Abbie eased the door shut, painfully aware of the squeak of the hinges, the bump as it settled into place. She ducked behind Officer Gregson—tallest guy in the department. Maybe the captain would think she'd just been hidden behind his tree-like frame. And that she hadn't heard her name called during roll.
It wasn't like Abbie had planned to be late again, but that banshee in Douglas Park had given no fucks about her report time. And it wasn't like she could just leave it there for another day; kids played in that park. Luckily it was a pretty easy take down—some salt, some yammering from Crane, a small ring of fire—but it still meant she was fifteen minutes late. And Captain Reyes had no patience for tardiness. Or Abbie.
When Reyes had first taken over for Irving, Abbie had tried to explain that Sleepy Hollow was a paranormal shitshow. Not all at once—she was not winding up in Tarrytown Psych, thank you very much. But hints. Judiciously leaving a few of Corbin's case files on her desk. Explaining that it was physically impossible for a guy to rip out his own throat with his own teeth like the coroner's report said. But the captain just looked at her like she'd stepped in something nasty and turned away.
She was even immune to Crane's crazy charm, his way of making the impossible seem all-too real. So Abbie was forced to come up with lies to cover for the insanity around them. It usually left her looking incompetent, like when she'd had to say a perp escaped, because Reyes would never believe that the guy had melted after Abbie pumped him full of silver rounds.
"Remember, we can't have quotas for our new stop and frisk policy," Reyes said. The officers tittered, but the captain's face was stone. "But I'm gonna be pretty pissed at anybody who comes back with less than five searches tonight. Okay? Now let's get out there and make a difference." Abbie hustled for the door, grateful to get out un-
"Mills, my office." And her hope withered and died a quick yet painful death. Abbie straightened her collar; a few grains of salt cascaded to the floor. Then she followed Reyes into Irving's office.
It was sterile box of a room. There were no pictures on the wall, no files over-flowing from her desk, no mound of phone messages. There was no evidence any work ever got done, but Abbie knew better. The captain was running a tight damn ship. Between the new and insane stop and frisk policy (most criminals in Sleepy Hollow didn't carry drugs or guns; they carried scythes and witchcraft) and the new paramilitary vehicles that were better suited for the streets of Baghdad than Tarrytown, she was a busy lady.
Abbie stood at parade rest in front of the immaculate desk. "Ma'am, I apologize for being late. It will not happen again." An easy lie.
Reyes stood perpendicular to her, facing her profile. "I have read your file, Lieutenant. I know your history. Juvenile offender with a tragic past turned heroic defender of the peace. Touching. I'm surprised they haven't written you up in the Daily Voice." Her breath tickled Abbie's ear, cool and cinnamon-y, and it took everything Abbie had not to step away. "I know you're used to being your CO's pet—first Corbin, then Irving."
Abbie's head jerked to the side. She caught a quick glimpse of Reyes' impassive face before she regained her composure. She'd heard the accusations before, after all. Whispers in the hall that she was a token, that she was here because of affirmative action, that maybe Corbin had more than a fatherly interest in her, if y'know what I mean. But that had just been the mouth-breathers on the force, the guys who would never get out of uniform, who would spend the next twenty years writing tickets and running out the clock until they could claim their pensions. Never from anyone who mattered.
"I have always enjoyed positive relationships with my superiors, ma'am. But I believe my performance record speaks for itself."
"It was impressive, once." Abbie shifted her weight from foot to foot and stared hard at the blank wall. It wasn't that she wanted a pat on the head for doing good work. But to hear that once she'd been a good officer and now that she was slightly distracted by saving the world she was a useless slacker? Yeah, that got under Abbie's skin. "I recall you were bound for Quantico. And yet here we are, still graced with your presence. But I have seen none of the heroism that's slathered across your file." Why was she standing so close? There was a whole, big office to stand in, yet here they were, still inches apart. "I have seen consistent tardiness, an unwillingness to participate in mandated stop-and-frisk activities, exposing a civilian to dangerous active crime scenes-"
Abbie swiveled her head to glare at the captain. "He is a consultant. His research has saved dozens of lives, he was instrumental in the rescue and recovery efforts during the Fourth of July attacks, and he is fully entitled to be here." She turned back to center, struggled to find some well of calm to draw from before she decked her CO. Reyes would probably love that. "With respect. Ma'am."
"Quite the hero, your Ichabod Crane." Finally, Reyes stepped away, and Abbie drew her first breath in what felt like hours. The captain slid into her seat and took a dainty sip from her Styrofoam coffee cup. "Is that why you're sleeping with him?"
