Episode Five: Exes: Scene 21

Which left me standing in the street facing one incompetent Asgardian commoner, and two fire giant thugs. In front of witnesses.

He didn’t care about witnesses. Probably, he wasn’t planning on sticking around once he’d grabbed Thea. Who wasn’t coming out of the restaurant. Good.

The two fire giants strode towards me. We were even. They were under orders not to kill me. I, who did care about witnesses, wasn’t about to kill them in public. Unfortunately, that meant I had to be careful, too.

“What’s going on here?” came a voice from behind me.

I responded before they could. “Asshole’s looking for a woman who changed her number to get away from him. Looks like he brought friends.”

I felt the shadow come up next to me. “You?”

“Nah. Friend.” I wasn’t sure whether to hope Thea came out of the restaurant all guns blazing or hope she didn’t. “But I hit him below the belt last time he came sniffing around.”

I turned just enough to see what the male presence next to me was. Crap. I’d just admitted assault to a cop.

“She should just get a restraining order,” the cop grumbled.

“Yeah. Last person I know who got one of them, well, it didn’t do her any good whatsoever,” I grumbled.


I noticed the fire giants had hesitated. Then they came forward. The cop didn’t draw a gun, instead he produced a nightstick. And…spun it. I tried not to laugh. It might have been an intimidating move.
And he might be dead in a few minutes, but if he was, then they’d have to run. And I felt something. An energy from around me. A surge. I couldn’t pay attention to what it was, though. The raven had gone.

And then one of the fire giants got within the cop’s range. He swung the nightstick in a leg sweep, but it didn’t take the guy down. I didn’t have any more time to watch, because I was in close combat with his buddy a moment later. It wasn’t a bad fight. Relatively even. He was stronger, I was faster, and that surge seemed to be buoying me up.

Then I realized it was a good number of people, closing on us. Don’t, I wanted to say. Bad enough that the cop…

It wasn’t the entire crowd, but it was a good number of them, and they were bent on breaking the fight up. And focusing on the people who had started it. Thea’s ex was running. The fire giants? They couldn’t take on the swarm.

And then sirens sounded as the cop’s buddies showed up.

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 20

We found Thea at her current apartment, not far from the zoo, and headed for dinner in Adams Morgan.

I still felt guilty, but I needed to save my money. Still, two people buying me dinner in as many days. Thea had had a gig on Saturday night.

“So, we can’t help Lugenia. Maybe we’ll get a break.”
Thea shook her head. “We won’t. There’s a worse problem on the horizon. I’m investigating it.” She cut off a piece of her steak.

“Let me know if you need our help.”

Thea nodded. “I might. I might not. I don’t know yet. If it’s a really serious problem…”

“…you’ll call your sisters.” I wanted, in that moment, to ask her. Was I one of them? Was that what I had been before being exiled?

Hidden. Not exiled. Hidden. I glanced outside. There was a crow on a lamp post. A very large crow.

No. It was a raven. I nodded to him, and he spread his wings, flying off. I didn’t ask if it was who I thought it was. I didn’t need to. I did wonder which one.

And I knew who had whispered that into my mind. Inwardly, I smiled. Hidden was better, I supposed. It still wasn’t…well. But it didn’t feel like a punishment.

Hidden where I couldn’t even find myself. The thought was amusing, but I set it to one side and munched on my fish. Then the raven circled back. “Caw.”

“I think that means trouble.”

“So do I.” Thea glanced at her plate. “So much for dinner. I’ll pay. You get out to the street and see what’s going on.”

I nodded, standing and moving outside, Kanesha four steps behind me. The raven was now on the little railing by the outdoor seating area, mantling and glaring down the street.

Thea’s ex.

With company. Fire giant type company. Two of them, flanking him on either side. To mundane sight they looked like thugs. “I don’t believe it. Jumping ship like that because Thea wouldn’t sleep with him?”

“Those are…”

“Fire giants. We don’t want to mess with them if we don’t have to.” Anything they did would look like…well.

There was a car nearby. I moved away from it rather than using it for cover, glancing inside, then nodding to the raven again. His presence gave me confidence. “Let’s see.” Mundane water wouldn’t stop them unless we hit them in the eyes with it or something. They kept coming.

“Where’s Thea?”

“Not here,” I told him, bravely. “Why don’t you go hang out with your new friends?”

“Kill her,” he ordered the giants.

“No. She’s on the list,” the one on his right rumbled. “But we can beat her up for you.”

