In the cookies of life, sisters are the chocolate chips

Kairos slid the biscuits onto the highest hearth rack. "We could help you read better. Doing it more will make it better. And the storybook I brought you has more pictures." Privately he considered trying to dig up some crayons and coloring books. He wondered if he had time to swoop down to the stores and grab some now, actually.

I can go. I'll let Sparkslice know what you're looking for, and if Piper can put them in a bag for me to hang off one of my talons, I can bring them back up for you.

Kairos stopped moving. That's...surprisingly nice of you.

I'm Nice!

No, no, I know you are. I just... maybe more emphasis on the surprise. Why are you offering to run a simple and unnecessary errand for me?

Well, it is unnecessary, Stoneclaw grumped. But you are expecting your first hatchling and you are essentially taking on another young fledgling. I know that feeling of impending siredom. You are anxious and ...flutterminded. I wish to help settle you. If this easy errand helps, then I will go.

And you think Daphne is adorable. Kairos flipped the biscuits to get them warmed on both sides.

Stoneclaw did not respond to that as he tromped back out towards the opening.

"I helped Tavis when he had trouble reading around your age. Of course, now it's sometimes difficult to get his nose out of a good book."

Daphne continued with her finger-poking, and she asked quietly, "Will you help me with my writing, too?"

Caitlin smiled faintly, keeping her surprise from showing, "Of course we will, sweetie."

Kairos smiled happily to himself as he busied himself in the kitchen area, feeling the warm homey contentment of family almost reverberating through him. Stoneclaw took off with no further ado, leaving the humans to themselves. "How are you with math? I'm sure that, moving around so much, you probably didn't have much chance to sit down for lessons."

"Um, I can add and take-away? And I can count real high, too."

"Were there any things you learned?" Caitlin wanted to know.

Daphne pondered, "Um, I know how to set snares, and read compasses and navigate with maps? Um, sewing and a bit of first aid, and plants. What's edible and what's medicine and what's poisonous."

"Those are all very good things to know! I bet you'd be good to take out on mushroom hunts!" Kairos chimed in, wanting to keep things light. But he started wondering what it'd take to set up a proper school, maybe in or near Milltown... He almost forgot to flip the biscuits again (almost).

"Have you been anywhere you really liked?" he asked her.

She grinned and offered right away, "I like mushroom hunts! We used to have games for who could collect the most."

"I bet you won your share of them, too!" Caitlin guessed.

Daphne nodded, and she answered Kairos happily, "Lake Tahoe, we've been there a couple times. I think the oceans might look something like that lake, all that water. It's where I learned to swim and to fish."

"Oh, you like to swim? We'll have to go when it gets warmer. Not sure if we can go all the way out to Lake Tahoe, but we know a few good swimming spots." The kettle started shaking a little with the boiling water inside it, and he fetched it off with no need for a hot pad. "Should I add some powdered milk to your cocoa, Daphne?"

"Oh, um, sure," she didn't quite know how one might powder milk, but if her big brother was offering it, it couldn't be bad.

"I think Corbin takes Victoria and Blake out to some of the swimming spots around the mountains. Once it gets warmer, maybe we can get him to show them off for us."

Daphne smiled and nodded quickly, "I'd like that."

Kairos added in the milk and poured three mugs (two tea and one cocoa) full for them. He let the tea steep while he stirred cocoa and saved biscuits from burning. He brought over a plate of biscuits "for my ladies", the honey jar, and gave Daphne her mug of cocoa. "Careful, very hot!" he warned, and then went back to tend to the tea.

Daphne slowed down enough to blow on her cocoa, and Caitlin chuckled and asked, "Is there anything you want to learn about, or wish you could do more often?"

Daphne didn't reply right away, and when she did she sounded uncertain, "I like drawing."

As if on cue ((funny how that happens *cough*)), the heavy flap of mighty wings heralded Stoneclaw's return. Kairos finished serving tea (at least giving a mug to Caitlin, anyway) and then ducked outside. He pulled the tote bag off, emptied its contents and gave it back to Stoneclaw to return to the stores. He brought in his bounty all smiles. "Here, while you're resting. I know talking with adults isn't always fun." He handed over the colored pencils (the store had been out of crayons, but Piper had included a pencil sharpener) and two coloring books (( and )) for her. "Just be careful not to get any honey on the pages, so they don't stick together."