The captain might as well have pelted her with a bucket of ice water. She should have known this town was too small for secrets. Abbie took a step back, struggling for a comeback, an excuse, a denial—shit, if Crane were here, he'd know what to say and do to make all this go away, have exactly the haughty rebuttal and the right eyebrow arch to get out of this. But it was just her, and she had nothing.
Reyes turned toward her computer screen. Her skin glowed sickly and pale in its dim light. "Your performance is unacceptable. Consider yourself on notice. If you are late to roll again, you will be riding a desk for the foreseeable future. If I hear that your boyfriend" -condescension dripped from the word and pooled at Abbie's feet- "is at the station or in your squad car, I will initiate demotion proceedings. Do you understand me, Lieutenant?"
It was the beginning of the end and they both knew it. No matter how good Abbie was, no matter how closely she toed the line or how perfect she was, Reyes was going to find a way to force her out. It was hard to fire a cop; unions made sure of that. But she could make it so unpleasant or downright dangerous for Abbie that she'd have no choice but to resign. And then what? Being a cop was the only thing she was good at, the only thing that made sense in her life. And it wasn't like she could just move to another town and get a job on another force—she had to be here, in Sleepy Hollow.
And Crane—Jesus, how was she supposed to support Crane if she lost her job? He could get around town okay by himself now, but that didn't mean he could hold a job where he had to talk to regular people or use a computer or just generally not be a giant weirdo all day. It was all on her, and it was all slipping away.
"If you'll let me explain—If you'll just consider-"
"I have no interest in excuses. You are dismissed."
Abbie wanted to turn her coffee to blood. She wanted to watch the captain's face as she tasted the salty thickness and watch as she spit it out in a red geyser, her teeth stained and dripping. The power curdled under her skin, waiting. But instead, Abbie turned and slunk away like a beaten dog.
"I expect ten citations by end of shift."
"I am bursting with good news and am pleased to report a productive day." Crane bent and brushed his lips against her cheek, then leaned in for a longer, slower kiss. The sheaf of papers in his hand tickled her cheek. Even after several weeks, kissing him was still thrilling and foreign. She was still learning the terrain of his lips, the topography of his scratchy cheeks, the ebb and flow of his tongue. She wondered if it would always feel like this. She kinda hoped so. "And you? Did your toil prove fruitful?"
"My toils could use some good news." She'd issued a whopping four citations. And that had been a stretch. Two curfew violations, one public intox, and one "loitering" that was gonna bug her for a long, long time. But she'd needed something, and figured it was better to write up the kid in plaid shorts and boating shoes hanging around outside the country club instead of the sad huddle of folk trying to stay warm under the Route 9 Bridge. The captain hadn't been in the precinct when she'd clocked out, but Abbie would catch hell for it tomorrow.
"Then I shall delay no longer. Word from your sister is that Captain Irving is to be released on the morrow."
For one awesome moment, Abbie thought all her problems were solved. Irving was free, which was great, because Irving was innocent. It was great for Macey and Cynthia and Jenny, who had visited Irving more times than Abbie had. But maybe, just maybe, there was a chance he could be reinstated and send Captain Reyes far, far away, and maybe Abbie could hang onto her job by her fingernails so the Witnesses didn't have to start praying for manna from fucking heaven.
But it was a short moment of victory. "How is that possible? A court date was set. They were supposed to start picking jurors next week. The courts don't just suddenly let a dude charged with second degree murder go." Last she'd heard, Irving's lawyers were going to try to argue for a lesser charge: voluntary manslaughter. Their story was that Irving had found out Reverend Boland had been molesting Macey and killed him in a fit of passion. It was disgusting and unfair to the poor dead priest, but juries ate that kind of story up. And if it worked, Irving would be a free man in five years. Less with good behavior.
Crane's face fell, like she was a puppy who'd pissed all over the new chew toy he'd bought her. "I am no barrister, and have no answers to your queries. Perhaps Miss Jenny has more insight into the judiciary than I. I was merely pleased we will regain the aid of a good man and a valuable ally."
"No, I mean, I'm glad too, but-" There was no but. It didn't matter. She was just going to accept this one good thing and not ask questions. "That's great. Really good news. Can't wait to see him."
Crane fussed with one of the many scrawny plants peppered among the books and papers. They raided the bargain bin at the nursery every week and bought up everything cheap: Scraggly end-of-season herbs, undersized mums, an orchid that was just too pink, even a scrawny apple sapling sitting in a bucket and smelling like fall. He used them to practice spreading disease—a hideous, fast disintegration involving inky black spots and leaves that crumbled like ash. She had to hang around as a conduit-their range was about a hundred feet, they'd learned-but she never joined in.
