Data analysis wasn't easy. I was good at it, damn good, but most of it was mind numbingly tedious even for me. Sorting through receipts, tax records, shipments, calling contacts for this and that, or just to touch bases. And then doing it all again, just to make sure.

Of course there were other movements that I was keeping track of. Like those of the other perrenial inhabitant of the lab.

(I had been offered my own office in the months since joining the agency, but I'd declined. Given the relative isolation in which we worked here, I was fairly sure that I'd quickly go mad if further deprived of human contact.

I *did* wonder if that had already happened to some of the other members of the team.)

And I couldn't help noticing that Angie seemed a lot less... focussed in the lab recently. Not that she wasn't working hard - I couldn't actually imagine her being in the office and not doing *something* - but she seemed to be chopping and changing between a lot of different projects these days.

Important ones, or so I gathered whenever I asked her what she was doing, but there was one thing that she was never doing if I happened to inquire.

The neutralisation project.

I could guess why, of course. Robert. Which is why I hadn't pried.

I was quite happy with our current relationship, a little odd though it might be, and I was fairly reluctant to change it. Especially by prying into anything so personal.

That never ended well.

It didn't stop me looking, though, and even worrying a little.

So there I was, half paying attention to an email I'd gotten from a friendly scientist at the MOD, for the second time, just in case something clicked, and half watching Angie, wondering if she was ever going to pull out of the loop she seemed to be stuck in.

Then a word caught my attention.

Hydroponics.

And, though I'd seen it before, *this* time it triggered a flash of inspiration, a *niggling*.

And I was off.

Some hours later and more coffee than I really cared to think about, that niggling had turned into a fully fledged concept. Not proof, not nearly anything the others could follow up just yet, but it was definitely leading somewhere.

If the enemy were planning on keeping humans in their underground hideouts, they'd need food. Storage and preservation would work for a while, but everything I had seen about them suggested they planned for the long term. Liked backups, examined plans for points of failure.

Hydroponics was an excellent backup source of food. And it wasn't as though cattle needed meat.

I just hoped that they hadn't covered their tracks as well as they had with the other things I'd looked for, like power sources and workshops.

But the fact that I'd found any traces at all was encouraging.

"Frances?" inquired Angie's voice gently.

I looked up from my screen, blinking a bit.

At some point during the evening - I wasn't quite sure when - Angie left for the evening. The fact that she was back now suggested that I might have been working on this a little too long.

But I was getting somewhere!

"Hi," I returned, croaking a little. Time to take a drink of my, ugh, very cold coffee, I thought.

She came over, looking faintly concerned. "Have you been here all night?"

"I think I've found something," I said, voice returned to something approximately normal with the injection of fluid into my system.

She looked disapprovingly at me. "That's all well and good, but you've got to take care of yourself too. You won't be any good to anyone if you work yourself to the point of exhaustion."

"No, really. I think I've found something," I said, staggering a little as I rose to my feet.

"What is it?" she asked, and I took her through what I'd spent all night discovering.

Afterwards, she pursed her lips. "That does look promising. I'll take Mike and Vaughan through what you've found, whilst *you* get some sleep."

"I-," I said, trying to argue, but it turned into a yawn instead, which really didn't help my case.

Darn traitorous body. I still remembered a time when I could have done this without any problems.

She looked thoughtfully at me. "You're in no shape to drive. I'll take you back to mine. It's closer."

Despite my protestations, I very quickly found myself bundled into her car, and heading towards her house. My arguments that I really didn't need any rest might have held more weight if I hadn't quickly lapsed into unconsciousness on the trip there.

By the time I had revived later that afternoon, Mike (probably assisted by Angie) had managed to locate a site where hydroponic equipment had been delivered which really didn't need it.

Vaughan had taken charge of planning the assault.

"We'll be going in tomorrow, at eleven hundred hours. Most of the site is underground, so we'll be going in packing, expecting leech resistance. Mike, you'll be with me, on point with most of the squad. Angie and Frances, you'll be in the back, with two soldiers apiece. If you have to split up, do try not to lose your escort. We'll be meeting here at oh-nine-hundred for prep, so see you then," he said, then winked at me. "Oh, and Frances, try and get some more sleep. You still look like shit."