Caitlin smiled and told Daphne about some of the projects and pieces of art their artists had done, even pointing out the dye job Ivan had done of the hand towels. When Kairos returned the two were giggling over something, but Daphne gasped as Kairos handed her such a bounty.

"These are for me?" She looked ready to jump up and hug him again, her smile was so wide.

"For you," he confirmed. "You need something to do while you're healing up, after all. But do I want to know what had you two giggling? I've learned by now that laughing ladies usually means my doom."

Daphne carefully pushed her cocoa towards the middle of the table, for safety while she jumped up and wrapped her arms around her brother's waist in a tight hug, "Thank you!"

Caitlin chuckled and reassured him between sips of tea, "Not your doom, darling, just your embarrassment."

Daphne's voice was muffled against Kairos' shirt as she added, "Human babies don't come from eggs."

"I did mention that you were barely eleven at the time," Caitlin defended. "For the really cute stories, we'll have to visit Ellen sometime; she pretty much raised Kairos."

He hugged Daphne back (glad he managed not to topple over backwards) but huffed at Caitlin's explanation. "Ellen is a new mom so we should not visit her anytime soon." He cleared his throat. "Go sit down; if you aggravate your injury, Liz'll never let me hear the end of it." But he was smiling down at her.

Caitlin just smiled, eyes twinkling mischievously, "Oh, I'm sure we can visit her when she's got the time, once Jace is a little older..."

Daphne stuck her tongue out at her brother before returning to her sit and propping her bad leg up again. She slurped cocoa loudly and poked through all the colours of pencils Kairos had brought her.

"Yeah, sure, when he's like... 12 or so, maybe." He went to retrieve his tea. "Once you're feeling better, Daphne, we'll figure out lessons for you, both of the magic-y kind and the more normal types."

Daphne was carefully drawing out a deep indigo pencil to test on her new colouring book, and she asked, "Do I have to learn more math?"

Caitlin held up two fingers very nearly touching, "At least a little bit, I think." To Kaitos she warned, "Sisters have good memories, even after twelve years."

"Oh, I've no doubt. But in 12 years, I'LL have forgotten. It'll all be new, fresh embarrassment again by then. So really I'm only thinking of you two and your happiness."

Caitlin arched one brow and smirked slyly, "If you believe we'll actually wait a dozen years."

Daphne shrugged as she flipped open a book to begin colouring, "The stories don't have to be embarrassing. I just wanna know more about my brother."

He grinned at his mate. "Can't blame me for trying." He reached over to snag a biscuit and dragged the honey jar over within better reach. "Well, your brother really likes biscuits with honey. He was chosen by the silliest dragon and the most wonderful woman in the world." He barely even paused for Stoneclaw's mock-outrage in his mind. "He..." But now he did pause. "I didn't even think to ask: do we have more siblings, back with M- ...with Father?"

"You're new to the sister game, so I'll forgive you your misplaced trust," Caitlin smirked, snagging a biscuit for herself but skipping the honey.

Daphne paused her colouring to watch Kairos speak, and she shook her head as she replied, "Nope, just me. And you, too. Why'd you never come back? Was it 'cause people are afraid of your dragon?"

Kairos tried his damnedest not to frown, but it just made his scars itch something fierce. He scratched at his chest idly and tried to be as truthful as he could be to a 9 year old. "I did come back, once. But they were afraid of Stoneclaw, just like you thought, and so I left again. This was all before you were born though." He made himself eat his biscuit instead. "And I was afraid of him at first, too. Stoneclaw, that is. But then I got to know him, and he's just an overgrown lizard puppy, really. Little too fond of doing loop-the-loops while flying though."

Loop-the-loops impress females, Stoneclaw informed him. Though you have to have more to back it up. That just catches their eye; if you don't prove yourself a good potential mate, you get passed over no matter how many loop-the-loops you can do. Still, it's important to stand out from the pack.

"Oh," Daphne frowned. "I would have liked to know you before now." She returned to her colouring

"We can't change any of that though," Caitlin was saying. "All we can do is promise to keep you two together from now on."

Daphne smiled as she coloured, "That's good."

