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Dinner at Dido’s

written and illustrated by Iron Eater

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/283160.html)

The house of Dr. Dido Fell—a name so clangingly theatrical that it has to be a pseudonym, but all her diplomas say the same thing—is a modern thing of wood and glass, set high on a hill on the Massachusetts coast; while the road that leads to it is paved, few cars drive there. The inside is always very clean, and so are the windows, no matter how fierce the storms get. Every room looks out over the forest surrounding the grounds, and it’s possible to see the Atlantic itself from the eastmost set; the house itself is a tiny bastion of civilization amid acres of green. It’s often so still that the sound of the ocean makes it through the trees like a distant, rolling hiss.

There are no gates nor walls keeping guests away, but the place feels unwelcoming all the same, as though it’s too large for a single person—and Dr. Fell has no family or housekeepers, so she alone lives there—and the sterile emptiness presses in like water around a submarine. An enterprising young buck with a brick and a fast car could do quite well visiting the house of Dr. Fell, since the glass is simply glass and the good doctor makes no attempt to lock away her treasures, but the only young bucks who pass that way still have velvet on their antlers. No one has taken one of the original editions from the library, or stolen a drink from her wine cellar, or lain a fingerprint on one of the museum pieces she displays throughout her home. Few people have reason to rap on the peryton door-knockers to announce themselves. No one visits Dr. Fell that she does not wish to visit her.

Don’t go up to the house on the hill, say children from the closest town. If you do, a monster will get you and rip out your guts! They aren’t entirely wrong.

They came in different cars and on different roads, and they rarely spoke to one another before a visit, but Mina and Reese still managed to arrive at the same time. It happened so regularly that they’d stopped thinking about it long ago. Both wore heavy coats with collars turned up against the wind; they were a long way from Mina’s Florida, and even Reese, who’d grown up huddling around gas heaters, looked bothered by the winter air. Their breath puffed like factory stacks.

“It’s good to see you again,” said Reese, fidgeting in his shoes. They were new, and pinched his feet. No amount of government pay had broken him of the habit of buying cheap ones.

Mina allowed her eyes to smile. “The same,” she said. They touched gloved fingers, chaste as a grade school dance. “It’s been…two months? Three?”

“At least three,” he agreed. He rubbed at his ears; they were already nipped pink. “It’d have to be three, since it was before Halloween. She called me sentimental when I asked if she was going to have a little holiday party. I don’t think it was too unreasonable to ask about it.” A twinge of hurt was in his voice.

“Yes.” Mina tightened the scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face. Only her eyes and the bridge of her nose peeked out from beneath it, and it muffled her voice; the weave was loose enough that she could breathe through it, making it look as though she were smoking through the knit yarn. “She can be difficult sometimes, you know?”

“Very.”

Reese let almost half a minute pass before adding, “Not that it changes anything.” He held one of Mina’s fingers between two of his own for a moment, then released it. “I’ll probably forget all about it in an hour, but you know how it is. It’s been a really bad autumn for me.”

Mina nodded. “I missed her, too.”

The cold was numbing. Dr. Fell’s house blazed in the nighttime fog, and if today was anything like previous visits she probably had a fire going in the living room where they could both thaw out. They didn’t try reaching for the knocker or the bell, as it wouldn’t have made a difference, after all; they would surely be let in when the time was right, just like every other get-together they’d attended. Part of the whole agreement they had with Dr. Fell involved this sort of temporary discomfort, since it made it easier to appreciate all the kindness she had to offer them. At least it was easier waiting with another person.

They only came when invited, and as neither of them lived very close it was just as well; Mina in particular had to fly in from the Keys, which meant finding understanding housesitters and the indignity of photo IDs, but Dr. Fell was kind enough to cover the cost of her travel expenses. Reese, pragmatic as ever, usually drove instead. With all the time spent in transit on top of their actual stay, it kept them each out of the loop for a solid week or more. If asked, both would quickly claim it was worth it, not making eye contact and quickly changing the subject. There was an arrangement to be respected.

After a wait just one minute shy of being too long, the door opened and Dr. Fell appeared behind it.

“Come in, pets,” she said, and they did.

Dr. Fell is not a large woman. She is sleek and compact, her face nothing but sharp edges arranged in such a way as to resemble human features; it would not be unreasonable to compare her to a borzoi. Her oil-dark hair is kept slicked back from her face and away from her neck, and it has neither fullness nor bounce to it as it falls between her shoulder blades; near the ends it breaks into a very gentle wave. There is exactly one picture of her wearing it up. She dresses crisply but comfortably, her wardrobe in muted hues: earth tones, sometimes, or grays that mirror the churning sky before a storm, or the color of the ocean under a full, fat moon. Rarely white, never black. One could joke that there is no room for pure extremes in her philosophy.

There is exactly one scar on her body, a white slit in the webbing between two of the fingers on her left hand. She never hides it, save in cases where circumstances require gloves, but she refuses to explain it, or even mention how she ended up with such a mark. Given her hobbies, it’s safe to assume it’s a lingering reminder of the days before she perfected her knife skills in the kitchen. Dr. Fell is an excellent chef.

Though Dr. Fell does not completely go without jewelry, it skews strongly masculine: collar chains, cufflinks, the occasional lapel pin, things that require proper clothing to bring out their best. Her ears are not pierced, nor is any other part of her body. She very rarely wears necklaces because she very rarely wears shirts that go well with them, though she has worn a cravat to the symphony before without a single twinge of irony. Dr. Fell does not apologize for her appreciation of paisley. She favors suits with coats throughout the year, even in the heat of summer, though whether they are paired with slacks or a skirt is irrelevant. People who would give her trouble for her style of dress are not people that Dr. Fell bothers interacting with in any meaningful way.

Dr. Fell wears little makeup save for whatever lip color she feels like wearing on a given day. She prefers red.

They followed her obediently as she led them to the parlor; the foyer, Dr. Fell was fond of saying, was far too cold that time of year for anyone to remove much of anything, and it would be a shame if they had to try to enjoy a meal while wearing fifty pounds of coat. Neither mentioned their luggage. The first evening was not the time for that.

She had kisses for both of them, and to an outside observer they were friendly pecks on the cheek that somehow managed not to leave kiss-prints behind, but an outside observer wouldn’t have felt the subtle brush of her teeth against their skin. Mina shivered when Dr. Fell brushed her scarf away. It was nothing the others hadn’t seen before, as, after all, this was hardly their first dinner together, but the surgeries after the bad business leading up to her retirement had never completely put things back together. Dr. Fell ran her fingertip along one of the larger scars.

“I know it’s hard for you, my darling,” she said, her voice a cooing dove in Mina’s ear. “It means a great deal to me that you still attend my little parties.”

Mina smiled. It would probably take a cocktail or two before she properly unwound from the stress of her trip, but there was a reason she put up with everything. “Wouldn’t miss them for the world.”

