Duality

Part 1...

by Emily Mills, 2000



DISCLAIMERS: As usual, I stick to fairly PG-13 material. There's a good amount of cursin' and swearin' and a fair amount of smackin' and kickin' and blood, so be warned. There is also a kinda-sorta mildly sexual but mostly spiritual relationship between to consenting adults that happen to be female. If that gets yer innards inna twist, turn back now. Any disclaimers that apply to only one part of the story will be listed at the top of the page for that part. These are all, for all intents and purposes, original characters and storylines. This is also a sequal/the second part of RIC, so read that first...trust me. Inspiration disclaimers can be found at the beginning of RIC, if you care. And without further adeiu...

Comments welcome at: batgirl@agog.net




Airports are the gateways between heaven and hell. They are like purgatory.

She sauntered out of the terminal at which her plane had arrived and entered the stream of humanity that populated the walkways. Moving with easy grace amongst the crowd and not having to dodge any errant bodies (due mostly to the fact that no one dared get in the tall, dark-haired woman's way), she navigated herself towards the baggage claim. The Dallas-Fort Worth Airport was relatively easy to find your way around, she decided as an escalator carried her down one story to where the baggage claim was located. She positioned herself just to the back of the main crowd that was also waiting for their luggage to come up the conveyer belt and let her cool blue eyes scan the area. A man came up just to her left then and cleared his throat in a half-hearted attempt to get the taller woman's attention. She merely turned her eyes on him, keeping her sleek, muscular body facing forward. A smooth, dark eyebrow shot up in question.

"Can I help you?" she inquired in a low, rumbling drawl. The man gave a start and sucked in a nervous breath before releasing it in a falsely cocky chuckle.

"I, ah, couldn't help but notice you standing here all alone."

She looked him up and down, taking in his short and stocky build, his greasy brown hair and dull gray eyes that gazed hungrily upon her own form. He was dressed in a plain gray business suit, the black tie he wore slightly askew and untucked from his jacket.

"I couldn't help not notice you," she answered coolly before turning her eyes back on the baggage claim, which was now spitting out various luggage onto a rotating conveyer belt. He shifted uneasily and ran a shaky hand through his hair.

"Well, that aint a very nice thing t' say. You obviously aint from 'round here, are ya missy?"

Twin eyebrows shot up to her hairline at the remark and she now turned so that her whole body, radiating menace and power, faced the smaller man.

"Excuse me? No, I am not from around 'ere and if you ever call me 'missy' again I will pull your teeth out one-by-one and then shove them so far up your a--"

She cut herself off mid-sentence as sharp eyes caught sight of her own luggage. Toning the intimidating woman thing down a notch, she grinned sardonically and sighed.

"Oh, just piss off. My luggage's up."

The man guffawed quietly but quickly made his way to the other side of the claim area, deciding to put as much distance between himself and the crazy foreign woman.

Auset reached out and snatched her suitcase from the belt and then made her way toward and then out of an exit. The moment she set foot outside, she was assaulted by the most oppressive heat she'd ever felt. Though the area she stood in was sheltered by an overhang and the road before her under another raised street, the heat of the day far outweighed any shade that might have been present. The air was absolutely still and thus only added to the temperature.

The airport is purgatory and I took the exit into Hell. Just my luck.

Auset hailed the first cab that came her way and joyfully situated herself in the air conditioned vehicle. She pulled a crumpled up piece of paper out of a pocket and related the address printed on it to the cabby, who promptly took off in the proper direction. Auset pushed sweat-drenched locks of black hair off her forehead and sat back in the chair, eyes closed, pondering what exactly to expect from this job she had been sent on. Sera was most-likely behind it, but he wouldn't try to kill her--oh no, she knew him better than that. He would most likely try to win her over again, get her to go along with his plans. And he has every reason to think that it will work, she thought to herself, because it has worked every other time.

An image floated into her mind then that brought a pleased smile to her face. Only this time, she mused, this time it wasn't going to work at all. This time I have to be very, very careful.



Strange and yet...exhilarating...to be living in her apartment. The blonde woman stretched herself out on the hardwood floor and began warming up for an exercise session. Muscles loosened, she jumped to her feet with surprising agility and bounced around on the balls of her feet in front of the punching bag that hung suspended from the ceiling.

This is a huge responsibility, she continued her thoughts, being left in charge of her apartment like this. Especially with her plant. Let that thing die and oh man...well, she didn't want to think about that. Instead Reese concentrated on beating the snot out of the bag as a part of her daily basic kickboxing routine. Her blonde-gold hair, thick with sweat, plastered itself to her forehead as she further exerted herself, droplets of moisture beading up and then gliding slowly down her toned body.