"I would've liked to have known you before now, too. But Caitlin's right, as usual, and we can be family now. Oh, and speaking of family, Caitlin has a brother living in Milltown." He looked at his wife as he addressed his sister (it still made him happy: "my sister"), "I'm not real sure how he'd feel about you visiting, but he's... kind of family? Ish?"

"Another brother? How many do you have?"

Caitlin chuckled, "Just the two, and a sister. You'll get to meet Tavis soon enough, he's one of our mages. Ardan will be back in two weeks, she's gone on a trip. And Aedan lives in Milltown; he's apprenticing to the carpenter. We can maybe arrange a meeting, once you're feeling better."

"I feel fine now," Daphne insisted.

"Oh no, you need Liz to declare you fully healthy again. It won't be too much longer, anyway," Caitlin smiled, and she made a mental note to write Aedan a letter of her own to send down with Tavis' next one. The two still hadn't met face-to-face, but the letters had become a weekly exchange.

"Caitlin is just overflowing with family...just about literally now," he teased. "And it makes her prey to vicious loveseat monsters."

Caitlin made a face at Kairos while Daphne giggled.

He returned to the subject after that, to spare himself wifely wrath. "I know you feel okay, Daphne, but sometimes we feel okay but we really aren't. And you might end up making your leg worse instead of better, and then you'll have to rest even more. So it's just better to do what Liz says. Besides, if you don't, she gives you that I'm Very Disappointed In You Look and I hate that." It was his turn to make faces.

"And she has needles," Daphne gasped.

"Well, nobody likes those," Caitlin agreed.

"She only uses them if she has to though. So let's make sure she doesn't have to by resting up and reading and coloring and not making her disappointed in us."

"And when I'm better, we can go swimming, too, right? And fly around the mountains?"

"Yes! We can do both those things. And go see the garden! When you're better.'d you hurt your leg so badly in the first place?"

"Yay!" Daphne cheered. She shrugged a little at the question and went back to her colouring, "I fell on some rocks."

Kairos winced. "I'm sorry."

**** **** ****

Before Kairos even knew he had a younger sister, Ardan was storming about the Cheyenne base like a woman possessed.

Her assigned babysitter (no matter how much Grant Ford protested the job title) followed after in exasperation. He'd given her a basic tour of the topside training areas, the barren fields only just being tilled for the sowing of crops, and the mage barracks before heading into the main bunker. Impatient as Ardan was (and as unbearable as she seemed simply by default), he still managed to get in a tour of the facilities within the base. But while she did seem interested in the commissary and absolutely floored by the mere existence of electricity (he made a note to show her the hydroponics bay at some point, to really stun her speechless), she kept asking after the leaders. She had to see the Brass, she demanded to see them, in fact, because Hellcat would not shut up.

Eventually, Ardan gave up on Ford ever showing her wherever it was they convened, and instead she just began barging through corridors, upsetting the people she encountered and grilling them with nonstop questions of where the Brass met for their meetings. Ford ran along after her, trying to do some damage control, and he was giving real thought to physically restraining the woman when they turned down a corridor deep within the base. She was aiming right for the ornate double doors that housed the main meeting chambers of The Brass.

"No, you can't - they'll call you when they're ready - probably tomorrow," he grabbed for her arm, because it was ridiculous, how he'd been jogging after this furious devil-woman for hours, and she simply would not stop. Maverick hummed in his mind about how fitting it was for Hellcat's Voice to act like this, but it did little to console him.

Ardan reacted instantly, taking Ford by surprise with her speed and precision as she jabbed him twice, lightning fast, in the face. Her arm freed from his grip, she hissed, "Watch me," and then barged through the doors.

Ford hissed in pain, tasting blood and feeling the warm liquid seeping through the fingers clutched to his nose, and stumbled along behind her before he realized that having witnesses to his getting bested by someone half his size wasn't in his pride's best interest. Maverick's concern was flooding that part of his mind, and he clumsily tried to reassure the dragon that he'd be fine, missing the surprised looks from all five members of The Brass as they looked up in shock.

"I'm really not sorry for interrupting you," Ardan stated as she stopped five feet from the plastic card tables and lawn chairs that made up the Cheyenne Seat of Power. The redhead planted her hands on her hips and scowled as she continued, talking right over the Brigadier General's outcry at the disturbance, "But I'm getting one hell of a migraine from Hellcat's yowling, and you lot need to sit there and listen to her, so you can start doing shit the Right Way."

