phenomena | s.jn
summary: the majority of your adult life you’ve been practically married to logic and science. until your superiors at the FBI assign you to work with special agent johnny suh on the so-called x-files project—cases that were never solved due to unexplained phenomena. as time goes by, and you chase case after case, you find yourself drifting further from logic… and closer to johnny. (part of the 90s love collab)
pairing: conspiracytheorist!johnny x doctor!reader
genre: x-files!au (with johnny as fox mulder and reader as dana scully), fbiagents!au, coworkers-to-lovers, slow burn, sci-fi, angst, fluff, comedy, crack-ish at times, fakmarriage!au at the end
warnings: language, murder, eating, blood, general violence, police presence (txf is fbi level copaganda but oh well), johnny is a low key dick initially, sexual references, general american ignorance, implied sexual harrassment in the workplace, mental hospitals, reader witnesses a distressing panic attack, guns, body image, referenced child/animal abuse, repressed memories, mentions of anti-semitism & nazism, christian allusions, occultism, mild gore, slight body horror, some 90s pop culture references, i am not !!! an fbi agent so there may be some inconsistencies, suggestive content but no actual smut, Karens being thirsty for johnny, johnny is a Single Man and is Kind of Gross, both reader and johnny get knocked unconscious Several Times
song recs: gorillaz - dirty harry // john mellencamp - martha say // elton john - whitewash county // arctic monkeys - all my own stunts // kesha - spaceship // the cranberries - dreams // exo - oasis // the cure - friday, i'm in love // billy joel - we didn't start the fire // david bowie - starman // phoebe bridgers - chinese satellite // tom petty - wildflowers // selena - bidi bidi bom bom // soda stereo - persiana americana // bruce springsteen - dancing in the dark // the cranberries - linger // bruce springsteen - human touch // r.e.m - it's the end of the world as we know it (and i feel fine) // david bowie - heroes (or just listen to the playlist i made instead)
word count: 34.3k (YOWZA u should prob read this on a browser)
a/n: a fic this long......never again
X-FILE 62-J: THE PINEWOOD PATTERN
FBI HEADQUARTERS, WASHINGTON, D.C—08:00 hours, Monday, March 16th, 1992
The morning you met Johnny Suh, his glasses were crooked. It was two years after you'd started working for the FBI, and you were 28 years old.
You'd spoken to your Division Chief—an older, balding man named Carson Brooks—the afternoon prior, just before you left home. He, along with two other men had asked you about the man in question.
"Agent L/N, tell me. What do you know about an agent named John Suh?”
You had furrowed your eyebrow, staring up at him. “John Suh? He had quite the reputation at the academy. Let's see… Oxford educated psychologist. He wrote a monograph on serial killers and the occult… helped the FBI catch Ezekiel Braun in 1988. He’s generally considered to be the best analyst of the violent crimes division. I’ve never met him personally. There’s a nickname for him around the division, though. They called him that in the academy, too." You had to hold back a chuckle, "Spooky Suh."
One of the men next to him nodded—a senior officer whose name you couldn't quite remember—before leaning forward. “It has come to our attention that he’s devoted himself to a project outside of the bureau mainstream. Agent L/N, are you familiar with the so-called X-Files project?”
You looked down at your hands in your lap, trying to recall where you’d heard the name. “From what I understand,” You said, looking up at the man, “They’re cases that are related to unexplained phenomena.”
Your division chief straightened his glasses. “Agent L/N, we’d like for you to assist Suh on these files. You are to write field reports and assess the validity of his work.”
You blinked, not letting your face crack. “...Am I to understand you want me to debunk the X-Files project, sir?”
Your eyes scanned the room. So far, the third man, the one smoking the cigarette had been the only one to not speak.
“Agent L/N,” Your division chief replied with a pursed smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes, “We expect you to make the proper scientific analyses required for these cases. We trust you won’t disappoint us and will be looking forward to seeing your reports. You are to meet with Agent Suh tomorrow morning.”
That had been the day before. Now, here you were, on your way down to the basement, which was apparently John Suh's natural habitat within the Bureau headquarters. The lighting was relatively low in the hallways, shelves upon shelves of cardboard archive boxes seemingly closing you in. When you finally reached the office door at the end of the hall, you rapped your knuckles against the wood twice.
“Sorry, no one down here except for the FBI’s most unwanted!” A deep, sardonic toned voice lamented. You made an amused face to yourself, before quickly composing yourself.
Professionalism above all else, Y/N. First impressions matter.
So you took a deep breath before opening the door slowly. Your eyes scanned the room, widening slightly despite your mantras of professionalism. The man had his back to you, so he didn’t catch it, thankfully. He was too busy studying photographic slides on a lightbox on his desk, hunched over in concentration.
But amongst those metal filing cabinets that were all that same atrocious shade of gray, the entire room was pretty much a mess—papers scattered across the desk and pictures tacked to the walls haphazardly to the point where it was hard to tell what color the wall he was sitting in front of was. Among other things, you caught newspaper clippings, pictures of bright beams of light igniting the night sky, a diagram of the human skeleton, and in the middle, a large poster. On it, a large UFO was hovering above a pine forest skyline, the words “I WANT TO BELIEVE” printed in bold, white letters across the bottom.
The man in question turned in his swivel chair to face you. You took note of the crooked glasses propped up onto his round nose, wide eyes studying you up and down. The sleeves of his white button up were rolled up to his elbows, and his tie, just like his glasses, was crooked. Still, you mustered a curt smile, urging yourself to remain professional in spite of how handsome he was.
"Agent Suh," You declared, holding out your hand, "I’m Y/N L/N. I've been assigned to work with you."
John shook your hand, eyeing you somewhat skeptically. "Agent L/N. I've heard a lot of things. So, who did you piss off to get stuck with this old nut?"
"Actually, I’m looking forward to working with you. Division chief Brooks has asked me to do an evaluation of your work ethic and the overall project, I’m hoping we can work well together."
He pursed his lips, obviously trying to hold back a laugh. Finally, he broke into a grin. "So, they want you to babysit."
You bit back a huff as he turned to look back at his slides. Well, yes, he was right in a way, but you weren't going to admit it. Not with the slightly condescending tone he'd taken with you. Running your tongue against your front teeth in annoyance, you did your best to remain cordial. You plastered your polite smile back onto your face and crossed your arms.
"If you have any doubt about my credentials—”
“You’re a medical doctor,” He said, pulling out a folder with a clear plastic front, “You teach at the academy, did your undergraduate degree in physics…”
He looked at the blue folder in his hands. “Einstein’s Twin Paradox: A new interpretation. Y/N L/N’s senior thesis, now there’s a credential: rewriting Einstein.”
You raised an eyebrow. “Did you bother to read it?” Your tone had a dangerous roll to it. Already you were starting to doubt how much you would enjoy this.
“I did!” He stood up from the swivel chair, revealing to you just how tall he was. As he walked to one of the gray filing cabinets on the other side of the room, he turned his head and flashed you a crooked smile. “I really liked it, actually. It’s just in my line of work, the laws of physics don’t seem to apply.”
John walked back over to his desk, picking up some of the slides on the lightbox and popping them into a slide projector a few feet away. You stepped out of his way as he made his way to the light switch next to the door, engulfing the room in darkness except for the lightbox, which gave the room a dim, industrial white glow. Turning back to the projector, he pressed the on button, before he looked back at you. His face had turned serious, wide eyes peering at you in the dark.
“Maybe I can get your medical opinion on this.”
Turning your head to the first slide, your eyes settled on the body of a young woman lying amongst old leaves. She was in a white nightgown smudged in dirt, and her arms were spread out as if she were waiting for someone to embrace her.
“Oregon female,” John said, “Aged 21. No known cause of death. Autopsy tells us jack.”
He changed slides, and the image projected on the wall changed to a close up of skin, two small red dots puckered up about a few centimeters away from each other. “However, these were found on her lower back. Doctor L/N, can you ID these marks?”
Walking closer to the projection on the wall, you sighed softly in thought. “Needle punctures, maybe?” You asked, “An animal bite? Electrocution?”
“The coroner wasn’t able to ID them either.” He pressed a button on the projector, and it whirred as it changed slides. This time, it was a figure of a chemical composition. You furrowed your eyebrow.
“This was found in the surrounding tissue. How’s your chemistry?” He asked, sounding amused. You glanced at him in dislike, then at the composition, racking your head at the sight of so many cyclohexanes.
“It’s organic… Is it some kind of synthetic protein?”
He didn’t answer, and your mouth fell open in confusion, shaking your head. “I… don’t know, what is it?”
John laughed. “Beats me! I’ve never seen it either. But it’s also been found in Amaranth, South Dakota…” He clicked the button on the projector. It changed to an image of a middle aged man laying face down in a ditch. He did it again, and a younger man appeared strewn in the middle of the desert, eyes glazed open. “...And again, in Verona, Nevada.”
“Do you have any theories?” You asked, squinting as to avoid looking at the glare of the projector, and instead stare at him. He made his way closer to you. The light of the projection caused the image to warp and distort, projected onto the right side of his face.
“Oh, I have plenty of theories. What I want to know is why it’s bureau policy to claim these as unexplained phenomena when there’s clearly a pattern here.”
He sighed, before stepping closer to you. He wasn’t necessarily invading your personal space. But from this proximity, caught in the light of the projector you could make out the soft flecks of amber in his brown eyes, the soft curve of his lips. “So, doc,” He murmured, voice low and raspy, “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?”
Oh boy, you thought, here we go.
“Logically, I would have to say no. The energy capabilities required to travel through space, as well as the technology you're implying would exceed a spacecraft's—”
"Conventional wisdom," He said, raising his eyebrows. He crossed his arms, pointing at the projection. "Do you know that this girl in Oregon is the fourth person in her graduating class to pass away under suspicious circumstances?"
He shifted his weight to lean on one leg. “When there’s no logic, and there’s no convention, is it such a crime to turn to the fantastic for explanations?”
You frowned. “She had to have died from something. Whether it was natural, then it’s possible the medical examiner missed something. If she was murdered, then maybe it was a cover-up, or a sloppy investigation.”
Leaning your head forward towards him, you put your hands on your hips. “What I find fantastic is the idea that you would be willing to look anywhere except the realm of science for answers. The answers are there, you just have to be willing to look for them.”
“And that’s why they put the I in FBI,” He quipped, sounding quite amused at his joke. He turned on the overhead lights, then made his way to sit down at his swivel chair. He leaned back against the black cushion. “So, L/N. You, me, a flight to Pinewood, Oregon, bright and early tomorrow at eight AM. How’s that sound?”
You bit back a smile. John Suh was… quite the character, that was for sure. Smug. Intelligent. Maybe just a tiny bit off his rocker.
But you didn't really have much of a choice, and you were growing curious as well.
"Alright,” You conceded, “I’ll bite.”
John grinned. “Awesome.”
You set your purse down next to the projector, before turning it off. “I’ll be right back,” You told him, “I need to go to the bathroom.”
He nodded, turning back to the files next to the lightbox.
“And John?” You leaned against the doorway, watching as he straightened his posture to look up at you, expectant of your words. His eyes, from behind those crooked, round rimmed glasses, were poised on your frame.
“Your glasses are crooked.” You turned to exit, smiling to yourself when you heard him move, and softly mumble, “Oh, shit.”
PINEWOOD, OREGON—11:32 hours, Tuesday, March 17th, 1992
The plane touched down with only the slightest bit of turbulence. John Suh was sitting right next to you, snoring softly as you pored over the four different medical reports. The reports of the first three victims—Kaya Tate, Jisung Park, and Alex Gallagher—were basically the same word for word, other than specific physical details of the victims, like hair color, height and weight. All of them were found in the woods and were estimated to have died somewhere between one and four in the morning. Possible causes of death included exposure and cardiac arrest, but there wasn’t enough evidence to list anything. The oddest part was that of the three of them, all of their pupils were shrunken. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
When a person dies, what occurs next is called primary flaccidity. In this state, all of the muscles relax—their head might fall back as the neck loses strength, the jaw falls open, fingers loosen their grip. And the pupils should dilate. But here, they weren’t. Not in the slightest.
You frowned, looking over the first three reports again. There was no sign of red marks anywhere. At the end of all three medical reports, the same signature was seen: Aaron Choi, MD.
Flicking through the medical report of the fourth victim—Kaya Tate—you looked over the similarities of the other autopsies, and the one unavoidable difference: those damned red markings John had shown you yesterday. With a sigh, you skimmed over the report one last time, before one final difference caught your eye at the very end. This report wasn’t signed by one Aaron Choi, MD. No, it was signed by Hank Rodrigo, MD.
You didn’t have time to think over it much as the pilot made the announcement that the plane would be landing soon. John jumped awake at the sound of his voice. His eyes cracked open, and he frowned as if he were upset at being woken up.
“Morning, sleeping beauty,” You greeted when he gave you a sideways glance.
“And here I was, hoping for a kiss to break the spell.” He laughed sleepily, but you frowned as you pulled the reports off of the tray. You didn’t answer as you put them away and put the tray back up in preparation for the landing.
John stretched his back, inhaling deeply before staring at you awkwardly. “...Sorry. I’m being inappropriate.”
You shook your head, but then smiled. “Thank you for apologizing. Some guys at the bureau can be real creeps.”
He frowned. “...You’re trained in self defense at the academy for a reason, y’know.”
Rolling your eyes, you zipped up your bag. Still, you couldn’t let go of the smile on your face. Still, you put some sarcasm into your tone when you next spoke. “Of course I am.”
When the plane landed, you picked up the rental car the bureau had provided, and put your suitcases in the trunk before getting in. John drove, popping in a cassette of his that played some rock song you didn’t know the name of.
Martha say she don't need no stinking man making no decisions for her
She don't need his money, she don't need him between the sheets
She ain't gonna sleep on the edge of the bed for no stinking man...
“Kaya Tate’s medical report was signed by a different examiner,” You pointed out, even though you knew that he’d already realized that.
“And there it is,” He said, not taking his eyes off of the road. “Those marks are pretty hard to miss. If they all had similar circumstances in the autopsy, who’s to say the first three kids didn’t have the same markings? And why would Doctor Choi avoid putting that in the reports?”
For a moment, he looked at you, and raised an eyebrow. You mirrored his expression at his implication. “So, you think the medical examiner has something to do with the murders.”
“Maybe?” He glanced briefly in the rearview mirror. “He’s a person of interest. Not necessarily a suspect. I’ve arranged to exhume Alex Gallagher’s body. Maybe we can come to some conclusion of our own—”
He was interrupted by the sound of the song from his cassette distorting, static blaring in between the music and the sound of the vocalist’s voice.
At first, you thought it was something to do with the cassette… until the windows started rolling up and down of their own accord, and the lights on the dashboard started to flicker. You felt the car even swerve slightly, despite John’s firm hands on the wheel.
Within a matter of seconds he managed to pull over and put the car in park. As soon as it had started, it was over, but as John turned the motor off, he met your eyes. He looked just as perplexed as you did.
“What just happened?”
He didn't answer, unbuckling his seat belt. As he got out of the car, you did the same thing, wondering what kind of failure could cause a car to go haywire like that.
Wordlessly, you watched as John took a good, long look at his watch, before walking over to the trunk and popping it up. From his suitcase, he pulled out a can of spray paint. He pulled the cap off of it and leaned over, aiming at the asphalt. You raised your eyebrows.
"What are you—"
The sound of the paint can interrupted your words. You watched as he sprayed a big X on the street, right in front of where he was standing. Your mouth remained slightly open, unsure of what to say. When he stood up straight, he placed the can back in his suitcase, and looked up at you. Slamming the trunk shut, the both of you exchanged stares: his blank as if vandalizing forest streets were a part of his day to day life, and yours somewhat perplexed.
When the two of you got back into the car, it turned on with no issue. John's cassette started up again on the same song. Again, you exchanged a wordless stare, the both of you now equally unsure.
“Welcome to the Twilight Zone,” John muttered, putting the car in drive. You didn’t reply.
Hi-de-hi-de-hey now, Martha...
Ten minutes later the two of you rolled into the cemetery. It was an uphill slope, a small field atop it, connecting to the woods. John drove until a small, yellow bulldozer caught your eye and you pointed it out. He parked as close as the road permitted, and the two of you exited the car, ready to head up the hill.
As the two of you pulled out your FBI badges, an officer came running up to you. He darted between tombstones and stopped in front of you, pursing his lips awkwardly. You both help up your badges. "Special agents Y/N L/N and John Suh," You said.
The officer nodded sheepishly. He seemed young and rather inexperienced. "Officer Mitch Swenson. The chief couldn't be here right now, ma'am."
"Oh?" John continued walking towards the grave, which was fully undug. A crew was in the process of using a pulley to lift the coffin out of the ground. "Couldn't, or didn't want to? He didn't seem very happy when I contacted him on the phone. Didn't even tell me his name."
Officer Swenson looked down. "I'm sorry to say that he's opposed to this intervention, sir."
"Unfortunately," You told him, "After so many unexplained deaths, we're obligated to involve ourselves. If he has an issue with our jurisdiction then he can take it up with—"
A loud snapping noise stopped you in your tracks, and your head turned just in time to see the ropes on the pulley snap, dropping the coffin. It quickly began tumbling downhill, towards you. You barely had time to step back. Before you could be trampled by a goddamn coffin on what was quickly becoming one of the strangest days of your life, you felt a strong hand grip your forearm and yank you back harshly.
The coffin barrelled right into the back of a tombstone, cracking open ever so slightly. Your back collided with John's chest. Neck craning back to look at him, you realized both your chests were heaving in shock. He was staring at the small opening in the coffin.
You pulled away from him, charging towards the coffin. John and Officer Swenson did the same, as well as some from the lifting crew.
As soon as you got within five feet of the coffin, a putrid odor hit your nose and seemed to hit everyone else's. John's hand went to cover his nose. Officer Swenson turned green. You held back a gag.
Still, despite the heinous stench, you leaned forward, trying to get a good look inside. Fully expecting to see a decaying corpse, you squinted, trying to make out the shape of the face.
"Holy shit," You heard the young officer say off to your left. Your eyes widened, just as you made out some features of the cadaver.
"Make sure no one else sees this," John ordered someone, as you made out a snout and very thin arms. As your eyes widened, John turned to you. You turned your head to him, and he flashed you an awkward grin.
"...I'm guessing he was no student athlete," He joked, scratching the back of his head. You shook your head in disbelief, face frozen in shock.
"I… is that a—?"
CORONER'S OFFICE, PINEWOOD, OREGON — 14:48 hours, Tuesday, March 17th, 1992
You didn't give John's unsatisfied tone much of a second thought, continuing to ensure you had everything ready for your analysis.
"You think it's a chimpanzee," John said again a few seconds later, snapping a picture of the body, which was spread out on a metal table.
"Or an orangutan," You replied, not looking up from your tools. Pulling out your tape recorder, you finally met his eyes. "I was thinking it might even be a bonobo, but it's too big. Mammalian, that's for sure."
"Y/N, we're in Oregon! Where would someone get a monkey—why would someone put a monkey in some dead kid's coffin?"
You shook your head. "John, you can't possibly think this is anything other than a sick joke, can you?"
He huffed, too engrossed in taking pictures of the body. He looked like he had just discovered sliced bread.
"This is amazing. It—it's unprecedented… I want a full report," He demanded, "Toxicology, x-rays, tissue samples, genetic testing, the works. We can get those tissue samples and x-rays done now, everything else we take back to DC."
You laid a measuring tape next to the subject's body, before putting your hands on your hips.
"You’re kidding," You said, glaring at him from the other side of the table, "Try telling Alex Gallagher's family that his body was replaced with an alien. You'd probably lose a few teeth doing it!"
John lowered his camera, taking a deep breath. He thought for a few seconds before answering. "I'm not crazy, Y/N," He insisted, "I have the same doubts you do."
Flexing your fingers to see if the surgical gloves fit adequately, you sighed.
"Please leave for a moment," You mumbled, "I need to record my observations and I can't do that properly if you're flashing that camera in my face and talking about little green men."
He frowned, not meeting your eyes. He looked like he wanted to protest, but he shook his head to himself as he turned around. Soon, he was out the door.
During your analysis, you made several observations: the subject was 157 centimeters in length, and weighed 56 pounds. Long limbs and fingers, and large ocular caverns that suggested it belonged to the ape family, as you'd told John minutes ago. It was in an advanced state of decay and desiccation.
When you turned the subject over, you couldn't help but look at the lower back. Lo and behold, there and ready to give you a headache, were two bumps. They were no longer red, tinged gray, same as the rest of the body, but they were there.
