Conflict Resolution

Part Thirty: Another Warm Day in May

by Scalar7th

Tags: #another_day_at_the_office #any/all #multiple_partners #romance #superhero #urban_fantasy #bondage #comic_book #D/s #enchanting_voice #exhibitionism #scifi #socialism #villainy

Two weeks have passed since the conflict on the docks. What are Sterling and the other fugitives up to?

About seventy miles inland from Port City, USA

A warm day in late May

A run-down motel built into a hillside

A very old man in faded jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt sits on the porch, finishing a cup of coffee. He looks like he's missing something; even though he quit smoking thirty years ago or more, his hand still reaches for the pack he's not carrying in his pocket.

Spenser looks at the empty parking lot and sighs. He'd been running the motel when his parents had retired over five decades ago, and he'd been doing much of the caretaking work before that. The same year, the coal mine up the road had closed, dooming the village that had grown up around it, and five years later, the main highway was built into Port City, all but eliminating traffic on the rough road that goes by his property. Since then, the operation had struggled to turn much of a profit. The village dwindled, and for a while existed as something of a local attraction—camp sites, hiking trails, fishing spots, for which Spenser had run the only public lodging available that didn't require sleeping on the ground—but all of those things existed closer to the city and on much less rough roads.

He had closed the restaurant ten years after the mine went, and the coffee shop and convenience store ten years after that.

Still, the motel limped along, helped for a while by its reputation as a safe place for a certain sort of clientele who might like to gather far from the prying eyes of the city. Which only stood to reason; both the proprietor and his wife had what were then called 'unusual proclivities.'

Helen. He reminisces briefly. She first came to the motel with her mother and aunt with she was six. Their husbands both worked the mine, and that summer the sisters had decided to spend their time nearby instead of in the city. Helen had been absolutely bored and had spent much of her summer following around the then-sixteen-year-old son of the owners as he did his rounds, cleaning and cooking and doing the light maintenance work he was tasked with. She was welcome company, even at her young age, and mostly kept quiet, but they'd often talk about her school, or her friends and family, or they would play I Spy, or when he had a break they might pull out a pack of cards for a round of Go Fish or Concentration. Spenser taking his time to entertain Helen was appreciated by her family, and since her mother and her aunt were guests of note, with healthy bank accounts, his parents were quite willing to accommodate a little shirking of normal duties.

They had come back frequently over the next few years, as the world had changed, as his parents had stepped back from running the place more and more. When she was seventeen, and he twenty-seven and more or less in charge the place, she was the first to learn his secret. Two years later, the summer after his parents had retired, when she had run away from home and had come to the only place she thought she might be safe, he had learned hers. She had been caught with a classmate from finishing school, and her parents had issued an ultimatum; instead, she had fled with only the clothes on her back, trusting a cab driver (whose fare Spenser paid without question) to get her to the motel. When she'd never had an interest in men, her parents had assumed that she was merely a late bloomer. Instead, it seemed that Helen's lack of interest in men was born from the same place in her heart as Spenser's lack of interest in women was in his.

Still, they did love each other, in their way. They married, because that was how you maintained respectability. Her parents calmed down some; it was easier for them to accept that she'd held a years-long secret crush on the kid from the vacation spot than it was to even consider that word, lesbian, back then. But word did get around in those circles, and the little motel on a road to nowhere became a haven for people who wanted to take a quiet vacation with a "friend" where no one would ask any questions and the odds of running into someone from home who didn't know the real you was essentially nil. It meant income in a time where there otherwise wouldn't be much, so Spenser and Helen encouraged it as much as possible.

They'd made love just once, on the night of the wedding—it had seemed appropriate to both of them—but that one time had been enough for a pregnancy. Their Lucy had been a perfect child in every way, even living so far from the city and a community of children. Like her mother, she had bright red hair, an endlessly cheerful disposition, and a wildly curious mind, and like her mother, she'd gone ahead, after the same forty years, from the same weak heart. Spenser maintains a great relationship with his son-in-law and three grandsons, all of whom were grown now with kids of their own. The oldest of his great-grandchildren was some sort of genius with computers, studying at Bayside College, with all kinds of scholarships from everywhere, including the Bright Society, apparently.