It was Colonel Fisher who moved first, and even then to down the moonshine whiskey she had, up to that point, been sipping.

"We were discussing the matter of the mages, actually, " Brigadier General Taylor informed the fire-haired woman as she rose from her seat. Where Ardan was fire, Brig. Gen. Taylor was ice. "As well as your own situation."

The only other person to move was Col. Lopez, who got up and moved to a locked plastic footlocker, pulling out a key to open the padlock on it. "I've got some painkillers here for your migraine, miss... and I get the feeling we're all going to need them soon."

Ardan scowled, eyeing Col. Lopez and his offer of painkillers, "Too bad I don't take drugs from strangers. We gotta resolve this whole mage issue you guys have made." She paused and then mumbled under her breath to Hellcat, "Yeah yeah, shut up, you mutant salamander, the grown-ups are talking now."

Col. Fisher broke in. "I've been telling them about your brother's," there was a slight uptone there, a hint of uncertainty, but just a hint, "...aptitude. We're talking about how best to implement the necessary changes."

Grant poked his head in. "If she won't take the drugs, I will, sir." Col. Lopez arched an eyebrow and pulled out a bottle of aspirin and a handkerchief to offer to the bleeding young man.

Major Carter was just leaning back in her chair, eyes beaming and mouth smirking at Ardan's burst-in-and-take-no-prisoners attitude. She was just sorry it wasn't her doing it herself. Brig. Gen. Taylor was keeping her gaze steady on their loud interloper.

Ardan didn't even spare a glance back for the bleeding Voice behind her, but she did mutter a word that sounded suspiciously like 'wuss' under her breath.

She addressed the Brass at a more audible tone, focusing on Fisher for the moment because she'd spoken last, "The first thing you have to do is match up mages with dragons - and don't confuse that with marrying them off to Voices, either. One dragon, one mage, the Voice is only there as an interpreter for the lessons the dragons teach.

"My baby brother's aptitude surprises you? Well, from what I've seen, he's not unique, just trained properly and with a wild imagination."

Col. Lopez was delivering the requisite items to Grant. "Thank you, sir; she's got hammer fists, I swear."

Col. Fisher was about to respond, but Brig. Gen. Taylor overrode her. "There has been a misunderstanding. We did what we thought was best with the knowledge we had. We have a large number of people living here, most of them not magically-endowed, and we operated from a position of protecting the weak. That is how most of us were trained, and while I regret the misunderstanding and we will move to correct our approach going forward, I will not apologize for our actions. If that's what your or Hellcat want, you're going to be disappointed. If you have something constructive to add - such as good strategies for matching mages up with dragons - that would be welcome. If you are only going to yell, I am going to have you escorted out."

Ardan's eyes flicked to the old bat, "I don't require an apology - Hellcat and I can at least agree on the pointlessness of that - but I am going to tell you right now that matching up mages and dragons is of less concern than how your people treat mages. They're intuitive little bastards, and even getting them properly trained won't fix much if you don't address how people treat them.

"My brother doesn't like any of the Cheyenne people he's met because he knows how nervous people are. That makes him anxious, and that can't possibly be conducive to security and a good training environment. I can only imagine what sort of basket cases your mages are by now if they're even half as good as Tavis at feeling out emotions."

Taylor seemed unperturbed. "Do you have reasonable suggestions on how to go about changing a mindset people have had for over a decade now? It will take time, you know. I cannot wave a wand and make things better."

Ardan crossed her arms, one hip jutting out as she shifted her weight. "Start with the mages that are stable and more social. Stop confining them, get them out among the people more, socialize them. At the same time, own up to your mistake - your misunderstanding - and get the word out. Tell the people that with proper training, mages are not a danger to them, and let them have that backed up by what they see."

"Have the mages paired up with their dragons by personality. I'm sure your doctors have drawn up all sorts of notes by now on temperament and that sort of thing, well, have the Voices go over those profiles, have them sit down with the mages and their dragons and select their students. Don't force anyone to learn from someone they aren't comfortable with, or to teach someone they don't get along with. The dragons are excellent judges of character, and Voices are usually enough alike with their dragon that there shouldn't be any dragon-Voice pair that disagree on who to teach."