Only when the x-rays finally developed two hours later did you discover the cherry on top: a small metallic implant in the subject's nasal cavity, embedded in the skin, which was extracted and placed in a small glass vial. The vial was placed in your blazer pocket, which you'd removed to put on the PPE gown.
When you were finally finished with the report, you put your blazer back on and discarded the PPE and surgical gloves. All you'd managed to do was give yourself a migraine at all of the oddities piling up in this case. When you got back to DC? A bubble bath was in order. With a very, very large glass of wine.
As you approached the door to the lobby, the voices of two men arguing got louder and louder. Rolling your eyes, you sighed at the feeling of your head pounding. One sounded angrier, the other significantly calmer. When your hand was on the knob, you realized who the calmer voice belonged to.
"Shit," You whispered to yourself, flinging open the door. A middle aged man yelling at John—who looked very blasé about the whole situation—was waving his finger in his face. Behind him stood Officer Swenson, another officer, and a young girl dressed in an oversized windbreaker and jeans, who looked like she wanted to evaporate into thin air.
"You people think you can march in here and do whatever you want," The man growled, "I don't see why—"
"What's going on here?" You asked, stepping between the man and John. The man scoffed at you, eyeing you up and down.
“Who are you?”
You pulled out your badge and flashed it to him. His scowl deepened. “Special Agent Y/N L/N, FBI. I’m Agent Suh's partner for this investigation. Now, what is going on? And who are you?”
The man’s face twisted in disdain at your authoritative tone. “I’m Doctor Aaron Choi, the county medical examiner. Now, the audacity of you and your partner—”
“Dad, please,” The girl exclaimed, sounding embarrassed, “Let’s just go home!”
The man waved a hand in her direction, tone dismissive and angry. “Lia, be quiet. I’m talking. The audacity you two have to come here and interrupt our procedures—”
“Doctor Choi, this is the fourth unexplained death of a student from the Pinewood High class of ‘89,” John pointed out, “After the county was unable to come up with any conclusive evidence, the FBI was forced to become involved. I take it you weren’t informed of the exhumation and the analysis of Alex Gallagher’s body?”
Doctor Choi shook his head. “I’ve been away with my family. We just got back.”
That explains the different medical examiner on the latest autopsy, you realized.
“Doctor Choi, I’m sorry you feel that way,” You said, “But it’s our obligation to come and investigate. Now, I’m sorry, but it’s getting late, and we have to get going. I can give you my cell phone number if it were to make you more comfortable, but—”
“No. That’s quite enough,” He snapped. He turned to the young girl, nodding his head at the door. “Lia, let’s go.”
The girl sighed, and met your eyes before she turned to follow after him. She looked desperate; you assumed it was because of the scene her father had caused. The two officers followed after them.
As the two of you watched them leave, you turned to John. He simply shrugged, looking done with the whole situation. “Talk about a warm welcome,” He grumbled. You glared at him.
“Let’s just go,” You huffed, rubbing at a spot above your eyebrow, “I still need to get started on this report.”
The two of you exited the building, and John explained that tomorrow, he’d arranged a visit to a mental institution in the town over. That there were two more students of the class of ‘89 were staying. Both of them were reportedly a part of Alex Gallagher’s circle of friends.
In your pocket, the vial holding the metal implant seemed heavier than it had been when you first extracted it.
ALOYSIUS GRANT MENTAL INSTITUTION, CRESTHILL, OREGON—10:47 hours, Wednesday, March 18th, 1992
The wing where Chenle Zhong and Nancy Goldstein were staying was relatively quiet. As the nurse explained their circumstances, Nancy remained glued to a book in her wheelchair. Next to her in his bed, Chenle lay perfectly still, lips parted slightly, eyes wide and unmoving.
You were informed that Nancy had developed delusions and become extremely paranoid as a result of post-traumatic stress. Chenle was living through something called a living coma. He never moved, never spoke. The only indication you saw that he was still alive was the constant rise and fall of his chest. Both of them had been in an automotive crash in the autumn of 1989, and had been like this ever since.
“Nancy,” The nurse said softly, “You have guests, can they speak with you?”
Nancy lifted her head, “I can’t,” She answered, shaking her head. “I’m reading to Lele right now.”
“Does… does he like it when you read to him?” John asked, and she nodded.
“It calms him down,” She said, “It distracts him from everything.”
You looked down, thinking about her words and what she must have gone through—Chenle as well. At the feet of Chenle’s bed, you noticed odd specks of… ash? It was sprinkled sparsely in front of the bed, on what was a seemingly pristine floor.
You wanted to pick it up, but didn’t want the nurse looking at you strangely. So you turned your attention back to the conversation between John and the nurse. He lowered his voice and leaned in towards her, as if he didn’t want Nancy to hear. “Would it be possible for us to run some medical tests on Ms. Goldstein?”
The thing was that Nancy did hear, and at the mention of medical tests, her large eyes nearly popped out of her head, and she started to tremble in the wheelchair. “N-no tests,” She pleaded, before throwing her book to the side and raising her voice, "No tests! You can't take me there again!"
She began to thrash in the wheelchair, hyperventilating and begging in between breaths to not go anywhere. She threw herself out of the wheelchair but was unable to stand, and instead remained on the floor, crying.
"Nancy, sweetie, you're going to be fine," The nurse said gently, leaning down to placate the poor girl who was shaking her head. She looked up at the both of you. "Can you help me please?"
John leaned down to gently assist the nurse in helping Nancy up, and you picked up the wheelchair, which had fallen onto its side. You gripped one of the back handles of the chair to steady it. Your other hand smudged along the ground to try and pick up some of the powder. As the pair helped her sit down, your eyes caught something.
Nancy's shirt had ridden up during the ordeal, and there, along the small of her back, you saw them. The same marks that Kaya Tate, Jisung Park, and Alex Gallagher had.
When Nancy refused to calm down, wailing and begging not to be taken back to wherever she thought you and John wanted to take her, the nurse ushered you out.
"I'm sorry," She told you, "But you're upsetting my patients. If you absolutely need to come back, then do it some other day when she's calmed down."
The two of you set off towards the exit down the stairs, your heels click-clacking quickly along the floor as you walked in front of John.
He held open the exit door for you, and as soon as you were out the door and headed toward the parking lot, you whirled on him.
"How did you know she would have those marks?" You asked, almost angry at him. John shrugged.
"A hunch," Was all he answered.
"Dammit, Suh, cut the crap. What the hell is going on here?"
"What, so you can go off and write it in your little reports?" He fired back, raising his voice at you for the first time. Your head snapped back at the sudden disdain in his voice.
"I'm here to solve this case just the same as you are," You growled, "Now tell me the truth. I think I'm entitled to it."
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his trench coat, scowling at you. He leaned closer to you and lowered his voice. "You want my honest opinion? Fine. I think those kids have been abducted by an alien force. I think that they run tests on those kids, which is why Nancy Goldstein freaked out, and why Alex's body and hers have those markings. That's what I think."
You tapped your heel along the sidewalk in frustration and thought. "John, do you realize how insane that sounds? I—Why, there's nothing to substantiate—"
"Nothing scientific to substantiate," He corrected.
"Science is all there is, John!" You shook your head. He sighed, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. The both of you knew that this conversation would lead nowhere. Looking down, you remembered the ash smudged onto the palm of your hand.
"Look," You said, quieter now. "This was on the floor around Chenle Zhong's bed."
"'S that… ash?"
You nodded. "I know what you think, John. Let me tell you what I think. I think those kids might be involved in some sort of sacrifice of some sort. Think about it, they're always called into the woods. The medical examiner doesn't want us looking at the bodies. And now, ash."
John's eyes darted back and forth, considering the options. He walked over to the car, unlocking it so the both of you could enter.
"We can head into the woods tonight," He offered finally. "That way, we can both look into our own hypotheses."
"Sounds good to me," You answered, "Tonight."
THE WOODS, PINEWOOD, OREGON—20:26 hours, Wednesday, March 18th, 1992
A few hours after sundown, the two of you drove to the edge of the woods, armed with flashlights and your handguns. You'd tied your hair back and changed into a dark blue windbreaker, along with sweatpants and running shoes. It was a bit windy, and you could see storm clouds rolling in.
"Stay close by," You'd told John. "And be quiet."
"Yes, mom," He sighed. You rolled your eyes, resisting the urge to punch him in the arm.
Once the two of you were out of the car, you split up, trying to stay within earshot of his footsteps. You spent about ten minutes wandering around, flashing your light around, taking slow steps as you scrounged for any hints.
Above you, thunder rumbled, the occasional strike of lightning lighting up the sky for milliseconds. Leaning your head forward, you squinted in the dark. No way.
The whole ground around you was covered in ash. If not the exact same ash as what was in front of Chenle's bed, it was very similar—sprinkled on top of the leaves and dirt. As you kneeled down to pick some up, your eyes widened at the same texture and pigment as the one of today.
"What the fuck," You muttered under your breath, mind racing a mile a minute. These woods were creepy enough without the implication of a ritualistic cult, or close encounters of the third kind, or whatever John believed was happening. But now you had the possibility of a connection between these woods and two seriously disturbed kids.
A sudden mechanical rumbling made you snap your head up. You squinted, lifting your other hand to shield your eyes from the sudden brightness that lit up the trees.
"John?" You asked when you heard footsteps. Your heart rate began to speed up, hand reaching for the gun tucked into your waistband.
When you realized that the sound was coming from the direction of the light, you called his name out again. "John?"
A tall figure emerged from the light, and you soon realized what was pointed at you—a shotgun. Definitely not John Suh.
Not hesitating, you pulled out your gun. "Special agent Y/N L/N, FBI! Identify yourself!"
The figure only stopped until it was about ten feet away. You squinted, making out some familiar features. Surprisingly, you realized it was the officer who had been at the coroner's office with Doctor Choi.
John came stumbling up to you, chest heaving. "Chief!" He sounded strangely enthusiastic. "What brings you to this neck of the woods?"
"You're trespassing on private property," He announced, seemingly unamused by John's tone.
"We are conducting an investigation," You countered, lowering your gun.
"You are trespassing," He said adamantly, "Now get out, before I have you both arrested."
John glanced at you momentarily. You frowned as he shrugged, obviously wanting you to stand down. The staredown continued for a solid ten seconds before you groaned softly. Tucking your gun back into your waistband, you followed the chief out of the woods, right back to your car, which was right next to his.
As John drove away, you watched as the flashing police lights faded into the distance. "What's he doing out here when he's got a whole town to take care of?"
John shook his head, furrowing his eyebrows. "I don't know," He hummed in that deep voice of his, "But I don't like him one bit."
The two of you drove in relative silence after that. The storm finally came down, drops of rain cascading angrily onto the windshield. Thunder rolled overhead, and the lightning grew bright.
In the dim light, your eyes turned to watch John, hoping he wouldn't take notice. You watched him alternate his eyes between the road ahead and the rearview mirror every few seconds. Your eyes raked over his features—a strong brow bone, a round nose, lips that seemed to curve upwards in a natural smirk.
You looked back up at his eyes, and his own gaze glanced at the watch on his wrist before returning to the road.
"You're staring," He said, sounding like he’d caught you with a hand in the cookie jar. You felt the scoff leave your lips before you could catch it, your cheeks heating up.
"I am not—"
A flash of lightning lit up the sky, far brighter than any of the other strikes. Then, an odd sensation filled your body: for the briefest of moments you felt absolutely weightless, unable to feel the carseat beneath you. Then a moment later when the light faded, and the feeling disappeared.
The car rolled to a stop, the engine’s rumble dying. You frowned even though you were glad that you’d have a chance to change the subject. “What happened?”
Johnny looked at the lights on the dashboard, and pressed on the accelerator tentatively a few times. He raised an eyebrow, looking skeptical. “Uh… we lost power.”
He seemed calm enough. Until he glanced at his watch again. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and he let out a single, excited laugh. “No fucking way,” He murmured, rushing to unbuckle his seatbelt.
“Uh, John, where are you g—”
He was out of the car before you could finish your sentence, heading into the downpour. You groaned, unbuckling hastily and following him. Already, he was drenched, and within seconds you were too. He was walking towards something on the road, a few feet in front of the car. When he turned to look back at you, he looked like a preschooler who had just discovered Sesame Street. His fists pumped into the air, his eyes squeezed shut and he began to jump up and down.
“Fuckin’—I—WOO! WOO HOO!”
“For the love of god,” You grumbled, standing right next to him despite his loud cheering, you tried your hardest to make out what had gotten him so excited. When the next flash of lightning lit up the street, plus the lights of the car helping illuminate the road, you saw it: a big, bright, neon X. Almost the exact same place the car had started acting strange yesterday.
“We lost time!” He yelled over the sound of the downpour. "I looked at my watch before the flash! It was 9:02 then, now it’s 9:13! That’s eleven minutes—GONE!”
You shook your head, stepping away. You threw up your hands in confusion. “What—John, that’s not possible! You’re saying time disappeared, time can’t—it can’t just disappear! That’s not just crazy, it’s—i-it’s a universal invariant! It’s impossible!”
John shook his head at you, eyes wide in wonder. Right before he started walking back to the car, he let out one last gleeful laugh. “Not in this zip code!”
Much to your displeasure, your headache returned soon after. You were more than content to let John ramble on while you zoned out, rubbing your forehead. What little you picked up was that people who claimed to be abductees always mentioned a bright flash of light and losing time, anywhere from five minutes to several hours.
You weren’t sure what to think at this point. You had half a mind to drive John to the Aloysius Grant Mental Institution and leave him there with Chenle and Nancy.
When you got back to the hotel, you ran straight to your room. When you tried flickering on the light, you found that it wouldn’t turn on. With a sigh, you realized the storm had to have blown the power out. Peeling off your wet clothes before you did anything else, you stripped to your underwear before pulling on your bathrobe. Shivering, you scrounged in the darkness of the room for anything, a flashlight, some candles.
Surprisingly, they did have a candle, a holder and some matches. As you lit it, and went over your bedtime routine (yes, you were a grown woman going to bed at 9:30 PM, you were tired), you couldn’t shake the eerie feeling settling in your stomach. Everything felt so off here, and there were so many things you couldn’t explain.
As much as John wanted to convince you, he couldn’t explain them either. The whole situation felt bizarre in a dreadful way. As you marched into the bathroom for a quick shower, you tried to reassure yourself everything would connect eventually.
When you took off the bathrobe, your hand went to rub at your lower back. The stiff mattress wasn’t doing you any favors. You let your eyes flutter shut, fingers rubbing at the muscle below your skin.
Until your fingers brushed over something that you knew hadn’t been there before. Your eyes snapped open, and you turned your back to the mirror, craning your neck to see. Your fingers ached to touch the spot again, but in your sudden alarm, your fingers began to shake.
There. At the small of your back, just above the waistband of your underwear, there they were. Two bumps. Just like Nancy’s. Just like Alex’s. Just like Kaya’s.
You didn’t know what overtook you. All of a sudden, you were putting your bathrobe back on and strutting stiffly out of your room. Before you knew it, you were knocking insistently on John’s door.
You didn’t stop until a very confused looking John opened up, holding a candle. “I—”
“I need to show you something,” You said shakily. His demeanor changed instantly when he saw your frantic state. He nodded wordlessly, widening the door and stepping to the side. Once the door was closed, you faced him, before untying the robe. His eyes widened slightly despite your shaking hands, and the tips of his ears turned red.
“Woah, at least take me out to dinner first—”
“Johnny, shut up!”
He froze at your tone, your slip up—calling him Johnny instead of John. You were too distressed to care, tossing the robe to the floor before turning, trying to poke at the marks on your back.
“What are they?” You asked, and John reached out a hand as if to placate you.
“Hey, hey,” He murmured, “Deep breaths. Can I get a closer look?”
Nodding, and trying to do what he said, you let him step closer, before kneeling. Tentatively, he ghosted a hand over the marks. You tried to ignore the goosebumps, shivering from what you assumed was the cold.
“What are they?” You repeated. “John—”
He spun you around, putting a gentle hand on your hip. You peered down at him, panting softly. “It’s okay,” He said softly, “They’re just mosquito bites.”
Your eyes fluttered shut in relief, putting a hand on his shoulder to steady your wobbling knees. “You’re sure?” You asked, looking down at him.
He nodded, amber eyes staring up at you. You were suddenly hyper aware of his hand on your hip, unable to break his gaze. He cleared his throat, standing up but not stepping away from you. “Yeah, I got some out there too. I’m positive.”
You put the bathrobe back on, then crossed your arms. “I need to sit down,” You mumbled. He gestured to his bed, sitting on the chair next to it. You raised an eyebrow, not wanting to impose. He shook his head, setting down the candle on the table.
“You’re shaking,” He said, “Go ahead.”
Inhaling deeply, you tried to compose yourself. Your hand rubbed at the back of your neck, suddenly feeling tense. You chewed on your lip, wondering if you should ask the question itching to come out.
“John?” Your voice was barely above a whisper. He nodded, eyes earnest.
“How did you… Why are you so interested in this stuff?”
His eyes lowered, rubbing his palms together slowly. He took a deep breath, resting his elbows on his thighs. Finally, he sighed.
“I was twelve when it happened,” He whispered. His gaze turned solemn, almost angry. “My little sister, Maggie, went missing in the middle of the night. Just… disappeared, like she vanished into thin air. No note, no phone calls, no discernible trail or evidence at all. Gone, just like that. How does an eight year old girl disappear without a trace?”
You swallowed the lump in your throat, not answering. Outside, the rain had stopped, but John’s eyes were a storm of their own, several emotions swimming around in pools of golden brown.
“It tore my family apart. My parents got divorced, everyone else refused to talk about it. There weren’t any facts to confront, nothing to give anyone closure, and the search just stopped.”
“What did you do?” You asked softly. He shrugged, pursing his lips.
“Eventually, I ran away to England. Came back, got recruited by the bureau.” He offered a sardonic smile, no joy behind it. “Apparently, I have a natural aptitude for applying behavioral models to criminal cases. My success allowed me a certain amount of freedom to pursue my own interests. That’s when I found the x-files.”
“On accident?” You leaned to lay down on your side, propping your head up with one hand. He nodded.
“At first, it looked like a dump for UFO sightings, cryptids, alien abductions. Real Hollywood kind of stuff. But… I was fascinated by it all, I read all the cases I could get my hands on. Hundreds of them, Y/N. All the paranormal phenomena, the occult, and then…” He sighed, lowering his head.
“What?” You leaned toward him, trying to read his face in the dark.
“There’s… classified government information I’ve been trying to get my hands on. Someone keeps blocking my access.” He looked to the side, palms still rubbing together. “The only reason I’ve been allowed to continue my work is because I've made connections in congress.”
You shook your head, “I don’t understand, are they afraid you’ll leak this information?”
When he met your gaze, the anger had returned, now far less subdued. “You’re a part of that agenda,” He murmured, “You would know.”
Your mouth dropped open slightly, and you shook your head before scooching closer to him. “I’m not a part of any agenda,” You answered. “You need to trust me.”
He sighed, before standing up to move onto your bed, leaning very close to you. The usually playful glow in his eyes was nowhere to be seen. “I’m telling you this, Y/N, because you need to know. In my... research, I’ve worked very closely with a man named Hans Kruger. He’s taken me through deep regression hypnosis, and through my repressed memories I’ve been able to return to that night my sister disappeared. I remember a very bright light outside and a presence in the room, and the sensation of being paralyzed, unable to answer her cries for help. Listen to me, Y/N, this thing exists.”
“But how do you know—”
“The government knows! And I gotta know what they’re protecting.” He leaned even closer to you, face inches away from yours. “Nothing else matters to me, and this is as close as I’ve ever—”
The ringing of the telephone made the both of you jump away from each other, and John stood to pick up the phone. “Hello?”
He made a face as the person on the other side answered. “What? Who is this? Who is—”
Pulling the phone away from his ear, he looked at you. He seemed confused, alarmed. “That was a woman,” He said, putting the phone back on the housing, “Who told me that Nancy Goldstein is dead.”
You frowned. “The girl in the wheelchair?”
HIGHWAY 227, PINEWOOD, OREGON—23:11 hours, Wednesday, March 18th, 1992
Quickly, the two of you dressed. The crash wasn’t hard to find in such a small town. Surrounded by witnesses and two police cars, a large semi truck was stopped in the middle of the road. Once there you produced your badges to get past the police cars. John went off to ask one of the cops questions about the accident, and you walked over to the body, which was draped over with a white cloth.
Right next to it, a man, who you assumed was the driver, was being questioned. Showing the officer next to the body your badge, you crouched down to peel back the cloth covering the body.
