, but I had to help you, and it's bad enough helping you when there's a toilet, when there's only a brick wall on a derelict building site to go behind, it was gross, I'm just saying.~

Jake was subdued. ~Yeah right. Not nearly as gross as it was having to be helped.~

Damon paid the taxi driver.

Jake started wheeling himself towards the house. "So I'm buying a car. I decided. Soon as I get the cast off; buying a car, finishing the driving lessons. Driving. Sod the bastards who allow train stations that aren't wheelchair accessible. And sodding sod the bastards who allow train stations without wheelchair toilets."

"And that's polite compared to the rant he gave the poor twat at the ticket office on the station."

"Yeah, well, that was when he told Damon they didn't have facilities for disabled people. I never thought I'd ever get offended by a label like that. And it wasn't the word, it was the whole attitude behind it."

"So Jake tells me, out loud, to tell him that I wasn't looking for 'facilities for the disabled', I was looking for a bog for a bloody cripple. But I don't think the guy got the joke."

Misako wasn't sure that she would have got the joke either but she wasn't about to argue that with a guy in a wheelchair. Instead she changed the subject. "How much longer?" she asked politely.

"Just a few more weeks. No time at all."

He meant it, at some level he was telling the truth, but Misako couldn't help feeling there was something he was hiding. She suspected his words were more grounded in optimism than actuality.

"Look, thanks for coming," she said. "I know I wasn't exactly polite last time. I'm having a hard time with... I don't even really know what I'm having a hard time with. You have to admit though, any way you look at it, all of it, who we are, what's happened to us, it's all seven shades of screwed up."

Jake shrugged. "If someone told me the crap we were telling you... I'd feel justified telling them where to shove it. I don't blame you for anything."

"And we're used to people not believing." Damon added.

They were being too bloody reasonable. Misako had expected more of an argument. "So why'd you come?"

"You're one of us. You called, we came. That's what we do." Jake sounded genuine for once, he wasn't just taking the piss.

"Am I that important to you?" She didn't sound convinced.

"I don't know. I don't pretend to know what the bollocks any of this is really all about. But, so far, what's kept us alive is sticking together. On the off chance that sticking together is the only thing keeping us all alive... then yes, you are."

It wasn't much of an argument, but he was willing to listen at least. That gave Misako a little confidence. She skipped straight to the point. "I need your help."

Jake shrugged. "Okay."

"Okay? You don't even know what with yet."

"Don't need to," Jake said. "We trust you."

"Okay, scary. Except no, you're reading my mind again," Misako worked it out. "You know I'm telling the truth."

"Takes the fun out of it sometimes, doesn't it?" Jake admitted. "So you want to tell us what your problem is."

Misako started to smile. Maybe this would actually work.

"I'll show you," she told them. "Only catch is that you have to meet my gran first."

Charley Grace was vigorously shaking Damon's hand. "I'm absolutely delighted she's made some respectable friends at last. Oh, I know, she has some perfectly decent friends at school, but personally I think they're a little too respectable and in my mind that makes them either terminally boring or rather untrustworthy. And not nearly enough of her friends are boys."


"Well, dear, I'm just saying what I think." Charley noticed Damon hesitating at the front door, glancing down at the step. "Oh, don't mind the blood, young man, we had trouble with another reporter this morning. It'll clean up fine."

Damon smiled politely, he understood all too well. "My mom went for a reporter with pepper spray yesterday. I'm not into violence, but, I was proud of her. I know she can be a bit overbearing, and the last few months have been a real struggle at times, but I appreciate it when she does things like that. I know she's just trying to help..."

"An excellent attitude, young man, reluctant respect, I like that. And pepper spray... I like that part even more," there was a mischievous glint of admiration in Charley Grace's eye.

"Come in, come on in," Charley Grace lead them both through into the reception room, Damon wheeling Jake rather roughly over the lumps and bumps in the uneven floor, jolting him about awkwardly. For once Jake kept his mouth shut.

"Misako will give you the full tour, I'll just give you the highlights. I'm afraid, Jake, you'll be stuck downstairs. In the sixteenth century they didn't have any accessibility legislation, differently-abled people like you were neglected and usually left to die. So, we have one bathroom on the ground floor, if you can't get to it in time you'll have to use a chamber pot. They're quite similar to hospital bed pans so you'll fell right at home with them, though these are ceramic rather than steel, so they're much more comfortable. You'll like them. Misako, don't frown at me like that, dear, it ages you so."

Misako looked away. Jake was in a wheelchair and Charley Grace wasn't being tactful. She'd never been one to pussy-foot around the obvious, but Misako hadn't expected her to be quite this outrageously blunt.

"Now, sleeping arrangements," she led them through an archway off the hall and into the sitting room. "The sofa folds out into a bed, there's a camp bed through there in the office," she gestured through another archway, "Not nearly as comfortable. I'll let the two of you battle over who gets what..."

"Not sure I can do a camp bed right now. Anything that isn't on a level with the wheelchair takes a major effort," Jake staked his claim.

"Well, as the sucker who has to help you into bed, I'm all for whatever makes life easiest. I'm fine with the Camp bed," Damon conceded without a fight.

Damon apparently had no life except to serve Jake, taking whatever shitty end of the stick that involved.

Jake, though, there was a slightly blank expression on his face. Misako tried not to read him but at close range it was difficult to avoid. He was playing the sympathy ticket to get the better bed, absolutely he was, but she could sense an emptiness there as well; for a moment his bravado was failing him. He hated that wheelchair, and he was terrified of it as well. Terrified the doctors were right, terrified that he really was paralyzed for life. On the surface he was deluding himself, deep down he was lost; very, very lost.

The pair of them were seriously way more screwed up than Misako had figured even at her most pessimistic. What the hell was she getting herself into here?

"Excellent, settled," Charley exclaimed. "Well, I'll leave you to it. By the way, I'm sure you must be bored of people asking you about what happened, so don't feel obliged to answer, but..."

"Gran," Misako objected, "you can't interrogate guests."

"Darling I said they don't have to answer, and I'm not proposing to ask them any uncomfortable questions," Charley Grace continued, obviously intent on asking them some very uncomfortable questions indeed.

"So, Jake," she turned to face him, "by the way, do you color coordinate your own clothes? You do rather a good job of it..."

Misako had seen the ploy before, the distraction to try and make him feel relaxed so she could catch him off guard with the real question. Catch him off guard and he was more likely to answer honestly.

