Friday, 11 January 2019

Eleven: Plans in Motion

The Triumvirate of the New York Underside usually held court in the Throne Room above the Twelfth Level Dome. But to address the Underside, they needed different facilities. Yasi was overseeing the repairs, when Tecca had quietly informed her that an address was coming.
Keeper and Archivist were there when Yasi arrived, and the three of them gathered in the Whisper Gallery, assembled before the central trunk of steam pipes, as though at the brass altar to a forgotten god.
One thing Connie had not noticed when she had visited the room, was the window. It was at the base of the trunk of pipes, and covered over with an oilcloth curtain. Keeper drew it back and the Twelfth Level was visible. Standing before the pipes, Archivist opened a few valves. As Keeper spoke, her voice rang through all of them, taking her words to the entire Secret City like a Public Address System.
The feeling of dread in the Underside was still thick after the Riverfolk attack, and remained until Keeper spoke. She had been the Arbiter for longer than most anyone could remember, and the sight of the ancient woman with a smile on her face was a blessing. She told them half the truth and all of the results.
After that, the party began in earnest. There was a real sense of victory in The Underside. The threat had been neutralized, the enemy plans brought to nothing by quick and decisive action.
Archivist closed the pipes as the celebration began. Among the Triumvirate, the overriding feeling was relief. "We were lucky." Keeper said finally.
Archivist nodded. "We were lucky, but we had help. History is full of examples where one person acting in good faith can bring all the plans of evil men to nothing."
Yasi let out a breath. "Is that why you guys decided to give Vincent and Connie a chance?"
"Sort of." Archivist nodded. "A lot of the time we forget that we're part of the city above. We eat the same food they do, breathe the same air they do... We need them more than they need us. We have our secrets, and we only survive because we keep them; but if we keep ourselves closed off from them completely..."
Yasi nodded and turned to Keeper. "Why do you hate him so much?"
"Because..." Keeper shook her head. "Doesn't matter. I don't hate him. Not anymore. I fact, I never really did. I just didn't approve."
"Can I ask you something else, then?" Yasi said casually. "Why'd you let Dorcan out?"
The old woman barely flinched. "Because he's innocent. I let you arrest him because I thought maybe you had something you weren't telling me, something I didn't know about... but then I listened to your list of 'evidence' when he was locked up... Yasi, I can explain all that."
"He started making great effort to become your second in command, because... I told him to."
Yasi reacted. "What?"
Archivist suddenly pulled out his fob watch. "Oh, would you look at the time? I have to go... do something very important."
Archivist almost ran out of the room. Keeper and Yasi let him go, watching each other.
Keeper sighed and scratched the back of her neck. For a moment, Yasi thought the old woman looked embarrassed. "I told him that I would look favorably on his attempts to put his name forward as your second in command."
"I remember." Yasi admitted. "And I remember thinking that was odd. You don't usually care about my Team's appointments."
Keeper sighed hard. "It was pretty obvious that he had feelings for you, and you'd known him for years but he liked you anyway..."
"Well, it's true." Keeper defended. "I figured having him as your second... Practically your partner..."
Yasi's jaw dropped. "You were trying to set us up?"
"You've been on your own too long to be healthy, and I'm an old woman, Yasi. I want grandchildren." Keeper said without remorse. "And you're not doing your part, so I had to push you along."
"KEEP!" Yasi almost shrieked.
"Yasi, I took a shot three years ago." Keeper waved it off. "I don't send you men anymore, you never slow down long enough to do anything about any of them. But Dorcan was a good kid who stayed loyal for three years of being ignored. And because he liked you, he got thrown into the Oubliette as a traitor."
Yasi looked down. "He could have been."
"Yasi." Keeper just glared at her.
"Okay, he's innocent." Yasi admitted. "Don't set me up with people."
Keeper sighed. "Fine. But I still want grandchildren."
Keeper glared. "Yasi, Dorcan was the one guy in the place that still called you by your name all the time. Even Wotcha was intimidated by you. It's a talent we took pains to teach you, but... Look, I'm your Keeper, like I am for everyone in this place, but I'm still your mother. When was the last time you sat and talked with someone? Not ordered about, or got a report. When was the last time you just sat down and chatted about nothing?"