Dr. Fell’s attention turned to Reese. “And how have you been, Mr. Finch?” Reese’s scars weren’t the visible kind, so she stroked his beard instead. He leaned into her hand and closed his eyes. “I’ve been following the trial in the news,” she said. “I’m so happy you weren’t kept locked in some dull courtroom once they heard your testimony.”

“They wanted me longer. I reminded them about the Bureau’s debt to you and it fixed just about everything, though.” He tapped his fingers against the side of his leg. “It’s still left me pretty high-strung. Might be a bit before I’m any good to be around, and I’m sorry about that. I can’t—”

She placed one finger to his lips, shushing him, and shook her head. “Don’t dwell on it. You’re guests in my house at my request, and therefore, it’s my job to make you feel comfortable. Why don’t you both curl up by the fire to thaw? I’ve already prepared you some drinks.”

It was true, and she’d done more than that; the low table near the fireplace already had both water and a pair of Manhattans waiting there, and she’d gone to the trouble to plate a fruit platter for them. Mina picked up a chunk of pomegranate and popped it in her mouth. It practically melted against her tongue. Dr. Fell had a knack for finding produce that always tasted fresh and vibrant, and even in the colder seasons she could prepare a salad that was entirely free from hothouse tang. Mina sat herself down on one of the cushions piled up between the table and the fire and helped herself to more fruit. Reese knelt next to her on a cushion of his own, and after a final glance at Dr. Fell he took a few hesitant sips of his drink.

“There’s a good kitten,” she said. Reese’s shoulders relaxed and he allowed himself to sprawl a bit. “You two keep each other cozy company, then, and I’ll see to dinner. It’s going to be a wonderful meal.” With that, she vanished in the approximate direction of the kitchen.

The fireplace slowly chased the cold from their bones, and the longer they were out of the weather with food and mixed drinks to enjoy the cozier their company got. Mina rested her cheek against Reese’s, touching where they had both been kissed. He didn’t push her away. They’d gotten used to eating that way a long while ago, though the pair were enough out of practice that sometimes they clinked their glasses by accident or got tangled up when going for another slice of fruit at the same time; it was all harmless, though, and eased the mood even better than the alcohol did. Nobody was studying their every move in search of something that would discredit them to their peers. Dr. Fell’s house was a place they were allowed to make mistakes.

Something clacked in the dining room. The two straightened up, still half-snuggled against each other, but when no call came they settled back into their comfortable mutual slouch. They tried to savor their cocktails, but it was hard to enjoy the subtler notes of Dr. Fell’s liquor cabinet at the end of a long day which itself was the end of a longer week, and soon there was nothing left but a slight red-brown skin along the bottoms of their glasses; by that time the water had thankfully started to look appealing instead of appalling. There would almost certainly be wine with dinner, recommending a slower start.

Mina fed Reese a potato chip adorned with one of their host’s signature dips—Dr. Fell curated rather a lot of them, and shared the recipe with anyone who asked and many others who didn’t, but no one made it quite the same as she did—and licked at the mingled salt and fruit juice stuck to her fingers. Getting prints on Dr. Fell’s nice things would have been terribly bad manners. Reese crunched happily and returned the favor. It had been too many months since either of them had been able to be so casually intimate with another person.

“Don’t spoil your appetites, pets,” said Dr. Fell’s voice from somewhere in the direction of the kitchen. It wasn’t likely, them being ravenous and the little party spread carefully portioned to take the edge off and little more, but that almost certainly wasn’t the point.

“No, ma’am, we won’t,” they called back in unison, and it came so easily to them after so long they had to laugh about it. It had been at least three months since a lot of things—dinner, laughter, feeling whole again—but the air of weariness they’d brought with them had finally started to evaporate. Something came unclogged, then: Reese was the first one to start crying with relief and Mina followed suit. They leaned against each other as months of everything flushed out of them like water from a broken pipe. There would be nice things to put in the freed spaces sooner than later.

One such nice thing was the sound of the little silver bell Dr. Fell used to summon them to dinner. The two wiped their eyes and noses on the cloth napkins next to the denuded chip bowl. Their faces were still red with crying, but that would fade, and Dr. Fell didn’t mind when guests had to purge their souls now and again. It wasn’t like it would interfere with their enjoyment of the meal.

The long dining table was set in the usual manner: Dr. Fell at the head with a place for Reese at her left hand and another spot for Mina at her right. Meals at Dr. Fell’s house usually came plated beforehand, so the only thing on the table aside from the settings was a bottle of wine and two lit candles. They separated to stand behind their seats, postures ramrod-straight with their hands behind their backs. Both kept their eyes fixed on Dr. Fell. The first dinner of any visit had a bit of decorum expected.

Dr. Fell smiled at them with something that could be interpreted as kindness. “I see my precious lambs have tended to needful things,” she said. Reese and Mina nodded. There wasn’t any point in hiding it. “I’m proud of you, darlings. I know it can be painful, trying to be brave little heroes in such a rude and ugly world, and yet you still work so very hard to help those rude and ugly people. You both deserve good things.” She gestured with her hand. “Sit and feast, dear heroes. I’ve made this all for you.” The pair pulled out their chairs—also in unison—and wordlessly tucked into their food.

Dr. Fell cooks well, and often, and the kitchen in her house is larger than some apartments. It’s all state-of-the-art equipment set among stained wood cabinets, with an induction range big enough to cook half an ox taking up the majority of one wall; there are also several ovens, which she makes regular use of in spite of her infrequent visitors. The walk-in freezer is dwarfed only by the walk-in pantry. The kitchen does not have any seats in it; Dr. Fell only rarely permits guests to eat there, preferring to serve food in the dining room or parlor, so the place is kept as lean and utilitarian as a restaurant-quality kitchen can be. Like the rest of the house, it is always very clean.

Decorations are anathema to Dr. Fell’s kitchen. She permits no flowers, nor curtains, nor whimsical magnets from vacations past. There are exactly two exceptions to this rule: a small cross-stitch of a Julia Child quote, which she keeps on the wall by her dry-goods canisters, and a framed photograph of Mina and Reese, which she keeps by her knife block. Both were gifts.

When Dr. Fell prepares a meal she is rarely satisfied with a pedestrian presentation. Sauces, garnishes, and even normally inedible pieces of the dish are all media at her disposal, and she will not serve so much as a bowl of oatmeal without administering at least a little flair; Dr. Fell is a dedicated artist. Sometimes this is expressed as candied flowers accenting a slice of cake, itself frosted with a delicate marbling of from-scratch colors and topped with sugar-dusted strawberries, but she is rarely so whimsical. Aggressive stylization is much more her forte. No matter how strange her food looks, however, she cooks it well, and rare is the guest whose palate she can’t please in some way.

