Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Hope everyone who celebrated the holiday had a wonderful time. Since this story is ongoing, no Thanksgiving flash from me this year. Instead, here’s the penultimate episode! Enjoy!

Walker was waiting for me on the porch, arms crossed and gaze intense, when I pulled into the drive. I shut off the car and pushed open the door, offering him a smile. He tried to give me one back. I opened my mouth, but before I could get a word out, Archer burst through the door and onto the porch. The moment his gaze landed on me, his shoulders relaxed and he blew out a breath.

It was nice to know the kid had been worried about me.

Oscar jumped off my shoulders and landed with grace, before taking off and beelining straight for Archer. My familiar wasn’t worried about me any more now that I was in the presence of my mate. He could go get the snuggles he so adored from Archer. I followed him quickly, taking the steps two at a time and straight into Walker’s arms.

The scenting commenced. Walker with his face, rubbing his cheeks against my neck and Archer with a quick squeeze and swipe on the other side. I stood there, letting them, knowing they needed it and appreciating it for the care it was. I might still be learning all the ins and outs of shifter culture, but I was learning.

“You okay?” Walker murmured, as though he needed auditory confirmation as much as the rest. I was happy to give it to him.

“Yes. I’m fine.” I squeezed him tightly and then pulled back. Not completely out of his embrace, but far enough that I could see his face. And Archer’s too, who was still hovering nearby even though he was trying to pretend his entire focus was on Oscar. “I promise, I’m fine. But there are things we need to talk about.”

Archer went tense, for just a split second, and if I hadn’t been watching him, I would have missed it. But it was there and gone, and then he hiked Oscar up so that the cat could put his front legs around Archer’s neck.

“I’ll let you talk. I’ll just, uh—”

“You too, Archer.” I kept my voice soft but firm. “This isn’t just about me, or just me and your dad. You’re part of this too, and you get to weigh in.”

He blinked at me. Then blinked again. “Uh, yeah. Sure.”

I herded them both inside and toward the living room. They went willingly enough, Archer heading for the overstuffed chair in the corner that he preferred. He flopped down hard enough to bounce slightly, and cuddled Oscar into his chest. Oscar for his part, turned around so he could keep his gaze fixed on me.

Walker and I took the couch, and Walker didn’t hesitate to make sure I was solidly in his space. I might be taller, but he was always the one pulling me into arms when we cuddled like that. It was just how he was wired. I hadn’t really had that before him, but another thing I was learning was how much I enjoyed it. He made me feel safe and protected, and I loved it.

“So what happened?” Archer was the one to break the silence, and his tone was impatient, but I knew it was just curiosity and the fact that my announcement had put him on edge. I let the tone slide easily.

“I got offered a job.”

That stunned both of them into silence. Archer stared at me, eyes wide, and I turned my head to see a nearly identical expression on Walker’s face. It was all I could do not to laugh, because in that moment, they both looked more like fish than the wolves they were. I did smile though, which jostled Walker out of his shock.

“I thought you already had a job,” Walker said carefully.

“I do. I did. I…” I blew out a breath and snuggled a little more against Walker. I always tried to keep it PG with Archer around. Not only because it was the polite thing to do but because this was his father, and I was sure he didn’t want to see it. But he was a shifter, and physical affection was part of their make-up, so I didn’t have to eschew it entirely.

I took another second to get my thoughts in order, and then told them all about my conversation with the Director. I had to censor some of it, because even though I trusted them both implicitly—and even though I was clearly unafraid to bend the rules—they were civilians and they didn’t need to know everything. But I gave them the meat and potatoes. Told them all about the offer.

“Are you going to take it?” Archer asked when I was done.

I gave him a steady look. “Well that depends on you and your dad.”

More of that wide-eyed blinking. “I get Dad but…why me?”

“Because this effects all of us. You’re my stepson, aren’t you?” I gave him a smile and let the complicated cascade of emotions wash through him. “Or we’re getting there anyway. Your dad and I, we’re mates and we’re building a life together. And I’m so happy about that. But it includes you and I would never cut you out of decisions that impact this whole family.”

