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September 24, 2019


Karrie exited the New Headquarters Building and right into Brady’s arms. They kissed and Karrie leaned into him, so grateful to be able to touch him again. He pulled her close, burying his face in her hair for a long moment. Karrie inhaled his scent, the familiar mix of citrus bodywash and shampoo, along with his spicy cologne. For the space of a few heartbeats, all was right with the world.


“All right, that’s enough, Brady,” Anna said firmly after a moment, putting a hand on the man’s arm. “You’re blocking a mother from her child and that is a poor idea.”


“Sorry,” Brady said, stepped back so that Anna and Fred could enfold their child in a hug. Karrie leaned against her parents, feeling safe once more, even if she knew that was a lie. 


“You’re coming to our house,” Anna said firmly once she and her husband let Karrie go, though Fred kept his arm around Karrie’s shoulders. Tugging her jacket straight in a nervous habit Karrie had identified at five years of age, she added, “Jack and Holly are bringing the kids and we’re having dinner. Brady, you’re invited of course.”


“Thank you, ma’am,” he told her with a smile.


“Stop it,” Anna said, smacking him on the arm. “Just for that, you’re riding with me.”


Karrie opened her mouth to protest but her father’s arm over her shoulder tightened. She stopped what she was going to say and gave Brady a little head nod instead. “That’s what you get for not calling her Anna, as she’s asked,” Karrie told her fiance with a little smile. 


They kept up the light chatter all the way to the cars, where Anna loaded Brady into her sporty two-seater and buzzed away. Fred and Karrie got in the town car; in the front seat, Jordan, the driver, made sure they were settled, then raised the barrier between the seats. “So, how bad, really?” Fred asked, turning in his seat to look at her more directly.


“It’s not good,” Karrie replied, falling back into analyst mode. “A lot of predictability just got removed from the world stage, because anyone can create change on the world stage, if they get these powers. Dad, the things I saw people doing in quarantine are world-altering.”


“I got that from the reports,” Fred replies, muscles tightening in his jaw, “but I need to know what the country does next.”


Karrie folded her hands and looked her father in the eye. “We prepare by recruiting powered individuals into a response force that can deal with problems that arise. And Dad, this is a global issue now.” Fred grimaced and Karrie persisted. “I know, I know. But not liking it doesn’t make it true. Someone who could teleport can deposit a dirty bomb in any populated center. We have flyers, super-strong people, water control, and lightning powers, shadow manipulation, and that’s just among us and Britain. We have no clue what other countries have.”


“At least you got the ability to stop the use of powers,” Fred said. “I can’t think of a better, more responsible person to have it.”


“I wish we had a lot more people with this ability,” Karrie said softly, glancing out the window. “I can’t be everywhere, and I can’t answer all the issues our country will face.” She turned to her father. “I need to talk to some people, and I need your help. We have a lot of work to do.”

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September 25, 2019, just after midnight


The wine had done nothing. Karrie hated that, because nothing finished off a dinner at her parents like that lazy, hazy feeling of mild intoxication. She’d expected that, but it didn’t change the irritation at reality. 


Brady shifted slightly next to her, tugging her a bit closer on the settee. Holly and the twins were upstairs, already settled into guest rooms. Once the dinner conversation ran after nine, Jack and Holly had just decided to stay the night, not an unusual move with three young children. Bax was a warm weight on Karrie’s side, snoring softly; he’d been granted the privilege of staying up with the adults because he was five, but he’d quickly passed out once he’d stopped moving. That was also usual, as Aunt Karrie had been Bax’s favorite pillow since he was a baby. Her mother and father discussed politics with Jack, while Brady held her close and listened. Jack had Opinions, of course, as did Fred, while Anna goaded them playfully. The rise and fall of their voices filled her with comfort, while flames danced in the fireplace.


The normalcy of being home eased into her, and started to replace at least the lazy feeling of the wine. As her body relaxed, her mind started to race, chewing at what she knew and digesting it as best it could with week-old facts and data. Any analysis that she did now would be flawed, useless--


“Did you fall asleep on us?” Brady whispered to her, jarring her out of thoughts.


“Almost,” Karrie agreed, looking down at Bax. “I have some encouragement.” She sat up and shifted her nephew into her arms carefully. Jack stopped his diatribe on Venezuela, turning attentively to her. 


“Tired of being a pillow?” her brother asked, running a hand through his perfectly swept blond hair. 


“Actually, I was planning to go home,” Karrie said as she rose and passed the child to her brother. Baxter’s eyes fluttered open, but when he saw his dad, they fluttered shut again. Smiling, Karrie kissed his forehead, smiling fondly.


They said their goodnights and headed out of the house toward the car. “I can drive,” Karrie said.


Brady tilted his head. “You drank.”


“No effect. I doubt I’d peg a breathalizer right now,” Karrie said regretfully. 


“Yikes,” Brady said, holding the door. “How will you survive family dinners?”


Karrie backhanded him playfully. “Ass.”


He caught her hand, leaning over the door to kiss her. “An ass who missed you.”


“I missed you too,” Karrie whispered, and they kissed again. It went on long enough that Karrie started to sweat in the muggy D.C. evening, moist and warm even in September. “Can we get home?” she asked when they parted for air. “I want to finish this at home.”


“Yes, ma’am,” he said, closing the door once she was seated and jogging to the other side. They held hands and kissed at stoplights, Brady focusing on driving while Karrie rubbed his thigh with her other hand and teased him. 


By the time they reached the bedroom, they were both wound. Half-undressed, they collapsed onto the sheets together, filling the room with heavy breathing and soft gasps. They often parted for long periods of time, and the coming back together was often like this. Tonight, the urgency in their coupling reached a new intensity.


Later, they lay together on the bed, talking softly until Brady fell asleep. Karrie tried to join him, but eventually gave up. Her mind wouldn’t stop analyzing the world, but was doing so with half-facts. There were too many holes in the data, and soon she found herself in her home office, logging into her terminal.


She’d been locked out from remote access. Sighing, Karrie slumped in her chair. They hadn’t fired her, but they had blocked her from any off-site information. Wondering if that was permanent, she went to get dressed.

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