"Thanks, Vaughan, you sweet talker you," I returned acerbically.

He laughed. "It's why I've got all the ladies."

I rolled my eyes at him, and then went back to the lab.

There were a few more things I wanted to check on before tomorrow, and more than a few I wanted to double check. Mike was a fine front line investigator, but when lives were on the line, I didn't trust anyone else's analysis.

A little while later, my phone went.

"I take it you're still in the lab." Angie's voice managed to convey traces of both disapproval and amusement.

I looked around at the darkened room around me. It really had got dark quickly.

"Maybe."

"It's seven o'clock," she informed me coolly.

Was it really? A quick look at the clock confirmed the fact.

Damn.

"I was just finishing up."

"I see I'm going to have to keep an eye on you if I want you to have any sleep tonight, either."

I sighed. "See you in half an hour?"

"Not a minute later."

"Okay. And, thanks."

The next day dawned *entirely* too bright and early for my tastes. But what sleep I'd managed to snatch from the night before had definitely helped.

Luckily the meeting came with coffee, and then we were off to a former quarry in the agency-mobile.

Sitting in the back of a van with a squad of balaclavaed men was really becoming almost distressingly normal.

Though apparently not as normal as it was for them, judging from the loud snoring emanating from the man opposite.

Finally, we were there. The doors opened, and men started piling out.

No gunfire yet, which I could only count as a good thing.

Angie looked at me. "Shall we see what the others have left us?"

She made it sound so appetising. "Sure."

We climbed out the back of the van, and then moved into the quarry, accompanied by our escorts.

Angie moved like a predator, with her gun out, seemingly ready for anything.

Me? I was still feeling uncomfortable just with the weight of the gun hanging in its holster.

I was still uncertain about whether I'd be able to use it, if it came down to it.

The radio crackled. "Angie," came Vaughan's voice. "Found the plants. Want to come look see?"

She replied in the affirmative, and we moved further into the interior, following the instructions Vaughan gave us.

A few minutes later, the radio crackled again. "There's some computers here," Mike said. "Shall I take a closer look?"

"I'll handle it," I told him hurriedly.

"I guess I'll see you later," I said to Angie after Mike had given the room's location.

"Keep safe."

"You too," I said, and headed off into the dark.

Mike was wrong, as it turned out. There weren't just some computers present - there were several server racks in a climate controlled room. Lord knew what was being stored on them. But once I'd moved them back to base, I'd have a chance to find out.

Having non-techies around all this fragile equipment made me nervous, so, after a quick scan around to make sure that there weren't any code fives lurking in a corner somewhere, I waved the soldiers out with strict instructions to stand just outside, guarding the door.

And then I started examining the servers in detail, trying to make sure that there weren't any nasty surprises stopping me from just having the servers moved out.

Which is probably why I almost hit the roof when a soft voice said, "Fascinating, isn't it? How much can be done with just the machines in this room."

I got up and span around.

It was the woman from before.

Only this time the door was past her, and closed.

She held up her hands, and kept where she was.

"I'm just here to talk, Frances."

I could feel my eyes widen. "How do you know my name?"

She smiled, open, honest, friendly, in a way that no human could ever be. "We like to keep track of who our friends are. And we are friends, even if you don't know it yet."

"Where did you come from?" I could have sworn, no, I *knew* no one had been in here before. And I couldn't believe that two of Vaughan's soldiers could have been taken out without so much as a whimper.

She laughed. "Are you asking if I turned into mist, and came in through the ventilation shaft?"

My eyes flickered in the direction indicated, and when I looked back, she was closer.

Only a step, and there was yet metres between us, but still. I felt a lurch in my stomach, and remembered my gun for the first time, and fumbled it out, pointing it towards her.

"You really won't need that. As I said, I'm not here to hurt you. Just give you a few facts that you may have been missing."

"Starting with how *you* of all people happened to be waiting for me here might be nice."

"You're a talented analyst, Frances," she said. "But we have people who've been doing this for decades, centuries. We just lay down the path, and waited for you to come sniffing along."

And with the repetition of my name, I remembered. Jack, Mike's ex-best friend, was one of them now. And Kirsty, Jack's ex fiancee, and Mike's unrequited crush, had looked me up when trying to track down Mike.

Apparently that information had spread.