Vincent. Yasi thought about the time at the Brooklyn Bridge, the night in the Met...
Keeper nodded as though she was reading Yasi's mind. "That's why I didn't like him."
"Why'd you offer him and Connie a job then?"
"Because I knew Connie wouldn't take it, and I knew we needed a friend in the City Planner's Office. If there's one thing the last month has proven, it's that our place here can be… fragile."
Yasi shifted to the safer topic. "Have I completely screwed up with Dorcan?"
"Yes. Fix it, would you?" Keeper told her directly. "If not properly, then enough that you can still work together."
Yasi glared. "Keep, I just locked up a good friend for having a crush on me. This is already kinda mortifying. A moment of human sympathy from my mother would not be totally out of line from you right now."
"Provide grandchildren, I'll be warm and fluffy." Keeper dared her.
Yasi sighed and turned to go.
"And don't pounce on Vincent." Keeper said blithely. "There's an appropriate period you wait after a breakup, and it's longer than two days."
Yasi was so stunned she couldn't speak. Her mouth just opened and closed in shock, making her look like a dying fish.
"Since we pretty much detonated his relationship with Connie, you don't want to look like you were just waiting for the chance." Keeper continued, as though talking about the weather. "You do that when nobody's looking. Toodles!"
Keeper vanished before Yasi could get over her shock paralysis. She stayed that way for a very long time, uncertain how to react to the whole mess her life had become.
Vincent honestly didn't know how to react to anything any more. He felt like a secret agent, living a normal every day life in a city office as a paper pusher, just waiting for his handler to make contact with a covert mission. In a very real sense, that was his life now.
But then he looked around his home and realized that it didn't feel like his home any more. Which made sense. Connie hadn't moved into his place; it was an entirely new space that they had picked together. Yesterday the apartment had a 'lived in' feel because it had plenty of personal effects about. By the time Vincent had made it back, a lot of them were gone from the living room, and all of them from the bedroom. Connie had come in and collected her things. Every room was filled with empty shelves.
Faced with the prospect of his home suddenly seeming like an echo chamber with everything missing, and staring at the TV all night with his nerves this jumpy. He chose a third option and started cooking.
Dorcan came into Yasi's chamber, and stood stiffly at attention on the edge, as the smell of cooking wafted over him. "Captain?"
"I'm here." She called from the dark corners. "Please, come in."
It was the first time he could recall the Shinobi Captain ever using the world 'please' and he took the hint appropriately. She kept the lights low, and once he stepped away from the opening, his eyes could make her out by the glow of her cooker. She was stirring a pot on her small stove, and he came over to join her.
"I was wondering if you'd accept the invite." Yasi said awkwardly.
"I almost didn't." Dorcan admitted as he came in.
A small inhuman hiss answered as he approached, and he glared in its general direction. "I don't like you either."
"Be nice to my cat." Yasi told him without turning. "Merlin never did anything to you."
"I'll be as nice to your cat as you are to your oldest friends." Dorcan shot back.
"And thus ends the small talk portion of the evening." Yasi sighed. "Would it help if I said I was sorry?"
Dorcan sat down, cross-legged. "I don't know. I've never known you to apologize for anything."
Yasi turned the flame down low on her cooker, and spooned out two serves into bowls. "I know." She admitted. "Something the Sensei told me: The King Doesn't Make Mistakes."
"Like killing Grey?" Dorcan challenged.
Yasi paused. "You heard about that."
"Yeah. I got eyes in this city too, Captain." He spat. The bowl she handed him sat ignored on the stone floor beside him. "You want to know how many ways killing a cop was dangerous?"
"I know." Yasi sighed. "But letting him live would have been worse… Owen lied to Grey, or at least told him only half the truth. He meant to expose us, Dorcan. He was going to drag us all out into the world's attention, and for what? Trespassing? Squatting? You know how many places there are in this city where a homeless person isn't allowed to lie down in the gutter? If you can be booked for that, then what the hell would they do with us?"
"So you killed him?!" Dorcan hissed. "Just lopped his head off, like it was a… a…" He shook his head briefly. "I don't know, but still, what the hell?"
Yasi glared. "Dorcan, if Vandark bought him off with the promise that we'd be exposed to the world as criminals, you know as well as I do that he'd never have lived to see that either."
