RCM Fanfic - Agents of ARACHNOS, Ep. 5
Episode 5 - What the Hell Is Going On?

“It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.â€
-Henry David Thoreau

*****

Baron was already home by the time the Baroness returned from dinner, but the heat radiating from his SUV’s engine block as she passed it on her way through their garage told her he hadn’t been there long. That made the third time in a week he’d gotten home much later than expected, which given the new information she’d uncovered earlier put a decidedly sinister spin on things.

The shower upstairs was already running when she came in, and as she mounted the steps, the sound of muffled retching filtered down the hall. Softly, she tapped on the bathroom door. “Honey? You okay?â€

She heard the shower door slide shut and Baron’s little sigh of relief echo through the room â€" she assumed he hadn’t heard her. As she gently pushed the bathroom door open, a cloud of warm steam greeted her as a welcome counter to the chill of the rainy night; Baroness hadn’t realized how cold she was until she slipped into the warm fog. As she closed the door behind her, Baron suddenly jumped into an attack stance and slid the shower door open enough to poke his head out. His eyes were wild with ferocity for a moment until he recognized his wife, then he exhaled forcefully while sinking back down in the tub and closed the shower door again. “Sorry, honey. I didn’t hear you come in.â€

What the hell had that been all about?

Baroness cast a wary look at the bubbled privacy glass separating them. All Hax had been able to tell her was that there had been an incident downtown a few days back that might be related to the numbers video released by Da Bark Lurd during Biomed’s kidnapping. For some reason, Baron showed up in some of the surveillance footage, and as of yet no one could figure out why. As if she didn’t have enough stress finishing the prep for RivalCon, now she had to worry about spies, maniacal puppets, and figuring out how her best friend and life partner fit into that murky mix. So much for a good night’s sleep.

In spite of the thoughts swirling in her head, she forced herself to keep her voice level. “Are you alright? It sounded like you were sick when I came up.â€

“I’m…er, I’ll be okay. Rough day, capped by something that disagreed with me on the way home.†Baron quickly changed the subject. “So how was dinner?â€

Baroness noted the shift, but kept her voice light. “It was…interesting. Hax is a surprisingly good cook. I was worried we’d be having those boiled grey sausage things I was subjected to the last time I was in England, but he made a very good lasagna instead.â€

“Oh, nice, you like that. Did he remember the provolone?â€

“Of course. And we got the last few details sorted out for the trip. Bio’s flying down early so he can see some special space exhibit at the Perot Museum; the rest should be arriving the same day we do. I also spoke to the airline about your request, and they were fine with changing your departure date by a few days.†She paused, her brow furrowing a little in consternation before she continued, “That is, unless you’ve changed your mind? I’m sure your work could let you out a few days early for this…â€

Baron’s shape moved behind the glass as he ran his hands through his hair. His voice came out a little testily when he answered, “Honey, I told you, if I could get out of this I would, but my bosses are up my ass about productivity and I don’t have the luxury of taking a couple of extra days off. I’m lucky I could get off for Friday.â€

Baroness’s brow furrowed deeper. There was something more to this, she could feel it. But what?

Her husband, meanwhile, caught his tone and began to apologize. “I didn’t mean to sound harsh; it’s just been a really, really rough couple of days. Couple of weeks, really.â€

Tell me about it, she thought.

“I know this is important to you, so it’s important to me, too,†he continued. “It’s just really hard trying to balance everything when you’re just one person and the world doesn’t seem to understand that. I’ll be there Friday. You spend those first few days relaxing and having a good time. I have to do some things here, and then I’ll be down, I promise.â€

“Okay,†Baroness dropped the matter quietly. She wasn’t sure what to say, and there was nothing else she could do. She lingered a moment longer before asking, “Are you going to stay in here a while longer? Because I think I’m going to head off to bed.â€

“Yeah,†he replied, “I’ll be in shortly. And Butterfly?†He cracked the shower door open again as the Baroness got up to leave. “I love you, you know.â€

She managed a small smile. “I love you, too.†And then she slipped out the door.

*****

Sleep didn’t come as easily for the Baroness as she’d hoped. Though physically exhausted, she couldn’t make her brain stop whirling around and around with the train of her thoughts. Even after she decided to hit reset and swallowed a couple of sleep aids, Baroness still laid awake staring at the ceiling for some time after Baron came to bed, going over and over the events of the past few months and trying to make sense of it all. Looking at the timelines of Da Bark Lurd trouble and Baron’s increasingly odd behavior, it was hard not to notice that her husband started acting strangely shortly before Biomed’s abduction. And it was exceedingly hard, after stumbling into Hax’s secret office, not to wonder if Baron wasn’t connected to that abduction in some way.

She glanced concernedly over at the man snoring gently beside her. Baroness couldn’t let herself believe that he would do something so nefarious as getting involved with Da Bark Lurd. She knew him. She loved him. He was her best friend and the only person she’d ever met that she actually wanted to be married to. She couldn’t believe him capable of aiding an evil wizard or sacrificing his friends to a cult of demented puppets.

And yet, he was the only one not to head to the compound to rescue Bio. Baroness quickly shook the thought out of her head and rolled over, shivering as she pulled the blankets up to her chin.

