Magical Security Taskforce

 FULL ARCHIVE

VOLUME: 6

CHAPTER: 1

1 2 3 4 5 6

Chapter 45: Double-Secret Probation


Session One

The only thing clear upon returning from the Urayoni realm was that Molly's unit wasn't going anywhere. Safety at L. B. Gould was still a question. Even without Claude and Marie providing support from the inside, the likelihood of another Hageshoni attack was hard to gauge. At the very least, the unit needed some time to heal and recuperate, especially with Molly and Renee being under negators the whole time. Although it had only been three days, it felt like forever.

Secondarily, at least to Molly, was the issue of Troy, Kathryn and Donovan violating half of the organization's rules to make the rescue happen. The MST had to deal with them somehow, and that meant another discovery process, another tribunal and another judgment from Chancellor Whalen. Molly was determined to ignore her role as defender until it couldn't be avoided. At least this time, she planned to put up a fight.

For now, however, she spaced out on the couch, doing her best to do nothing. Nothing was an unusual choice of activity, as she had plenty of time for that with the Urayoni. She had spent most of it reading or sleeping. Yuki and Renee, uncomfortable as their cells were, must have done the same as the three were awake at two in the afternoon, mere hours after their return. The other three were still out cold, but they earned a day of sleep.

The sound of the shower running had faded into the background for so long that Molly was jarred when it stopped. She wasn't sure how long Renee had been in there, but didn't blame her. Molly had already taken hers, and it felt good to wash two days of Urayoni dirt off her face. If only she could do the same with her clothes.

“Molly?” Yuki came out of her room and tried to keep her voice down, even though an air horn wouldn't have woken up Kathryn. “You know what? We never got my satchel back from the Urayoni.”

Staring back blankly, Molly replied, “What, do you want me to call Claude and have him mail it back to us?”

Yuki plopped down on a chair, dismayed at the sarcasm. “No... it's just that I... hey, do you think he would?”

“No.”

“Oh.” She sighed. “I really liked that bag. It's hard to get Hello Kitty satchels with infinite capacity. I don't think they're officially licensed.”

“Did you have anything in there besides your potion kit?”

“My cell phone, my student ID, hell I kept a change of clothes in there. That would come in handy now.”

Molly nodded slowly. She understood that.

The bathroom door opened and Renee came out in a towel, her hair still wet. Yuki raised her eyebrows; Molly furrowed hers. “What's wrong? Need a brush or something?”

“No, I know a spell for that,” Renee said, sitting at the table.

“If you can cast it.” Molly tried summoning a light ball. She got a light marble. “I'm still out of it.”

Renee shrugged. “I just want to feel clean for a bit before I have to put those... things back on. I'm burning those clothes when we get home.”

“Still, you shouldn't be walking around like that. What if Donovan or Troy came out?”

“If... Troy...” Renee turned her head towards Troy's room.

Molly narrowed an eye at the light blush on Renee's face. “Don't start that now,” she said sternly.

Throwing her hands up, Renee surrendered and headed back to the bathroom. “Fine, fine, although I don't see them waking up any time soon.”

Perhaps not, but the knock on the front door was another matter. Molly shuddered. Then her eyes bulged as Renee went to answer it.

When prodded, Renee stopped and said, “Oh, it's probably just Reggie.”

“And why does that make it okay?!”

Yuki grinned slyly. “Could be Giles. I mean, he's already felt up Molly.”

The glare. Despite the humbling jolt of pure fear, Yuki smiled at its power. “Good to know that's back at least.”

During the distraction, Renee opened the door, stepping back in horror when she saw neither Reggie nor Giles, but Mr. Marlowe.

“Good morning,” he said derisively. Marlowe stopped when he saw Renee, momentarily speechless. That passed soon enough. “Hate to wake you at such an odd hour,” he added. Bear in mind that it was two in the afternoon.

Renee clutched her towel and stepped back, instantly uneasy. “Excuse me,” she mumbled, running into the bathroom.

The response from Molly wasn't much better. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Marlowe stepped in and smiled. “Seeing if you were all planning on coming down to give your reports on the incident. As you could probably guess, there's a lot to go over and we'd like to get your stories while they're fresh in your minds.”

“And we'd like a change of clothes and a day to rest after everything we've been through.”

“There's a laundry machine downstairs. You need quarters?”

“Well, all the cash I had is in my bag back at the demon fortress we were locked up in all weekend,” Yuki said. “So yes. But what would we wear while we do laundry?”

Marlowe eyed the locked bathroom door. Being greeted by a towel-clad high school girl threw him off his usual game and he didn't have a good response. He maintained his smirk anyway.

