Percival quickly sobered; he cupped Maurice's cheek. "Do... do you think it was her? Or something else wearing her skin?"

A 5608 word short story about the resilience of both love and the lack of it, in which agents Apollon and Jutrobog investigate a strange set of events around an abandoned meat factory in New York, tipped off by a senator's wife.

Content warning for some descriptions of gore, abusive relationships, and characters experiencing unreality.

With a heavy sigh, Percival leaned, his legs tipping back as he allowed his bed to catch him. Feet splayed, shoes kicked off onto the floor somewhere, he heaved a box onto his chest with a grunt.

Maurice sat back hesitantly into a chair adjacent to the bed. With a cigarette dangling from his lips, he asked: "Do you have any Nat King Cole?"

Pullman was confirmed to have died in his hospital room at 419 hours. Sensors detected, beginning at 350 hours, aberrant activity in the hospital. It had entered the building via a back entrance which led to an alleyway, and had walked a steady path toward Pullman's room, deliberately using the elevator. Its Ozols radio readings, along with the fact that it freely interacted with early morning hospital staff, would indicate that this was a humanoid type B1 aberration.

"I'm not sure," Percival responded, using his thumb to look through the records inside the box. "Half of these aren't labelled."

Maurice moved slowly, deliberately, like a coiling snake. He rested his elbows on his knees, lazily tangling his fingers together, and craned his neck to look at the records.

"Let's listen to that one," he said, pointing a finger out. Percival paused.

"The one with the skull? I dunno what's on it."

Maurice shrugged languidly. "So? It's got a skull on it."

Laughs burst from Percival's chest like shrapnel from a grenade, and he rolled over to sit up and set the box on the ground.

"Okay, okay," he said, pulling out the record, thin, made of a messily cut X-ray sheet, a gossamer skull imprinted onto the film. He placed it on the record player with little fumbling.

The aberration entered Pullman's room at 414 hours. Audio recordings from the bugs in his room indicate that he had woken up, or was already awake and simply started moving. He had gotten out of bed, very slowly.

Putting the needle down with a doff of his finger, he let it spin.

From amongst the grain and static, an almost melancholy sound spilled like syrup from the record player.

"This sounds terrible," Maurice said, smiling a bit.

"Of course it does, it's an old rib."

Maurice closed his eyes slowly, letting a strange, off-kilter sense of peace wash over him. He turned toward the nearest trash can and spat out his cigarette.

"Good aim," Percival said distantly, watching Maurice with placid grey eyes.

Stretching, Maurice got up and crawled on the bed with Percival. "I try my best," he said with a small smile as he laid on the old sheets, arms wrapped loosely around Percival's torso. The two let the music wash over them for a moment.

"I can't believe I still have these," Percival mumbled.

"They're nice, in a way," Maurice said simply. "Come on, lay down."

Percival obeyed, leaning back slowly, like a falling tree, and back into the blankets. He looked over at Maurice and ran his calloused fingers through his partner's straight, black hair.

"Did you see that blood?" He asked.

Maurice nodded.

"Awful," he spoke, barely above a whisper.

Maurice nodded. "Too bad it was nothing worse than what had happened to some of those kids. The ones rounded up."

Percival snorted, twirling a lock of Maurice's hair in his long, calloused finger. "Good thing not all of 'em had their souls fed to the aberration in there."

"Ugh." Maurice made a face. "That aberration. It was disgusting." When he saw Percival suppress a laugh, he cut in with: "More than our usual fare, Percy."

Percival quickly sobered; he cupped Maurice's cheek. "Do... do you think it was her? Or something else wearing her skin?"

Maurice looked at Percival for a long moment. He nodded.

Pullman was recorded to have said in a dazed yet contented tone, right before his death, "Edith, I'm so happy to see you."

"Edith Pullman here to see you, Mr. Jutrobog," Sally said with her typical nasally voice. Hand on the doorknob, she looked at Percival over her vivid red cateye glasses with judgement in her eyes.

Percival startled, closing the box of deli sushi. He quickly opened a random drawer in his desk and shoved it in. "Ah, yes. The senator's wife who contacted us a week ago?"

