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Author Comment.

Massive shout out to my editor Neuroparenthetical, who has not only corrected my many mistakes in grammar but also points out glaring plot holes and suggests how they might be filled. Obviously, I can’t resist tinkering after he sends it back, so any errors you find are a deliberate ploy to give you something to complain about.

For early access to chapters – check out my patreon patreon.com/user?u=577867

Anyway – on with the show

Caleb 10 – At the Mall

I woke to a feeling of misery and pain radiating through the bond.

The room was dark, but I saw that Jules wasn’t in bed with me. I went to go find her, but Mary put her hand on my arm.

“Amanda is with her,” she said quietly.

“What’s going on?” I whispered, trying not to disturb Josh and Louise, but concern rising. I briefly wondered where my phone was, in case we needed to call 911. That earned me a little nudge from Mary.

“Caleb,” she said, “don’t panic. She’s not in danger. It’s just her time of the month.”

“It hurts her that much?” I asked incredulously. “You guys didn’t seem to have this much pain when you were…”

“It affects some girls differently,” Mary said. “Amanda and I are lucky. We get some cramps, but they are not bad. Some girls have it really bad. Jules, unfortunately, falls into that category.”

“Does she need to see a doctor?” I asked. “Can’t they do something?”

“No, she just has to ride it out,” she replied sadly.

“How long for?”

“Normally a couple or three days.”

I slid out of bed. “Where is she?”

“Caleb…”

“Where?”

“Her room,” she sighed. “She’s curled up with a heating pad. Amanda is keeping her company.”

I went to Jules’ room, knocking on the door softly. Mary followed.

I heard a grunt from inside and took that as permission to enter.

Jules was curled into a tight ball. Amanda was behind her, stroking her back. Pain didn’t make it through the bond, but I could feel Jules’ misery.

“Hey Kitten,” I said, sitting on the side of the bed, stroking her hair. “How’s it going?”

I heard several responses running through her head, some of them quite vitriolic.

“Jules,” I said gently, “I need to know: is this pain exactly like your normal period pain?”

She looked up at me, pain filling those beautiful eyes, and nodded.

I put my hand on her side. I didn’t actually need to be in contact with her, but it felt like the right thing to do. Stretching out my awareness, I sought out the pain messages screaming through her body and blocked them.

I felt her relax. A feeling of relief came over the bond, followed quickly by one of confusion.

I examined the block and considered how long I should leave it in place. I didn’t want her to be in pain, but I also didn’t want to block pain that might signify something abnormal was going on.

I decided on forty-eight hours. I figured I could always alter it after speaking to Jules if her pain normally lasted longer.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“What did you do?” she asked.

“I blocked the pain signals,” I said. “That’s why I needed to know if this was your normal period pain. I didn’t want you to ignore pain that might signify you needed help. How long does the pain normally last?”

“Two days, sometimes three,” she said.

“I have blocked them for forty-eight hours,” I said. “I can always extend if necessary.”

She sat up, gingerly at first, still expecting the pain to return, but when it didn’t, she slid her arms around me.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Of course,” I replied. “Please, never hesitate to come to me with stuff like this. I would’ve gotten out in front of it, had I known.”

“I’m sure Jules would’ve too,” Amanda said gently, “if we had known. Bit of a new development, sweetie.”

I realized she was right. I had only learned to block pain signals the day before, and then things had gotten very complicated very quickly on the home front. All had ended well, but I’d been so exhausted and sex-drunk that I hadn’t been thinking about telling anybody about my day.

“Jules, I am so sorry,” I said, hugging her tighter.

“You are more than forgiven,” she sighed. “I had the pain for less than an hour. Normally it’s at least two days, and I’m sorry I called you names.”

I smiled. “It’s fine,” I said. “It popped into your head; you didn’t actually say it.”

I sent the memory of when I had asked Jules how it was going and her mental response.

“How do you think it’s going, fuckwit?”

Mary and Amanda both giggled, and Jules blushed.

“Come on back to bed,” Mary said. “It’s still early.”

Josh was still fast asleep when we returned to our room, but Louise was awake.

We all climbed back into bed, settling down once more.

“Is everything okay?” Louise asked quietly.

I nodded. “Jules was just feeling a little unwell,” I said. “She’s fine now.”

“Josh wasn’t getting ‘handsy’ in his sleep, was he?” Louise asked, “He does that sometimes.”

“No,” said Jules, “he was fine. Just cramps is all.”

“Ah,” Louise said, “I have some anti-inflammatories in our room if you need them.”

“I’m good, thanks,” Jules said. “They’re gone now.”

“You’re lucky,” Louise griped good-naturedly. “Mine last all day.”

“I am very lucky,” Jules said, snuggling into me again and smiling. She looked up at me with the obvious, silent question. I smiled back.

“When they start up, come see me,” I whispered. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Wait… do you mean…?” Louise half-asked.

“I do,” I replied. “Now let’s get some sleep.”

I couldn’t help but notice the brief flash of purple in her aura.

+++++

When I next woke, I was alone in bed with Jules. She was already awake, her head on resting on my shoulder, her hand gently stroking my chest.

“Hey you,” I said quietly, “how’s it going?”

She chuckled. “How do you think it’s going?”

“Seems to be going okay for now,” I ventured. “How’s your tummy?”

“It’s fine,” she said, looking up at me. “Caleb, I am sorry I called you names.”

“Hey, don’t be,” I soothed her. “You can’t be held responsible for every stray thought that pops into your head, especially when you are in that much pain. It was quite a stupid question after all, but what do you say to someone you love when you can see they are suffering?”

“How did I get so lucky?” she asked.

“I was asking myself the same question,” I replied. “Where’d everyone go?”

“Josh and Louise went out somewhere,” she said. “I didn’t ask where. The girls are in the kitchen making…”

“Breakfast!” said Amanda, pushing open the bedroom door and entering carrying a tray.

Mary followed with a pitcher of juice and some glasses. We picnicked on the bed and then I went and attended to my morning ritual. When I came out of the bathroom, I dressed and joined the girls in the kitchen.

“Do we have plans for today?” I asked.

“I still need to go shopping,” Jules said. “I kind of got side-tracked last week.”

“Why don’t we all go?” I suggested. “We can have a browse around the mall, maybe have lunch there? Amanda and Mary can help carry our bags.” I grinned at them. Amanda stuck her tongue out at me.

After we cleared away the breakfast things, we took Amanda’s car and drove to the big out-of-town mall, around forty minutes away. Mary rode shotgun with Amanda driving. Jules and I were in the back.

I had decided that I needed to get a couple of items for myself, and I had a bit of spare cash in my bank account, since I didn’t really spend much. I figured I had maybe three or four hundred dollars; I would have to check my balance to be sure.

“How are you guys for cash?” I asked. “I have a bit to spare if you need anything.”

Mary gave Amanda a look, and I sensed a twinge of embarrassment over the bond.

“Hey,” I said, “it’s okay, I don’t mind fronting you some if you are short.”

“We’re good,” said Mary. “How about you, Jules?”

Jules grinned at us. “My daddy loves me,” she said. “He still sends me an allowance. I’m good.”

I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Jules’ family.

“Where do your parents live?” I asked her.

“They live out of state,” she said. “Daddy has a bit of land with a few cows.” She looked at me a little worriedly. “I was hoping you might like to come and meet them in the holidays?”

“Have you told them about us?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” she said a little evasively. A feeling of discomfort was leaking over the bond.

“Not exactly?” I asked. “Or not at all?”

“I was waiting for the right time,” she rushed.

I smiled at her. “Jules, it’s fine,” I said. “Breaking the news to your parents that you have met someone is a big deal. That’s a big phone call. Breaking the news that you have entered a polyamorous relationship with three other someones is more than a phone call. That’s a face-to-face thing.”

“So, you’ll all come?” she asked hopefully.

“I think Dianna has some plans for me for the summer,” I said, “but I’ll make sure I make some time for it. What about you guys?” I directed that question to the twins.

Mary smiled. “We don’t have plans, so we’d love to,” she said.

“YAY!!!” yelled Amanda. “ROAD TRIP!!!”

“How will your parents take it if the three of us come home with you?” I asked. “Will we need a hotel room or something?”

“No, there will be room at the house,” Jules said. “I’m sure we can squeeze in.” I felt amusement over the bond, and I pictured us all squeezing into my bedroom at home. I laughed.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll confirm dates with Dianna, and then you can check with your parents if we can go up.”

She nodded happily.

We spent a fun few hours browsing around the mall. I discovered, much to my surprise, that I was no longer in charge of choosing my own underwear. The girls had long debates about it, out loud, right in front me, much to the amusement of some passers-by. Jules bought herself some new clothes, including some more jeans and t-shirts, and even a dress. I had noticed that she’d been starting to grow out her hair, and figured she was done hiding behind the boring boy look. I hadn’t said anything; it had felt unnecessary, and a bit too confrontational.

We were just finishing our lunch when several things happened almost simultaneously.

One was that I ‘smelled’ a coppery scent, which I normally associated with someone with powers. It was weak, and it had some sickly-sweet overtones.

At the same time, I caught a panicked thought, even through my shield.

“No! Not again!!” was almost instantaneously followed by an actual shout. “GOTCHA!!”

Everyone in the area looked across to the front of a shop, where a fat, sleazy-looking security guard had grabbed the arm of a young girl, probably in her late teens. She was pushing a stroller in which a toddler, aged around two, sat. In her hand, she had a toy, wrapped in bright plastic, which she’d apparently been trying to steal.