The physical workout helped to keep her thoughts off the multitudes of subjects that kept her awake at night. Reese needed a few hours in the day where she didn't have to think about--everything.

Her body thoroughly exercised, Reese stepped back from the punching bag and took a few deep breaths before padding off towards the bathroom with the intention of taking a nice, long shower. She was sidetracked, however, when the phone rang.

She pressed a button for the speaker and answered, then nearly stopped breathing when she heard the voice on the other end.

"Hi."

"Oh...hi!" she gasped.

"I made it here OK. Thought I should let you know," Auset's very distinctive contralto came through the line. Reese blinked and smiled despite herself.

"Well, I'm glad. And thanks for calling."

"I should be back in about a week. I'll call if anything comes up," here Auset paused and then took a breath before continuing. "Everything OK there?"

"Yeah, yeah," Reese assured her. "Plant's fine, I'm fine, everything's fine."

"Good to hear," a chuckle and then, "Um...have a good day. G'bye."

"Bye," Reese finished as she heard the line go dead. She stood and stared at the phone for a moment, admitting silently to herself that she was flattered that Auset had called to let her know she had arrived safely. Then, snapping back to reality, she continued on her journey to the bathroom.

Some fifteen minutes later, Reese emerged from her shower feeling much more clear-headed and refreshed. She grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and then situated herself on the couch with Auset's laptop on her knees. The apartment was definitely growing on her, but she didn't let herself think of that too much. You need to find your own place pretty quick, she mused, because it would be unfair to Auset to stick around for very long after she gets back. Don't want to overstay your welcome. Lucky for you she was nice enough to let you stay here at all.

Reese began a search for available lofts and apartments, but soon lost interest and began working on a story she had been writing for a month now. Inspiration strikes at such random times, she thought, that you just have to utilize it whenever it does. Sometimes she wrote thirty pages in one sitting, and other times she was lucky if she could squeeze out a few paragraphs. Since the beginning of her stay at Auset's apartment, which had only started the day before, she had managed to write a good twenty pages. Something about the place just seemed to inspire her.



Auset watched the suburban sprawl whiz past her window as the cab drove through the outskirts of the city, en route to the address she had given. She had never been to Dallas before and so took the opportunity to soak up the sights. It was like any other city she could think of, only hotter and definitely smaller than say, Chicago or London. One skyscraper in particular caught her attention, the gaping hole in its' centre making it hard to miss, and she chuckled wryly to herself as she noted the definite phallic design of the building.

The cab driver deftly maneuvered the car through traffic, occasionally flipping obscene gestures to other motorists and cursing quite profusely. Eventually, they pulled up in front of a medium-sized office building that was located on the more northern border of the actual city. Pale blue eyes took in the neighborhood in which it was situated and noted the abundance of bars and clubs. Must be the trendy area, she mused.

Auset paid the cabby and slung her travel backpack over her shoulders, planting her booted feet on the hot sidewalk and cautiously eyeing the office building. It was a damn good thing she'd packed plenty of tanktops, she sighed, because it had become clear that in this place, they were pretty much all you could stand to wear without just ending up having to strip. She removed an errant bead of sweat from her forehead with a long finger and then continued forward to enter the building. She prayed it was air conditioned.



The phone rang again. Reese cursed out loud and set the laptop aside, then placed the headset over her ears and answered.

"What?" she grumbled.

"Whoa, easy there Reesey."

She blinked in surprise and cleared her throat.

"Andrew?"

"Yeah sis, good guess. Did I catchya at a bad time?" her brother asked teasingly.

"Sorry, no, I was just writing," she apologized.

"Shoulda guessed. How're you doing? I mean, after the fire and all, and living at some stranger's house. Must be pretty stressed."

"I'm all right," Reese said, a touch amazed to find the statement to be true, at least about her current living situation. "I mean, it sucks that the loft burned down but I don't know--I'm okay. How're you?"

"You know, same-old," he said a bit shakily. Reese heard the hesitation and inquired further.

"Yeah? Something doesn't sound like it's so great. What's up?"

"I got a lead in the play," he replied, dodging the subject.

"Great! Congratulations! What play?"

"House of Yes."

"Ah, I know that one. They made it into a movie, right?"

"Yeah, with Parker Posey. She was great for that part," Andrew sighed.

"Hey, what's wrong?" she pushed carefully. There was a pause on the other end.