Jake had worked it out as well. He faked a grin and played along. "Don't have to be gay..."

Charley Grace laughed. "Of course not, but tell me this;
I read your statements to the police, when you found Stellman's phone it was me you called, why not phone the police, or phone your parents? And where on earth did you get my telephone number from?"

Jake struggled to keep his reply considered and objective. "Stellman had access to stolen medical records; that fact isn't in any of my statements because the police didn't want it there, they're reluctant to allow that information into the public domain. I didn't call the police because I was worried they would dismiss it as a prank call, I didn't call home because I couldn't tell them where I was and they couldn't have traced the call. I needed to create a panic, so I called the number listed in Misako's file, I figured that gave us both the greatest chance of getting out of there alive. Hearing you screaming down the line, I figured I'd succeeded. I apologize if the call upset you."

"Oh don't, Jake, please. No need. Oh, I know I was sobbing down the line, of course I was distraught, but you did the right thing. You got results. Which is a great deal more than the police ever did."

Charley Grace grabbed Jake and hugged him, much to Jake's surprise and embarrassment.

Misako hadn't been surprised by that at all, in fact her only surprise was that it had her gran hadn't gotten around to hugging him any sooner...

"Always that chirpy?" Jake asked.

"Always," Misako frowned as she lead them upstairs. It was time to get a few things straight. "She likes you both. A lot."

"I could tell. That bothers you?" Jake could see it did.

"She has very odd ideas about your color coordinating abilities," Damon noted provocatively.

"I'm open minded," Jake was intentionally cryptic. "Look, I like that she likes me, what's your problem?"

"She likes the pair of you because she thinks you're both homicidal maniacs and I'm not altogether convinced she's wrong. Let's get something straight here, I don't want help from a couple of vigilantes. The whole point of the exercise here is to avoid violence."

"I look the violent type do I?" Jake challenged.

"You shot Stellman. I'm not saying you did the wrong thing, but don't try to pretend that wasn't an act of violence."

Jake stared back at her. "Guilty until proven innocent? Is that how it is now? No one ever says it out loud, but I can see everyone thinking it. Pisses me off. Why is everyone so sure I killed Stellman?"

"You alone in the dark, a gun pointed at the guy who put you in a wheelchair, the bastard who tortured and murdered ten kids, who deserved absolutely to die in the most painful way possible, and you didn't pull the trigger?"

"No I sodding didn't."

He was telling the truth, she could see he was telling the truth; somehow that just left her feeling all the more frustrated. "So who did kill him, then?"

"It's in the report. He blew his own brains out, he couldn't face that he'd lost."

"Except that the story you told the police is complete bullshit, that's what you said. What do you expect me to believe?"

"Well, that part was true," Jake argued awkwardly.

Misako closed her eyes. "Alright, you shot him with a dart gun, left him no option except suicide. I'd call that you might as well have pulled the trigger."

"Actually, I pulled the trigger, and I had no idea he was going to top himself, none at all. Once I worked it out I tried to get the gun away from him, but I was too late." Damon interjected quietly.

Misako opened her eyes abruptly. She hadn't expected that revelation at all, that wasn't in any of her scenarios she'd worked out for this conversation. She was lost. "You tried to get the gun away? Why? What the hell were you even doing there?"

"He was trying to save my life. Bit of a half-arsed job, I mean, look at me. Humpty bloody Dumpty, the pieces couldn't all go back together again," Jake joked.

Jake was insulting Damon, and Damon just stood there like a punchbag and took it. She didn't understand either of them.

"We went after Stellman," Damon tried to explain, "not to kill him, just to stop him."

"So, alright, say you'd managed to get your hands on him, what the hell did you plan to do with him?"

Jake shrugged. "I don't know, I don't plan, planning is seriously overrated, only sad people plan. I figured we think of something, it would have been really creative and spontaneous. But vengeance didn't come into it, you honestly have that low an opinion of me? I mean, have a low opinion of Damon by all means, but me?"

Misako shook her head, she wasn't sure of anything any more, and she didn't appreciate how Jake seemed incapable of taking anything seriously. "I don't know, you keep thinking about it. You're pissed off stuck in that wheelchair and you... I see these flashes of... this need to take it out on someone, to make someone pay for making your life hell. So you tell me. Is that not at some level a need for vengeance?"

"I have fantasies about vengeance, yes. But there's thinking and there's doing, and they're not the same thing; I'm not the homicidal maniac your gran thinks I am."

"My therapist encourages vengeance fantasies," Damon said thoughtfully. His voice was subdued, but the words were spoken with passion. "It's about looking at what you want your life to be, and looking at what actions you need to take to get you there. My problem is that I still don't feel in control of my own life. I'm a slave, that's my nature; a slave to Stellman, a slave to my mother, a slave to Jake. The fantasies are just a way to re-establish a feeling of being in control."

"So," Jake enquired hesitantly, "you have fantasies about taking vengeance on me because I treat you like a slave?"

Damon broke a small grin. "Like you say, there's thinking and there's doing. My therapist swears it's healthy."

Jake frowned.

Misako smiled nervously. The pair of them were beyond screwed up, but she still needed their help. She threw Tracy Thropston's file across to Jake, who immediately handed it off to Damon.

"So," Damon asked, shaking off his malaise. "You're questioning our ethics here, no offense, but, what part of reading her private file is ethical?

Jake shrugged. "Was it ethical to read her mind in the first place? I think we're kind of past that." he offered Misako some somewhat backhanded support.

"Is it ethical to want to kill someone?" Misako defended herself pointedly.

Damon scanned the file. "She's on sertraline hydrochloride. It's a common antidepressant. Prescribed for a social anxiety disorder, she always had a high level of interpersonal sensitivity, so that makes her more susceptible to the consequences of a traumatic humiliation. It's just a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor."

Misako frowned at Jake. "So, he just knows shit like that?"

"Yeah. He's creepy, right. Don't know why I put up with him. No social skills. Always has to be a bloody biology lecture with you, doesn't it, little boy."

"Yeah, you have a problem with that? And for the last time, will you shut the hell up calling me little boy."

"Alright, I promise from now on I'll only call you that when you deserve it."

"Just, piss off Jake. Look, what this file says, in words of one syllable so that even a thick twat like you can understand; her old man treats her like shit, she tried to dump him, he beat her up, she's a bit down, she's on pills, they help. You blame her?"