Taylor didn't move, didn't twitch; you could barely tell she was breathing. "These are all suggestions Colonels Fisher and Lopez and Major Carter have made, though you make a good point about the dragons and their Voices being similar, at least." Those last two words seemed to indicate that Taylor had decided Ardan was, in fact, to some degree useful, and the Brigadier General sat back down with all the regal dignity of an empress regaining her throne. "If there's nothing else, I'm sure you can show yourself out; you found your way in, after all."

That last bit was directed at Grant, who had been abandoned by Colonel Lopez after the administration of medication. He gulped a little from behind Ardan, intimidated in spite of himself, and shifted his weight. Frankly, he didn't think it was fair to blame him - as she seemed to be doing - for this flame-brained moppet assaulting him and busting in here, and the only things keeping him from saying so were the respect his father had for The Brass, the respect Grant had for his father, and the fact that, whether he liked it or not, they were somewhat intimidating. Colonel Lopez and Major Carter maybe not so much, but the other three (and the Brigadier General herself especially) seemed as if they might be well-acquainted with and perhaps fond of the phrase "Off with his head!". He'd rather not push it.

Ardan narrowed her eyes and stood hey ground. "Actually, there is more. I want to bring Tavis here to talk to the mages. The dragons have already been exchanging how training works, but the mages here know nothing. I want Tavis to come and talk to the Cheyenne mages, preferably with Kairos and Stoneclaw. I also want to know about the mages you've locked down."

Taylor seemed about to magnanimously grant Ardan her latest wish, but that last comment made one eyebrow arch juuuuust a hair. "Why do you need to know anything about that? It is a situation we will be looking into rectifying, of course. I could see my way clear to young Mr. O'Leary talking with the other mages, but we have to be extremely careful with the locked down mages. They're locked down for a reason, after all. And certainly the last person I'm going to discuss these mages with is you, at least in the state you're in now. Anger helps no one."

Ardan arched one brow in return, unknowing mirroring Taylor's expression, "Hellcat has said the longer they're locked down, the less control they'll have when they come out of it. If there's a way to... expediate your looking into the matter, she would recommend doing so. Hellcat also recommends housing them in a separate facility for awhile, at least until they remaster whatever control they had before they were locked down." That wasn't exactly what the dragon had said, her's had been much wordier, but Ardan's head was still throbbing and she almost regretted turning away the painkillers, though there was no way she'd cave now and ask for them.

"So, if you'll just let me know about Tavis, I'll be out of your way then."

Brigadier General Taylor was quiet for a moment, as if to really let it sink in that SHE was the one in charge here. "You're due for a trip back to your in a couple of weeks. I will give a tentative okay to his accompanying you back here for a visit after you discharge your two weeks there and decide where you want to be permanently, whether that is here or in the Valley. I would prefer you ask me again before you actually leave though, and I'm not bringing him in during these first couple of weeks. It will be delicate here for a bit, and I do not want him - Or You - stirring up trouble in the meantime. Am I clear?"

Ardan tried - and mostly succeeded - to smother her snort, though she chafed with dislike for the old bint, and it showed very much in her reply, "I don't stir up trouble, thanks though. And I will ask before I go - have to make sure you lot won't shoot on sight or something."

Grant was the one trying-but-failing to stifle a snort at Ardan's insistence that she didn't stir up trouble. He tried to turn it into a cough.

"Your... minder there..."

"Grant Ford, ma'am."

"...Ford then, will take you to your quarters and make sure you know where the cafeteria and other necessary facilities are." And she seemed to be done with the strident ginger in their presence.

"Yeah yeah, back to the babysitter," she muttered as she turned to leave. She paused just briefly as she caught sight of Grant's bloody face, then she just kept walking, rolling her eyes and commenting to him, "Fuck, man, duck next time or something."

He nodded to The Brass and hurried out after Ardan. "Keep it up and you're going to talk yourself out of pain relief," he told her, opening his palm to show a small wrapped pack of two aspirin, unopened and clearly labeled. Though his hand was open, it was also close to him, easy to pull away at a moment's notice. "I know what dragon-induced headaches are like. I asked Colonel Lopez to give me some extra for you, and he thought that was a good idea."

Ardan's walking slowed down as she glanced at the tempting little packet of painkillers, but her expression almost instantly went from surprise to suspicion, and she asked, "What do you want for them, then?"

"You to promise not to hit me anymore?"