Dorcan was unforgiving. "So you figure Vandark would have killed him long before he got anywhere. Great, you just knocked something off the bad guy's to-do list. Good guys aren't supposed to do that!"
Yasi sighed. "I know. Dorcan, you and I have both killed to keep this place a secret. We're Shinobi, it's our job to protect and conceal, no matter the cost. He may have been a cop, but Grey had declared his intent. He was an enemy."
"Our enemy? Or Vincent's?" Dorcan challenged.
Yasi almost swallowed her tongue. "What?"
"Its not the first time we've faced and killed someone who got too close. Not the first time one has threatened to expose us either, but you usually don't strike so soon. So what the hell made this cop so dangerous? Could it be because he knew Vincent and Connie? I know you don't have any particular interest in his girlfriend, even if you had a hand in them getting together, but you keep..."
"So what if I do?" Yasi forced out a short bark of laughter. "Vincent is a paper-pusher. And an Upsider. He's a baby in a snake pit when up against the Watchers, let alone Riverfolk. You were there."
"Then why are you smiling?" Dorcan challenged.
Yasi schooled her expression immediately, but far too late.
"Just hearing his name cheers you up. That's a smile that comes from real emotion." Dorcan rubbed his face. "I have never once seen you smile like that, even for a little while." His tone turned bitter. "There was a time I would have given anything to get you to smile like that for me. In fact, it was yesterday."
Yasi looked down, shamed. "I didn't know. I mean, I always suspected you felt that way, but I never really thought-"
"No, it was far easier for you to think that someone who wants to spend time with you must be looking for a place to stick a knife." Dorcan growled. "Even if it's me."
Yasi squeezed her eyes shut. "I was wrong." She admitted.
"THANK YOU!" Dorcan exploded, as though he'd been waiting for that admission a long time.
Long silence.
"Dorcan, I screwed up, no mistake." She said finally. "I was hoping you and I might be able to figure out... I don't know, but I hate to leave it here. I was hoping that we could at least eat a meal together without coming to blows."
Dorcan smirked bitterly. "I would, but you're a lousy cook, Captain. That's why you're so skinny."
Long silence.
Yasi burst out laughing, and Dorcan joined in. It was harsh, bitter laughter; the sick kind that came when nothing was funny.
"I made Vincent some soup. He thought it was medicine. Couldn't bring myself to admit it." She admitted between laughter, and that just set them off again. It went on for a while.
Yasi settled first. "Just out of curiosity...I get that you're ticked at me over yesterday and I don't blame you, but have you been waiting to say these things a long time?"
"I've been waiting to say a lot of things for a long time." Dorcan admitted.
Heavy silence.
"This was a mistake." Dorcan stood up. "I should go. Don't worry, Captain; I won't make it worse. I just wish... well, a few things."
Yasi caught his wrist as he turned to go. "You used to call me Yasi. Ever since we were kids, even with my parents... We were friends a long time, Dorcan."
Dorcan didn't answer. His frame was practically radiating tension. "A very long time, Captain; but... we were never really friends, were we?"
"Dorcan, am I going to spend my whole life paying for a stupid mistake?" Yasi slumped a little. "Is there no way to salvage… anything?"
Dorcan seemed to deflate a little himself. "You're right. We have known each other for many years. What I don't get is... why is all that history supposed to make me forgive you, when it couldn't make you trust me?" He spoke in a low, tightly controlled voice. "You're losing it, Captain. The Underside is coming under threat, and it has been by inches for years now. I'm Shinobi. My job is to protect it, and believe me I will. This is my home too." He paused at the entrance and looked back at her. "Do you even know who your friends are any more?"
Yasi didn't try to stop him as he left the room.
After a moment, the cat came over and nuzzled her hand. She pulled him into her lap and scratched behind his ear. "I really messed that one up; didn't I, Merlin?"
The cat wriggled free and went over to the bowl Dorcan left, sniffing at it for a moment, before retreating into the shadows again, looking for rats.
"Everyone's a critic." Yasi snorted.
But Dorcan's words had hit their mark, and she spent longer thinking about it than she normally would have.
After a moment she rose to her feet and left her room behind.