"Yep, that's her."

"Right." He nodded. "Let her in, Ms. Cliodhna."

Sally raised a thin eyebrow. "Not before Mr. Apollon wakes up."

Percival looked over to where Maurice was sleeping, feet propped up, neck leaned back, and eyes covered by a ratty copy of Germinal, at his desk.

He sighed and raised his voice. "Ey, Maurice you dolt, wake up!"

Maurice startled, almost imperceptibly, and lifted the book with his thumb to glare at Percival with one shadowed eye.

"I'll let her in now," Sally droned, and walked away from the doorway.

"Let in who?" Maurice asked. He peeled the book away from his face and shuffled his paperwork around so that the ones with heel marks on them weren't visible.

Percival didn't look up from his own sorting of his paperwork. Out of the mess, he fished out the file he wanted. "Edith Pullman, senator's wife," he said quickly, almost exactly as the Edith in question walked in.

"Hello, that's me," she spoke, her voice soft. Percival looked up from the file and at her. She was short, but had some firmness and steel in her shoulders, a sort of determination to go through with whatever task she was going to AMSAA to complete. Her hair was a deep brown, styled short and smooth, and her makeup was applied liberally. Her clothes seemed fancy enough, and she held a purse in firm, manicured hands.

Almost offhandedly, Percival wondered what she looked like through Maurice's eyes. Her file said her Wanderer was a mountain lion. He wondered if it curled protectively around her shoulders in an impossible balance, or if it prowled around the office with the same keen eyes that she had. Maybe he would ask Maurice later.

"It's nice to meet you, ma'am," he said briskly, standing up to shake her hand.

She tilted her head in a pseudo-bow. "You too, mister... Jutrobog, is it?"

Percival nodded sharply. "Yes. And this is my partner, Apollon."

Edith followed his gesture, and held out her hand. Maurice, almost startled, stood up quickly to shake it.

"Sit, sit," Maurice said as he gestured to a plush seat in front of Percival's desk.

"Thank you, Mr. Apollon."

Percival closed the manila folder containing Edith's file as she sat and turned her even gaze toward him.

"You gave no reason as to why you wanted to speak to us directly, Mrs. Pullman," Percival said, adopting a cooler tone. He sat and rested his forearms on his desk, leaning forward.

"Ah, yes," Edith recrossed her legs, eyes darting between the two of them. "Before you ask, my husband is aware of AMSAA but is unaware of your whereabouts or how to contact you. I got here via a friend of a friend of a... you know."

She looked down at her purse, rubbing her fingers along the handle. "I specifically avoided telling my husband about this. He thinks that I am out at brunch with a lady friend of mine."

"Your reason for being here is something Senator Pullman has done?" Maurice cut in. Percival's eyes looked at his partner for a second in shock.

"I, yes." Edith straightened, resuming her eye contact. "Something he's planning on... him and his friends," She almost spat. "They're very keen on the idea of trying to... corral those aberrations and use them for some rot. Against the Reds, and whatnot."

She turned to Percival and raised her palm from where it was on her purse slightly. "No offense, Mr. Jutrobog."

Percival hid his grimace. "None taken, ma'am. I know how Americans can be."

A couple of chuckles escaped Edith's chest.

"Did you bring anything, er, concrete? Any documents?" Percival asked, still frank but slightly more gentle.

"I did," Edith said, opening her purse and pulling out a folder, which held papers and other folders. Both Maurice and Percival leaned forward. "I did."

Jackie never really understood her friend Billy's obsession with the abandoned factory right outside of town. Her friends, including Billy, all said it was probably for plastic making, though her uncle always thought that it was for furniture assembly, so she wasn't really sure what to think, really.

She wasn't even sure of the appearance itself. Sometimes she and her friends would bike out nearby to look at it, partly out of their own collective curiosity and partly out of Billy's insistence that during the summer the sun would shine straight down and make the factory look shadowless. He had read about it in a book once. Some old Greek dude a long time ago saw a stick without a shadow during summer, or some such. None of her friends could ever be sure about Billy's theory, though. It seemed to look a little different every time they saw it.