Misako needed to keep them on track. "She's thinking about mutilating him in cold blood. It's calculated, pre-meditated. I know the file makes out that something happened and she snapped, but I'm starting to think she's just saying that because she figures it'll play better in court. Something changed, but it's more subtle. Which is why I'm thinking she might actually go through with it."

"There's a controversy over connections between the drug and suicidal ideation," Damon offered. "The statistical evidence there is borderline, but the drugs do carry a warning. I don't see how that connects with her wanting to chop off his... you know."

"So he deals drugs, beats her up, she takes drugs, wants to cut his goolies off. Charming pair. Kind you expect to see in the running for next year's Darwin awards." Jake joked.

Misako wasn't in any mood for joking around. "She's upset, you never been upset?"

"She's aggressive," Jake pushed back. "You ever been aggressive?"

Misako stared him down. "I can be awkward."

"Tell me about it. But that isn't aggression."

"I've kicked guys in sensitive places before."

"In self defense though, right?" Jake surmised irritatingly accurately. "That isn't the same as aggression."

Misako snapped. "You want to know what I'm capable of? You want to know what I spent my time fantasizing about while I was locked up in that cellar, what I still fantasize about? I wanted to eviscerate him, I wanted him to feel all the pain he inflicted on me ten times over, then I wanted to tear his bollocks off with my bare hands and stuff them down his throat to choke him to death... I wanted..." She stopped to collect herself. "Only I can't, because he's dead. Because someone else got to him first."

"And that's why you don't like me, because I got to watch him die, because you're jealous?"

"No, the reason I don't like you is because you're a tosser, Jake. The jealousy just doesn't help much."

Misako finally managed to get a half respectful smile out of him. When he spoke again he sounded more conciliatory. "When I get frustrated, I take it all out on Damon. He lets me get away with it, I guess because he's stupid, or just feels sorry for me. Sometimes I hate him for that. But it's just thoughts. What drives any of us to think the things we think? Does wanting to hurt Stellman make you a bad person? I'd say no way."

"You so sure about that?" Misako objected.

"Yes. Because I can read minds, you want to make it illegal to think bad things, you better be ready to lock up the entire population of this planet. I never met anyone completely innocent, not one, not ever. They don't exist, there's more chance of you treading in unicorn crap..."

"More chance of Jake getting laid..." Damon interjected.

"Piss off, Damon."

Misako resisted the temptation to laugh. "But how can you be so sure I wouldn't have done it?"

"Because you're like us. And we can't."

"Can't?" she said doubtfully.

"Can't," Damon reiterated. "It's something to do with who we are. Telekinesis, telepathy, something about how our brains are wired differently for that means we can't kill, and bugger knows I tried. I had chances to kill Stellman, you think I wanted to let the bastard walk away?"

"So how come we survived, how are any of us still alive?" Misako persisted.

"Because strength isn't about violence," Damon answered patiently. "Violence is what you do as a last resort when you've failed at every other turn, it's the ultimate admission of weakness. And it turns out we're not that pathetic. We're incapable of being that pathetic, and that's where our real strength lies. We're forced by our own nature to be better than other people. Whether we want to or not."

"And that excuses me thinking bad things?"

"No," Damon continued, "but if does mean that's all they could ever be; dangerous thoughts you'd never be capable of acting on."

For a moment Damon actually sounded grown up, not quite the immature idiot she'd written him off as. Jake, however, still seemed determined to turn everything into a joke.

"Now Damon here, he has dangerous thoughts that he is capable of acting on, thankfully for civilization he doesn't know how to act on them. Secret fetishes that bugger belief."

"That's beggar belief," Damon pointed out.

"Don't be pedantic, little boy, I know what I'm saying..."

"Guys..." Misako was determined to get the conversation back on track. "My problem is that Tracy Thropston bought herself a pair of wire cutters. She isn't like us, no weird shit mental barriers or anything, I think she's more than capable of this, but I can't prove anything. All I've got is what I read in her mind."

"Which immediately complicates matters out of the competency range we'll get from the police," Damon admitted.

"And what I read in her mind isn't enough. I don't trust this telepathy thing yet, I don't claim to know what I'm doing. That's the other part of where you come in; I want a second opinion."

"You're assuming we have a clue what we're doing," Damon joked.

"As you already pointed out, I owe my life to the fact you knew what you were doing when you confronted Stellman. So you know what, I'll take those odds."

"So what do you expect us to do?" Jake asked.

"I spent three days on surveillance. There's another drugs drop going down today, in a little over three hours from now. That's our chance to end this peacefully."

Damon caught on to the plan; "by stealing the consignment of drugs from Ms Thropston."

"Which should get the pair of them into a nice simmering panic. Just in time to spring the trap," Jake sounded reluctantly impressed.

"Right," Misako said. "Report his car as stolen. When they pick him up, they'll find the drugs. It's a probation violation as well, he'll get five to ten years guaranteed, by which time she'll be over him. Especially if she gets to watch him humiliated in the process."

"Your way?" Jake was never going to like that part.

"My way, I call the shots, that's the condition. You in?"

Jake glanced across at Damon who just shrugged.

"We're in," Jake replied, then added thoughtfully; "anyone else savoring the surreal irony here; dishing out vigilante justice to prevent someone else dishing out vigilante justice."

"Is that actually irony though, technically speaking?"

"Damon. Another lesson in social etiquette. You might think these things, that's fine, but you need to learn to keep your mouth shut. Nobody likes a bloody pedant."

Our Speciality Is Making Shit Happen

"I don't remember this being any part of what we agreed to," Jake complained.

They were sat in the reception room of the psychiatrists's office. The timing was awkward, but Misako was worried that if she'd cancelled her appointment then it might screw up her chances of getting back to school any time soon. Anyway, it was just an informal meeting, not a full on therapy session, there'd be plenty time to get to the retail park before the drugs drop.

Plus Misako had another ulterior motive.

"It's not, it's not compulsory, just a favor, scan him telepathically, in one word tell me what you think. Psycho, loser, whatever. I've seen his employee file, but it's on the thin side. I figure I can learn ten times as much from just one word of your opinion."

"That sounds dangerously like you're telling me I'm good at something. It might go to my head." Jake joked.

"Not possible, Jake," she argued, "no way could you ever get any more conceited than you already are."

Jake grinned. "So you want my opinion of him? Unreliable. He's five minutes late for your appointment already."

"Says Jake who didn't even get out of bed until five minutes after I turned up at his house this morning." Damon piped up.

