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Through the Storm
A number of messages blinked in a rapid beat for attention when she limped into her apartment. The grey light of evening cast an unfamiliar gloom over the sterile furnishings; it was as far away from home as a place could feel. Her suitcase splayed where she had left it, untouched but for the clothes she had dug out before slipping out into Moscow's nightlife. And how well that venture had gone. For now she ignored her responsibilities in favour of getting clean, lingering a little too long under the stream of water and steam, trying not to let the lull unravel her calm. Such a list of ghosts these days, just waiting for that moment of weakness. The crusts softened from her arms, leaving long pink strips where she'd used the power to slash her bonds. The feel of those bonds lingered.

Later, she sat on the sofa with a mirror and steristrips and let the messages run through. There was a wound on her foot cutting between her toes and right into the pad, still oozing, the rest simply scrapes and bruising she ignored but for a layer of antiseptic. The whole thing stung like fuck now, but in some ways the pain stopped her mind from straying, and the precision of sealing the wound allowed her not to dwell too deeply on what she was hearing. The first message yesterday evening; her mother, checking she'd landed safely. Another this morning, still cheerful and discussing her registration. Two silent, in quick succession. Then one from Laurene that perked her ears, especially when it pinged a recording. She paused what she was doing as the holoscreen activated.

"Hi Natalie, just a quick message to say how're we're doing!"
The screen wobbled, filmed on a cheap smart phone, and suddenly blurred. Then Ekene's face filled the picture, teeth white and gappy. Laurene laughed as she instructed him to move it further back. He chattered away about his life the past few weeks, almost more words than she'd heard from him the entire time since Masiaka. Then he giggled. Giggled. Like a normal child. A ginger paw patted the boy's shoulder, and Shredder sprung up with a mewl, bumping her little face up against Ekene's cheek.

A smile softened Natalie's face, the first real one in what felt an age, but something like guilt tightened in her chest too. She shouldn't have left them, left her duties, left her life. All to go chasing after her father's summons, knowing it would cage her here but accepting the consequences anyway. Just for that chance. She hadn't even made the meeting; wasn't sure she could risk arranging another, not with her mother's scrutiny sharpened on her actions and the promises she'd yet to fulfil. After all this time what had he even wanted to say? He'd cut her out like she was nothing. Not even met her eye the day they led him out after sentencing. And she'd never forgiven him.

She played the holo again, melancholy the second time. Washing out the sorrow for having left Africa. Burying thoughts of her father. They looked well. They didn't need her.

Afterwards was another silent message. This time she paid attention, frowning, but it rolled quickly to the next: an official response to her registration that plummeted her stomach, requesting her to attend a meeting to discuss further. Then her mother's voice gradually losing tolerance and rising in worry. The last was not an hour before, simply a terse Call your mother. Not a war she wanted to wage tonight, but she did need to smooth things over. It wouldn't keep until morning.

The call connected after two rings.

"Where have you been?"

"Hello to you too."
She smirked grimly, piecing together an approximation of the truth; she didn't much relish lying, even if it might have been easier. "I over indulged my last night of freedom. That and the jetlag haven't made for a great combination. You should know better than to worry."

"Cut the sass. Please, Natalie. We have been worried."

"I know. I'm sorry."

The silence stretched an age. Natalie pinched the bridge of her nose, the words heavy as cement. She meant it, but admitting it cut too close to the quick. That coffee was wearing off and her mind fuzzed quietly. She had no intention of confiding, and the need to escape the conversation was suddenly overwhelming. She murmured something about needing to sleep. Vague promises to call tomorrow.

The lights had dimmed low. She raked the hair away from her face, skirting the weight in her chest. The worry was like miasma, underpinning everything else. Her feelings swirled. The aftershock of waking restrained. The crash and fall of hope, her father's face still a blank space. And the idiocy of one legionnaire admitting to murder. That bothered her more than it should. The hands that cupped hers in the hospital were rough, calloused, but gentle before they moved away. He killed to protect, but he still killed; it was soldier's due.

Danjou would care for his own, she didn't doubt it. And Jared would fight his corner. She had no real reason to interfere, and at least one why she shouldn't.

And yet.

And yet it made her restless, the anger deep, a thousand blurred hurts and a deep-seated desire to do something. The phone rang for a while and she began to wonder if it was just too late. When someone picked up it was with weary tones. He hadn't heard the name. No one had been brought in tonight. The receiver clicked silent

She spent another few hours cycling through an unfamiliar system, seeking answers. The business card Detective Vega had given her rested on the cushion beside her, but he would still be at the hospital with Nox. Or resting himself; by now it was late, and the city glittered like startlight beyond her windows. She laid back, staring up at the ceiling. Yet another call still on hold.

It seemed Jay Carpenter was gone.
[[Continued at A Day to Remember]]

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