Poor Nancy Goldstein, wet with rain and blood, lay strewn in the road. A dribble of drying blood was running down her mouth. Her once white and purple polka dotted hospital gown was tinged with red, brown and gray. You sighed in sympathy. But your eyes travelled down at the watch she had on, and the sympathy made way into confusion. The hands had stopped, right at 9:02.
You took a deep breath when you recognized the coincidence. That's all it had to be, right? A coincidence?
"You said she just ran out in front of you?" The officer speaking to the man asked.
"Yes, officer," He answered, "Just came charging out from the trees and right into the truck."
Nancy Goldstein, running. Not even walking, no, full on running. You stared at the body, eyes travelling to her legs. Somehow, they were specked with flecks of dirt, mud and small wood chips. It was consistent with someone moving through a wet, muddy area while barefoot. You swallowed anxiously, trying to figure out what was going on in this town.
When you got into the car with John, you raised an eyebrow at him, getting ready to speak. Before you could, however, his cell phone rang. He pulled out the device and answered the call with a tired, "Suh. Who am I speaking to?"
You watched as his face turned confused. "What?"
You couldn't hear what he was told, but when his face twisted into disbelief, and then anger, you knew it couldn't be anything good. "Of course. We'll be there as soon as possible," He said, tight-lipped.
When he hung up, he immediately started the car. He didn't meet your eyes. "Fuck!" He growled, causing you to jump.
"What?" Your eyes widened at his sudden outburst, barely having time to buckle your seatbelt before he sped away. "John, what happened—"
"Fuck if I know!" He snapped at you, before shaking his head and sighing.
"There was a fire at the hotel." His tone was softer now. Your stomach sank. "Our rooms were the ones that were most affected."
"You've gotta be kidding," You sighed. He didn't answer, simply kept his eyes on the road.Only when the two of you got there did you realize just how bad the situation was. The fire department was there, hosing down the inside of your room. A crowd had come to watch the firemen work.
"There goes my computer!" You groaned. John kicked the car door.
"Fuck! The x-rays and pictures!" He seemed just about ready to explode.
Your eyes drifted back to the blinding, orange glow of the fire, crossing your arms in frustration, exhaustion.
Suddenly, a tap on your shoulder caused you to turn. You were met face to face with a familiar looking young girl in a bright blue denim jacket. She looked just about on the verge of tears.
"John," You called, not looking away from her. When he saw the girl, he came up to the two of you.
He raised a finger at her. "You're Do—"
"My name is Lia Choi," She declared, voice wobbly, "You have to protect me."
You quickly ushered Lia into the back of the car. When you closed the door, John raised an eyebrow at you. "She might know something," He murmured.
"I know," You answered. "She seems terrified."
He nodded. "You hungry?"
"Um… yeah, why?"
"I'm starving," He admitted, gnawing on his lips. "Let's get something to eat and question her there."
"How the hell are you thinking about food at a time like this?"
He raised an eyebrow, making a face. "What, and you aren't?"
You rolled your eyes, but didn't disagree.
The car ride took about ten minutes, and you pulled into the small diner with little to no issue. By then, it was a little past midnight, so it was starting to empty out. It had started raining again. You sat next to Lia, as she seemed somewhat more intimidated by John. He paid for some burgers and fries for the three of you, and then Lia finally spoke.
"I… There's something in the woods."
You exchanged glances with John, who rested his elbows on the table and interlaced his fingers. "What do you mean, something in the woods, Miss Choi?"
The young girl shook her head, looking sheepish. "Please, just call me Lia," She said.
Taking a deep breath, you flashed him a look that said let me try. "Lia, do you know that there's something in the woods, or is it just a feeling?"
She stared at the table, looking for words. "I've never actually… seen anything. Not really. But I… I have these dreams. They're not like normal dreams, I-I have no idea how to explain it, but they just feel so… wrong. It's like my body's vibrating the entire time, a-and when I wake up, I'm there. In the woods. Every time. They—they've started happening more and more, and I don't know what to do, I-I'm just so—"
"Woah, slow down there, kid," John said, holding up his hands. She'd started rambling, and it didn't take a genius to say that she was on the verge of tears. His dark eyes looked gentle, sympathetic. "Deep breath, Lia."
She let her eyes close, breathing slowly. "I'm sorry," She mumbled. "I just don't know what to do anymore."
Looking at John again, you spoke up. "We understand," You answered softly, "Can we ask you some more questions?"
As she nodded, the one waitress working the place, who looked one strong gust of wind from falling over, set down your three plates. Sticking a fry into your mouth once the waitress left, you met eyes with the young girl.
"You said, 'I've never seen anything, not really.' What do you mean by that?"
Lia poked at her fries, not seeming that interested in the food. She pursed her lips, before sighing. "I… We saw something, once. I think. My friends were all out there—celebrating graduation. It was… maybe 11:30? I-I can't really remember. But we saw a bright light, and then this huge thing flew over us. When it was gone… Kaya checked her watch. It couldn't have been more than ten seconds after, but her watch said it was almost 2 AM, and then Chenle checked his watch, and so did Jisung, and… they all said the same thing.
"I didn't think much of it. I tried not to. I thought we just missed the time going by, somehow. But then Nancy and Chenle got into the crash, and then Kaya turned up dead in the woods… Then Jisung, and now Alex…" She shook her head, blinking back tears. "It can't all be a coincidence."
"How old were you when that happened, Lia?"
"I was 17. I'm turning 21 in June."
John stared at her for a long time. "...And why did you decide to call me when you heard about Nancy's death?"
You raised an eyebrow to look at Lia, who looked down. "They called my dad about it, and I know that Nancy's death has to do with whatever's in the woods. M-my dad, he… He keeps telling me he can keep me safe. But I don't think he can."
"So you called us?"
She nodded, not looking up at either of you. John and you exchanged a glance.
"Lia," You asked lowly, "Do you think your father—"
Your words died when blood began to spew from the girl's nose, your eyes widening and John's expression growing alarmed. He reached for the napkins, handing them to you to hand her quickly. Her eyes shut and her brow furrowed, obviously distressed. John pursed his lips.
"Does this normally h—"
The three of you turned your heads to see Aaron Choi and the police chief standing next to each other, glaring at you and John.
Dr. Choi walked over to Lia, handing her another napkin. "Sweetheart, come on, let's go home."
John narrowed his eyes. "I don't think she wants to leave."
"I don't give a shit about what you think," The man snapped. He turned back to Lia, "Let's go home. You'll be safe there. Remember, I said that Chief Zhong and I would keep you safe—"
You exchanged a glance with John. You could see the gears turning in his head. Skywalker moment. "You’re Chenle Zhong's father?"
The chief scowled at him. "You stay away from my boy. He has no business in any of this."
Dr. Choi managed to pull away, with minimal protest from Lia. She managed to give the two of you one last apologetic glance before being pushed out the front door by your father.
"You gotta love this place," John grumbled, reaching for Lia's plate, "Every day's like Halloween."
"They know." You were sure of it. "Choi's been hiding evidence from those medical reports, and Zhong might just have enough authority around here to get access to our rooms to set them on fire."
"Why would they want to destroy evidence?" John asked, but it wasn't really a question. It sounded more like a parent trying to get their child to figure out something obvious on a math problem. "What could they possibly want with that corpse?"
You looked down at the table, heart pounding suddenly. When you met his eyes again, they were burning with curiosity and determination.
"Makes you wonder what's in those other two graves, huh?"
PINEWOOD MEMORIAL CEMETERY, PINEWOOD, OREGON—01:26 hours, Thursday, March 19th, 1992
Getting into the cemetery was easy. Finding the graves, with only your flashlights in the pouring rain, was a lot harder. You pored over different headstones for almost forty minutes, until John called your name.
"Did you find them?" You asked, turning to him. He was scowling down at the headstones. You didn't understand why… until you looked down to see the dirt piled up, and the two holes in the ground.
"Empty," He groaned.
"What is going on here?" You cried. John stared at the hole in the ground, before a look of epiphany dawned on his face. He turned to you, slowly.
"I think I know who did it."
You looked to the sides in thought. "Who? The chief?"
John shook his head, mouth tipping open. You leaned forward, hoping to hear his words better over the rain.
He chewed nervously on his bottom lip. "The chief's son."
When the words registered, you leaned away. All the fight in you seemed to deflate, and your face twisted into a confused mess.
He nodded, and you raised your eyebrows. "Chenle Zhong? The boy in the hospital. The boy who's been in a goddamn coma since 1989. That Chenle Zhong? He somehow got here, dug up these graves, and is somehow responsible for the murders of four different kids?"
John's eyes fell shut, and he took a deep breath. "Nancy Goldstein was wheelchair bound but ran in front of a car, it's not entirely impossible. All of this fits a profile of alien abduction. She was killed around 9—the same time we lost time in the car."
"A profile." You crossed your arms, trying to stop the shivering racking your body. March showers in the Pacific Northwest—you wouldn’t be surprised if all of this was just a delusion induced by hypothermia.
"Look, something happened during those 10 minutes," He insisted, "Time, as we know it, stopped, and it has something to do with the forest."
You shook your head in disbelief, unable to hold back your shocked sigh. All you could do was stare, watching as John's expression hardened.
"You think I'm crazy," He murmured defeatedly, "Just like everyone else does."
He turned on his heel, starting to walk away, when a soft scoff caused him to turn back. "What?"
You wore a smile of disbelief. "The hands of Nancy Goldstein's watch stopped at 9:02," You admitted, looking up at the sky before meeting his gaze. "I made a mental note of it because of how insane the coincidence was. But…"
"The forest is controlling the kids," John said with a nod. He sounded more hopeful now, as he took a step closer. "It summons them here!"
"A-and the marks are…"
"The remainders of some sort of experiment. They put that weird chemical into the bodies—"
"Which leads to genetic mutations, like the one we saw in Alex Gallagher’s body!"
John nodded, a hopeful grin spreading across his features, the rain causing his hair to fall into his eyes. "And the woods summoned Nancy Goldstein here tonight, but the one who brought her was—"
"Chenle Zhong," You gasped. Meeting eyes with John, the two of you exchanged surprised, awed, slack jawed smiles, before promptly bursting into giggles at how silly it all sounded, the sheer absurdity of it all. Like the plot of some crappy Fox TV show.
"This—Johnny, this is insane!"
"That’s just how all the x-files work!" He exclaimed between laughter, "This isn't even half of it!"
That did it for you. The idea that there had to be something even stranger, something that paled in comparison to this. You had to reach out for his shoulder to stop yourself from falling, bending over and clutching your stomach to the point of tears. John’s laughter never let up either, not until the two of you were panting, out of breath from cackling so hard.
"I can't believe any of this," You sighed, shaking your head once more.
"It doesn't matter. As long as we're on the same page," John said with a shrug, "It'll make things a whole lot easier. Now, let's get back to the car—"
A high pitched scream filled the air, and the two of you locked eyes before darting in its direction.
Right into the forest.
Mud squelched beneath your shoes as the two of you ran. It was damn near impossible to see anything with the rain and the darkness of night, the way your flashlights swung back and forth with your running.
Your light reflected onto a piece of black metal, causing the two of you to slow down. John flashed his own light side to side, before landing on the white door of the car, the crest emblazoned on it: PINEWOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT. You sighed at the revelation, turning slightly.
"Shit," He muttered, "Do you think—?"
"John." You took a step to the side, focusing your light onto something on the ground. "Look."
When he turned his head to look at what you were seeing, you heard him inhale sharply.
Dr. Choi's body lay strewn on the muddy ground, blood streaking down his temple. You couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not.
Another scream pierced the air, the sound distinctly female. You exchanged a brief glance with John, before nodding in the direction the noise came from. "You go! I'll check his vitals."
"Be careful," He warned before darting off. You knelt on the ground, reaching out to feel for a pulse over the carotid artery. You let your eyes fall shut in relief when you found one a few seconds later. All you needed to do now was assess his injury.
But they snapped open when the mud squelched behind you, and when you turned your head, you saw a flash of black and beige. A loud thwack! cracked against the side of your head, and you fell to the ground, vision turning dark.
When you came to, you weren't sure how much time had passed, but it couldn't have been too long. It was still dark, and while the rain had calmed, it wasn't over yet. Sluggishly, you reached for the flashlight, and struggled to stand.
Stumbling, you tried to surmise where the noise was coming from, but the world felt like it was spinning. You were confused, disoriented, that the sudden brightness knocked you on your ass, quite literally.
White, seemingly industrial light lit up the forest so suddenly that you reeled back in surprise, falling into the mud. You blinked dazedly. If this were a Loony Tunes short, there would be little Tweety birds flying around your head right about now.
Still, you knew you needed to get up. So you did, still stumbling as if someone had spun you around to hit a piñata, and carried forward. The shouting had stopped now.
In the distance, where the light was the brightest, you could hear the shouting. One of the voices was distinctly John's, but as you got closer, it stopped.
And by the time you got into the clearing? The light disappeared, and so did the rain. Gone at the same time.
There were three men standing in the clearing, seemingly in a triangle. John's back was turned to you. In front of him? Someone was lying on the floor (had you not been so dizzy, you would have recognized her as Lia), and…
"Chenle?" The police chief asked, voice shaking. Your eyes turned to the young man, whose dark eyes were wide in confusion and fear. He was barefoot, clad only in a pair of gray sweatpants.
"...Dad?" He asked as Chief Zhong walked to him, before crushing the young man in a hug.
"J-John?" Your voice was small. The man in question turned to you, eyes widening at your state. He stepped towards you, face full of concern. When you buckled, he gripped you by your forearms.
"Y/N, are you alright?"
"Th-there was a light," You murmured, "It was so…"
He nodded, smiling sympathetically. "I know," He said, "But I think you have a concussion."
"Uh…" You stared at him blearily. "...You're really strong."
He held back a snicker. "Am I now?"
FBI HEADQUARTERS, WASHINGTON, D.C—10:04 hours, Wednesday, March 25th, 1992
After a stop to the emergency room, a minor concussion diagnosis, a flight home, a few days of bed rest and finally that bubble bath (sans the wine, unfortunately), you were finally allowed to present your findings to your superiors, in the report you'd written in the past few days (you were advised to rest over the weekend, and you did just that and wrote the report all Tuesday).
You marched into that office, John already sitting in one of the two seats in front of the desk. He didn't speak while you presented your findings. Again, Chief Brooks was accompanied by the same two men.
"And what of the boy?" Division Chief Brooks asked, "Chenle… Zhang, you said?"
"Zhong," You and John corrected in unison, exchanging a sheepish glance when you both realized what happened.
"He's in custody. So are his father and Doctor Aaron Choi. He claims to not have remembered anything."
"I understand you and Chief Zhong had an exchange in the woods?" The older man asked, staring at John.
He nodded. "Yes, sir. I asked him what the need was to take the Chois to the woods, he seemed desperate—said that if it got his son back, then he'd do it."
"So, what, are we to believe all of this—the abductions and the mutations and the mind control without any concrete evidence?" The second officer asked.
"There was an x-ray of Chenle’s that revealed a small piece of metal lodged in his nose, just like Agent L/N's report mentioned with—"
"The Gallagher boy's implant, yes. But that could be anything, Agent Suh. It hasn't been surgically removed so we can't verify what it is."
John clenched his jaw. "But—"
"Agent Suh, with no evidence of the implant existing we simply cannot continue to waste bureau resources," The chief explained, "The fact of the matter is the original implant, as well as your other evidence, was destroyed in that fire and—"
"What if it wasn't, though?" You asked.
It was as if all of the air had been sucked out of the room. All four men's eyes snapped up to look at you. John’s eyes were wide in shock.
You met eyes with him briefly as you reached into your blazer pocket, placing the small vial holding the implant onto the table.
"None of the tests I ran on the implant were able to reveal what kind of metal it is," You sighed, "It all came back as inconclusive."
"I—" For the first time, the third agent spoke for the first time. "How did you manage to salvage it?"
Tilting your head back and forth, you tried to sound professional. "I kept it… on my person at all times after I extracted it. I felt it was too important to lose."
The three men exchanged a silent conversation with their eyes. You looked at John, whose expression towards you had shifted from shock to awe. You offered him a sly smile.
"Well, then." Division Chief Brooks sounded frustrated—like a father allowing his children ice cream after being worn down by them. "Considering this… new piece of evidence, I—I suppose I could authorize the continuation of the project."
You breathed a sigh of relief. John’s shoulders sagged.
"However, Agent L/N, I will expect your reports on every single one of these cases within three days of them being closed, unless medically justified. Failure to do so will result in the termination of the project."
"Understood, sir," You said.
The third man lit a cigarette, before pointing to the vial on the table. "That implant will be kept with us, it's evidence now. Any and all evidence will be handed over to us," He ordered, taking a drag.
You nodded, but something told you John wouldn't approve. He didn't say anything, but you knew he'd have something to say sooner or later.
"You're both dismissed," Division Chief Brooks told you both.
Once you were out of the office and out of earshot, John stopped in the middle of the hallway. He put his hands on his hips and stared at you.
"I—That was… Wow. Y/N, how did you even do that?"
"Honestly?" You bit back a grin before lowering your voice. "...I hid it in my sports bra."
He broke out into a shocked smile. "In your—amazing. Y/N, you’re a genius."
"Am I now?" You asked, raising your eyebrows. You started down the hallway again, and he followed. "Thank you," He mumbled.
With a wave of your hand, you shook your head. "I'm just doing my job, y’know? Plus, I enjoyed working with you, John. I think we make a... decent team."
He looked down at his feet, sticking his hands in his pockets. "Well," He said, "If we are going to keep working together, can I ask you to do something?"
"Sure," You replied. By now, you were headed down the basement steps.
"Just… call me Johnny. John feels too… formal."
"Johnny," You sounded the name out, before smiling. "Yeah, it suits you better."
X-FILE 144-A: THE BELDAM'S GLENN BLOOD RITUALS
SOMEWHERE ALONG THE EVERETT TURNPIKE, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—07:32 hours, Thursday, February 11th, 1993
"Brief me again on this case?" Johnny sighed as he drove ahead, "I was too tired when you explained on the flight here."
You nodded, rubbing your eyes and putting on your glasses. Outside, rain hit the roof of the car, and the sky was that bluish gray tinge of an early morning drizzle. That, paired with the soft guitar from the radio along with Robert Smith's voice made for gentle ambience.
I don't care if Monday's blue
Tuesday's gray and Wednesday too
Thursday, I don't care about you
It's Friday, I'm in love...
Pulling out the folder from your bag. Truth be told, you were tired too—you'd been called just before 3 in the morning by someone at the bureau telling you you'd been assigned to work a murder case in Beldam's Glenn, New Hampshire. A fairly small town, less than 10,000 people.
You'd had an hour to pack some clothes, then take a taxi to the bureau to grab some things from the office and pick up the file briefing the incident. Then, just before four you arrived at Reagan International, where you met a seemingly bedraggled Johnny. His suit was a bit wrinkly and there were dark circles rimming his eyes.
By now, you'd been working with Johnny for almost a year. You'd learned in that time that he did not enjoy waking up before 5 AM.
"Good morning," You'd greeted, and he shook his head.
"It's not morning yet, and it certainly isn't gonna be a good one," He'd grumbled in response.
"Okay, Oscar the Grouch."
Now, in the car, flicking through the folder, you read out loud the information. A fifteen year old boy identified as Mark Lee had been found dead in the woods, near an area rumored to be where satanic cults practiced blood magic. His eyes and heart missing, torn clean out.
"...Ouch," Johnny muttered, stifling a yawn.
You raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. Ouch."
"Any witnesses or anything?"
"No," You mumbled, reading over more details. One in particular caught in your eye. "Huh… Additionally, animal tracks in the form of hooves, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, were found leading to Lee’s body."
Johnny tilted his head. "Hooves?"
You hummed in confirmation.
He raised his eyebrows, facing you for a second before turning his attention back to the road. His eyes were wide. Somehow, you already knew what he was going to say. "Do you think there's a small possibility—"
Johnny huffed. "Oh, come on! Y/N, humans are innately spiritual beings. Is it so crazy to think that just maybe a creature akin to a demon could exist?"
"I don't know, Johnny. Maybe there is. But I think now that the middle ages are over and we have more logical explanations for things like this, we shouldn't immediately jump to conclusions."
For a long time, he didn’t speak. Another thing you learned during your time with Johnny was that while it was relatively easy to smother his wild conclusions during calmer discussions, it was damn near impossible to get him to let go of them completely. You knew he'd mention it again later, but for now, you were content to just drive like this with him. You were… comfortable with Johnny.