The security guard was gloating. “This is the second time,” he said. “You’ll definitely go to county this time!” He was gripping her arm tightly and I saw her wince, tears running down her cheeks.

Much to my horror, I saw a dark thread of compulsion connecting the girl’s head to that of the child.

“Oh FUCK!” I said. I had no idea what to do. I only knew that I needed to speak to Dianna urgently.

I picked up my phone, but the security guard was starting to drag the young girl back into the store, and I was concerned for her safety when I heard his thoughts.

“If I threaten her with county, maybe I can get her to blow me like that slut last week. I can make another video.”

“DOUBLE FUCK!!” I said. I had to move quickly.

“Call the police,” I sent to the girls. Mary pulled out her phone.

“And?”

I was already walking over to the commotion as I responded. “Kid has powers. Guard is a perv. Just call in the shoplifting to get them here quickly.”

The girl was resisting the guard’s pull, and he was starting to get annoyed.

“Stop!” I said. “You can’t drag her off like that.”

“Mind your business, boy,” the guard said. “I am legally detaining her for theft.”

“Legal detention does not include imprisonment,” I replied. “The police are on their way. She will stay here with us until they get here. You are not taking her anywhere with you.”

At the mention of the police the girl whimpered, and the security guard glowered, squeezing tighter on her arm.

“Take your hands off her,” I said. “You’re hurting her, and it’s not like she’s going to run away with a stroller now, is it?”

“She is coming with me, so I can search her, ready for when the police arrive,” he said, starting to move again. I stood in his way.

“Let her go,” I said quietly.

I saw his free hand drift toward his belt, where he had a pepper spray and a short baton. I tensed ready to react when a voice broke in.

“What’s going on?”

I turned and came face to face with two police officers, one male and one female. Fortunately, there was a small police post in the mall, and they had been patrolling nearby when Mary’s call had come in.

“I caught this girl stealing this toy,” the guard said. “This is the second time I’ve caught her; she got off with a warning last time. I was trying to take her back into the store when her friend tried to obstruct me from doing my duties. He’s obviously working with her, trying to run interference.”

“I’m not with her,” I said, “but he was assaulting her, and was trying to drag her heaven-knows-where to do heaven-knows-what. He knows you are here. There was no reason for him to go anywhere. She was detained. He should have just called you and waited until you arrived. She is a female minor. He had no right to drag her anywhere.”

“Don’t you tell me how to do my job,” the guard spat at me.

The police officers decided to split us up.

“Sir,” the female officer said, “would you step over here and speak to me please?”

I nodded and followed her a few paces away. The girls, who had been standing behind me, followed.

“Are you all together?” the officer asked.

“Yes,” all four of us answered in perfect unity. The officer raised an eyebrow.

“Officer…” I read her nameplate as I reached in my wallet. “Davis. My name is Caleb Stott. I’m a consultant with the FBI.” I showed her my ID card.

“Forging government IDs, even for a prank, is a felony offence,” she said.

“Someone, call Dianna.” I sent to the girls.

“I tried,” I heard Mary think, “She is out of contact. You’ll have to get in touch with Uncle Frank.”

“The local office number is on the back of my ID,” I said. “The section chief’s name is Frank Howe. Please call him to confirm.”

Her eyes narrowed and I could hear her thinking. He’s either telling the truth or I’ll never play poker with him. Shit!!

She pulled out her phone and called the number. Her eyes widened as she spoke to the local office. Thanks to my Telepathy, I was able to hear the other side of the conversation clearly. The most reassuring part was that a couple of agents were en route, though it would take them about a half hour to arrive.

“Okay Agent… I mean Mr...” the officer was foundering, trying to decide how to address the uni kid in front of her who had suddenly turned out, while not to be her superior, to be someone she needed to respect.

“Caleb is fine,” I said.

“Okay Caleb,” she said. “What would you like to do?”

“Do you have an office?” I asked. “Here, in the mall?”

She nodded.

“Can we take the girl and the child there until the agents arrive?”

“Under arrest?” she asked.

“Does it have to be?” I queried.

She shook her head. “She looks like a minor, and while there’s nothing illegal about a girl her age minding a kid, if we think there’s a problem, we have the right to step in and get the parents to come down.”

“That sounds good, thank you.”

I looked at the girls and pulled some money out of my wallet.

“Will you guys go buy one of whatever that toy is and bring it down please?”

“You need the toy?” asked officer Davis.

“The kid wanted the toy,” I said. “If we want to keep the kid happy, we need the toy.”

“We’ll take it with us,” she replied, “as evidence.”

We re-joined the other officer. He was standing talking to the security guard, who still had a death grip on the girl’s arm.

“You can let go of her arm now,” said Officer Davis.

He let go like he had been scalded. Her arm was bruised. Finger marks were visible.

“Steve,” Officer Davis said, “I’ll take these guys to the office. Get his statement and I’ll meet you back there. Oh, and we’ll need to take the toy as evidence.”

Steve nodded, and Officer Davis put her hand gently on the young girl’s shoulder and guided her away.

She started to resist, but I took the toy and placed it in the lap of the child. Her resistance ceased. The child laughed and began playing with the packet.

“Can I push him for you?” asked Amanda, and the girl relinquished the stroller to her.

“What’s your name, hon?” asked Officer Davis.

“Mary-Beth Vardy.”

“How old are you, Mary-Beth?”

“I’m seventeen.”

“And who’s this?” the officer indicated the stroller.

“That’s my brother, Davey.” Mary-Beth’s lip curled as she said it. There was obviously some animosity there.

“Has he done this to you before?” I asked.

The officer looked at me with a puzzled expression, but Mary-Beth gaped at me. “You know?” she gasped.

I nodded. “Don’t worry,” I said, “you’re not in trouble. We’ll get it all sorted out when my friends get here.”

I saw tears trickling down her face. She had obviously been suffering at the brat’s whims for some time. I guessed that as the oldest child, she had been left to look after him, probably while the parents worked.

We reached the office, which was more like a break room. There was a desk with a computer, though, and an office chair. Over to one side, there was a kitchen-like work surface with a sink and a coffee machine. I saw a couple of cups draining by the sink. There was also a couch against the opposite wall, in front of which was a low table. Mary-Beth was directed to the couch, where she sat, the stroller with Davey just beside her.

I wanted to talk to Mary-Beth but didn’t want to give too much away in front of the officer. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust her, but I wasn’t sure of how ‘secret’ we were supposed to be.

Davey was still gleefully banging away at the packaging of the toy, although I sensed that he was getting bored with it already.

“Maybe Davey would like a nap?” I sent to the twins, hoping that they would be able to send him off to sleep with their powers as easily as they could me.

Mary looked at him, and within seconds he was fast asleep.

The office door opened, and Steve walked in.

“Ok, Debs,” he said, “what’s going on, and who are these guys?”

I looked at Mary, and, with a twinkle in her eye, she gestured for me to introduce myself.

I held my hand out. “Hi,” I said, “I’m Caleb Stott. I’m a consultant with the FBI. This is Mary, Amanda and Jules.”

He looked at ‘Debs’ with scepticism, but she nodded. “I rang the field office. He checks out. There are two agents en-route.”

“Are you all, erm… consultants?” he asked.

“No,” said the girls in unison, “we’re his girlfriends.”

His jaw dropped and he looked at me. I just shrugged and smiled. Debs chuckled.

“So, what’s the deal with our little thief?” he asked. “Why is the FBI interested in petty larceny?”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” I said. “And, with the greatest respect, I’m only a consultant with the FBI. I don’t know how much information I’m allowed to give you. The last thing I want is to get you guys in trouble for being read into a situation that you shouldn’t have been. Would it be okay if we wait for the agents to get here? They will know how much information can be shared.”

Officer Steve opened his mouth, then closed it, and looked at his partner. She returned his look and shrugged.

“I need to talk to Mary-Beth,” I said. “Right now, she is confused and frightened. It’s not fair keeping her like that.”

Debs nodded. “I can’t leave you alone with her, no matter your credentials. She is still a minor and you are a male. Your girlfriends don’t count as chaperones. I’ll stay by the door and talk to them, and if you talk quietly, I won’t hear anything I shouldn’t.”

We all looked at Steve.

He sighed. “I guess I’ll go outside and wait for the agents.” He seemed resigned, but also a little put-out. He left the office.

Debs moved to the door, as did Jules and Mary. Amanda and I sat on the couch, one of us on either side of Mary-Beth.

“Hi,” I said, “my name is Caleb, and this is Amanda.”

She looked at me, her eyes still wet. She was trembling a little, and I caught fleeting thoughts of her being in trouble – memories, but called up to the surface and actively played out. She had received a beating from her father for previous thefts that she had been forced to perform, and her mother had threatened to throw her out if there was any more trouble.

“I promise I’ll make it right,” I said. “Whether we’re allowed to tell them everything or not isn’t up to me, but we are going to help you.”

“You can’t,” she said sullenly. “If you don’t tell them, then nothing will change. If you do, they won’t believe you. They didn’t believe me, and I’m their daughter. For fuck’s sake, he does it to them too, at home, and they still don’t believe it.”

“We can be very persuasive,” I sent to her.

Her eyes widened and she let out a little scream, her hand covering her mouth. I saw Debs shoot a glance over in our direction, wondering what I had said or done to the girl. I felt Amanda’s power flow over Mary-Beth, reassuring and soothing her. I also felt Mary doing the same to the officer, who relaxed her stance.

