Will knew immediately something was wrong. Scattered on the floor were the remains of a potted plant. Will stared, calculating, trying to decide if he had just walked into a crime scene or if he had somehow disturbed the vase without realizing it on his way out the door that morning. Mindful of either possibility, he stepped around the debris and found that the rooms on either side of the entry had also been disturbed. The chairs were out of place around the dining room table, the standing lamp in the sitting room had been knocked over, and the ticking of the sitting room clock had been halted. Will craned his neck around the corner just to be sure and found the clock laying on the floor, in pieces.
It was supposed to be impossible for anyone to get into the Neighborhood without being watched and noticed, just as it was supposed to be impossible for anyone to access a house without being properly authorized by the owner. Will could not think of anyone he had authorized who would do this, but just to be sure he called out, "Ed?" It took him a long moment before he could say the second name. "Caleb?" Will heard something move and instinctively reached for the security alert implanted in his neck only to realize he had had the thing removed when the war ended and he was assured his safety.
There was one other thing. He had not remembered it until now, else he would probably have gotten rid of it, too. Will laid his palm flat against the wall and pressed his watch with his other hand. He felt his fingers slide through the wall and closed them around the rubberized handle of his blaster. It was a nullspace holster; what was happening was not that his hand was passing through the wall, but that the thin space between his palm and the wall had been replaced by a dimensional aperture allowing him to reach into another place entirely. The aperture closed automatically when he removed his hand.
Will had never actually fired his blaster. He even hated the term. Where he came from, they were called guns and fired bullets. He knew how to fire a gun, though, and the principle was exactly the same. Point and shoot.
Blaster at the ready, Will slid around the potted plant debris to the comm near the front door, leaning his briefcase under the table where the potted plant had once been. "Edward Autry," he said into the comm, and immediately Ed's voice answered. "Get over here. I think there's a security issue." Ed didn't even ask. At the word "security" he was on the way.
"I've called Security," said Will to the house, "and I'm armed. If you know what's good for you you'll surrender."
What he did not expect was an immediate high-pitched cry of "I surrender!" followed by a similarly-pitched sob. Will inadvertently relaxed in surprise, but didn't lower his weapon.
"Who's there?" he demanded, and was answered by the patter of bare feet on his kitchen tile and then a blur of purple came hurtling out from the kitchen into the living room, landing flat on the blue carpet. If Will's reactions had been anywhere near combat-worthy, he probably would have fired at it, and it was a good thing he moved so slowly. It was a child. Her foot had caught in the little lip between the living room carpet and kitchen tiling, tripping her. Will stepped forward, but stopped himself. "Are you alone in the house?"
The child lifted her head up, her shoulder length hair a mess around her head, and yelled, "Of course not! You're here!"
Will's jaw tightened. "Besides the two of us!" he barked, his accent coming on strongly in his annoyance.
The little girl sniffed and did not answer at first, too busy crying. "I think so!"
Will jammed the blaster in his belt and stepped across the potted plant debris. "You did all this?" he asked.
The little girl made a pitiful sound in her throat. She looked up at Will. Her eyes were a startling shade of green, bright against the tan color of her skin and dark purple of her tangled hair. The dress she wore was little more than a slip of medium pale green and light purple, almost pink. She nodded at him.
Just then, Ed's voice came from outside, "We have you surrounded!" The little girl gave a squeal and covered her head with her hands. Will groaned. Security, there in a flash, but the danger was already over.
"It's all right!" yelled Will, heading back to the door. He stuck his head out. "It's under control, you can send the rest home!"
The front lawn looked empty, but Will knew better.. "BLINK TWICE IF YOU'RE UNDER DURESS," Ed shouted, voice coming from seemignly nowhere.
It was almost too much. "For Christ's sake, Ed!" said Will, scowling. "Everything's fine. Come inside if you like. Send your invisible friends home."
Just like that, several of the security team decloaked. Ed was halfway down the front path and walking forward. "For Christ's sake, Will!" he answered in kind. "Don't stick your head out the door! I almost shot you!"
Will ignored Ed momentarily, shouting, "The rest of you, off my property!" He ducked back inside. Those security officers who were visible (and he suspected most weren't) headed back towards the Neighborhood. A few sent annoyed glances in Will's direction.
"Fucking Hell," said Ed as he stepped in the door, "what possessed you to call a security warning?"
"This." Will was already kneeling beside the purple-haired girl. Her face was buried in her arms, tears streaming into the carpet, shaking as she sobbed. "And that, and that." He pointed to the broken potted plant, the dining room.