“Kanesha, run,” I murmured. A moment later they’d realize she wasn’t on the list…


“I mean it. Run.”

She did.

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 19

“That was the one, right?” Kanesha said once we couldn’t see the guy.

“You saw him too? I think he got in the serial killer queue for those eyes.”

“Totally,” she agrees. “I’m half hoping he does make a move so you can pull and twist.”

I giggled a bit. “Yeah. I keep having to seek out good men so I know they still exist.”

“Hrm. There’s this bookstore clerk.” Kanesha sounded a little dreamy.

“Stop that, you. You have college to worry about. No boys until you have that scholarship.” I elbowed her.

“He’s nice, though. He wants to ask me out, I can tell, but he’s way too shy.”

“Maybe that’s the key. Find the shy ones. Although Thea would say we need guys who can keep up with us. Which means you need a smart guy who knows martial arts.”

“At least a smart guy,” Kanesha agreed. “And you…hrm. Not sure what you need. Somebody who knows the things you don’t, and doesn’t know the things you do, and can fight.”

“But I still don’t really know anything,” I pointed out, with a grin. “But I know what you mean. I just…” I tailed off. “I’m not sure dating anyone would be a good idea.”

“That’s why you pick one that can fight, so he can look after himself. Maybe somebody good with a gun.”

I shook my head. “You go back to dreaming over shy bookstore clerks. And worrying about that scholarship.”

I would never forgive myself if she missed her chance at college because of me. Never. I feared she would, though.

“I am worrying about it. I can’t afford tuition and you know I won’t get any help. I’ll probably end up having to go to a community college and transfer. What about you?”

“If I’m lucky, the modeling thing will take off. I’m no academic. You’re way smarter than I am.”

“Says the girl who pulled her grades up from D average to B in six months.”

I blushed. “Uh…”

“You’re plenty smart once you get caught up. You should think about college too.”

I shook my head, glancing up at the sky. “I have other things to do. Things I’m needed for.”

I felt a shadow pass across the sun, but then smiled. I was absolutely sure for a moment it was a winged horse.

A valkyrie. And not on any dark mission. “Let’s go track down Thea. If we can.”

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 18

Bruce was as much of a breath of fresh air as I had hoped, and I returned to the city in rather better spirits, if rather late. He had even bought me dinner, which I felt slightly guilty about, but he had been insistent. We’d eaten at a southern style place in Old Town. Red beans, rice, hush puppies and catfish. Very southern. Probably not very good for me, but once in a while it’s good not to worry about that. Once in a while it’s good not to be safe.

When had I last been that? Sunday, I slept in, finished my homework, and then looked for Kanesha. I found her in her room.

“I couldn’t get close to her. She told me she didn’t want to see any of us any more.”

“She’s trying to protect us. One of his buddies has his eyes on me, though.”

“You’re good looking.”

My lips quirked. “I can’t help it.” Maybe I should try harder not to be. Except that I was making money from being pretty, so I was stuck with it now. “But if he tries anything with me, he’s going to get his butt handed to him.”

“Good.” Kanesha let out a breath. “She’s protecting us, but I’m not sure it’s going to help. I don’t think she’ll convince him we aren’t at least a bit of a hold on her.”

“I don’t think she will either, but I can’t blame her for trying. We should probably try to let it lie.”

“Probably. At least Thea’s ex has vanished.”

“Don’t say that. He’ll show back up now.”

She punched my upper arm. “Don’t be superstitious.”

“You’re telling me not to be superstitious?” I made an effort to sound as exaggeratedly incredulous as possible, and she laughed.

“Let’s go do something.”

“Like? It’s too cold for ice cream.”

“This may sound weird, but I feel like going to the zoo.”
The zoo was better on cold days. I found myself acquiescing and we took the Metro to the zoo. We had all afternoon and admission was free. Kanesha wanted to see the lions, so we headed down the hill.

I somehow felt unsafe, though. Watched, and not by any of the people normally watching me. There he was. Miguel’s friend. Undressing me with his eyes, as the cliche went. I finally understood why people used that term.

Asshole. Well, he couldn’t try anything in the crowds and I couldn’t either. It wasn’t packed the way it would be on a summer day, but there were plenty of people.
And besides. The lions were watching.

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 17

I felt, though, as if I had dodged a quite literal budget. They hadn’t shot me this time, but they might change their minds at any time.