"Oversleeping once doesn't make me unreliable."

"Once? It's a personality flaw from what your mum told me..."

Misako left them arguing and headed back over to talk to the receptionist. It made no sense that her therapist should keep her waiting, it wasn't like he had any other patients to see, and he was definitely there, she'd seen him dodging into his office while they'd been trying to get Jake through the supposedly wheelchair accessible front entrance.

"I don't know, I'll go check," the receptionist told her politely. "I tried him on the intercom but he's probably not worked out how to operate it yet. Give me a minute."

The receptionist got up, headed over to what Misako recognized was Doctor Russell's old office. She knocked and stuck her head around the door. Misako sensed puzzlement.

"I swear he went in there a minute ago..."

They'd checked under the desk, checked in the closet, they'd even sent a reluctant Damon into the gents toilets to knock on the cubicle doors, but the guy named Mark Omuda appeared to have vanished into thin air. The receptionist had apologized profusely, muttered about having a few choice words with the senior partners about their new associate, and had agreed to schedule Misako an appointment with their Doctor Milman for the following Monday.

Then they'd left, Jake bitching about having to be manhandled back into a taxi less than ten minutes after they'd struggled to manhandle him out of one. And of course he immediately had to go to the toilet again, which didn't exactly please Damon. Misako couldn't work them out, it wasn't a friendship they had, it was more like a mutual dependency; Jake couldn't function physically without help, and Damon, she couldn't work out what the hell it was that Damon got out of the deal.

The ride in the taxi had been muted. There wasn't much they could say out loud, and the taxi driver seemed intent on engaging them in a conversation about some bi-sexual three-in-a-bed sex scandal involving a well known soap actress, a famous football player, and a government politician. It was too surreal even for Jake.

"So what the hell just happened back there? He did a runner? You want to know my opinion of your shrink? I think he needs his bloody head examined." he finally exploded as they wheeled him into the amusement arcade at the retail park.

"The receptionist, she thinks he had to have climbed out the office window or something. No explanation, but I suppose that's understandable, it's not a good idea to accuse your psychiatrists of being completely whacko in front of their patients. Trust me to end up with the basket case."

"I'm just glad to be out of there. I get kind of nervous around crazy people," Damon deadpanned.

They ordered root beer floats at the bar and found somewhere to sit that gave them a clear view of the slot machines, and of Tracy Thropston.

"That's her, in the leopard skin shirt, over by the slots."

Jake nodded. "How's the schedule looking?"

"We have seventy-four minutes before the drop."

"That's plenty time. So if you want us to read her, we need to interact with her. What would you say were her weaknesses? Other than the obvious drink problem."

"What she has is a husband problem that drives her to drink."

"That doesn't help me," Jake objected.

"She flirts."

"With fourteen year olds?" Jake looked uncertainly at Damon.

Damon frowned. "I'm sixteen, Jake."

"Right, but you look fourteen. Will she really go for this?"

"Scarily enough..." Misako admitted.

Jake looked pensive for a moment. "Use the fake ID to get a drink. That'll help sell it, should be enough."

"On my way."

Misako watched Damon circle back around to the bar on the other side of the room. "He's enthusiastic, but you're worried still," she said to Jake. "You don't think the ID will work?"

"It's worked before," Jake was dismissive. "That's not my worry."

Misako got it. "He looks geeky, you worry she won't go for him? Don't exactly have a high opinion of him, do you?"

"I'll tolerate a lot of insults, but not that," Jake surprised her; his tone was passionate, his words were blunt. "My opinion of Damon doesn't depend on whether some trollop finds him attractive or not. I'm not that shallow and neither is he. I don't care what your issues are with me, but don't ever question my opinion of Damon, that accusation is well out of order."

"Loyalty's important to you, isn't it?"

"Yes it sodding is. Is that a problem?"

"Damon's loyal. And what does he get from you in return?"

"I protect him."

"Right, but does he actually need protecting?"

"We look out for each other. Sometimes he needs that."


"He's disturbed, he's in therapy. Occasionally he loses it. Someone has to be there for him."

"And that's not patronizing?"

"Ask him if it helps, then judge."

Misako figured she would. Figured that was the only way she was ever going to fully understand the two of them.

"So it's a protective thing, and letting him go over, it's the risk to him that bothers you..."

"I don't like other people taking risks that I should be the one taking. It should have been me going over there, but..."

"... But she isn't going for a guy in a wheelchair, is she?"

Jake snorted indignantly. "Girls used to stare at me. Boys used to stare at me. I enjoyed it, I like making people smile. Half the people look at me now try to pretend like I'm not there. The other half are trying to be so bloody politically correct, determined to see me a person rather than as a wheelchair. No one looks at me and just thinks 'I'd do him' any more. It's no fun."

"No offense, Jake, but I honestly think the wrong one of the two of you is in therapy."

Damon sat up on the stool at the slot machine next to Tracy Thropston, balanced his drink on the top and pulled out a handful of coins from his pocket.

On Jake's advice he'd tied his shirt around his waste and was showing a tight tank top; Damon was incredibly self-conscious at the amount of damaged flesh he was showing, but it had the desired effect.

"In an accident were you?" she asked casually.

"I walked away. The other guy didn't." Damon took a swig of his drink and barely managed to conceal the cough when it caught his throat.

"Neat scotch? Aren't you a little young to be drinking neat scotch?" Tracy Thropston challenged him.

"I'm old enough to have sex, why shouldn't I be old enough to drink?"

~Nice one Damon. Bit philosophical for her, though,~ Jake interrupted telepathically.

~Keep the sarky comments to yourself, Jake, I need a straight face here.~

"So what do you look for in a woman?" Tracy flirted.

"Experience. A bit of wild. You as wild as you look?"

"Might be."

Damon glanced at her wedding ring. "You as married as you look?"

"That a problem?"

"Not if I can run faster than him. Good runner is he?"

"He's a loser. No good at running. No good in bed..."

"Then he deserves what he gets."

"And what do you deserve?"

"A bit of fun. You fun?"

"I got an appointment at the gym. If you're still here, still playing slots in say two hours from now. I'll buy you a drink."

She stood up from the stool and casually brushed a finger across Damon's back, from one shoulder across to the other as she walked away.

~You're in there, little boy,~ Jake sniggered.

~Jake, I've seen her up close, the word is skanky.~

~Never judge a book by the cover.~

~She's skanky inside as well, I can read her mind.~

~What did you get?~ Misako interrupted impatiently.