"Point taken," grumbled Ed, holstering his own blaster back into nullspace and glancing around. "Of course, a break-in is totally impossible."
"Until it happens," countered Will. He studied the child. Her crying was annoying. "Stop crying. How did you get in here?"
Ed rolled his eyes. It was easy to tell Will had no kids. His manner with children was just atrocious. Crouching down on the opposite side of the girl, Ed said, "Hey, it's okay. I'm Ed, this is Will. What's your name?"
Will glowered at being shown up, but the little girl responded. "Ag-- Agrippina." Still sniffling, she pulled herself up into a sitting position, glancing between Will and Ed as she rubbed her teary eyes. There was a nasty rug burn on her knee.
Ed smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Agrippina. Why don't we get that knee cleaned up?" He reached out his hand.
Agrippina looked at her red knee and nodded, putting her hand in Ed's. Will just frowned harder, hoping he wouldn't have to replace his carpet now that it was full of tears and rubbed-off skin cells. He stood up and went to go get the carpet cleaner from the closet.
Though Ed was holding her hand, Agrippina wanted to follow in Will's direction, as if pulled that way. She swallowed her instinct, picturing the way Will had looked at her with such disdain, and followed Ed into the kitchen, but she kept glancing back, looking for Will..
Ed lifted Agrippina onto the kitchen counter. A wet paper cloth soon set the knee right and a soft, clean dishcloth helped with the tears. "I have niece about your age," said Ed. "Her name's Molly. Do you want something to drink?"
Agrippina nodded. She was very hungry, but still too scared to say so. Ed crossed over to the fridge and glanced around. Wine, wine, and more wine. Really expensive bottles of wine. There were even more wines down in the basement. Ed grabbed the orange juice and poured two glasses, one for himself and one for Agrippina.
Will, meanwhile, had started scrubbing at the carpet. Agrippina watched him with wide eyes. "What is he doing?"
"That," said Ed with a grin, "is the sign of a man becoming a housewife."
Will glared at Ed. "I happen to like my carpet. I also happen to like my lamps, my potted plants, and my clocks. Is there anything else you'd like to tell me you've broken?"
"Geezus, Will, she's just a kid!" said Ed, but it was too late. Agrippina had started crying again. Ed patted her on the back. "Don't mind the man in the apron, someone left a stick up his butt." He was considerate enough to veil his words in Agrippina's presence.
Will rolled his eyes. "How did she get here? I'd like to know why my security was inadequate. Aren't break-ins and invasions supposed to be impossible, Mr. Security Officer?"
"Don't think I won't spit on your precious flooring," warned Ed.
Will sat up, resting his arm on his knee. "You're the Security expert. Tell me how she got in here." Ed frowned. He didn't know, and didn't want to say as much. Will looked at Agrippina instead, intent on getting some sort of answer. "How did you get in here?"
Agrippina's hands shook, the orange juice in her hands quaking. "I don't know. I woke up here." She bit her lip in deep thought. Vague memories flooded her mind. "You brought me."
For a moment, Will said nothing. Then he resumed cleaning the carpet. "Fine, lie. I don't care."
"I'm not lying!" Agrippina shook with fury and the glass of orange juice promptly slipped from her hand, shattering on the floor near Ed's feet and splashing his shoes and pants. Agrippina covered her mouth. Will opened his mouth to berate the idiotic girl, who seemed intent on breaking every single thing in the house.
"No, Will," said Ed quite suddenly, "I'll clean it up!" He quickly went to grab more paper towels.
Will stood up. His frown was grim indeed. He started towards Agrippina.
Fearing that menacing expression, Agrippina tried to flee. She slipped off the kitchen counter but her foot came down on a large piece of glass and she let out a little squeal of pain and almost toppled over. Ed caught her and lifted her up quickly. Agrippina threw her hands around Ed's neck and bawled loudly. This was even worse than scraping her knee on the carpet. Blood dripped from her toes onto the terra cotta tiles.
Agrippina was loosely aware of being carried somewhere, but all she could think about was the pain in her foot, all she could hear was the sound of her own screaming, and all she could see was the inside of her eyelids. Then it was bright. Agrippina opened her eyes to the bright outside sun. She was on Ed's lap on the back steps and Will was below her, studying her feet. Her bawlign subsided into choking whimpers.
"We really should go get a doctor," Ed was saying, his arms firmly reassuring around Agrippina.
"I do this every day at work," Will answered.
"Yes, but on dead people!"
Will looked up sharply. "I'll have you know I almost was a doctor, and there's not anything they know about anatomy that I don't!"
"Except how to treat it instead of just dissect it," said Ed.
