The Doctor’s sister was, as it turned out, very much at home. As was the man locked in her passionate embrace. The two were in the midst of exchanging a deep, tender, and extremely private-looking kiss.
Ian’s mouth fell open.
The couple broke apart in surprise. The woman also known as Scarlett Sanchez put a hand on one hip.
Dr. Nederling ducked his head in apology. “Sorry—I just—you’d said I didn’t have to knock. I mean—I’m just—“
He crossed toward the two, pointing at the man. “When did he get here?!”
“I might ask you the same thing!” The woman did not give her lover the chance to answer. “You come to town five weeks ago and don’t stop, even once, to see your big sister?”
“I’m sorry, Rosie… but my work—“
“Always with your work!”
The man at her side spoke up in amusement. “Runs in the family.”
Rosie pressed her lips together with an acknowledging blush. “Oh, well. I suppose that’s true… Come here!”
She threw her arms around her brother and held him tightly.
“It’s good to see you too,” The young doctor grinned at the other man as his sister released him. “It’s been too long. But…I almost forgot. I suppose you’re still undercover?”
“That I am.” The man looked grim. “I shouldn’t even be here. But I couldn’t visit the city without seeing Rosie.”
“I’m very glad you did.” Ian clapped a hand to the other’s shoulder, who in turn directed a wary eye to the door. The young doctor suddenly remembered. “Oh! I beg your pardon! Ah, I would like you both to meet—“
Again the words cut off as he turned. The fireplace poker was already in Captain John’s hand.
“We’ve met.” The Captain leveled his gaze at the older man.
Felix’s brow creased. “We have?”
A ghost of understanding crossed and settled on Rosie’s face. She rounded on her brother. “I knew it! He’s a patient of yours, isn’t he?”
“Uh.” The doctor quailed beneath the fire in the eyes of his older sister. “…Maybe…”
“I knew this would happen.” She shook her head despairingly. “Oh, Ian. This isn’t like when we were children. It’s not a dog or a turtle; you can’t bring them home and nurse them back to health. This poor man needs to go back to the Hospital directly.”
“That… may be a bit of a problem…” Dr. Nederling looked back and forth between Rosie and the outstretched poker as if weighing which was worse. “He was fine until just now. Captain—look, it’s all right—please put that down—“
“As if I’m going to listen to you! Did you really think I was stupid enough to buy your little ruse? To let you lure me into a trap?”
“Ruse? Trap?!” The young doctor squeaked. “What are you talking about?”
Captain John hesitated. True enough, it would be hard to find someone less filled with guile than Dr. Nederling.
“Well, then…” He seized on the second most likely option. “You’re a pawn like myself. Bait to pull me in.”
Rosie looked indignant. “Now, wait just a minute! You’re the one who—“
“Don’t be too hard on him, dearest.” Felix interrupted. “The man is obviously sick.”
“Oh, I’m sick all right. Sick of dealing with this Collective manipulation.”
“The Collective?” Rosie’s face cleared. “I thought you looked familiar. You’re Atticus Wellington’s sidekick, aren’t you?”
“But you’re quite wrong,” She continued without acknowledging the Captain’s expression. “Felix is not part of the Collective. Why, he puts his life on the line every day by infiltrating their ranks. He’s a real hero.”
“Except he’s not real.” The Captain’s grip tightened. “He’s a dyad.”
“That’s simply ridiculous—“
“Not so ridiculous.” The dark-haired man looked sober. “I’m sorry, my love. I have a confession to make.”
The hat in his hands twisted unconsciously round, brim pulled near apart. “It was my mission, you see. I had to make them believe I was one of them. But I did it too well. By the end… I was close to losing myself. To forgetting who I was.”
Tears sprang to Rosie’s eyes. “Oh… Felix…”
The Captain’s grip did not slacken. “If your story is true… then why do you bear the dyad mark on your neck?”
“As I said.” A hint of impatience touched the spy’s tone. “I have been undercover. I do it well… they have suspected nothing. Six months a part of their hive, without no hint of the outside world. Such a thing… wears on a man.” He looked at Rosie tenderly, and took gentle hold of her hands. “I had to get out. If only for a moment. I contrived to be sent on a mission. I know I should not have taken the chance; but I had to see you.”
A convincing story; but the Captain had heard many, and many more credible. He waved the poker with deliberation.
“Take your hands off her, sir.”
Not without a grimace, Felix stepped back, raising said hands in the air. Dr. Nederling finally managed to close his jaw.
“Now, Captain…” His tone was pleading. “Why don’t we all just sit down, and talk about this?”
“He’s too far gone for talking.” His sister was impatient. “Just take that silly poker from him and make him go back to the Hospital.”
The spy gestured his raised hands. “Please, Rosie. As I said, we should show some pity. The poor man has been through a lot.”
“What do you know of it?” Captain John was aware the words came as a snarl.
“When I first infiltrated the Hive, they gave me a briefing, which, to my surprise, contained a great deal of information regarding you.” Felix spoke low, with sympathy. “Though I learned no more, this information was extensive enough. A bad lot you’ve drawn. They feed you the very thing over which you have little to no control. They push you off the edge, into madness. And then they spread the madness to your friends. The Inventive, Mr. Belvidere. I know of his reputation; I daresay madness was not too great a stretch. Mr. Ballantrae came as a bit of a surprise; or perhaps I should say, Mr. Wellington. To believe one’s mind to be invaded by a ghost is an unusual delusion; then again, I am no expert in such matters—“
He stopped. The Captain had taken a step closer. The poker’s end now held, unwavering, directly between the eyes of the spy.
“You say they told you this only when you first infiltrated the Hive? Six months ago?” Captain John’s voice turned low, with menace. “Atticus Wellington first made his appearance in Hugh’s mind just over one month ago.
…How did you know about him?”
Felix stared at the end of the poker. Something flickered in his eyes; and traveled to the corners of his lips.
Then he turned and darted toward the tiny window at the back of the room, crashing through it without pause. By the time the Captain got to the splintered pane, the dyad was already sprinting away down the street four stories below, a trail of shattered glass in his wake.
Next Week: The Morning After