I was prepared for the extra tight squeeze, knowing Walker well enough by now to know how touched he would be by the words. Even more so by the fact that I meant them. So many times over the past couple of months, I thought about how I hadn’t expected any of this. And it was true. But this was my reality and one I was all too happy to embrace. I was falling in love with Walker, and I adored his kid. We were creating a family and I couldn’t be more pleased.

“Oh,” Walker said, hardly more than a breath of word. He tucked his face against my neck and inhaled deeply. “The way you smell right now…oh, Lane. That’s contentment and happiness.”

His voice was soft, but they were shifters, so Archer heard him just fine. He looked pleased for a long second before he masked his emotions and gagged, though I could tell he didn’t mean it.

I laughed, feeling better than I had in a while. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been happy since Walker came into my life, because I had. But there had been a weight I hadn’t realized had been that heavy until it was lifted. Whatever choice we made, together, would be he right one for us. And however that effected me personally, I would have my mate, and his son, to support me.

“So if I said I didn’t want you to take the job, you wouldn’t?” The way Archer was squinting at me made me think this was a test of some sort. It wasn’t upset by that. He was trying to figure out where the boundaries were.

“I would ask you why you didn’t want me to. We would talk about it.” I shot him a wink. “You might be still a kid, Arch. But you aren’t a little kid who doesn’t know his own mind or have his own opinions. We would talk about it.”

Archer dropped his gaze to Oscar, apparently incredibly interested in rubbing the cats ears. “I don’t want you to get hurt. That would kill my dad.”

“I don’t want to get hurt either,” I assured him.

“Being a field agent is dangerous.” Archer’s voice was so soft, I could barely hear him. But I did, and I was touched by his concern. I threaded my fingers through Walker’s and held on tight, silently asking him to let me handle this. I knew Walker would want to jump in. But it was important for me to have a relationship with Archer too.

“It is,” I agreed. “And it isn’t. I’ve only been in real danger a handful of times in the past fifteen years. And then there were always backup and plans in place to mitigate that. To get me and others out safely.”

Archer nodded, showing me he was listening. After a moment or two, he took a deep breath, and even though he didn’t look up at me, his voice was clearer. “I don’t like them. They screwed you over.”

“He’s not wrong,” Walker agreed, grumble in his tone.

“It was more like they tried to teach me a lesson, but yeah. I get your meaning.”

Archer’s eyes blazed. “And you still want to work for them?”

Oh to have all the righteous indignation of a fifteen year old. But even still, I understood where he was coming from. Even agreed with him, to a degree.

“The MBI does a lot of good too. Investigating crimes is not easy, but it brings justice. Saves people. It’s important work.”

Archer flinched and I realized my words. Before I could apologize, he sat up. “Yeah. I know. I know!”

“Archer,” Walker began, but I held up my hand. Then I stood and crossed the room. I leaned a hip against the arm of the chair, still giving Archer space but needing to be close.

“I’m sorry.” When I reached out a hand, Archer leaned a little closer, and that was all the permission I needed to grip the back of his neck. He relaxed in my hold. “My words were thoughtless.”

“No, they weren’t.” Archer took a breath, then another, before continuing. Showing maturity beyond his age, he spoke quietly. “You’re right, and I’m glad that you, and they, were there for me and the others. That they rescued us.”

“Good.” I squeezed, and swiped my hand along his neck as I pulled away. But I didn’t leave my perch. Figuring it was better to address this head on, I asked, “Do you not want me to work for them anymore?”

“Kind of,” he said, after a moment. “I mean, I want you safe for my dad. And me too.” That was added in a soft tone, and he shook his head. After a few long seconds, he looked up to meet my gaze. “But I know you’re the guy that catches the bad guys and fixes the world, so it wouldn’t be fair to ask you not to.”

“And if I promised to do everything in my power to stay as safe as possible and do everything imaginable to come home to you and your dad?”

“I would trust that.” Archer’s voice was quiet and sincere. He stood quickly, hugging Oscar so tightly, the cat let out a meep. But Oscar didn’t try to get away, so I figured he was where he wanted to be. “You and Dad talk about this and let me know, I guess. I’m going to my room to listen to music. Loudly.”

Without another word, the teen walked away. I watched him go, then grinned, turning my attention back to Walker. Walker was shaking his head, like he couldn’t believe his kid. After a minute, he stood up, and held out his hand.