“I’m going to help you, and help Davey,” I said. “In order to do that, I am going to need you to trust me a little bit. Do you think that you will be able to do that?”

She looked at me, her eyes still full of tears. Another wave of reassurance, overlaid with a feeling of safety, security and trust rolled over the girl. She nodded, although I was starting to get a little uncomfortable at Amanda’s manipulation. I hadn’t really considered how Empathy could be used in that way, but under the right circumstances it could be as powerful as Compulsion.

“I’m going to talk to talk to you directly again,” I said. “Would that be alright?” I knew that Debs, even if she heard me, would have no idea what I meant, but I figured better safe than sorry.

Mary-Beth nodded.

“Hi again,” I sent, “in here, just think what you want to say, and I will be able to hear it, okay?”

“He has nice eyes,” I heard her think, then, “Oh no! did he hear that?” She blushed.

I smiled at her gently. “Don’t worry, and thank you, it’s always nice to get a compliment. Earlier this morning my girlfriend called me a name, so being told I have nice eyes is a pleasant change.”

She smiled shyly at that.

“How old are you, Mary-Beth?” I sent to her.

“Seventeen. I’ll be eighteen in three months.”

“And how long has Davey been making you do things?”

“I don’t know exactly,” she thought. “I guess I realized it was him doing it about six months ago, the first time I stole something. Before that I did stuff, I guess, but just didn’t think anything of it.”

“Do you think you could show me?” I sent. “If you think of all the times he has made you do something, I’ll be able to see them. Depending on how word comes down, I might be allowed to show your parents too.”

She nodded, and I got a cascade of images from her: film clips of the times she had been compelled to do something by her little brother. She had stolen several items, most of the time without getting caught. I saw a clip of the last time the fat security guard had caught her, and I delved into that deeper. He had taken her into the manager’s office and told her that he was going to call the police unless she agreed to give him oral sex. He was just approaching her when the manager entered the office and took over, telling the guard that since she was a minor, he would give her a warning that time. The manager, a middle-aged man, had given her a severe warning about stealing from his store again before telling the guard to escort her off the premises.

She also showed me her parents: her mother screaming at her when she had been called to another store after she’d been caught stealing from them; then her father, using his belt on her behind, for getting caught again at the same store. He had had to pay them compensation to stop them from calling the police, and she’d been banned from the premises.

“It’s all over now,” I sent. “I will straighten it out with your parents, and make sure Davey can never do that to you again.”

She looked at me wide-eyed again, and then threw her arms around me, sobbing into my chest with relief.

Debs cleared her throat meaningfully, and I looked at her, shrugging with my arms spread, showing who was hugging whom.

Amanda gently disengaged the teen from me, pulling her instead into her embrace while she calmed, which Debs didn’t seem to have a problem with. Like that’s not sexist.

There was a knock on the office door, and Steve stuck his head in. “The agents are here.”

I stood up, leaving Mary-Beth with Amanda on the couch.

“Special Agent David Spencer, Special Agent Andrew Garraway.” The other agent showed his credentials. “We’re with the Extended Specialist Profiling Division. Mr. Stott here is a consultant working with us.”

“Officers Davis and Maine,” replied Steve, indicating first Debs and then himself.

David looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

“Can I show you?” I sent. I figured that if he had worked with Dianna he would be used to mental communication. I didn’t sense any powers in either of them.

“Show us both,” he thought, and I sent them my memories from the time I had first become aware of the compulsion.

He nodded, and then turned to the officers.

“Officers,” he said, “do you think we could impose and borrow your office for a short while?”

The officers looked at each other. Once again, they weren’t obliged to obey him. He was not in their chain of command, but FBI was FBI.

“Sure,” said Debs. “We’re due a meal break anyhow. How long do you need?”

“Half an hour should be plenty,” he said.

“No problem,” she said. “Come on Steve, you’re buying.”

They left the office.

“Caleb,” David said, “As you no doubt detected, Andrew and I are both Norms. These two young ladies I recognize as Dianna’s granddaughters, but this young lady?” he asked, indicating Jules.

“That’s Jules,” Mary said, “our girlfriend. She is fully read in.”

David shook his head ruefully. “Some things I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to. I’m pleased to meet you all.”

David sat down in front of Mary-Beth.

“Hi,” he said kindly, “my name is David, I’m with the FBI.” He showed her his badge.

Mary-Beth trembled, looking scared again. Amanda once again soothed her.

“Caleb has already explained to me what happened,” he said. “I promise you are not in any trouble, and we are going to straighten all this out with your parents, okay?”

Mary-Beth nodded hesitantly.

“Where do you live Mary-Beth?”

“One-hundred fourteen Pine, near Henderson.” she answered.

“Where are your parents?”

“Working. Mom works at the hospital and Dad works for the city. He drives maintenance trucks.”

“What time are they due home?”

“Dad will be home now; he’s going to be mad because I should be home already. Mom will be home soon, maybe another half hour.”

David looked at me.

“Sorry to ask you Caleb, but Dianna is away on a call just now, and we have no other users in the area. Would you come with us to help explain?”

I nodded.

I heard Mary think, “Amanda should come with you, too. She will be useful. I’ll take Jules home.”

“Amanda too,” I said. “She is far better with Empathy than me.”

Davey nodded and looked at Amanda. “Would you mind?”

“That’s fine,” she said, fishing out her car keys and handing them to Mary.

“We’ll see you guys later,” Mary said. I got hugs from them both, and they left.

“How did you get here, Mary-Beth?” asked David. “Did you drive or take a bus?”

“I walked,” she said quietly.

“It’s a long walk,” David said.

“Davey likes the walk,” she said, her voice low, “so I walk.”

“Okay,” said David. “We’ll take you home now and speak with your parents, but before we go, I think we need to do something about that security guard.”

“What can you do?” I asked. “The only proof is what I lifted from his memory. Is that enough to prosecute?”

“Not on its own, but Mary-Beth’s statement is enough for an arrest and search warrant. We should get plenty of evidence, judging by what you saw.”

Mary-Beth’s eyes went wide again. For the first time, she didn’t seem scared. She still didn’t really accept how quickly her fortunes had changed, but I figured a lack of fear was progress.

Just then, there was a knock on the door. Debs poked her head in.

“Do you need more time?” she asked.

“Actually, officer…”

“Davis,” I supplied. “Debs to her friends. She lets me call her Officer Davis.”

She grinned at me. “Maybe one day,” she said.

David smiled. “Perhaps you could do us another small favour.”

“Sure,” she said.

“Go arrest that security guard for assault, extortion, and propositioning a minor. We may even go for statutory rape. Seize his cell phone.”

Debs whistled. “Boy,” she said to me, “I guess I’d better let you call me Debs. I don’t want to get on your bad side.”

“I don’t have a bad side,” I said. “I’m wonderful from every direction.”

Debs laughed. “And modest too. C’mon Steve, before I get roped into being girlfriend number four.”

“She’s pretty,” I got from Amanda.

“Not too old?” I asked.

I got a memory of me, writing the twins name on Dianna’s clit with my tongue. It was the thought I had sent them while I was ‘sharing’ with Dianna.

I blushed, but I supposed she was right. Dianna was sixty-seven, even if she only looked to be in her thirties. I put Debs around twenty-five or twenty-six.

Amanda had soothed Mary-Beth so much that she was actually dozing in the older girls’ arms with her head resting on her shoulder.

David nodded for me to follow him outside, which I did.

“I’m going to ask the officers to get the guard transported to holding at the main precinct. They can’t interrogate him here.”

I saw the officers returning with the guard, his hands cuffed behind him. Steve had the guard’s phone in his hand.

“His phone is locked,” Debs said. “Eight-digit passcode.”

“May I?” I asked and she handed it to me, with a look at her partner.

“May I look at your phone please?” I asked the guard. I couldn’t help sounding a bit smarmy. He deserved worse.

“Fuck you,” he growled. Steve opened his mouth, but I beat him to it.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” I said. “Oh, it appears to be locked. Can you tell me the passcode please?”

“Fuck you twice,” the guard snarled again.

I looked intently at his face. “The first number is…” I started counting. “One, two, three, four, five, six… ah, six.”

I went through that same charade until I had ‘discovered’ all eight numbers and unlocked his phone. I hoped it would look like I had seen some reaction when I had said the correct number; I remembered something like that in an episode of The Mentalist I had watched.

“So,” I summarised, “six one seven nine three five six five? Great, thanks.”

The guards’ eyes were like saucers as I unlocked his phone and handed it back to Debs.

“See? You just needed to ask him nicely.” I smiled.

Debs started to look through his image files. Her face took on a sick expression as she lifted her radio.

“Central, I need a transport for one under for statutory rape.”

She went to turn away.

“Debs?” I said. “You got a pen and paper handy?”

She handed me her notebook and pen.

I scribbled down a couple of numbers.

“What are those?” she asked.

“Top one is the passcode to his phone in case it times out again on you,” I said. “From his reaction, that number is important to him, so if you find anything in his house that requires a combination, it will probably be the same number, or perhaps the first or last four digits of it.”

I stared at the guard again. “He is the type to have a... wall safe, floor safe - ah! A floor safe! - in his kitchen, den, dining room, garage, bedroom, attic - okay, bedroom then - a floor safe in his bedroom, somewhere, I think.”

The guard went grey. Debs look both amused and impressed. I thanked my lucky stars for the abundance of crime procedurals on television – and, I supposed, that the FBI itself was considered quasi-magical by local law enforcement.

