Good Enough

From the Story Arc: Grim's Gamble

Previous Story in the Arc: Patches by Victoria Victrix (Thursday, November 16, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: In Breaking News by Astra Kyne Murdock (Tuesday, November 21, 2006)

(posted Sunday, November 19, 2006)

Vickie sat on the floor of the living room in the apartment she and Red Djinni shared, with her back to the sofa arm and her knees up. Her arms rested on her knees and her head was tilted back against the cushions, eyes closed. It had been a long couple of days.

Not getting any shorter, either. Good gods, she was tired.

She was also waiting. She'd left her comm on and her location on a text message to John Murdock. She fully expected him to show up any second now.

If she were in his position, well, there would be words at the least. She'd messed with his kids lives, done things that ran completely counter to his ethics, and hadn't let him in on her plans. On the other hand, she'd had damn good reasons for doing all of that.

Too bad nothing can be simple.

It wasn't over yet, and it wouldn't be over ever, really. Not for her. She'd whacked Grim upside the head with a two-by-four and he wasn't going to like it. She would definitely be on his hit list now.

On the other hand, Red never went into the Isles, she had no dependants that Grim could reach and when she finished the bargain, kids would be off limits for a good long while. She was already on a long, long enemies list, and for all she knew one of them would get her long before Grim got a look-in.

So she'd played dirty with him. He'd played dirty all along. Karma was a bitch.

Wonder if there is some way I can make him so expensive to that patron of his that he gets dropped like a hot rock?

Vickie was roused from her musings by a quick rapping at the door. After a moment, the door cracked open, with John stepping through. He was out of his patrol uniform, wearing a set of simple green fatigues.

"Coffee, tea, or a two-by-four to whack me upside the head with, Johnny?" Vickie asked.

John's blank expression didn't falter. "None of 'em. I won't be stayin' here long enough to make much use of 'em. Mind if I pull up a chair, though?" He was being genteel enough, but she could tell that it was a veneer. He was angry, and wouldn't make the slightest bit of effort to hide it for too much longer. He closed the door behind himself, leaning up against the door frame with his arms crossed.

"When no one else would tell you the truth about who you had been, John--wasn't I the one that did?" she asked abruptly. "When no one else would tell you why that pretty little gal was so heartbroken every time she saw you...." John regarded her coolly, measuring the situation before he spoke.

"Whaddya gonna tell me now, Vic? Believe me when I say I'm all ears; y'wouldn't wanna hear what I have on my mind at the moment."

She sighed. "I am....expedient. I walk a line in the gray area. I try not to go too far towards the charcoal. I patch things, I find loopholes, it's what I do now. I am not the 'parfait genteel knichte' anymore. I haven't been for a very long time. Good enough is good enough for now, and I stick my thumb in the dike and I hope to hell someone can come up with some sandbags before I and everyone else gets washed away." She looked down at her hands. "Sometimes, hell, a lot of times, I do things that people don't agree with. I make deals with bad people. I do it knowing they are bad people. I hope to hell I can hedge things so I get the most out of it for the good guys with the least harm done. That's what I was doing here. And you have every right to be mad as hell with me. But just remember I walked that same line to tell you what you most needed to know back then."

John held up his hand. "No. This isn't the same, Vic." He looked her dead in the eyes. He waited a moment before continuing. "You make deals with bad folks, sure. That, while I don't agree with it all the time, might be necessary. It's acceptable. What isn't acceptable," Some of the steel crept into his voice, "Is when you make deals that involve my children as bargaining chips."

She looked at him, eyes flashing. "You think that was my intention? I was trying to get them off the table, the best way I knew how! And I never told anyone but Sera about this...Astra never knew."

"Intentions? Intentions are all well an' good, Vic, as I'm sure y'know. But puttin' Astra an' Aedan right into the hands of the very people they need to protect themselves from ain't what I'd call 'taking them off of the table'."

She shook her head violently. "Listen. I think you have the chronology all wrong here."

"Enlighten me." He leaned forward. "Things went bad with this one, Vic, an' you realize that. I was kept outta the loop, an' so were other folks. That was part've the problem, wasn't it?"

Her temples pounded. "You have a talent for understatement." She put the heels of her hands to her temples and rubbed. "All right. Phase one. There were no plans for Astra or Aedan to go into Bloody Bay at all. I wanted to make a counter offer to Grim. I put into motion all manner of things to find out what it was Garvey had offered him. I figured that I could get him to drop the contract if I gave him what he wanted. I didn't tell anyone that because I wanted to get it all done quietly. I also figured if he dropped the contract he would let whatever children he had go, since he had no more use for them. We good so far?" John uncrossed his arms and shrugged in acquiescence.