Maybe, he thinks, it'll be worth putting in a call to the family this afternoon before dinner. It's nice to catch up. And maybe they'd like to make plans to visit in the summer. Sure there isn't much to do around here, but spending some time with the lonely patriarch is still considered something of a nicety. His son-in-law still says that the he's the only person who cooks as good as Lucy could, which makes sense since he's the one who taught her everything she knew.

"Well, Helen," he says to himself. She's been gone a long time, but he still talks to her every day. "I guess it's about time to pack it in, you reckon?"

She doesn't answer him. She never does.

"Barely had a guest all winter. Savings are next to nothing. If the summer's a usual summer, won't have the money to survive into the new year anyway."

Thrilled as he is that people like him and his late wife could find acceptance in the world now, it meant that there wasn't the same need for a safe place like he'd offered in the past—and there were more of them, besides, and nicer, and closer to the city, and not up such rough roads. Still, he'd rather go bankrupt a hundred times than go back into the closet.

"Doubt anyone'll buy the place. Prob'ly I just close it down and let it fall to pieces." It's already well on its way; three of the six rooms on the upper floor have leaks in the roof, two on the lowest floor can't get enough heat in the winter, and the eastmost room on the main level has a door that won't close properly and rattles like Hell in a windstorm.

He stands and puts his hands on the porch railing and sighs. For the last several years he'd been watching his old life slowly crumble around him. "Guess I'll take the boy up on his offer." 'The boy' is Lucy's widow, Oliver, who'd been 'the boy' to him since Lucy and Oliver met in sixth grade, and who always managed to find some excuse to wind up on their doorstep during summer vacations. Spenser had hired him for summer jobs for three years and hardly got any work out of either him or Lucy in those months; at the end of the third summer, both of them eighteen, they had got married in the yard. The pictures from the wedding still hang all over Spenser's little cottage. There's a standing invitation for Spenser to move in with Oliver, with the expected rent of Spenser helping out around the house as much as Oliver did during his summer jobs.

That's when the impossible happens. A car drives up.

A pretty good-looking, new, silver-and-blue luxury sedan parks in his lot. The back door opens, and Spenser immediately puts a hand to his heart to see if it's still working, and looks back to his chair to see if he's still sitting in it and it was only his spirit that had stood up. A vision from fifty years in his past steps out, looking exactly like the nineteen-year-old woman who'd stepped out of a cab in the dead of night, though dressed somewhat differently. She even rushes to the porch in the same way he remembers.

"Grandpa Spenser!" she says, though. Not what Helen would have said at all.

"Lindsay?" he manages to ask as the diminutive woman leaps up the stairs two at a time and wraps him in an embrace almost too energetic for his age. He puts his arms around his great-granddaughter. "For a moment I'd thought Helen was comin' to take me up." They separate. "You look exactly like her. Right down to the roots of your hair. It's amazing."

Lindsay grins, an expression he'd seen a lot in twenty years of marriage. "How are you?"

"Old, mostly," he says. "Holding up okay. Gettin' about ready to close up shop for good, I think."

Her smile turns mysterious. "You might want to rethink that."

Lindsay turns back to look at the car she'd arrived in, and Spenser follows her gaze. Standing next to the vehicle is a tall, athletic woman, maybe a few years older than Lindsay. At this distance, he can't make much out, but he can see the short black hair that frames he face, the grey business suit, and the brown briefcase in her left hand.

"How's she gonna make me change my mind?" Spenser asks softly.

"Just listen to her."

"I listen to everyone."

Lindsay nods. "I know. That's why I put her on to this place."

The woman starts a deliberate walk to the front of the motel. "Are you the proprietor?" she calls.