“And the bottom one?” she asked.

“That’s my cell,” I said with a grin.

She laughed.

Steve shook his head. “Kid, you’ve got game!” he said ruefully.

They walked the guard out to meet the transport at the main entrance.

“Nicely done,” David said. “A little ‘Patrick Jane,’ but it got the info across, and didn’t reveal you as anything more than a cocky guy with a bit of a gift for reading people.”

I grinned at him knowingly. Even the FBI knew about the power of television. I supposed that Patrick Jane, The Mentalist himself, would probably use that same type of cultural conditioning to help crack a suspect. It was quite poetic, really.

We roused the dozing Mary-Beth, and, with the still-sleeping Davey in his stroller, we all walked out to the agents’ SUV.

After about a twenty-minute drive, we arrived at a small house. There was a truck in the drive and a car parked on the street outside. Andrew, who had driven the SUV, parked across the drive, and we all got out of the car.

The door opened as we approached. David was in front with me following him. Mary-Beth was carrying the still-sleeping Davey, and Amanda and Andrew brought up the rear. Amanda had her hand on Mary-Beth’s shoulder, still soothing her. I had felt her fear climbing as we had gotten closer to her home.

I wouldn’t have said that Mary-Beth’s mother looked much like her. She was a short, Rubenesque woman with dark hair and an angry expression. The man that stepped up behind her was taller, and I could see some resemblance. He had fair hair and a pleasant face, and I saw worry in his expression. I immediately caught his thoughts, and read that he had not wanted to use his belt on Mary-Beth, but had done so to placate his wife and stop her from throwing the girl out on the street. He felt massive guilt that he had not stood up to his wife, and he wondered how he was going to protect his daughter this time.

My feelings toward him, which up to then had been extremely uncharitable, started to thaw a bit – at the cost of my feelings toward his wife.

“Mr. and Mrs. Vardy?” David asked as he approached.

They nodded. “Now what?” the woman asked. “What has that stupid little bitch done this time?”

“Becky,” Mr. Vardy said, “you don’t know that she did anything yet. Give the girl a chance for once.”

“I’m Special Agent David Spencer with the FBI,” he said, flashing his badge. “This is Caleb Stott.” I showed them my ID, thinking to myself I needed a wallet I could just flop open to show it in a cool way. “That’s Agent Andrew Garraway, and Amanda Everson.” Amanda smiled at them both. “May we come in?”

They looked at each other and then backed away from the door, indicating for us to enter. Becky led the way into their living room, where two other children were sitting watching television. One, a girl, was about twelve, and she looked up when we entered. The other, a boy, looked to be about six, and his attention remained firmly fixed on the program he was watching. I checked them both swiftly and could detect no powers on any of them. Likewise, the parents looked to be ‘Norms.’

Mr. Vardy followed us into the room, and, picking up the remote control, turned the television off, which sparked protests from the younger boy. The older girl was much more interested in finding out what was going on.

Neither of them was particularly happy to be told to go to their rooms. It took a glare from their mother to silence their protests, and then they slunk out. I got the sense that the girl would try and eavesdrop. She seemed to like the thought of her older sister being in trouble again.

“What’s she done this time?” Becky asked again once the children had left, and the door was closed.

“Actually,” said David, “we’re not here to talk about Mary-Beth. We need to talk to you about your son, Davey.”

“Davey?” they echoed in unison, surprise in their tones.

“What has she done to Davey?” asked Becky. “Did she hurt him? I knew she was getting wild, but I never thought…”

“Mary-Beth did nothing wrong,” I said loudly, stopping them in their tracks. I was getting annoyed with the litany, and I could feel Mary-Beth’s fear building again. Amanda was right on top of it, as usual, but that wasn’t any kind of a long-term solution.

“If you would let me explain,” David said to them, giving me a slightly irritated glance.

“Sorry,” I sent to him, and I saw the corner of his mouth quirk up.

“Perhaps we might sit?” he asked.

Mr. Vardy pulled some chairs over from the dining table so there were enough for everyone Mary-Beth, Amanda and I settled on the sofa, recently vacated by the children who’d been watching television. The two agents took the dining room chairs. Becky and Mr. Vardy, sat on a couple of easy chairs facing the couch.

I paid close attention. I figured I could learn a lot about proper procedure, if nothing else. I had a feeling the discussion was going to begin poorly; I also figured that that was a fairly normal occurrence – as far as anything was normal in the situation.

“Mrs. Vardy,” David began, “would it be okay if I called you Becky?” She nodded. “Thank you, and?” He looked at her husband

“Gary,” he replied.

David nodded. “Thank you. Becky, Gary. It is possible that you might already have noticed this, but Davey is not quite like other children his age.”

“What are you saying,” asked Becky harshly. “that our son is retarded? Nobody has ever found anything wrong with him before.”

“Not exactly,” said David. “In fact, quite the opposite. Davey is actually gifted, but it’s a gift that he doesn’t know how to use responsibly yet, and he has been using it on Mary-Beth, and probably others as well.”

“A gift?” asked Gary. “What kind of gift?”

“A very small number of people,” David continued, “are born with abilities that are beyond what are normally available to the rest of us. Davey is one of these. He was born with the ability to use his mind to compel someone to do his bidding. Simply put, he can force them to do things, even if they don’t want to do them.”

I waited for the reaction. I wondered how I would react if I were in their shoes. I had only recently realized that such powers existed, and I’d had the benefit of discovering that I was the one who had them. I’d never had to be on the ‘Norm’ side of things.

Gary and Becky looked at each other.

“I…” said Gary.

“It’s not…” said Becky.

I knew then that, deep down, they’d known. The denial was probably so strong as to be violent and overwhelming – probably only cowed slightly at the moment by the presence of the federal government in their house – but they knew that something strange had been going on.

“I know it’s a lot to take in,” said David. “Not only that such power exists, but that your son can wield it. I can give you proof in both cases - or rather, my young friend here can.” He indicated me.

They both turned their attention to me.

“Mrs. Vardy,” I said. I decided it was her denial that had to be the most forcefully overwhelmed. “I am going to ask you go get me a glass of water. I want you to resist doing so as hard as you can. I promise it won’t hurt, but I cannot think of any other way to show you.”

They looked at each other again. I saw fear in their auras – both of their auras. That only confirmed it. They’d known something. Her hesitation wasn’t born of scepticism, confusion, or even fear of the thing itself. Without even probing her mind, I suspected that she was worried about how things might change – especially between her and her husband – once denial was no longer an option. I vainly hoped she might be afraid of having to apologize to Mary-Beth, but I doubted she’d ever do so.

Finally, she nodded.

I sent the Compulsion. She needed to get me a drink, and she needed to use one of her best glasses - those that, ironically, were exclusively for ‘better’ company that they never entertained.

She stood up, leaving the living room and going into the kitchen. She was back in a few minutes, placing the glass on the low table in front of me before taking her seat again.

Gary stared at her wide-eyed. He had not missed the glass she had used. Becky stared at me. Once again, her mind and her soul were open books. Once again, she was afraid, but not of the thing itself. She was also angry. I was the messenger, and she wanted to kill me.

“I couldn’t stop myself,” she said sullenly. She wanted to pretend to be surprised, but she couldn’t sell it. “How is that possible?”

I felt, rather than saw, the key memory. I didn’t probe for it, but I knew what it would contain: another time when she’d felt like that.

Amanda sent out a wave of soothing and reassurance.

“I promise you I will never do that to you again,” I said gently. “You just needed to remember how it felt, and how impossible it was to resist. You need to accept what Davey has been doing to Mary-Beth.”

I chose my words carefully. I had some sympathy for Becky, but not too much.

“Davey can do that?” Becky asked.

I nodded to her. “Let me show you both what Mary-Beth shared with me. Would that be okay? It will be just like watching a movie.”

Gary nodded. I could sense more reluctance from Becky. She’d just gotten another taste of Compulsion, and, atop that, she was still worried about herself – her future. I was the messenger and the harbinger. I tried not to show it, but I felt quite pleased to be playing both roles.

“I promise, it’s just a show,” I said reassuringly. “Nothing more.”

She nodded uncertainly.

I played all the memories that Mary-Beth had shared with me. When I showed them the memory of Gary using his belt on Mary-Beth, he paled and put his hand to his mouth. The one I kept until last was the one where the security guard had tried to get her to give him oral sex. Gary shot to his feet, ready to kill someone.

“He is already in custody,” I said. “He never touched her, but she was frightened. She didn’t dare to tell you because she thought you would punish her for getting caught stealing again.”

Becky stood and rushed from the room. I heard her in the kitchen, retching over the sink. Gary looked at Mary-Beth, who was looking up at him, tears rolling down both their faces.

“Mary-Beth,” he said, crossing to her. I moved so he could sit beside her and hug his daughter.

Becky came back into the room, looking pale. She saw the scene between her Mary-Beth and her father. Even amidst her visceral upset, I saw her wheels turning. I saw the moment she decided to swallow her pride. She walked over to the pair of them, knelt down, and awkwardly joined in the hug.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”

Gary, bless his heart, pulled his wife in closer. I knew it wasn’t my place to unduly interfere in their ‘Norm’ dynamic, but I was sorely tempted.

I could hear all three of them talking from within the huddle, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. I decided not to use my powers to eavesdrop.

I felt Amanda pushing feelings of love, support, and forgiveness over them. A miniature conversation of emotions passed quickly between us via the bond; she could tell I wasn’t thrilled with Becky being let off the hook. She stood firm, though, confident that love was the way forward.