~He did something that got to her, shamed her, I mean, really, over the top, intense, she felt completely and utterly humiliated. I couldn't see what, but, it fits with the whole social anxiety thing. And the violence, I'm sensing that suicidal ideation as well, but, it's displaced, it's a proxy thing, she's displaced the suicidal feelings onto him. I say she's serious. She's seriously going to hurt him. You made the right call.~

~So why'd you have this big doubt thing going on in the back of your mind?~ Jake challenged. ~You want we call this off?~

~No, he needs to be taken out of the picture and fast, I just, guys, she's looking at my scars and then fantasizing about mutilating him at the same time as she's chatting me up. If she has a moral compass then it's completely and totally buggered off the scale. Me, I'd feel happier for society if they were both locked up.~

Jake and Misako watched from the bushes on the far side of the motorway, which was about as close as they'd been able to get with Jake's wheelchair. Even getting him that far hadn't been easy. He'd finally shut up complaining; his thoughts were still obsessively fixated on his predicament, but at least now he was moping silently.

Damon was crouching back in the undergrowth down by the road, same place that Misako had hidden two days earlier. From there he had a clear line of sight to the drop point, from there he could jaunt in and out with ease.

His attitude wasn't much more cheerful than Jake's.

~You'll only have about thirty seconds to get in, switch the bags, get out...~ Misako explained.

Damon nodded. ~That part I'm okay with. I just don't get the part where I have to get my hair done.~

~Someone has to distract Xavier while I plant the drugs.~

~And seriously,~ Jake butted in, ~you need your hair done, Damon, I've been telling you for weeks.~

~Piss off, Jake. Look, what happened to the part where we're trying not to draw attention here? Me getting my hair done in that place, that's going to raise more than a few eyebrows.~

"How about I get my hair done," Jake suggested.

"You don't need your hair done," Misako pointed out. "If your hair was any more perfect I'd have to slap you for being a smug twat. Damon's the one needs a haircut, and the place isn't just for women, I saw one guy in there getting a cut yesterday."

~And what did he come out of there looking like?~ Damon challenged. ~I have to explain this haircut to my mother when I get home tomorrow and she has opinions on hair styling. It could set my therapy back months.~

"Is he taking the piss?" Misako asked Jake, she honestly couldn't work it out.

"No, he's serious. His mother still cuts his hair for him, that's why he still looks like he's only fourteen. I disagree fundamentally with his therapist on this one though. Me, I say haircut and be damned..."

"Guys, can we focus here," Misako interrupted. "Look, I don't particularly want to be the one to plant the drugs either, but this is the way it has to work."

"What if I plant the drugs? No one looks twice at someone in a wheelchair, it's almost as good as being invisible," Jake suggested.

"Which is why you're a hell of a lot more useful watching Tracy. We agreed, Jake, my way."

Jake concurred mutinously.

~So what's in the bag?~ Damon asked, peering curiously at the taped up Sainsbury's bag Misako had given him.

~Caster sugar. We want her to figure the switch as soon as possible, sooner the better, last thing we want is her trying to pass it off as the real thing.~

Damon nodded. ~I can see the drop zone great from here, but I'm going to need some advance warning when Ms T. turns up.~

~Maybe we can work out a signal...," Misako puzzled for a moment. In the spy stories her grandmother told they'd use a bird call or something, but Misako was crap at faking bird calls.

~Or, you know, you could just tell me telepathically,~ Damon suggested telepathically.

~Damon?~ Misako called out.

~Headed in to the Salon now. Where are you?~

~In the service area back behind the salon, hiding behind a dumpster, which smells.~

So far the plan was running like clockwork. Damon had switched out the drugs with ease, and Misako and Damon had already raced on ahead to the retail park, leaving Jake behind to follow Tracy Thropston.

~Funny,~ Damon observed, "crouching down behind a stinky dumpster, that's the kind of shitty job I usually expect to end up with.~

~Stay online, I want a continuous feed on whatever happens in there. I need to know minute to minute exactly where Xavier is.~

~No problem.~

Damon pushed open the door and walked a little nervously in.

A loud, cheerful voice greeted him. "Come in, you must be Mr Smart, short notice booking is not a problem here. Not today anyway, you're lucky, my four o'clock just called to cancel. Sit down, help yourself to coffee, Xavier will be right with you." The guy was too cheerful, not what Damon had been expecting. And the way he was talking about Xavier in the third person was a bit weird, because Damon was pretty sure the guy he was talking to was Xavier.

~Jake? What's your status?~ Misako called, confident Damon had his part of the operation under control.

~Is that spy talk?~ Jake replied obtusely.

~Just answer the question, Jake.~

~She's heading back towards the amusement arcade. I'm on her. No indication she's spotted the switch yet. And for the record, I resent having your jacket and your handbag hanging from the handles of my wheelchair. I feel like a bloody coat rack.~

Misako ignored the rant and connected back with Damon in the salon.

~He's in the back, it's going to be a minute or two.~

~Understood, I just don't want to be stood here any longer than I have to, I don't know what the hell they dump out here, but it smells like something chemical, I'm getting nauseous.~

~Don't look for sympathy from me, I'm getting a haircut.~

Damon looked up to see Xavier back.

"So what can we do for you?" he asked. "No offense, but your hair looks overdue a little attention..."

Damon thought for a moment. "I got into a rut, didn't feel a need to try all that hard. What Im looking for is a change, I want something that says let go of the preconceptions, give life a new chance."

"Looking for a clean slate. Reasons?"

"Kind of."

Xavier laughed. "I dream of customers like you. Let me show you some options here."

~Okay Misako, game on,~ Damon called back.

Misako made her move. At the same time she kept watching Damon, it was kind of cruel, but watching him suffer the haircut, it was also kind of funny.

"So, Xavier, is that a first name or last name?" he asked.

"Terry Thropston, but who the hell would trust their hair to a guy called Terry Thropston? That and the name wouldn't fit on the door."

Damon laughed, the guy had a pretty self-deprecating sense of humor, didn't take himself at all seriously.

"So," Terry Thropston continued, "you want to take that shirt off, or get all the hair down your collar?"

It was more of a request than a order, but Damon complied, the guy had been polite about it. Terry hadn't even commented when he saw the mess of bruises and scars that the shirt was hiding. He had discretion, Damon respected that.

It bothered Misako though. Bothered her a lot. Discretion and diplomacy, it didn't fit.