"It's...everything. Reese, things have totally fallen apart since you left. I haven't told dad about the play yet, but you know what he'll say!"

"Andrew, I know, but how are you gonna keep hiding it from him?"

"I dunno. But I'm gonna hafta at least until I can get the hell out of here and away from him...and even that looks pretty bleak now," he finished, voice growing quiet.

"Why?" Reese asked, a little confused. "One year left and then you can get off to college!"

"No, I can't...not now," he grumbled. Reese sensed that there was something very wrong but didn't for the life of her know what. Andrew had been just as determined to get out of Flora as she had; what on earth would keep him there?

"Why not?"

"Because I...because," he sighed, exasperated. "I got Ione pregnant."

Reese froze and ran the words over in her head. Oh boy.

"My gods..." she started but trailed off and just closed her eyes.

"Reese, I don't know what to do!" he said, a sob evident in his voice. "Neither one of us could handle a kid and we sure as hell don't have the money. We talked about getting it, y'know, aborted...but the clinic here needs an adult to be present and we don't have the money anyway. Jesus, if I tell dad he'll--"

"Go insane. I know," she cut him off, her head hanging. She used her free hand to begin slowly massaging her temples and tried to think. "Let me see what I can do. I could always come there and be the adult...and I may be able to scrape together enough money."

"Reese, no. I can't let you do all that. This is our problem and we'll deal with it. I appreciate the thought but--"

"But nothing, Andy. What else can you do?" she argued.

"Marry her."

Oh man, Reese thought, this is totally insane. Dad will kill him, he'll absolutely kill him.

"You know as well as I do that that rarely works out. Normally I'd be all for any solution that would keep her from having to have an abortion, you know me, but if dad finds out..."

They both just sat on the line, breathing but not speaking. Each knew perfectly well what their father was capable of doing for far less major events than this. Andrew would be lucky to get out alive.

"I'm coming down, Andy, and that's it. Don't mention to dad that I'm coming either, I'll just stay at the motel and we'll keep low."

"You really don't have to do this...but, thank you," Andrew said softly.

"Hey, you're my brother, I wouldn't do any less. I'll take off from work this weekend and catch a bus down. I'll get a hold of you once I'm in town," she reasoned, thinking ahead in her mind about how much money she could dig up and the price of bus tickets. "Love ya, Andy. Be well."

"Love ya too, sis."

And then the line went dead. Reese stared unseeing at the laptop and just sat still for a moment. The last thing she had expected to be doing that weekend was to be headed back to Flora. But, if all went well, she wouldn't have to face her father. She just had to go and help get things sorted out with Andrew and Ione and then she could come right back to Chicago. Maybe it would even help pass the time while Auset was away a little better. Maddy owed her some time off from work, she'd been nothing but punctual and always took extra shifts when it was needed. All she really needed was to muster up the strength to face home.

=================

The building was air conditioned and Auset breathed a sigh of relief as she approached the receptionist. The small, older woman peered up at her over horn-rimmed reading glasses and grinned.

"Can ah help you, dear?"

Auset stopped briefly in her tracks at being referred to as 'dear' but quickly recovered and stood in front of the desk.

"Yes. I'm looking for" she glanced down at her work orders, "Ms. Burns? In security ops."

"Oh yes, let me call up and tell her." She pressed a button and spoke into her headset. "Ms. Burns, there's a--" she looked expectantly at Auset.

"Morrigan." A half-truth. It was her middle name, and what she went by when doing this sort of thing.

"A Ms. Morrigan here to see you. Shall ah send her up?" A pause and then, "Right away ma'am." She looked back to Auset, who was leaning idly against the desk now. "Second floor, hon, door 203."

The dark haired woman gave a lop-sided grin and nodded, then headed for the stairwell that lead up. When she came to the appropriate door, it opened before she could knock. A woman, not two inches shorter than Auset, stood before her smiling slightly. She stared hard at the taller woman, deep brown eyes sparkling, and then motioned for her to enter the room.

"Morrigan, I presume?" she inquired as her self-assured gait took her to the other end of the room where a desk was located. Auset moved cautiously forward and stood in the center of the room, her gaze unwavering from the other woman.

"Ms. Burns, I'm here to--"

"Mary...call me Mary," she said good-naturedly. Auset shifted slightly and then continued.

"Mary. I'm here to do the security work."

