I’m about to say go alone.

Chris stared at Keenan. “What do you mean, you aren’t coming?” he asked, blinking.

Keenan frowned. “I don’t think I stuttered,” he said, his tone just a bit acerbic. In an exaggeratedly slow voice, he said, “I am not going with you!”

Scowling, Chris bit his lip. “That means… I’ll be riding all the way there with Haruko and – and I’ll have to make conversation with him!” He grabbed the front of Keenan’s shirt. “You have to come!”

“You know what I’m about to tell you, don’t you?” he said, arching an eyebrow. “I can’t go and, if you don’t wanna go with him…” he trailed off. “You get the idea.”

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You woke the beast!

Keenan sighed softly and glanced over at Sera. She was still sound asleep. He wished he were as well. Slipping out from under the blankets, he padded out into the kitchen. He sat down at the table and looked up at the clock at the wall.

It read eleven o’clock, but he knew that was wrong. The second hand was twitching. The battery was too weak actually bring it all the way around. Sighing, he stood and eased the clock down off the wall. He headed to his office and retrieved the batteries.

While he was changing the batteries anyway, he might just as well fix the alarm too. He flipped the clock off and then startled when the second hand finished its sweep and the alarm sounded for the first time in months. He’d forgotten how loud it was.

Chewing his lip thoughtfully, he put the clock back in place. No sooner had he sat down once more when Sera came through the doorway. She was frowning and blinking owlishly at him. “What are you doin’ up?” she asked, shaking her head.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Keenan admitted. “Did I wake you?” The look she sent him said that he had, but she shook her head. He shrugged an apology and then hid a smile as she moved to make herself a cup of coffee. If she was going to be awake anyway, she needed that first cup to start the day.

Sera glanced up at the clock and shrugged. “Least it works now,” she murmured.

Synchronicity

“Hmm,” Keenan said, blinking.

Bertram eyed him warily. It was never good when Keenan got that expression. That expression generally led to mischief, which would invariably get them both in trouble. “Hmm, what?” Bertram ask, his tone wary.

Keenan gave him a sly grin and shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, “just thinking what a coincidence it is that this place is looking for an entertainer and I happen to know one.”

Sighing, Bertram bit his lip. He wasn’t about to tell Keenan that he wasn’t that sort of entertainer. After all, the place was a den of thieves and miscreants. It was perfectly suited to their purposes. “I’m sending you my dry cleaning bill,” he said.

“Wouldn’t expect anything less,” Keenan said, shrugging.

Bertram could feel Keenan grinning like the imp he was as he headed into the tavern. This was one of those times when he both loved and hated his partner.

Everybody Loves Me

Connor enjoyed watching the actors accept their awards. It made him smile to see the people he knew – the people who had worked so hard to bring his vision to life – being honored in such a way.

His eyes widened faintly when the officiators began speaking about the writers, the people behind the stories that the actors, producers and directors worked so hard on. He had known that the writers were given awards as well, of course. However, he’d somehow gotten it into his head that the awards for the writers were given off the air.

He glanced over at the first nominee and clapped politely. The woman in question preened a bit at the praise. It was clear that she felt she, above all the others, deserved to win. The second and third nominees accepted the praise with polite nods.

Connor felt his cheeks warm when the spotlight fell on him. He was a writer because he preferred being in the background. He smiled faintly as he dropped his gaze. Only when they’d introduced the final nominee, did he lift his head.

“She deserves to win,” Connor murmured to his wife. She wrote for one of his favorite television dramas.

Secrets

“Whatever is the matter, darling?” Maeve asked, tilting her head to one side.

Connor bit his lip. How could he ask her without giving away what he already knew? He swallowed and then said, “I stopped by earlier and… you weren’t here.”

“I was having lunch with a friend,” Maeve said, shrugging.

Frowning, Connor said, “What sort of friend?”

Maeve took the question exactly how he’d hoped she would. She assumed he was jealous because she might be stepping out on his late father. She chuckled softly and patted his hand. “Don’t you worry, honey,” she said. “He’s recently lost his wife and we met at group for people who’ve lost loved ones. We’re just friends. Neither of us is ready for anything more than that.”

A faint smile touched Connor’s lips. “So, you just… meet up because you’ve forged a friendship over your… shared grief?”

“Well, of course,” Maeve said. She chuckled. “I don’t even know what he does for a living.” She shook her head, still chuckling, even as a wave of relief washed through Connor.

Watching you like a hawk in the sky

Connor sat on the rooftop and stared downward at his mother. His brows were furrowed. He had seen her with his target several times and had watched them closely. However, in spite of that scrutiny, he still didn’t know what they were up to. Why was she spending time with a criminal?

Sighing, he shook his head. He drew out his cellular and called Ezra. “Why would our mother be having lunch with someone in the Underground?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Ezra said, his voice soft. Concern tinged his tone. After a moment, he added, “You’re watching her?”

“I’m watching him,” Connor said, shaking his head. He sighed again. “What’s she playing at, Ezra?”

“Watch her and you may find out,” Ezra suggested. “Get one of your teammates to keep up surveillance on your target. You need to watch out mother.”