One thing she was sure of, however, was that Bill's fun idea to go exploring there in the middle of winter was decidedly not fun.

"Oh god, there's cobwebs everywhere in that room," Joe said, his tongue stuck out in disgust, as he pointed his flashlight down the hallway. Jackie wanted to look- she didn't mind spiders that much- but she couldn't look in there for too long. The pipes were just pipes, but they were also grotesque. They weaved their way along the walls like those veins in science class anatomy diagrams. She felt that if Joe kept shining that light, it would swell and burst, like an ant under a magnifying glass, and fill the old factory with slick, viscous blood. Drowning was her biggest fear, after all.

"Look!" Bill called out from where he was, a little ways away. "It's some huuuge gears!"

Joe's head snapped around to look in Bill's direction. "No way!" He practically sprinted over, Jackie trailing behind hesitantly.

"Wooah!!" Joe and Billy both pointed their lights into the room, staring with wide eyes. Jackie didn't want to look into the light. She did anyway.

It was an open maw, outstretched, wide and hungry.

"Jackie! Are you okay, good lord?!" Billy shouted as he half held her up.

It was a shadow, writhing and slithering around like pus from a burst buboe.

Jackie pressed her palms into her eyes. She pressed and pressed and pressed, feeling her eyes squish and burn. Burning the images from her mind. Burning and burning and burning.

The aberrant building is approximately 16 kilometers from the town center of ████, New York. Built in 1912, it used to be a meat packing plant. After a workplace fire in 1925, a stray aberration latched on to the souls of the deceased workers, along with the building itself. The building proceeded to disappear from the public consciousness. This was until 1961, when the original aberration began to fight with another aberration in the area. This conflict set off AMSAA sensors and alerted our teams to the building's aberrant qualities. The new aberration, which is Shadow-based, devoured the old one, which was Wanderer-based. With the increased Shadow presence in the building, it began to fade back into the minds of ████'s population. AMSAA continues to monitor the building.

Jackie's uncle Roger handed her a hot cocoa, and she nodded in gratefulness. She tugged her blanket a little bit tighter around herself.

"Next time you go exploring, you take me and don't go alone, alright?" Roger said sternly as he sat down in his favorite living room chair, digging his feet into his winter slippers. "You've caught cold."

Jackie nodded, ignoring the muscles at the nape of her neck cramping, ignoring that something felt deeply wrong. "Yes, uncle."

"So, was it a furniture or plastic factory?"

Jackie edged away from the fireplace.

"You have wonderfully bright eyes, you know," Edith said with a soft twinge to her voice, regarding Maurice easily as he led her out of his and Percival's office.

"Thank you, I get that a lot," Maurice said. He pulled a lighter out of his pocket and re lit his cigarette.

"Oh, can you light me one too?"

Maurice nodded, and held out his lighter as Edith dug a pack out of her purse and stuck one on her mouth.

"Thanks, Mr. Apollon."

Sally looked up from where she typed away on her computer and saw Maurice leading Edith over.

"Why, hello again, Mrs. Pullman," she drawled.

"Hello, Mrs. Cliodhna," Edith said with an amicable smile.

Almost too quickly, Maurice turned around and jogged back to his and Percival's office. He raised an inquiring eyebrow at Percival standing in the doorway, his expression thunderous.

"Did you find a hole in your suit again, Percy?" Maurice said as he sidled up to the other man.

Percival shot him a look. "No, idiot, listen." He pointed to a paper he held in hand. "I was reading a file and it's got something to do with one of the aberrant locations in America that popped up recently. Remember that abandoned meat factory in New York that Dr. Ozols had to deal with a few years ago?"

Maurice hummed. "The light show from the fighting going on there was pretty."

"This isn't about the light shows!" Percival shook Maurice's shoulder. "I think there's trafficking people with aberration-prone souls in the nearby town going on. That's what Mrs. Pullman's files are hinting at. At least what I've read so far."

Maurice's face tightened a little. "I see. And we didn't notice."