Molly went in for the kill: “Mr. Marlowe, we would be happy to tell you of our experiences, but for now, we would like to get over them. As you can imagine, they weren't pleasant. Furthermore, since you were responsible for embedding the book in Renee and making our stay that much worse, I don't think you should be ordering us around.”

Scrambling, Marlowe said, “What about the other three? I mean they violated pretty much every-”

“When they wake up, they're all yours. Just leave us alone.”

Renee walked out of the bathroom, fully dressed. She still looked at Marlowe warily.

One sniff of Renee with dirty clothes compared to the scent of her without them sealed the deal for Marlowe. “You're right! Get up, we're going shopping!”

“Shopping?” Yuki asked confused.

“We don't know how much longer we'll be keeping you, so let's fill out your wardrobe for the stay. It's on us!”

“That's all I needed to hear!” Yuki jumped up and joined Marlowe and Renee.

Molly was less excited, but stood up. “I suppose it's better than the alternative.” She headed into her room.

“Where are you going?” Renee asked.

She came out with a note and a pen. “Leaving a note for the others.”

“Tell them to report to the administration building as soon as they can,” Marlowe said.

Instead, she wrote, “Dear Kathryn, Troy and Donovan: Enjoy the day off. We will return later.”

Molly set the note on the table and smiled at Marlowe. “Done. I hope you parked close because we still can't teleport.”

 

Session Two

After Marlowe failed to get anybody down for a debriefing, Uriel was the next to arrive two hours later. He found Troy, Kathryn and Donovan awake, but zoned out on the couch, watching TV and eating what was left of the chicken from two nights ago. They didn't even greet Uriel.

“What are they doing?” Uriel said to Bryce.

Bryce shut the door. “Nothing. Looks like fun.”

“Hello?” Uriel called. Troy raised a hand in acknowledgment, but that was it. “Where's Molly? Where's Marlowe?”

“Dunno,” Troy replied. “Molly left. Said we had today off.”

“Didn't Mr. Marlowe come up here?”

Kathryn shrugged. “We just got up.”

“It's four o'clock!”

“We had a late night.”

Uriel wasn't getting very far. He pinched his ear to contact Mr. Marlowe. “Where the hell are you?”

Miles away, Mr. Marlowe replied, “At the outlet mall with the girls. Have you ever been out here? Great selection!”

Furrowing his eyebrows, Uriel said, “When you say girls...”

“Molly, Renee and Yuki. They weren't exactly allowed to pack. Hey, do you know where Yuki can get another bag of holding?”

“You were supposed to bring them in for reports.”

“Molly left a note telling the other three to check in with you. They're the ones on trial.”

“Thank you.” As an afterthought, Uriel asked, “Who's paying for all that?”

“Sorry, got to go: Yuki and Renee found the Disney store. Later!”

Uriel made a mental note to double-check his credit card statement. He found the note from Molly that clearly didn't tell them to check in and grumbled.

“Where are they?” Kathryn asked.

“Never mind. I don't care what Molly says. We need to get your reports today.”

Troy shook his head. “I don't know. Bad idea to disobey a direct order from Molly, right Kathryn?”

Kathryn nodded. “She is our Guardian.”

Uriel folded his arms. “I hope you realize that you're in enough trouble already. Any more defiance and you'll get kicked out of the academy.”

“Fine by me!” Kathryn was practically jubilant.

“...and your memory will be recalibrated,” Uriel added. Kathryn shrugged, but Troy seemed to flinch. Donovan hadn't reacted yet.

Shrugging, Uriel figured he'd at least fix that. “Donovan would never see his grimoire again.”

In a flash, Donovan was at Uriel's side. “What information do you seek?”

Troy darted his head between Donovan and Kathryn. Hesitant, he said, “You know, maybe we've had enough insubordination for one day. I mean, it's not like we're all that busy.”

Resigned, Kathryn sat up. “I suppose. Sooner we do this, sooner we can go home.”

“Thank you,” Uriel said. He noticed that Troy was still in his pajamas. Kathryn and Donovan weren't much better. “I'll wait while you change.”

“Change into what?” Kathryn said, wiping her greasy fingers on her sweatpants. “You're lucky we're going at all. We're not going in church clothes.”

“Well-”

“Hell, I've worn this to class here before. Let's go.”

Uriel sighed and gave up. As long as some of them reported something today, it was a start.

 

Once they got into the debriefing rooms, they were more cooperative. It was a belligerent sort of cooperation as they told the unflinching truth with no remorse for their crimes, but it was still the truth.

Troy's answers were particularly frank. “No, we didn't think we were going to do it, but Giles provided the information, Meg provided the leadership, Reggie provided the muscle, and we just kicked ass.”