The rain had continued for over an hour. It wasn't a downpour, just a steady, constant rain that made gutters into rivers. Vincent was still cooking as the wind came up a moment and pounded the rain into the windows. He wondered idly how the Underside handled rainfall, and then remembered the River. It all flowed out somewhere, just as it did above.
There was a knock at the door and he paused. Connie still had a few things here, but he was certain she still had her key. Yasi would use the window... He sent a quick glance over to the hall closet by the door. The goggles and the crossbow were there, wrapped in the coat Yasi had given him. History suggested they wouldn't be much help, but he supposed Owen or Riverfolk wouldn't knock. "It's Open!" He called from the kitchen.
The front door opened, and Drew came in; along with his usual posse of Benji and Tony.
Vincent poked his head out and looked, his eyes going straight to Connie's brother. "Oh. Come to make good on what you said the day we met?"
Drew snorted. "You'd think so, wouldn't you?" He mock-growled. "But Connie has assured me that you were a gentleman, and that it was her choice to walk away. Something about heading in different directions."
Vincent bit his lip. "I suppose that's as good a way of putting it as anything."
Benji sniffed. "I smell lasagna." He said.
Tony elbowed him. "Could you not think with your stomach for just one minute?"
"I'm not. You know and I know that Vincent only cooks when he's upset." Benji argued.
"This is true." Tony considered. "I remember when he missed her birthday party, we got peach cobbler."
The wind picked up again and beat the rain against the windows.
Benji pretended to take off his hat and pose like Oliver Twist. "You wouldn't send us out into the rain, cold and hungry, would'ya, Vincent?"
Vincent sighed and smirked a little, despite himself. "Well, as it happens, I made enough for three or four meals." He admitted. "But you'll have to set the table."
Benji beamed. "Oh sure."
Tony scoffed. "Please, you've never used silverware in your life."
Drew followed Vincent into the kitchen, letting them speak privately. "Connie says she was against you taking the job. She said she was worried for you."
Vincent wouldn't meet his gaze, focusing on the task of setting out servings. "Did she say why?"
"Something about the people you'd be working with, and the hours… She wasn't too specific. Said the job had a confidentiality clause, which meant you couldn't talk about it." He shrugged. "I work in a bank, I know all about keeping private information secret in everyday conversations."
Vincent nodded. "That's pretty much it, yeah. I think that Connie didn't believe I could balance my work with my relationship."
"She right?"
Vincent sighed hard. "I don't know."
"You're cooking. Benji's right, it's a nervous habit for you. Worried you did the wrong thing?"
"Yeah, a little." Vincent admitted. "But if I had to do it over again, I'd probably do the same. Wherever this leads, it's just something I have to do."
Drew nodded, but he wasn't smiling. "Connie's upset. As her big brother, that makes me furious, but she's handling this one well. Maybe because it was her choice to end it here, maybe because she understands why you're doing this. So this is a bad day, but we all move on."
Vincent nodded. "Thank you for that."
"Don't thank me." Drew said seriously. "This could be the worst mistake you ever made. So far it's cost you your girlfriend, and speaking as her brother, the best thing that's ever happened to you. Connie and me? Our parents worked two jobs each just to keep us in the black, and we hardly ever saw them as a result. Nobody ever lay on their deathbed, wishing they had spent more time at work." Drew said seriously. "Career is career, but love is forever."
"I smell garlic bread!" Benji hollered from the next room.
Drew headed out. "Something to think about."
Benji and Tony perked up as Drew came out of the kitchen. "Food?" Benji chirped hopefully.
"It's coming." Drew told him. "Guys, we're not staying. I needed to talk to him, and we'll shovel a little chow into Benji to shut him up, but don't get settled. There's always a discreet interval when one of your family goes through a breakup. We're not friends with Vincent until that period of time is over."
"No more food?" Benji repeated the point he understood.
"Not from Vincent, not for a while." Drew confirmed, breaking it to him gently. "Connie wouldn't like it."
Benji nodded. Connie had often told him that he was loyal and hungry as a pup, and that's why she had nicknamed him 'Benji'. He was about to say something when they heard a noise from the other end of the apartment. All three of them looked out the living room door down the hall. With the doors open, they had a clear view of the hall window opening from the outside...
And Yasi stepped over the windowsill, the fire escape clearly visible behind her. She closed the window behind her, and shook the rain from her hair and clothes. The three extra people in the room were stunned. "Um... Hello."