"Yeah," Percival said with a nod. "The husband- Senator Pullman- seems to be involved with or connected to WASP. It could be one of their efforts."

With practiced aim, Maurice leaned his neck over in the direction of a trash can by the wall and spat his cigarette into it. "We should ask the people over in data to see who's trespassed on the building recently. It's a whole abandoned factory, at least one curious person must've gone in. Wouldn't be any weak souls otherwise."

"Yeah," Percival said again, this time with a sigh. "Shit."

While aberrations are themselves incredibly dangerous and predatory toward human souls, there is at least comfort in that they will always be so. Aberrations will be what we expect aberrations to be. This is why a substantial amount of AMSAA resources are used simply to protect vulnerable souls instead of simply going against various countries's use of aberrations.

Vulnerable and sensitive souls are unpredictable. While sensitives, those who can see aberrations and souls without assistance, are rare and can only be created during an incident at birth, anyone can become vulnerable to soul cannibalism or a target of aberrations. Due to this, many of those with knowledge of aberrations use vulnerable souls as easy food for any aberrations they are trying to create or control. Because of how aberrations can warp the minds of most, most of these individuals will be completely wiped from the minds of those they knew.

      — 1962 AMSAA manual on aberrations

Jackie always played alone. She didn't always used to play alone. She remembered vaguely, like silhouettes in mist, friends, shapes, sensations, voices. The details of who she used to know, however, would always flee like a dream upon waking.

She didn't bother to try and remember. She was fine with running along the sand and rock of the coast and drinking in the salty air alone. Her uncle Roger always complained about his legs when she'd make him go with her, so she went alone. She was fine with that. She was!

Maurice looked around the room, his eyes zeroing in on a metal wire trash can in a corner. Pursing his lips, listening idly to his shoes clack on the tile, he shuffled over to the trash can and spat his cigarette into it.

"I think I have it," Dr. Ozols - Konstantīns - said, pushing a door open and walking through it. They were carrying some papers. "The last people to go inside the factory were- uh-"

They pushed their cat eye glasses up their nose and wiped sweat off their cheek. "Three kids. Jackie Moore, Joseph Jones, and William Davis."

Maurice leaned a shoulder against the wall and shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. "They live in the nearby town?"

"Yeah. Looks like they were just in the factory to explore it, you know how kids are." Konstantīns laughed a bit. They flipped through the pages. "Though... they did run into the aberration. First, Jackie seemed to panic. Joseph and her then ran out, but they left William behind. Joseph then ran back in, but didn't leave. The sensors stopped picking them both up after a few minutes, so they were either taken or eaten. Or both."

"I'll be able to see him," Maurice responded, holding a lighter up to a new cigarette.

"I know you will," Konstantīns said with a grin. "Can I have one of those?"

"Sure. They're Gauloises though. Strong." He held the pack out anyways.

Konstantīns took a cigarette with a smile. "Your treat then, hmm?"


Jackie turned around and saw a boy, about her age, scampering up the dune, the hill, the whatever it was. He would have been familiar if not for the fact that he looked like so many other boys she knew and saw across town. Was he familiar? She narrowed her eyes.

"Hi," Jackie said in response, waving. "Who're you?"

The boy's excitement seemed to be tamped with those words, crushed. He faltered in his running toward her. He told her his name.

Jackie blinked fuzzily. "Okay. I'm Jackie."

The boy smiled strangely. He walked up to her and crouched down. "Can I build a sand castle with you?"

"Sure," Jackie responded. She was always up for some sand castle building.

Soon, the two of them had a decently impressive castle, with a long wall working down the beach and around it. To defend from the waves, the boy said. Jackie quite liked building sand castles with him, but she felt embarrassed about not remembering his name, so she kept quiet. She got his attention by shouting "HEY!" or hurling things at him.

Sometimes she would look up and not see him anymore, whipping her head side to side until she saw him again. She was hesitant to let him out of her sight.

Right as they were building a second layer of fortifications against the ruthless waves- Jackie loved feeling the water lap at her feet, with no unease at all- the both of them spotted two men walking across the beach. The boy watched the men, but she watched the boy. She felt like he would disappear any moment.