“Got it,” Connor said, nodding. He hung up and then sent a message to Chris. Someone needed to watch their target. He was going to tail the person the target had met with. He was a little surprised when Chris gave his permission for the action.

her knight in dinky armor

Keenan frowned at the tabard. It was Shynia’s answer to armor. The material was enchanted to resist nearly any projectile and could block most blades. He looked over at Sera. “You look worried,” he said. His brows furrowed. “It’ll be fine, ya know?”

“I don’t,” she said. She shook her head and caught the front of his tabard. “This… this is your only protection and it seems so flimsy!”

He smiled wanly. “It’s stronger than it looks,” he said. He kissed her on the forehead and added, “Like you.”

Sera sighed and leaned against his chest. “Why must you go?” she asked, her voice faint. “You’re the Sovereign. Can’t you… send people?”

“What you just said, that’s why I have to go,” he said, wrapping his arms around her. He sighed and closed his eyes. “I’m the Sovereign. They need me. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to send others into a situation and not put myself in their place.”

“Just come back to me,” Sera whispered.

Keenan kissed her on the mouth, then. Breaking the kiss, he stepped back. “Always,” he promised. Then, he spun on his heel and headed out. As he stepped outside, he flashed a smile at the girl that represented his lands. “Ya ready?”

“Always,” Ophelia said. Her tone was firm and confident. She never backed down from a fight. She was, in all ways, the perfect representation of her people.

It made Keenan wonder what Ephemera’s representation was like. Was Ephemera sweet and quiet and a worrier or was that just Sera? He shook the thought away. Now was not the time for curiosity.

the whole war

Keenan was looking intently at Ezra, his brows furrowed. He shook his head and leaned over to Chris. “Who’s is his father, d’you know?”

“Allen… Pemberton,” Chris said, blinking. He looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, I think that was his name. Why?”

A soft chuckle escaped Keenan’s lips and he nodded. “I thought so,” he said. He pointed over at Ezra, who was regarding Devin with a sidelong glance somewhere between an indulgent smirk and a scowl of disdain. “His father used to throw that same look at people. It’s a rather singular expression.”

Chris blinked and looked at Keenan. “You knew his father?” he said, his voice faint.

Keenan nodded. “He was the one who got me started in the Agency,” he said, his voice soft. “It was partly on account of Allen Pemberton that I freed my village from the Berklian forces.”

For a moment, Chris just stared at Keenan in shock. That single event had set off a chain reaction that spurred the rest of the nation to action. If not for that event – if not for Allen Pemberton – they might never have won free of the occupying forces. He looked back over at Ezra and said, “I wonder if he knows.”

that’s because we’re intelligent

“HumInt?” Chris said. His brows furrowed and he looked at Keenan. “Why do they call it that?”

“Because,” Keenan said, grinning. “It’s people gathering the data, rather than machines or computers or what-have-you.”

“Why?” one of the visitors asked, “What do you call it?”

Chris smiled faintly and said, “Usually, we call it foreign research.”

When the visitors looked at them in surprise, Keenan grinned. “We call it that because we’re clever,” he said. “We don’t want to tip our hands, ya know?”

“I thought we called it that because we were sneaky,” Bertram said, his voice soft. He shrugged. “We almost never refer to our agents as ‘Agent’, either.”

Shoes to Fill

Chris felt a moment of nervousness as he stepped into the Team Alpha offices. These people had been working together for… years now. Each of them had been handpicked by Keenan. How would they feel about a new team leader?

Llewellyn was the first to notice his arrival. He poked Hollis on the shoulder. “Look ye,” he said. “Survey that countenence. Does it not speak of trepidation?” He looked at Chris then and shook his head. “Why should ye fear us, good sir?”

Blinking, Chris shook his head. “I’m sorry… what?” he managed.

Hollis chuckled and then smiled at him. “That’s Llew’s way of asking why you’re so nervous,” he said. The smile turned impish and he added, “Only one of us ever bit and he’s been promoted.”

“Aye, under Peter’s Principle, perchance?” Llewellyn teased. He rose and brushed himself off, then. “But come, and I will show ye to your office.”

Chris bit his lip and nodded. He followed the elf into a side office. It was sparse – just the standard furnishings. Keenan had taken all his personal belongings with him to his new office. As Llewellyn left him alone, Chris spotted a sheet of paper on the desk.

He stepped across the room and lifted the paper off the smooth wooden surface. It was a note – to him, from Keenan. “Chris,” it read, “Don’t worry about trying to fill my shoes. I’ve got small feet. Llew and Holl are my friends from way back, so they know how much I actually am looking forward to this. You won’t get any grief from them.

“Michael and Jewel are a couple. They both work surveillance, so that works out fine. Just poke them every once in a while and make sure they aren’t distracting each other. Harmony’s a bit squirrelly, but you’ll get used to her. That comes of working forensic magic – something in it makes you eccentric.

If you need any advice on how to handle a situation, feel free to shoot me a line. I think you’ll do just fine, though.”

Chris sighed and then chuckled softly as he saw the way Keenan had signed it, “Keenan, who is now the boss of all of you!”

As he was setting the note aside, the telephone rang. He bit his lip and lifted the handset to his ear. “Chris Starbright, Team Ga-Alpha,” he said, remembering the change at the last second.

“Your team has a mission,” the director said, his tone brisk. “Your tech person has the details.”

“Yes, sir,” Chris said. As he set the handset back down, he called, “We got work.” It was something he’d always done as Team Gamma’s tech. It made no sense to stop doing it now, when he was a team leader.

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