"S'pose you might call me that," he calls back. "What can I do for you?"

"Our name is Aurora North." She walks up the steps to the porch with the same calm, deliberate pace. Something about her eyes gives him pause; they're a deep, deep blue, almost violet. "We would like to rent the rooms."

"Well of course, Miss North. I'm Spenser Morden, and this is my establishment. Is it just for you, or for your driver as well?"

"Oh, no, we think you misunderstand, Mister Morden." She smiles at him, a warm, friendly smile. "We don't wish to rent a room, we wish to rent all the rooms. I trust this will not be a problem?"

He hesitates, and Lindsay giggles. "I must say, Miss North, if you're playing a joke on an old man, it's not a particularly kind one."

"No joke, grandpa," Lindsay says. "Aurora wants to rent the entire building."

"Indefinitely," the stranger adds. "Obviously, we are not to be the only occupants. The organization which we work for would like a base of operations outside of Port City, and Lindsay suggested this place, which is, from what we can see, everything she said it was."

"The organization you mention wouldn't happen to be... somewhat less than legal, would it?"

Aurora laughs, a delightful, warm sound. "The organization itself is not, but some of its operations definitely are." He notes a subtle change in the tone of voice, but he doesn't know what to make of it. "We understand that you are a landlord who knows when not to ask uncomfortable questions."

Spenser chuckles in reply. "There is a definite history in this motel of guests who wish to avoid uncomfortable questions. I know just what you're talking about, Miss North, and I can assure you of the utmost secrecy. But, ah..." He pauses a moment, and she looks at him expectantly. Something in her gaze gives him a bit of a chill, despite the warmth of the sun. "If you're so keen on being here, why not simply buy the place outright from me? I'd sell it to you, if you want, and retire."

"Ah, but if we were to do that, we would invite scrutiny that otherwise could fall elsewhere. Perhaps we might come to a rent-to-own arrangement, especially if you're looking to sell, but that would have to be discussed with the organization's lawyers; that's a little beyond me." She smiles. "We are a nurse, and a temporary negotiator, not a legal or business expert. But what we do know is the power of this." She places the briefcase on the railing and opens it.

Spenser gawks at the neatly stacked and piled bills within. More money than he'd seen in one place at any point in his life.

"We're afraid that they're not all hundreds, Mister Morden, but there's about a third of a million dollars there, and there will obviously be more coming."

"For this sort of money, Miss North, you can call me 'Spenser.'"

"We would be pleased to do that, if you'll call us 'Aurora.'" The smile radiates a warmth that the handshake does not. "We would like to stay and make preparations here, while our driver will return to bring others, if that is acceptable."

Lindsay cheers. "Alright! I'm movin' in, Grandpa!"

Spenser turns to look at his daughter's oldest son's oldest daughter. "You're... part of this criminal organization?"

It's Aurora that answers. "She is an important part of it, as are we all."

There was that odd tone again. Spenser meets those violet eyes, and a chill runs through him. "She's just family, that's all."

"We understand the importance of family, Spenser." Aurora smiles brightly. "And Lindsay is just perfect to take over the operation once you decide to retire, don't you think?"

He considers those words, turns them over in his mind. "Yes, well, that works for your organization, but what about for Lindsay?" He looks back to Lindsay. "What about your school?"

"Correspondence," she says with a shrug. "Online, once we get a good internet connection out here."

"Your folks?"

"Already happy to have me out of the house."


She grins. "I got some great friends in the organization."

He sighs. "Am I gonna hear about this at the next family reunion?"

The two women laugh at the question. "Can we take that as acceptance of our offer, then, Spenser?"

"I suppose you can, Aurora."

"Wonderful. We'll send the driver back for the others, then you can show us the rooms."

Just outside Port City

A well-used hidden cottage, formerly the property of Julian and Nataszia Grey

12:02 PM

Three young women sit together at the small lunch table, with a collection of sandwich fixings between them.

None of them wear any clothing.

