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Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 02:21 pm
TITLE: Starting With A Single Step
SUMMARY: If a ship sails from sight, it doesn't mean the journey ends: it simply means the river bends...
RATING: PG-13
CHARACTERS: Kate, Helen, Ashley
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, making no money, etc.
BETAS: [livejournal.com profile] mad_maudlin and [livejournal.com profile] grav_ity
NOTES: For the [livejournal.com profile] sfaflashfic AU challenge. I had another AU idea, but I think that's best explored another day. In the meantime, I like this enough that it may very well turn into a fully-fledged AU.

Starting With A Single Step


Her memory of the day revolved around the explosion.

The flash of light came from outside, blinding even against the dirty walls of the cop shop as though all the day's light had come at once. She turned to see, although her view was hampered by the sergeant's dark bulk behind her.

Then the windows blew in, shards of glass scattering like thrown daggers, borne on a wave of heat that skimmed her cheek, marking her flesh with a single fragment's edge. Dust billowed in from the street, and Kate could hear faint screaming and the distant wail of a car alarm set off by the explosion.

She only realised everything was muffled when her mom loomed out of the sudden darkness of the office and grabbed her. Her mom's lips moved, but Kate couldn't hear what she was saying, although she seemed to be speaking loudly. Behind her, her dad reached out for them both, other policemen emerging from the deeper shadows inside the police station.

Above her, the sergeant seemed to sag even further, his square jaw clenched as he groped for the doorframe or the wall - something to hold onto.

She caught her breath then as the blood trickled down his jaw from behind his skull, dragging in a lungful of drifting dust that made her choke.

Her mom pulled her away, then, and the sergeant sagged into the waiting arms of his colleagues.

--

The hospital was full of busy people. Kate watched them scurry to and fro, their expressions anxious, and wondered if her own expression showed that same worry.

A few people gave her odd looks as she moved through the hospital corridors, obviously expecting an adult with her, but Kate had always found the trick was not to look like she was lost. Besides, her father had always said she'd been born already knowing her right hand from her left.

The Emergency waiting room more crowded than the Maternity waiting room, and Kate hesitated before joining the line of people waiting to speak to the lady at the desk. She got a few odd looks from people who seemed to be trying to work out who she was with, but she ignored them and just waited.

The lady at the desk looked blankly at her as she came up, her expression barely changing as her eyes fell on Kate.

"Excuse me?" Her mom had always told her to be polite to people so they would take her seriously. "I'm looking for Sergeant Kavanaugh."

"And who are you?"

"Kate Freelander. He saved my life and I just want to know that he's okay."

There was a footstep behind her and she turned and looked up at a young man in a checked shirt. She'd noticed him before - his shirt was ugly, and his expression looked like it might be nice if he'd smiled. "You were in the station when the explosion happened?"

"Yes. My dad said if it wasn't for the sergeant, I might be dead."

He nodded and glanced around. "And where's your dad now?"

"He's gone to see mommy and the baby. But I think there's something wrong. They wouldn't let me go in to see her."

"So you just came here?"

"He saved my life."

It wasn't quite a smile. He didn't look happy, but something in him seemed to relax. "That sounds like my dad."

"Oh, is he your dad? Is he okay?"

"Yeah. Sergeant Mick Kavanaugh. I'm Joe, by the way. And I don't know if he's okay. Like your mom and you, they won't let me in to see him."

Kate hadn't expected this. While she thought about what to do next, Joe got to his feet and held out his hand. "Tell you what, we'll get you back to your dad, and if I hear anything about my dad, I'll come around and let you know."

"Okay." But Kate didn't take his hand. She wasn't some little kid who needed to be led around! "It's back this way."

As she started back off along the corridor, she heard something that might have been a smothered laugh behind her.

--

It wasn't a good family dinner. Thad was whining - he could be such a brat when he set his mind to it - and her mom had that anxious look again.

Kate put her spoon down and stared, the makhani daal suddenly bitter in her mouth. "But I don't want to go back to India!"

Her whole life was here - everything she remembered, everything she knew. She didn't see why she had to give it up just because her dad had gotten nervous again.

"Look," he said, glancing at her mom, "it's just for a few months. To see how things go. We haven't been back in years, your mom and I, and we think it'd be good for you and Thad..."

"You mean you think it'd be good for you!"

Another look was exchanged between her parents. But this time it was her mother who spoke. "Your father has never been comfortable staying in this country since Chicago..."

"That was eight years ago! Besides, they haven't made an attempt on us since California!"

"Then we've been fortunate," said her mom. "Thad, I know you don't like the lentils..."

"I want McDonalds!"

"...but if you don't eat it up, there won't be sweets."

"McDonalds rots your brain." Kate snapped. "Not that you had one to start with!"

"Kate!"