She owns an extensive collection of cookbooks. These are not kept in the kitchen, and only enter it when actively in use, but she has read each of them through at least twice. She keeps her favorite recipes on hand-written cards; it would be easy to claim they keep supernaturally clean, much like the rest of the kitchen, but the truth of the matter is that she simply rewrites them in the event of stains or spills. Dr. Fell does not treat things intended for her personal use with any less care than her more public possessions, and so her card folio is always crisp and bright.

There have only been a scant few guests who did not enjoy Dr. Fell’s cooking, and of these few only one saw fit to comment unkindly; it was a matter of a marinade’s effect on the doneness of a bison steak, as well as said guest asking for something medium well when they really had wanted medium rare, which in their opinion was unforgivable. Words were exchanged. Said guest has not been invited back since. Said guest also relocated to an undisclosed location shortly thereafter, but no one talks about that, so Dr. Fell has never confirmed nor denied anything about it, and so long as this trend continues it’s unlikely she ever will.

Dinner was lamb chops, the outsides lovingly crusted with herbed breading and the insides warm and juicy, and the smattering of side vegetables were arranged in a sort of three-armed pinwheel shape, each arm a separate serving. The rosemary bread was less fancy, though Dr. Fell had used pepper and a little parsley to make a pattern in the dipping oil. Reese and Mina ate quietly as she poured them wine from the basket-caged bottle. It was a well-aged red that went well with the lamb, and she was not shy about keeping their glasses full, but they both took pains to drink slowly. Too much wine could make a person prone to impropriety, and that above all things was unthinkable.

It wasn’t until they were down to finishing the last dregs of their sides between nibbles of bread that Dr. Fell made another small gesture. This wasn’t lost on her guests. “Thank you, ma’am,” they said, again in unison, and she nodded in approval.

“You’re both so very well-behaved,” she said. “Did you enjoy the meal? I figured something simple and hearty would be nice after being on the road as long as you both were. Go ahead and speak freely, if you like.”

“The meat was very tender,” said Mina. “The seasonings reminded me of the pork roast you served us at New Year’s, but I think you didn’t use dill this time, maybe? I liked how it was very moist but didn’t make a mess of my plate. The beans were good, too.”

Reese wiped his mouth with his napkin before giving his opinion. “It was the perfect amount of food. I think the plate you left for us in the parlor helped me appreciate it more, too, since I wasn’t so hungry when I sat down I couldn’t enjoy the different textures.”

Dr. Fell gave them each a little smile. “Such detailed answers. I’m glad you ate well, pets, and I hope to continue the trend as long as you’re visiting me.” They beamed. She held up one finger, and just like before she had their undivided attention. “Would you mind cleaning up? Dessert needs to chill for at least an hour longer, and there are better uses of our time than sitting on our hands. Once everything is properly washed and dried, I imagine we can find something to do with ourselves upstairs. Don’t you agree?”

Yes, ma’am!” Never had dirty dishes produced such enthusiasm.

The nature of Dr. Fell’s relationship with the Bureau is not a matter of public record, save that her advice is sometimes sought on certain cases and that she is a valued, if eccentric, resource. Other things that are not public include her nationality, her history, the amount of time she’s been involved with them, and her arrangement with Agent Finch and former Agent Kellogg. The Bureau is loath to approach her unless a case seems particularly hopeless; Dr. Fell’s memory is long, and she keeps track of favors owed to her. It is understood that if her counsel is needed, those who seek it must come to her house in Massachusetts, and they must also be courteous when scheduling a visit, as Dr. Fell also sees clients out of her own house. Dr. Fell is a creature of rules, and supplicants are expected to follow them.

Things that not even the Bureau discusses include the series of events leading to their partnership with Dr. Fell and the century in which they took place, as both are patently fictional details. Also fictional are unnatural oracular beings of malleable shape, what such beings might be named, rituals required to invoke such beings, persons aware of such rituals, the contracts such beings expect, and the methods by which they make themselves unnoticed. The Bureau’s job is investigating major criminal actions, and while it deals with counterintelligence it is not in the business of telling stories, so these things which are clearly untrue are left unsaid, and Dr. Fell is pleased by this decision.

Mina and Reese whispered to each other as they washed the dishes, both still dressed nicely with their shirt cuffs rolled up past their elbows. Dr. Fell owned a dishwasher, but this was fine china, the sort that families might hand down as heirlooms, and the thought of chipping a plate was terrible. Besides, she had asked them to, and doing what they were told was part of their agreement.

Working in Dr. Fell’s kitchen without Dr. Fell in it was strange: it still smelled like the meal they’d eaten, but there weren’t any actual signs of the food itself. There would be bones in the compost bin if they looked—and on one instance early on, Mina had looked, though she’d later felt so terrible about it that she’d confessed in tears without really knowing why she was upset—and in the morning they could watch her make breakfast if they woke up at the right time, so it wasn’t as though she sorceried up their meals, but it was still unnerving just how good Dr. Fell was at cleaning while she cooked.

Working also gave the mild wine buzz time enough to wear off. Dr. Fell had established early on that she had strict ideas about what tipsy guests were and were not allowed to do; dishes were something that were allowed, so long as one wasn’t sloppy drunk, while going upstairs while still soused was not allowed, ever. They switched off between washing and drying. When the last glass was dry and free from prints, Reese and Mina checked themselves for water spots before approaching the stairs.

There were a few different sets of stairs in Dr. Fell’s house, and the set that connected closest to the bedroom was a gently curving affair in the library. A mounted elk’s head on the second story landing watched them as they climbed.

“Are you ready?” asked Mina. It was a question that wasn’t as easy to answer as it sounded.

Reese swallowed hard and kept his hand on the railing. “I never really am. But this is as ready as I get.”

“Me, too,” she said, her scars dimpling as the corners of her mouth turned up a little. “The first night’s always weirdest for me.”

“Yeah.”

The hallway was decorated in dark colors, but Dr. Fell kept it well-lit with table lamps, so they didn’t have any trouble making their way to her bedroom. The door was closed; it looked like any other door that connected to the hall, and only because they’d been there many times before did they know which one they needed. Reese and Mina glanced at each other. Just barging in would have been rude and ignoring the very clear procedures Dr. Fell had for these sorts of things. They joined hands and, using their free ones, rapped on the door in unison.

“Come in, my darlings,” said Dr. Fell from inside, so they did.

She was reclining on the bed with her ankles crossed and her back against a little hill of pillows, an art magazine open in her lap. Her suit from dinner was gone, replaced by a nightie and dressing-gown, and when she looked up to greet them her eyes reflected the light as a pair of red pinpricks. Reese went in first and Mina closed it behind them; both removed their shoes and knelt, still otherwise fully dressed, at the foot of the bed, their faces anxious but eager. Dr. Fell finished reading her current page before putting the magazine on the nightstand.

