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Protein Crystals and Other Precious Stones

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It’s been at least six months since David’s had to emergency courier Alexis a passport, and it’s great. It really is. It’s what he’s always wanted, David reminds himself, trying not to scratch at what definitely aren’t stress hives on his arms.

“Have you heard from Alexis?” David asks Moira, instead of just calling his sister. “Like, recently.”

“The other week, I think,” Moira says, waving an airy hand. “She’s in Saint-Tropez.”

“Okay, cool, great,” David says, leaving his mother lying under an umbrella by the pool, because Saint-Tropez was way back in May, and he happens to know that if Alexis goes back to the French Riviera she’s going to end up right back in the middle of a love triangle gone terribly wrong.

Surely, even for Alexis, the draw of the Côte d'Azur wouldn’t be enough to compensate for the possibility she’d have to slip out the back of her own wedding while a pirate captain and an aviation magnate fought to the death over her. Even Alexis --

“Fuck,” David says, once for every digit of her number he smashes into his phone.

The phone rings. “Pick up,” he says, as it continues to ring. “Come on, pick up.”

“David?” Alexis asks. “Aren’t you supposed to be on some art-buying trip in Bali right now?”

“Okay, well, Eduardo, Arianna, and I mutually decided that it would be best for us if they took the gallery in a different direction,” David says. It feels like it’s a million miles away. “And hello to you too.”

There’s screaming somewhere behind Alexis and David feels his heart seize a little until he registers it as happy screaming. Hooting, maybe. “David, what’s wrong?” she asks. “Is mom-”

“She’s fine,” David says. “She’s - she and dad are both - they’re both still mom and dad.”

“Oh,” Alexis says. There’s a long silence through which he can hear what definitely sounds like far too many young, over-excited voices. “David?” she asks, finally. “Is there-”

“Look,” David says, feeling stupid. “Look, I just--”

“Wait,” Alexis says. He can almost hear her scrunching up her nose. “Wait, did you -- you wanted to check and see if I was okay?”

“What,” David says. “No. No. Do what you want. I just - wanted to know if I could borrow your yellow Gui Gui sweater,” he says, then presses his lips tight and the phone to his forehead, because, what.

Alexis snorts. “Okay, well, first of all, it’s not yellow, it’s mindaro. Second, it’s not your colour. Like, at all. If you even wore colours, I mean. Third, it’s like, a season and a half old, so I mean, go for it I guess, if you really want to look like a jaundiced orphan living on castaways and swimming in xanthophytes.”

“Okay,” David says, mouthing xantho-WHAT and tilting his head like she can see him. “Okay, it is too yellow, mindaro has cyan undertones, and beyond that, it is too my colour, all colours are my colour, and I look absolutely radiant in yellow.”

“Ugggg, David, no.” Alexis snorts. “But oh my god, Harvard’s colour is crimson. I can almost - almost - forgive the cardinal, but do you have any idea how many people here are trying to pass off oxblood as crimson?”

“I --” David says. “No, no I do not. Is it a lot?”

So many,” she hisses. “I’m fine, David,” she says, but her voice is softer. “Look, I have to -- oh my god, Janice, look out for that goat.”

“What are you doing anyway?” he asks. He doesn’t actually want to know, but he’s a bit worried he might need to in the near future.

“I’m at school, okay,” she says. Then, “Janice, what did I tell you about the goat,” and then Alexis’s frustrated scream gets more distant as the line fills with suspicious cracks and gurgles.

“Okay, don’t tell me, then,” David says, as he finds out what it presumably sounds like when a goat eats a phone.

*

“Alexis went to Harvard,” David tells Johnny the next time he seems him, which is a month or so later at a family dinner they hold every week. David actually kind of likes it when he’s the only one there, because the chef makes him sympathy tiramisu if he sits alone and looks like he’s about to cry, and he doesn’t have to share it with ANYONE.

“Oh, I love Boston in the fall,” Moira says.

“No,” David says. “I mean, she went to Harvard. Like, she goes there now.”

“Oh, really?” Johnny says. “I guess my talk about prudent planning for the future really got through to her.”

“There’s probably a boy,” Moira says.

“No, I really think it was my talk about long-term career plans,” John says. Even he doesn’t look convinced. “That she should consider having them. Plans, I mean. Or a career.”

“Yeah, I’m with Mom,” David says. He just hopes it’s a married college professor and not like, yet another knife-wielding survivalist who’s built an extensive underground network of bunkers for her.

*

David’s phone wakes him up in the middle of the night. It’s two in the morning, and he groans. “What,” he says.

“Hi, David,” Alexis chirps. “How is my very most favouritest brother?”

David feels blearily around in the bed. “It’s two in the morning, what do you need?” David says, hissing quietly in an attempt to not wake up his hookup from the night before. The sheets beside him are cold.

“So, long story short, spring break in Cabo got a tiny bit out of control and I’m going to need you to FedEx a bunch of unmarked Rands, the deed to something beachfront, and a sculpture of a dragon to the Canadian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.”

“Okay, well I only have access to two of those things,” David says. “Also, how did you get from the Baha Peninsula to Honduras?”

