bad promise

I fucking hate it here

Emily Glinwood lives in a beautiful, wide-open loft, with a wall of windows, and lots of plants. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Maybe something a little bit more… I don’t know, edgy, I guess? It seems like someone on the brink of murderous rampage would live somewhere a little less Pinterestable.

There was already tea brewing when we arrived, and she greeted the Hawthornes with huge, boisterous hugs, considering the purpose of our trip.

“Come in!” she said, bouncing aside. She was younger than I expected. She couldn’t have been older than 25. “I’ve got scones in the oven, and tea on the stove. Are you hungry? Have you been on the road long?”

“Oh, you know,” Neal answered when Julian didn’t reply. “Always. What about you, how’s work?”

She beamed at him. “I’m so glad you asked,” she said. “Come in and sit down, I’ll tell you all about it.”

Her table was set with a pretty tea set, flowers, a pitcher of ice water with lemon. I was trying to decide if she’d done all this for us when she opened the fridge to get cream and revealed the most perfectly organized refrigerator I’ve ever seen, and I decided she was just like this.

We spent the entire next hour discussing Emily’s work. Apparently she’s a neurologist, and her research has been groundbreaking, and apparently she’s made real strides towards curing blah blah blah, I was about to squirm out of my seat.

It was almost a FULL HOUR of small talk and drinking tea, before Neal finally said, “So you’re experiencing complications with your Hyde?”

She smiled. “More than you know, I’m afraid,” she said. “I managed to escape my confines last night, and evidence suggests I may have murdered several people.”

She said it totally casually, pouring Julian another cup of tea, her face totally untroubled.

“I ask that you react to this information with as little emotion as you can manage,” she added, settling back down in her seat. “I’m finding that heightened emotions tend to trigger episodes.”

Apart from an initial freeze, the Hawthornes took this news absolutely coolly.

“What kind of evidence?” Julian asked, stirring in his cream and sugar.

“I woke up on my floor this morning, covered in blood. My security systems were disabled at some point, so I don’t have much evidence, but I did a bit of poking around and it looks as if someone in a ski mask broke into my neighbor’s house and were murdered in a very ugly way.”

I don’t want to know what that means, I don’t, I really don’t want to know.

I glanced at the boys.

“I’m making your apprentice very uncomfortable,” Emily said. “I’m sorry dear, but my brain is no longer functioning at the capacity we’re used to. I’m used to.”

Julian reached across the table and took her hands. “Em,” he said.

She forced a smile. “It’s time for me to go,” she said. “But I can feel my certainty on that point slipping away, so it needs to happen fast.”

When Julian didn’t answer right away, she added, “you promised me.”

He looked down. “I did.”

“We can wait, though,” Neal said. “We’ll keep an eye on you until —” He stopped.

“Until?” Emily prompted, eyes sparkling with mischief.

“Have you told anyone what’s happening to you?” Julian asked.

“No.” She withdrew her hands. “Who would I tell?”

“Friends? Coworkers? Patients?”

Emily laughed. “My only friend is coming with me, so there’s no need to say goodbye.” Then she softened when she saw Julian’s expression. “My only friend apart from you, of course. It’s difficult to form lasting relationships when you have the only company you could ever need living in your head.”

The Hawthornes glanced at each other, and I could sense the agony.

“Okay,” Neal finally said. “Well, either way, we’re going to keep you for observation, okay?”

She laughed again. “I murdered people last night. What could we possibly have to wait for?”

“We don’t know it was you,” Julian replied and she scoffed, but before she could say anything, he went on. “I’m your friend and I owe you this much, okay?”

Emily rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said. “But if you leave me alone I’ll hurt someone else.”

Julian smiled tightly. “We won’t leave you alone, then, will we?”

Soon after that the three of us went and had words in the hallway.

“I’m going to stay with her,” Julian said. “But I need you two to go investigate those deaths, okay? If it wasn’t her, we might be able to salvage this to some extent.”

Neal hesitated. “Jude,” he said. “She’s… I mean, she’s not herself. You saw her.”

Julian’s jaw tightened. “She thinks she killed people. She just told us that stress seems to make the symptoms worse, right? Well, that seems like stress to me.”

Neal didn’t say anything, just looked at him.

“Look, yeah, I get it,” Julian said. “I get it. I understand where this is probably going, but I’m not going to be able to live with this one unless we do our due diligence, okay?”

Neal just nodded, squeezed his shoulder, and nodded me after him. “Come on Shiloh, lets go see what there is to see.”