"I'm going to miss this, I admit," Sharon says. "There's something really liberating about just... being naked, you know?"

"Around friends," Crystal adds.

"Since when the fuck are any of us friends?" Tanya asks. "Thanks to the boss, we're all goddamn bedmates at this point."

Crystal giggles. "Doesn't mean you two aren't my friends, too."

"Was hoping I was more'n that at least. Jesus."

Crystal leans over and kisses Tanya full on the lips. "You definitely are."

Tanya smiles smugly across the table at Sharon. "See? She's mine."

Sharon giggles. "Oh yeah, no worries. Sterling, Aurora, Lindsay, and me, we're all just casually fucking her."

"Don't forget it." Tanya stands up and gives Crystal a much deeper kiss.

"I don't think there's anything casual around here," Crystal says when she gets a moment to breathe.

"Except the nudity."

"Yeah, I guess." The sports star strokes her girlfriend's hair. "You still won't let Sterling touch you, though."

"My one failing as a fucking minion, I'm not the pansexual hottie the rest of you have turned into." Tanya sighs happily and climbs into Crystal's lap. "At least the brainfucker has that much respect for my boundaries."

Crystal laughs, moving to caress her lover's chest. "What other boundaries do you have?"

"Well I used to think I would be a one-woman gal, but..."

Sharon grins. "Aurora kinda disabused you of that one, huh."

"Holy shit, that girl."


Crystal rubs Tanya's cheek, and the small hacker purrs. "Two weeks in a place without much entertainment, limited electricity, poor cell signal... Have to do something to keep from going crazy."

"Sex is good for that," Sharon agrees.

Tanya turns on Crystals lap to face the table. "Speaking of the brainfucker, is he coming down for lunch?"

"Given how long Aurora and Lindsay were up there with him this morning, I'll be surprised if he makes it down before sunset."

"Then I'm gonna get myself another sandwich, and if we run out of bread, that's his problem."

Crystal rubs Tanya's shoulders. "Now how is that good minion talk?"

"Oh shut the fuck up, I'm his minion, not his goddamn mother. He can get his own meals."

Crystal and Sharon laugh as Tanya starts buttering bread.

Sterling watches the three of them joking and laughing from the doorway, invisible to their minds. None of the three of them notice that Tanya brings him 'her' sandwich.

The first day there, they'd hashed everything out, spent hours telling and retelling stories, discussing possibilities, working out their futures. Then they had asked him to leave the room, which he did, and didn't even eavesdrop on them as they talked amongst themselves for over an hour. Instead, he'd prepared supper while the five women chatted in an upstairs bedroom.

It was Tanya that had come down to talk to him.

"Okay, fucker, here's the deal," she'd said. "We know we're here a while. Three of them up there want you real bad, Christ knows why, and Crystal's fine to get down too, she says. So we all agreed that you can do whatever you like in our minds."

"All of you?" he'd asked, a little incredulous.

"Don't ask what the fuck got into me, but yeah, we're all," she put heavy emphasis on the word, "okay with you playing in our minds. This," she waves a hand indicating herself, "you do not touch."

"I don't," he'd agreed. And then asked, "I don't?"

She'd blushed, then, and that was all the answer he'd needed.

"Take the others a message, then, minion," he'd said with a grin, "and let them know that I agree to their terms, and also that dinner is in two minutes."

She'd rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, we all know that last bit, we can smell the meat cooking and we're all goddamn hungry. I'll go do your evil bidding, sir."

And from there the six of them had proceeded to have the just about the best two weeks he could imagine having. The newly-christened Aurora North, a name that garnered unanimous approval when Crystal came up with it, was granted the same latitude with her own growing and changing powers. Psilocyber, meanwhile, was not, which she jokingly complained about but understood; her nanobots are resource-intensive and unpredictable, and getting either Silver Tongue or Aurora North high with potential victims around was deemed a major potential danger.