“All finished?” she asked, her voice pleasant. They nodded. “Such good little pets, so eager to please. We’ve still plenty of time before dessert is ready. Why don’t we get started? Mr. Finch, if you’d be so kind, I’d like you to show us your cock.”

Reese’s hands were steady as he unbuckled his belt and unfastened his fly, still kneeling; Dr. Fell had been very specific, so he didn’t bother with undoing anything else. He was already halfway hard when he pulled himself out. Dr. Fell crooked a finger at him and he touched himself, careful to keep his hands from blocking the view for either her or Mina, and each brush of skin against his shaft made him that much harder. His strokes were slow but forceful enough to bend him a little to the side with every upswing. Reese did this until Dr. Fell held up two fingers to stop. He clapped his hands against his knees and tried, only somewhat successfully, to keep his breathing even.

“A lovely job, and a lovely view,” said Dr. Fell. “Ms. Kellogg, you’ll be helping me this time. Up here, please, and open your shirt.”

Mina managed not to spring from her place, instead rising to sit demurely at Dr. Fell’s side as she pulled out her shirt tails and fussed with the buttons. Her bra was simple white cotton with a front clasp, which Dr. Fell unhooked. Mina’s nipples were small and mauvish-pink, and between Reese’s display and Dr. Fell’s touch they were already as pert and firm as a pair of glass beads. Another set of scars cut angrily into her right breast and side. Dr. Fell rested her fingers on one of them.

“My little dragonslayer,” she purred. “Are you proud of putting such a bad man away, Ms. Kellogg, even at the price it cost? Suffering in the name of your masters? I’m proud of you. I wouldn’t have helped if I didn’t think you could do it.” She had said it all before, but Mina still glowed. It was easier to be naked here where everyone already understood what had happened and why. Dr. Fell kissed the tip of her nose. “Sweet little kitten. You may help me remove my things now.”

Mina pulled out the bow in Dr. Fell’s sash and coaxed it open, then gently pulled at one sleeve and then the other until robe and wearer parted ways. Dr. Fell shifted her weight to keep from pinning it beneath her; Mina took the opportunity to fold it up and put it to the side. Dr. Fell lifted her arms over her head and Mina, only slightly hesitantly, helped her slither out of her nightgown.

Dr. Fell lounged before them with one of her legs propped up enticingly. She did not wear a bra, or lingerie, or underthings of any sort, as she had little need for them. Beneath her clothes she was featureless: no swell of breasts waited there, nor curving hips, and between her legs was an expanse of smooth, bare skin that wrinkled a bit where her legs joined her body. She had all the slight variations of color one would expect from another person, but nothing else, and certainly nothing that resembled genitalia or an anus of any sort. Dr. Fell was more or less meat over bone. Reese and Mina fawned. Reese craned his neck and balled his fists against his knees, and while he remained kneeling it clearly took a great deal of restraint to keep himself that way; Mina folded the nightie and put it on top of Dr. Fell’s dressing-gown, but after that she had to keep her own hands clasped firmly together and resting in her lap. Neither was shy in the slightest, but Dr. Fell had her rules. Nothing in her bedroom happening unless she permitted it was one of them.

She looked pleased, which was very much like her usual distantly appraising expression with a few tiny details changed. “So eager, aren’t you?” purred Dr. Fell. She stroked Mina’s neck. “Mr. Finch, you are going to watch as Ms. Kellogg pleasures me. Once we are finished, I would be interested in letting you play host for a little while. Do you both think that would be nice?”

It was barely even a question. “Yes, ma’am!” they chorused.

“Very good, pets, very good. Now, Ms. Kellogg,” she said, holding Mina’s gaze, “you are to continue serving me by whichever means you choose until I tell you I’m done. If I instruct you to stop doing something, you are to behave, but otherwise you may do as you like. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Mina.

Dr. Fell brushed Mina’s hair away from her face. “Excellent. You may begin.”

Mina kissed Dr. Fell on the mouth, her need making her clumsy. Dr. Fell tasted lightly of the dinner she’d shared with them and strongly of something strange and chemical, like ozone, but this was how Dr. Fell often tasted, and its familiar flavor didn’t deter Mina in the slightest. She swung her leg over Dr. Fell’s to straddle her, Mina still in her skirt and leggings and now quite damp panties, and from this angle it was easier for her to kiss with precision. Dr. Fell was both soft and incredibly dense to the touch; her skin had give to it, and was as warm as Mina’s or Reese’s now that they were no longer out in the weather, but her body had a sense of mass to it that was out of place on someone with her frame. Mina dug her fingers into Dr. Fell’s forearms—she might have looked pinned, but all three of them were aware this was anything but the case—and kissed deep enough to cut herself on one of Dr. Fell’s teeth. The coppery tang it left in her mouth was familiar, too.

While Mina did all this Dr. Fell hardly lay passive. She kissed back as she helped tug Mina’s skirts down, and Mina lifted her hips to let Dr. Fell slide them down and away. The leggings’ waistband found itself caught by Dr. Fell’s thumbs. Goosebumps blossomed on Mina’s skin as she was peeled. There were only freckles there, as her scars didn’t go back that far. Dr. Fell’s nails dragged lazily along one buttock; she kept them short and well-groomed, but they were still sharp enough to leave white trails that slowly turned to pink. Mina hissed.

“Too much?” murmured Dr. Fell in her ear.

Mina shook her head. “No, ma’am. It’s fine.” A beat later, she added, “I don’t mind it if you’re the one who marks me.”

“Oh? You want more of them, then?”

“No, ma’am. Not really. I just know you won’t leave anything that lasts, and you won’t hurt me in a way I don’t want. You said so.” They’d discussed it when first drafting the arrangement, after all. It was written down somewhere.

Dr. Fell laughed, which was a sound neither Mina nor Reese heard very often, and they startled like birds at it. “What a trusting little kitten you are, Ms. Kellogg,” she purred. “Don’t you think so, too, Mr. Finch?” Reese nodded sharply from his place on the floor. “Mr. Finch agrees. I think it’s good to reward that kind of trust. Would you like a reward from me? Not a mark. Something nice.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She did her best to meet Dr. Fell’s calm maroon eyes. “I’d like that a lot.”

The sound Dr. Fell made was inhuman, but happily so; like many things encountered in her house it was also familiar in its otherness. “Very good! I’ll give it to you later, pet, and both you and Mr. Finch should be very happy with the results. For now, you have a job to do.” Dr. Fell sank her teeth into the meat of Mina’s neck, raising the first clouds of a fearsome bruise. Mina gasped and pressed herself against Dr. Fell’s formless figure. Dr. Fell rarely had trouble motivating her guests at moments like these.