Neither of them were dressed for swimming. Their clothes were casual, but the sleeves of their shirts reached the wrists and the collars were buttoned up as much as was comfortable. The shorter man had brown skin, black straight hair, but his nose was thin and long and pointed. The taller man, who had two big tan coats looped around the crook of his right arm, was paler, with almost dirty looking dark blond and coiling hair. His nose was straight and very wide. He looked like a fellow on one of those big posters with soldiers on them. The ones her uncle Roger hated.

The taller man noticed them, pointing and waving. The shorter man didn't point or wave, but he did smile around his cigarette. The boy waved back, and so Jackie was inclined to wave too.

"Hello!" The taller man said as he approached them, with an accent to his voice.

"Hello," the shorter man said as he approached them, with a different kind of accent to his voice. "Nice sand castle."

"...Thank you," Jackie said.

"Are you two friends?" asked the taller man. He tiptoed around the grand castle and sat in the sand with a huff.

The boy opened his mouth, but Jackie spoke quicker. "No, sir, we just met today."

The shorter man paused his gazing at the ocean surf to shoot a glance at the taller man. Jackie wondered what it meant.

"Sir!" The boy asked the shorter man. "Are you French? You sound like the French people my mom likes on the radio."

Just a bit, the shorter man smiled. He crouched down, elbows on his knees, sunglasses perched in front of lidded eyes. "I am French," he said, his accent just a little bit thicker. Forced a bit, maybe. "I'm from Marseille."

The short French man said no more. He obliged to stretch out on the sand, the two tan coats spread under him like a makeshift beach towel, while the taller man helped them with the sand castle. Sand got on his shirt cuffs constantly, soiling the pleasant robin's egg blue color, but never did he roll his sleeves up. Jackie decided not to point that out to him.

The tall man said his name was Percy. The boy got really excited at that, saying that he loved knights a lot. Jackie's chest had burned at that. Knights were unbearably familiar to her- but from whom had she heard about them? Her uncle Roger had no interest in that stuff, and she always played alone.

The sun began to set. Jackie knew she had to go home. The boy- his name, what was his name- seemed incredibly upset. He didn't want her to leave, but she hugged him and left anyway.

"I like your eyes," Jackie told the short man as she was leaving. "They're bright."

"Thank you," he said, his smile wry. "I get that a lot."

As she was leaving, turned away, walking down the sandy and stony shore, she heard their voices continue to talk. She wanted to know what they were saying, but she had to go home. She turned back, watching as the sun began to be bathed in the water, lighting the ocean on fire. The sun's low angle made the shadows of the figures on the beach stretch long into two great pillars. Two shadows.

She blinked fuzzily and continued home. She was nearly wordless during dinner with uncle Roger, and she practically flopped into her bed, dragging her covers over her.

She dreamed.

"Finally!" William sobbed into the sand. "For weeks, no one's noticed me! It's been the worst! And, and that girl, she's my friend, I've known her since we were both toddlers, but she didn't recognize me, and-" He broke off to weep readily. "They took my friend Joe too!"

Sally didn't look up. "Hello, Mrs. Pullman. I'm sorry to say it, but Mr. Jutrobog and Apollon aren't in right no-"

She paused. She looked up. Though Edith's face was made up well, her hair impeccable, her clothes unwrinkled, there was a redness around her eyes. There was a deep set anguish that could not be brushed over with concealer.

Sally stood up.

"Mrs. Pullman, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she responded. She swayed on her feet. "Where are the two agents?"

"They're not here."

Edith cussed. Sally walked around the desk, protectively putting an arm around her shoulder. "Do you need to talk to them?"

"Yes. Yes. I have a location."

"It was all meat," he wailed. "Disgusting and bloody and red! It felt like it was chewing me! It hurt so much!"

"I don't want to go back, you know, Ms. Cliodhna," Edith said quietly, hands clutching each other in her lap.

Sally looked up from the communicator she was configuring. "To your husband?"