She arched one brow, "That it? Done." She made a go for the pills.

He held the pills away. "Say 'I promise' or no deal."

Ardan refrained from swiping again, instead holding her hand out and waiting as she said, "I promise, there, happy now?"

He put the packet in her hand. "If you have trouble dry-swallowing them, we can go get you a water bottle."

Ardan was hardly listening as she tore into the packet, crunching into them like some sort of masochist and then turning to continue down the hall, "Right, so where am I staying for the next two weeks?"

"Oookay. This way. We gotta stop by the housing office; hopefully Colonel Fisher warned them abou-, told them you were coming and in need of a place to stay. It's not far though."

Ardan made a face, though it had more to do with the godawful taste in her mouth than with what Grant had said. Not that she'd admit it, though, after all her posturing thus far today. "And after that? What do people do with their time here?"

"Well, tonight's movie night, if you wanna go. The kids' matinee is Big Hero 6, and after that is District 9, which is a really good sci-fi movie. I saw it when they first got it last month." He beamed. "Tomorrow is TV night; I'd have to check the schedule but I know they're about halfway through 'The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.', because that is my favorite show right now. If you don't want to do either of those, I can take you by the library. You can check out a book or something? They have board games, but those kinda require, y'know, other people."

Ardan frowned, her feet slowing briefly before she could catch herself. She stared at Ford, "Movies and television? There's not like, chores or work to do?" She sounded skeptical again, and she said the first bit as if she wasn't sure exactly what it even was beyond nostalgia from adults old enough to remember such things. From how she'd first reacted to the electrical lighting, that was likely.

"Well, yeah, there's chores and work, but I'm a Voice and also it's the weekend. Unless something's really important, we generally get the weekends off to rest up, because they work us like dogs through the week. Even people who have important daily jobs have fewer hours on weekends. Oh hey!" He stopped to point out a flyer that detailed the TV schedule for this week: "Everyone Loves Raymond", "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.", "The Golden Girls", and "The Walking Dead".

"'The Walking Dead' was okay in season 1, but really creepy. My mom loves 'The Golden Girls', and they are pretty good, but not as good as Brisco County, Jr.! He's a lawyer and also a cowboy and kind of a detective and there are aliens I think but mostly he's trying to avenge his father's death at the hands of some vile outlaws!"

The frown didn't go away, and as an added bonus she looked a little confused, too (but also less angry, so yay?).

"Right so... these are like books, only ones that you watch. I got that part. I'm not sure I get the rest of anything you're saying."

He sighed as they kept walking. "Look, come with me to the movies tonight. We can even go to the kids' matinee; Big Hero 6 is pretty solid, not so goofy and stupid like some of the kids' movies. Not like you have anything else to do. And if you like it, TV night's in the same place, just, y'know, tomorrow. I'll probably skip 'Everyone Loves Raymond', but you should give 'em all a watch, see what you like. That one and 'The Golden Girls' don't really have much of an overarching plot, so it doesn't matter if you come in in the middle, and Brisco County, Jr. is just awesome all the time." He cleared his throat. "But I'm biased."

He held open a door for her; the lettering on the door said 'Housing Office'. "Let me do the talking here; it can get pretty jargon-y and you won't know all the abbreviations. I'll see if I can get you a copy of the base map, too."

Ardan gave up on trying to follow Ford when he was talking about movies and TV shows, just nodding along and barely listening at all. "Right, sure."

She went ahead into the Housing Office, glancing around quickly and preparing to actually pay attention, deeming this much more important than Ford chattering on about movies.

As he walked in past her (closing the door behind him), he whispered, "Act innocent and lost and a little scared, but quietly, please. Trust me." He patted her shoulder as in a sympathetic manner and walked up to the counter, gesturing to her to come stand next to/behind him. "Hey, Jeff! Has word come down the pipe about our new Voice yet?"

The man behind the counter, who'd been doing some filing, turned towards the counter and looked at him. "I really wish you'd call me Mr. Turner when I'm at work, Grant. New Voice, new Voice..." He walked over, sorting through some loose papers on the desk just beneath his section of counter with barely a glance for Ardan.

Ardan's first reaction to being told what to do was aggravation, but that was more of a natural response to anyone other than Aedan telling her what to do. The second was irritation - who was Ford to tell her what to to, anyway? She'd nearly broken his nose less than thirty minutes ago. Her third and final reaction, one that lingered a little longer, was panic.