Mina ground fiercely enough against Dr. Fell’s thigh to leave a large wet patch. She didn’t bother shaving herself there, and had once worried aloud about tickling Dr. Fell as a result, but that had been back when Mina was still learning; things Dr. Fell considered beneath her notice—during sex and otherwise—thusly went unnoticed, and she had demonstrated her point by burying her face in Mina’s pussy and licking until Mina couldn’t move her legs. This time it was Mina’s turn.

She gently tilted Dr. Fell’s lips away from her neck and sat up, still straddled. Mina offered the less damaged of her breasts and pinched at the nipple of the other. Dr. Fell licked her teeth. She was always very careful with them, leaving no marks—lasting ones, anyway—that might bring unwanted attention to their arrangement and never pushing them any further than they could bear to go, but Mina still shuddered as Dr. Fell nibbled around the scar tissue. Dr. Fell laced her fingers against the small of Mina’s back. She kept their stomachs pressed together as she teased Mina with lips and tongue, and every time Mina whimpered she could feel Dr. Fell rumble her approval.

It would have been easy to stay where she was and let Dr. Fell toy with her indefinitely, but Mina had been tasked, and more importantly tasked first since Reese was still waiting for permission to approach, and she hadn’t finished what had been asked of her. She kissed Dr. Fell again and shifted her weight to pull them down to their sides, then nudged Dr. Fell until she was lying her back. That was the easier part.

What was slightly harder was rubbing her fingertips in little circles right above Dr. Fell’s pubic bone, assuming Dr. Fell bothered with things like pubic bones, and that was more because of the lack of reference than lack of interest or skill. Sometimes Mina and Reese confided in each other that they could have sworn Dr. Fell’s most sensitive spots moved around just to keep them on their toes. It was certainly a very Dr. Fell thing to do.

Mina’s fingers dipped downwards and indented Dr. Fell’s flesh as though she was filled with some sort of gel or sand as she pulled them towards her; when she pushed them back again, Dr. Fell’s skin wrinkled in a manner that was organic in all the wrong ways. This was the only part of her that distorted in that particular way, and Mina had to focus to keep her jaw from hanging slack with delighted wonder. Her thumb toyed with the little folds at Dr. Fell’s legs. It took some doing, as when it came down to it Mina was fumbling blind with a lump of unpredictable, debatably-protean biomass that she hadn’t touched in at least three months, but by playing hot and cold with Dr. Fell’s quiet noises Mina was able to find the perfect spot to make her writhe. That alone had been worth everything she’d had to do to visit again.

She molded Dr. Fell like clay, albeit clay that reformed whenever released. If she was careful she was able to catch a longer bit of skin between her knuckles without pulling too hard, which Dr. Fell had liked in the past and liked today, and rubbing her thumb along the captured fold was very productive, indeed. Mina’s hands were dry, as Dr. Fell didn’t secrete so much as a fine film when aroused, but she could smell the not-quite-ozone in the air that meant things were very close; things were delicate in this stage, so it called for concentration. First hard in this direction, then softly in that one, first regular back-and-forth strokes, then spirals, then simply grabbing a handful of smooth nothing to grind her palm against what wasn’t there. Dr. Fell was close. Dr. Fell would not finish without Mina. Mina knew she was making another spot on the comforter, but by then she didn’t care. Dr. Fell would understand.

When Dr. Fell came, it was quiet. She didn’t call out, or ejaculate, or have much of any physical reaction to speak of, really. There was no doubt she had, though, similar to feeling a pressure headache or the sensation of someone standing just out of one’s field of vision. When Mina licked her fingers they tasted of sweat and ordinary skin, but it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine a faint taste of something that smelled like lightning.

Dr. Fell rolled over on her side and stretched, then scratched Mina under the chin like a favored cat. “Wonderful, pet. Simply wonderful. I’m very pleased with you.” She took Mina by the back of the head and pulled her close for a kiss. Her lips and tongue were impossibly soft against Mina’s own. “You’ve definitely earned your reward,” said Dr. Fell. She pushed her thumb into the darkening bruise on the side of Mina’s neck, making it ache. “Consider this a promise of things to come, my dragonslayer.”

Mina smiled then, broadly and genuinely, and this time she didn’t care about how her scars pulled.

Transcript of tape number ████████████, "Wilhelmina Kellogg."

PARK: We're recording? Yeah. This is Special Agent Thomas Park speaking. The time is ██████ on █████████████. With me is Special Agent Cindy Jackson. Would you please state the purpose of this recording, Agent Jackson?

JACKSON: I've been asked to give my opinion on the current state of former Special Agent Wilhelmina "Mina" Kellogg. I'm probably going to forget to say "former" a lot.

PARK: Thank you, Agent Jackson. You may begin whenever it's convenient.

JACKSON: Agent Kellogg had been with the Bureau for approximately twelve years before she retired last year. She came to us fresh from the academy with a specialty in forensics, and while we put those to use pretty good, it turned out she worked best as a profiler. So she did that and it worked okay. It didn't get really weird until the case with the man in Roanoke. That was her, hmm, third year as an agent? Maybe fourth?

PARK: Her profile says it was in ████, so somewhere between third and fourth is correct.

JACKSON: Okay. So we were having no luck whatsoever with the original investigation so we took advice from Lundy [Special Agent Lyla Oesterlund] to get Kellogg on things. She went in pretty deep and was able to take the most, this insignificant-looking shit and put everything together like a puzzle. She's got this knack for thinking like a killer does.

PARK: So you're saying she's got above-average empathy?

JACKSON: She's a mental chameleon. Show her a crime scene and her brain changes colors until it matches. I've had to help her come back up too many times.

PARK: Do you think she was a danger to herself or others?

JACKSON: Not at the time.

PARK: What significance does the Roanoke incident have for Agent Kellogg?

JACKSON: She had to kill the suspect. That kind of thing can break you even at the best of times, and she'd been basically living in his head for weeks by then. It took some therapy and hospitalization but she was able to get back on her feet again some time in June of ██. You can still see something in her eyes click when she talks about it, though.

PARK: With that in mind, why was she chosen as part of the team to revitalize Project Delphi Green after so many decades?

JACKSON: The idea was that she'd provide insight into the Contact that others present might not pick up on.

PARK: And did she?

JACKSON: You could say that. I don't think we could have gotten the Contact to work with us at all if Kellogg hadn't been there, but it rattled her. So she stayed on simple stuff for a while to get her head on straight, lots of white-collar or counterintel things that didn't deal with axe murderers, and it worked out so she didn't leave the Bureau, so that seemed, that seemed pretty fine. Then the Boogeyman case happened and it all went to hell again.

PARK: Wasn't she supposed to only be a consultant on that one?

JACKSON: Supposed to, supposed to. It didn't turn out that way. Nothing was working so she asked for permission to deal with the Contact again. I thought it would give us the edge we needed since even her spooky mind tricks weren't working. You know how that turned out.