I sat down on Gary’s vacated chair, and we waited. I knew it would take much longer for the new normal to firm up in their household, but I guessed that Dianna would pay them a visit at some point and give them more support.

Finally, David spoke. “Gary, Becky,” he said, and waited until they looked up at him. Amanda moved, and Becky took the seat beside her daughter. Mary-Beth was pale, but I got feelings of relief, plus some righteous anger toward her parents. They still had some way to go to be completely reconciled. Amanda believed they’d get there, with some help. I wasn’t so sure.

“Davey has an incredible gift,” David continued, “but he is too young to understand the damage he can do with it. Children his age are driven by selfish needs, and, as you saw, when he wanted something, he made sure he got it. If you think back, you yourselves were probably compelled at some point to do something.”

“The drives,” Gary almost whispered. “About three months ago, we took him out one night when he wouldn’t settle. I drove around for a bit, and eventually he went off. For the next three weeks, I took him out every night, drove the same route over and over again. Even when I was dog tired after a fourteen-hour shift, I took him out. I was late for a night shift and nearly got fired because I took him on the drive. Then it just stopped.”

“He probably got bored with it,” David said. “Now think about Davey as a six-year-old with this power. How about when he reaches puberty and starts having sexual urges?”

Becky went white, and I heard her thought. “Oh my god, that’s why I did it. He must have had the same power.”

That was my cue – my permission to dig. It was about somebody else who might have powers. I did, and saw the memories:

She had been at work in the hospital. One of the new orderlies had told her to go with him to a store cupboard, and she had followed him in.

He had told her that she wanted to kiss him, and she had. She’d really, truly wanted to kiss him.

They had made out for a while, and then she had gone down on him, sucking his cock, taking it deep in her throat. She hated giving oral. The thought of it was abhorrent to her. She would never do it for her husband, but she had willingly sucked this orderly’s cock until he had filled her mouth. She had drunk it down with relish, continuing to lick and suck until he’d gotten hard again. Then he had turned her around, bent her over a pile of laundry and fucked her.

Three times that day he had taken her to the storeroom and fucked her, the last time taking her in the ass - another thing she wouldn’t even do for her husband.

When the sickness had started three weeks later, she’d known, but she’d hoped she was wrong. Her husband had never questioned Davey’s parentage; they looked enough alike.

She’d known the baby wasn’t her husband’s, and she couldn’t understand what she had seen in the orderly - why she had broken her marriage vows for a couple of episodes of delinquent, perverted sex.

The orderly had lost interest in her and had moved departments. She still saw him around the hospital from time to time, but he didn’t even acknowledge her, and whenever she went to speak to him, she had a sudden urge to be somewhere else.

I closed my eyes. We were travelling down a rabbit hole. I shuddered at the thought of just how overwhelmed and outmatched Dianna’s special division might be against an onslaught of psi-rapists – ones that seemed to either not care about, or be thrilled by, the possibility of getting their victims pregnant.

I sent that memory to David, Andrew, and Amanda. I saw Andrew’s lips thin. David didn’t react at all. Amanda scowled.

“We can help him,” David said to them. “There is a way to keep him, and your family, safe from his powers.”

“How?” asked Mr. Vardy.

“We seal them,” David said. “We take them away from him, temporarily. That lets him grow up and develop as a normal, healthy young man. With your guidance, I have no doubt he will develop a strong moral character. When he is ready, usually around his twenty first birthday, we’ll release his powers, train him in their use, and help him come to terms with them.”

“You’ve done this before?” asked Mrs. Vardy.

“Many times,” said David. “Believe me, it’s the safest way. If we leave his powers with him, he will grow up warped. If he can get anything he wants just by demanding it, why would he work? Nobody will be immune. You will have no control over him - in fact, it will be the reverse. At some point he will do something unforgivable to somebody, and we will have to step in and stop him. For his safety and for the safety of you and your family, you need to let us do this.”

“Will it hurt him?” she asked.

“Not at all,” said David. “He may be a little confused for a few days when he doesn’t get his own way all the time like he used to, but he’s young, and will soon forget what came before.”

Becky looked at David, at her husband, and then down at the sleeping Davey. Finally, her eyes rested on her daughter. I felt Amanda push something towards Mrs. Vardy – just her. It was remorse.

I’m fairly certain Amanda got the gist of my reaction through the bond: cheating.

“It’s not your fault,” Amanda said firmly, “either of you. Powers like these are outside your experience. Nobody believes they exist. How could you know that what Mary-Beth said was the truth? It wasn’t your fault.

“You have been pushed to the limit by a naughty child,” she continued. “You were just punishing the wrong child. How could you have guessed what was happening? I’ll bet even Mary-Beth didn’t realize for a long time. Gary, you took him out for three weeks for drives and you didn’t make the connection. It’s nobody’s fault.”

I bit my tongue, both out in the world and through the bond.

“Right now, what’s important are your two children,” David said. “Davey, we need to make him safe until he reaches an age where he can use his power responsibly. And Mary-Beth needs your love and support, and forgiveness. And you need hers.”

“How do you stop him using his powers?” asked Gary.

“With this,” David said, holding out a small wire with a tiny disc the size of a watch battery attached. “It loops around his wrist, and while he wears it, he will not be able to use his powers at all. He won’t even know they exist.”

“What if he takes it off or loses it?” asked Becky.

“He won’t be able to do either,” said David. “Over the next few days, it will gently sink into his wrist, until all that is visible is a small mark that will look like a scar or birthmark. It takes its power from his own body’s electrical field, so it will never run out, and it will keep him safe until we come and remove it.”

“It won’t hurt him?” she asked.

“He won’t even know it’s there,” I said. “I didn’t.”

All three of the Vardys stared at me.

“You had one?” Gary said, and I nodded.

“It came off on my birthday,” I said, pointedly avoiding the small detail that I’d apparently overwhelmed it somehow, a year earlier than planned.

“So that’s how you knew?” Mary-Beth asked.

I nodded again. “I could see him using his power on you.”

“Why didn’t you use yours on the guard then?” she asked. “To make him let me go?”

“The power that Davey has is one of the most dangerous ones, Mary-Beth,” I said. “You have no idea how badly I wanted to make that ass – er, that sleazeball let go of you and go jump in a lake. But it’s even worse than physical violence, in terms of the consequences. It has to be the last resort.

“I’m so sorry he hurt you,” I continued. “It wasn’t right. It’s amazing how just a little bit of power can bring out the worst in people.” I spared Mrs. Vardy a pointed look just then. I hadn’t completely resigned myself to letting Amanda have everything her way.

Mrs. Vardy, for her part, couldn’t hide her flash of fear. It didn’t feel all that good, since I’d seen the memories of her own victimization, but I hoped it might make her newfound love and sympathy for her daughter stick a little better and a little longer – and more genuinely in the first place, perhaps.

“You have all suffered at the hands of someone who abused his power,” I continued, “some of you more than others.” I gave Mrs. Vardy another look – one that was much softer. She connected the dots, and recoiled. Her aura flashed red, yellow, and black.

“DON’T YOU DARE!” came through, as both more and less than an articulated thought.

I sensed her horror, her terror, and her guilt. For nearly three years she had been carrying a secret - a secret that had been eating her up inside, twisting her into a caricature of the woman she used to be. She loved Gary with all her heart and soul and loved her children just as much, including Mary-Beth. When Davey had come along, she had tried to convince herself that he was Gary’s. She’d been perversely lucky, I supposed, that Gary was so trusting, and there had been some resemblance. When the strange things had started to happen, she’d known the truth but had been desperate to hide it from her family, to prevent it from being torn apart.

She’d carried on the deceptions, each lie requiring a bigger and more complex lie to cover it, until everything had spiraled out of control. Her whole world was about to come crashing down. From her perspective, I was a judgmental little prick swooping into her life, about to lay waste to it in the name of some crusade that, notably, hadn’t protected her from her rapist. She wasn’t thrilled with the agents either, but again, the fact that they were official FBI tempered her rage with some fear. Me, though? I was too young. I was just a sanctimonious little shit.

I was stunned. Was that how she saw me? Was that how I was behaving?

I was pissed at her for her treatment of Mary-Beth and had felt justified in that, but I hadn’t known the full story. Mrs. Vardy was a victim herself, and she was right: we hadn’t protected her. She’d been left to deal with everything herself. She hadn’t made the best choices, but what right did I have to judge her?

I considered, with great discomfort, what role the government’s stubborn insistence on secrecy might have played in making her feel isolated, and maybe even crazy. As I thought about it, it all seemed rather arbitrary and half-assed, too. We were telling people left and right, but generally only after damage had been done.

I shook off the stray thoughts; I needed to focus on the problems in front of me, with the people who were suffering right then. I realized that Amanda had been right all along: love was the way forward. Becky had had a fair point, too. I’d rushed to judgment.

“I won’t tell him,” I sent back as gently as I could, “but you need to think about this, maybe talk to someone about telling him. If it ever comes out in the future, how will he react? Everyone these days is doing DNA testing for just about everything - or what if Davey or one of the others gets sick and needs blood or bone marrow?

“This secret has been killing you. It’s twisting you up inside, and it’s why you, a loving mother, could even consider turning her back on her own daughter. You were trying to protect the rest of the family. There was never going to be a good choice.

“But you have to remember, YOU are a victim. You had no choice in what happened to you. I just proved that to you. You’ve been carrying a terrible secret for three years, and it’s been tearing you and your family apart.