"Just hold her still," said Will, and Agrippina squirmed.
Will poured something on her foot. It burned and Agrippina immediately let out a scream so high in pitch Will had to wince in pain. Ed's grip was too strong for her to do anything but struggle, Ed saying into her ear, "Shh, just keep still. It's fine, it'll only hurt a second." The pain did fade away after a moment and Agrippina curled up against Ed's jacket. Her foot felt numb, vaguely disconnected. She felt it when Will extracted the glass with a pair of forceps but it hurt only a little. Ed continued to mumble reassurances.
Agrippina stared at the bloody shard of glass. She hated the thing and was relieved when Will dropped the shard into a cup. It clattered noisily. Then Will picked up a threaded needle.
"I really hope you know what you're doing," growled Ed. He could forgive a lot of things -- he had done a lot of things himself -- but he did not tolerate anyone hurting little girls. He had raised his younger sister Eileen after their mother's incarceration, protected and cared for her, and someone hurting a little girl made him think of someone hurting his sister, or Eileen's daughter Molly.
"I've seen surgeon's stitches," said Will. "They're shoddy work." Then he was sewing up Agrippina's foot.
"Don't put too many in," warned Ed. Agrippina craned her head up to look at Ed and he smiled back. "See? Will's really not so bad when you get to know him."
"Yes I am," grumbled Will to make sure Agrippina didn't get any ideas.
Agrippina relaxed and resisted the urge to swing her foot, which tickled. "You really did bring me here. I remember it, sort of."
"That's impossible," said Will. "Before today we've never met."
"Maybe it's time travel," suggested Ed. "Or an alter."
Will just glared, hating all such whimsical things, no matter how much truth there was in them. He concentrated on his stitching. Before long he was done. He snipped the string off and wrapped the foot in gauze. "There we go!" exclaimed Ed, "Good as new!"
"Don't walk on it too much for the next few days," said Will, snapping off his nitrile gloves. The corn starch coating created a little cloud of dust in the air.
Agrippina replied hotly, "How am I supposed to do that? Hop on one foot? And anyway I'm not lying, you did bring me here!"
Ed and Will exchanged surprised glances. Now that she was no longer terrified and hurting, Agrippina was displaying quite a spitfire personality.
"Where are your parents?" demanded Will. Ed was rather wondering the same question. Agrippina could not answer. She went very quiet, even ashen. "Well?"
Agrippina suddenly lurched forward, grabbing Will's hand. She held on to it tightly enough he could not slip away and studied his palm intently. There were still traces of corn starch, giving his hand a soft, powdered feel. She ran her fingers across his skin. Then she put her tiny hand in his and folded his fingers over the top of it. Will's eyes widened. He stood up abruptly, pulling his hand free, and pushed up the stairs past Ed. "Hey, watch it," said Ed, rising with Agrippina to follow.
Will crossed quickly through the kitchen and up the stairs. He found the pair of pants he wanted in the remains of his laundry bin. The wooden frame was completely broken. The pants were far worse, totally split open, ripped almost to shreds.
"What's gotten into you, you're acting like a madman today!" said Ed as he walked into the bedroom. He had unfortunately carried Agrippina with him into the room.
"The fibula." Will stared at Agrippina, realization dawning. She kept her chin held high, gaze hard for all the trouble he had put her through.
"Huh?" said Ed, confused, thinking Will meant the bone.
"The brooch! The little Roman brooch! It was called a fibula."
"So?" asked Ed.
"It's not here!"
Ed still wasn't getting it, but Will had drawn the proper conclusion. The color of the stone and the color of Agrippina: the two were linked. The note from the praetorix. "Shit," he said.
"Watch your language," said Ed, who otherwise would have been dropping curses like it was his paid duty.
Will totally ignored the request and said it again, louder. "Shit!"
Ed huffed and set his jaw on edge. He had half a mind to punch Will in the face, but his arms were full with Agrippina. He set her down on Will's bed and drew himself up, but Will was already miles past where he had been thirty seconds earlier. He held up the destroyed pants. "The fibula was in here. These were in the laundry. Notice anything strange?" He pointed at the broken bin and then put his hand through the ripped pants pocket and wiggled it.
"Well it was your own fault for putting me in there," said Agrippina haughtily, crossing her arms and legs as she perched at the edge of the bed.
"No," said Ed in disbelief. "No way."
"Damn it," confirmed Will.
"I've heard of some pretty fucked up stuff, but this takes the cake," said Ed, totally forgetting to censor himself.
Agrippina let the two men stand there in mutual disbelief for a moment. Then she said quite plainly, "I'm hungry."