He had a sort of dry wit that, paired with his suave persona, made him incredibly charismatic. Once you got to know him better, it surprised you that no one around your department of the bureau really liked him.
Dressed up to the eyes
It's a wonderful surprise
To see your shoes and your spirits rise...
He shrugged. "Maybe you're right. Look, there are the cop cars."
Johnny pulled over on the side of the road, one man holding an umbrella seemingly waiting for you both. You looked at the man in the driver's seat, and he nodded toward the back seat. "There's an umbrella in the back."
"Thanks," You said, grabbing the thing. You both stepped out of the car, tugging the vinyl umbrella open. You did a once over of the officer—sheriff, actually, once you saw the badge on his chest. Johnny stood behind you and grabbed the small umbrella from you, so that he could fit under it.
"You're the FBI guys?" The sheriff asked. The two of you pulled out your badges, presenting yourselves. He offered a smile, but it was obvious the middle-aged man was shaken up.
"My name is Bill McNamara," He said, beginning to walk towards the trees. The two of you followed. "Thank you for coming on such short notice."
He led you to a spot crowded by a few more officers scattered across the space, a white sheet hiding the body, a few feet away from a large, mossy cracked tree stump, so wide it was probably older than 100 years when it fell.
"Is this Mark Lee?" Johnny asked, and Sheriff McNamara nodded. Another officer peeled the sheet back. The poor boy was, in fact, missing his eyes, and there was a large hole in his chest. Even after several years as an MD and an FBI agent, corpses still filled you with dread.
Johnny, in his proximity from behind, nudged you slightly and pointed to the ground next to the boy.
"So," You said, turning your attention back to the officer once you noticed the hoof tracks, "Have there been any reports of missing animals in the area? Cows, sheep?"
"...Goats?" Johnny added. You nodded stiffly. Sheriff McNamara shook his head. When he spoke, he seemed resolute.
"They say this area is popular for blood rituals, witch's magic. Now, these rumors have been around for years—since I was a kid, actually."
"Any basis to those rumors?" You asked. The Sheriff gave you a look.
"Agent L/N, just look at the body!"
"Lots of homicides involve victim desecration," You pointed out, "Is there anything else that might point to that?"
The sheriff put his free hand on his hip. "I know he and his friends listen to that disgusting devil's music."
"I didn't like Madonna's latest album either, but I don’t think it's bad enough to call it that," Johnny mumbled sarcastically. You gave him a subtle elbow in the ribs, flashing him a dirty look. The sheriff didn't seem to notice his banter.
"No, I'm talking about that heavy metal stuff. It takes root in our children, poisoning their minds."
He led you over towards the tree stump. Johnny took a more serious approach. "Have Mark Lee or any of his friends ever been spotted at any of these supposed rituals?"
"More rumors," You muttered. The sheriff shook his head, stopping in front of the stump.
"Not that I know of," He said, before gesturing at the stump, "This is allegedly their altar. What do you think?"
Johnny's seriousness seemed to only last in short bursts, because he fired back with, "Honestly? With a few rounds of sandpaper and some cans of shellac, it'd make a pretty nice coffee table."
The sheriff replied, "Oh… Uh… Well, from the looks of this wax on it, it was probably being used when he died."
You rolled your eyes, turning your head to the side in embarrassment. But then a flash of white, and translucent pale yellow on the ground caught your eyes.
"Do you know if Lee was out here with anyone?" Johnny asked, not saying anything as you stepped out from under the umbrella. You heard the sheriff say, "We presume he was alone."
"You sure?" You asked, picking up the library card, and the piece of wet paper. "This Franklin Pierce High library card belongs to… Haechan Lee. And the paper here is torn at the stamp so that it doesn't say which library it's from, but it's safe to say that it's from there. The title at the top is torn, too, but it says '...In America'."
You stepped back under the umbrella, raising an eyebrow as you handed them to him. "I'm surprised your people missed this."
The sheriff balked, mouth opening and closing like a fish. "I'm sorry, Agent L/N," He murmured, "I'll admit, we're all a bit… shaken up here. This isn't something that we've ever dealt with, which is why I called the FBI. I'll have my men escort you to Franklin Pierce. That kid, Donghyuck Lee… He's Mark’s best friend. He's most likely there."
The sheriff stalked off, and you raised an eyebrow at Johnny before lowering your voice. "Better hide your Metallica albums… I could barely take him seriously."
He shrugged. "Well, the body's clearly displayed in a ceremonial manner. Plus, those goat tracks are highly unusual, Y/N."
"I was under the impression he made you skeptical once he started speaking," You hummed, crossing your arms. He shook his head.
"I didn't wanna feed his imagination. Poor guy's clearly overwhelmed."
"I think he fed your imagination, Johnny. This is nothing but some murderer taking advantage of local folklore. I mean, there's nothing that odd about—"
The sound of slapping and bouncing against the vinyl of the umbrella caused you to jump back, crashing into Johnny's chest. Your shoulders tensed up as Johnny dropped the umbrella and let out a startled, "What the—"
You caught the umbrella as it fell from his hands, but it was too late for him. Something large, wet and brownish green hit him in the forehead before landing on the ground and flopping away.
Your mouth dropped open and you met Johnny's equally shocked expression as you both registered the multitude of toads raining down on you.
A few seconds later and it stopped, but now the ground was covered in toads, now jumping away in different directions. Neither you nor Johnny spoke for a good fifteen seconds, until he wiped his forehead free of… mucus. Your shoulders dropped slowly when he finally spoke.
"So… wanna get coffee before we head over to the school?"
Your face dropped from confusion to disbelief. "Johnny, toads just fell from the sky."
"Yeah, but I still want coffee."
PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE, FRANKLIN PIERCE HIGH SCHOOL, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—09:04 hours, Thursday February 11th, 1993
Coffee on the table, you sat at a desk situated in the school office. Your laptop, the case file and a copy of today's newspaper were laying on top of it. A few feet away from you, the school psychologist and the secretary you'd borrowed the desk from were speaking to each other. You paid them no mind, looking over the file as you typed up your preliminary report.
You continued typing until the door opened, Johnny stomping in tugging a scrawny looking teenage boy—who was most likely Haechan Lee—by the upper arm. Two girls followed meekly behind, as well as a middle-aged woman, who you assumed was a teacher. All three of the kids seemed to be on the verge of tears. You raised an eyebrow at the sight. Johnny looked pissed off, and he asked the psychologist in a clipped tone, "Hey, Doyoung, could Agent L/N and I use your office to talk to the kids?"
Doyoung looked at the boy in Johnny's grip, then at the secretary, then you, before he nodded. Johnny opened the door and made a motion for the kids to go inside. "Sit down at that table. Don't speak unless spoken to," He ordered, tone stern. You gnawed on the inside of your cheek at his voice as you stood. What had gotten into him?
You pulled him away from the doorway, lowering your voice. "You good?"
Johnny sent the boy a glare before sighing. "Kid tried jumping out the window in front of the entire class to escape. I'll calm down. Just pisses me off that he thought something that stupid would work."
You bit back a smile, patting him on the shoulder. "Pull it together, Suh. He can't get away like this."
Johnny nodded, looking down at you warmly. "Ooh, last name. I'm in trouble."
"Shut up," You huffed, only half-joking. You were about to turn when you remembered something you'd read from the cover of the newspaper.
"By the way," You murmured, "National Weather Service reported tornadoes in northern Massachusetts early this morning. The toads probably got picked up from the winds."
Johnny sighed, before walking into the psychologist's office.
He turned to the woman. "Mrs. Walker, we'll take it from here, go on back to the other kids in your class."
"Are you sure?" She asked, pushing a black, stray hair back into her tight bun. Johnny nodded.
"The one day I'm called in to sub and all of this happens," She muttered to herself.
You spared a glance at the middle-aged woman, giving her a polite smile. She did the same, and you followed behind Johnny, pulling out your tape recorder from your pocket and closing the door behind you.
Johnny crossed his arms and leaned against the door, you standing in front of the table and setting the tape recorder on the table.
"This is going to be recorded," You told them. None of them protested, so you hit the record button.
"So, let's get this out of the way," Johnny began, "None of you are under arrest. We just want to ask you some questions. First, I want you to state your names for the record. Understood?"
They all nodded, and they introduced themselves: the dark haired, tan boy was in fact Donghyuck Lee, the shorter curly haired girl was named Amy Espinoza, and the taller redheaded girl was named Phoebe Howard.
The questions were basic and thus, so were the answers. Donghyuck and Mark were childhood best friends, but not related. Mark introduced Amy to him with Phoebe's help. Donghyuck took the book Witch Hunt: A History of The Occult in America out because he and Mark wanted to make the whole thing seem legit. When asked why they really wanted to go out there, Donghyuck looked down. He held his hands together between his thighs.
"We wanted to… you know."
"We really don't," You said, raising an eyebrow. He looked like he wanted to sink into the earth then and there.
"Mark and I had a bet that whoever got past second base with the girlsfirst would do the other's biology homework for the rest of the year."
Amy nudged Phoebe. "Told you," She grumbled quietly. Phoebe glared at her.
You continued the interrogation. The incantation taken from the book was apparently one meant to summon Azazel. They'd gone out there just before midnight because the book said that was the best time.
Donghyuck insisted they didn't kill him. "I'll let you search my car and everything, that's how we got there."
"Did you see what happened?"
Phoebe took a shaky breath, before burying her face in her hands. Amy nodded. "...We did. We ran but it had already… gotten to Martin."
You and Johnny exchanged a glance. "It?" You asked.
Donghyuck nodded. "Lady, you're gonna think we're bullshitting you—"
"Language," You and Johnny scolded in unison. Donghyuck at least had the audacity to look embarrassed.
"We got out there," Amy continued, "Martin lit a candle on the stump and did the incantation. The wind… changed. It suddenly got a lot colder and we started hearing… I don't even know."
"It sounded like, I guess what you would call speaking in tongues," Donghyuck said. "And then suddenly, there was this thing a few feet away from us. Maybe over six feet tall, and at first I thought it was a goat, but… it wasn't."
"What did it look like?"
Phoebe cried even harder, and the other two exchanged a weary glance. "It had… glowing orange eyes, and long dark hair." Amy shuddered. "It looked like it had goat legs, but a human torso. It was like…"
"It had a… a woman’s chest," Donghyuck mumbled. Your eyes landed on Phoebe, who seemed to be extremely upset. You exchanged a glance with Johnny. He seemed to understand what you were saying, and nodded wordlessly.
"Phoebe, are you alright?" You asked, feeling that something was up. She was shaking like a leaf. With a sigh, you turned the recorder off, and pointed at Amy and Donghyuck. "Both of you, wait outside on that chair. Don't move."
The two of them left, and you nodded at Johnny to sit next to you.
"Phoebe," Johnny said softly, "Is there something going on that the other two don't know?"
She wiped her eyes, lip wobbling. You put a hand on his shoulder, taking over. "No, there isn't," She mumbled, "I'm just… this whole thing's freaked me out."
Johnny raised an eyebrow, and you sighed. She didn't sound very convincing. Something wasn't right here. Still, you knew it would be hard to get anything out of her when she was so upset.
"Alright. You—you're free to go." You took a deep breath, hesitating before you spoke again.
"...But if you do want to tell us anything, you can come to us and we can—we'll speak off the record, if it makes you feel better."
Johnny frowned. "I think maybe—"
You flashed him a strong glare, cutting him off, before turning back to Phoebe. She sniffled, eyes darting between the two of you. When she settled on you, she allowed herself to relax a little bit more than when she'd been looking at Johnny. She nodded wordlessly, fiddling with a silver charm bracelet on her left wrist, and you gestured towards the door. "Go wash your face, drink some water. Tell your friends they're free to go. 'Kay?"
She gave a small smile at your gentler tone. Once she was gone, Johnny was on you. "We could have pressed her further. Why did you even offer to go off the record if we haven't ruled her off as a suspect, that's breaking bureau protocol—"
"We'll talk about this later," You answered as you stood. Out of the corner of your eye, you watched the three teenagers leave.
He lowered his voice as you opened the door. "Y/N, I can't believe—"
"You're letting them go?" The secretary—Beatrice, you believed was her name—asked, glaring at you. Her coiffed blonde bob bounced as she shook her head disapprovingly. Immediately, Johnny straightened.
"There's not enough evidence to keep them here," He said, "Besides, they're minors. It's always tricky with them."
"It's so obvious that they did it." Doyoung crossed his arms, "They've clearly been influenced by all that stuff on MTV."
You sighed. "The FBI recently concluded a years long study researching any correlation between homicides and media consumption and found that it only occurs in 0.01% of cases. If there were any it would mean thousands of people murdering tens of thousands of other people. It'd be the biggest conspiracy in human history."
Doyoung scoffed, giving you a mocking glance. "Yeah, and J. Edgar Hoover never admitted the existence of the mafia. Really trustworthy source, the FBI."
Johnny barely contained his scoff. He glowered at Doyoung as he gently pushed your upper back towards the door.
"Our investigation is ongoing."
ROSE GARDEN HOTEL, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—19:57 hours, Thursday, February 11th, 1993
Johnny's door opened to a sight of you, no makeup, in sweatpants and hair tied up. You took in his appearance. He had on a similar pair of sweatpants, and a white t-shirt. His hair was pushed back, and he was wearing his reading glasses.
"What's up?" He asked, letting you in.
"I found something," You murmured, holding up your laptop as he closed the door. You sat at the foot of the bed, and he sat next to you. You opened the laptop, green text flashing onto the screen. His shoulder brushed yours due to the proximity.
"'The grisly discovery of a young boy's mutilated body in the woods in the early morning has local law enforcement worried about the organization of conspiratorial dark forces.'"
He nodded. "Okay, is that from this morning's newspaper?"
You didn't answer, but rather read another quote from the article. "'The Jew is known to sacrifice teenagers and remove their organs during their religious rituals.' This is from a Nazi newspaper, from 1934. I found another similar case from 1967, where they pinned it on LSD users. The details are always the same, they just fill in the blanks with whoever was being persecuted at the time."
Johnny met your eyes. "And this time, it's occultists."
"Maybe this is some hidden organization, but I'm not sure. But something's just… not right. I have a bad feeling."
"Something to do with that girl?"
You nodded. "Is there anything you picked up? Something I might not have noticed?"
He chewed on his lip. "Now that you mention it, I did notice something a few minutes ago, but it doesn't have to do with her. Come on."
He stood, and you set the laptop down on the bed before following him to the bathroom door, where he flicked the light on.
"So, we're in the northern hemisphere." He marched to the sink, leaning over it.
You leaned against the doorframe. "Last time I checked, yes."
He pressed the plug into the sink drain, before turning on the faucet. "The Coriolis Effect dictates that due to the Earth's rotation, water should swirl clockwise, right?"
You nodded, having an idea of where this is going. He motioned for you to come closer. He turned off the faucet. By now, some water had filled the sink just enough. He removed the plug, and you watched as the water went down, whirlpool swirling counterclockwise.
"Something is here, Y/N. It's strong enough to affect this, then who knows—"
"Johnny, the Coriolis Effect works on storms and large bodies of water. Sinks and bathtubs usually don't fall under—"
He groaned, tipping his head back. "Of course," He grumbled, "It's been like this since day one."
You squeezed your eyes shut in frustration. Yes, in your time working with Johnny, you'd seen some truly unexplainable things. A pyromaniac that could light things on fire with his mind, a prehistoric parasite that turned its host violent, a serial killer that entered houses by squeezing his body through impossibly small spaces like an octopus.
But still, you always had your doubts. "Johnny, once cases are over and we have our explanations, and I've seen things for myself, have I ever not believed you—"
"You don't trust me during these cases, Y/N, that's what matters! It's always been like this, I'm always right, but you never believe me, you go off and write your little notes about me like I'm some field experiment—"
You frowned and crossed your arms. "Johnny—"
"Have I ever gotten anything wrong? 90% of the time, my conclusions are the correct ones—"
"We come to those conclusions together! Don't start taking credit for them now."
"Oh, so you believe it only when your name is also on the report, huh?"
"Don't twist my words, Johnny. You know what I mean. I believe my conclusions first, and then I listen to yours and based on circumstantial evidence and once I discard all logical scientific explanations, then I turn to the extraordinary. I don't jump to conclusions like you do!"
"Why can't you be a good friend for once and fucking listen to me—"
"Because I'm not your friend, Johnny! I'm your fucking coworker!"
The silence that filled the room once you were done was deafening. It was only then that you realized how loud you'd gotten. The shocked disappointment in Johnny's eyes seemed to be even louder, though.
Immediately, you realized your mistake. Yes, you'd grown close to him, but that was necessary for working well on these assignments. Keeping your work life and your personal life separate was paramount for you. Evidently, Johnny didn't feel the same, and as a result, you'd hurt him.
For a long time, no one said anything. Simply staring at each other, small space ripe with tension. Your eyes softened when he looked away from you, leaning his back against the counter. You took a step closer, until he was right in front of you.
"Can you get out, please?"
You stared at him for a few moments, trying to think of something to say.
Ultimately, you didn't. You took a deep sigh, and grabbed your laptop on the way out.
Being an FBI meant you had little to no personal time, working pretty much 7 days a week and being on call for anything at any time, in any part of the country. You knew that when you started your training.
You'd entered with a statement and left with a question. Could you really call Johnny a friend? You really only saw him during work. You didn’t meet outside of it—but considering how much you worked, always on call and spending nights holed up with him in hotel rooms or in your office going over evidence of different cases, at what point did you start spending more time at work than at your day to day life?
PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE, FRANKLIN PIERCE HIGH SCHOOL, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—10:11 hours, Friday, February 12th, 1993
You were looking between the notes you’d scribbled down on a small notepad using a pen you’d stolen from Johnny the day before. It was while you were transferring them to the report on your computer that you jumped in your seat when the office door burst open. Mrs. Walker guided a sniffling Phoebe Howard into the room. Johnny, who had been speaking to Doyoung to ask him about other students, turned his head.
Doyoung held up a hand, to which Johnny nodded, and the shorter man walked over to the two of them. "Phoebe, are you alright?"
She shook her head, breaking into tears again, unable to speak. Doyoung turned to Mrs. Walker, who simply patted her head. "Lab project," She murmured, "They had to dissect pig embryos. She just… broke down. I've seen it happen before. Some kids are just more sensitive than others."
"No, no, it's not that," Phoebe blubbered, "Can I…"
Despite everything that had happened last night, when you looked at Johnny, you saw he'd done the same. A tense, knowing stare was shared between the two of you, and then Phoebe spoke.
"Can I speak to Agent L/N please?"
Your head snapped to her when she said your name. You stood, and nodded.
You lead her out the door while ignoring Doyoung’s frown and Mrs. Walker's confused look. Johnny followed behind at a distance.
The three of you went out the door, to the outdoor lunch tables. You had Phoebe sit down, Johnny and you remained standing.
"What is it you wanted to talk about, Phoebe?" You said gently.
She took a shaky breath, rubbing her hands together. "So… Do you know who my stepdad is?"
Thinking back to when you'd made a basic profile on the three kids yesterday afternoon, you nodded. "He's the gym coach here, right? Grant Howard?"
She nodded. "So… he married my mom when I was 6. And he adopted me when I was 8. One year after that my mom got a new job, a-and she started travelling a lot, y'know? So I was alone with him a lot more. I-I don't know when it started, but…"
The sinking feeling in your chest grew as she started to cry again.
"S-sometimes when she wasn't here, h-he would invite people over. They'd come i-in with these red cloaks and they—would bring small animals. Kittens a-and puppies, birds sometimes… They would take me down to the basement, to a room where the walls are painted red and there's this dirt floor, and they would—they would stand in a circle and sing and they would give m-me knives, o-or screwdrivers and…"
You sat down next to her, rubbing her shoulder as she let out a gut-wrenching cry. Looking at Johnny, the hand that wasn't in his trench coat pocket was balled into a fist. He was looking down, eyebrows furrowed.
"I didn't want to!" She wailed, "They would hurt me if I didn't, they said they would hurt my mom if I said anything! I had to be the one to kill the animals and then they w-would drink the blood—I don't know how I blocked it out or why I never remembered it until Mrs. Walker put the—the pig on the table, and I… I… I just…"
"It's okay, honey," You murmured, nodding. She buried her head into your shoulder, sobbing freely, and you rubbed her back to soothe her.
Again, you looked at Johnny, who didn't look at you. You realized just how difficult it would be to keep this off the record—this was something that involved a child being abused, you couldn’t let her go home to a dangerous situation.
This just got a whole lot more complicated.