“There is help available. The FBI counselor will help you, and Gary, work through what happened to you and your family. Whatever your decision about Davey, you need to let the guilt go. I’m sorry I judged you. I didn’t see what you had gone through. You didn’t deserve it, but neither did Mary Beth.

“I promise you one thing. The man who did this to you, Owen Booth, will be stopped, and he will be punished.”

Her aura was still a storm of colors, but they did shift to a less immediately-dangerous combination. Mary-Beth, meanwhile, wasn’t thrilled with my response about the security guard. I caught her not-so-subtly rubbing her arm. I couldn’t do much more than offer a sympathetic, apologetic look.

Gary seemed oblivious to everything transpiring between me and his wife, and me and his daughter. “But he’s just a baby,” he said. “He didn’t know any better.”

“True,” said David, “and that is why he is not being punished. He is just being protected. Think of this as childproofing. We are taking nothing away from him, just locking away the dangerous objects until he is old enough to be safe using them.”

Gary nodded. “Okay,” he said.

We looked at Becky, and she nodded.

David knelt down beside the still sleeping Davey and gently lifted his arm. He placed the little disc on the inside of his wrist, and wrapped the wire around, feeding it through a small hole in the disk. Some kind of mechanism pulled the wire in and held it snug against Davey’s wrist. David observed for a few minutes, and then, satisfied, stood up.

“I’ll arrange to have an entry added to his birth record to show the ‘scar’ as a birthmark,” David said. “That way there will be no trouble with social workers thinking that you have hurt him. You can relax now, it’s done.

“We will check in periodically, and make sure you and he are doing well. When he reaches his eighteenth birthday, we will come and explain everything to him and arrange for the amulet to be removed. After that, we will help him come to terms with his new powers and find his way.”

David looked at the family. “I think we should leave you to talk. One of our counselors will be in touch, probably tomorrow, and will want to come and speak with you and your other children.”

Becky and Gary both nodded. Gary was relieved. Becky was too but also frightened. She seemed to accept what I had said to her earlier but was still afraid of what would happen if Gary found out. Despite that, the thought of not having to carry that weight around with her anymore had given her a feeling of relief, of freedom. She just hoped her marriage would survive the process.

“Mary-Beth,” Amanda said, and the younger girl stopped rubbing her arm and looked at her. “I know that amongst all the emotions you are feeling right now, there is a lot of anger - anger toward Davey, and anger toward your parents. You took a lot of punishment for something you didn’t want to do - something Davey made you do. Try not to let that anger hurt you. Davey was too young to understand what he was doing, and your parents were presented with something that nobody would have believed. Think about it yourself. If you’d caught your little brother taking something from your bedroom, would you have believed him if he told you that Davey had made him do it?”

I saw her mulling that over. She wasn’t willing to give in so easily.

“Not if it was the first and only time, maybe,” she admitted sullenly, but then she mustered up some nerve. “Not if it had never happened to me, I suppose. I’d like to think that maybe I’d have gotten suspicious when, say, everything ended up with Davey eventually, and were things that he was most likely to want. I might’ve wondered why an older child would risk getting caught stealing baby toys.”

I felt for her; I really did. My epiphany earlier hadn’t completely robbed me of my sense of outrage at what her mother - well, both her parents - had done to her. I just understood the ‘why’ a little better. Despite everything her parents had been through, I wanted them to really listen to what she was saying. It wasn’t exactly between the lines.

“Your parents love you,” Amanda pressed, “and Davey loves you too. Trust me, I know.” Amanda gently, meaningfully placed her hand over her own breast. “Whenever you get angry, remember that.”

I saw an opening, so I looked at her parents. “And you two, remember you owe her, big time. So perhaps a little leeway when that anger surfaces?”

They both nodded – Gary quickly and eagerly, Becky more thoughtfully. She did nod, though. That was something.

“One more thing,” said David. “It is imperative that you keep your knowledge of Davey and his powers, and powers in general to yourselves. Think of the consequences if someone found out that Davey had this power. He and you could be in serious danger. Also, most people would probably not believe you, and you would end up being denounced as crackpots.”

He didn’t mention something that I would find out much later; that the FBI had a whole department set up to discredit people who tried to ‘out’ people with power. They would dig up dirt, manufacture bizarre and contradictory evidence, and basically make anyone trying to prove that powers existed look like complete nut cases.

We all stood and took turns shaking hands with Gary, then Becky. I felt Becky’s reluctance to come near me and I didn’t press the issue.

Mary-Beth gave Amanda a little hug, but then, blushing furiously, gave me a peck on the cheek.

“Thank you,” she said. I smiled at her. I couldn’t help noticing Gary’s eyes narrowing for an instant. It was a very convenient moment for the FBI and friends to leave the Vardys to their turned-upside-down world.

As we drove away, David turned to me. “Do you have any more information on the guy who psi-raped the mother?” he asked.

I nodded. “An orderly at the hospital, Owen Booth. According to Mrs. Vardy’s recollection, he is currently working the day shift, seven until seven on the surgical floor.”

“Can you send me the information?”

I sent him the memory.

He nodded his thanks. “Okay, then, time to bag some scum.”

“Wait,” I said. “Right now?”

He shot me a look. “You really want to wait a day for us to get the roofie team in place? We’ve got you here now. We’re calling for emergency authorizations as we speak. Not our first rodeo, Caleb – but don’t you want it to be yours?”

I knew I didn’t have much time to decide. I mulled it over for a few seconds, then nodded my head.

David grinned. He liked my answer. “Relax, kid,” he said. “We’re the FBI. Owen Booth is done. It’s only a question of whether he’s done right now or tomorrow. I give him one percent odds of ducking us longer than that, and that’s only if everything goes wrong. Do you want some quick profiling? High-level psi criminals don’t keep low-level jobs in hospitals – not even if they’ve got the most specific fetishes in the world.”

It was very strange to simultaneously feel comforted and completely out of my depth. Even Amanda responded to the dichotomy through the bond. She sent me back a little jolt of confidence – of faith in me.

“Okay, so,” David continued, “what do you need to do your magic? Direct contact? Visual? Proxy? We can make almost anything work. You’re practically undercover already: just a young college kid who’s got a broken arm or whatever. We’ve got a bunch of air casts in the prop trunk. One of us agents can be your dad or uncle or whatever. No cracks about how we look in cargo shorts and crocs. We know.”

“Uh…” I began. “I think… I just need to be close enough, really. I’ve been learning how to scan for powered people from James, so I don’t need to be close enough to ‘smell’ him if I already know I’m supposed to be looking for one.”

David nodded. “That’s fantastic. Two agents will go undercover into the hospital, but won’t do anything until you give an update. We’ve got the outcome matrix plotted. You just let us know if you neutralized him, and how spooked he seems.

“Listen,” he said, his tone getting softer, “this is your first time. If things go badly on your end, please just admit it. Nobody’s going to think any less of you unless you start giving us bad info. Be honest, and this one’s a freebie. A training exercise, more or less.”

“That seems a little cavalier, don’t you think?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I’m telling you, Caleb, we practically have this down to a science. Sure, there are unknowns, but I think it’s good for you to realize that the world’s a big place, and the U.S. government’s a big deal. No offense, but I think the occasional dose of humility is good medicine for anybody who’s got special powers – hell, even if their special power is just being rich.”

“That one seems pretty effective against you guys,” I replied.

Davis gave me a fake scowl. “Mmmm, okay, fair enough, college boy.” He broke the facade and grinned again. “We like a sense of humor. Believe it or not, you’d fit in good with the crew.”

We arrived at the hospital, and things happened fast. Badges were flashed, and suddenly we were allowed to go anywhere. David parked us as close to the hospital as possible without blocking an emergency lane, and I saw what looked like a security guard give our vehicle a sober nod from about twenty yards away, confirming that nobody would bother us.

David got a message through his earpiece, then turned to me. “Okay, Caleb. Just tell me what you need.”

“Let’s just try it from here,” I said. “So… just some quiet, I guess?”

“I’m wounded terribly,” he said, deadpan. With another nod from him, it was my time to put up or shut up.

Amanda gave me one last jolt of confidence and faith through the bond, then ‘quieted down’ for me. I sent her gratitude, then settled into the seat and closed my eyes.

I worked cautiously more than quickly. I extended my senses and actively blocked out what I suddenly dubbed ‘Norm noise.’ I was on the hunt for tendrils, coppery smells – or ‘smells,’ since I wasn’t using my nose – and everything else that might give away a careless powered person.

Special Agent Spencer’s profile held; Owen Booth was weak, sloppy, and defenseless. He wasn’t actively using his powers, but I sensed a number of lingering after-effects and hoped he’d only been doing what he’d done to Mrs. Vardy whenever she’d tried to approach him after the rapes: getting people to stay away from him. My thoughts went to some dark places, though, and I decided to clamp down on my own emotions for just a few moments while I worked. The clarity and focus were instant, and, obviously, I wasn’t troubled by my sudden non-reaction to the thought that perhaps Booth had just raped somebody else.

He had no cloak and no shield. I sent out a gentle, subtle tendril to his mind, and it invaded it so quickly and easily that I might as well have shot him with a high-powered sniper rifle. He was even weaker than Harold had been. I took away his power, and he didn’t even notice.

“Subject is neutralized,” I said flatly. I wasn’t fully immune to the power of movies and television myself. I felt nothing – no relief, no pride, no sense of justice having been done.