~How do you make him think things, find out what's going on inside that head of his?~ she asked.

~Doesn't work like that,~ Jake pointed out. ~You can't make people think things, just pick up on what they're already thinking. You can try and load the conversation, point him in a direction and maybe provoke a response, but it's all a bit hit and miss.~

~He's not going to admit he's guilty either, if that's what you're looking for,~ Damon added. ~Whatever he's done, from his point of view he won't see it as wrong.~

~He's not what I expected,~ Misako admitted.

Damon was philosophical. ~When you get down to it, people rarely are.~

"The first one was better, less, straight laced," he said out loud. The last couple of styles he'd been shown made personality statements that Damon didn't figure he could ever explain away to his mother. And also Jake would be well justified for taking the piss for once; time to quit while he was ahead.

"Your word is my command. Number one it is." Terry Thropston started arranging his clippers.

"You married? I just, noticed your wedding ring. I thought..." Damon wasn't thinking, he was trying to provoke a few thoughts, and it probably wasn't a good idea, but, like Misako, he was desperate to understand how come the guy was so polite, and friendly, and genuine. None of it at all matched with what he'd sensed from Tracy Thropston.

"You thought that all hairstylists were gay?"

"Gay people marry, I just thought. It was a stupid thought, it doesn't matter, forget about it."

"I'm married, I have a wife, kind of."

Damon sensed a whole bunch of hesitation and uncertainty there, exactly what he was looking for. Backing off seemed to be the best way of pushing the guy. "I'm sorry, didn't mean to pry."

"It's okay. It's complicated. I love her, I probably shouldn't, I don't think she loves me, I don't think she's even aware I exist sometimes, but, it's hard to walk away."

~The drugs are stashed under the back seat of his car.~ Misako reported. ~I'm headed for the payphone in the amusement arcade to place the call. And Damon, what the hell kind of conversation are you getting Xavier Thropston into?~

Damon stared at the hairdresser. The guy's thoughts were all wrong. ~Misako, just hold there a minute.~


~Just hold.~

He had to push, he had to know more. "I really didn't mean to pry, I just, it's all about, I split up with my boyfriend two weeks ago," Damon lied, "and he was, one minute he was talking about spending the rest of our lives together, then next minute we were arguing, and, it got violent, and..."

"And if it got violent then if you don't mind some advice, you're better off without him. Seriously. He's no good. Take that from someone who knows."

Misako didn't need Damon to interpret for her, she could pick up the relayed emotions clearly enough. The guy was ashamed of the violence, he knew it was wrong, he was trying to set Damon right. The contradiction was unreal.

"They make you think they love you, you'd do anything for them. That's what you do, you're there for them, you don't ask awkward questions.

"And you go on wanting to believe in them, wanting to be there for them, even when it's crazy, even when you can't.

"And you go on and on trying to pretend it's all fine, that there isn't a problem, that she does love you really. Until you can't any more, until you finally snap."

Misako could read Terry Thropston's mind through Damon, she finally started to understand. ~He would stand there and take the beatings, she would lash out, and he'd just stand there and take it because he loved her. Until four days ago. He finally lost his cool, snapped, hit back, gave her a black eye...~

~Humiliated her,~ Damon whispered silently.

~And now she's planning to repay him with wire cutters.~

Misako was furious with herself. Blinded by a need to justify her own desire for revenge, she hadn't even considered that Tracy Thropston was anything but the victim. Only it was Tracy who was behind all the drugs deals, and when the deals had screwed up she'd made him take the blame for it all going wrong, had him take the fall for the crimes she'd committed.

So now he was stuck with a police record. That meant he wasn't any use to Tracy any more. That meant he was expendable.

~Keep him talking,~ Misako told Damon,

~What? And what are you going to do?~

~Get the drugs back out of his car, he's not going down for this, he's innocent.~

~Well you better hurry,~ Jake quickly interjected, ~because we officially have a situation here, they just kicked her out of the amusement arcade.~

Misako tried to stay calm. ~Which way's she headed?~

~Not any way right now, she's still shouting at the guy on the door, arguing the toss with him now, making a scene. And it looks to me like they've called up a couple of rent-a-thugs to have her moved on. Doesn't look like they liked your caster sugar.~

~If she gets to him now, she'll eviscerate him, we just stirred up a hornets' nest. Okay, new plan. I'm planting the drugs in her car. Get her caught. ~

~Exactly how quickly do you think you can do that?...~ Jake asked.

~Chill, I'm working on it.~

~... Because she's already headed for the car.~

~Which gives me how long to get them planted again?~

~Where she's parked, about three minutes.~

~Shit. Not going to happen.~

~Unless you want me to find a way to buy us more time...~

Misako was worried that giving Jake any kind of a free hand was an unwarranted risk, but she was kind of short on options. ~Yes, alright, anything as long as it's discreet. Don't make a scene. I'm on my way now.~

Misako ran. Ran so fast she couldn't even manage a double take as she passed the front of the hairdressers' shop and out the corner of her eye registered the bizarre sight of what looked like the reporter her gran had maimed on Monday headed in to get his hair cut. Ran so fast it was just about impossible to stay in telepathic contact with Jake, which unfortunately meant she had no clue what he was up to.

She arrived to find the car park in total commotion. Over by the exit barriers a car was belching smoke from its engine. Nearby a wheelchair had somehow flipped over and the occupant was now lying sprawled on the road blocking the exit. Passers by were shouting about how he'd been knocked off the pavement by the force of the explosion. He was shouting for help, people were running towards him, in the distance she could hear the sound of sirens. No one was going to be leaving the car park for a good few minutes. It was definitely not what she'd had in mind when she'd said discreet, and it bothered her that the smoke looked a lot more like smoke grenade smoke than burning engine smoke.

It was effective though. Tracy Thropston was sat there in the driving seat of her car, waiting impatiently for the obstruction to clear before she could escape, and the whole floorshow was enough to keep her and everyone else distracted while Misako slipped past and managed to sneak the package of drugs into the boot of the car.

Mission accomplished, she breathlessly stumbled away. She was a nervous wreck, she needed to go sit down and get over the adrenaline rush. None of this was anywhere near as easy as her grandmother's stories made it out to be.

"I don't know whether to kick you in the goolies for being that reckless, or kiss you for being that bloody reckless," Damon commented dryly.

"You kiss him while I kick him in the goolies," Misako suggested provocatively. She didn't appreciate it when people acted unpredictably like that, regardless of the fact it worked.