HOWARD RESIDENCE, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—15:49 hours, Friday, February 12th, 1993
Phoebe was to remain at school. Donghyuck and Amy would pick her up, and she would spend the night with Amy. She wouldn't be going home until the situation was thoroughly investigated. She'd been left with Doyoung, who would speak to her as a mandated reporter, and would later go back to attempt to finish the project. You left her your number in case she needed to speak to you again.
You'd spoken to Mrs. Walker as her final class was out, just before you and Johnny left. The lab was spacious. A large python lay sleeping in a glass case in the corner of the room. The space was ripe with the smell of blood, which didn't surprise you, given the amount of pig embryos she was having her students dissect all day long.
The woman had a soft voice, and seemed very sympathetic to Phoebe's struggle. "I absolutely understand, I might have her do something else for her grade, but I'm afraid I might not be able to find any other activity on such short notice."
You nodded, sighing. "Of course. Thank you for considering, regardless."
Your eyes fell to her desk, where a small basket of random items glinted with a small charm bracelet, the same bracelet you'd seen on—
"Ah, the students usually ask me to hold onto their things when we get messy like this," She said with a smile when she noticed where you were looking. "You said you're a doctor, so you understand, right?"
"Oh, yes. I can't really wear anything at all," You said with a soft chuckle.
"Not even a ring? Oh, your husband must be disappointed."
You felt your face heat up, scratching your neck awkwardly. "I'm not married."
She smiled. “Oh, good for you then. It’s literal hell. And, you get to ogle your partner all day.”
You choked on your spit, coughing awkwardly. “I-I’m sorry, what?”
She laughed, waving her hands, “Oh, Agent L/N, don’t be so modest. You can’t deny that Agent Suh is an absolute dish. Why, if I were 25 years younger… oh my, the things I would—”
“I really must be going, Mrs. Walker,” You insisted quickly. “I’ll contact you should I have any other questions for you."
“Could I have your phone number, in case anything comes up? I-I’ll admit, this whole situation has frightened me a bit.”
You nodded sympathetically, ignoring how uncomfortable you’d felt a moment ago. Pulling out Johnny's pen and your notepad, and you jotted down your number there.
“Y/N?” A knock sounded, and Johnny popped his head in the door. “We need to go.”
“Yeah, I know,” You replied, tucking the notepad back into your pocket. You bid Mrs. Walker goodbye, and off you went, kitten heels clacking as you went.
As for your time with Johnny? The entire ride there was tense.
“Were you expecting that?” He asked a few minutes into the ride. You raised an eyebrow.
“The secret cult that forced a nine year old girl to murder puppies and kittens?” You answered in a clipped tone, “No, John. I can’t say I was.”
He hummed. "Okay… no tape recorder today?"
"I forgot it. Left it at the hotel."
He nodded, and that was that.
Her mother and adoptive stepfather were, to say the least, shocked at their daughter's confession. You spoke to the girl's mother in the living room, Johnny spoke to her father. Mrs. Howard, whom Phoebe had insisted had never said anything was beside herself, crying as she spoke to you.
“Mrs. Howard, you’re absolutely sure you’ve never witnessed any violent behavior from your husband?”
She nodded, sniffling. “He’s always treated me and Phoebe very kindly. In front of me, at least.”
You hummed, looking down at the carpeted floor. “You said this is your husband's house, and he’s lived here longer than you have? Have you been in all parts of the house? Is there maybe an area a guest might not know about?”
She looked up at the ceiling in thought. “After hearing what Phoebe told you both, it made me realize that I’d never been in the basement. Grant’s always said that was his woodworking space, and he didn’t want anyone in there.”
With a nod, you looked at her. “Could my partner and I maybe take a look at--”
A commotion from the kitchen cut you off.
“I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING OF THE SORT! I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE ACCUSING ME OF, SUH!”
You shot up, and so did Mrs. Howard, just in time to see Grant Howard push Johnny into the cabinet. Your training kicked in, and you stepped between the two, holding up your hands to placate the man.
“Calm down, now,” You growled, dangerously low, “Or I will place you under arrest for assault of an officer.”
“Grant,” Mrs. Howard called, “Breathe.”
“Leave, both of you! If you want to see my basement, get a damn warrant and you’ll see there’s nothing down there!”
You tugged Johnny away by the wrist, leaving out the front door. “What happened?”
Johnny shook his head in aggravation. “I asked to see the basement, said that it would clear my suspicions of him. He said he didn’t hurt Phoebe, and I said I didn’t believe him. Then he snapped, grabbed me by the collar and shook me.”
He unlocked the car. “Should we try and get that warrant?”
You got into the passenger seat, shrugging. “I can do it.”
Johnny nodded. “Hopefully we’ll find—”
A ringing from Johnny’s phone caught him off guard. He fished the phone out from his pocket, answering, “Suh.”
“Sheriff, what’s going on?”
You could hear him through the speaker, and you didn't like what you heard.
"We'll be there right away," Johnny said, face turning serious.
ROOM 471, FRANKLIN PIERCE HIGH SCHOOL, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—17:37 hours, Friday, February 12th, 1993
"You're saying she just… had a seizure?"
"I was sitting at the desk, and she was about halfway through the dissection when she just… collapsed on the floor," Mrs. Walker said, voice trembling, "She was shaking and her eyes were rolled up into her head… Agent L/N, it was terrifying."
You sighed and looked at Johnny, who was speaking with the sheriff. When you looked back at Mrs. Walker, she was shaking her head. "I feel a dark force is among us, Agent L/N," She murmured, putting a hand on her chest, "So many horrible things in such a short span of time."
"Agent Suh and I are working hard to solve the case, Mrs. Walker. I promise we're doing our best."
"Y/N," Johnny called, "We gotta go."
You bid the older woman goodbye, and she gave you a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Once you were out the door with Johnny, your voice lowered. "What do you got?"
"Not a lot. The Howards have been notified, but Grant Howard isn't being allowed into her hospital room."
"Who called the police?"
He shook his head, grimacing to himself. "Shit, sorry. Beatrice Pratt. The secretary."
You stared at him. "Pratt and Clinton don't sound alike at all."
"Well, yeah, but…" He scratched his head and lowered his voice. "The pantsuit and the bob remind me of the first lady."
You frowned. "I wear pantsuits all the time."
"Yeah, but you don't look like Hillary Clinton."
You sighed. You didn’t have time for this, especially when he was still mad at you. "Okay. Sure, whatever. I talked to Walker. I… I'm not so sure about her."
Johnny tilted his head. "Why not?"
"I don't know. I don't have a lot to go off of, but it seems just a little bit odd that she shows up the morning of Mark Lee's death, replacing a man who apparently hasn't missed a day in a fifteen year career."
"Maybe he had an emergency. Happens to everyone."
"Johnny, he contracted flesh eating bacteria. Does that sound like something that happens to everyone?"
He didn't answer. Obviously, he hadn’t been expecting that. "Ohhh-kay, then. Let's do this. The sheriff said that the warrant should be ready within a few hours. Howard would probably beat my ass if he sees me again, so you check out that basement, and I can do the background check on Walker. Sound good?"
"Actually, I don't think you'll need a warrant."
The two of you turned, stunned, to see Grant Howard standing in front of you both. His eyes were rimmed red and he was clearly restless, shifting his weight onto his legs constantly.
"Agent L/N, I'll show you the basement."
HOWARD RESIDENCE, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—18:09 hours, Friday, February 12th, 1993
"My entire life," The man said, sounding tired, "I was taught that humans are no better, no worse than animals. Do what thou willst, rather than do unto others."
He pulled open the basement door, gesturing for you to go first. Immediately, you were on edge. If you had your back turned he could easily push you down the stairs or hit you in the head.
"You go down first," You ordered. He nodded understandingly. "You were saying?""My family has kept this religion for seven generations. My great, great, great, great grandfather was born in 1777, Agent L/N, and he was the one who brought us into it. We've been keeping it alive since, with two other families. It kept us in good health, we had no money problems."
When the two of you got to the bottom of the stairs, he turned the light on and you realized Mrs. Howard had been right, it did look like a normal woodworking space. Until Mr. Howard pulled a rug up from the ground to reveal a hatch, which he pulled up to reveal another set of stairs.
"I was raised to believe that Christianity was synonymous with hypocrisy. And for years, I believed that." He led you down this pair of stairs again, where he lit his flashlight. The room was a bit smaller than the basement but still large enough to keep a large group of people like Phoebe had said. Also identical to her story were the red walls and the dirt floor.
"Believed," He confirmed. "I believed until I saw it in my own religion as well, not even an hour ago. When I got to the school to gather my things and was met by the heads of the other 2 families, asking me to pin the murder of Mark Lee on my own daughter. That if she were permanently affected by what just happened, we could get away with all of it. That was when I knew that I was better than an animal. I need to keep Phoebe and Linda safe."
"So one of you did murder Lee," You murmured, trying to get a solid confession. However, he shook his head. "I didn't. The others insist they didn't either."
"Who did, then?"
He sighed. "Agent L/N, you have to understand, I'm trained in these arts so I know when there’s a difference somewhere. Something is here. Something bad."
You frowned. "Alright. Did you or did you not abuse your daughter?"
"I never laid a hand on her. The others, however… they wanted to make sure she would stay quiet through fear, and they wouldn't listen to me. We have a ritual that blocks out memories, every time we would perform that ritual when we were done. The plan was to reveal the memories when she turned 18, and then allow her to join or reject the religion. It's a rite of passage."
"Why even use Phoebe in the first place?"
He shook his head. "The magic of an innocent soul is a powerful thing. It's one of the most powerful things we could ever use in our magic. That's also why we used those sacrifices. She was the youngest of all of our children. The others were all past 11 at that age."
With a sigh, you led him up back to the main basement. "Would you be willing to give me a written statement of who the heads of these families are?"
He nodded. "Of course. I just want my daughter and my wife to be safe. They believe that whatever's here wants a sacrifice. That it took Mark Lee as a warning to us, and unless it gets a sacrifice from us…"
"It'll strike again," You finished."And it won't stop." He sounded desperate. You found your notepad, but the pen was nowhere to be found. "Do you have a—"
Your cellphone ringing interrupted you. You groaned quietly, scooping it from your pocket. "Hello?"
"Y/N?" You heard Johnny's voice say. His tone was urgent. There was a faint crackle of static, but as you listened it began to get louder. "I'm at the school. You need to hurry, Y/N, there's something—!"
The static overpowered the sound of his voice, and then the call dropped. "Johnny? Johnny! Hello?"
Your heart dropped, and you tucked the phone and the notepad into your pocket. "I need to go. My partner's in trouble."
"I'll go with you," He offered.
You shook your head. "No. You're under arrest."
"You just admitted to animal abuse, your complicity in child abuse and conspiracy. If I take you to the school, how do I know you won't take the other two and bolt?" You snapped. "Against that beam, there.
Pulling out some handcuffs, you forced him against the side of the stairs, where you handcuffed him to the railing. "I'll come back for you later," You growled, "Don't move."
Rushing up the stairs, and out the door, into the rain, you ran towards the car. Johnny needed you.
Your friend needed you.
FRANKLIN PIERCE HIGH SCHOOL, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—18:30 hours, February 12th, 1993
You burst into the school, trying to keep calm despite the horrid feeling in your gut. You eyed the office, which was right next to the main entrance. The lights were on, you could see your laptop was on. But the seat was empty, and so was the rest of the office, or so it seemed to be from where you were standing. Taking a deep breath, you pulled out your gun, and entered the office slowly.
"Hello?" You called, looking into the window of Doyoung’s office. Empty. The principal's office? Empty. Your mouth felt dry.
Where was Johnny?
In a moment your professors at the academy would've been ashamed to see, you shrieked, and turned the gun in the direction the voice came from. But when you realized it was Johnny with a styrofoam coffee cup, whose eyes had gone wide at the sight of the gun pointed at him, you lowered it.
"Don't fucking scare me like that," You muttered as you tucked the gun into its holster. A second later, you raced forward, engulfing him in a hug as you realized that he was okay.
"Y/N? What's… going on?"
You pulled away once it registered what you'd done. "Sorry," You mumbled. "What happened? Where did the thing go?"
"Y/N, what are you talking about?"
You shook your head in confusion. "You called me. You said you were in danger. My heart fell out of my ass, Johnny, what happened?"
Johnny's face contorted at your statement. "Huh? Y/N, I never even touched my phone. I was running the background check on Walker—who, by the way, is pretty much clear in the system. But… I don't know."
Staring at him, you put your hands on your hips. "Johnny, I heard your… never mind. We have to go. Howard confessed."
His eyebrows shot up. "He did it?"
"No, but he admitted to conspiracy and has names. Come on, we have to go."
For the millionth time today, you made your way from the school to the Howard residence, where you found the door was still open. As you opened the door to the basement, you looked at him.
"He's down here."Johnny turned on his flashlight, and you followed him down the steps. The room was eerily quiet, and when Johnny flashed the light at where you said he was, it was empty.You huffed at the sight of the empty handcuffs. How had he slipped out of them?
"Y/N," Johnny said, flashing the light a few feet away, "Look."
You turned to see what he was pointing at. Your eyes widened at the sight of bones, tinged pink with the small chunks of meat still attached to it.
"Do you think it might be some kind of acid?" You asked, and Johnny shook his head.
"There's no sign of a reaction on the floor," He answered, flashing the light around the basement floor. He stopped a few feet away. You felt yourself grow even more confused.
""Snakeskin," Johnny whispered, "...There's a python in Walker's class."
"B-but, that's not possible," You muttered, "It would take a snake hours to consume a grown man, and weeks to digest it!"
Johnny grabbed your wrist, shaking his head at your rambling. "C'mon, Einstein," He told you, "We gotta go pay Walker a visit."
ROOM 471, FRANKLIN PIERCE HIGH SCHOOL, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—19:01 hours, Friday, February 12th, 1993
The school was a lot darker than when it had been when you had been there previously. Seeing the halls, which you'd grown used to being full and lit up, suddenly so dark and empty made you uneasy.
It was raining a lot harder now. The sound of the rain pelting the roof made it harder to listen for anything. When you got to Walker's room, it was also dark. She said she'd be here until eight grading papers, but the room was empty. There were some broken beakers on one of the lab tables, and when you really strained your ears to listen, the sound of soft yet strained breathing could be heard behind the desk.
"Mrs. Walker?" You called, slowly walking towards the desk. Johnny tried the light, but to no avail. The rain must have knocked it out.
The woman was on the floor, nose bleeding and leg bent at an angle at which legs weren't meant to bend at all. She seemed to have been hit in the head, a sizable lump protruding from her temple.
"Th-the snake—" She mumbled, "They took the snake—He hit me,"
"Who, Mrs. Walker, who?"
"Kim," She spat out, "Pratt. I think they—think they killed that boy."
Doyoung and Beatrice. You and Johnny exchanged glances, and you remembered what Grant had said.
"Did you see where they went, Mrs. Walker?" Johnny asked. She blinked hazily.
"Said something about the conference room," She muttered.
"We'll call paramedics for you, okay?" You stood, trying to reassure her gently. "You'll be fine."
Johnny had already picked up the phone. Thunder crackled overhead as he dialed the number, but you could hear the busy tone all the way from where you were standing
."Damn storm is jamming the signal," He said, "Y/N, we gotta go, now."
"Johnny, what about—"
"Y/N," He growled, "Now."
Something about his tone set you off, and you did as he said. He immediately shut the door, and sped up his steps down the hall.
"What was that about?" You asked, turning on your flashlight and trying to keep up with his pace.
"Y/N, do you have that pen you borrowed from me yesterday?" He asked, not slowing down. Thunder rumbled overhead.
"What?" He had a point, probably. He always did when he got like this. "No, I dropped it I think."
"The pen was on Walker's desk. Next to the phone. Next to Phoebe's bracelet. It was my pen."
You inhaled sharply as Johnny tugged the door to the conference room open. "What are you implying?"
"Walker was clear in the system. But when I was talking to the principal yesterday, she couldn't even remember hiring her. What are the odds that a woman pops up out of nowhere the same day a murder happens?"
You pulled a filing cabinet open, looking through random folders. "Okay, yes, we agree. But what if—"
"Y/N, did you not see how tall she was?"
You shook your head, turning to pull out some papers from a file. "Sure, she's a bit taller than average, but she's shorter than you—"
"She's slouching to look smaller. Trust me, I did that when I was younger. If she stood up straight, she would be taller than me. Donghyuck said the thing that grabbed Mark was tall, had female breasts, and had dark hair. She fits the profile."
You sighed. "I mean, maybe you—"
A thud! and a groan from Johnny had you turning your head. Your flashlight landed on Johnny, on the ground, unconscious. Your body turned cold.
But then you felt something hit you in the back of the head, and everything went dark.
Your eyes cracked open at the sensation of being dragged, and as your eyes adjusted to the darkness, you realized two things.
One, you arms and legs were bound, and there was a gag placed in your mouth. You craned your head, and Johnny was in the same situation as you, only he was still unconscious.
And two, you were being dragged by Hillary Clinton.
Shit, no. Maybe you'd hit your head harder than expected. Your vision cleared up further, and you realized it wasn't, in fact, Hillary Clinton, but rather Beatrice Pratt. Doyoung was dragging Johnny, and then you realized what was going on.
These were the others that Grant Howard had been referring to. They seemingly hadn't realized you were awake yet. You were in the school gymnasium, headed towards a doorway in the corner. The room was dark, occasionally lit by flashes of lightning.
"—The showers, right?" Doyoung asked, sounding out of breath. Beatrice huffed.
"Yes. The blood will get washed away there."
You couldn’t move your hands, no matter how much you squirmed. Your eyes looked at Johnny, who was beginning to stir. His brows furrowed, mouth trying to form words.
“Oh, you’re awake,” Doyoung hummed, disdain dripping from his voice, “Lovely.”
Johnny’s eyes cracked open, immediately glaring at Doyoung, who chuckled. “Please. I’m terrified.”
“Doyoung, shut up,” Beatrice snapped. “Open the door.”
Doyoung let Johnny’s legs fall onto the floor. Johnny groaned in discomfort as Doyoung opened the door, propping it open with something.
He approached Johnny again, but before he picked him up to drag him further, he landed a swift kick to Johnny’s gut. Johnny let out a muffled moan in pain, and you thrashed against your restraints.
“You just had to come and ruin everything, huh? This is a once in a century opportunity, and you--” He proceeded to kick Johnny again, over and over, “Just--won’t--quit.”
“Doyoung!” Beatrice snapped. “We don’t have time for this. Don’t you sense it getting angrier? If we don’t sacrifice them now, it’ll take us like it took Grant.”
Doyoung turned to her, breathing heavily through his nose. “Fine,” He bit out.
They dragged you into the bathrooms, leading you to the showers, where they dumped you both next to each other. You rolled onto your side to look at Johnny, whose eyes were screwed shut in pain. His breathing was labored.
You squirmed again, trying to free yourself as the shower roared to life. Curling in on yourself as cold water soaked your body, you tried to think of a way to save both Johnny and yourself. Doyoung and Beatrice pulled out large daggers from their coat pockets, and raised their arms to the sky. They began chanting in latin, but the roar of water, the shock of the cold temperature, and the panic beginning to set in caused the words to blur together.
This was it. You and Johnny were going to die.
Until the two of them crumpled on top of you. You jumped as Doyoung’s weight toppled onto you, eyes squeezing shut in pain. His elbow had landed on your stomach. For a moment, as you lay there reeling in pain, and you wondered if this was a part of the ritual. But then…
"Agent L/N?" Your eyes shot open, and you met eyes with Amy Espinoza. She managed an awkward attempt at a polite smile, fiddling with what she was holding in her hands. Your eyes widened when you registered the shotgun. A flashlight was duct-taped haphazardly to the barrel, probably so that she could see wherever she was aiming.
"Mmh-hffpnffh?" You couldn't stop yourself from trying to speak, unable to contain your surprise.
A second set of hands turned off the shower, and you craned your neck to see Donghyuck Lee, holding an old baseball bat underneath his armpit. He pulled Beatrice off of Johnny, making a disgusted face. "I always knew there was something up with her," He grumbled, "She never laughed at my jokes."
"Yeah, 'cause you're annoying as shit," Amy countered, pushing Doyoung to the side. "Can you guys sit up?"
She untied your hands, and you got to work on untying your feet before pulling the gag off of your mouth.
"What are you two doing here?" Johnny asked, voice raspy and out of breath.
You stood up, wiping water off of your face. "Where did you get that gun?"
"Oh." Amy suddenly sounded embarrassed. "I, uh… Stole it from my dad?