“Confirm?” David said. I couldn’t tell if he was playing along or not.

I opened my eyes. “Owen Booth no longer has any psychic powers,” I said, just as flatly. “You guys are free to do whatever else it is you do.”

David sent the info along. Amanda nudged me through the bond. I didn’t feel anything else. It was just a nudge. I focused on her, since I supposed she wanted my attention.

“Undo whatever it is you did to yourself, Caleb,” she thought. “I understand why you did it, but it’s over now. You did good; now go back to normal.”

For a moment, I considered simply not doing so. There was no good reason. I was clear, focused, and completely unburdened. Then, something triggered. I wasn’t surprised. I’d set it up for myself. A memory of James popped into my head.

“This is the first step towards being on the bad side of the agency, Caleb,” he said. “You need your emotions. You’re not powerful enough to take on the whole world. Game it out.”

I did just that, and quickly surmised that James was correct. Odds were, I’d lose my friends and lovers due to my personality shift, depriving me of vital allies. I’d start doing things that would garner negative attention and responses. While I’d likely be able to manage a web of secrets, lies, and even Compulsion for a period of time, eventually, the superior resources of the division – let alone the entire world – would overwhelm me, and I’d be neutralized.

I stopped suppressing my emotions. For a fraction of a second, I was suspended between non-feeling and feeling. I braced for the flood.

Amanda was right there, through the bond, helping me through it. I felt nervousness, a fear of failure, intense outrage at Owen Booth, a surge of righteousness that he’d been stopped, and pride that I’d been pivotal in doing so. I also remembered that I loved Amanda – and Mary, and Jules – profoundly, and that became my anchor.

“Aw, I love you too,” Amanda thought, and she used her Empathy more masterfully than I’d ever before witnessed. She helped separate the emotions from each other, then helped me feel and process them one by one - and quickly enough so that Special Agent Spencer didn’t even think anything was odd, just that I’d taken a few minutes to collect myself. She didn’t suppress or overwhelm any of the emotions, either. She let them all have their moments. She only regulated their intensity enough so that I didn’t feel compelled to act on any of them recklessly, and so that my physical responses to them weren’t so extreme.

“You’re really good at that,” I sent to her. I was a bit exhausted, but otherwise no worse for the wear.

“Thanks, lover,” she thought back happily.

David got some more messages through his earpiece, and he smiled. “And that’s that,” he said. “Subject is in custody. Too shocked to even put up a fight. We even swapped agents out to give him the full ‘Men In Black’ experience for the arrest – and so that those two other poor bastards could get out of costume sooner.”

“There are others,” I choked out. The emotions that Amanda had helped me with suddenly resurfaced as I voiced what I had seen. “Others he controlled, maybe raped too. They need help as well.”

David nodded somberly. “I guessed there would be. He obviously found himself a rich feeding ground, and was too lazy or too stupid to think he would ever get caught. ‘Wild’ power users often think that they are the only ones, and that their power makes them invincible. They don’t seem to consider that a fifty-cal bullet can’t be compelled, or that agencies exist that could easily put them down with one.”

I gazed at him, wondering if that was a not-so-veiled warning to me.

“We can’t just go in there, Caleb,” he continued, “and start ‘helping’ those people. It would give the entire game away. Our protocol is to release the story that he was arrested for using drugs to commit assaults, and invite anyone that thinks they may have been affected to come forward. Then we can help them.”

“Won’t the hospital try and hush it up?” I asked. “For all we know, he could have raped patients too.”

“And in all likelihood he did,” he answered, “but we can only do what we can do. We took him off the streets, and prevented him from attacking anyone else. We will get help for anyone who asks for it; others will seek help in their own way. That’s the best we can do, given our resources.”

I wanted to argue further - to say that we should turn him inside out and get the names of everyone he assaulted and track them down to offer help - but then reality kicked in. His final comment about resources echoed in my head. It was all about money, and I wasn’t so naive that I believed I could ever change that. I sighed, disappointed that we couldn’t do more.

“Take the win, Caleb,” he said, seeing my mood deflate. “You did a great job. I must say, having somebody extra-powerful on the team is a real plus. That was quick and easy, with zero exposure, and we didn’t even have to drug up. I’ll make sure the guys know that you’re to thank for that. When they’re eating regular dinners tonight and not hanging out near their toilet bowls, they’ll definitely be thinking of you.”

“Talking of dinner,” said Amanda, “I’m starved. Can we go home and eat now?”

David and I both chuckled. Still, it was hard for me to believe it was already over, and that it had been so simple. Intellectually, it made perfect sense. It just didn’t feel right, for lack of a better word. It felt like there should be more to it. I said as much to Special Agent Spencer.

He nodded again. “I get it,” he said. “There was more to it, both before and after your bit. That’s what working on a team – especially an experienced, well-oiled machine like ours – is all about. Everybody does their part. Nobody gets to feel like an out-and-out superhero, sure, but nobody has to deal with the drawbacks of being one either. We all get to go home tonight, and without any injuries, scars, or even headaches and upset stomachs. That’s a big win, Caleb, and you were part of it.

“And, as you get more training,” he offered, “you’ll get to see those other bits, and maybe even help out with them. We’ll get to find out if also have magical warrant-application-drafting powers.” Then he leaned in conspiratorially. “If you do, though, you might want to pretend you don’t. You don’t want to get stuck being the best guy for that job. You’ll never see fieldwork again.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” I said.

“Well, that’s just Office Politics One-Oh-One,” he said casually, leaning away again. “Never be the guy who’s the best at the boring jobs, unless you’re a freak who actually loves them. If you are, no judgments. Something tells me you’re not, though.”

“Probably not,” I admitted, “but who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise myself.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Okay, time to get you guys home. You’re not quite old enough for post-collar beers yet.”

I was a little disappointed by that, but I was also looking forward to being back together with all three of my girls. David let the rest of the team know that he was breaking off, and for the rest of the short drive back to our house, only a few bits of small talk interrupted the comfortable silence.

******

We were surprised to find Dianna sitting in the kitchen when we got home. She had brought pizza, and the others were tucking in lustily. They had saved us some.

Jules ran to us and hugged us both. I realized the anxiety I had felt earlier had been hers.

“Caleb,” Dianna began, “Amanda, Mary, Jules too. You all did great today. Not only did you prevent a child from becoming a predator, but you also took down another predator. I got word that when they searched that security guard’s home, they found a lot of stuff in his safe that he really didn’t want found. I’m not going to go into it because we are eating, but suffice it to say, he will be going away for a very long time. As you and Amanda already know, Owen Booth is likewise in custody.

“You seem to have made an impression on a certain police officer too,” Dianna said. “Thanks to that collar, both her and her partner are being bumped up and taken off mall patrol. They are being put on the street, and they are really very happy about it. By the way, she is twenty-three and currently single.”

I glanced at the twins and saw they were both smiling at me. I still hadn’t got used to that concept.

At that point my phone beeped: an unknown number.

_you delivered for us. I thought you were bullshitting but he really did have a safe, the combination was the first four digits as you said. I owe you one…. Debs.

_one what?

_one of whatever your girlfriends will let me give you.

_give me, or us?

_us? 4 on one? That’s a little one sided

_3 on you. Can you handle that?

_only If I can bring my cuffs and nightstick.

_If you think they will help you.

_Ill def be in touch.

I showed my phone to the twins, and Amanda purred.

Mary just grinned. “What was it Steve said? ‘Kid, you got game.’”

After dinner, Dianna left. The girls and I settled into the living room to watch television. Josh and Louise were having some personal time, so they were in their room. They had been all over each other since our sharing. Feeling their love for each other had really boosted them.

“Caleb,” Mary said. “We need to talk.”

I looked at her nervously, but then I decided to jump out in front. I momentarily ignored Mary, and turned to Amanda. I put on my best ‘woman about to drop the hammer on a man’ tone. “Amanda, we need to talk.”

Amanda gave me a goofy grin, then playfully batted at my shoulder. “Mary’s trying to be very serious right now, Caleb, so stop being a pest,” she said, feigning exasperation. Suddenly, I felt much less nervous about her twin.

“Okay,” I said, raising my hands in surrender. I regarded Mary. “Mary, my love, the floor is yours.”

Mary shook her head, smiling. “I can only hope I rub off on you as quickly as she does,” she said. “It’s nothing bad, honestly. We just we need to get you up to speed on some things.”

“Okay,” I said, “but can you tell me from in here?” I pulled them both to me in a hug.

They settled in, one on each side, as I sat on the couch. I raised my eyebrow at Jules, and she curled up on my knee, head on my chest. I sighed in contentment.

“Right,” I said. “I’m ready for anything. Hit me.”

“You know when you asked if we needed money?” Amanda asked. “Earlier today?”

“It’s not a problem,” I said. “I’m sorry if I put you on the spot. I swear, I’m not trying to show off or anything.”

Mary leaned in and kissed me, gently silencing me. I took the hint.

“We don’t need money,” said Mary when she broke the kiss. “I know that Grams told you what happened to our parents.”

“They died in a plane crash when you were two?” I said, and she nodded.

“What she didn’t tell you was that the cause of the crash was deemed to be negligent maintenance by the airline. We got involved in a class action lawsuit. The airline settled on one point two million dollars for each family member lost.”

“So, you got two point four million dollars?”

“Each,” Amanda said. “A bit less after lawyer’s fees. I think we ended up with three point eight million between us.”

“Well okay then,” was all I could think to say.