After hesitating for a moment, Edith nodded.

Sally huffed. "That's perfectly fine. I'm not sure if you can stay here for a long time without senator Pullman getting suspicious, however."

Edith flinched.

Static filled the space between them. Sally smacked the machine a few times. She felt an encroaching sense of anxiety coalescing in the room. Maybe because everything was coming to a head just then. The suspense, per se. But maybe not.

"Hello?" It was Percival.

"Jutrobog," Sally said sharply. "Where are you?"

"On the beach, ma'am. We have the kid Davis."

Sally paused, before registering what he meant. "Good. Mrs. Pullman has a location."

She could hear Percival move in shock. "She does?"

"Yes. I want you two to report to where Hakobian is parked and come back with William Davis immediately."

She dreamt of a crucible. She dreamt of jaws stretched wide, straining against chains. Lines stretched out in front of it, shuffling figures heading in a line into the awaiting hungry mouth. She dreamt of pale, eerily clean walls. She dreamt of sterility.

"Jackie," a boy said, though she always played alone.

He took hesitant steps away from her. She looked down. There was no shadow beneath his feet.

"Joe," Jackie responded, hushed, horrified.

She dreamt that he stepped forward. She dreamt that he stepped away.

"Hakobian is a good pilot," Sally said distantly, her arm slung over Edith's shaking shoulders. "They'll get here fast."

Edith dabbed at her face. "I'm-" Her voice was thick with unshed tears. "I'm sorry, I-"

"Oh, don't apologize." Sally pulled her a bit closer, rubbing her shoulder. "Let it out, it's okay." She looked away from the other woman and at the papers that she was now holding. She let the folder fall open and simply stared at the open pages, not processing or reading the words on them.

"My husband, he-"

Sally's head snapped up to look at Edith. "Did he find out that you knew?"

"No, but he- he's been cruel."

Sally suppressed the urge to blurt out her thoughts about marriage. "My... apologies."

Edith shook her head slightly as she trembled. "I'm scared tha-"

A door down the hallway bangs. Through the door and down the hallway came a tall, lanky individual, making long, suave strides down the hall.

"Hakobian!" Sally stood up. Ellis tipped her cap in response. It didn't work too well as parts of the leather went over her ears, but she still did so. Sally ran over to her and looked up at her looming face. "Where are the others?"

"They're coming," she said. "I just walk quickly."

Sure enough, Percival and Maurice soon came barrelling down the hallway. Holding onto Maurice's hand seemed to be a little boy. Must be the shadowless kid, she thought, and paid him no mind. She wasn't a sensitive. Wasn't worth getting a headache later just to focus on his existence.

"Where's the location?" snapped Percival, though he quickly buckled when he saw that Edith was crying.

Edith looked up. Once she wiped the tears from her eyes, she looked not shaken but almost grim. She looked like she was trying to hide a pain, in the way she clenched her teeth and shook ever so slightly, but she looked straight at Percival and Maurice as she spoke.

Jackie had made some friends for what might be the first time in her life. Not just acquaintances, or classmates, but real friends who liked hanging out with her even though she preferred to stay inside and play board games or make card houses. She didn't have to do so alone anymore. And it was nice to have company other than her uncle Roger.

"You should become an architect," said her new friend Joe as he and her watched her new friend Billy finish off a third floor to their card house. "You're always buildin' stuff."

Billy grinned. "You bet I should! A real house made outta cards would be so cool."

"But what about when it rains?" asked Jackie. "Then it'll just blow away."

Joe laughed, a laugh that made Jackie ache a bit. Maybe because she's still in awe over having friends. "Who cares, silly! Just make them stronger, then! Or at least imagine it!"

Jackie thought to herself a moment, about a huge castle, like one of those in England or France, but made completely out of thin playing cards. She couldn't help it. It was so unbelievable. She laughed and laughed.

"Anyone wanna go out to the beach," she said, a little later. "I love swimming. We can build stuff outta sand too."

Her new friends shared an odd look. She wondered why, but she had no reason to worry, for they agreed happily.