Yasi wasn't the least bit concerned as she came into the living room. "Hi there."
"And who exactly are you?"
"Yasi." The Shinobi said easily.
"And where are you from?" Drew challenged.
"Downstairs." Yasi said, giving nothing away.
Vincent, overhearing the whole thing from the kitchen, couldn't help the slight smirk as his heart sped up a bit. Downstairs? No kidding.
"Vincent?" Tony said, more amused than anything else. "This girl climbed in your hallway window."
"Well, that's where the fire escape is." Vincent called back, as though that explained everything, and poked his head out of the kitchen. "Yasi." He said neutrally, giving his guests a glance. "What's up?"
"I smelled lasagne, and it's raining outside." Yasi said, as though that explained everything. Vincent came into the room and took a look at her. She was standing ramrod straight, her sword was missing, and though she held her hands behind her back casually, Vincent could see her hands shaking a bit from his angle. She was tense, not used to being surrounded by strangers.
Vincent pushed the garlic bread over, and she spoke as she took a piece. "If you're in the middle of something messy…" She started to say quietly, careful not to let anyone overhear.
"Stay. They'll only be here long enough to grab food and go." Vincent assured her. "Please."
Yasi nodded gratefully, and sat down. Drew looked Yasi over subtly and glanced toward Vincent; the question in his eyes. He didn't ask, and Vincent was grateful, though he worried about Connie. Their main circle of friends were all here, with Yasi sitting in Connie's usual seat. The thought of her being alone made him feel guilty.
Connie was staying with her brother for a while, until she found a new place. He had been happy to take her in, and stay with his girlfriend for a bit so she could have privacy. She'd spent the better part of a day convincing him that her breakup with Vincent was amicable. Drew was the definition of a Big Brother, and he wanted to punish anyone who made his little sister cry. Connie appreciated it, but even if she felt justified in doing it, leaving Vincent was her choice.
And a part of her couldn't help the fear that Yasi might be around. Her brother would be diced if he dared to lay a finger on her ex-boyfriend.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Connie spun in shock at the tapping on her window. A small shape was visible as distant lightning silently lit up the stormy sky for a moment.
"Tecca?" She whispered in surprise and opened the window for him. Even twelve feet from the ground, the boy seemed at ease perching on a windowsill in the rain. "Tecca, what are you doing here?"
Tecca sniffed. "I'm cold." He admitted finally.
Connie all but pulled him in forcibly, and quickly found a blanket to wrap him in.
Tecca accepted it. "I'm supposed to keep an eye on things around here. I can do that inside the window too, right?"
"You can for as long as it's raining." Connie returned. It was not a polite offer, it was a direct order to stay and warm up. "How long were you out there?"
"Hey, it's not like I chickened out." Tecca snarled, suddenly ferocious. "I handled the winter nights long before you came along, lady. You should have seen Wotcha. She was untouchable, no matter what was happening around her. I'm the Watcher now."
"I know: You direct the lightning." Connie responded loyally. "Would you like some hot cocoa?"
Tecca licked his lips. "Yes." He said carefully, as though it were a test.
Connie smiled and fixed it for him while he dried off. "So, what brings you by?"
Tecca took the drink and wrapped his fingers around the cup. She cleared her throat expectantly; and he swallowed. "Thank you." He said quickly; and hid it behind the mug. Connie beamed at him, and the two of them slowly sipped their hot drinks for a while. She'd spent enough time around homeless kids at the clinic. Not one of them were willing to admit needing help. None of them were willing to admit they wanted grown-ups looking after them.
"You know, Tecca…" Connie said casually. "I'm really glad you stopped by. Things with me and Vincent fell apart after… well, after. I guess I'm just not brave enough. I was still scared of Owen coming after us, I guess. It was scary down there for me. I'm glad to know I've still got someone looking out for me, now that I'm here alone." He was a smart kid, and she was careful not to make it sound like she was humoring him.
Tecca studied her, picking her apart with suspicious eyes. The jaded look was a terrible thing to see in one so young, and finally he decided he trusted whatever he saw. He reached into his messenger bag, and pulled out his copy of The Secret Garden. "Well… since you need someone to sit with you a while… We might as well do something?"