Amanda smiled and kissed my cheek. “We know you weren’t trying to strut, lover boy,” she said. “You were just being kind to people you love. Hopefully, you’ll accept that we’re doing the exact same thing when we tell you that what’s ours is yours. If you need anything, that money is available. We were going to transfer some to you soon anyway, so we were going to have to have this conversation.”

I looked at them both. “Girls,” I said, trying to think how to navigate the minefield, “everything I need, I have right here. I don’t need any more money, and that money is yours, from your parents. I can’t take that from you. I love you and I really do appreciate the offer, but I have all that I need.”

I could see Amanda was going to object, but Mary silenced her with a look.

“Let’s call it an emergency fund, then,” she offered. “Don’t use it unless the need is real and dire, but let’s make sure it’s there. I guess the only advice I might offer is, don’t give it all away to the first orphan or homeless person you meet on the job.”

“It’s for you, too, Kitten,” Amanda said, softly stroking Jules’ hair, “and it doesn’t have to be an emergency fund for you unless you feel the same as Caleb about it.”

Jules raised her head, regarding the twins for a moment.

“Thank you,” she said. Then she reached up and put her fingers to Mary’s face before drawing her down for a tender kiss. Amanda was next, and finally, it was my turn. It wasn’t a passionate kiss; it was just a gentle, genuine expression of love.

When it was done, Jules sighed contentedly and then rested her head on my chest again. “Caleb,” she said from her position on my chest. “We need to talk.”

“Man, they’re really running interference for you tonight, huh?” I sent to Amanda.

“Yup, girl power to the max,” she replied.

“Okay,” I sighed. “What did I do?”

“You’re treating me like a child,” Jules said.

“What?” I asked, confused. “How?”

“I don’t mean that you are talking down to me, or telling me what to do,” she clarified, looking up at me, “but every time your body reacts to something - when you get an erection - you push me away, like you would a child. It’s like you think it will burn me or something.”

“I just didn’t…”

“Caleb,” she said, interrupting me, “I thought you would get the message the other night, when I gave you the hand job. I am not afraid of it, or of you. I don’t want you thinking of me as a child, because one day I am going to want a baby, and, even though sex doesn’t do it for me, I’d much rather have you fuck me than be on the receiving end of some doctor’s turkey baster.”

I did the jaw-dropping thing again.

“I shied away from things like that with others,” she continued, “because I didn’t trust that they wouldn’t try to force me into something I didn’t want to do. I never loved anyone enough to do what I did with you the other night, and I enjoyed it – not sexually, but as a gift from one lover to another. Seeing you happy makes me happy. I love seeing you that way, and making you feel good – all of you.

“I’m not asking to be included in all your play,” she clarified. “It’s not really a game I am cut out for, but I’m happy to watch from the touchline, and maybe, occasionally join in when the need arises, or when I get the itch.”

I realized that she was right. In my mind, I had classified her as a child. It was how I viewed her when I was washing her in the shower. There were no sexual feelings, just feelings of love, as I would have for a younger sibling, or maybe how I thought I might view my own child. I had felt uncomfortable later when she had done what she’d done, and I finally understood the reason for it.

I could see how damaging that could be to our future relationship, especially if, as she said, she wanted us to have a baby - although that was going to be a discussion in and of itself.

“I’m sorry Jules,” I said. “I guess you are right. I guess it stemmed from the example I gave you the night I asked you to join us.”

“The step-daughter?” she asked.

I nodded.

“I suspected as much,” she said. “I know this is all new to you Caleb, and you girls too, being with someone that isn’t interested in sex.

“Believe it or not, your body will eventually get the message,” she said, looking at me again, “and stop reacting when you see me naked. The human body doesn’t like to waste resources, and once it figures out that pumping that thing up when I’m around is a waste of time, it will give up.

“I’ll try and do better,” I said, “and thank you for talking to me about it. I’m sorry I made you feel like that.”

She snuggled down into my chest again.

We heard the scream even through the closed door.

I caught Louise’s thought and grinned, passing it onto Mary and Amanda. I didn’t think Jules would be interested.

“Damn,” said Amanda, “I can’t believe she did it before I got to.”

“What?” asked Jules, lifting her head once again.

“Josh just opened up Louise’s back door,” I said. “I think she rather liked it.”

Jules wrinkled her nose. I laughed and kissed the end of it.

She smiled. “Should I go start another project?” she asked.

“Not tonight,” I said. “After what we saw today, I’m not sure any of us are really in the mood for anything other than being close, and for that, we need you right where you are.

“But you and I still need to talk, Amanda,” I said.

Mary’s hackles raised immediately. Amanda was right there, physically and through the bond, reassuring her that it was nothing too serious.

“It’s fine,” Amanda said breezily. “Caleb is about to tell me that I took quite a lot of liberties today with my powers. He and I had a difference of perspective, and it made him, shall we say, especially sensitive to just how much nudging and soothing and smoothing-over I was doing for – or to, if you want to be snitty – a family in a tough spot.”

“Not exactly,” I said.

“Not exactly?” she echoed, cocking her head to the side.

“I realized something today,” I began, “that had never even occurred to me before. I guess once again I was caught up in my own hubris. I had kind of given each power I have a rank, with Compulsion being at the top.

“I guess there is a slight excuse because that is the power that everyone seems to be so terrified of me using, so I ranked them Compulsion, TK, and Telepathy, with Empathy being at the bottom, almost as a sub-power of Telepathy.

“I dismissed Empathy - almost discarded it as a useless power, for me at least, since I had the others. But in doing that, I also belittled the power itself - your power - and forgot just how powerful and effective it could be when used by someone who really understands it.

“You showed me that today. You showed me just how powerful Empathy could be. And Amanda, I am so grateful to you for how you used it to help me - but we’re bonded, and you know that I welcome that kind of help from you, and from Mary. I know you have that power, and I’m able to sense when you’re using it on me.

“With the Vardys, though,” I continued, “I finally saw how easy it would be for a skilled Empathy user to get basically anything they wanted just by manipulating people’s emotions – the emotions of people who have no idea what’s happening to them or why. It made me uncomfortable. You made Becky feel remorse at exactly the right moment, when she might not have felt it then, or at all. You nudged them all away from negative emotions and towards positive ones otherwise, and it almost certainly affected how they interacted with each other. Even with Mary-Beth, sure, you helped her be less afraid, which eased her suffering, but if somebody had slipped her a sedative without her knowledge to get the same effect, they’d have been committing an out-and-out crime.

“That leaves me with some questions, and I don’t know if there are any good answers. Firstly, what happens tomorrow, or the next day, when they’re still struggling, and you are not there to push them in the direction you wanted them to go? Will that cause even more problems? Given that we just told them about mental powers, will they realize that they were manipulated and react badly to that?

“Secondly, and more importantly, how is what you did different from Compulsion? It’s not as brutal, certainly, but it all boils down to the same thing. You forced them into doing or thinking something against their will. I know it was done with love. I know that because I know you to be the most loving and caring person anyone would ever want to meet. But love is not enough of a reason to take someone’s free will away from them.

“We all have the same problem,” I continued, pulling both the twins in tighter. “We want to help, and we have the powers to be able to do things that others just can’t do. But that surely doesn’t give us the right to impose our will, our beliefs, our ‘happily ever after’ on others, does it?”

I looked into Amanda’s eyes, where tears were brimming. I felt horrible, like I’d kicked a puppy. I knew that she had felt proud of herself, of how she thought she had helped the family, and I was turning it on its head.

“Amanda, I love you so much,” I said, “and I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything I did today without you. You were incredible, but I think you – and even Mary, sometimes – are a bit too convinced that love, peace, understanding, and, sorry for the pun, empathy, are such good causes that they can excuse pretty much anything.

“I’m not telling either of you how to use your powers,” I said, even though that wasn’t completely honest. It never could be. “I guess I’m just asking you to ask yourself those questions too.”

I reached out with my own Empathy, surrounding all of us with love, trust, and forgiveness.

“Still a little too much horny,” said Mary, smiling.

“Come on,” I said. “Look who I have in my arms. Can you blame me?”

Amanda giggled through her tears, and I kissed her gently. Then she tucked her head into my shoulder.

I closed my eyes, feeling like shit.

“She needed to hear it,” Mary thought to me, “and you couldn’t have been any gentler. Sometimes love means guiding people to do the right thing. I know I have some medicine to take too. I’m not going to blame the twin bond, Amanda, ‘Empath instinct,’ or anything else. I have to be better.”

I rested my head against Mary’s, allowing my mind to wander, recalling the day’s events. I guessed we were all doing the same thing. I could feel emotions ebbing and flowing through the bond. I concentrated on Amanda’s, trying to sense how badly I had hurt her, and I sensed that although she was upset, I hadn’t devastated her. She seemed to be examining her actions, and I felt a mental wince at something she had seen. Whether it was something she’d done, or something someone else had done because of her power, I couldn’t tell.

Jules shifted. “I’m going to bed,” she said.

I smiled at her. “Can we come?” I asked, and she smiled back, standing up and holding out her hand to me. I relinquished my hold on Mary and took it. Jules then held her other hand out to Amanda, who smiled and accepted it I felt Amanda’s spirits lift. I was glad about that.

With my other hand I helped Mary up. We went into the bedroom, saw to our nighttime routine, and settled down to sleep. Amanda was cuddled up against me, with Mary spooning her from behind. Jules was on my other side, so the two girls were face to face across my chest.

Jules leaned forward slightly and kissed Amanda. “Good night, my love.”

“Good night.”
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