Maurice was sitting in a plastic chair outside of the hospital room of one Senator Daniel Pullman. His arms and legs were both crossed and he was slouched; a Gauloise was stuck in his mouth. He felt bored out of his mind, but he'd been in duller situations.

He heard the clicking of flats down the hallway. Flicking his wrist, he looked at his watch and saw that it was nearly four in the morning.

He looked up.

It was Edith, standing there, hands clutched around her purse until the knuckles were bled of all color. She seemed to be pulled, to limp, to rest her weight on her head alone as she looked at him almost nervously.

"Mrs. Pullman, ma'am," said Maurice, without shifting to get up. "Wanna see him?"

She didn't seem to acknowledge what he said. "My maiden name is Hewitt, you know."

Maurice tipped his head in playful concession. "Mrs. Hewitt, ma'am."

She smiled then. Maurice saw, with those bright eyes of his, no mountain lion, but blood. It dripped upwards, white and glowing, from between her lips and up her cheeks and collecting in pools on the ceiling above. It coated her hands and stained her coat. It dripped from her eyes and out her upper eyelids like vivid tears. Her eyes looked at him, unblinking, as if waiting.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Heart attack."

She looked at the door. "May I go in?" she asked once again. "I'll come right out."

He dipped his head. "Of course." He looked away from her and at the door of the room opposite as he heard her open the hospital door. He heard, muffled, as Senator Pullman got up. Faintly, through the door, he heard the Senator say "Edith, I'm so happy to see you."

He continued to stare, unwaveringly, at the wood of the door opposite. The speckles of the white tile of the hospital floor. Listened to the buzzing of the harsh lights overhead.

Breaking news!

New York Senator Daniel Pullman has been found dead in his hospital room this morning. He had been originally admitted a few days prior due to a severe heart attack. According to the staff we interviewed appeared to have been asleep in his cot with no external injury, though there were apparently massive amounts of blood pooled on the floor.

Others we interviewed, however, they said that their coworkers must have been exaggerating or mistaken, as they themselves saw no blood.

It is as of yet unknown whether he has died of more heart complications or due to something else, maybe even someone else. The hospital has refused to share information about the body...

"It was definitely her," Maurice responded, rubbing his thumb along the stubble of Percival's growing sideburns. "She was the aberration. Her husband's abuse and work with WASP must've ruined her health."

Percival sucked in a breath. "What else did she do? Other than kill him?"

"Nothing." Maurice leaned in until he could let his nose brush the smoothness of Percival's cheek, feel the breath on his own lips. He could feel every one of Percival's tremors. "She asked me to kill her."

There was silence for Percival for a moment, then he tugged Maurice in closer until his hand was resting on one of Maurice's jutting shoulder blades. "You need to put that in the report."

"I will, don't worry," Maurice breathed. "I'm tired, though. I was up at like 4 watching the door."

"Wh-" Percival reared back and playfully shoved Maurice into the pillow, making the both of them cackle loudly. "Then go to sleep, idiot!" He reached over to untie Maurice's tie, and Maurice leaned his head back languidly in response, feeling his fingers do the work. Percival, once done, ripped it off Maurice's neck and stomped over to the other side of the room where the clothes basket was as Maurice laughed some more. "You can rest, I'll just be over here changing!"

Maurice was happy to comply, unbuttoning his shirt, unclipping his belt, then tossing both aside. He happily reached out to hug Percival's torso as the other man climbed back into bed, and the two of them happily clung to each other under the covers.

"I love you, Percival," he said quietly. Percival hummed, and Maurice could feel his lips twist into a smile against his hair.

"I love you too."

Jackie and Billy and Joe all went down to the beach to play in the sand and splash each other with the salty ocean water. Jackie would run across the waves while Billy would create the tallest sand castle wall ever, to protect from said waves.

At some point they were joined by two men, a tall guy and a short guy. Joe and Billy appeared to know them, though Jackie had no clue. The two men asked the friends what they were doing, to which they'd all say: "Making the biggest, best sandcastle ever!"

To which the two men looked at each other, laughed, and rolled up their sleeves to help.