How the fuck do I act innocent and lost?!

Why would you do that? Hellcat grumbled, slightly less pissy with her new Voice now that she'd broken some ground with the Brass, though not as much as she'd hoped for.

Ford just told me to.

Hellcat gave the dragon equivalent of a snort. I knew he was a prat, just like Maverick. Don't listen to him.

Well, that about settled it for Ardan. She did her best to make her eyes look wide, shuffled her feet as she walked after Grant, and kept her face tiled downward, eyes fixed on the floor. She recalled Tavis' nervous tick of twisting his hands together, and did her best to mimic it, all the while listening closely and trying not to reply to Hellcat's exasperated commentary.

The man - Jeff Turner, apparently - found the piece of paper he was looking for. He read it and then eyed Ardan. "...okay, now I know you're bullshitting."

"What?!" Grant declared, looking at poor wost widdle Awdan next to him and then back at 'Mr. Turner'. "I would never..."

"SHE bonded to Hellcat? No way in this or any other lifetime. What did you think you were gonna get out of me by telling her to play innocent?"

"Maybe a window... some nice getting-started things, maybe some flowers..."

Jeff barked a laugh. He was older than Grant, almost old enough to be his father, possibly, if he'd started early at any rate. "HELLCAT. Besides, Colonel Fisher was very specific about this one." He tapped the paper he was holding. "But I can be convinced to toss her a deck of cards. Gotta do something to keep her occupied so she and Hellcat don't light me on fire next time I'm outside for a bit of fresh air."

Ardan kept up the act until the mention of flowers, and then her head jerked up and that familiar fire was back in her eyes, "What the fuck would I do with fucking flowers?! And what the shit did that motherfucking colonel say about me?"

Hellcat snorted again. That's what you get for listening to Maverick's Voice.

Yeah, well, we need to have a talk later about why everyone on this base is terrified of you.

"Yep, she bonded to Hellcat, alright," Jeff muttered.

"You could look at them and think they're pretty? Geez, are you against happiness or something? Do you have emotions that aren't pure seething rage? And a voice setting that isn't ear-drum shattering?!"

Jeff cleared his throat. "The colonel said that you should get a nice place if we wanted to convince you to stay, but not too far from where Hellcat likes to bed down, because you'd probably be stomping back and forth giving the dragon a piece of your mind." He grinned. "I think she pegged it on that one." To Grant, he said, "J-7, second floor. I sent Gus over with the basics." He reached down and pulled out a deck of cards and slapped it on the counter in front of Ardan. "And for you, miss; welcome to Cheyenne Mountain." They were old souvenir cards from the days when part of the base had been open to tourists; the backs had the same picture of the main part of the mountain on them. They were housed in a clear plastic box that hinged open like a see-through (and roughly square-shaped but with rounded corners for the kiddies!) clamshell. It snapped shut with a nice definitive snap though, and the cards were still wrapped in cellophane within their case.

Jeff gave Grant a map. "Here you go, newbie map for her, color-shaded and everything. I'd tell you to try and stay on her good side, but it seems it's too late for that."

Grant muttered something that might've been a cuss word, but took the map. "C'mon, J-7's a bit of a hike from here," he told her.

"I prefer practicality and usefulness. Flowers aren't even entertaining, they just sit there. There's practically no nutritional value in most of them, too, so you couldn't even eat them if you were starving. And I have other emotions, but in case you haven't noticed," she leaned up on her toes to be closer to his ear, "I'm having something of a BAD DAY!"

She calmed down (a little bit) to tell Jeff, "If I'm being bribed, she could at least try a little harder." She did eye the cards though, and then she palmed them and slipped them into her pocket. "Thanks. So far, you're doing a better job of bribing me than that colonel."

She shrugged a little at Grant, "I'm sure I've walked farther."

Grant winced and took a step away from her. "Be nice to me; I have the map. I can get you lost in here, y'know. The colonel might want you to stick around but I'm starting to think she's a nutjob for that." He led her out of the housing office and veered right. "We're close to the movie theater so I'm going to take you there first, and that way you'll have an easier time getting back down here for the movies tonight. Assuming you want to see them; they are utterly useless, you know, not practical AT ALL."