Temporarily removing Psilocyber from Lindsay's mind—with her permission—had been the first order of business after dinner that night. Temporarily removing Psilocyber from everyone else's memory was the second.

Tanya returns to the table to make herself a second second sandwich as Sterling bites into the one she'd thought she made for herself. He enjoys watching the women interact without their conscious awareness, and has spent a fair bit of time doing it when not otherwise occupied. The "loser gets frozen" game of Strip Poker where none of the five remembered his existence at all had been particularly delightful.

It's only too bad that Devon would be returning in half an hour to take the three of them to the new residence. New rules will have to be established, especially because it's not just going to be the six of them anymore. The owner, surely, won't be too happy to have his young great-granddaughter wandering around in the buff, or participating in some of the activities she'd been engaging in for the past while, and in time, if all goes to plan, there will be work crews, and finally a group of people living and doing PCDCC business out of that motel. New rules will be not just important, but necessary for the smooth functioning of the operation.

Eighteen rooms in the middle of nowhere without a whole lot of connection to the outside world...

Rules will absolutely be necessary.

He finishes the sandwich and starts paying attention to the scene unfolding in front of him. The laughter and casual teasing had continued, along with the making of sandwiches and nibbling on vegetables.

After the latest round of amusement, Crystal speaks up, a bit tentatively. "I... still think I might have some problems with the whole mind-controlling thing."

"Yeah, don't we all," Tanya replies sharply.

"No, I mean really. When I had the inducer..." Crystal sighs. "I didn't really like using it. It brought up all kinds of weird... moral twists in my stomach, you know? And if I have a moral problem with it all then... well, I have a moral problem with him, and honestly, I like him, so..."

Sharon nods and bites the end of a carrot stick. "Yeah, I guess just you and Aurora have any real experience with mind control, other than Sterling himself."

"What do you think of it?"

The carpenter shrugs. "I don't get myself in knots about it. I don't think too much on those lines, y'know? I mean, when Aurora froze me, I was pissed, sure, but it wasn't because I was being frozen, it was because of who was doing it and why, you get it? You were just doing a job when you were using that thing on me."

Tanya raises a hand, pointing over her shoulder and vaguely upstairs. "But the Almighty Controller in Chief doesn't have to fuck with us for work, he's just doing it because he's a ... urgh!"

Crystal grins. "Still can't insult him, huh."

Tanya sighs dramatically. "Anyway, it's not like he has to mess with us like he has been."

"We did give him permission," Sharon points out. "And anyway, yeah, I get where you're coming from, Tan, I guess it's a bit weird, but I don't really mind what he does, because it's him, and because of what he does with it. He's never hurt me, and... well, I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun this month if not for his mind controlling."

"Yeah, I guess. I did see what Flamehammer did to Angel, how bad he messed with her just because he wanted a loyal soldier and a good lay."

"It's almost like what matters is how you use something, not what you're using," Sharon replies sarcastically.

"Shut it, dockie."

Sharon laughs, then looks over to Crystal more sympathetically. "I would bet that those loops your stomach did were more about what you had to do with the mind control, than with the mind control itself. If I were a psychiatrist I'd probably say something about projection or something, but I don't know. Maybe Sterling does."

"Yeah," Tanya adds, "like you had to do some terrible and conflicting stuff with that inducer so you started to think that everything done with the inducer was terrible."

"Something like that."

Crystal looks thoughtful. "Yeah, I mean, it's been a good time, like a really good time, but... well.. if mind control is always bad, then Sterling is bad, and that would mean that enjoying all this is..." She shrugs, helplessly.

Sharon turns to Tanya. "How much of your anger is because it's him, specifically, that's in your head? Like, you don't seem to have the same opposition to Aurora's brain-freeze eyes."

Tanya sighs. "I just don't like powers. I just don't fucking like it, no matter who it is. But... but yeah, fuck, I admit it, Aurora's eyes don't bug me as much as..." She frowns. "I guess it's less what and how than who and why."