They covered the whole trip. Troy explained pretty much everything you've already read.

The interviewer, a gray-haired man a little older than Uriel, seemed to be interested in asking relevant questions instead of watching the clock slowly approach five. It was a departure from previous interrogators. When Troy got to the prison wing, the man asked, “Were all three of them held in that same general area?”

Troy shook his head. “No, just Molly and Yuki. Renee was in the medical ward on the other side.”

The man nodded and jotted something down. A recorder was handling most of the dictation, so Troy knew he was only noting the important stuff.

“Was she rescued later?”

“Yeah. We ended up in the courtyard and surrounded. We managed to get out of the jam and I made a break for her.”

“On your own?”

“Yeah.” Troy sighed. He didn't like this part. “I ran into Marie.”

“Hmm...” was all the man said in response. He must have known who Marie was. “That must have been difficult.”

“Yeah, she uh... well, she set up a barrier between me and the room Renee was in. And she said some things about her leaving the demons and me and Renee leaving the MST and all of us escaping together.”

“Sounds like a typical ploy,” the man mumbled.

Troy looked straight ahead at the wall. “She meant it. Marie wanted to be neutral. She wanted all of us to be normal civilians. All she wanted was for us to leave everything and make it back on our own.”

“But...”

Closing his eyes, Troy turned away. “I'm not a normal civilian.” He shook his head. “And I don't want to be.”

The interrogator nodded. “How did you deal with her?”

“She still had the barrier up, I had to do something,” Troy rushed his words, automatically defensive. “In the end all I could... I used my smiter. It seemed like the only simple solution.”

“You killed her?”

Pausing to grasp it in those terms, Troy nodded. “Yes, sir.”

The man jotted something down quickly and continued along. “What were the conditions in the room where Renee was kept?”

Troy hesitated again. Just like that, the conversation had changed. Just as well for him. He sighed and answered every remaining question to the best of his knowledge.

Marie never came up again.

 

Session Three

The next day, with little warning or preparation, the tribunal began. Molly, again acting as defense attorney, had little time to prepare after she, Renee and Yuki were forced to file their reports that morning. Just as well as she knew exactly what had happened and exactly what she wanted to say.

Given the number of defendants, it was a little crowded in that small chamber that doubled as a courtroom. Troy lost the rock-paper-scissors triple threat match and ended up getting a seat at the table with Molly. Reggie and Meg, defending both themselves and their roommates, were also at the defense table, which was wholly inadequate to seat all four of them. Donovan, Kathryn, Giles and Reggie's girls all crowded in behind them.

It was so bad that Renee and Yuki sat behind Uriel, alone at the prosecutor's table. Yuki gave him bunny ears when he reported his name for the record. Chancellor Whalen struggled not to chuckle.

“Well, let's get this started... MST vs. Meg Haynerd, et. al.”

“Why's my name on it?” Meg asked.

“First guardian alphabetically. Don't worry, everybody else's names will show up on the court access page.” He cleared his throat. “Just to, uh, clarify the charges here. The defendants in question are charged with theft of magical weaponry, unauthorized realm transport, knowingly breaching a signed contract, engaging in hostile acts against a demon faction without approval and defying orders from your superiors.”

“Hot damn!” shouted Reggie. He extended a hand back. Crystal high-fived it.

“Yes, well, these are significant charges and I don't know if there is a punishment suitable enough for you all. At the very least we're talking expulsion and recalibration.”

“Yeah, that's not going to work for me...” Meg said, setting a sheet of paper in front of her. “Giles, be a dear.”

Giles negotiated the paper from the table into Whalen's hand. He and the other two arbiters looked it over. “Permanent campus residence for medical reasons,” he muttered. “And what would that be?”

“Mindy's a head case,” Morgan said, grinning.

When Mindy responded angrily, Whalen sent the form back to Meg, eyebrows raised. “Okay. Lovely. Do we have them on the record?”

After Morgan, Mindy and Maple registered their names, Uriel finally got to say something. “Your honor, given the charges, I don't want to comment one way or another on their future at this academy. Certainly the reports demonstrate that a number of them have strong abilities that could make them serviceable members of the MST. It seems to be the reason for showing such infinite patience around them.” He didn't seem so fond about that last part.

Still, he went on, “Furthermore, there are a number of obstacles interfering with expulsion such as the condition of Miss Haynerd and her roommates and the whole issue grimoire 17 issue that I really don't want to get into again.”

“Then don't bring it up,” Whalen replied. “So in spite of what they've done, you don't want them kicked out of the academy.”

“I don't give a damn. I just want them to pay for the damages and their rescue from the Urayoni realm.”