"Donghyuck helped Johnny stand. "We went to visit Phoebe in the hospital, Mr. Suh—"
"Agent Suh," Johnny corrected, bringing a hand to his stomach. "Whatever. Anyway, we went to visit and once she woke up she told us something… not good."
"Mrs. Walker is the thing," Amy said. "Phoebe said she was dissecting the pig and she saw her grab the bracelet she'd given her—"
"And she did something and her eyes turned orange, like the thing we saw in the woods!" Amy continued. "The officer that was there didn't believe her, but we did."
"So we decided to take matters into our own hands," Donghyuck said. "She killed our best friend, so we thought—"
"That coming to your school with a shotgun and a wooden baseball bat, to kill a demon was the best course of action?" You didn't sound amused, and the two of them exchanged a look.
Amy looked down. "Well… when you put it like that…"
"It doesn't matter," Johnny said. "You kids need to go home now. It's not safe for either of you."
"Like hell we're going anywhere! We were able to save you guys, so—"
“You kids got lucky this one time," You pointed out, sounding stern, "Agent Suh and I are trained for dangerous situations like this. You two aren't, and we certainly aren't about to expose you kids to one. Go home."
You searched your pockets, not finding your gun. You crouched to look through Doyoung and Beatrice's pockets, handing Johnny's gun to him and putting your gun back into your holster.
A large crack of thunder startled you all, and the ground seemed to rumble as it did. Johnny looked past you and the kids, at the end of the shower hallway, and inhaled sharply.
"Oh, that's so much worse than Hillary Clinton," He mumbled. You didn't even see what he meant, but in that split second something in you took over. You pulled Donghyuck behind you, Johnny grabbing Amy and doing the same.
At the same time, Amy aimed the gun to where Johnny had been looking, the light landing on...
Donghyuck gasped. "Holy shit."
It was like exactly what Donghyuck had said, except worse. Glowing, orange eyes, goat legs, stringy black hair. Johnny was right—standing like this, she was much taller than him. Her jaw was unhinged, open impossibly wide. She was panting heavily, hobbling slowly towards you.
You and Johnny pulled out your guns, shooting instantly. One hit her in the shoulder, the other in the stomach. Her jaw opened even further, and a blood curdling screech echoed throughout the tiled room.
Then she broke out into a run.
You forced yourself to stand still, shooting another round before she jumped over you. Out of the corner of your eye, Donghyuck swung the bat, hitting her in the leg, causing her to fall face first to the ground.
Taking that advantage, Johnny fired another round into her back. She shrieked again, and you and Johnny took the opportunity to run out the door, pushing the kids with you.
"Go! Both of you, now," You ordered once you were in the gym again. They shook their heads. Donghyuck held up his bat.
"We're not leaving without—"
"Donghyuck, this isn't a movie," Johnny insisted, "Now go!"
Amy grabbed his arm. "Hyuck, they're right, we have to—LOOK OUT!"
You turned to see what had once been Mrs. Walker stick its head out of the doorway. Amy was able to fire one last shot into it, with her shotgun. You didn’t see where it hit—the door shut and you heard one final wail.
A few moments later, the lights flickered on. You stood there, clothes dripping onto the hardwood floor for a good minute or so, until you looked at Johnny, who wore a pained grimace. "I can check," You told him. "Stay here with the kids."
"You sure?" He asked. You nodded, holding out your gun and slowly making your way towards the door. You spared the odd trio one final glance.
Johnny—soaking wet hair falling into his eyes—was standing in front of them, aiming his gun at the door. Donghyuck was holding his bat up, Amy's MacGyver-esque flashlight gun making you squint.
Then, you opened the door. You could feel your heart hammering a mile a minute. Very slowly, you scanned the room. You stopped when you glanced at the showerhead Beatrice and Doyoung had placed you under—the same one they should have been under, knocked unconscious. You swallowed a lump in your throat.
Because they weren’t there, and neither was Mrs. Walker. What you did see, however, were two large streak of blood dragged up the wall and to a window, staining the green tiles.
PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE, FRANKLIN PIERCE HIGH SCHOOL, BELDAM'S GLENN, NEW HAMPSHIRE—20:47 hours, Friday, February 12th, 1993
The four of you made your way back to the main building on high alert. The rain seemed to have stopped once the thing was gone. Amazingly, there wasn't even a cloud in the sky. Even the air felt different—cleaner.
Shockingly, this time when Johnny tried the phone again, it worked. In order, he called the sheriff, who had no issue believing the ordeal you had gone through. Then the principal, who was incredibly confused as to how four of her teachers could vanish in one night.
And then, you turned to the kids and gestured to the phone. "Alright, your turn now. Call your parents, both of you."
If they were more afraid of the murderous hellspawn they'd just helped you fight off, it didn't show. "Please just let us go now, Agent L/N," Donghyuck pleaded, "My mom will never let me leave my house again after this."
Amy shook her head. "My dad's gonna kill me if he finds out I stole the gun again."
Johnny made a face. "Again?"
She turned even paler when she realized her screw up. "I'm not going to omit witnesses from a report because you'll get grounded," You told them. "You're good kids, with good intentions. You just lost someone and had another friend go through something traumatic, we get that. But what you did tonight was incredibly dangerous, reckless, and—and—"
"Stupid?" Johnny offered.
"Johnny!" You snapped, lowering your voice. He shrugged.
You sighed, trying to get them to understand. "Alright, listen. There's a Yellow Pages over on that desk. If you don't call them, I will, or the sheriff will. Which would scare your parents less, huh? Getting a call from their kids, from the sheriff's department, or from the goddamn federal bureau of investigation?"
If they didn't get it before, they definitely understood now. Amy took the fall first, telling her dad she'd brought her car to the school, had gotten into trouble, and needed him to come by to talk to the police. She left out the gun, much to your amusement.
While Donghyuck did the same, you pulled Johnny into the hallway to speak to him.
"Are you okay?" You asked, "Doyoung seemed to kick you pretty hard."
"I'll take a few days off once we get back to DC, I'll be fine," He murmured. He leaned against the wall and winced.
You nodded, but weren't sure how to respond. Finally, you spoke again.
"Look, about last night," You said softly, and he looked up in thought.
"What about it?" He didn't seem to want to meet your eyes.
You took a step forward. "Johnny, other than when we first met, have I ever treated you like you were crazy?"
Your voice was quieter now, gentler in its approach. He looked to the side, crossing his arms. "...No."
You shrugged, before sighing. "It's not that I don't trust you. I have my scientific conclusions. You have yours. Every time I see something I can't explain I try to explain it with what I do know. Tonight was… insane, and you were right. But honestly? It just reinforced my wanting to go the scientific route every time we have a case."
He frowned. "Why? You saw Walker."
"Exactly." You crossed your arms. "If I went into every single case, expecting to see that or something even worse? God. I… I don't know how you do it, John."
He smiled, but still didn't meet your eyes. "I didn't mean what I said last night either. Y'know… that. Or at least, I didn't realize I didn't mean it until today. I… I care about you, Johnny. I really do. You're smart, and you're really funny, and you give me perspectives I wouldn't consider otherwise."
He looked at you, and you put a hand on his upper arm. "I'm glad I have a friend like you to work with," You admitted, "And I'm glad you're okay."
His smile grew, and he let out a chuckle. "There's no one else in the bureau I would rather be murdered by Hillary Clinton with," He said, with the most endearing tone possible. You burst into laughter, Johnny joining you. He stepped closer, pulling you into a hug as you continued to laugh. Your eyes shut, and despite Johnny's cold, damp clothes pressing against your cold, damp clothes, it still warmed your chest. The two of you stood together for a while, enjoying each other's embrace. His chin rested on your head, and you sighed happily. Johnny gave good hugs.
"Uhh, Agent Suh?"
Johnny and you broke away immediately. Johnny cleared his throat."Uhh, yes, Donghyuck?"Amy and Donghyuck exchanged a glance from the office doorway. "Uh, my mom said she'll be here soon. A-and I saw some police lights across the street, so…"
"Oh." Johnny straightened his tie. "Thank you."
A few seconds later, the sound of sirens came into proximity. You took a look at these two kids, and despite the stress they'd caused you, you felt an odd fondness in your heart.
“Come on, you two," Johnny murmured, "Time to go."
X-FILE 229-B: THE SAN CEFERINO SHIFTER
FBI HEADQUARTERS, WASHINGTON, D.C—07:08 hours, Wednesday, July 6th, 1994
On this particular summer morning, you were enjoying the air conditioner for as long as you could wait. You'd be flying to San Ceferino, California, twenty minutes outside of San Francisco.
The assignment was at a gated community where three women had been found dead within the span of three weeks. You and Johnny would be sent in to investigate due to a strange, unidentifiable residue being found on the bodies. A local detective had contacted the bureau for help.
The kicker? For some reason, due to some sensitivities of having their community "invaded" the head of the community had requested you be placed undercover.
So what was the bureau's idea? "Moving" you and Johnny into the community, posing as a newlywed couple.
This seemed like a bad idea to you, but you didn't say anything. Because if you spoke up to your superiors, they'd ask why, and you'd be forced to explain.
"I got the flight tickets and our fake profiles!" Johnny entered your shared office, causing you to look up from the case file.
"Oh, nice. Who are we?"
He curled his lip, making a face. "Whoever makes up these names should be demoted, I swear to god. My name is Fox. Fox Kang. Who the hell names their kid Fox—"
You stifled a laugh as you grabbed the file from him, flipping to yours. Dana Baker. A bit ordinary, but the more inconspicuous, the better, you figured.
"God, I kind of don't want to go," You hummed, "It's hot enough as it is here in Washington. I don't wanna imagine the California heat."
"Well, suck it up," He said, but he didn't sound dismissive. "We're leaving in three hours. We still have to pick up our undercover wardrobe and get to the airport, y'know?"
Frowning at the profile, you nodded half-heartedly. It stated that your backstory was that of college sweethearts at Cornell in the 80s. He was class of 1984, you of 1986. You were moving to California two months after getting married, because "Fox" got a job offer just outside of San Francisco.
"You're staring at that paper like you're Nancy Kerrigan and it just broke your knee," Johnny pointed out, "You okay?"
"Huh?" You looked at him, swallowing. "Oh… yeah. I'm fine. I'm just a bit… unsure about the whole marriage thing."
Johnny shrugged, offering an amused smile. "Really, Y/N. We've been working together for two years and you still find me that unbearable?"
You laughed, standing and circling your desk to stand in front of him. "No, not at all. I'm just not the best when it comes to undercover work."
Johnny leaned against the desk, smiling sympathetically. "Well, I'm no Tom Hanks either. But if you think about it, we spend all our time together anyway. It's not that big of a stretch to say we might as well be."
"We definitely argue like one," You fired back. You both laughed, simply staring at each other in silence once it quieted down. Johnny's eyes studied you up and down, dark eyes warm. He was wearing his glasses today.
You wondered if he was judging your outfit, because he did that sometimes with other people. Apparently, before he became interested in criminal psychology he'd wanted to become a fashion designer, or so he told you. Six months later after he'd told you that and you still weren't sure if he was joking or not.
"What are you looking at?" You asked. He shook his head.
"...Nothing. Let's get going?"
The two of you picked up your faux suitcases—the bureau had a department full of fake clothes for agents going undercover needing to fit a certain persona. The two of you were nothing close to the white picket fence suburban life, so you were better off picking up some fake clothes.
You laughed when you saw the first outfit Johnny had been given. A pastel yellow LaCoste polo shirt, and grayish blue dress shorts. He glowered at you when he saw your face.
"Oh, yeah, very funny."
Your outfit wasn't much better. High rise, light wash jeans and another polo, this one bright red, a pair of dark red casual loafers to match. Johnny didn't laugh, but it was clear he was trying not to.
You decided to sleep on the plane. There wasn't a lot to look over, as you'd received the file the night before. By now, you knew the drill.
You dreamt you were back in that hotel room in Oregon. Johnny was kneeling beneath you, but you still hadn't taken your robe off. He was saying something, but you couldn't understand what. His eyes were full of a warm emotion that you couldn't quite place.
Until he raised his arms to try and remove the robe. This time, when he spoke, you could hear him clearly. "This is what you wanted me to do, right?"
Your hands grabbed his. "What? Johnny, I… Well…"
He stood, face impossibly close to yours. There was an odd smile on his face. "Don't worry," He murmured. "I want to, too."
Slowly, your hands let go of his and he began to pull off the robe. You didn’t protest. When you were bare, his hands slid to the skin of your waist, and he pulled you against him. His forehead pressed against yours.
"Johnny, are you sure?"
"Y/N," He said with a smile, "We are beginning our descent into LAX. Please put on your seatbelts and put up your trays."
You jumped awake in your seat, eyes impossibly wide. A laugh from beside you caused you to turn your head. Johnny was giggling into his palm.
"What?" You asked, voice raspy from sleeping.
"Oh my god, that was beautiful," He declared, "You were sleeping so peacefully and then, oh my god, that was hilarious."
"Ha, ha, ha." Your tone was devoid of any emotion. You rubbed your eyes, yawning slightly. "What time is it, here?"
"Three hour time difference. It's one PM."
You nodded. And you still had a six hour car ride. Lovely.
SOMEWHERE ALONG THE I-5, CALIFORNIA—15:22, Wednesday, July 6th, 1994
"Couldn't they have just flown us to San Francisco and have us drive from there?" Johnny complained after being cut off by yet another car.
You sighed. "Budget cuts, I guess. We're not infiltrating the mafia, or taking down human trafficking rings."
"Yeah, we just fight the boogeyman and the little green men," He agreed. You laughed.
"Do you ever wonder what it would be like if we hadn't gotten assigned together?" He sounded wistful, not taking his eyes off of the road.
"I don't know." You picked at a loose thread on your jeans. "I would probably still be teaching at the academy. I think Brooks was considering placing you with Jung if I wasn't up for it."
"Jaehyun Jung?" He turned his head, making a face. "Really? He hates me."
"He doesn't hate you," You insisted, "He just thinks like me, science before all, except… less nice about it."
"You sure?" He asked, fiddling with the radio, "Every time we're in a room together, I catch him staring at me like he's trying to shoot lasers into my head, the prick."
You shrugged. "He's nice to me."
"That's just 'cause he's trying to get into your pants."
You hummed. Jaehyun was pretty handsome. "Would that be such a bad thing?"
He coughed, shrugging. "Well, it's your love life. You do you."
The air turned awkward. Johnny fiddled with the radio, but in this particular stretch of the interstate, all that came up was a Latin beats radio. Trumpets, and soft snare drums filled the car. You immediately recognized Selena's Bidi Bidi Bom Bom, a song about a girl realizing her heart went crazy whenever her lover passed by—while you didn’t listen to a lot of Latin music, you had a friend who did and always played this song when you met up.
Me tiemblan hasta las piernas
Y el corazon igual
Se emociona, ya no razona
No lo puedo controlar
"Oh, I hate this song," Johnny mumbled, reaching to turn the radio off.
"No, wait! I like it." You pushed his hand away. He groaned, but didn't turn it off.
Y me canta así, me canta así…
Bidi bidi bom bom, bidi bidi bom bom
Bidi bidi bidi bidi bidi bom bom
Bidi bidi bidi bidi bidi bom bom
So, the two of you continued on listening to Selena, Johnny silently pouting.
"So, what were you dreaming about on the plane?"
"Huh?" You cleared your throat.
"Yeah, you said my name in your sleep."
You shifted in your seat. "Oh… Um. I can't even remember."
He hummed, but didn't say anything. The drive continued on, both of you alternating between discussing mundane things and the case. All of them had been found in their homes, with no sign of a struggle—which suggested they knew their assailant. They'd all been strangled to death. No odd fingerprints could be recovered from the crime scenes.
The first victim lived alone. The other two's husbands had solid alibis that were confirmed by the police.
Which meant that it had to be someone in the neighborhood. There was reportedly a strong sense of community there, which was part of why the bureau had you going undercover.
Around six, the two of you rolled into San Francisco, for a brief stop to talk to the detective who had contacted the bureau, a woman named Wendy Son.
The two of you rolled into the precinct, and upon showing your badges, were prompted to the woman’s office. She had her light brown hair tied up in a ponytail, wearing a black pantsuit similar to what you would wear, had you not been dressed like a soccer mom.
"Oh, thank you for coming," She said once you sat down. "I have some extra material here that I wasn't able to fax you."
She pulled out a folder, setting it in front of you on the desk. Johnny opened it to reveal more images you hadn't initially seen.
"We sent the sample to Los Angeles because their laboratory has a higher capacity," She told you both, "They still weren't able to identify it, but apparently it apparently has an a mild tranquilizing enzyme. That might also be why there wasn't much of a struggle."
Johnny hummed. "There aren't any cameras in San Ceferino, are there?"
Detective Son shook her head. "Only around the perimeter and the gates."
"Maybe there's something there," You said, "Could we have access to those tapes?"
She looked back down at the pictures. "I could certainly get it to you by tomorrow afternoon, though. Come in past two and I should have it by then."
Johnny nodded and smiled at her. "That would be great, thank you."
She smiled, and you'd have to be blind to not notice the blush on her face. She handed him the keys to the house that the heads of the community had arranged to have semi-furnished ahead of your arrival. The rest would be arriving tomorrow in the morning, during which time you would go through the motions of being a newlywed couple moving into their “forever home”.
Johnny apparently was blind, though. He didn't say anything about it once you were both back in the car. You couldn't really blame her.
Johnny was… well, he was Johnny. He was incredibly handsome, and funny. Any reasonable person interested in men would find him attractive.
"Detective Son likes you," You told him as you were getting onto the road that led to San Ceferino.
"Does she?" He answered, smiling smugly. "She's pretty."
You don't know why that ignited something in you. "You think so?"
He nodded. "She seems nice. But I'm not interested."
The odd sensation in your chest simmered down. "No?"
"Not really. I'm not interested in something long distance. Plus, I work too much to have a relationship."
You nodded. "Yeah. I understand."
You arrived as the sun was setting, around seven. The two of you pulled into the gate to the place, where you introduced yourselves with your fake names to the guard. He checked his roster of approved people and let you both in.
San Ceferino consisted of four different cul de sacs, each house practically identical. The house you would be staying in was towards the end of the second one. The house was a pale pastel yellow, orange rays of the sunset making it seem a deeper color. Your car rolled into “your” driveway, and with a sigh of relief, Johnny turned the car off.
“I’m so tired,” He groaned, “Should we try and introduce ourselves today or tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow,” You said, letting your head fall back against the headrest, “These people are probably all having dinner or something, it’d be weird for us to do that now.”
He nodded, and got out of the car to open the trunk. You got out to grab your suitcase, and as you were getting out you realized that just maybe the universe disagreed with your decision to wait to meet others around the neighborhood.
A woman was crossing the street. She seemed a bit older than you both but was still dressed almost identically. You walked over to Johnny, who had his back turned, and tapped him on the shoulder. “Fox,” You mumbled, “We’ve got company.”
He turned, and upon spotting the woman flashed a comically fake smile. You offered the friendliest smile you could muster, but the way her eyes lit up when doing a once over of Johnny and then drooping in disappointment once she spotted you. If she thought she was subtle, she was dead wrong.
“Hi,” She said, impossibly enthusiastic, “I’m Anne Morrison. I’m the head of the Homeowners Association.”
You nodded in greeting. “It’s nice to meet you,” You said, holding out your hand, “I’m Dana. This is… my husband, Fox.”
“Fox,” She repeated, turning to look at Johnny, “That’s a lovely name. So, what brings you two to San Ceferino?”
“Oh, I got a job offer in San Francisco a few months ago,” Johnny answered. He was good, you decided. “We looked at some houses in the city, but it’s so busy there, you know? We were living in Maryland, so the transition between small town and big city… it’s not for us.”
She nodded, eyes wide. “I absolutely understand. My ex-husband wanted to move to the city now that our kids are in college. I don’t enjoy any of the hustle and bustle, really.” She chuckled, “So guess who got the house in the divorce!”
You and Johnny exchanged a glance, then laughed as if it was the funniest thing you’d ever heard. “Oh, my goodness,” You wheezed, clutching your hand in your chest, “I can imagine!”
“So, what do you two do?”
“I’m an architect,” Johnny said.
“I’m a publicist.” You scratched at your cheek when you felt a mosquito try to land. Her eyes zeroed in on your hand.
“You two are married, right?” She asked, “How come you’re not wearing your rings?”
You froze. Did the bureau even have fake jewelry? Why didn’t either of you think of that detail?
“Oh,” Johnny shrugged, coming to the rescue. “It’s so stressful having to take everything on and off at the airport, so we decided not to wear them today. Right, honey?”