"Yes, I know," Mary said as she lowered herself into a chair and adjusted the black pinstripe power suit she was wearing. Auset was noticing the looks she was getting from the older woman. Her brown eyes were none-to subtly scanning Auset's body top-to-bottom with a hungry glint to them. Auset chuckled inwardly. The woman wasn't bad herself, her dark brown hair framing a delicately well-sculpted face and intelligent eyes and she had a slim but not slight figure, the suit she wore giving an onlooker a hint that she might work out.

"I should get started as soon as possible. I need to know where I'll be working and where I'll be staying. I'll also need the proper information on your systems: passwords, coding styles, that sort of thing," Auset stated matter-of-factly.

"Of course," Mary stated. "I'll have the information you need by tomorrow morning, which is when you can start work. You'll be staying in a loft next-door that we keep for visitors like yourself. You have tonight to relax, explore our little city." She paused here as if considering something. Auset was pretty sure she knew what was coming next. "I could...show you a good place to eat, if you're interested." Yup, that was what she'd expected.

The dark haired woman raised a smooth black eyebrow and pursed her lips slightly.

"Sure. Sounds good," she replied non-committally. Mary grinned and stood up.

"Good then. You can go get settled into your living quarters and then I'll meet you in the lobby at seven."

Auset made her way to the loft that was in fact directly next-door to the offices and used the key that Mary had given her to unlock the door. It was a small affair, with just a bed, desk, kitchenette and bathroom. She discovered that it t had a good internet connection though, so all was well.

She heard a knock at the door at precisely seven o'clock. When she opened it, Mary stood just outside, casually leaning against a wooden support beam. Auset gave a lop-sided grin and then walked outside, making sure to close the door behind her. Mary had changed out of the power suit and was now wearing comfortable looking black slacks and a dark blue tank top.

"There's a pretty decent, straight-forward cafe just down the street. They make good sandwiches," Mary offered as they made their way along the sidewalk. Auset noticed the abundance of street and club kids that populated the area and the clubs themselves that were just starting to prepare for the evening ahead. Interesting that this company appeared to be located in the middle of the arts district, she mused.

After a few blocks they came to a good-sized restaurant called Cafe Brazil and they sat down at a table in the back near the door that lead out to a patio.


The bus tickets arranged and time gotten off from work, almost all was set for Reese to make her unexpected journey down to Flora. The one thing that remained for her to do was to let Auset know.

The writer ambled over to the speaker phone and dialed the number Auset had given for her cell phone. After three rings, the distinctive sound of the low, rich voice came across the line.

"Auset? It's Reese."

"Oh, ah, hi," the other woman said, slight confusion evident in her voice. "Everything OK?"

"Yeah, well, pretty much. I have to go to Flora for the weekend though...for my brother...and I thought I should let you know," Reese stated.

"Um, all right. Just make sure you lock up and all that," a pause and then, "You sure everything is fine?" Auset added quietly.

"I hope so, but I'll explain when I get back. Talk to you soon."

"Yeah, be...um...safe. Bye," the older woman finished awkwardly before they both hung up. Mary looked at the dark haired woman seated across from her inquiringly. "My roommate," she asserted. Mary pursed her lips and grinned slightly.

"Nice of--" an almost unnoticeable pause, "--her." Auset said nothing and went back to scanning the menu for something appetizing. After the waiter had taken their orders, Mary looked back to her silent company and tried to breathe new life into the non-existent conversation.

"So, you're from...?" she left the question hanging and Auset glanced up before answering.

"London, Brisbane, New York...you choose," she replied dryly. The brunette looked intrigued.

"Woman of the world."

Auset grunted and took a sip of her water. Mary was fast becoming agitated at the woman's apparent lack of conversational skills and shifted uncomfortably in the seat. The hacker noticed this and smiled inwardly. She made a habit of not offering up answers to people she had just met without being asked, and even then it required some persistence. Auset enjoyed slowly allowing the knowledge of who was in charge to creep over those around her. The only person she'd not even thought to play this game with was Reese....

The food came then and Mary dug into her salad with relish, happy to have something to occupy herself with other than the brooding woman across the table from her. Auset simply began eating her sandwich because she was hungry.

The meal was carried out in relative silence as Mary formulated a plan to better infiltrate Auset's language barrier. When they were through and had paid, they exited into the now somewhat-cooled night air. The muffled music of clubs could be heard seeping through the walls of the buildings that contained them and all sorts of people were out and about now. As the two eventually made their way back to the loft and stood just outside the door, Mary finally spoke up again.

"Are you always this talkative?"

"Heh," Auset chuckled. "Most of the time. I'm sorry, but after the flight and this heat...y'know."