“We should probably discuss this in bed, don’t you think?”

I laughed, taking his hand. Whatever decision we came to, I knew it would be the right one. And we’d have a hell of a good time coming to a consensus.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 20! I keep thinking it’s going to end, and it keeps not ending. But as it stands now, there’s probably about two episodes left. Enjoy!**

I didn’t make eye contact with anyone as I headed straight for the director’s office, but that didn’t mean I missed the looks others were shooting me. Some were sympathetic, as though they were sorry I was about to get in trouble. Some were what could only be described as gleeful for the same reason. Only a few were encouraging, and those were the ones I took real note of of.

Annika, Director Mitchell’s admin, glanced up when I entered the anteroom. She immediately returned her attention to the computer screen but said, “She’s expecting you.”

I took that to mean I was cleared to go in. I knocked on the door and waited for permission to push it open. The director squinted at me as I entered, then shut the door behind me. I crossed the few feet to her desk, never breaking eye contact.

“Sit.” Mitchell said, gesturing to the chairs. I did, transferring Oscar to my lap, but I didn’t relax.

I watched her play with her pen as she stared at me. Flipping it between her fingers, then clicking it a few times before she set it down on the pristine surface of her desk. It was another moment or two before she spoke, and I waited that out, not willing to be the one who broke the silence.

I didn’t know what this was about, which way this conversation would go, and I wasn’t going to reveal my hand until I had to.

Eventually, she spoke. “What made you think of pallium ligatum?”

I didn’t know if I appreciated the lack of preamble or not. Outwardly, I remained calm, because I’d had a lot of practice. Inwardly, my stomach was a mess. I wanted answers about why I’d been called here and what was going on with the case. But I decided it was best to go with the direction of conversation.

“It wasn’t a new thought,” I admitted, glad my voice sounded even. I buried my fingers in Oscars fur. “During the initial investigation, it was something we explored. Along with servus ligatus,  anweledig, and falaichte.

Her expression didn’t change. “I read your initial report. My question is why?”

If she read the report, then she knew why. But if she wanted me to repeat it, I would. “It was clear that it was nearly impossible for Anderson to do what she did without help. But there was no evidence of an accomplice. So we looked at ways that could be accomplished.”

“But there was no evidence of that either.”

I fought my frustration. We’d been explicit in the report, and I knew for a fact Fiona had to have explained all this again. I didn’t understand her need to reiterate it again here. Was she just checking to make sure my story hadn’t changed? That didn’t make any sense either. So I took a breath so I could remain calm.

“Correct.”

Mitchell nodded, her hair swinging. She tapped at her keyboard for a few moments, then turned the monitor around. The mugshot of a haggard looking man was prominent on the screen. He was bruised and battered, and he had the sunken eyes and cheeks of someone who had been deprived.

“Who is that?”

“Frank Alcott.” Mitchell turned the screen back to her, studied it for a moment, then zeroed in on me. “Anderson’s apprentice, who was under a pallium ligatum that took our best mages a considerable amount of effort and time to break. They’re still recovering from the magical overload. He was Anderson’s apprentice. When we apprehended him, and broke the spell, we found Anderson’s body as well.”

The sense of vindication was swift but fleeting. I didn’t like the piercing gaze Mitchell fixed me with. Since she was a hawk shifter, it was quite intense. It was all I could do not to look away. Oscar felt my unease and scrambled up to perch on my shoulders, curling around my neck in a comforting way. Of course, it would be easy to draw power from him that way as well.

“So I was right.”

Mitchell pursed her lips. “You were. But I still want to know how. No one else even entertained the idea. We had some of our best agents on the case, and yet you were the only one that came to the right conclusion.”

I bristled, because the accusation was in her tone. I had a feeling the next words out of her mouth were going to be that I had to undergo a soul search to prove I wasn’t using black magic. Because that’s what she was implying. That the reason I figured it out was because I practiced it too.

“With all due respect, Director Mitchell,” I began, my cold tone unavoidable, “that’s my job. Or it was. To look at cases and explore every possible angle to get to the truth. You called me in, not the other way around. I’m an exceptionally good agent. I worked hard to become so. I close cases at a higher rate than ninety percent of the agency. But it’s because I’m good and can see things other agents don’t.”