She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again she found herself leaning against the rail of the back porch of her grandfather’s house, watching a summer sun dip behind the ancient pines that separated their lawn from the woods covering the mountain. The wind rustled her hair a bit as her ears picked up the crunch of boots on the gravel drive, unhurried as they came up the walk. She turned into the breeze, scanning the edge of the wood for deer coming down to graze in her grandmother’s garden, not bothering to look over as she heard the boots pause a moment before climbing the three steps up to the deck. She knew who it was already, and slid over to give him space to lean on the rail as she’d done countless times before when they were younger. “I was wondering when you’d show up.â€

Baroness felt the wooden rail shift ever so slightly as it absorbed the weight of her friend’s stance. They stood silently, listening to the crickets chirping over the playful bubbling of the creek. It had been a long time since they’d been here together, and as Baroness finally turned to her red-headed companion she expected to see him in his teenaged form. Instead, she was surprised to see the neat goatee of the present-day version that she kept in touch with via Facebook. Momentarily disoriented, she turned back to gaze at the blackened silhouette of the trees as the light seemed to fade faster.

“Yes,†he said, as if reading her thoughts. “Those trees came down in a storm the year after you left for college. I helped with taking them out, and remember asking specifically for someone else to tell you so I didn’t have to.â€

“I remember,†Baroness murmured. “Those trees are what stand out most in my memories of this place. Everything was so calm and serene…they were always happy memories here.â€

“Not always, Butterfly.â€

“I only remember the happy ones. Chasing fireflies with my sister. Nighttime hikes to go deer spotting with my cousins. Sitting here on the porch swing half the night talking with you.†She sighed and leaned against his shoulder. “Then we grew up, and I moved away, and things got ridiculously complicated. College was supposed to help you figure this shit out, but it’s like the more I know, the less I understand. Now I don’t even know what to think, let alone what to do.â€

He grinned. “You’re overthinking things again. You always have.â€

“Then enlighten me,†she snapped. “We both know at this point that I’m dreaming and this conversation is nothing more than a figment of my imagination. I’ve got a major event going down in less than a week, my husband is acting like a crazy person with this spider paranoia and now is being tailed by British spies, I just found out a friend I’d joked for years about being James Bond is in fact working for MI6, and I…I just…†Baroness threw herself onto the porch swing and hid her face in her hands so he wouldn’t see the tears springing up.

Her friend stroked his chin. “Is this the point where you start elaborating on your plans to fake your own death and live as a hermit?â€

She sniffled. “It’s as a shepherdess in the Bavarian Alps. And I maintain it could work. Goats and sheep are a lot less stressful to deal with than other human beings.â€

“True, except you’re not built like that. As much as you want to shy away from the world, you only work well when you’re actively involved in it. You’ve never been content to sit on the sidelines and watch life pass you by. You’re a do-er. It’s part of what makes you stand out.â€

Baroness was quiet for a few moments, deep in thought. “Alright, I’m a do-er,†she began, “so what do I do? Because I’m feeling pretty lost at the moment. I’m heading into something new and unknown and more than a little scary for me, and now the evidence is saying the people I trusted to help me through aren’t who I thought they were.†She looked into the pale blue of his eyes as he sat down next to her on the swing. “What do I do?â€

He smiled faintly as he returned her gaze. “Think about it this way: why am I here?â€

“What?â€

“Think. Of all the memories, all the people you’ve known over the years, in your moment of crisis why did your mind automatically go here? And be honest with yourself, because there’s a clue here that you’re missing.â€

“Because…†She paused and looked away, her brow furrowing in thought before a torrent of words suddenly spilled out into the twilight. “Because you were the first person to show me it was okay to be me, to embrace that thought and reinforce it every chance you got. You have to understand, I’ve met a lot of people over the course of my life. A lot. And each and every one of them has left an indelible mark on me â€" it’s part of who I am now. But you…you were always special. In the darkest times of my life, you were there and you kept enough confidence for both of us, and never let me forget that. You are the one who planted the seed, the confidence in my head that eventually made me who I am. You may not have seen it, but when you follow the threads back to the source it always goes back to you.†She swallowed hard. “And then, when we had that fight…â€

“Go on,†her friend gently urged, “you’re almost there.â€

“…because I heard things that didn’t make sense, but I went with the evidence instead of trusting my instincts. And we never recovered from that.â€

He smiled again. “Not exactly. We never recovered because when it happened, we didn’t talk about it. And by the time we finally did, the relationship wasn’t the same as it had been. It wasn’t an easy lesson for you to learn, and you never let go of that. So tell me,†he continued, “what does your gut tell you right now?â€

“That things aren’t quite as they seem, and I know Baron and Hax better than present circumstances would suggest. That I need to trust that and everything else will make sense in time.†She sighed. “But what if I’m wrong?â€

Her friend rolled his eyes. “The only time you’ve ever been wrong when your instincts told you something was when you ignored them. Stay the course, Butterfly. And don’t worry so much; you’ve always proven yourself capable in the thick of things, it’s just the anticipation of â€~what-if’ that keeps you up at night. Stop overthinking things and just roll with it. Trust yourself, too.â€

She nodded, then smirked a little bit. “You know,†she said with a tease in her voice, “it’s Baroness, now.â€

He shook his head. “No. Here, you are Butterfly, and always will be. Here, it doesn’t matter what name you have or title you hold, because here you’re just you. You’ve never had to be perfect, you just had to remember what was important to you and keep growing and working towards that. That’s always been the most important thing, and all you’ve really ever needed. And one day, I hope, you might actually, finally believe that.â€

At that, Baroness woke just long enough to note Baron’s had entwined with hers in their slumber, and she smiled softly as she fell back into a more peaceful doze.

*****

Crap, what happened last time?
On to the next episode
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