"What did you expect? How was anything I did at that point going to be anything you'd expect? I make shit happen. It's my speciality."

"Smoke grenades?"

"They were your bloody smoke grenades. Why'd you pack them in your bag if you didn't intend us to use them?"

"My gran insisted."

"And that's supposed to be my problem?"

"Grow up, Jake."

"No. Not interested. Look, four week, one day, thirteen hours and twenty-seven minutes ago a bullet missed my carotid artery by less than four inches. Did you know I still actually keep count of how many minutes it's been? According to the doctors I lost so much blood anyway I ought to be dead. Well I'm not. I beat the odds. I always beat the odds. Life is precious and I'm not wasting one minute of it being all sad, boring and grown up, I don't need a lecture on sodding responsibility."

He counted the minutes; he understood exactly how she felt. So why the hell did he have to be so bloody awkward about it? His attitude sucked, she wanted to strangle him. How the hell was it that Damon put up with him?

"Like your hair by the way, Damon, very grown up, very manly." Jake was joking. Like most Jake jokes, it wasn't funny.

Damon slammed the break on the wheelchair, threw his arms in the air and walked off leaving Jake sat there. "I'm not taking this, I don't have to take this."

"What's your problem?" Jake shouted after him.


"I just said I liked your hair."

"It's the attitude behind it, Jake. You think I look like a twat, you always did."

"Right, I always did, I've never made any pretense about it. So why get pissed off at me now all of a sudden?"

"I've always been pissed off with you, Jake. Never made a pretense about that. Why does it bother you all of a sudden?"

Jake was silent for a moment, it was the first time Misako had seen him speechless. "Good comeback, little boy," he conceded.

"And sod off calling me little boy."

"How about 'little man'?"

Damon abruptly stopped walking away and turned to face Jake. "Yeah, I'm okay with that, you can call me that if you want."

Jake frowned, he'd backed himself into a corner there. And then the two of them started laughing.

Misako didn't figure she'd ever get their sense of humor. She didn't figure she ever wanted to get their sense of humor. The two of them were completely insane.

No Going Back

The screaming pierced the silence. Misako was up running, down the stairs, through the hall. She passed Jake who was on the sofa bed, trying unsuccessfully to get himself into the wheelchair. She hesitated.

"Forget me, get to Damon, wake him up, make him understand where he is. He's forgotten where he is."

She ran on into the office, Damon was cowering in the corner wearing only his underpants, panicked, incoherent. Misako had no clue what to do.

Charley Grace had heard the screams as well. She brushed past Misako and crossed over to Damon, tried to make him look at her, but he wasn't having it, he was screaming, lashing out. She slapped him hard across the face; the shock make him freeze. Charley tried again, putting a gentle hand on his forehead forcing him to make eye contact with her. "You're safe, do you understand me?"

Damon shook his head, confused. "I don't want it any more. He had the scalpel in my arm and he was twisting it and twisting it, cutting into me. No one tried to stop him. They said he was dead, that he was gone, that I was imagining it, only I couldn't have been, because he was there, I saw him... I'm so tired..."

"Listen to me," she said calmly, "it was a dream, a bad dream that's all. You're waking up from a nightmare. Look around you, see where you are, let go the confusion, wake up Damon."

"He was... he cut me, I can't deal with the pain any more... "

"It was real, but now he's gone. Dead. He's been dealt with. He's never going to hurt anyone again, not ever. Think about it."

"I don't... I... They lied, I couldn't, and the pain..., I..."

Charley had him listening now, that was only half the problem. "What do you need Damon? How do I help you?" she asked.

"Leave me to die," he whispered helplessly. "I'm tired, I've had enough, I don't want to play any more."

~Great, you die, how am I supposed to go to the toilet?~

Charley looked around, seeing Jake finally manage to wheel himself into the office. He threw her his wristwatch; "Give him this, it helps with the disorientation."

She nodded, took the watch from Jake, and handed it off to Damon, who stared at the time, and clutched it protectively to himself, and sat against the wall rocking gently backwards and forwards.

Charley back gently out of the office and sat down on the couch. Misako and Jake joined her.

Jake was apologetic. "Thanks. I, guess I should have warned you about that. I thought he was getting better, I really thought he'd be okay. Most days he is, but, sometimes the memories just, they get too real."

"What I remember, still, to this day, vividly, is the smell of antiseptic and the smell of soap. They were quite clinical about it," Charley started.

Misako looked up uncomfortably.


"You know what I used to do, darling. In that line of work, a certain exposure to personal risk is an occupational hazard."


"Darling, when I said I understood how you felt, I wasn't just saying that. I know what it's like to get caught. I know what it's like to survive."

Misako didn't quite know what to say.

They were interrupted by Damon as he walked shakily out of the office, still nervously clutching the watch.

"I feel so..."

"Embarrassed? Don't be." Charley reassured him.

"I go to sleep, I forget where I am, I relive the experiences over and over again until I wake up screaming. It's kind of hard to explain."

Charley sat him down beside her and put a hand on his shoulder. "You relive the experiences in your dreams, that's how your mind rationalizes it all. At least that's what I was taught. But at first you can't get past the fight or flight response, and you wake from the nightmare before your brain has finished the processing. It takes time, that's all."

"They say it'd be easier if I took the drugs to help with the anxiety. But that's just bullshit. I'm not living the rest of my life in a drug induced euphoria..."

Charley smiled graciously. "...Which tells me you aren't nearly as crazy as they make out."

"My shrink keeps on telling me that as well... like he doesn't want my money," Damon joked.

"And I know this isn't going to help, but take it from someone who knows, you won't ever forget, but there'll come a time when you'll control the memories, instead of the memories controlling you. Mostly."

"Only mostly?" Damon asked.

"I do still have a phobia of dentists' drills, I must admit... Now, breakfast," she changed the subject. "A big breakfast, forget healthy. Some of you do look a little skinny."

Damon folded his arms, becoming aware of how little he was wearing.

"So, you three achieve whatever it was you planned to achieve?" Charley Grace asked uncharacteristically discretely as she delivered three mugs of steaming hot cocoa and plates of toast and marshmallows. It was an odd looking breakfast.

"We hung around long enough to see her arrested," Misako answered. "It's out of our hands now, but, I think we did okay."

"What are the marshmallows for?" Damon enquired politely.