And I didn’t want to have to kill any of them. If I was honest with myself, though, it was because I didn’t want to be caught.

I really, I thought, needed to spend some time in the company of a guy who wasn’t a complete loser. Which meant Bruce. I hadn’t spoken to him in a while, but he was the only one I could think of right now other than Barry, whom I didn’t want to encourage in any way, shape, or form.

We met in Arlington and he invited me to take a drive. I hadn’t forgotten my promise to myself never to get in a car with him again.

I broke it. We drove west out of the city, far enough that there were no houses, only fields, stopping at a scenic lookout at the edge of the Shenandoahs. It felt cleansing to be out here.

“So, what’s up?”

“I needed an antidote. Seems everyone with a Y chromosome I meet lately is a total ass.”

Bruce laughed. “There are some total asses without Y chromosomes too.”

I thought of Lugenia, although she was more idiot than ass, and nodded slightly. He was right. “But I needed a reminder that having a Y chromosome doesn’t make you one.”

“Some days I think it’s having a Y chromosome and being under 25.”
Did I tell him the truth? My instincts said not to. He would…well. Who knew how he would react to know for sure his gods were real? It might actually destroy his faith, might drive him to seek rational explanations. “Maybe.”

“So…what’s the reason for that?”

I poured out the story of Lugenia and Miguel.

He shook his head. “Typical. Happens all the time. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, Jane. You know that, right?”

“I wish I didn’t.” I let out a breath, looking back east towards DC. “I know I can’t help her, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to. She’s not a bad person, just…

“Just lousy taste in guys?”

I laughed. “Lousy taste in guys and…well…I can see why she went back to him. There were shots fired. She might think it’s the best or even the only way to keep herself alive.”

For which I couldn’t blame her. Who wanted to die? Nobody except maybe some old guy on life support. Lugenia wanted to stay alive, but she wasn’t going to be living. Just surviving, and I could see her now. Pale, wan, and pregnant.


Was that a real insight or just a thought on what was likely to happen? I didn’t know.

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 16

Which, of course, meant I spent all of Saturday worrying about both of them, but not willing to go see if they needed backup.

Kanesha could handle this if anyone could, and I was not about to cling to her like…well…

Thea hadn’t done that to me. And this wasn’t a supernatural, this was just a jerk. They could handle a jerk. Right?


I hadn’t forgotten Kanesha being kidnapped, though, and eventually I headed out more or less on the prowl, trusting my instincts. I’d do something for dinner, too. I could afford something for dinner. Not a sub, of course. I was tired of subs, as I often was. Pasta. That was it. I’d get pasta.

Pasta. That distracted me for a moment. My stomach was growling. I headed for a place I knew I could get reasonably cheap noodles. Satisfy the stomach. Then I realized I was being followed.

By two of Carlos’ buddies. If he’d got her back he should be leaving me alone. That was the problem. Which meant…that he might be strengthening the hold he thought he had on her.

I ducked through a shortcut, watched to see if they followed. Stopped halfway down the alleyway. It was risky; there were no obvious witnesses. However, I was carrying a gun if I needed it. I’d rather just beat them up, though.

They quickened their pace and I turned to face them. “Gentlemen. Haven’t you ever been told it’s rude to follow a lady around?”

“You ain’t no lady.”

I laughed a bit. “No. Unfortunately for you, I’m not.” I shifted my stance. “So, are you going to go running back to your buddy now or after I damage you some?”

I hated coming over like this, but it was the only language these people were going to understand. The language of fear and violence, and I had developed quite some fluency in it.

Then one of them upped the ante. He drew a gun.

I had my own out in a moment. “Please. Let’s not escalate this to this level.”

“Actually, this is a warning. Leave Lue alone.”

I snorted. “I’m leaving her alone. She can make her own decisions.”

“She’s Miguel’s.”

Ah, right, that was his real name. “She’s her own person.”

“And we’ll work out who gets you.” One of them developed a nasty smile, not the one with the gun. “Paolo, don’t shoot her. I think I want her for myself.”

At that I laughed. “You’ll never get me.” Then, confident, I walked right past them, keeping an eye over my shoulder.
As I suspected, they didn’t shoot me.

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 15

“I can’t believe she did that,” Kanesha raged.

“I can.” Thea settled back. “Look. People in abusive relationships do this. They run away, they go back, they run away. Nothing you can do about it. She’ll either come to her senses, or she won’t.”