He wrapped his hand around your waist, and you nodded. “I never wear jewelry when I’m on a plane. Too much hassle.”
She nodded, mouth slightly agape. “Oh, I see.”
Johny cleared his throat. “What do you work as?”
She grinned. “I’m a chemist.”
“I hated chemistry in high school,” Johnny groaned jokingly. Anne apparently thought this was hilarious, swatting his arm. He laughed again, but it was empty, awkward. You leaned your head against his shoulder in hopes that she'd get the message.
“Well, Anne, it was lovely meeting you,” You declared, “But we’ve been awake since five in the morning travelling. We’re exhausted, we really should be getting inside.”
Anne sighed, eyes turning away from studying Johnny’s face to you. “Oh, go ahead. You two must be so tired.”
Johnny nodded, pursing his lips. “We’ll speak soon?”
She smiled. “There’s an HOA meeting on Friday night at another member's house. You should come and see what we’re all about, consider joining.”
"Swing by tomorrow!" You grinned, "You can tell us the details then."
"Of course, of course. Well, I'll leave you two to it. It was nice meeting you, Dana." She raked her eyes over Johnny one more time, "...Fox."
When she was out of earshot, Johnny pulled the suitcases out of the trunk and scrunched up his nose. "That was... awkward."
Your hand pulled up the extendable handle of the suitcase, looking back at her to see her close the door to her house, which was at the very end of the cul de sac.
You looked back at him. "So, a chemist. And she's involved with the community, everyone probably knows who she is."
He shrugged before closing the trunk. "Let's keep an eye on her. She gives me the creeps."
The two of you made sure the car was locked before making your way towards the front door. He fiddled with the keys
"She might even have a motive," He said, as you stepped inside. "Ah, c'mon, aren't you gonna let me carry you over the threshold?"
"Not the time," You said, picking up your suitcase to carry it to the bedroom. "We were talking about a motive. Evidently, she likes looking at… married men. If it's her, she might be doing it out of jealousy."
"Exactly," He agreed, following you up the stairs. "Maybe there's something else at play—jealousy or something. how old were the other victims?"
"Between 25 and 35. She didn't say how old she was, did she?" You rolled into the bedroom, sitting on the bed and immediately flopping down onto it. Johnny rolled past your room, looking for the separate bed the bureau had said would be there as well.
"Finally," You sighed with a smile. Your eyes fluttered shut, and you stifled a yawn. For a second, you considered falling asleep just like this, uncomfortable jeans be damned.
You cracked your eyes open, frowning at Johnny who was standing in the doorway. "What?"
"There's only one bed."
You almost stopped breathing for a moment. "Huh?"
He shuffled on his feet. "There's only one bed," He said, speaking slower.
"What do you mean there's only one bed?" You sat up.
Johnny sighed. "I mean there's only one bed."
"But the bureau said—"
"Well, the bureau lied," He interrupted, "Because there's no other bed."
You crossed your arms. "I could take the couch."
"That's supposed to get here tomorrow."
"Oh," You frowned. What were you going to do?
"I mean, I could sleep on the floor," You said, "So that way we don't have to sleep, you know…"
"Together?" He offered.
"In the same bed," You corrected, turning your face. It felt hot all of a sudden.
"No, I couldn't do that to you." He set his suitcase next to yours, then sat next to you. "The bed seems big enough. I'm sure we'll be fine."
You were too tired to argue further. "Sure…" You didn't sound too convinced.
"Great," He sighed, "I just gotta tell you. I snore a bit."
KANG-BAKER RESIDENCE, SAN CEFERINO, CALIFORNIA—08:43 hours, Thursday, July 7th, 1994
That night, surprisingly, you slept like a baby. You initially thought you'd overthink it all with Johnny lying right next to you but… it was comforting, knowing he was there. You hadn't slept next to anyone since you were 26.
Life as an FBI agent was demanding. Because of this, you'd given up on the idea of having a meaningful relationship ages ago. And due to the nature of your work, it was easy to throw yourself into it to drown out the desire to have someone to come home to. The fact that whenever you did get free time, if you spent too much of it alone…
But now, lying awake in the morning, seeing Johnny's sleeping face curled up into his pillow… You remembered.
He looked peaceful. Even at 33, like this he barely looked a day past 27. You could make out the details on his face, old acne scars and the occasional mole. The smile lines along his cheeks and the corners of his eyes… maybe in another lifetime, another universe, you could have gotten used to—
No. You shot up, heading towards the en suite to go to the bathroom. You were still sleepy, that was all. The time difference between Washington and California was having second effects.
You pulled down your pants, blinking sleepily, and promptly had a heart attack when you sat down. Your knees barely missed your nose, your stomach dropped, and a shriek tumbled out of your lips before you could even register what was happening.
Standing, now wide awake, you had half a mind to pull up your pants as Johnny tumbled into the bathroom, eyes wide in alarm.
"What happened?" He asked, voice raspy from disuse. You didn’t answer, but instead stared at the offending lifted toilet seat until he got the message.
"Oh…" His face turned awkward, lips tilting from side to side. "I got up a few hours ago. I must have forgotten to put it back down, sorry."
You didn't answer, yawning instead. He shrugged. "I've never… lived with another woman before, so…"
His eyes looked down. "...Never."
"Not even with that ex-girlfriend from Oxford you told me about?"
You held back an amused grin. "Johnny, when was the last time you even went on a date?"
He pursed his lips. "I… am starving. Do you want me to go to the supermarket to pick something up for breakfast?"
You blinked, putting your hands on your hips.
"...Breakfast sounds great."
Johnny promptly changed and left while you got into the shower. Once you were out, you brushed your teeth, did your general morning routine and waited for the car to roll back into the driveway, doing a quick background check on Anne in the meantime.
No criminal record whatsoever, but that didn't automatically discard her from your list. Mostly because she was the only one on it, so far.
Johnny rolled back into the driveway just before 9:20. You helped him take the bags into the kitchen, when he said, "Think fast!" and tossed you a small box.
"What's this?" You asked, opening the box. You sputtered at the sight: two simple gold bands. He looked at you like you were a moron.
"Wedding rings," He said, plucking one of the rings out from the box, "Hopefully so Anne lays off."
"You didn't have to go out and buy actual—"
"It's fake gold." He waved his hand dismissively, sitting down at the island and slathering an ungodly amount of cream cheese across a bagel.
You settled on some coffee after hesitating to put on the ring. As you were finishing up, a knock at the door caught your attention. You looked at him, and he shrugged. "Moving van won't be here till 10:30."
So, you sighed, but still headed to the door. Johnny followed behind, second bagel in hand. When you swung the door open, you were met with Anne and a man you hadn't met yet. A wide Cheshire grin was plastered onto her face.
"Dana, hi!" She greeted. Her eyes landed on Johnny. "Good morning, Fox."
"Morning, Anne," You said with a nod, catching her attention again. You turned your eyes onto the man and held out your hand. "Hi, I'm Dana."
He shook your hand with a friendly smile. "My name's Scott Hernandez. I'm on the HOA board."
Johnny walked up to the door, putting a hand on your shoulder. "I'm Fox," He said, face speckled with crumbs and mouth full of food. You wanted to crawl into a hole.
"Hey, man," Scott said, eyeing Johnny, "Uh… Welcome to the neighborhood!"
"So," Anne asked, eyes raking over Johnny's chest, "How was the first night?"
Johnny swallowed his bagel before speaking. "It was lovely. We just snuggled up together and slept like little baby cats." He turned to you, eyes warm. "Isn't that right, honey bunch?"
Your neck snapped to look at him, holding back a look of disgust. "That's right…" You racked your brain for something sweet to call him and a moment later came up with, "...Poopy head."
Poopy head? Nice one, L/N.
Johnny’s smile faltered for a second, but neither Scott nor Anne seemed to notice. You flashed them both a bright grin. "So! Would you like to come in?"
Scott and Anne nodded. "That'd be great, thanks," He said. You led them into the dining room, where Johnny managed an awkward laugh. "Sorry it's such a mess, we just got up about an hour ago and I immediately went to the supermarket."
"Oh, don't worry, Fox," Scott hummed, sitting at the island, "Moving is so stressful. Especially with…"
Anne flashed him a dirty look. You raised an eyebrow at the interaction. "With what?" You asked, tilting your head as you feigned innocence. Anne sighed, shaking her head.
"Three women have been… murdered over the past few weeks." Scott looked down. "Police haven't been able to catch who's responsible."
"That's horrible," Johnny murmured, standing next to you. "Did you know them?"
"We know everyone because of our HOA responsibilities," Scott answered, "I wasn't that close to any of them, but they were all very nice women. It's awful, what happened to them. You knew Yolanda, didn't you, Anne?"
She nodded, eyes glassy. "Her son and mine used to play together. She was such a nice woman. Lovely family, too. It just breaks my heart."
"I'm sorry for your loss," You told her. She offered a sad smile.
"But what, is it someone from the community or what?"
Anne shrugged, eyes full of concern. "The police don't really know, but it would make sense if they were from the community—"
"It couldn't possibly be someone living here," Scott huffed, "Everyone knows everyone, why would someone want to—"
"Scott is just in denial," Anne said, waving her hand. "Did you two really not know?"
"Not at all," Johnny replied, eyes wide with fake worry, "These past few weeks have been so hectic we barely had time to sit down. Right, honey?"
You groaned, partially putting up an act and partially in disgust at the name. "It's been a nightmare!"
You made up some problems, like a crappy travel agency, yard sales, things going missing, stuff like that. Johnny occasionally chimed in, embellishing your stories. Occasionally, Anne or Scott would ask a question, and Johnny would answer with something he pulled out of his ass.
"So that's why Fox isn't allowed coffee, anymore," You said a few minutes later, rolling your eyes. Scott was cackling, Anne giggling into her palm. Johnny glared at you, but there was no malice behind it.
"But anyway, I'm guessing you two didn't come here to hear about how anxious I get with caffeine." Johnny turned to the pair. "What brings you to the... Kang-Baker residence?"
"Oh, we came to talk to you about joining the Homeowner's Association," Anne explained, "Not everyone in the neighborhood is a part of it, but it's very convenient to join."
They laid down the basics, and as they talked, you realized just how much you appreciated living in an apartment rather than a house. Yes, it was a bit small at times, definitely not as idyllic, but 300 dollars as an initiation fee, and monthly payments of 150 dollars? You had half a mind to call the bureau and tell them that the real crime was the extortion from the Homeowner's Association.
You didn't really see any advantages—probably because you didn't even own this house and wouldn't have to worry about selling it later. It just sounded like a nightmare. What did they mean you could only paint your doors pastel colors if you joined?
When they finally left, you looked at Johnny. "Maybe I'm not cut out for the American dream after all. That HOA stuff sounds even worse than the time we got attacked by the flesh eating virus."
He held back a laugh. "That bad, huh?"
You rolled your eyes. "No, this is much more irritating. The moving van will be here any second, come on, let's go."
127TH PRECINCT, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—14:29 hours, Thursday, July 7th, 1994
After unloading the furniture boxes (empty boxes with nothing really in them), you and Johnny settled on lunch—some crappy junk food—and drove all the way to the police station where Detective Son worked.
"What did you think about that Scott guy?" You asked Johnny, who shrugged.
"Seemed nice enough. We'd have to look into him too, since he's also involved in the community."
You nodded. "I'll run a background check once we get h—back to the house."
He glanced at you, but said nothing. "...What are you doing once this is over?"
You furrowed your eyebrows. "What, once we get back to DC?"
He nodded. "Well, yeah."
You stared ahead at the car in front of you. "Oh, well… I'm not sure. Probably finish writing that stupid report for Brooks and then curl up on my couch, watch some movies, drink some wine. I don't know."
He snickered. "What, and watch Pretty Woman for the 700th time?"
Smacking him in the shoulder lightly, you huffed. "Which is no better than watching Full Metal Jacket 700 times, and you know it, Johnny Suh."
He shrugged. "Well, if sex on a piano is what does it for you then who am I to judge?"
"Shut up." You rolled down the window, the heat too much to handle.
When you finally got to see Detective Son again, she handed you the cassette and made her way towards the door. When she spoke, she looked only at you. "I'm actually headed out to check out another call we got just now," She explained, "But feel free to use the VCR in my office to look it all over."
She left, not even looking Johnny in the eye. You turned to Johnny, who was wide-eyed.
"And you said she likes me."
In her office, you went over several days' worth of sped up hours of footage of six different camera angles. By the third hour of watching sped up, grainy footage, Johnny huffed. "I don't think we'll get anything," He said, "Especially considering the killer didn't even need to break their way in—"
"Hold on, hold on." You shook your head, eyes zeroing in on a dark shape in one of the cameras. You walked up to the VCR machine and hit the rewind button.
"Watch camera six."
He narrowed his eyes, fixing his glasses as he watched the dark shape run out from the treeline and up the wall, then out of the camera's view—presumably inside the community. You rewinded one last time, pausing just as it leaped onto the wall.
"That's too big to be a cat," He murmured, standing to get a closer look at the grainy black and white still image, "Right?"
"Could be a big cat—bobcat or a lynx, maybe, but…"
"It's movements are too… jerky for it to be a cat."
You hesitated, before nodding.
"Could this be the thing we're looking for?" Johnny asked, and you crossed your arms, giving the dark blob a skeptical look.
"Looks like we have some digging to do."
One more hour of poring over the footage, plus another hour of looking at the archives of the police department turned up nothing on big cats in the area. There'd been no calls to 911 to report big cats in the neighborhood, and looking over the tape again showed nothing else, not even the thing leaving.
Which made Johnny’s theory that it was still there weigh even more.
By 7:30PM or so, Detective Son had returned. "I brought coffee," She said, entering the small space, "Find anything?"
You shrugged. Johnny looked at her. "We saw a weird blob go inside. It never came out and we couldn't figure out what it was."
She frowned. "There haven't been any reports of wild animals there in years. Not since that huge military base opened up."
Johnny's eyebrows knit together. "Army base?"
She nodded. "Fort Talbot. It's about fifteen minutes west of San Ceferino. There aren't a lot of roads that lead to it, they're pretty private."
You locked eyes with Johnny, who was probably thinking the same thing as you. Military base? That was new.
“I don’t suppose you could take us to see it?”
She shrugged, raising her eyebrows. “I mean, we could try, but there’s a fence around the perimeter about a mile or two away from the actual base. They’re not gonna let you in.”
“No, we’re not military,” You sighed. “But thank you for telling us about that.”
SAN CEFERINO, CALIFORNIA—20:44 hours, Thursday, February 12th, 1993
When the car rolled into the driveway, the two of you had found that Anne was at your front door. You shot each other a quizzical look when she turned at the sight of your headlights. “What’s the cougar doing here?” He sighed, and you elbowed him.
“Hush. Be nice.”
She reached the car once you’d both stepped out. “Oh, I was wondering where you two were! I wanted to invite you over to have dinner. The spinach quiche I made was a bit too big for just me!”
At the mention of the meal, your stomach panged in hunger. All you’d had since you left the house was that coffee Wendy had given you. Plus…
Johnny seemed to read your mind. “We’re starving. Quiche sounds great, thanks so much, Anne.”
She beamed at his praise. “Oh, come on! Wouldn’t want it to get cold.”
Anne took the both of you into her house, leading you to the dinner table where she’d already set up spots for the both of you. “It’s not too much, is it? I’m sorry if I’m being overbearing. I really do want you to ease into the neighborhood, and plus, living in this big old empty house gets… lonely.”
As you sat down, you frowned in sympathy. You watched as she began to slice the quiche for you both. “Don’t worry, Anne. I understand where you’re coming from. It’s so lonely in my—or, it was so lonely in my apartment before Fox and I met. Sure, you can distract yourself during the day with all of the stuff you have to do, but at the end of the day you come home to… nothing.”
She handed Johnny a plate, and he took it. “There you go, Fox.”
He smiled, handing the plate to you. “Thank you.”
Her eyes followed his hand, and blinked when she spotted the ring on his hand. “Oh, I see you have your rings now.”
Johnny’s smile grew into a grin, as he held out his hand, flashing the band around his ring finger. You did the same. “No more pesky metal detectors,” He declared, “So why not?”
Anne nodded, eyes lowered. She handed him another plate, then served herself. And then, finally, you all started eating. It occurred to you as you took your first bite that if she was she easily could have laced the food with whatever was in those women’s systems when they died. But that would be too different from the killer’s modus operandi. They only went for women and they killed them in their home. Autopsies didn’t find anything recent in their stomachs at the time of death, so you concluded to take a bite.
Besides, it smelled good. If you were going to die, then it would be nice to die by the hands of some good quiche.
“So,” You began, “You said your kids were off at college?”
She nodded, digging around her food with a fork. “My oldest is in grad school at USC. He’s currently in South America doing research on bats, or something, I really can’t remember. My second is off backpacking for the summer, she’s graduating from UCLA next year, and my youngest left for college two years ago. He managed to get a full scholarship to Duke, can you believe it?”
You smiled, nodding. “Wow, that’s impressive.”
She sounded proud, but there was a sadness behind her gaze. “It’s hard, it really is. Especially trying not to worry. They rarely call and only come home during the holidays. Drives me up the wall not knowing what my kids are up to!”
Johnny laughed. “My mom was the same when I went to college. My freshman year she called me once every day. My roommates always made fun of me for it.”
She chuckled. “Oh, that’s how all moms are,” She turned to you, “I imagine it’ll be the same when you two have kids.”
You almost choked on the food in your mouth at her words. Out of the corner of your eye, you saw Johnny go white. Somehow, you managed to hold it back, hitting your chest lightly as the food made its way down. “Oh, well… it’s a bit early for that, I think.”
“We only got married six months ago…” Johnny murmured awkwardly.
“Oh, I totally get it,” She said, “But, y´know, accidents happen. Especially when you’re still in the honeymoon phase after the wedding. I had my first less than a year after we were married, we weren’t even trying!”
You chewed on your lip. “Well, if something happens…” You met eyes with Johnny, whose gaze was unreadable, “Something happens.”
Not looking away, Johnny licked his lips subtly, before picking up a napkin. Anne didn’t notice, surprisingly, and seemed satisfied with your answer.
You ate a little bit more, when Anne asked, “So, tell me, how did you two meet?”
Remembering the file, Johnny perked up. “We met at a party in college. I was in my junior year, I think? Right, honey?”
You shook your head. “Your senior year,” You corrected, “Because I was in my sophomore year. I remember it like it was yesterday. He came up to me and was wearing this horrible button up shirt—”
“You ended up stealing it from me!” He joked, and you held up your index finger.
“I use it to sleep. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that in public. Much less to attract a mate.”
Anne cackled, and the two of you laughed too. Again, you managed to make up a story: he was drunk and accidentally spilled some punch on your pants. He’d tried to help you by washing it in the bathroom but only made it worse.
“When I got back to my dorm, it was around three in the morning, my leg was sticky and I was miserable, but we ran into each other a few days later and he was very apologetic about the whole thing.”
“I was mortified,” He said, “I mean, here’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life and I managed to screw it up by ruining her pants. I was so sure I’d screwed up.”
Anne raised her eyebrows. “So, you knew from the start that you liked her?”
Johnny’s eyes landed on you again, turning wistful. He leaned over and grabbed your free hand. “The moment I first laid my eyes on her, I knew. She was the one.”
You tried to smile, but suddenly your chest felt like it was caving in on yourself. You let your hand rest in his for a moment, before pulling away. “Oh, Fox. Don’t get all sentimental on me now.”
Clearing your throat, you didn’t miss the way Johnny’s eyes fell slightly. “If you’ll excuse me, where’s your bathroom?”
She pointed up. “Upstairs to the right.”
This was your chance to get some dirt on her, and put some space between you and Johnny. As you walked away, you touched a hand to your cheek and it came away burning.
“Get it together,” You muttered to yourself.
The quick search yielded nothing. She had nothing in her drawers, all of the papers on her desk were related to her work at a hair care company. You always could have missed something though. You couldn’t take more than a few minutes, you certainly couldn’t risk her coming up to check on you and finding you sifting through her work documents.
Before you came down, you did your best to leave everything as you found it before heading back downstairs.
When you sat back down at the table, things were a bit more tense. You sensed it immediately. “Everything alright?”
“...Yeah,” Johnny mumbled.
“Fox and I were just talking about how… difficult marriage can be.”
You nodded, wondering if that was all that had happened. “Oh, it’s no walk in the park, that’s for sure.”
The rest of the dinner was not as lively. There were more awkward silences, more lulls in the conversation, less laughs. When you finally left, his elbow intertwined in yours, you looked at him. “What happened while I was gone?”