"I don't believe you," I said, as firmly as I could, as though I really believed that there was no chance I had been outplayed so badly.

"What other explanation is there?" she held open her hands, and took another step forwards.

"Stay there!" I shouted. Why hadn't the guards come to investigate the noise? "Stay there if you really want to just talk."

She stayed where she was. "As you wish. But haven't you wondered why this facility is here, what we're doing here?"

"Storing humans after you engineer an apocalypse?" I didn't quite mean to make it a question, but that was how it came out.

Smiling, always smiling, she pounced upon the doubt in my voice. "Is that what the priest told you? Because, of course, he isn't biased at all in his view of things. If we're the parasites you've been taught, why would wipe out most of our food supply? It doesn't make sense."

"Then what are you doing here?"

She looked sorrowful, as if she was a mother disappointed by wayward children. "Humanity. Can you honestly say that it isn't growing ever closer to self destruction? Whether by nuclear fire, pollution, disease, or yet another way you haven't even come up with yet? We're planners. If you haven't realised that yet, Frances, then I'm deeply disappointed in you. This is an *ark*. If humanity does manage to destroy itself, we can keep at least some of you safe, here."

"As benevolent shepherds, no doubt."

For the first time, her smile dimmed a little. "There would have to be rules, of course. Look what humanity has done to this planet, Frances. In a place such as this, there would be much less room for error."

And I was back on firmer ground, my skepticsm and cynicism rocks I could cling to. "But luckily we'd have immortal, perfect rulers to tell us what to do, forever."

"If humanity has fallen so far as to need these shelters, wouldn't that have proven that they need guidance?"

Of course it was 'they' and not 'you'. It was bad practice to make the mark feel like *they* were included amongst the idiot masses.

But I was stuck in a room with one of the enemy, and she was hardly smiling at all any more. Not exactly an encouraging sign.

"What do you want from me?"

She started smiling again, which was probably a good sign. Probably. "Why are you fighting us, Frances? I can't believe it's faith and Mike has too many questions of his own to drag someone else in."

"I'm doing what I've always done. Tracking people who break the law, and helping bring them to justice."

"Are death squads justice now, Frances? Do you like living in a third world country, where people are killed just for who they are?"

I winced, internally. Not that I was gay, of course, but being bi was close enough if you asked the wrong people (And not close enough if you asked other flavours of wrong people.) And *that* was definitely info garnered from Jack. If he hadn't already given up his humanity, he'd be so off the Christmas card list.

"Didn't you choose this life?" I fired back. "Choosing to prey upon humans, to assault them and take their blood."

Her voice suddenly dropped a register, becoming husky. "Oh, Frances. You *have* been misinformed. It doesn't have to be assault. It can even be quite... pleasurable," she said, and took another step forwards.

I swallowed. Jack was *definitely* off the Christmas card list. And it was official - it had been entirely too long since I'd gotten laid.

I firmed up the grip on the gun, holding it like Vaughan had taught me. "Stay right there." It would probably have been a little more impressive if my voice hadn't cracked a little.

She halted. At least for the present. "And what we want, what we really want, is quite simple," she continued. "We want to be freed from our limitations. Believe it or not, we'd like to not have to feed from humans. Doesn't that sound ideal?" she asked, with a somewhat flirtatious and wholly unsettling smile.

"Maybe?" The devil, like always, was in the details.

"Believe it or not, you have the person we need to create artificial blood in your custody. If you give him to us, then there wouldn't be any need to fight anymore, and you could back to hunting the proper criminals."

Angie's husband, Robert. Of course.

"I need time to think about this."

"And I'd love to give it to you. There's just one thing, one small gift, I need to give to you first," she said, and took another step forward.

A bite. Of course. Angie had told me about them. Healed almost instantly, made you extremely susceptible to suggestion.

"Don't take another step." I could feel the sweat pouring off my brow.

Step.

"Really." My hands felt damp as I clasped my gun.

I could shoot.

I could.

Couldn't I?

Step.

"I'll shoot," I said, but my voice sounded hoarse and unconvincing, even to myself.

"Don't worry, Frances," she murmured, now almost within arm's reach. "This won't hurt a bit."

Step.

She opened her mouth.

I didn't know who was more surprised by the report of my gun finally going off, her or me.