Charley Grace gestured to the open fire. "You heat the marshmallow in the flames until they're just about liquid inside, them spread them on the toast. Try it, I find setting fire to things to be wonderfully therapeutic."

Damon looked back oddly.

"By the way dear, I spoke to the school. Told them you'd gone to see a therapist. I might have exaggerated a little, something about how impressed he was with your progress. Anyway, there's only a week left before half term, no point packing you off there this week, but you can go back when the next half term starts in a couple of weeks time, it's all arranged, assuming that's what you still want."

"It is."

Charley Grace smiled. "Well, dear, I'm sure the three of you have lots to talk about and don't want an old fuddy-duddy like me listening in, and I'm in danger of being late for my waterskiing lessons. I'd invite you all along, but I don't think they do water-skis for wheelchairs, so I'll bid you all adieu, I'm sure we'll meet again. Misako dear, do remember to set the explosive charges if you're going out..."

Damon and Jake nervously exchange glances, but Misako just smiled; her gran, for once, had actually been joking.

Charley Grace kissed Misako goodbye, then took it upon herself to kiss Damon and Jake goodbye as well, much to their amusement and discomfort.

"Never been waterskiing," Jake said after Charley was gone.

He was acting all polite, but underneath Misako could see he was struggling again.

"I apologize, my gran can be, well..."

"Not tactful, I hate tactful. I like your gran. It's just... I don't like being told what I can and can't do. Even if I can't."

"You 're bloody awkward is what you are." Damon chided.

"Always have been, always will be!" Jake cheered up.

"Doesn't it bother you?" Misako asked, wondering if there was any point trying to get a serious answer out of him. "I mean, about Stellman, about what he did to you, that there'll never be any justice for that?"

"I don't know. Yes. No. The justice is that he failed. The justice is that we survived in spite of everything he did to us. I'll get out of this wheelchair, I'll walk again, I'll do it just to spite him. To prove I'm better than him. That's all the justice I need."

"And this accomplice?"

"The one you don't believe in?"

"You can't get past the nightmares because you're still afraid, and you're still afraid because Stellman's accomplice is still out there. You don't feel safe. That's what this is all about, right?"

"It isn't about feeling safe," Damon cut in. 'It's about being safe. Until we find Stellman's accomplice, until we know what he's up to, we aren't safe, so no, I'm not going to sleep soundly."

"And as long as he can't sleep, neither can I," Jake finished the thought. "So whatever it takes, we'll find the guy. If no one wants to believe us, fine, I don't give a shit, we know he's real. No one wants to help us, fine, we'll do it ourselves. Like we've had to from day one. And he has no idea we're coming..."

She had to admire the way they closed ranks. The solidarity was the only thing keeping the both of them sane, their friendship was starting to make a lot more sense now.

"And no question of vengeance, this isn't going to turn into a vendetta?" she looked for reassurance.

"You have my word," Jake promised,

"However much we need the closure here, no one gets hurt. We can't do violence. Whatever it takes we have to find a better way," Damon backed him up.

Jake fell back to joking; "which, sucks, to be honest; I had this really great plan for the future worked out that involved having an easy life..."

"So you find him, and that's the end of the nightmares?" Misako sounded unconvinced.

"Other than the ones about seeing Damon naked, yes."

"You have dreams like that a lot?" Damon asked suspiciously.

Misako figured she was fighting a losing battle, but she tried to keep them on track. "I just figured I might stick around, help out. I thought we made an okay team."

"Oh," Jake sounded less than enthusiastic.

"You have a problem with me?" she challenged.

"You seem to have this need to fix other people's problems. It makes Jake nervous," Damon suggested mischievously.

"That's my gran's influence again I guess," she admitted. "And before you both start snickering, there's nothing wrong with trying to make the world a better place."

Jake was coldly practical. "There's only three of us. There are hundreds of screwed up things going on out there every second. And I'm not saying it's a bad thing to want to help, I'm just saying that even if we wanted to, three of us can't change the world."

"But we have our good days," Damon reminded him.

"You're starting to sound like that bloody therapist of yours," Jake sniped. "Milestones? Good days? It's all bollocks. Come on, even you aren't that stupid. Therapists are all money sucking vampires with repressed inferiority complexes."

"You want to know what my therapist says about you? He says you're a basket case, Jake, beyond help. Worries I'll have a relapse if I spend too much time hanging out with you."

Misako laughed at Jake's discomfiture. "Can't accuse my therapist of being a money sucking vampire, loser didn't even show his face today. Even creepier, I'm sure I saw some who looked just like him hanging around the hairdressers later on."

"You didn't mention," Damon said.

"Didn't have time. But, definitely, definitely creepy."

"Screw him," Jake said. "And screw Tracy. They're yesterday's news."

"Better than that..." Misako grinned, "Hold on..."

She ran to her room and grabbed the files she'd printed out, one on Tracy Thropston, the other on her therapist. She had an act of closure in mind. She ran back down the stairs, knelt in front of the fire, and taking the pages one by one she fed them to the flames. Her gran was right, burning things could be incredibly therapeutic.

She finished off Tracy Thropston and was about to move on to the other file when Damon launched himself towards her. He was usually so quiet and understated, but the guy could clearly move when he had to. And something he'd seen had seriously panicked him.

"I recognize that face." Damon grabbed for the photograph.

"You know my therapist? Well, my ex-therapist who did a runner." Misako asked curiously.

"Jake does. That's the guy who stole his watch. The guy with the red hair."

"Stellman's accomplice?" Misako sounded incredulous. "The other therapist got another job unexpectedly. Come on, no way, no one could anyone pull off a stunt like that."

Damon shook his head, "Jake could. It takes a mind that's irredeemably twisted, but it's not impossible."

Jake was worried. "How exactly did he end up as your therapist? And what exactly did you tell him?"

"I didn't tell him anything," she objected. "Shit. That was him here on Monday as well, I know it was. He's bloody been stalking me all week."

"He's watching us, digging for information about us."

"But then why today do a runner?" she asked.

"You had company. Maybe we spooked him. Maybe he didn't want us seeing him." Damon speculated.

"Which, actually, is really, really bad..." Jake looked agitated.

"Bad that you spooked him?" Misako questioned.

"Bad that he didn't want to be seen. Because why would he even care?"

Damon frowned. "Actually, that makes it worse than bad."

"Makes it worse than worse."

Misako raised her eyebrows questioningly.

Damon stared back, his face cold and blank. "It means he knows we know. We just lost the biggest advantage we thought we had over him..."