That was her one line in the sand: she would not use their ability to become a walking plague machine. She acknowledged it was probably there for a reason, completely understood that she probably should be there with him, making those plants sicken and wilt and fade. But every time she reached for that odd, yellowy shade of their power, she remembered the bug-like eyes of the Black Horse. Famine's horse. If she used that power to make people suffer, to destroy them slowly and agonizingly rather than with mercy and swiftness, how was it any different than if she'd saddled up?
In her book, it wasn't. And Crane understood that. Well, understood it like eighty-five percent. Okay, maybe eighty. At any rate, he respected it, and that's what mattered.
He finally plucked a bruised purple blossom from a leggy mum and offered it to her, twirling it between his fingers. "Will you tell me why you were in such dire need of good news?"
She took the sad little flower and sniffed it. Mums always smelled like death to her, like cheap bouquets in cheap funeral homes and Jenny crying and Abbie trying so hard not to cry and a cardboard box of ashes because it was cheaper than a burial. But Crane didn't know that, so she tucked the flower behind her ear, and he smiled. "The captain was on my ass again. Something about her...well, she hates me, so that's part of it, but something about her isn't normal. She's like a shark, doesn't blink enough. But I'll get through it." She should tell him the rest. She knew that. But she needed him to stay focused on the big picture—finding and defeating the last Horseman. She was in charge of logistics, and she'd figure this out, one way or another.
Crane's eyes narrowed, and he was off, scrambling for his overwhelming pile of books. How he ever found anything in there was a mystery to her. But after a few minutes of muttered cursing—well, she guessed "odds bodkins!" and "God's teeth!" were curses—he came up with a teeny tiny book, no bigger than a matchbook. He cleared his throat theatrically. "'The rider crowned in righteousness shall conquer the land. Pestilence and plague shall spring forth at his command, and the pious will be battered beneath the hooves of the white horse.'" Crane glanced up, punching a finger into the air. "Nothing we don't already know, yes. But—'He shall be clothed in the garments of peace. Those who follow him shall believe they take up arms for order, yet shall sow chaos across the land.'" He snapped the book closed and jutted his chin like he was waiting for a cookie.
She got what he was getting at, but was pretty sure he was also insane. "Are you trying to say Reyes is Conquest?"
"Don't scoff at me. The theory is hardly outside the realm of possibility."
"Nobody's scoffing. Okay, maybe a half scoff. But just because I don't like her—and I can't tell you enough how much I don't like her—doesn't mean she's evil." Honestly, it would be too damn easy. Her problems were rarely solved that neatly.
"We could at least explore the possibility. Or, rather, I could. It would not be wise for you to be seen sniffing about the captain's business. But I-"
"-stand out like a sore thumb and suck at subterfuge. No offense." For the umpteenth time, she wondered how he hacked it as a spy. The man could not keep a secret to save his soul. But more than that, he couldn't go to the precinct. Period. "I'll do it. Ask the guys, call some of her previous employers and see what's up. Best lead we've got. In the meantime, you can keep looking into how we defeat the Horseman, whoever she is."
"Firstly, I reserve my right to take offense, thank you very much." He gave her that snooty smile that really meant he was trying not to laugh, and her lips twitched. "But it shall be as you say. Though it seems you take the king's share of our burden. I wish there were more I could do to be of assistance."
Just fucking around had been so much easier. She never had to consider that the guy might have had a bad day at the office or was working through his issues about being a man out of time. She could just make mhmm noises and offer to call him a cab. With Crane, she couldn't do that, even though all she wanted was to go home alone and sit with a beer in front of the TV and worry. To draw up contingency plans and double contingency plans and If Shit Gets Really Real plans. To figure out worst case scenarios and then plan for scenarios twice as bad as those. She wanted to give in to her fear, just for one night.
But while scratching that itch until she bled a little might feel good, it wasn't what she needed. And it wasn't what he needed. While she'd never had to care about her booty call's feelings, they'd never cared about hers, either. And Crane did—hell, sometimes she was sure he cared more about her feelings than she did. So how could she send him home alone to worry that he was worthless, that he wasn't contributing enough, that he'd never catch up to the world around him?
She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his waist—his shoulders were too damn high—and smiled. "You could take me back to my place, make me dinner, and then make me forget my own name. That would help a lot."
He took one of those hands from his waist and raised it to his lips, his eyes locked on hers. He bent over her hand and softly, so softly she wasn't sure he actually made contact, brushed his lips across her skin. "I can think of no higher calling."
Sorry we had to shovel some plot this week, kiddos. More action to come-but after a brief pause. No new chapter next week. Might I suggest you check out some of JWAB's excellent Sleepy Hollow fic, like "Point of No Return" in the interim?