She squinted at me. “You break protocol often.”

“I bend the rules when it’s necessary and right.” The conviction was strong in my tone.

Her eyes blazed. “You don’t get to make that decision.”

Technically, she was right. The protocols were in place for a reason, and I didn’t get to pick and choose which ones to follow. Except I did on a regular basis. And yes, it meant I solved cases. It meant that the bad guys ended up behind bars and victims got justice. But did that make it right? I used to think so.

“I don’t know what you want from me, Director.” I kept the sigh in and did my best to make my tone respectful. “We’ve had this conversation before. Or an iteration of it. Multiple times. You want me to solve cases, but when I do, you don’t like the way I did it. Even though I follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit. I respect that. But you can’t have it both ways. If you want my badge, just say so.”

“We have protocols in place for a reason,” she said, anger still present in her voice. I knew that, but didn’t acknowledge her statement. It took a minute, but the heat in her gaze died. She let out a sigh, a soft little sound that I thought she didn’t want me to hear. After a few beats of silence, she said, “A position has opened on AIC Wright’s team.”

“I…what?” I heard her words, of course, but they didn’t make sense. What did that have to do with anything?

“You’re wasted in archives.”

I had to agree. But she couldn’t mean what I thought she meant. It couldn’t be that easy. Suddenly, they wanted me back as an investigative agent, all because I’d managed to crack a case her best agents had trouble with. I didn’t know how to feel about that, because I’d been doing that before they shuffled me down. They’d wanted to teach me a lesson.

“Look, Wilis,” she paused and offered me a small smile before it disappeared. “Delaney. The MBI is a lot of things, but we don’t waste talent. The Special Victims Unit would be a better fit for you. It means a new partner, a new AIC, and a refresher class on protocol. What do you say?”

I stared at her. There had to be a catch. Yes, she’d said a refresher class, but it couldn’t be that easy. My gut said to take some time, even though my heart was screaming to say yes. My whole life, all I’d wanted was to be an MBI agent. I’d spent the past fifteen years becoming the best one I could be. But I didn’t want to regret my choices, and I couldn’t just jump at this.

“I appreciate the offer, Ma’am. I’ll think about it.”

There was that squint again. “Willis, this isn’t an unlimited time offer.”

I nodded. “I understand that. But I cannot make a decision like this without speaking first with AIC Wright and then my mate.”

A beat of silence, and then, “You have forty-eight hours.”

It wasn’t long enough, really, but I didn’t want to push for more. If I couldn’t come to a solid decision in two days, then it probably wasn’t the right choice anyway. I agreed with a nod.

“Is that all, ma’am?”

She sighed like I was the most exasperating thing she’d dealt with today. Maybe I was. But this was my life, my mate’s life, and I wasn’t going to just make decisions without the proper discussion. I wouldn’t do that to Walker.

“Fine, yes. But do me a favor and talk to Wright before you leave today, will you?”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

And then without waiting for a proper dismissal, I stood and left the room. Once again, I made sure not to make eye contact with anyone. I didn’t want to see their faces. But as I headed up to AIC Wright’s office, I shot a quick text to Walker, letting him know everything was all right but that we had things to talk about.

This day had not turned out at all like I thought it would.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 19! We’re nearly done. It won’t be much longer now, but I hate to give a definitive amount and then break my word. Just know that it’s soon coming to an end. For now, enjoy!!**

“Why you so antsy?”

I snorted a laugh at Archer’s abysmal grammar and shot him a look. He didn’t appear to be paying any attention to me, absorbed in his game as he was. His Switch was propped up on the arm of the chair, and he had a controller in each hand. Though his posture was relaxed, he didn’t take his gaze off the console.

“I’m not antsy.”

Archer scoffed. “You can’t sit still, dude. It’s annoying. I’m busy over here.”

I scoffed. “All you’re doing is decorating your island.”

“It’s a complex theme that requires…never mind.” He shot me a glance, just a fleeting look, then back to the game. For a few seconds there was nothing but the sound of the game soundtrack. Then Archer said softly, “If you’re that anxious about what’s going on, you could always call her to get an update.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It was clearly a lie and we both knew it.

Archer gave me a droll look.