"What about me?" Crystal jumps in. "When I had the inducer, what if... I mean I did, but... what if I used it more?"

"Nope. I'm not having that hypothetical discussion." Tanya puts her left hand on the table and raises her right hand as if swearing on the Bible in court. "I accept that my worldview is skewed, biased, and fucking inconsistent, and I understand that no one will ever be satisfied with it, so help me God."

The three of them have a good laugh, and Sterling can't help but join in.

Sharon turns to look at the clock on the kitchen wall. "Whoops, time flies where you're sharing stories with naked friends. I'll go wake up the boss, we should get ready to go." She gets up from the table and moves towards the staircase by the entrance.

Sterling intercepts her. "Sharon," he says to her softly, "sit on the couch and let your mind go to sleep."

She nods, walks over to the couch, and slumps slightly. Her eyes unfocus and fall half-closed.

Tanya and Crystal start packing up lunch. There's a bit of an uneasy silence. Tanya breaks it with a pat on Crystal's bare ass, which earns her a "Hey!" of joking complaint.

"Hey, I uh, fuck, I gotta say..." Tanya takes a deep breath. "Look, I didn't mean anything by... Damn it, I wasn't expecting you to... Everything's just so compli—"

She's cut off by Crystal leaning down to kiss her. "Shush."


They finish packing up the remnants of lunch before Crystal speaks. "Now, what did you want to tell me?"

Tanya sighs. "That the thought of you pulling a fucking subsonic inducer on me and zapping my brain into pure goddamn obedience makes me wetter than a fucking rainstorm, alright? Jesus Christ, I'm so messed up."

Crystal kisses her again. "Maybe there's some room for discussion?"

"I fuckin' hope so." She looks straight at Sterling and doesn't see him; still, the effect is a little startling for the supervillain. "I love being a minion, I hate that I love it, and... gah, I don't know."

Crystal wraps Tanya up from behind and rests her chin on Tanya's head, her hands holding Tanya's wrists. "We'll have a long time to talk about it."

"Rest of our lives, probably." Tanya spins around and presses herself against Crystal's front. "We should go up and get dressed."

"All of you," Sterling commands, "will go dress, and none of you will notice anything unusual about me already being down here and already prepared to leave."

Sharon stands up, nods, and turns towards the stairs. Crystal and Tanya both mutter "Yes," and follow her.

He sits in the kitchen chair Crystal recently vacated, looking thoughtfully at the front door. His powers have truly had a workout over the past while and it makes him feel... Strong. Young. Powerful. And more than that. Exciting. Desirable. Certainly the latter; he's been very clearly desired by four of the other five occupants of the cottage. He had left Tanya alone, as per her request, at least bodily, and it wasn't like she lacked for company, between her friends, her lover, and the energetic wildcard of Lindsay Grant, with whom she had shared interests outside of sex.

He wonders, idly, if he'll ever again have an opportunity like he's had this past while. It doesn't really matter, he supposes. This has been incredible, and if it never happens again that doesn't diminish the wonder that it was.

He smiles. Of course, there's Aurora. She's not going anywhere. He's helping her hone the power of that thought-freezing gaze she's developed, helping her to learn the language of mind control. He remembers, the night before, staring into those beautiful violet irises and hearing her words, resonating through his chilled cognition, that she would not leave him. And then, whispering the same into her mind as she lay beside him.

It was as near a thing to a marriage as he ever expected to be a part of. Not a promise to eschew all other attachments, but a promise to be attached to one another, regardless of other attachments.

Rousing him from his reminiscences, the three women come down the stairs with their bags on their shoulders just as there is a knock at the door.

"Is it unlocked?" Sharon, in work clothes, asks from halfway between the floors.

"I think so," Sterling replies, not getting up.

And in fact, the door opens, and it's not Devon standing there reading to drive the women to the all-but-abandoned motel nearly an hour up the road, but a smartly-dressed, dark-skinned Hispanic woman, about Sterling's age.