PARK: She did get her guy.

JACKSON: By charging into things blindly! The Contact got her all fired up with fairy tale talk about dragons' lairs and Kellogg got an extended stay in the ICU for it. Bastard cut her up like a pumpkin before she got enough bullets in his head. Looks like a goddamn Picasso now. [pause] I'm sorry. I was her superior on that case, I pulled her off the softball stuff, I didn't tell her to keep away from the Delphi Green mess when I should have, so it's, it's partially my fault. I'm the reason she's killed two men. It's personal for me.

PARK: It's an unfortunate reality that sometimes agents are hurt or killed in the line of duty, Agent Jackson.

JACKSON: Doesn't mean I have to like it.

PARK: Are you aware of her current occupation?

JACKSON: She's a mechanic now. Boats, I think. She doesn't always return my calls.

PARK: And why do you believe former Agent Kellogg is an appropriate candidate for the Contact's request?

JACKSON: To be honest, Agent Park, I think it's because in her previous two encounters with Project Delphi Green they got a taste for each other. She was part of getting everything going again. The Contact likes her. [pause] That's the big thing, really, the Contact liking her. You'd be amazed how rare that is. And it's going to sound heartless, but she's retired now. We're not throwing some kid with a bright future at the problem, we're giving the Contact someone who's basically quit for good already, and maybe doing that will save some other people a little further on down the line. I hate that I'm saying this. That's what Delphi Green does to you, it makes you say things you hate because you know they're true.

PARK: So you approve of her being appointed to assist the Contact.

JACKSON: I don't like it, but yes, given everything else going on, I have to approve. There isn't any other way.

PARK: Are you worried about Agent Kellogg, Agent Jackson?

JACKSON: I'm scared shitless, Tommy.

PARK: Thank you for your time.

Dr. Fell stroked Mina’s face as they basked in the afterglow, and although Mina had still yet to come herself she looked as content as could be. “Now then,” said Dr. Fell, “I think we’ve been neglecting someone. Have you been busy being a good pet, too, Mr. Finch?” She looked down to where Reese still knelt on the floor with his teeth gritted tightly. He was still mostly dressed, still exposed, and still quite hard. The head of his cock was slick but his hands were both dry; he’d behaved.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, hoarsely. “Wasn’t easy.”

Dr. Fell looked pleased. “Well done, indeed! I think you’ve proven you’re responsible enough to play host for a little while. Does that still sound fun?” Reese nodded furiously. “What do you think, Ms. Kellogg?” she asked, turning back to Mina. “Would you like him to do so?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Mina said. Her voice was a whisper. The host game was a little different each time, and they’d only just started learning the rules, but it was easily one of the highlights of any visit to Dr. Fell’s house. Usually Dr. Fell waited a little longer than this, though.

“Then we’ll do exactly that.” The bed shifted as Dr. Fell stood up from it. She placed her hand on the top of Reese’s head and toyed with his hair. “Stand up, please,” she said. On his feet he was a good head and change taller than Dr. Fell, but her presence filled the room so intensely that he might as well have still been on his knees. She undid his shirt a button at a time. Reese’s undershirt went next, his chest smooth and lightly furred beneath it, and while she was close enough for him to feel the heat of her skin he didn’t touch her. This did not go unnoticed.

“Your self-control is admirable, Mr. Finch,” she said as she guided his already unfastened pants to the carpet. “I thought you were ready before, and you’ve continued to prove it to me. I am so proud. I’m going to review the rules of host courtesy for both of you, now, since it’s been so long and you might have forgotten. Are you both ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Reese and Mina, right on cue.

She circled Reese, studying him from a few different angles. “We will be playing until I declare us to be finished. If there is a problem, I expect you to say so immediately. If for some reason you cannot, you may call me by my other name. You may tell me why if you like, or stay quiet if you like, and either way we’ll stop and see to your discomfort.” Dr. Fell popped up on tiptoe behind Reese to rest her chin on his shoulder. She pressed her palms against his thighs. “I will not be upset if we need to end early. I will only be upset if you aren’t honest with me. Do you understand?”

Mina and Reese exchanged glances and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Good. Mr. Finch, it’s time.” She ran her hands up his torso and around his sides until both her hands rested against his back, her arms tucked up against her front. Dr. Fell nuzzled him, then pushed forward until her hands disappeared into his body as effortlessly as reaching into water, or perhaps a thick gel. Reese gasped and his cock flexed. She slowly stepped further inside him, her legs nudging against his and her lips kissing his shoulder as they passed, and he squirmed in place until she had vanished entirely; as the last strands of her hair slipped into the back of his neck Reese had to grab the edge of the bed to keep his balance. Dr. Fell thrummed in his bones in a way that he would have said was impossible before he’d met her. He panted for air as she curled lovingly around his heart.

“Is it good?” she asked, her voice both growling inside Reese’s head and speaking from the empty air.

Reese whimpered. “So good,” he said once his breath returned.

Dr. Fell chuckled from everywhere. “I’m taking control now,” she said, as though she didn’t have it already. Reese’s hand spasmed as she coaxed it into following her will. She uncurled his fingers—their fingers, now—and touched each one in turn to his thumb—their thumb—before repeating the process with the other hand. Reese murmured under his breath as they acclimated to one another. They flexed their arms and bent their legs, testing their limits, and sat down on the bed next to Mina, who had watched their amalgamation in silent fascination. Dr. Fell’s expression on Reese’s face was a very strange thing to see. Mina leaned against them fondly.

“Is Reese still here? I want to use the right name.” Her voice was soft but unafraid.

“Mr. Finch will be able to speak normally, if he likes. The rest of him is mine.” They grinned, or at least showed their teeth. Their eyes had a glint of red where they caught the light. “You may call us both Fell.”

Mina nodded. “Of course, Fell.” She lay down with her legs slightly spread and did her best to present herself without seeming too desperate. “I missed this,” she said as Fell pinned her against the mattress. They kissed her forcefully, and while their teeth weren’t nearly as sharp as before they still stung pleasantly at the cut on Mina’s lip. Fell’s cock pressed hot and hard against her skin. Mina wet her lips. “Do we need any protection, or…?”

They shook their head. “I’ve taken care of that, Ms. Kellogg,” said Fell. “So long as you’re my guests, neither you nor Mr. Finch will be troubled by trivial details such as that, whether or not I’m there. Hands alone wasn’t quite enough last time you two got lonely, was it?” Mina flinched, and Fell chuckled again. “I’m not upset,” they said. “Far, far from it. I’m happy my pets get along so well. Just don’t ruin your appetites, hm?”

“No, ma’am,” she said, relieved. She and Reese had done all manner of things together at Dr. Fell’s request, but this was the first time they’d been encouraged to be with each other without her; it would be interesting to see how it worked, not having to keep their contact innocent the next time Dr. Fell left. There was only so much kisses and cuddling could do on their own.