She was the one who screamed the loudest, though, mouth stretching impossibly wide, giving an inhuman shriek from a suddenly glowing throat.

Oh yes.

I needed to find cover.

I'd just about managed to dive behind the server racks when the concussion wave hit.

I'd killed someone.

I'd killed her.

Oh god.

I'd killed her.

I sat staring at the cup of tea in my hands.

It wasn't a particularly interesting cup of tea, but looking at it meant that I didn't have to focus on anything else.

Like the violet light I could see out of the corner of my eyes.

The ultraviolet light.

And why Angie was sweeping it over my skin.

I could ignore it. I could.

And looking at the tea was certainly better than drinking it would have been.

"You're lucky," I heard, and it was so soft that I almost didn't realise that it wasn't just in my head.

But it wasn't.

It was Angie, and she was waiting for me to look at her, to acknowledge her.

It was Angie, and so I looked up, meeting her cool gaze.

"That's the second time you've met one of them, and you've come out unmarked." A slight smile touched her lips. "None of the rest of us have been that lucky."

Lucky. That was me.

"Are you going to drink that?" she asked, indicating the cup in my hands.

I shook my head.

She took it off me, carefully, and I suddenly I had nothing to contemplate, and it all started to rush back towards me.

The gun shot.

The look in her eyes.

The explosion.

Oh god.

"You're coming back with me tonight," Angie said, returning after having emptied the tea down the sink, and it wasn't a question in the slightest.

She seemed to expect an answer anyway, so after a moment I nodded.

"Good," she said and helped me to my feet. "Get your coat and we can leave now."

I, still numbly, still half on autopilot, started to open the door to the guest room, when Angie lightly touched my arm.

"I think it would be best if we shared a bed tonight, don't you?" she said.

By this point, I just wanted oblivion, to just not *think* for a while.

But it didn't seem like a wholly unpleasant idea, so I nodded and didn't resist as she led me towards the master bedroom.

Seeing her strip in front of me, quite unashamedly, should have meant *something*, either embarrassment or... something else, but all it did was remind me after a moment that I really should be doing the same thing.

So I did.

I then looked down at my naked body with the niggling feeling that something was wrong.

Oh yes.

My nightdress was tucked into a drawer in the guest bedroom.

I had gotten almost to the door when Angie cleared her throat, and I turned around to look at her.

She was looking at me determinedly in the eyes, one eyebrow raised slightly.

"I need my nightie," I said by way of explanation.

Her eyes flicked downwards, encompassing my body, and the faintest of flushes tinted her cheeks before she looked me in the eyes again.

"Let me get that for you. I'd prefer you not encounter my daughter whilst naked."

Oh. "Of course. Sorry," I said, and moved out of view whilst she opened the door and went in search of my nightclothes.

A few seconds later she returned, and handed me the slip of cloth. She then waited for me to don it, and get into bed, before turning the light off and joining me.

I had been gazing sightlessly up into the darkness for a few minutes when she sighed besides me and one hand slowly, tentatively, started making its way across my belly until she had me in a loose, awkward, hug.

"Is this alright?" she asked, and it was those words whispered into my ear and that grip, however uncertain, that finally broke me.

I started shaking, my breath becoming ragged, as tears started to flood down my face.

The arm slung across retracted sharply, as if stung, but I reached out for it, found it, clung to it.

"Please," I managed to whisper, choked, and it returned, wrapping around me.

Another hand burrowed beneath, and I raised my body up a little, just a little, so her other arm could enfold me.

And then the storm took me, almost carrying me away.

She was my rock, giving me something to cling to.

But I needed more.

More contact, as I nestled into her.

More reminders that I was alive, as my arms crept around her in turn.

More evidence that I wasn't *alone*, as I had been in too long, as my lips found hers.

She froze, then flinched away, dropping me like a hot potato.

I had just enough self awareness to think 'Crap' before I turned away, huddling into myself, as fresh sobs took me.

I was dimly aware that the room had become lit again, had been for a second, a minute, a while, before slowly, cautiously, arms crept around me again, holding me as if I was a bomb that might go off.

But holding me just the same.

And this time I kept curled up, turned in on myself, just accepting the contact, nothing more, until everything subsided, and I numbly fell into sleep.