I pointedly ignored him. Lots of things about this relationship had been a surprise, but none more so than a far too observant teen who had gotten comfortable enough to speak his mind. Honestly, I loved it. Archer had been steadily working through his feelings about everything, but Fiona’s visit the other day had seemed to tip him over the edge. He wasn’t holding himself back anymore.

“Dad!”

Archer’s shout startled me enough that Oscar dug in to keep from getting knocked off my shoulder. He gave an angry yowl. I petted his head to help settle him down as Walker came tearing in from the other room, eyes wide and scanning for trouble.

“What? What happened? What’s wrong?”

Archer just rolled his eyes and jerked his chin in my direction. “Your mate needs cuddles or something. Lane is all wound up over the case and he won’t admit it because apparently pretending we don’t feel things is what we’re doing now.”

“Arch!” Walker started, shocked at his son but I couldn’t help the belly laugh that escape. Archer had delivered his speech in such a dry tone, never taking his eyes off what he was doing, that made it all the funnier. When I finally got myself somewhat under control, I saw the little smirk on his lips.

“You heard the kid,” I said, holding out a hand. “I need cuddles or something.”

Walker smiled and dropped down next to me on the couch, pulling me into his arms. I was taller, so it took some maneuvering, but we managed to get it sorted out quickly. We were getting good at that, and the thought had me smiling and letting him take more of my weight. Even Oscar found himself a new spot on my hip, kneading my thigh before settling. Walker kissed my forehead and then pressed his nose against my hair. He liked it when all he could smell was me. I liked that something so simple could bring him joy.

“What’s going on, babe?”

“He’s got ants in his pants. Like you used to tell me when I was little. Except I usually had to go to the bathroom, and I don’t think that’s Lane’s problem right now.”

I laughed again, even more tension releasing. Did this kid know what he was doing? “Thanks, Arch. I got it from here.” I snuggled tighter against Walker, pushing my face down against his chest and just listening to his heartbeat for a long few moments as I got my thoughts in order. “I expected to hear from Fiona by now. It’s been two days.”

“And you aren’t calling her because…?”

I sighed, not wanting to say it out loud. It sounded petty and I liked to think I was better than that. Even though part of my motivation for the whole thing had, in fact, been rooted in pettiness. But if I couldn’t say it to my mate, then who could I say it to?

“Because I don’t want them to know that I’m invested. I walked out to prove a point, but damn if I don’t want to know what’s going on, where they are on the case, and if any of the leads panned out.”

Walker chuckled, the vibrations against the top of my head made me shiver. He squeezed me tightly.

“Honey, they know you’re invested. Fiona knows what kind of man you are. As, I’m sure, do the rest of them. They’d be stupid to think you weren’t invested. And if that’s the case, then they’re more idiotic than I thought.”

“Yeah.” I let out a gusty breath, mulling that over. “So either they don’t have anything to tell me, they don’t want to tell me, or they’re playing their own game, wanting me to be the one to call in.”

“Or all three,” Archer chimed in, still appearing to only be focused on his game.

“Or that,” I agreed. I adjusted my position so I could nuzzle into Walker’s neck because he enjoyed that. The neck was an important zone for wolves, and I’d learned quickly that I could rile Walker up just as easily as comfort him simply by scenting his neck. The thing was, in the process of learning that, I’d come to experience the same emotions. I got just as much out of it as he did. I wasn’t going for excitement right now though.

I’d save that for later.

Walker slid his fingers into my hair, rubbing my scalp, which further helped to settle me. After a long few moments, I felt better. He didn’t have magic, not like I did, but I sometimes I had to wonder. Because right now, just snuggled against him, my previous anxiety had melted away. I was ready for a nap even.

“So, are you going to call?” Walker asked, voice smooth like velvet.

“Yeah. In a bit. When I feel like moving again.” I kissed the juncture where Walker’s neck met his shoulder. Oscar took the opportunity to stand, stretch, and then paw at my pocket. A second later, my cell phone rang. “Then again, maybe I won’t have to.”

I pushed against Walker’s chest—coping a quick feel—so that I could sit up enough to answer the phone. But to my surprise, it wasn’t Fiona’s name on the screen.

“What?” Walker asked, no doubt reading my sudden tension.