“Do you have the bill?” Molly asked. Uriel sent it over magically. Molly looked at it and recoiled. “That much for ten guys to shoot a couple fireballs?!”

“They tend to charge extra when you wake them up in the middle of the night. You're lucky the United States Armed Forces didn't catch us breaching national security.”

Whalen nodded. “Miss Pearson, it's clear from the reports that the three members from your unit appeared to have instigated the crimes. Although the grimoire issue from last time may well exempt Mr. Dunmar, the other two do not have the same circumstances. Do you have anything to say on behalf of Mr. Monroe and Miss Santos?”

Troy and Kathryn shuddered. It wasn't their idea to have Molly defending them.

Molly shrugged and stood up. “My job as guardian is to make sure my unit is developing into fit magi worthy of the MST. My other job is to protect them. The way I see it, the events played out in such a way that Troy and Kathryn were forced to make a decision between being model magi or fighting for their unit. Given that the MST's dishonesty put them-”

Whalen banged the gavel. “We're not discussing the original agreement made with the Urayoni.”

Sitting back down, Molly barked, “Then I don't give a damn about what you consider proper behavior.”

Troy leaned over. “Aren't you going to say anything?”

“What's the use?” she snapped back. “If they don't understand now, there's no point.”

“But-” Kathryn's hand on his shoulder silenced him.

“Would anyone else like to put anything on the record?” Whalen asked. “Reggie?”

Reggie's eyes flew open. “Hm? Sorry, I'm kinda hung over. No, I'm good.”

“In that case, we'll take five to talk it over. If we plan on going any longer than that, we'll let you know.”

Once Whalen and the other two panelists left, Troy leaned forward, head falling onto the table. “You too, huh?” Reggie said.

“I can't believe we're getting kicked out for this.” Considering that it was pretty much his entire life now, losing it in an act of nobility really sucked.

“I can,” Molly said, “It's quite the rap sheet.”

Troy shook his head. “We did the right thing, didn't we?”

“Of course. If they don't see that, why stay?” She didn't sound any happier than Troy.

“Spare the angst,” said Uriel from across the table. “I made it perfectly clear that I don't care for you to be expelled over this. I just don't want to pay for all that.”

“And if they kick us out anyway?” Kathryn asked.

“Then I can't bill you,” Uriel grumbled, packing up his papers into a briefcase. Nobody spoke for the next few moments as everybody speculated on their own what the hell was going on in there.

Although Uriel wasn't exactly meditating under a waterfall, the sudden meowing of a kitten from behind made him jump. He turned around and shouted, “What the hell?!”

Yuki giggled at his reaction. “Sorry, just got a text message.”

“You kids and your cell phones...” Uriel mumbled.

Renee peeked over Yuki's shoulder as she smiled boastfully at the message on the screen. Yuki began to say, “It's in Japanese so-”

“I can read a little bit!” Renee blurted, crossing her eyes at the text. After a few moments, she leaned back. “...Just not kanji.”

Yuki wouldn't get the chance to translate as Whalen and his cronies re-entered the room. Before the accused were even standing, he read his verdict.

“The three units are assuredly not expelled from the academy,” he said, somewhat labored. Still, the sudden declaration caught everybody off guard... except Yuki, who smiled brightly at the text message from her grandfather.

Slower and more emphatically, the chancellor continued: “Instead, they will be held liable for the expenses and damages incurred during the operation.” Whalen paused to let Uriel sigh in relief, but he wasn't finished: “Furthermore, as the three units took it upon themselves to attempt their own field assignment, they have forfeited the right to choose their own sanctioned mission. Instead, a suitable project will be chosen for them sometime in the next year. Case dismissed.” He banged the gavel and couldn't get out of there faster.

So fast, in fact, that nobody knew quite what to make of it. Molly wasn't sure if being forced to deploy at the MST's whim was worse than sacrificing Troy and Kathryn. And what the hell went into that decision? She tried to glare at something and ended up turning towards the other side of the room, where Yuki was happy as can be, texting away.

“You didn't...” Molly muttered to the girl.

Yuki smiled back. “Oh, yeah, my grandfather wanted to know how things were going so I told him how Troy and Kathryn were going to get expelled for saving us. He said he'd say something to the chancellor.” She went back to texting.

For some reason, Giles was smiling too. “Remember Molly, the important thing is that we're all still here.”

Molly slumped down in her chair. “Yeah... we out-corrupted them.”

 

Session Four

The tribunal, abbreviated and anti-climactic as it was, exhausted everybody. They all sat around the common area, each trying to read everybody's thoughts. Sadly, they stopped teaching that spell at the academy, so they had to rely on facial expressions. Molly, Troy and Kathryn still looked kind of pissed, Renee was relieved and Donovan had to go to the bathroom. He did.