Our first step was the police station for the full report of what happened, which meant suits and FBI IDs that went totally smoothly, even though I went in wearing sunglasses, which I didn’t take off inside. Neal says the shades make me seem older, so maybe they work on a couple levels.

I read Neal the report on the way to the morgue. It was a triple homicide, a young family, their brains removed and set in a row on their kitchen table. They have no leads except that a traffic camera caught someone in a ski mask standing on the corner, staring at the crossing light for a full 15 minutes.

“So…” I said while we sat in the hospital parking lot, gearing up to go inside. “How do you know Emily?”

“She was a case when we were kids,” Neal said. “Do you remember Molly and Sharp? You met them at White Pyre.”

Yeah, I met a lot of people at White Pyre, I don’t remember.

“Well, they got wind of a Hyde symbiote being sold on the black market and tracked it down. Emily’s parents made a bunch of money in the 90s, and they thought that if Emily had extraordinary abilities they would be in a position for the family to become very powerful. They wanted her to be president. And you know, if they’d done it right, she very well could have been. But they didn’t read the fine print, and Molly and Sharp got there too late to stop them infecting her too young. Which… I mean it was a death sentence. So Molly and Shapr brought her to stay at Louie’s while we tried to disentangle them. I was maybe 13, so Julian would have been 10 or so? They bonded right away.” He managed a strained smile. “They had a lot in common. She stayed at Louie’s for several years, but eventually it became clear that we weren’t going to get rid of the Hyde, and Emily needed more stimulation. So she was sent off to school, and Julian and I started hunting with Bev, Jasper and Cara. They’ve stayed close though.” He paused a long time before saying, “I think they’ve been able to support each other in a way other people can’t, you know?” He cleared his throat. “Come on. Let’s go see those bodies.”

I’m not really sure what to tell you about the bodies. They were dead. It was horrible.

“They were killed by a single, skilled puncture to the throat,” the medical examiner explained, once we’d presented our (fake) credentials. “No struggle at all. And the brain removal is incredibly delicate.”

“Would you say the killer would have had some surgical skill?” Neal asked.

“Oh without a doubt,” the medical examiner said. She was a pudgy older woman, with a warm face and very careful hands. If I had to be sliced open, she’s exactly the kind of person I’d want to do it hahaha.

“That’s what I thought,” Neal said. “Thank you, that’s all we needed.”

I don’t know what to say except that once you see the bodies on the slab, everything gets pretty real.

When we got back in the car, Neal just sat there in the driver’s seat for a long time.

“Neal?” I asked.

He took a deep breath, and forced a smile. “Yeah, sorry. What’s up?”

“…it wasn’t her fault, right?”

He pressed his fingers to his eyes and scrubbed. “No. It wasn’t her fault.”

“Then why…” I trailed off.

“Does she have to die?” Neal finished for me. “That’s what she wants.”

“Yeah, but,” I wasn’t totally sure how to formulate my thoughts. “I mean, we don’t just kill everyone who wants to die.”

“No,” Neal agreed.

“And —” I hesitated. “I mean, even in normal courts, people make allowances for people if they’re experiencing some kind of mental break, so…”

Neal took a deep breath. “Emily doesn’t have a mental illness,” he said gently. “She isn’t having a psychotic break. If she was, we would be throwing all our efforts into protecting her, and the people around her, so she could live the rest of her life with as much dignity and happiness as possible. Mentally ill people get management tools, and medication, not a death sentence. But that’s not what this is.” He turned to look at me.

“If a Hyde is introduced into a fully developed brain, they become truly symbiotic. Each assists the other in becoming more than the sum of their parts, a super human, with incredible mental, emotional, and physical ability. Emily didn’t receive her Hyde as a fully developed adult. Hers was introduced to her when she was very young.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means she has a parasite, which causes loss of brain function, altered personality, violent tendencies, memory disruption and eventual death.” And before I could ask anything else, he added, “it has a 100% mortality rate, and soon she won’t have her own agency.”

I sat with that for a long time, before saying, “but that doesn’t mean she deserves to DIE.”

“No, of course not,” Neal replied. “OF COURSE not. No one with a disease deserves to die. But who are we to tell her she has to handle her incurable disease? She doesn’t have that many choices left, Shi.”

I wanted to scream.

“We should get back,” Neal said. But he didn’t drive straight back to Emily’s penthouse. He turned on Very Loud Music, got on the highway, rolled down the windows, and yelled at the top of his lungs. Which makes a certain amount of sense. The whole brains on the kitchen table sorta seals this one for us, you know?

I yelled, too. Felt fucking awesome. Yelled our little lungs raw.

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