"Elena," Sterling says, rising to his feet. "What brings you here?"

"I figured one more supply drop trip before you all left," Elena replies with a laugh. "No, I thought you might want some help cleaning up."

Tanya snorts. "I bet."

"I also thought I might get an exclusive interview with a supervillain for the Crier."

"There we go, that sounds a lot more likely."

"Well," Crystal says, taking Tanya's hand, "I think it's a good time to talk a little walk."

Sharon nods. "Oh, for sure. The driver will be here soon."

"Oh, fine," Tanya grumbles. "See you when you get to the thing."

"Yeah, see you then, Sterling, thank you for a great time," Crystal says, leaving the cottage with Tanya.

Sharon pauses at the door and instead crosses the floor to give Sterling a deep, slow, long kiss. She takes a breath and smiles at him. "I'll pass that along to Aurora."

"Please do," Sterling says. He can feel the goofy smile on his face.

And with that, she walks out the door.

Elena gives him a look.

He grins. "I just wanted to live a quiet life," he says. "A few happy people, gathered together. Now..." He gestures at the cottage.

"It wasn't meant to be," she replies, her voice practiced, rehearsed. They've had this discussion before. "You could always retire, if you want to get away." She steps closer, letting her dress flow around her as she walks.

"And then what happens?" he asks.

"Oh yes. It's all your responsibility. They're your responsibility." She chuckles. "You wanted your own happy little family."

He nods. "For a short while, I had it."


He bites his lip, shakes his head, puts his fingers to his temples and rubs, closing his eyes. "God help me, holy Hell, I want to get back to work."

Elena laughs loudly. "Can't take the quiet?"

"Don't get me wrong, I love it, I've absolutely loved my time here, and I would absolutely love to stay here with them, but..." He sighs. "We all want to get back to work, not just me. I can tell. Tanya and Lindsay want their computers, Sharon wants to build and fix things, Crystal... I've caught her wandering the halls, checking the doors, even taking little late-night patrol walks. She needs to be protecting something or someone. And Aurora wants to help people heal, and this isn't a great place for that."

"And you?" Elena asks, now standing toe-to-toe with him.

"You want your quote? Here it is:"—his voice drops into Silver Tongue's tone and cadence naturally, easily—"I want to reshape the world, make it better for the common people, and I can no longer do that from behind the scenes, not with the ever-encroaching presence of the police and the Brights to step on the necks of the workers."

She shivers. "God, I miss that voice. Before you reshape the world—"

"Oh, don't worry, I'm about to reshape you, Elena."

And before he asks, her dress comes undone, and she's wearing only her stockings and high heels. "Oh I hope so."

Driving down the highway

A fair distance west of Port City

Two weeks later

Just after a break for lunch

Crystal drives in her borrowed car that's only a little too small for her, hand-in-hand with Tanya.

"Are we there yet?" Tanya says.

Crystal laughs. "Another few hours. Be there at suppertime. You'd think you'd be fine after being on the road for three days."

"Yeah, well, I wanna get outta this fuckin' car."

"We just got back into it."

Tanya sighs. "Okay, I admit it, I'm fuckin' nervous."

"Yeah." Crystal nods. "So am I."

"Think I'm gonna fuck it up?"

Crystal laughs. "No, I think I am. They'll love you."

"Yeah, well, they already fuckin' love you, they're your folks." Tanya actually manages to sulk.

"Tell you what," Crystal says. "If one of us fucks it up, we head out and find a nice hotel somewhere and blow the rest of my savings on whatever makes us happy."

Tanya squeezes her hand. "Deal. Now let's talk about something else. Like how nice that cornfield is or some shit."

"Those are sunflowers."

"Like I give a fuck."

Crystal laughs. Tanya laughs along with her. All seems right with the world.

Is this the end of our tale? Will Aurora happily maintain their new identity? What will happen when Tanya meets Crystal's family?

Perhaps there are answers to be found in the Epilogue!

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