Yuki, meanwhile, not only texted Whalen's judgment back to her grandfather, but offered to pick up the tab for the rescue.

“Well, at least your grandpa kicks ass,” Kathryn said.

“Actually, he abuses his power as much as anyone else,” Molly muttered. “Remember how Yuki got here to begin with? At least expulsion would have been consistent.”

“What was all that about field assignments?” Renee asked.

“They now get to choose what we and Meg and Reggie's units have to do to graduate. I suppose it's their idea of community service.”

“But Giles said we needed one of those anyway,” Kathryn said.

“Usually we get to pick the job though. That's why Reggie's been in school for so long. He proposes the most impossible assignments and intentionally fails them every year. I don't know why the academy puts up with it, but I assume Mr. Marlowe's involved.”

Kathryn frowned. “So the MST gets to choose a mission that could get us killed, and we'll be teamed up with someone who fails them on purpose?”

Molly nodded. “I'm not sure if this was the chancellor making sure our wrists got slapped somehow or if they have plans for us. Either way...”

“Why slap our wrists?” Troy blurted. “I mean thank God for Yuki's family keeping us here, but why are they trying to convince us that what we did was wrong? I mean, in the end we pulled it off.”

“You made them look bad,” Molly said, raising her voice. “They didn't think it was possible to invade that world and successfully rescue all of us. You effectively proved them wrong. The last thing the MST can handle is people believing they're wrong.”

“Even if they are?” Renee asked.

“If magi doubt the MST's reasoning, the demons will take advantage. And if kids still hate demons but question the management, they might take matters into their own hands the way you did. Not every unit is as strong as we are, and Uriel can't rescue everybody.”

Kathryn stood up and started pacing around angrily. “So what? We're just supposed to keep playing a good soldier and do what we're told?”

Molly sighed. “Yes. Doing otherwise is dangerous. You'd be contending with both the MST and the demons.”

“We already are!” Kathryn shouted. “So thanks for dragging us into all this! Part of me wishes they did kick us out.”

She expected a response from Molly right away. It didn't come. She got a disapproving look from Troy, but ignored it. Finally, Molly shook her head and mumbled, “Only part of you?”

That was it for Kathryn. After the MST had effectively ruined her life and announced bold plans to continue doing so in the future, the person that pulled her into it seemed to shrug the whole thing off. Before she could let herself say or do anything she'd regret, she stormed into her room and slammed the door.

Troy took more time to weigh things over. His words were more measured. “I guess I see your point. Even when they're asses, we still need them. And at least they did save us in the end.”

It didn't encourage Molly. If anything, she seemed to recoil more.

“Should I try talking to her?” Troy asked.

“No,” Molly replied decisively. “I'll take care of it.”

“Don't be too hard on her, Molly,” Renee said. “Remember, we just went through a lot so we're all a little stressed out.”

The bathroom door opened, Donovan stormed out and boasted, “We have emerged victorious and escaped punishment by those who would stop us. Truly, we are invincible!”

Molly, Troy and Renee stared back at him, dumbfounded. Troy said, “Didn't you hear that part about them choosing our field assignment?”

“They can give us their worst! We shall triumph! After all, we now have the united force of my demon and my tome!” Donovan clutched Renee's shoulder. Apparently to him, she was now nothing more than 'my tome.' She didn't appreciate that and pulled away.

Undeterred, Donovan faced Molly and Troy. “So how shall we celebrate our victory?”

Molly turned to him and scoffed. “You are out of your right mind if you think we should celeb-”

The doorbell rang. Donovan summoned Bryce, who mumbled about being summoned for door duty twice in a row, but opened it anyway.

It was Meg and Giles, the latter carrying pizza. “Has the party started yet or are we too early?”

“Party?” Molly stood up and stared them down- a difficult thing from that distance. “Who said anything about a party?”

Giles entered the room and handed the pizzas to Bryce. “Well, now that all this is over, we thought we'd stop by Reggie's to celebrate, but he said the pre-party was up here.”

“Pre-party?” Renee asked.

Morgan smiled at her. “Yeah, you know. We start out here, loosen up a bit and get in the mood... then we head downstairs and really have some fun. The pre-party.”

Troy shook his head. “Sorry, but after all that, I don't see why-.”

“Nonsense!” Donovan threw his hands around Giles and Morgan. “We must relish our moments of triumph!”

“You hate Reggie's room!”

“Indeed, but victories of this magnitude call for such revelry! For once, we shall go forth into the bacchanalia!”

“Good call, Donny!” exclaimed Reggie. He and his girls were right behind. They had stacks of bottles. “Although old Bacchus himself probably couldn't handle the stuff we're busting out.”

