A/N: I hope you enjoy this chapter. Sorry for the break in between chapters... I fell deeply in love with "Warehouse 13," which also airs on Syfy, and I've been doing my best to keep up with that as well as with school.
"Dr. Rosen, would you like some more chicken?" Gary asked.
"No, thank you, Gary."
"Would you like some more mashed potatoes?"
"No, thank you, Gary."
"Would you like some more salad?"
"No, thank you, Gary."
"Would you like some more water?"
"Sure, Gary, that sounds great."
In his monotone, Skillet said, "The chicken is delicious, Professor. Maybe your best yet."
"Well, thank you, Skillet," Professor Duncan said. "Perhaps I'll make it the next time you and Ginger come for dinner."
"Uhhh," Skillet said, still in his flat tone. "We'll have to get back together, then."
"What'd she leave you for this time?"
"She said I wasn't attentive to her feminine needs."
"And that's the end of that line of questioning," Duncan said. "I'll have some more mashed potatoes, Gary."
"Of course, Professor!"
"How did you like my new lunchboxes?"
"The Beatles ones were my favorite," Gary replied. Softly, he sang, "We all live in a yellow submarine…"
Rosen smiled as he tried to get a spoonful of blenderized chicken into Thea's mouth. They were like a family in a weird, weird kind of way.
Thea bit down on the spoon, hard.
"Come on, Thea," Rosen said. "Do we really have to do this every bite?"
Thea reached up and grabbed the spoon and threw it over Rosen's shoulder.
"I'll get it," Skillet said.
Rosen took another spoon from the pile next to him. "It's lucky your grandmother was a hoarder, Duncan. I've never seen such prodigious quantities of flatware."
"That crazy old broad never got rid of anything," Duncan said a bit wistfully. "I never knew how much I hated shopping until Gran passed away." He took a bite of salad. "By the way, if you ever want some Fiesta Ware, and I mean, ever, you know where I am."
"Is that what's in that shed in the backyard?" Gary asked.
"Yes. That, and dolls. So… many… dolls," Duncan said.
"Why didn't you get rid of all that stuff?" Rosen wanted to know, laughing.
"I'm selling it off, bit by bit," Duncan said. "You can't flood Ebay all at once or people get bored."
Thea took the spoon out of her mouth and tossed it, landing it with a clink in the corner.
"I'll get it," Skylar said to Skillet. "I have to pee anyway."
She shoved herself out of her seat, bent down to grab the spoon, let out an oof, pushed herself upright, dropped the spoon on the table, and headed down the hallway.
"Gross," Skillet said in his monotone, and took a long drink of iced tea.
"I see why your girlfriend might have left," Duncan said.
"Thea, drink some of your juice," Rosen suggested, reaching for his own dinner plate.
Thea fumbled on the table next to her and smashed the sippy cup between her newly-re-mittened hands. She got it up to her mouth and drank thirstily.
Rosen managed to get some mashed potatoes in his mouth. Quickly he dropped his fork as Thea tossed the sippy cup, reaching up to grab the cup out of the air.
"Excellent catch," Skillet said.
"I used to play baseball in college," Rosen said.
"Those were the glory days," Duncan mused, his fork full of mashed potatoes still waving in the air. "Dated a different girl every week…"
"… went to parties," Rosen agreed.
"Did you join a fraternity?" Gary asked. "There are many media examples of collegiate brotherhood tales that center around membership in a fraternity. And they fascinate me. Would you say that fraternity brothers are more like co-workers or family members?"
"Somewhere in the middle," Duncan said with a laugh. "And no, I was never in a fraternity."
"Neither was I," Rosen said.
"I was," Skillet said.
"Wow," Gary said.
"Yeah, it wasn't like I thought it would be," Skillet said. "It's also not like the movies."
"So, no drinking or beer pong?" Gary asked.
"No, there was plenty of that. But I lived in a house with fourteen other guys… and it wasn't that big of a house. And no one liked to cook, except for one guy who was studying to be a chef, so we ate a lot of ramen."
"That sounds pretty typical," Rosen said.
"We also had board game tournament weekends," Skillet said. "It's how I got so good at Operation." He pumped one fist a bit lackadaisically. "Steady hands, steady heart, steady mind."
"Was that your motto?"
"No. Our motto was something incredibly vague like… brotherhood, fortitude, sexiness. Except less vague. And in Latin. It's been a long time," Skillet said, and embarrassedly reached for the iced tea pitcher.
"Skillet, didn't you graduate three years ago?"
"Three years ago with my undergraduate," Skillet replied. "Then I did my grad work in two years. Now I'm on my Ph.D."
"That's my little prodigy," Duncan said pleasantly. "Who wants dessert?"
Thea arched her back and spasmed out of the chair, landing on the hardwood floor. "Hah!" she informed the ceiling.
Rosen leaned down to fasten her helmet on. "Be free, little starfish," he said.
His phone rang as he straightened up. "Rosen."
"We found the tattoo," Rachel said without pretense. "Belongs to a mid-level gang in Albany. They tattoo their members with a combination of regular tattoo ink and ashes from their dead leader's urn."
"Creepy. Thank you for the information."
"At the moment they're led by a butcher named McDowell."
"So he's known for killing people," Rosen mused.
"What? No. He's an actual butcher," Rachel corrected. "You know, like with the animal meats… and the big knives. He also owns two moving companies and a used bookstore."
"Yeah. Like we discovered before, the gang is called the Hand of Justice. The fake Mack Richardson, who sent those guys after you at your house, is one of McDowell's aliases. We think the tattoos allow them to have some sort of physical connection, whether it's to each other or to McDowell we're not sure. It's not a Greek symbol, though – but we're still trying to figure out what it is. And we're still trying to figure out what the Hand of Justice wants with Thea. Other than the obvious Red Flag connection."
"Thanks for the updates."
"We'll keep searching," Rachel said. "We're all pulling an all-nighter."
In the background a female voice called something out.
"Oh," Rachel said, "Nina wants to know how Skylar and Gary are."
"They're both fine," Rosen said. "We're at the professor's house for dinner."
"He's a good cook," Rachel said. "It's all in the hands."
"Hands," Rosen mused. A mental image of the two bleeding men in the van was coming back to him. "Is it possible that some of the Hand of Justice members would have their tattoo somewhere else than behind the ear?"
"Anything's possible," Rachel said, a verbal shrug in her voice. "Why? Did you see someone else with the same tattoo?"
"I might have," Rosen said.
He was going to say more, telling her about the two men in the van, but there was a crash followed by a loud thump.
"Gotta go," he said, and shoved his phone back into his pocket. "Thea?!"
Thea was sitting docilely in the living room with a National Geographic magazine held up to her helmet, staring at a close-up photo of a monkey.
"If it's not you…" Rosen murmured.
Panic seized him and he stepped quickly down the hallway to the bathroom. "Skylar?" he called, knocking.
"What was that noise?" Duncan said from behind him.
"I don't know," Rosen said. "Skylar?"
He jimmied the door handle. "Skylar, are you all right?"
The door, like a guilty child responding to parental pressure, squeaked and then swung open.
The broken mirror was the first thing that caught Rosen's eye, sparkling all over the floor in vicious glassy shards.
The second thing that caught his eye was Skylar, sprawled out limply on the floor, unconscious.