I let out a breath. “I want her to come to her senses. I really do. But you’re probably right.” The temptation to kidnap her was growing, but I couldn’t.
That would make me as bad as Carlos. “But it’s going to end up with one of them dead, and I doubt it’ll be him.”

As much as Lugenia wanted to kill him when she didn’t want to sleep with him, she wasn’t competent to do it. At least, that was the analysis. Lust and hatred. I hoped I never ended up like that…and studiously kept my eyes away from Thea.

Lust alone was probably bad enough, but we all felt it, at least most of us did. Did anyone not? Maybe. I’d never know for sure, I supposed. You could only ever tell what people said about themselves.

Well, except maybe there were telepaths out there. It wouldn’t entirely surprise me. I knew who’s advice I wanted to ask on the matter, though.

Or did I. He’d not exactly done great by his wife, after all. Maybe she was the one I wanted to talk to, but for some reason the thought of talking to Sigyn terrified me. Irrationally so. I shuddered a bit.

“What’s wrong?”
“Just…thinking.” I didn’t want to admit what had gone through my mind to Thea. Scared of the goddess of fidelity? That seemed silly, but I was. More afraid than I had been at the thought of Hel, and she was beyond scary.

And I wasn’t even human. I had no reason to be scared of any of them, I told myself, quite firmly. I was possibly even one of them.


But no. That wasn’t feeling quite right. “About stuff. Relationships.”

“Intimacy’s scary,” Thea noted. “And desirable. And sometimes people think it’s supposed to be scary, so they get into intimacy with people they’re scared of.”

“Maybe.” Maybe that did explain Lugenia. “I think part of it is she was worried he was going to shoot me, tired of other people being involved.”

“A lot of these women won’t get out until the guy threatens their kids. I think people who get into these relationships are highly protective. They stick up for the partner and they stick up for anyone else they need to, and that’s part of how they get so screwed up.” Thea shook her head.

Kanesha stood up. “I’m not dissecting this. I’m going to make sure she knows we’re here for her and then go find some homework to do.”

“Don’t go to his place alone.”

“I won’t.”

I wasn’t sure I believed that promise.

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 14

The weekend came all too quickly. I even had money, but I knew better than to spend much of it.

Except that Lugenia had vanished. I wasn’t sure when it had happened, but it must have been overnight, while I was asleep. Maybe she had decided to slip out and go to a shelter.

Or back to Carlos. Not knowing which, I frowned a bit. And headed for the sub store, even though it wasn’t my shift.

I found what I was looking for there. The firehound was curled up in the toaster oven.

“Psst,” I whispered.

It raised its head.

“Care to help me find somebody?” I had a bic lighter on me. I didn’t activate it, just showed it to the beastie.

That was enough. It jumped out of the toaster, bounced off the countertop, and landed next to me. I’d snagged a pair of, to be blunt, Lugenia’s underpants, but I made sure I was out of there and nobody was looking to see me show them to what was, to them, thin air.

Or maybe not. I thought I saw a more solid hound outline as it sniffed at them, then set off down the street. I definitely saw a wagging tail. With flickers of flame around it. Well, if it was enjoying itself. I just hoped it wouldn’t do anything stupid when we found Lugenia. “You’re not to hurt her, okay? We’re making sure she’s safe.”

Safe might well be something Lue was not right now. But I moved through the street, trying to look casual about it. If the dog was visible I hoped a leash was as well, I didn’t want to be arrested for something that stupid. Your hellhound is off the leash.

I found that funny, but I knew I couldn’t actually laugh. I covered it with a fake cough and kept moving.

The hound was leading me into northwest. The bad part. That didn’t bode well. Could still be a shelter, but I was sure now that she had gone back to him. And could I stop her? Was it even my business to?

I didn’t know. I’d never dealt with anything like this before; and I was pretty sure I really hadn’t, as opposed to just not remembering it. What did you do with somebody who both wanted and didn’t want to get out of a situation?

You kicked their butt. Or you let them screw up and waited for them to beg for help. I wasn’t sure which to do.

I wasn’t…I was just a kid. Whatever else I was, I was pretty sure that part was genuine. So was Lugenia. The hound stopped, barking silently, outside a scruffy rowhouse with nothing in the garden. If anything was being grown here it was probably pot.

No. If Carlos…I’d settled on that as a temporary name, not wanting his real one…was on pot, he’d be much nicer.

But yes, she’d gone back to him. I studied the house and then, not sure what to do, turned and walked away.