Now Molly was stepping in. “Might I remind you that my unit is underage. Besides, there is no alcohol allowed in the dorm.”

“Alcohol?!” Reggie laughed heartily. “Honey, I'm not the kind of guy who'd serve you guys alcohol.”

That seemed to calm Molly down. “Well... good.”

“This stuff makes alcohol look like Juicy Juice!” Reggie handed her a bottle. “Here, try some!”

Molly passed, but Morgan was quick to pull the trigger. In any rate, the party was starting in Room 202, whether its denizens requested it or not.

 

Session Five

By the time Morgan finished his first chug of Reggie's happy juice in the kitchen, Reggie's girls had already infiltrated the entire lounge. Troy had to move his head to avoid an incoming pizza box that slammed onto the table. He looked up and frowned at Bryce.

“I still don't see why it has to be here,” Troy said. Even so, he grabbed a slice and took a bite. “And where are the napkins?”

A bottle slamming down on the table interrupted the request. An exuberant Morgan shouted, “Oh my God! What is this stuff?!”

“Ask Crystal, she brought it,” Reggie said, picking up the bottle and offering it to Giles and Renee. Giles took it hesitantly.

Crystal smiled. “It's from my realm. It's called novoselic. It uses soma instead of alcohol.”

“Novoselic?” Giles asked, trying to read the exotic language on the label.

“It's an elven word that means 'creates nirvana.'”

Giles took a swig. His eyes bulged. “Apt name for it.” He handed it to Meg.

Meg sniffed it. “Reggie, awesome as your room is, have you been holding out on us?”

Reggie shrugged. “Have to. Crystal can only smuggle in so much.”

“The Zukoni probably have an embargo on soma-based drinks, since it's so much better than alcohol,” Giles observed.

Shaking her head, Meg said, “I love how you just know that off-hand.” Then she took a sip. “And I love novoselic!”

“Your turn, Maple!” Morgan exclaimed.

Maple quickly set the bottle back down. “Um, no... no thank you.”

Meg picked the bottle back up. “Come on, it's not that bad.” She hiccuped.

“I... I'd rather not.”

Mindy started chanting, “Do it! Do it!”

“But... but you haven't had any either, Mindy.”

The hand went up and started chugging. After swallowing, Mindy shouted, “No excuses now!”

Maple was growing upset. “But somebody has to walk us home...”

“C'mon, Meg can drink like a fish. This body can take it!” Morgan replied.

Meg snickered. “Okay, Morgan, that's enough. Don't make her do it.” She took another drink. “Besides, it's the same body so it affects all of us equally.”

“Oh no...” Maple lamented. “I'll warn you now that I get very... friendly when I'm drunk.”

Mindy hoisted the bottle. “Giles, you might get lucky tonight!” She chugged once more. Giles backed away quickly.

Molly, disturbed by pretty much everything thus far in this session, followed him to the pizza table.

“I don't see any reason to celebrate what happened,” she mumbled.

After taking a bite out of his pizza, Giles said, “What do you mean?”

“We just barely escaped with our lives and we all ended up with a very unsettling punishment for doing something more noble than the organization that now has control over our future.”

Giles smiled at her. “You bet. Nobody in this room is regretting what we did. We pulled off our mission and we didn't even get expelled over it.”

“But that part about them selecting a-”

He shrugged, but still kept on smiling. “That's in the future. I'm sure that'll give us all migraines someday, but for now, why not focus on what we accomplished?”

Molly, to her surprise and frustration, had no answer to this.

“Can I get you a slice?” Giles asked.

She eyed the pizza. Sadly, she was starving, and part of her was still happy to be back on Earth with a fresh set of clothes and no looming tribunal.

Sighing, she said, “Sausage and mushroom.”

 

Renee wasn't sure what she was supposed to be doing at this party. The rest of her unit wasn't offering any help. Molly was trying to eat without distraction, while Giles provided one with his persistent attempt at conversation. Donovan was sniffing Crystal's crazy elixir with curiosity, giving the bottle to Blaine to test out. Egged on by Carmen, Blaine took a sip, nodded happily and returned the bottle to Donovan, who hoisted it up and imbibed to cheers from Reggie and Crystal. Yuki wanted to get at the stuff too, but Cammy was running interference. Kathryn was still in her room sulking.

Troy didn't seem much happier. He had helped himself to the food, but remained at a distance and ate in silence. Renee found this reaction the strangest. Kathryn always was liable to go into one of her funks and disappear from society. Given everything going on, Renee didn't blame her. But how could Molly and Donovan be open to social interaction and not Troy? It wasn't like him.