"And I don't want to go to India! Not even for a few months." Because Kate knew all about 'a few months' - Mohsina's parents had said 'a few months' and that had been two years ago. Sure, this would be for 'a few months' and the next thing, she'd have missed all her junior year and then her senior... "Can't I stay here while you go back with Thad? I could stay with Nadi..."

"If she's going to stay, I want to stay, too!"

"Yeah, like anyone would put up with you!"

"In that flat?" Her dad was getting angry now, his shoulders tensing up. "Just you and her and - what was it you said? 'The pong of spices in everything?'"

"Well, it is," Kate insisted, although her cheeks were getting hot. Maybe it wasn't the nicest thing to say about the old lady downstairs, but her apartment did have a pong to it. And it stunk out the hallway, too. "But if it's only for a few months..."

"Nobody's staying behind," said her mother, all anxiety gone now, her voice steely. "Everyone goes."

"Listen to your mother." Her father said. "And eat your dinner. You're getting skinny again, Kate - are you starving yourself? It's not good for you..."

"I'm not skinny! And I'm not starving myself! I'm angry that you've decided all this without me!" She put her head in her hands with a grimace to stare that the marbled plastic of the table, her eyes blurring with tears that she wouldn't let fall in front of her parents.

"Is it that Kavanaugh boy?"

The blur of the tabletop under her bowl suddenly sharpened and she lifted her head. "Oh, God, mom, will you listen to yourself? I'm not interested in Joe."

"It's just you're at that age..."

"I am not at any age!"

"I don't like that the Kavanaughs are in our city again," said her father, swiping at his bowl with the naan as though he could clean every last scrap of daal from it. "It feels like they're following us."

Kate threw up her hands. "I give up. Yes, they're following us. Yes, they're trying to marry me off to their son who's, like, ten years older than me and way too serious for his own good. Yes, I'm not eating because I'm anorexic. It has nothing to do with the fact that you're carting me off to India like America's some disease you think I'm gonna contract."

Her mother snorts - her best snort of disapproval - and gives her a minatory look. "Too late for even that, I see."

--

Kate kept her news to herself until Anna had served dessert.

Joe nearly choked on his mouthful of apple pie. "Are you kidding? Quantico?"

"FBI, eh?" Mick picked up his cup of post-dinner coffee. "What's wrong with joining the force?"

"Nothing at all," she told him, grinning. "After all, someone's gotta do the gruntwork."

Mick arched a brow. "And you have the nerve to sit at my table, eating my pie..."

"Hey, buddy, that's my pie." Anna interrupted before leaning over and patting Kate on the arm. "And I'm proud of you, honey. Don't mind those two, they're just jealous."

"Mom, I'm not jealous. I'm just...disappointed." Joe smirked at Kate behind his next fork of pie. "I thought the FBI had standards."

"Oh, ouch! I'm feeling the confidence right here."

"Don't start," Mick told his son when Joe opened his mouth to give another retort. "Told your parents yet?"

"Not yet. It's past midnight in Mumbai right now." Of course, she'd gotten the news this afternoon, when it was dinnertime in Mumbai...

Well, okay, the truth was that Kate wasn't sure she could face another round of being told what a proper Indian daughter should do, and how she should be working towards a medical degree or an IT specialisation - choosing a career with a future.

Right now, the refrain was that her father hadn't ratted on the Chicago crime bosses and gone into witness protection just to see his daughter paint a big fat target on her butt by going into law enforcement.

Kate loved her dad but he didn't seem to understand her at all.

Mick and Joe might tease her about getting into the FBI Academy rather than the force, but at least they understood why.

The bomber who'd died in the street that day had been trying to take out Kate's father. They'd ascertained that much. But there hadn't been enough to make an ID of the body - there'd been barely enough left to ID the numberplates and drivers of the cars who'd smashed at the intersection and skidded out, knocking the young man over as he made his way to the cop shop. So the Kingpin mob boss who'd ordered it had walked away when the DA was unable to prove the link.

Her mom had been right - they'd been lucky.

Kate didn't want to entrust future families to mere 'luck'. She was going to hunt the perps and she was going to put them away. Maybe she could do that as a cop, but after 9/11, the big threats were upscaling, and the concerns were the Middle East and South Asia - including India, with Pakistan on one border and Iran and Afghanistan less than 500 miles away.

She wanted to make a difference at a higher level, and she thought she could do it with the FBI.

And she was going to be good at it. However disappointed her parents might be that she hadn't chosen a 'proper' career.

That stung. It was probably always going to sting. But she had to do what she had to do.

"Ah well, it's your life, Kate," Mick said. "You do with it what you feel you need to."

--

"Freelander?" Peter Baker, Kate's FBI partner, parked his butt on the edge of her desk and stretched his legs out in front of him. "Are you gonna get out of here any time before midnight?"