“It’s the director.” I stood quickly, swiping across the screen. I couldn’t imagine why Director Mitchell would want to talk to me. “Agent Willis.”

“Willis,” she said, her tone as abrupt and no-nonsense as usual. “In my office. Thirty minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She hung up without another word, which was wholly like her but still irritating. What was even more surprising was that she made the call herself instead of delegating it to her admin. Louise, at least, would have been more polite.

“What’s going on?” Walker stood, worry lines on his face.

“I don’t know. Guess I better go find out.”

Walker grabbed me and kissed me soundly, making sure I felt it all the way down to my toes. When he pulled away, he kept a light grip on my face. “You’re mine, Delaney Willis.”

“Yes.”

Walker’s lip curled in a not-quite smile. “Come back to me.”

“I will.”

“Be safe, Lane.” Archer had laid aside his game, crossing the room quickly to touch my neck with fleeting fingers. He was marking me too.

I glanced back and forth between them and my heart swelled. If someone had told me I’d find myself with a mate and a teenage stepson, I would have thought they were crazy. But now, here I was. And I was happy with it. Glad, even, for this family we were creating.

I marked them both, even though I could scent it like they could, but somehow needing my scent on them, just as theirs was on me. Then I kissed Walker one more time, promised to be safe, scooped up Oscar, and headed out the door.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 18 comin’ atcha. Won’t be much longer now. But enjoy!!**

I stared at the smart board hanging on the wall in the conference room where the team had set up. Every piece of evidence was on display, including the timeline, but all told, it wasn’t much. Fiona was the only one not treating me like a pariah, but I ignored everyone. I didn’t care what they thought about me. I was here to work the case, not make friends.

I clicked on the desktop interface to change the view, bringing the surveillance pictures back up. I went through them for probably the fifth time since I’d arrived that morning. There was something about them that was bugging me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Across the room, Agent Toddington let out a snort, something he was very good at as a bull shifter. Just as I had every time before, I pretended I didn’t hear it.

After a very long moment, I leaned back, not taking my gaze from the screen. “Anderson’s body was kept in the morgue, under protective sigils, until three days ago. The sigils were removed, and the body was prepared for cremation, since it was no longer needed and was unclaimed.”

“Right.” Fiona’s voice held a hint of exasperation. I ignored that too.

I started clicking through the photos again, stopping at the one that was bothering me the most. I could see why now, but it didn’t make sense. So I continued with my summation. “The morgue was unattended for a grand total of an hour and fifteen minutes, but the guard never left her post down the hall. But somehow in that time period, the body vanished. No magic was detected. No other person was detected by scent, even though the best noses in the agency were asked to sniff around.”

Toddington let out a near growl sound, Fiona’s sighed heavily, and the two other agents—who I’d been introduced to as Meeks and Combs—made sounds of disgust. One of them, I wasn’t sure who because I didn’t look, muttered under their breath. It sounded suspiciously like “We’ve been through this.”

Once again, I ignored all of that. 

“What about non-magical means?” It was the one thing that hadn’t been brought up yet.

“There’s no way,” Toddington bellowed. I turned to look at him and raised an eyebrow.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not possible,” he said, as though I was the stupidest person on earth. “Every inch of this building is warded completely. There is literally no way for someone to get in, snatch a body, and get out again without being detected.”

“And yet, we clearly have a missing body.” I didn’t even try to hide the patronizing tone. “It didn’t just disappear. That is actually impossible. And between the chemicals, the decomp, and the amounts of people going through the morgue, it’s hard to detect scents that shouldn’t be there. Even for the best.”

“This is pointless,” Meeks growled, his hulking frame towering over me as he leaned in. I was sure he was trying to intimidate me, but that wouldn’t work. “If you don’t have anything of value—”

“What are you seeing, Willis?” Fiona interrupted sharply. 

“This right here.” I gave her my full attention since she seemed to be the only one who was willing to listen. I clicked through the photos again until I found the one I was looking for. Right at the edge of the frame, there was just the hint of a shadow that shouldn’t be there. I used the mouse to point it out. 

The other agents surged forward, almost blocking my view, as they inspected the photo. Truly, it wasn’t much to go on. And it could mean nothing at all. But it couldn’t be dismissed. To the other agents’ credit, no one did that. But they also clearly didn’t think it was worth much either.