She must have been staring at him a bit too long, because Candace nudged her. “Eyes on your big hero?” she asked, forcing a blush out of Renee.

That was part of it too. All that defiance of the MST had ultimately been for her sake. And Troy had been the ringleader. Everybody had done their part to save her, but Troy helped bring them together and achieved the actual rescue single-handedly. Renee couldn't help but read into it.

“Go talk to him,” Candace said. “Looks like he could use some cheering up.”

“I couldn't,” Renee replied. Last time she had brought up the subject of 'them,' he told her off. That had only been three weeks ago.

Candace handed Renee a bottle and said, “Drink this.”

One swig later, Renee exclaimed, “Now I can!” She returned the bottle and sat down next to Troy.

“Don't feel like celebrating?” she asked him.

“Nobody thinks we did the right thing,” he replied. “How can we celebrate it?”

“Nobody is pushing it. Everybody in here thinks you guys were awesome.” She smiled faintly. “So do I.”

His face flushed a little, instinctively looking over his shoulder to find Molly. She stared back, but struggled to concentrate on them with Giles talking her ear off.

Renee leaned in closer. “I forgot to thank you for saving me. If it weren't for you, I'd still be-”

It was working, and Troy know it. He moved over and looked away. “It was the same thing you did back at school.”

“But you pulled it off.”

He shook his head, pleading, “Just stop it, okay?” Troy turned her way, finding her eyes but trying not to look into them. “I know Marie was a demon, but-”

“It's okay,” Renee said, holding up a finger that almost touched his lips. “You need more time. I understand. I can wait.”

Troy faced forward again, head down. “I still don't get it. How could she?”

“She didn't want to be.” Renee leaned back, looking up. “When I was down there, she was the only one who cared about what happened to me. If we were strong enough, we would have tried to escape together.”

Shaking his head, he ended up facing her. “But Renee, she-”

“I know. Marie was afraid to leave them. She was trapped. And she thought that we were too.” Renee chuckled sadly. “Guess we kinda are.”

Troy stiffened up. Renee put a hand on his back, rubbing it softly. “I know it looked bad, but Marie didn't want it to be like this. She didn't go about the right way and she wasn't brave enough to change anything, but you have to believe that she only wanted what was best for all of us.”

He sighed. Of all the things going through his mind, the only thing he could actually let out was a resigned nod.

Still staring at the ceiling, Renee said, “Wherever she is now, I just hope she's okay.”

 

Session Six

Molly wanted to break up Renee and Troy. Giles wasn't letting her.

“Protective of your sister, huh?”

Her head darted towards him. She hadn't said a word to him about Troy and Renee. It wasn't his place to comment.

“I used to get like that when my little sis started dating.”

Glowering, she replied, “I assure you the circumstances are quite different.”

“How so?” Giles had a disarmingly pleasant look on his face.

After contemplating it for a while and failing to come up with a concise explanation, Molly answered, “It's a long story.”

He seemed more satisfied with the answer than she was. “Well, he seems like a decent guy for her. They say you can tell a lot about someone by the way he tips.”

Molly shuddered. “You seem to be reading a lot into the two sitting together and talking.”

Giles smiled. “So are you.” As she turned away and gnashed her teeth, he added, “Although I'm also basing it on the fact that he threw himself into a demon realm for her.”

Before Molly could think up a response, and only just after deciding she needed a good one, Giles was looking at the chaos in the kitchen. “Oh boy, Mindy and Morgan are enjoying that soma drink a little too much.”

Strange that he named them, because Maple was the one giving random hugs to Reggie's girls. Giles turned back to Molly and shrugged. “I suppose I should cut them off before one of them ends up in bed with somebody. Those four aren't that close.”

It left Molly shocked and speechless, but at least it got rid of him. Not that there was anything else in the party for her to do. She wanted to return to her room and drown out the noise until everyone left, but babysitting the unit, especially Troy and Renee, took priority.

Suddenly, Molly's top concern solved itself: Renee sat up, smiled quickly at Troy and returned to the party. She even turned down a drink offer and prevented Yuki from requesting one. As Molly found it hard to believe that inebriated Donovan could be any worse than the garden variety, she didn't have much to worry about.

The exception was Kathryn. Normally Reggie's room was a sure way for her to forget her troubles. Now it had seemingly gotten so bad that she even tuned out the sweet songs of booze and debauchery. Molly couldn't stand for that. With everybody else distracted, she knocked on Kathryn's door. She didn't get a response. Thankfully, Molly's magic had recovered just enough to pull off an unlocking spell.

Upon the intrusion, Kathryn glared angrily at Molly. She was sitting on the bed, elbows on her knees with a drying stream of tears along her cheeks. The room was dark save for moonlight and a lamppost from the window.