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 13

Carlos wasn’t there when we left, but a couple of his friends were. The same friends who’d thrown the rock through our window and tried to come in shooting. With witnesses, they just loitered, watching us leave.

“Ugh,” Lugenia murmured.

“I have to work, too. Walk there with me? Thea’s going to meet us.” That was the plan, anyway.

She nodded, clinging close to me. “I feel like they’re going to shoot me any moment. Maybe I should disappear.”

I considered that. “You graduate at the end of this year, right? Too far away. And the social worker wouldn’t take you seriously, but maybe we can find somebody who will.”

There were shelters, too, and they might not send her back. But shelters were also targets. I had a feeling that Carlos would get serious again. He was going to give Lugenia one more chance to come back to him and then he was going to kill her. I knew it in my bones.

I was not going to let her kill him. I knew that in my bones, too. I could never have a normal life, but Lue could. She could be just a regular person for as long as she happened to live.

Carlos would make her something else, something darker. He’d drain everything out of her.

“Or go back to him,” she whispered, leaning against me. “Before anyone else gets hurt.”

“You are not going back to him.” I wished I had more conviction than sounded in my voice. I knew I couldn’t stop her from doing just that if she wanted to. From going back to him. From becoming what he wanted her to be and nothing more or less.

I shook my head.  “Thea will get you home. And we’ll have to talk to the cops about what he’s doing about the restraining order. See if they can do something.”

“They’ll do something if he kills me. Maybe. I mean…why would they care if some black chick’s killed by her spic boyfriend.”

I winced at the racist term, even if I thought Carlos or whatever his name actually was deserved it. You didn’t use words like that. “Lue…I promise. We’ll work this out.”

She fell silent for the rest of the way and stayed silent as I handed her off to Thea. I did want to beat Carlos up, but I couldn’t just go find him and do it. That would be…well, he deserved it, but it was the sort of thing the cops would find out about. And I was pretty sure one of his friends had followed us; I just hadn’t said anything to Lugenia about it.

She didn’t need the worry. She didn’t need to be any more worried about things than she was. Her fear was so palpable I was sure she was about to do something stupid.

Something very stupid indeed.

Episode Five: Exes: Scene 12

I didn’t see skinny guy again any time soon. I did see Carlos or Marcos hanging around outside the school again, though. Lugenia had gotten a restraining order, but he wasn’t quite ignoring it so much as…playing the edges of it, I suppose was how I’d put it. He was always right at the point where if she stepped any closer he’d be in violation, and laughing.

I was going to hurt him. I’d decided on that. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to do it, but he was going to regret what he was doing. I’d very much like to be in a position to grab and twist certain things.

Lugenia had mentioned removing said things. I could understand her temptation, but I wasn’t about to help with anything permanent. He needed to be taught a lesson, but she didn’t need to be guilt-wracked over it.

Now I was being self righteous. It wasn’t really my call what she chose to do. It wasn’t my call at all, but I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit…yeah. As if I was the one guiding her, as if I was the one with the knowledge and experience.

Which was Thea. Spotting Lugenia, I crossed over to join her, walking into the school with her.

“He’s trying to herd me. He knows I don’t want to get close to him and he knows if I do the judge might cancel the order.”

“I can get as close to him as I want,” I pointed out. “I just don’t want to give him the dignity of a response. Let’s not let him know he’s getting to us.”

She laughed a bit at that. “Let’s not.” A pause. “Thea’s having ex problems too.”

“I roughed him up the other day. Haven’t seen him since.”

She looked a bit jealous. “I don’t know how to rough anyone up.”

I felt my lips quirk. “Be sensible and stay that way.” I let out a breath. “Once you have that ability and know you do, it starts to look like a solution. And it isn’t one, not really. It’s a tool, but one that’s very easy to overuse.”

A pause, she looked away, and then back to me. “And if he tries to beat me again?”

“Grab, twist, pull.” I flickered a grin. “He deserves it.”

I abruptly sensed the fairy presence, and whispered, “And you, go bug the guy in the blue sweater.”

“Who are you talking to?”

“Nobody. Myself.” The fairy had vanished. Hopefully to go tie Carlos’ shoes together or something. Having a friend that was invisible was…rather handy. I didn’t want to call him an invisible friend because 16 year olds weren’t supposed to have those.

Then again, 16 year olds weren’t supposed to hang out with Norse gods, either. I flickered Lugenia one more grin and headed to class.