Connie smiled. "Well, as long as you're sure." She picked up the book. "More cocoa?"
Connie's friends had left once the lasagna was gone. Vincent was washing the dishes when Yasi suddenly reappeared, and picked up a dishcloth.
"Gotta say, I was surprised to see you come in while they were here." Vincent offered as she took a plate off the drying rack. "I figured you'd wait till they left."
"It was raining." Yasi excused, but both of them knew that wasn't it. "I wanted to... I don't know. Look, I've never told anyone this, so I'm going to fumble it a little, okay?"
"Okay." Vincent settled and let her talk.
Yasi licked her lips. "Do you remember when you bought me coffee?"
"Double-tall Mocha-swirl, with caramel shots and whipped cream." Yasi recited. "I know it by heart. When I was in training, a group of us would come up to the surface, spend time slipping in and out of your world, learning how to be invisible. But when we were done training, we stopped. There was no reason to be up here. But when I became Captain, I came up to the surface alone. It was what I did to relax."
"Lonely at the Top."
"Lonely when you're young." She added, setting down the plate and picking up another. "I was the youngest Shinobi ever to become the Captain." Yasi said proudly. "There were a few people who figured it was nepotism, but I proved them all wrong."
"Nepotism?" Vincent repeated, a little confused. "Why should... wait." It struck him suddenly and his eyes bulged.
Yasi smirked. "You had to find out sooner or later."
"Keeper and Archivist are your parents?" Vincent almost shrieked, making the water splash a bit. "Holy cats! You're gonna look like Keeper when you get old?!"
Yasi just looked at him. "Weighing your options? Should I go tell Connie to move her stuff back in?"
Vincent held up both hands. "Hey. You know that's not why we broke up."
"I do." Yasi confirmed. "But I get why she'd think it was me." She bit her lip. "All that stuff we did? Coffee at the Bridge? Music at the Opera House? I've never actually done that with someone. It was almost like a secret life. I don't think you were conscious enough to see me fight. But if you saw it... that's my real face. That's what I do." She sighed and scrubbed her face. "My worlds collided that night at the Bridge, Vincent. I saw you looking, and you weren't scared of me. I hated that a part of me... wanted you to be scared." Yasi admitted. "It comes naturally most of the time. Nobody laughs at a sword. It's who I am, and I am very good at it. Intimidation gets to be habit after a while, and... it never worked on you. It occurred to me that... I didn't know what to do when fear didn't work."
Vincent took that in. "How you reacted when fear didn't work, was to show me something incredible that was right in front of me the whole time."
"I don't mean you, I mean everyone." Yasi interrupted him, drying the dish in her hand compulsively. "I threw a man I've known my whole life into a deep dark hole, because it honestly didn't occur to me that he was a trustworthy friend. It's not any great personality flaw, I just... never put the effort into making friends. So now I don't have any. It sort of hit me just now that it's making me kinda... isolated."
"Yasi, I wasn't scared of you. I was stunned. I mean, I always knew you were dangerous. I saw the way Wotcha shuddered when she spoke about you. But knowing it and seeing it were different things. Connie is scared of you because of that, Yasi. I'm not."
She nodded. "That's because when we first met, I was trying to get you to like me enough to follow a total stranger down a long dark tunnel, in the middle of the night, at an empty subway station you'd never been to, while telling nobody where you were going."
"Well, put that way I sound kinda stupid." Vincent said finally.
Yasi smirked and started drying the next plate. "I wasn't wearing the sword when we met. Most people who meet me for the first time see that sword and sort of forget there's someone holding it."
"See? When you don't lead with that, you're really quite charming." Vincent offered. "But for what it's worth... I was very glad you were there the other night, scary or not. You did save my life. Me and Connie would be dead if you weren't that dangerous."
She smirked, and set down the plate. "You know something? This is my first time drying dishes."
"You've seen how we do it. You've done it yourself." She pointed out. "You finish a meal in the Underside; you throw the bowl away and some Gremlin pounces out and grabs it before it hits the ground."
"Yasi, welcome to the life of a dull surface dwelling kitchen."
The Lostkind's smirked, just a little. "You're still calling me Yasi?"
Vincent blinked, a little confused by that. "It is your name."
Yasi's face slowly transformed, blooming into an amazing, genuine smile. "Yeah. It is." She put the dish down, picked up another.