Fell ran their tongue along the inside of Mina’s ear and the feeling snapped her back to the present with a small moan. They took her hand and rested it against their side, silently granting permission, and Mina eagerly explored whatever she could reach; she touched their back and ran her fingers through their hair, then held them close for a kiss. Her ankles locked around theirs, and as she angled her waist she felt their glans as it nudged against her inner lips. Mina dug her nails into the cheeks of their ass. Fell grunted, though that was likely more Reese’s doing than the doctor’s. They didn’t need any further encouragement to slide into her.

Both Reese and Mina had been eager before things had even gotten started, and between her sex with Dr. Fell and watching Reese loan out his body Mina was very wet; despite the thickness of Fell’s cock she took them easily and joyfully. Fell’s movements were powerful but not unpleasantly so, and they pressed Mina into the mound of cushions with each thrust. She did what she could to reciprocate. It was simple and straightforward if one somehow discounted the fact that there were more parties involved than were strictly visible.

Fell reared back and held Mina’s legs in place around their waist, never missing a stroke as they drove deeper in their new position. This was expected. What wasn’t expected was for Dr. Fell’s well-manicured fingers to rise from Reese’s own, followed by the rest of her hands, and from there her arms pulled themselves free from his where they held Mina, though the rest of them remained unified. Their new second pair of hands cupped Mina’s breasts. One hand tweaked at her nipple while the other reached down to thumb at her clit, all while they kept her held close. Fell hadn’t done this before.

Mina relaxed and let things happen. The new position gave her a good look at Fell, and their unusual arm situation, and how there were two different people behind their eyes. They were insistent with working her clit, but not painfully so, as they had a knack for easing off at precisely the right time. She let her vision unfocus. She came only moments after realizing she was close, and when she arched her back and cried out there wasn’t anyone else to hear it for miles. Mina sagged against the bed, spent, and it took her a moment to realize that while Fell had slowed, they hadn’t stopped thrusting.

Dr. Fell’s voice resonated around them. “Are you ready for your present, my little dragonslayer?” she said. Mina nodded, though Fell hadn’t done anything different. They leaned over her and touched her breasts again. It was the same as any other time until they squeezed her so hard their fingers passed into her skin just as Dr. Fell had stepped into Reese. Mina’s head snapped back as Fell pushed into her until they were up to their elbows. What had been intense for Reese alone was almost too much with both of them, and Mina shouted with ecstatic surprise. Even the slightest motion made her squirm delightedly in spite of how recently she’d climaxed. Fell took very little time at all to make her come a second time, and a third, and a fourth, and it wasn’t until Mina begged for a rest that they finally let up. She lay glazed and boneless beneath them.

“She’s lovely, isn’t she?” asked Dr. Fell’s voice, and Fell nodded their head dreamily. “You may finish now, darling,” she continued, and Fell came explosively inside Mina like a switch had been thrown. It oozed around their cock as they pumped a few final times and dripped onto the comforter. Dr. Fell’s laundry bills were no doubt enormous. Exhausted, Fell pulled out of Mina in both senses of the word and rolled on their back with their sets of arms folded against their chest.

“Thank you,” mumbled Reese—and it was definitely Reese this time—as Fell stared groggily at the ceiling. Reese needed a little while between orgasms before he could function again, and it seemed even as a plural being he couldn’t quite shake the urge to take a post-coital nap.

A little lump rose in the middle of Fell’s throat. It pushed forward and blossomed into Dr. Fell’s head, which after a brief yet terrifying moment where part of her was sprouting from Reese’s face pulled itself free without any trouble. Her head was followed by her neck, then her shoulders, and then her entire upper half was sitting up out of his torso. She crawled out of him as casually as she might have crawled out of a sleeping bag, and he lay trembling and beatific in her wake. Her skin wasn’t sticky: it was the same warm, dry smoothness it had always been. She stretched and rolled her neck. Dr. Fell settled in between them; she rested Mina’s head on one shoulder, scooped Reese up to rest his on the other, and kissed them both on the forehead.

“Did you have a nice time, lambs?”

“Yes, ma’am,” they said, though their timing wasn’t as crisp as possible and Reese slurred a little.

She petted their heads. “I’m glad to hear that. You two take a little while to recover, and then we can all go back downstairs for dessert.” Reese and Mina had almost forgotten about dessert. It could wait, though. A lot of things could wait. Dr. Fell was very patient with courteous guests.

Transcript of tape number ████████████, "Reese Finch."

PARK: This is Special [slight tape skip, implied technical difficulties] This is Special Agent Thomas Park speaking. The time is ██████ on █████████████. With me is Special Agent Cindy Jackson. Would you please state the purpose of this recording, Agent Jackson?

JACKSON: I've been asked to give my opinion on the current state of Special Agent Reese Adam Finch.

PARK: Thank you, Agent Jackson. You may [damaged tape, word is presumably "begin"] whenever it's convenient.

JACKSON: Agent Finch was a bright young thing. Grew up in coal-miner territory. Son of a cop, though that didn't last long and he ended up bounced between family members for a bit. You look at his record and he's a classic kid-done-good who clawed his way through school thanks to every scholarship he could get. Talk to him and it's like you're speaking to a little sliver of the past what with his manners. He's never gotten that accent of his under control.

PARK: What about his relation to the project?

JACKSON: The higher-ups selected him to introduce to Project Delphi Green because we couldn't crack the Indrid Pleasant thing and we hadn't been having much luck with anyone else we sent. He'd just recently been cleared for project information. Finch was still more or less a baby. Kind of a protege of mine if I'm going to be honest. We needed a lead and we were running out of ideas. I approached him, he seemed interested, so I thought, what could it hurt?

PARK: Had any other Delphi Green participants returned previously?

JACKSON: The ones who had either couldn't make lightning strike twice or they refused to go. We already talked about what happened to Kellogg. Tape ████████████, right? I don't feel like repeating myself.

PARK: Understood. You mentioned this was the Indrid Pleasant case?

JACKSON: Yeah. Even for this line of work it was spooky. With our best profiler busy going through another round of physical therapy and not wanting anything to do with the Bureau, we were left grabbing at a whole bunch of straws. [long pause, sigh] So Agent Finch went down to where Project Delphi Green does its thing and he talked to the Contact, and it would've been a bust if there hadn't been some sort of containment issue that the Contact found unforgivable as a host. That was the Contact's word, "host." So they ended up in this complicated back-and-forth. At the end of things we had Pleasant dead, his most recent target back home, and Project Delphi Green in a huge mess thanks to ██████████████████████████████████████████. And here we are now.

PARK: So why recommend a man you've described yourself as inexperienced?