"Probably not since this case isn't gonna solve itself, Baker."

A huff greeted her. "There's nothing to solve, Kate. Inside job. It has to be."

"Except we've run checks on all the employees of all banks and have come up clean. There's no relationship between the four robberies, except for their MO."

Location was always a small town bank in Bumfuck, Nowhere; date was always the day after a major cash delivery; modus operandi was someone requesting the withdrawal of an item from the vaults, going into the vaults and never coming out. Vanished with the cash, no ID on the perps, no clue as to how they got out.

"No relationship that we can tell," Peter reminded her.

"Well, we've looked pretty deep," Kate said. "And there've been no bites at all. Short of strangers on a train, there's no connection there."

"And how do you know it's not strangers on a train?"

Kate exhaled. "Because you don't pull something off like this without serious planning and thought. And this hasn't happened in New York City - it's happened in the middle of nowhere, and four times - four! New Jersey, Oregon, Kansas, and Texas - exactly what train are these people catching?"

Peter shrugged. "Maybe it's a plane. What's your theory, then?" When she hesitated he narrowed his stare. "You have a theory, Freelander. It's in your eyes. And you're gonna tell me."

"Don't you have a romantic date to meet?"

"I have a date. Not sure about the romantic part. Spill."

"You're just a charmer all the way, man." Kate stared at her notes, then looked suspiciously up at her partner. "You're gonna laugh."

"Partners do not laugh at each other," he said and held up his hand. "Pinky swear."

She would have grinned, except for the lurking fear that she'd get laughed out of the system for even suggesting this. "Look, all four times the video cameras show the suspect entering the vault but never him leaving it. At each bank, there were signs that external vents or outlets had been tampered with. In each vault, there was at least one vent up through the air conditioning unit."

"Which was too small for the guy the size of the suspect to fit out, unless he managed to squeeze himself into...what was it? A tunnel eight inches across? It's not possible."

And this was where she got into trouble. Kate took a deep breath. "It's not humanly possible."

Peter stared at her for one, disbelieving moment. "Holy sweet Mary, Freelander! You've got to be fucking kidding me."

"We've got five separate eyewitness reports of noises in the area after the robberies, of people around the bank buildings after dark - in one of them, an eyewitness claimed a man unfolded himself from one of the vents and walked away."

"The eyewitness was stoned out of his mind! He's unreliable to begin with. And they're banks in the centre of their towns - of course there are noise and people around them!"

"In small towns after dark?"

He glanced around the bullpen, never busy on a Saturday in any case, but empty but for them right now. "This is not the X-Files, Kate, there is no Eugene Victor Tooms, and you can't reach for...I don't know, the most whacked-out theory there is on the planet to explain a bunch of crimes that is probably just an inside job. Shit, Freelander. Why the hell can't you be content with 'the simplest explanation is usually the right one'?"

Because Occam hadn't interviewed the witnesses. Kate had.

"'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'"

"But the truth isn't out there. And if you start going down this path, it will dominate your destiny - at least at the FBI."

Kate looked away, across the quiet cubicles and the empty office.

"Kate..."

"I haven't said this to anyone else, Pete."

"Tell me you're not going to."

She sighed. "I'm not going to." She knew how it sounded, how it looked. And Kate Freelander was no Fox Mulder, to go running after the aliens who'd taken her brother. Oh, if only they would!

"Good. Good. Look, Kate, you're a agent - we're a good team. On the fast track if we keep the solve rate up. But if you start chasing up some whacked-out theories..."

Annoyed by Pete's nervousness, Kate held up her hands, defensive. "I already said I wouldn't, Pete!"

"Just as long as you don't!" He seemed to realise he'd been a bit to sharp with that last part, because he stood. "Look, I'm late and I gotta head out or my date'll be even more pissed. Go home, Freelander. Get out, climb back on the dating horse - don't sit in here all night and... Just don't, okay?"

"Okay." She dredged a smile from somewhere. "Have fun."

"You, too."

He never noticed the pretence. Or he just didn't care. Kate sat at her desk for a few minutes after he'd gone, fuming quietly. Then she stood and started locking her files up in her cabinet..

Okay, so the idea was crazy and insane and unlikely...but he didn't have to treat her like he'd just discovered she was an Al Qaeda terrorist! Besides, she'd been doing research into odd and unsolved cases, and begun finding inexplicable anomalies. Stories that didn't make sense; witnesses who spoke of creatures that most people agreed didn't exist; anomalous evidence that pointed to entirely odd conclusions. A whole raft of cases dating back as far as they had records that suggested there really might be things that went bump in the night.

Things that didn't add up the way Kate had been taught they did.