"I know, and hey, I think that was the longest sentence you've said to me yet!" the older woman joked and playfully tapped Auset on the shoulder.

"Mm, don't get too used to it," Auset drawled as she removed the key to the loft from her pocket.

"Well, I'll let you get some rest then," Mary continued, more pleased now. "See you first thing tomorrow and you can start work. G'night."

"Night," the dark-haired woman replied and then slipped into the loft. When the door was shut, Mary shook her head with amusement and chuckled.

"Oh, this will be fun," she said to herself before heading off toward the lot where she had parked her car.



The bus ride was fairly uneventful and boring, most of southern Illinois being made up of fields of corn and soybeans. Reese stared out of the large, tinted window from her seat near the back of the bus and let the hypnotic blur of scenery keep her mind occupied. She had left Auset's apartment that morning after giving her cat, Ephiny, plenty of food for the weekend and a good hug. Currently it was fast approaching dusk as the sun dipped lower into the horizon and accented the already golden hue of the corn fields. She would be in Flora soon.

Reese distinctly remembered swearing to herself that she would not step foot in Flora ever again, but plans have a funny way of never working out exactly as they should and here she was, not fifteen miles from her hometown. It was, however, for a worthy cause, she decided. Andrew had really gotten himself into a fix this time, but what kind of sister would she be if she didn't offer to help somehow? Reese knew her father as well as Andrew did and they both knew that this was something that had to be taken care of without him ever knowing. That would be the trick; to get into town without being spotted and to deal with the situation without being found out. That would be the worst-possible scenario--that their father not only find Reese in town, but also to find out why she was in town.

All hell would break loose.

The bus pulled into the station after another ten minutes or so and Reese unloaded herself and her luggage from it. She just stood, facing the town she hated so much, and did not move for a time. The only good things that had come out of this place were her brothers, her two friends, and maybe even herself--on a good day. Reese had never been able to make many friends, what with her father's antics being well-known by the other residents and them not wanting their children anywhere near the man. Besides which, the aspiring writer had immersed herself in books, music, and writing. She tried not to think about the social lives that most of the other kids her age had. Oh sure, she had some interesting memories that included the two friends she did have and with her brothers, but well...they weren't typical like the things that most of the other kids did.

Nothing had changed. Granted, it had only been half a year, but everything else in the world had changed except for this town. She bet that all the shops still shut down on Sundays, that everyone was home by nine at night, and that the majority of the inhabitants worked at the tire plant. Her father also, as far as Andy had told her, still held his position at the police station. Apparently his drunkenness had not adversely affected his work yet.

Reese took a deep breath and walked into the little motel that was located at the very edge of Flora. This was as remote as she could hope to get and still remain close to town. The interior of the place was dimly lit and, judging by the orange shag carpeting and ripped pleather couches, hadn't been redecorated since the 1970's. Thankfully, the girl working the front desk wasn't familiar. Reese wanted to remain as in cognito as possible on this trip. If someone who knew her spotted her, the news would spread through the small town in mere hours.

She checked in under the name of Reese Covington, which was her mother's maiden name, and smiled to herself at having to use a pseudonym--she felt like a celebrity or something.

The room she was given was clean, at least, and it had a TV, bed, desk, and very small bathroom. The blonde flopped down onto the mattress and stared up at the gently whirring ceiling fan. It was late so she decided to get a hold of Andrew in the morning and, that decided, allowed the hum of the fan to lull her to sleep.

Morning light streamed in through the open window and fell across the features of the small blonde woman who lay sprawled across the bed. Reese stretched and lazily opened her eyes. Oh yeah, she remembered, I'm in Flora. Great.

Reaching over and grabbing the phone from next to her head, she dialed the number for home and prayed that her father would not answer. He was supposed to be at work, but you never knew if he'd be too hungover to go.

She heaved a sigh of relief when Andrew's voice came over the line.

"Hey Andy," she said sleepily.

"Reese! Are you in town?"

"Yeah, I'm at the motel," Reese said as she attempted to sit up.

"Right, can you come by the house? Say, in an hour?"

"OK, sure, I'll see you then kiddo."

And the conversation ended. Reese leaned back against the headboard and yawned. She had forgotten to change into pajamas and had ended up falling asleep in her clothes, which were now wrinkled and fairly unhappy. Slowly, she stumbled out of bed and made her way to the bathroom where a nice, hot shower awaited her.

She'd need to feel thoroughly clean before attempting to enter that house again.

==================

Continued in Part 2...
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