He shook his head as you both crossed the street. “I don’t like her,” He told you in a hushed voice, “She started talking about how it won’t be like this forever and it’s only fun now because we just got married or whatever.”
“What, was she trying to open something up between you and her?”
“I don’t know. She hasn’t exactly been subtle, so it wouldn’t surprise me if she was.”
The two of you marched up into your house, and while Johnny was showering you did a background check on Scott Hernandez. Nothing also. A perfectly ordinary citizen, no criminal record at all.
Then, it was your turn to shower. As you did, you couldn’t help but think back to Anne’s words. The whole situation, feigning domesticity was proving to be bad for you: you couldn’t help but imagine a small child with his wide eyes and your nose, his lanky limbs and your hands.
The amount of time you put into your work made you fully aware that it would make having children difficult. Truth be told, you hadn’t really put much thought into settling down. The right person had never been there.
But what if he had? What if he’d been by your side for the past three years?
He had to be putting on an act when he’d said it.
The moment I first laid my eyes on her, I knew. She was the one.
Thinking back to the moment you’d first met him, and he’d come across as slightly patronizing and dismissive of your conclusions. But thinking about when he’d first turned to look at you, that particular morning in 1992…
You turned off the shower. Alone time wasn’t doing you any good, either.
When you emerged from the shower, you sighed as your eyes landed on the toilet seat, which was lifted. You set it back down with a huff before getting dressed.
Once you stepped out of the bathroom in your pajamas, toweling your hair, your eyes fell to the pile of dirty clothes on the bed. “Please don’t put your sweaty clothes, where I have to sleep,” You told him, tossing the clothes into his face. He let out a soft groan, picking them up.
“Oh, come on,” He grumbled, “They don’t even smell that bad.”
After he set them off somewhere (you didn’t see where as you were shutting your laptop off), he sat back down on the bed, leaving a space open for you. "So, what if we looked into Scott tomorrow?"
“That sounds like a good idea. Tomorrow night there’s that HOA thing we need to go to. We might be able to pick up some more stuff there.”
He nodded, and as you stood in front of the bed he waggled his eyebrows and patted the spot next to you. “Come on, Dana,” He murmured sarcastically, “We’re married now.”
You didn’t smile. He took that as a sign to continue.
“Plus, if something happens, something happens.”
You grabbed a pillow and flung it into his face. “You’re the worst,” You grumbled. He laughed, but it was muffled from the pillow.
Slowly but surely, you realized with the sound of his laughter, this feeling was soon going to become something you couldn’t ignore.
HERNANDEZ RESIDENCE, SAN CEFERINO, CALIFORNIA—09:02 hours, Friday, July 13th, 1994
When the door opened, Scott Hernandez had a welcoming smile on his face. “Dana,” He said, “Good morning. Did you need anything?”
“Oh, I just wanted to ask if there was an official guidebook or anything for the HOA? Fox and I are still considering joining, but we’d need to go over everything.” You scratched at the cardigan you were wearing. Why did the bureau have to give you something so thick and scratchy when they knew you were coming to California in the middle of July?
“Come in! I’m sure I have a rulebook. Plus, if you have any other questions you could always just come over.”
He led you up the stairs. “I keep all of my stuff in the office,” He explained, “That way my kids don’t mess it all up.”
You offered a soft laugh. “Oh, you have kids?”
“Yep.” His voice was warm. “Two kids, a nine year old and a six year old. They’re not here right now, though. My wife took them up to Washington to see their grandparents.”
“Ah, that’s sweet.” As he led you into the office, your eyes studied the room. A picture frame behind him of a professional family portrait, a houseplant in the corner a big clunky computer on top of the desk, and a cabinet pushed to the side of the room.
Your eyes fell onto the things placed on top of the cabinet, a stapler and some other office supplies. But when your eyes caught a different type of metal that wasn’t the standard gray color, you focused on it. A small medallion, decorated with a ribbon. When you recognized the logo, your eyes widened slightly.
His eyes turned to you, eyebrows raised. Then he looked to the side. “Oh… no. My brother was. He passed away in the Gulf War.”
You looked down, but something about his tone didn’t sound quite authentic. “I’m sorry for your loss,” You answered anyway.
The silence hung overhead for a few moments, before he pulled out a small booklet. “Here’s a copy of the rulebook.” He held it up, waving it back and forth, “This has pretty much everything.”
“Oh, really?” You straightened your posture, feigning a smile. When he handed it to you, your smile grew bigger as you looked down at the small book. “I’ll be sure to show Fox when he gets home. I really appreciate it, Scott.”
He waved his hand. “Don’t mention it. If you need anything else, just come on over. I work from home, so I’m here pretty much all day.”
Scott studied your face, and a second later you looked away. “So, I should get going,” You murmured. “I’ll see you tonight? I don’t think nor you nor Anne said where it would be.”
He scratched the back of his head. “Here, actually! Tonight, at 7.”
“Great,” You answered, “I’ll see you tonight.”
When you got back to the house, you walked to the office, where Johnny was waiting. “Hernandez has military links.”
His head shot up. “He does?”
“There was a military medallion on his cabinet in his office. He looked like he was gonna piss himself when I asked about it.”
“And what did he say?”
“Said his brother was a Gulf War veteran. I didn’t believe him for a second.”
“So could he be our guy?”
You took a deep breath. “Honestly? I don’t know. I could try to look through his office tonight at the HOA thing.”
“You?” He shook his head vehemently. “You fit his profile. All of his victims were around your age. You’re not going somewhere you could be alone with him.”
You rolled your eyes. “Then what?”
He looked at you as if you were dumb. “I’ll go.”
“No.” His gaze turned stern, before walking all the way up to you. He put his hands up on your shoulders. “Y/N, he could kill you.”
“Has that ever stopped me before?” You asked, tilting your head. “Johnny, it’s in the job description to deal with people who could kill me. What’s so different now?”
He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. His eyes were wide, urgent, and his face was inches away. You shook your head, trying to prompt him to speak. “What?”
Johnny pursed his lips, studying your face. And then, finally he shook his head. “Nothing.”
He stepped away, and left the office, leaving you speechless. You leaned against the desk thinking about what just happened.
For the rest of the day, he was relatively distant. During lunch—you went out to buy some sandwiches—and he barely said thank you, before you ate in tense silence. You could only wait until 7 o’clock rolled around. In the meantime, you placed a call to Detective Son, telling her to look into Scott Hernandez and his family. You typed up the rest of your preliminary report, and then all you could do was wait.
When five thirty rolled around, you started to get ready. You took only about five minutes, before stepping out, fully dressed. When you stepped out of the bathroom, Johnny had his back turned to you. It was almost as if he hadn’t noticed you were right behind him, because he was humming softly to himself, tapping his foot to a non audible melody. You could hear him humming it though, and after a few seconds of listening. you were able to recognize the song.
He froze when he heard your giggling. “What?” He asked, turning his head.
“Is… is that Bidi Bidi Bom Bom?” You asked, leaning against the wall. He straightened his posture before shuffling on his feet.
You raised your eyebrows. “Sure, it isn’t.”
He raised his eyebrow, but it wasn’t as serious as he had been before. And when you spoke again, his mouth grew into a crooked smile.
“You like Selena,” You sing-songed.
“Alright, enough. We’ve got a job to do.” He was biting back a laugh. You knew him too much to believe the opposite.
When the two of you finally walked the few houses towards Scott’s house, he held out his arm for you to hold onto. Taking a deep breath, your hand hesitated before it grabbed onto him. Approaching the house, you could tell that it was alive with a lot of people on the inside. You wouldn’t necessarily say it was overflowing, but you could tell it was definitely close to filling up.
“Let’s go?” He asked, and you nodded. He led you to the front door, where he rang the doorbell before the two of you waited.
A minute or so later, Scott opened the door with a grin.
“Hey, you two! You’re just in time.”
You put on your best smiles. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Johnny sighed. You didn’t miss the tense undertone in his words.
The two of you made your way into the room. Across the room you heard someone call for you both. You held back a groan. You really didn’t need this right now.
“Hey, over here!” Anne called, beckoning you over. Johnny heaved the sigh of a man ready to end it all, and then you both made your way to her and her group. All of them seemed to be the same age as her.
“Ladies, these are our new neighbors I was telling you about.” She pointed at the both of you .”This is Dana Baker, and this is Fox… the architect.”
And the talking began. You and Johnny having to rehash the same details over and over again. It felt like having to navigate a minefield. You had to recall all of the lies you’d told Anne and Scott, this time in front of an audience of women very clearly ogling the man who they fully believed was your husband.
You made idle chit-chat after that, but eventually, about twenty minutes had passed until they sat everyone down. The living room was full of grown ups, including a few young children. The thought of everyone being in such close proximity to someone, something that could hurt them all the way it had hurt those other women.
It was easy to tune them all out. It was then that you realized that suburban life would never really be for you. This was all so dull and monotone. You were sure that if you had decided to actually go into the medical field and settled down… you would probably lose your mind.
They went over some things you didn’t pay attention to: lawns and whatnot. It was so tiring you had to stifle a yawn on more than one occasion. Anne was going on about some infraction that didn’t even sound that bad to you, when it occurred to you to slip away, Johnny be damned.
You patted Scott on the shoulder as Anne went on. “Where’s the bathroom?”
He nodded back once, “Upstairs. Green door. We’re almost done, though, are you sure you can’t wait a little longer?”
“I had the genius idea to drink two whole bottles of water before we left,” You murmured so as to not make too much of a scene, “I really don’t think I can.”
He sighed, before nodding. “Go ahead.”
Gotcha. You slipped up, sparing Johnny a glance. He was glaring at you. If looks could kill, you didn’t even want to know where you’d end up going. You made your way up the stairs, remembering the way to the office from this morning. You slipped into the office, making your way to the cabinet. The medallion was gone, which made you wonder why he had done so.
As you shuffled through the drawers of the cabinet and came up with nothing, you had to remind yourself to keep count of how long you’d been up here. You moved on to the desk, shuffling through the papers on the desk and then the ones on the drawer. In the first drawer, you found an ID: Alma Hernandez, Lazarus Programming.
In the second drawer, nothing.
In the third and bottom drawer, you found something: a pair of dogtags. Neither of them said Hernandez. Instead, they read Simon Walsh.
Simon Walsh? That was new. You stashed them back into the drawer, suddenly remembering how long you’d been up here. Probably a bit over five minutes. As you made your way back down to the living room, you ran into Johnny.
“Hey,” He said, “I was just coming to look for you.”
He looked disappointed, bordering on anger. In the small space, you could feel his proximity. You couldn’t help but shake your head.
“I had to take the chance. I wasn’t sure if there would be a chance after this.”
He sighed. “I can’t believe you. Come on, they’re serving pizza.”
You laughed, letting him grab your hand as he led you back into the living room, where you two ate a few slices of pizza. Enough to feel satisfied, but not enough to feel too full. In theory, if you had to make a detainment or worse, have a confrontation then it’d be a bad idea to have stomach cramps.
You two kept to yourselves, occasionally speaking to other couples who introduced themselves to you. Once you’d finished gorging yourselves on the food, he kept his hand around your waist the entire time. It was a gentle touch, but comforting. You couldn’t help but feel tense.
“After we get home, I’ll tell you all the details I saw.” You looked up to see his face, watching you tentatively.
“Alright,” He murmured, leaning closer to your face, “But I wanna talk about something together first.”
Raising an eyebrow, you leaned away from him. “What, are you okay?”
Johnny nodded, smile reassuringly. “Yeah. I just realized something earlier today.”
KANG-BAKER RESIDENCE, SAN CEFERINO, CALIFORNIA—21:17 hours, Friday, July 13th, 1994
When the two of you left, Anne had bid you both goodbye. She’d said Scott had gone to bed with a headache, which made you feel a bit uneasy. The entire way home, Johnny kept himself relatively close. The entire way home, he was silent. It wasn’t until the both of you were inside of the house that he leaned against the front door. As he led you to the couch )which had finally arrived), you tried to remember all of the details you’d seen as you looked through Scott’s office.
When he sat you down, you placed both hands in your lap. He scratched at his shoulder, before meeting your eyes.
“I think I’m in love with you.”
Your eyes widened at the same time his had. “What?” You asked, shaking your head. You were suddenly aware of everything going on. You were in an ongoing murder investigation. It was quite possibly linked to a very secretive military base. Three women had been murdered. A fourth would be soon if you didn’t hurry.
“Johnny, I don’t think…”
“No, please. Just a few minutes, okay? I’ve been dealing with this for years. I need to get this out of my system and then we can talk about this back in DC. Please, Y/N.”
Your gut felt heavy at the same time your heart felt incredibly light. It was by far one of the strangest sensations you’d ever felt. Letting out a shaky breath, you nodded.
“Alright, John. Five minutes. Then we talk about what I found.”
He nodded with a small smile. Gently, Johnny grabbed your hands, rubbing the knuckles with his thumbs. He was silent for a while, tilting his head back and forth as he tried to figure out what to say.
“What I said last night at Anne’s. I meant it. That first time I saw you, I… I knew. I knew we didn’t get along initially, but I just had this feeling in my chest. You were so smart, and eventually we realized how much we clicked…”
He looked up, leaning closer. You swallowed softly as his eyes met yours again. He managed a soft chuckle. “Y/N, I tried to hold it away. But it got stronger every single day. You understand me. Even though we push back against each other, you don’t think I’m crazy. You take them into consideration and don’t brush them off. I really appreciate that. I look at you and… I’m home.”
Looking to the side, you sighed. “Johnny, I really don’t think this is appropriate. Especially not right now—”
"Y/N, I know what your dream on the plane was about."
You inhaled sharply, alarmed gaze meeting his own. His eyes had turned soft, warm. You knew you had to push him away. The name Simon Walsh was on loop in your head, but you couldn’t find it in you to push him away.
“I heard you moan my name,” He sighed, “Trust me, Y/N, I know what I heard.”
He leaned even closer, cupping your face. You could feel his breath puffing softly onto your skin. His eyes were knowing as his voice dropped to a whisper.
“You want me too, don’t you?”
When his lips met yours, you couldn’t find it in you to pull away. He pulled you closer, and your arms found their way to wrap themselves around your neck. His lips were soft, but demanding. You could tell he’d been waiting for this a long, long time.
You don’t know when he laid you down onto the couch, but honestly… you didn’t really mind. Johnny was warm, comfortable. And yes, July in California was hot, humid, but… up until Johnny put his hands on you, you’d never realized how cold you’d been, even before your arrival here.
He deepened the kiss, hands sliding down to your waist. They toyed with the hem of your blouse, humming against your lips. You gasped against him, hands sliding into his gelled hair.
Your eyes snapped open. Johnny never used this much gel in his hair.
Two things happened in the next two seconds. You pushed Johnny off. Johnny would never prioritize his feelings like this over a case. You hadn’t seen Scott as you left. All of this pretending, playing house had gotten to you. You were in real danger now.
The other thing that happened? Johnny burst through the door, wearing clothes he hadn’t been wearing when you first left. He was panting heavily. There was a bruise on his cheek and his wrists were red.
You backed away from Not Johnny, who turned to you, gaze now furious. A wave of nausea passed over you, breathing heavily. Whatever Not Johnny had in his system, he had passed onto you with his spit, and you could feel it settling into your system. You looked up at Johnny, before pulling out your gun. Taking a deep breath, you looked at your work partner, closest confidante, love of your life.
“I had a feeling,” You mumbled, realizing how the sinking feeling in your stomach was actually dread.
Stumbling, you heard Not Johnny let out a ghastly screech. You fired your gun at him before passing out.
SAN FRANCISCO METROPOLITAN, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—10:39 hours, Saturday, July 14th, 1994
The room smelled sterile. You knew this smell. You’d lived it for several years before in medical school rotations. This had to be a hospital, you realized. Slowly, you let your eyes open. You let out a soft groan at the discomfort of having been stuck in one position for so long.
“You awake?” A deep, familiar voice asked. Your vision was blurry, but you could still recognize it was Johnny. His eyes were rimmed red from exhaustion, but he looked relieved.
“No. I died, actually.” Your voice was raspy. Johnny scoffed, shaking his head.
“You’re impossible,” He mumbled, “I’m so glad you’re safe.”
“What even happened after I passed out?”
Johnny took a second to gather his thoughts before speaking. “You hit him in the face. It wasn’t pretty. He freaked out a bit, and then he took off. I couldn't catch him. Called Son, she came in with the precinct and they looked through Hernandez's house."
His gaze turned somber as you sat up with a soft huff. Your muscles were stiff.
"They found the real Scott Hernandez, his two kids and his wife, in their basement. Autopsies are being performed today, but it looks like they've been dead a few weeks."
Your eyes shut. Two kids, a man, and another woman. Seven victims total.
"And that thing is still out there," You mumbled, "If only I hadn't been so stupid—"
Johnny put his hand on yours. "Don't say that. Even if you hadn't gotten knocked out, he would still be way too much for just the two of us to handle. Y/N, you shot him in the face and it barely stopped him. He wasn't human anymore."
You shook your head, burying your head in your hands. "Still… I know you, Johnny. I should have seen the signs, but he was so—somehow he knew everything—"
"It's something to do with touch," He said with a nod, "He knocked me to the ground and locked me in a closet before he found you. I was a bit out of it, but I remember he touched my wrist for a few seconds and then he turned into me. My head still hurts, too. Maybe he can also copy some memories from the people he touches long enough."
When you didn't answer, he grabbed your face. He looked desperate. "Y/N, you're only human. I would have fallen for it too."
"I fell for it because he told me exactly what I wanted to hear," You whispered, feeling tears spring to your eyes, seemingly out of nowhere, "He played me like a fucking fiddle and I fell for it."
His thumb brushed away a tear. "Don't think about the what-ifs, Y/N. It's already happened, and now we need to focus on what's gonna happen next. We need to find a way into Fort Talbot. Somehow. Turn your report into the bureau and we can figure it out from there. There’s something going on there. Human experimentation on soldiers, or something."
"We're never gonna get clearance to search a military base, Johnny. It's impossible."
He shook his head. "Y/N, if you were able to convince Brooks to let me, Spooky Suh, FBI's most unwanted? keep running around hunting ghosts and aliens and Bigfoot all over the country, you can figure out a way to get access in there. I know you can."
You were shaking now. "We won't be safe if we do. You think the military won't retaliate? We'd be dead, Johnny," Your words were garbled and your voice wouldn't stop cracking, "There has to be another way."
He shook you gently, shaking his head. "Dammit, Y/N, I can't do this without you."
"They placed me with you for a reason, Johnny," You snapped, "To debunk your work, to reign you in and shut you down—"
"But you saved me," He insisted, "You did exactly the opposite. And as a result we kept working together, and you kept me honest. You… you've made me a whole person."
He rubbed his face with his hand, pushing a strand of dark hair out of his eye. "Y/N, as frustrating as it's been sometimes working with you, your stupud science and rationalism have saved me a thousand times over. I owe you everything. Y/N, you owe me nothing."
His forehead brushed yours, and his eyes fluttered shut. "I can't do this without you," He murmured. And despite the fact that you knew that this was your Johnny, you shook your head. The deja vu was making your head spin.
"Tell me something the real Johnny would know," You whispered, putting a hand on your chest.
He thought for a second, before sighing. "I had three moments when I realized I was in love with you. When you first walked into my office that morning, I had a feeling," He said, voice full of conviction, "It grew into something concrete when you told me my glasses were crooked. And the moment I knew—I mean, I already knew from that first moment but this was when it truly hit me—was when you told me you'd kept that stupid fucking nasal implant in your sports bra so that you wouldn't lose it."
He laughed warmly, obviously thinking back to the moment. "No one else has ever believed me the way you do. And I doubt anyone else ever will. You're my one in…" He looked to the side, trying to remember the number, "Five billion."
Your hand came up to caress his face. He seemed to melt against your touch.
This time, when your lips met, everything felt right, despite the feeling that the world was crumbling around you. His hands squeezed your face gently, as if you were about to disappear. When your hands slid into his hair, it felt slightly sweaty still, but it wasn't tacky with gel.
This was your Johnny. You knew it with your entire being.
Yes, Johnny was sarcastic, stubborn, eccentric and had low impulse control. But he was also highly intelligent, empathetic, hilarious and yes, you could now admit that he was the most beautiful human you'd ever seen in your 30 years on this planet.
If it had to be him and you against the world, so be it. The truth was out there. You and Johnny would just have to be the ones chasing it.
taglist: @doderyscoffee @always-wishing-for-rain
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