“What?” Kathryn muttered, staring forward again.

“Reaching any conclusions?” Molly asked, sitting on the futon that Yuki used as a bed.

Kathryn shook her head. As if stating the obvious, she said, “I should just quit.” She waited for Molly's reaction, but only got a slow nod. “I have nothing to gain by being here. It's ruining our lives. Why go to all this trouble to help fight these demons? After Kamila and Marie, I can't even hate demons the way I probably should.”

“But?” Molly responded softly. There had to have been a 'but.'

“That whole memory thing scares me. I can't stand to think of what would happen if I suddenly forgot the last two years. Much as I want to sometimes.”

“You don't want to be recalibrated,” Molly replied. “The longer you're here, the crueler it gets. And I understand that it's as much an art as it is magic, choosing what to erase and such.” With a sad breath, she said, “I can't guarantee that you would remember Kurt at all.”

Kathryn clenched her teeth. “That's what I was afraid of. And even if I did, there'd be all those holes. I wouldn't know what he did or why he was here. And I wouldn't know how he died.”

Molly nodded. “As I understand it, you wouldn't know anything was wrong... but I can't imagine having that taken away.”

“And Troy would still be here,” Kathryn huffed. “That's really the main reason for doing this in the first place. Knowing what I know now, I can't leave him alone here.”

At first, Molly didn't respond. She wasn't sure whether to admire or pity Kathryn's loyalty toward Troy. She had already used it to keep Kathryn in line several times, but Molly never understood it. Kathryn could have been so much better off leaving Troy on his own and pursuing her own objectives. Ones that didn't involve the MST.

“Not that you'd mind,” Kathryn spat. “You probably want me to quit so you can torture him back into submission.”

The accusation hit Molly with a shudder. She needed to respond, but at first nothing came out. The situation called for a bold, decisive answer: yes, she would ensure that Troy's moment of defiance would be his last. That would keep Kathryn on board and end the conversation.

Instead, she whispered, “Honestly, I don't know what you should do.” The hushed reply drew Kathryn's head up. Molly shrugged. “I can't predict what recalibration now would be like and we certainly need your help here. Yet, you seem to have figured it out before the others.”

“Figured what out?”

“Your mistrust of the MST. You have misgivings about their people, their objectives and their protocol.”

Kathryn stared back, suspicious. “Yeah, guess that's one way to put it. So what?”

Molly glanced at the door nervously. It took a long breath before she could say, “You're right.” And another to add, “About everything.”

Narrowing her eyebrows, Kathryn said, “What do you mean?”

“I'd say you'd have to be blind not to see it, but...” Molly gestured to the door. “Everyone out there doesn't seem to notice. The MST only cares about eradicating any magic use they deem unacceptable. They don't care what goes into achieving this. They'll throw unit after unit at the problem if they thinks it solves something. And yet, when demons attack the school or Kurt gets killed, they shrug it off and pretend it's all part of the battle.”

Molly expected Kathryn to nod along. Instead, she looked disgusted. “You must have had a lot of free time to figure this out down in that dungeon.”

“Actually, I've realized this since...” Molly felt a shiver thinking about it. She stopped herself and said, “For a long time.”

Angrier, Kathryn asked, “So why didn't you do something about it? Why didn't you warn us? Or Kurt?”

Molly looked down. “You should know better than anyone that Kurt was too devoted to them. From the moment he got the job, I was afraid that it was going to get him killed. If he felt the same way, he didn't care. Long as he could protect us.”

Kathryn paused. She seemed to accept that answer, but looked back up. “What about us? All this time, I'm been trying to talk some sense into Troy and getting nowhere. Between him, Kurt and this damn school, I'm stuck thinking that I'm the weird one. That nobody else sees it the way I do. You could have at least told me that I wasn't completely nuts.”

Despite the outburst, Molly was solemn. “I've never argued with you. I've said the same things to Kurt.” She felt another shiver. “But I know why I've never acknowledged your concerns.”

“Why?”

Gritting her teeth, Molly's resentment grew. “It's because I've always been taught that the MST must prevail no matter what. That nothing we can say, do or believe matters unless it helps them. That we need to be ready to fight at all times, no matter what the sacrifice.”

As she went on, she sneered, raising her voice. “He always said that the most important thing is to trust in what the MST does. Whatever they say goes. If they tell him to abandon his family and his pupil for some random mission in another world... he's off. He's had it planted in my head so strongly that I've been stuck believing it all this time. My feelings just don't matter.”

“Who are you talking about?” Kathryn asked. “You don't mean...”

Molly shook her head and tried to fight off tears before she finally spat, “Frank Monroe.”


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