"Phase two. Astra lies to you, runs away from home and starts putting together a pretty good team to fight back. That changes things. I still don't tell her, or you, what I'm doing. First of all, I know you don't cotton to dirty deals and frankly I was afraid you'd stick your foot in it. Secondly, my plan now becomes a backup plan. Anyone can fail. If the kids lost and got caught, now my plan had to be the one to get them out. I was never planning on Astra surrendering. I frankly didn't think she would." John grimaced at this. It had surprised and disheartened him when he'd received the comm call from Aedan. Astra had seemed so sure, confident. "This was the lifeboat. This was the fallback. I had found out what Grim wanted by that point, and I was going to give him an even better offer. I had to make it enough better that he would agree to hold your kids, unharmed, for long enough for me to get the goods in my hands. Comprende? It was never about expecting the kids to be in that position, nor putting them there. It was all about what to do if it happened."

John stood there, looking at his boots for a few minutes while he took all of this in. He'd look up at Victoria, begin to say something heated, and then sigh. Finally, he stood to his full height, his shoulders set. He was going to make a statement, and it would be 'final'. "I understand. Hear this, though. You're my friend, my comrade; I've known you an' the rest of the CCCP since I really got into this gig. But from now on, if it deals with my family, I know about it. Sera knows about it. That goes without exception. This whole damned mess might've been avoided that way. If'n y'got any reservations 'bout tellin' me something, try an' reason with me rather than hide it from me. 'Easier to ask for forgiveness rather than for permission' doesn't fly, not on this. Y'hear me Vic? I love y'like a best friend, but I don't screw around when it comes to my family." He rested his fists on his hips, waiting for her response.

"You aren't asking me to promise anything I haven't already made up my mind about, Johnny. Keeping you out of the loop was one of the dumbest moves I ever made. Not the dumbest....but right up in the top ten." She sighed again. "So. Here's the rest of it. I have unleashed the hounds of hell on Grim Gambol and he should be busy for the next little while. By the time he gets them kenneled again, the goods will be in my hands. And this is what they are. What he wanted was a body, and the good gods only know why. I suspect what he was going to get was a clone of Aedan. My offer was a changeling body." John started at this, but she held up her hands placatingly. "I'm having it specially made, though...and now I have to go off on a tangent quick. Overhill, as I think you know or guess, a changeling has to be fed on a regular basis with life-force, or it falls apart. The person who is making this changeling is doing it over on the Unseleighe side. So the more evil the person that the lifeforce is taken from is, the better the feeding will be. And I know what you're thinking. He can just go browsing on a lot of innocent little lives. But we're talking about severely diminishing returns here. Yes, a wolf can live on mice. But he'll starve to death trying. He'll expend more energy catching them than he gets from eating them. And I am going to explain that very carefully to Grim. And remember while you are thinking about this---he is going to get a body one way or another. Zvezda found out he was looking for a coma victim. It's going to happen. I'm going for 'least harm' here. Are we good so far?"

"Not great. But gettin' by. Keep goin'."

"Okay. The body will make him drop the contract. He won't go after your kids, he'll turn loose the ones he has. Now, here is where you have to trust me on something. Things like him have to keep their bargains. It's...." She groped for an analogy. "It's like Sera wasn't permitted to tell some things, back when. This isn't an option for them."

John shook his head. "I trust ya, Vic. But I'm forced to think of the sayin', 'Rules are meant to be broken'. I really hate gamblin', 'specially on somethin' like this."

She nodded. "That's where the second part of the bargain comes in. Now...I want you clear on this. I can't stop Garvey. I can't even stop Grim if he decides he wants revenge on your kids himself. But hold that thought for a minute, 'cause I'm coming back to it. What I can do is twofold. Get him off the contract....and with part two, take the pressure off Astra. And Aedan too, he was as close to cracking as she was, she just broke a little sooner." John swallowed hard. She could tell that mentioning the effects this struggle was having on his kids hurt, but it was necessary. "Part two is this. I have something he wants, what I was going to offer him if we couldn't find out what he was getting from Garvey in time. And he has already agreed to this swap. I give him my find, and he has promised not to kill anyone under the age of seventeen for the next thirty five years. There will be no more body parts arriving for your kids."

She waited. She knew he was going to ask what it was...."Well? Go on with it. I'm all done bein' shocked an' awed. What's the next bit, kiddo?" He'd fallen back into using friendly names, which was as good of a sign as any. Whatever breach there might have been between them was mended just as easy as it was made.