He was about to try and make sense of that, when there was a knock on the door.
"Who is it?" Called Vincent.
"Detective Ryan, NYPD." Shouted a voice from the hall. "We need to ask you some questions."
Vincent looked but Yasi had already vanished.
"You've never seen a garden before, have you, Tecca?"
Tecca shrugged as she put the book away. "There are gardens in the Underside. We set some of them up to clean the air and the water. A little bit at least. Algae and such. One of the Lostkind in California made glowing moss and sent some to us long time ago. It's nice there, like light growing in all different colors."
"Yeah, but without the sun, you don't have things like roses and trees."
"No trees. No room for them."
Connie picked her words carefully. "What about Central Park? Ever been there?"
"Last year. I was part of a team that Borrowed some stuff from a plant nursery." Tecca offered. "Someone made dwarf fruit trees. You'd probably like it."
"Mm." Connie nodded, non-committal. "More cocoa?"
Once he was done answering their questions, Vincent left his apartment and went to the nearest coffee shop, pleased to see that the rain had passed. When he returned home, he ignored the door and went up the fire escape to the roof. Yasi was perched on the corner of the air conditioner, eyes closed, and legs crossed. She was meditating, or waiting for him. She didn't open her eyes when he approached, but she smiled when he placed the coffee next to her.
"Did you have any trouble with the police?" Yasi asked without opening her eyes.
Vincent hoisted himself up next to her, and took a sip of his own drink. "They had questions about a policeman that was investigating the attack on Friday night."
"Officer Grey." Yasi said neutrally.
Vincent nodded. "Connie told them about my cell phone. That's why they came to ask me about it."
Yasi opened one eye. "What'd you tell them?"
"The truth." Vincent said with an innocent gleam in his eye. "I told them that my phone was stolen the last time I volunteered to help a bunch of poverty stricken homeless people, and I had no idea what happened after that."
Yasi grinned. "You've been hanging with a bad crowd, Vincent. You've become a regular Artful Dodger."
"When we ran into Davidson the other day, it sort of hit me that I never had an alibi planned. You might want to warn Wotcha-oh." Vincent bit his lip, and a look of true pain crossed both their faces. "How's Tecca taking it?"
"I don't know." Yasi admitted. "He's a tough kid and he won't admit weakness to anyone, not even when his own grandmother gets it. But your cover was a good one. The cops will start looking toward the homeless, and they won't find anything."
Vincent hesitated, but spit out what he'd been thinking. "Detective Ryan, the cop that came to ask me questions? He said that Officer Grey hasn't been heard from in over a day. You think Owen and Vandark are cleaning up loose ends?"
Yasi nodded. "Could be."
"Yasi, you don't know anything about what happened to Grey, do you?" Vincent challenged.
The Shinobi shrugged easily. "Nope. Never met the man."
"Well then..." Vincent sighed. "I'm a loose end too. And so is Connie."
"I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over it. Probably Owen and Vandark making sure we don't have any leads to them. You only know Owen and Grey, and both of them have vanished. It's over."
Vincent nodded slowly. "It's over."
Yasi rocked back and let her legs swing freely, picking up her coffee. "We had the funeral."
Vincent winced. "That was quick."
"It's our way."
"I wish you'd told me. I would have liked to be there."
Yasi sighed and took a sip. "That sort of thing..."
"I know, it stays in the family; and outsiders ain't invited." Vincent murmured.
Yasi wanted to apologize, but couldn't bring herself to do so. "Well, be glad you weren't there. It was the most horribly depressing experience of my life. We kept telling everyone the danger had passed, but Wotcha was the first person we'd lost to enemies in so long... And she wasn't the last one we lost that weekend."
Vincent nodded and squeezed her hand. She pulled it away carefully. It wasn't harsh or irritated, she was just keeping her distance from him. It suddenly dawned on him that he had never seen the Lostkind touch each other casually. Taps on the shoulder, hugging someone, shaking hands…
Of course. It came to him. People who live Underground in tight quarters would have different rules on personal space. He pulled away. "Sorry."
"It's okay." She said, and after a moment, he thought he could see a tiny smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "Vincent, this won't mean anything to you, but…" Yasi bit her lip. "I know who my friends are."


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