JACKSON: Because the Contact likes him. Do you know how rare that is? Usually there's something that ruins it, maybe they used the wrong fork at dinner or something, but the Contact thinks Agent Finch is just peachy keen. Draws him little pictures and things. We'd be the biggest fools alive if we didn't take advantage of that.

PARK: And you think Agent Finch will be an advantage to the Bureau?

JACKSON: I'm saying we don't really have a choice.

PARK: Would you say this risks putting him in a politically volatile situation?

JACKSON: I told you, Agent Park, we don't really have a choice. If I had any option other than throwing that sweet farm boy to the sharks I'd take it.

PARK: Do you formally approve of Agent Finch being appointed to assist the Contact, then?

JACKSON: I do. I think even if I didn't he'd go there himself. Break a window or something. He's lost to us if we don't give him the chance, and I really hate that I don't even understand why it's happening in the first place.

PARK: If it makes you feel any better, Agent Jackson, I doubt any of us do.

JACKSON: Are we done here?

PARK: Yes, we're done.

“I’m thinking of taking a vacation,” said Dr. Fell as they enjoyed servings of chilled tiramisu. Mina and Reese sat up abruptly. Neither had bothered getting dressed, though they had taken care to clean up before sitting on any other furniture, and up until her announcement Dr. Fell had seemed content to feed them the occasional forkful of coffee-flavored cake while they lounged in the parlor. While she’d left the house before she’d never implied she was the vacation-taking sort.

“I’ve heard Buenos Aires is nice this time of year,” she continued. “Opera, the symphony, and you would scarcely believe how many museums they have in that city. Argentina in general is pleasantly bereft of certain forms of surveillance I’m less than pleased with. I could spend a year there without even trying.” She either didn’t notice their distraught expressions or didn’t care. “You two can have a little break from our arrangement. Won’t that be nice?”

They didn’t say anything. Dr. Fell looked taken aback. “It would be several months without any of the fuss of the contract. You really would benefit from not seeing me for a little while.”

“Why?” asked Mina and Reese, in proper unison once more.

She tilted her head. “You’ve drifted away from other people, darlings,” said Dr. Fell. “When I ask about your outside lives, all I hear is how much you long for me, how little your routines satisfy you, how you feel like shells of what you used to be. It’s as though all your joy is focused on seeing me and pleasing me. Doesn’t that worry you?”

They exchanged looks. It was harder to enjoy the idea of a visit when she phrased it like that.

Reese spoke first. “But we’re happy this way.”

“Very happy,” said Mina.

Dr. Fell rested her chin in her hand. “Aren’t you worried you’re simply avoiding what’s wrong?”

Mina huffed. “I can’t avoid looking like this, but when you invite us over, I can at least be intimate with people who don’t think I’m horrible. I can uncover my face and manage not to feel like someone’s going to take a picture for the Internet. I can talk to Reese because he’s been with the Bureau, he’s still with them, he understands, and I can talk to you because you’re…because you’re you, and you call us nice things and give us plenty of chances to make you happy just by doing what we’re told to do. And that’s all it takes! If I can’t go back to how I used to be then I’m not going to give up being what I’ve managed to become.”

“And what might that be, Ms. Kellogg?” asked Dr. Fell.

“I’m a good pet,” said Mina, and her glare was fierce enough to bore a hole through metal.

Dr. Fell ate a forkful of tiramisu and chewed thoughtfully. “That’s interesting,” she said. “What about you, Mr. Finch?”

Reese had rested his cheek on the coffee table while Mina spoke, and he didn’t straighten up to give his own answer. “Right now I’ve been dealing with months of legal shit because someone in the Department of Justice has it in for me. I made mistakes, and now I’m getting raked over the coals no matter what I do. I can’t make anyone happy. Here? Everything’s simple. We do what you tell us to do and there’s never a question as to whether or not you really want us to.” He rubbed his eyes. “I’m not tired all the time with you. Even after spending most of today on the road I’m not tired the same way I usually am. That’s all, really.”

Dr. Fell sighed. “You’re both being very silly.”

“I don’t care,” said Reese.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Mina.

Dr. Fell tapped her fork against one of her teeth. The clicking was loud in the stillness of the parlor. When she spoke again her words seemed to be chosen more carefully than her usual smooth and confident patter. “You’d rather be at the whims of a mercurial, unknowable entity such as myself, with no chance to leave for greener pastures if you someday grew tired of trying to fuck what isn’t there? You’d do this understanding I might be summoned by a client at unexpected hours, and you’d be left without me until whatever was agreed upon was finished?”

Yes, ma’am!

She looked into their fierce faces. For a heartbeat she seemed so much older than she usually did, the weight of eons pressing down on her angular features. Project Delphi Green had been dormant for a very long time before the Bureau had contacted her again to advise their pursuit of the Bogeyman, and after that she was only called upon infrequently; when had been the last time anyone had spoken to Dr. Fell before the Bureau learned about her? There weren’t records, and Dr. Fell would never say, but it wasn’t unreasonable for the supernatural to feel loneliness, too.

A smile crept across her red-stained lips. “I suppose we can work something out,” she said, glowing like a proud parent. “How much Spanish do you know?”

Dr. Fell is not a man or a woman, though she uses feminine words for herself; when Project Delphi Green was first reinstated, she infamously answered the question of her gender with the statement that she was a doctor. Dr. Fell has never attended any known university but is accredited just the same. She does not choose to disclose from which institution she received her title and refuses to translate her diplomas and similar certifications. The nature of her doctorate is also unclear. She has no known family, by blood or otherwise.

Until recently she provided oracular advice on cases brought to her by the Bureau through Project Delphi Green, assuming she felt cooperative; after the breach incident following the Indrid Pleasant case she requested a pair of companions for reasons which she did not specify. Upon being assigned two Bureau-approved persons, Dr. Fell accepted the Bureau’s request of spending much of her time in a house provided for her in a remote part of Massachusetts, where she enjoyed relative solitude. Her whereabouts are currently unknown. The usual methods of contacting her—telephone, physical or electronic mail, ritual—do not work, nor do the less savory methods by which private individuals would sometimes seek her services. She claims to be taking a vacation.

Former Special Agent Wilhelmina Kellogg and Special Agent Reese Adam Finch are currently missing.

Three days ago a photograph featuring people matching the descriptions of former Agent Kellogg and Agent Finch arrived in the private mailbox of Agent-in-Charge Cindy Jackson. They are drinking novelty cocktails on an unidentified beach with a large black smear between them; the latter is shaped vaguely like an antlered figure with its arms across their shoulders. The photo’s postmark points to an anonymous post-remailing service. The back reads “Wish you were here!” in formal calligraphy, followed by a heart, and bears three unique signatures verified to belong to the two missing agents and Dr. Fell.

Agent-in-Charge Jackson has been unavailable for comment.

illustrated by Iron Eater

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