“It could be just an artifact,” Combs said thoughtfully.

“Maybe, but…hang on.” I pulled up the video and ran it at two-times speed until I reach the right part. It was a blip, a blink and you miss it kind of thing. Just a weird sort of split-second stutter in the video. Which could be nothing at all and just a simple malfunction. But that combined with the tiniest hint of shadow that was also there and gone led me to believe it was something more.

“If the feed was hacked through strictly human means, which you haven’t checked for because the magic is supposed to prevent that….if someone was cloaked with a pallium ligatum spell….then the few moments of opening the door and getting the body would go unnoticed.”

“That’s impossible!” Toddington was back to shouting.

“Improbable,” I countered. “Highly improbable, even. But not impossible. And if you’ve eliminated the impossible, then whatever is left, is the truth.”

I mangled the quote, but that wasn’t important. My brain was still trying to put all the pieces together, and I wasn’t worried about correctly quoting the fictional detective.

“That’s a hell of a reach,” Combs mused.

Fiona stepped into my field of vision and I blinked to focus on her. She’s pursed her lips in her “thinking” face and studied me for a long moment. Then she pressed her thumb to the middle of her forehead and closed her eyes. “Walk me through it.”

I nodded. “We always suspected that Anderson had an accomplice, but we never found any evidence of it. To be fair, though, since we couldn’t prosecute her for the crimes we found, her investigation was secondary to Leighton’s, right?” I waited for Fiona’s nod before I continued. “It got punted to other agents, and they never turned up anything either. But I’ve been trying to figure out who would want her body. And the only thing I can come up with is someone who has magic tied to hers. When a mage dies, most of the magic dissipates, but not all. Some is tied into the very core of the mage’s being.”

“As long as the body is intact, the magic remains,” Fiona said, picking up my thread. “If the body is destroyed, by cremation for example, that last bit of latent magic goes with it.”

“Right. And there are only a few spells that can hang on that way. Pallium ligatum being one of them.”

“But it’s still a hell of leap.” Meeks didn’t hide his derision. “That spell is never used, it’s too damaging to all parties involved.”

“Anderson was a dark mage in the extreme,” I snapped, finally out of patience. “If it served her purpose, she would use it. And I can think of a hell of a lot of reasons a mage of her caliber and ilk would want to have a permanently invisible person bound to her.”

“You can’t just jump—”

“I’m putting together the pieces!” I took a breath and modulated my voice. “There is something going on with the video, and I’m not adept enough to know what it is, but it’s likely been tampered with in some way. If this person could slip in undetected, because that’s the whole point of the pallium ligatum, once they had hands on Anderson’s body, it would be undetectable too. They could carry Anderson’s body right out the door and never be seen.”

I had to breathe again, and I lifted my gaze to Fiona, staring her right in the eye. “Yes, it’s improbable. But you all have gone at this every other way. You asked me here to look at it with fresh eyes, and I’m telling you what I’m seeing.”

“Get Jones on trying to trace a non-magical hack,” Fiona ordered, and when no one immediately responded, she pointed at Combs. “Make the call. Get the FBI involved if we have to, as they have more capabilities in this area. I’m going to call the director and have her initiate an in depth sweep and core level magical probe. There should be slight traces of that kind of spell passing through our wards. We just have to look for it.”

Everyone moved then, a flurry of activity. Fiona reached for her cell, unclipping it from her belt, but paused when I stood and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?”

I squinted at her. “Home. You can call me back in if this doesn’t pan out and you need more help.”

She tilted her head, staring at me. “You’re that sure of your assessment?”

I was, but I didn’t respond. It might not shake out exactly like I suspected, but I was certain this would be the lead they need to crack the case open. At any rate, they didn’t need me anymore.

“You know, the Willis I knew wouldn’t just walk away before the case was solved.” Her tone was neutral, but there was something in her eyes I couldn’t define.

“The Willis you knew was an investigative agent. This one is just consulting, who has a mate at home who’s worried,” I said in the same tone.

Fiona stared at me for a long time, then let out a tiny breath. “Go home to your mate. I’ll let you know what happens.”

With a nod of thanks, I turned and strode out the door.