"Things like Grim have an affinity for objects of evil. They...I think they feed off them, or get powers from them. So...I tried to get my hands on...something that would look the best and do the least harm. Least harm, again. I could fling the pit bull a steak, or I could offer him the yummy-looking empty calories of a Twinkie. But it had to be something very, very tempting. Loaded with empty-calorie evil. So, the last thing I wanted to give him was something evil and occult, things that it would be easy to get my hands on. This had to be secular evil." She took a deep breath.

"I'm followin' ya so far. Just..." He grinned for a moment. "Drop the dieting analogies. You're killin' me here."

She let out the breath. "Johnny, this was a judgment call and I hope to hell I made the right one. I found out who had the stolen Jack the Ripper file. I offered him the elven sword that made me a knight in return for it. Robin agreed; there were kids involved. The guy had a choice between keeping something rare that he couldn't show anyone, ever, or getting something not quite so rare that he could hang over his mantle. The file is on the way." That was more costly than she was letting on. John remembered when JJ had been knighted. It was a very somber occasion, and he knew that Vic had given up part of that in order to help him with this situation. He filed the thought away, focusing on listening to her explain.

"I make the trade tomorrow. When I do, I'm going to tag both Grim and Circus Master. I will have their magical signatures and that will let me do some things. But..." She grimaced. "Tracers work both ways. They'll have mine. That's the price I'm paying. And...remember I said to hold that thought about a personal grudge. I think Grim is going to be way more interested in me from now on than he is in all three of your kids and Sera combined."

"Vic...be careful. Don't do anythin' drastic, alright? This is our problem; we need help, but not at the expense of puttin' our friends in direct danger. Y'hear?"

She licked lips gone dry. "I...I don't intend to do anything to remove either of those two from circulation. In fact, I don't want to. There's...there's a balance to things. You take something out, something worse sometimes moves in to take its place. I...I couldn't help but notice something. About the time things started improving in Paragon City a bit...suddenly, there's the cesspool of the Rogue Isles opening up in our back yard. And I don't think that's an accident. So no...what I want, is for us to know as much as we can about them, so that we can maybe protect ourselves a little better. Nothing else. I don't expect you to agree with me on my theory. I don't even expect you to agree with my notion that we shouldn't get rid of them...."

Again, she waited. "You're right 'bout that. I don't agree, not all that much. Yeah, it's true that there might be somethin' worse comin' along if they're 'removed', or whatever euphemism y'wanna use, but the fact is it'll be pretty hard for them to hurt folks if they're out of the equation entirely. I'm not advocatin' killin' folks; y'know me better than that. But we need to be proactive, 'ere. A lotta the capes in this town seem to think that the best offense is a good defense. I just can't agree with that." He steepled his fingers, resting his hands on his chest. "Thinkin' defensively, an' only defensively, is a good way to get outmaneuvered real quick. An' we'll start losin', if we don't get more aggressive in this fight. An' it is a fight; what we hold dear an' believe in versus them. Y'get where I'm comin' from?"

She nodded.

"Given the chance, I'd gladly take down Grim, Circus Master, Talon, and effin'-a right Garvey. In a heartbeat. Better them in jail or otherwise incapacitated, than out an' free to harm those that they would. Rehabilitation is always preferable. But for their sort, it just ain't always an option. An' I'm not willin' to sacrifice good an' innocent folks just to preserve the freedom of coercive, murderous bastards like that bunch."

Vickie wondered just what he would think of the Moderators...well, she'd given it her best shot. He would do what he would do. She would try and keep the wolves from the door. "Whatever I find out, about Grim and Yogi, you'll know," she promised. "And I think for now the twins are out of the line of fire. Um..." Robin had made a request of her. This might be the time to ask it. "Any chance we can get JJ to go back Underhill? Robin says he needs him, but...given the situation right now, he's loathe to ask you for him. On the one hand, he'll be doing Gate Guardian duty that needs done, and he'll be where Grim can't touch him. On the other though...he's another line of defense for the twins..."

John considered this for a moment. They did need JJ back Underhill, from the sound of things. But the Murdocks needed him here, as well. They were very much like an early Western farm-stead. They relied on the numbers of the family to do the work, and protect each other from outside threats. "It's JJ's choice. He knows that, an' we'll stand by his decision, whatever it might be. Sera an' I'll talk with him."

Message delivered. Truth to tell, she hoped JJ would opt for taking up his place with the elvenkind. The last time she saw him, he was looking haggard. He'd been raised to be the 'parfait genteel knichte' that she once had been, and...his idealism hadn't been tarnished yet. But the current situation was putting a heavy strain on his beliefs. "That'll do, Johnny." She smiled wanly. "So. Tea?"

"Only if y'still got that brand of green that I like." He grinned rakishly, walking towards the kitchen from his post at the door.