And if there are such things that go bump in the night, what then? She asked herself as she waited for the elevators. Do I become crazy Kate Freelander down in the basement, chasing UFOs and freaky folding men?

She hoped not. Oh, God, she hoped not.

--

Listening to Dr. Magnus and the blonde argue was worse than listening to her dad and Thad go at it. That was family shit - and her own family at that - and she could make the comment that they were both being idiots without worrying if she'd have a job afterwards.

Magnus had offered her a job. And it looked like blondie was another employee - one of long standing if the very informal way they were sniping at each other was any indication. So she had her prospective employer and an equally prospective co-worker turning her - a complete stranger - into an observer for their little spat.

Wonderful.

Embarrassed and a little resentful at having to get involved, Kate let her eyes drift through the shadows and saw something move. It scuttled away into the darkness, the noise of its going barely audible beneath the argument behind.

"Uh, guys...?"

She moved carefully through the darkness, letting her eyes adjust, taking care to keep her movements slow and fluid so as not to startle the thing. Boy. Abnormal.

After three deaths tonight, Kate had no intention of becoming vic number four, but she was curious.

The darkness melted gently away around the central beam of her flashlight, revealing junk - packing crates mostly, and-- Wait. Was that movement?

There wasn't any need to chase this suspect at least; he was cornered and cowed. Well, the boy-part seemed to be. The snake-part? Not so mu--

She could be fair. Blondie had moves - good instincts and good reflexes. But Kate knew how to deal with nervous suspects. Distract and draw them, give them something to focus on, and trust your partner - or your team - to do what needed to be done.

Kate did what needed to be done.

Okay, so she wasn't much help with Druitt. Then again, if the guy really was Jack the Ripper - and Kate was having a few issues over the whole ex-fiancee and daughter thing - then he had a good hundred-twenty years of experience evading the law.

But she felt needed here - as she hadn't felt in...well, a long time.

At the end of it all, she found herself standing over the Old City next to Magnus, gripping the pole so hard she felt like her palms were tingling, feeling the fall but unwilling to take the leap.

"Why me?"

"Why not you? You've been looking for the truth for the last few years, haven't you? And everywhere you look, you find yourself blocked."

Kate swallowed.

Yes, she'd kept her head above water at the FBI; yes, she'd filed the unsolved cases as 'unsolved' and hadn't officially pursued any crazy theories. And yes, she'd gone and made notes of her own, done research of her own to see if there was any validity to her hypotheses. Extracurricular work wasn't smiled upon, but it wasn't considered improper conduct either.

Pete ratting on her sideline investigations was considered improper conduct. Informal improper conduct, but improper conduct all the same. She wondered if he'd realised that no-one in the Baltimore office would ever willingly partner with him again, other than the bootlicking special agent in charge of the field office who saw in Pete a rising star to hitch his own political wagon-train to.

Ending up in the Old City field office of the FBI, filing reports, and occasionally consulting for Joe's department (yet another coincidence her father wouldn't have believed) was not hell. But it came about as close as Kate wanted to get. With 'proper' investigations handled out of the Seattle office, her mind preyed on the questions that no-one would - or could - answer.

Until Helen Magnus turned up and opened the door, offered her the red pill, and took her down the rabbit hole.

"You still want me for this setup?"

"You acquitted yourself well - not only in communicating with Alexei, but also when Ashley was in danger. You have an open mind and a willingness to use it - yet your talents go unappreciated - as they often have."

Idly, Kate wondered where Magnus got her background checks from. Magnus glanced at her, blue eyes twinkling as though she could read minds and not just live forever.

"A woman in my position needs to know who she's working with. Who she can trust."

"And you think you can trust me?"

"I think that, once your trust is earned, you would have a ferocious loyalty to those you value. I see that as an asset, Kate. And I would hope to earn your trust - and your loyalty - in time."

"But for the moment you'll bribe me with the possibility of answers."

"If that is what it takes, then, yes." Helen smiled as she looked out over the city. "Did you have any further questions?"

Kate considered it for a moment, staring out at the city. The glowing lights of the buildings were split through the middle by the dark swerve of the river - like the thread of darkness that ran through all humans, and probably all Abnormals, too.

She'd joined the FBI to make a difference - and she had. But in doing so, she'd also had to put what she thought was the truth aside to accommodate politics, edging around the things that people were willing to accept.

Here in the Sanctuary, she wouldn't have to edge around it. And maybe studying the things organisations like the FBI wouldn't admit existed would help prepare her to deal with more of the cases that organisations like the FBI couldn't solve.

Carefully, she unwrapped her fingers from the pole and stepped up to the parapet, exhaling the last of her fears and taking a long deep breath of the night air. "Only one: when do I start?"

- fin -hits counter
Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 11:52 am (UTC)
Hee. I like the idea of Kate taking over Will's role--nicely done.