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Before they left the book sale, Rae asked Aimil if she could get word to Pat or Theo or Jesse to come by the coffeehouse some time. Though they were SOF, and in her position she could likely trust her semi-protectors/semi-exploiters only slightly farther than she could throw them, it was only after they had stopped coming to the coffeehouse that Rae had realized what a comfort their presence had been. Aimil squeezed her hand, and promised she’d do her best. From just about anyone else, Rae would have dismissed the answer as an empty promise, but Aimil’s shadows showed the words and sentiment to be honest. Someday, Rae hoped, they could go shopping again without secrets and threats hanging over them. A part of Rae still had hope that someday these secrets and threats would have no place in her life whatsoever. But it was only a small part.

The light was on in Yolande’s sitting room when Rae got in that afternoon, and Rae still had an hour or so before she had to be back at the coffeehouse, so she knocked on the landlady’s door. There was something Rae wanted to take care of as soon as possible. Yolande helped her find the bugs SOF had put in her car. One was underneath the passenger-side seat, nestled among the metal struts and bolts that held the seat to the frame of the car. Trusting to camouflage rather than inaccessibility – though Rae would admit the smattering of detritus littering her car showed just how much attention she paid to such details. The other was stuck in the small gap between where the steering wheel joined the steering column – there was no way Rae would never have found it on her own. Rae didn’t dare ask why Yolande knew just how to disable them without obviously tampering with them – like how she didn’t ask why Yolande knew how to disable the Other Activity ticker SOF had put on her car, a couple of years before. There wasn't a ticker now, which - while not much - was something, at least.

A thought occurred to her as she pulled into the parking garage. SOF had bugged her car - that alone was enough to make her shudder, but what was worse was that they'd likely be back to figure out what happened to the ones they had put there in the first place, once they realized those weren't working. The little case of devices Jay had given her was still in her bag, the tiny indicators showing that some of the devices were active - those she had put in her bakery - but were quiescent. One more indicator light began to blink when she stuck the tiny sleek button low upon the underside of her seatbelt fastener.


None of her SOFs came to the coffeehouse that day, though Rae rarely had the opportunity to check. She had her hands full, as it was. The new apprentice would be good, one day - she paid attention, asked questions, liked to experiment, and washed up thoroughly after each baking project was done, but she was still new. Sunshine believed she would learn the recipes quickly, with the help of the notecards in their little box by the windowsill.

None of Rae's SOFs came by the next day, either. Or the next. Or all that week. Though every day was growing more pleasant as spring moved in, her own anxiety only grew. Nights were the worst. Though she was regularly tired at the end of her days, Rae found it increasingly difficult to get to sleep each night. Instead she found herself caught, watching the sedate blinking of the tiny lights on the device Jay had given her sitting quietly on her bedside table, waiting for something to happen.

Con was on her balcony mere minutes after Rae had dragged herself in the door after closing, Sunday night. She hadn't expected him. Her ears were still ringing with the clatter from the unceremonious dumping of her keys and knife and the blinking device out of her pockets and onto her bedside table, when she felt his presence. The weight of his attention was a familiar one, and she moved immediately to open the door. Sunshine felt like she hadn't seen him in a long time - it had been a quiet week for both sides of her split life - and her arms went around him without hesitation. Standing there, his arms around her, hers around him, her head resting upon his chest and hearing the strange sound of his unlife within, Sunshine believed she could feel some of the anxiety coiled tight in her chest loosen minutely. Maybe, just a bit.

Later, in the enveloping quiet, in the cool, earth-smelling darkness, he asked her. Of course he could tell that fear still sat on her heart like a toad on a stone, even if she did not speak of it. Rae didn't let herself vent to him often, still too much in the mindset of her days, where she could not allow herself that luxury. But Constantine knew when something was weighing on her, and he had asked. So she answered. In the dark, she could. Rae told him about the continued absence of her SOF allies in the coffeehouse, the questioning of Mel and Aimil, what Aimil had told her about the survivors' reports, and finding the monitoring devices in her car. Her fears poured out in a tide of words she could not stem, and he listened and did not offer false comfort. When the words left her, winded and so very tired, she did feel better. They talked over many things, there in the darkness of his earth-place, her fears and his concerns, plans and half-known secrets. And though not much was settled as a result - there was still too much they did not know yet about the current situation - Rae felt the heavy lump of anxiety in her chest was lighter than it had been all week. Less a Gordian knot and more of a solvable project, merely taking time and patience and effort.

She slept easily the rest of the night, her head against his mostly-silent chest, until morning neared and she had to leave him.

So she did not know when, some time in the night, the device upon her bedside table beeped a quick staccato alarm as the sensors set in her bakery went off. There was no one there too hear. It only lasted a few minutes, before stillness returned to the bakery motion-sensor's sight, and quiet returned to the empty apartment.


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Rae "Sunshine" Seddon

August 2017

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