“A speedboat chase and smuggled in the back of a cargo plane, obviously.” He’s pretty sure he can hear her roll her eyes. “Also, talk to Maria, the housekeeping staff should know where the bronze gecko thing from the garden ended up, and it’ll be close enough.”

“Okay,” David says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Okay, so--”

“You’re the best, loveyoubyyyyyyye,” Alexis says as what sounds suspiciously like chanting rises behind her.

David stares at the empty room for a little while, the loveyoubyyye echoing through his head, before he scrubs his hands through his hair and stands. Really, it’s probably for the best that - Stuart, maybe? - from last night has left anyway, because he had these ears with weird, almost-pointy tops, and he was mean to the bartender, and his hair cut was - well.

“Maybe the cabin on Lake Simcoe,” David says, because - gross, why do they even still have that anyway.

*

Alexis just - sticks with it. She brings home an oxblood sweater with a logo. Uses “exams” to get out of the world’s most boring Easter gala (since when are there Easter galas anyway she hisses.)

“I’m worried,” Moira says, and David would dismiss the sentiment, but there’s something in her voice that David hasn’t ever heard before, so maybe it’s genuine concern. “What could be going on? What could be so terrible, so unseemly, so obscene, that she couldn’t share it with us, her family?”

And honestly, David is - he thinks he’s proud of Alexis? Is this what proud feels like? - because she’s never stuck with anything more than like, eight months before and she’s kept up this facade for YEARS.

*

“I have to say,” Moira says. They’re on a beach in some country, David isn’t actually even sure. He and Moira are wearing long sleeves and lying on low chairs under a huge umbrella Johnny paid someone to come set up. Moira waves her drink loosely with one hand. “I admire your moxie. Your pluck. But I have to say, we have played along now for far longer than is reasonable. If I learned anything from my time on the stage, it’s to never let a bit overstay its welcome.”

Alexis, lying out in the sun in almost less than nothing, pushes up on her elbows to scowl at them. “Oh my god, how many times do I have to tell you that this isn’t a bit? I am a biologist, okay. I am a structural glycobiologist.”

“And that all sounds very impressive,” Johnny says. His linen suit is the exact wrong shade of cream against the yellows of the sand.

“Thank you,” Alexis says. David would like to say she scrambles to her feet, but it’s really more of a surprisingly elegant glide, even though she somehow manages to do it without her arms. Which, HOW.

“It sounds fake,” David says, point-blank. “Really. It sounds like an obviously fake field of study, just pretentious-sounding enough that no one will question it for fear of looking stupid.”

“The key to a good lie is vagueness, have I taught you nothing?” Moira asks. “What would a - whatever - study, anyway?”

Johnny places a reassuring hand on Alexis’s shoulder. “Alexis. I’ve seen the books. We haven’t paid Harvard in years.”

“Okay, well, scholarships are a thing,” Alexis says, scowling and pulling away.

“A thing that you need good grades for,” David coughs.

“Ew, David,” Alexis says, but she hits him harder than he’s expecting, hard enough that when he rubs his arm it isn’t to play it up. “And I’m at Yale now anyway. Doing your grad work the same place you went to undergrad is not a good look.”

Johnny extends his arms in what he probably thinks is a placating manner. “Look, Alexis. You failed out. It’s okay. You gave it the good old college try, and college, well, it wasn’t for you. The important thing is that you tried.”

“Really, Alexis, you did far more than we could have ever expected,” Moira says, and goes back to reading her book behind dark glasses.

Alexis looks agitated.

“Chill,” David says, because, really. This is just - maybe he was proud or whatever, but he’s so over it. He just wants to sit here out of the sun and soak up the heat and drink things out of coconut adorned with white flowers. He wants to have a chill family vacation where no one gets abducted by or accidentally becomes a pirate.

“No,” Alexis says. “How many times do I have to tell you, I am a glycobiologist. I am a structural glycobiologist. I study structural glycobiology.”

“Tautologies are the last resort of a cornered prevaricator,” Moira yells.

“Oh my god,” Alexis says, and stamps her foot in the sand hard enough that a glittering cloud catches the sun. It gets on Johnny’s boat shoes. “SUGAR, I study sugar. I do x-ray diffraction on glycoprotein crystals.”

“Remember, darling, the key is vagueness,” Moira says, all her attention once more on her book.

“Ahhhhhhhhh,” Alexis screams, clutching her straw hat to her head as she storms into the ocean.

“Okay, so, she’s definitely in a cartel,” David says. His hands flutter and he tucks them into the angora sleeves of his sweater.

“Oh, Johnny,” Moira says, clutching at his hand for support, even though she’s still sprawled in her chair. “It’s worse than we thought. Crystal.”

*

David finds her later that night in the exact last place he’d expect, which is outside of some kind of loud, thumping party. She’s just - she’s sitting on a broad marble railing with her bare feet drawn up, and staring out at the ocean. He walks right past her at first, doesn’t recognize her with her face serious like that.

“Alexis?” he asks, half-panicked, but maybe the seriousness was just a trick of the moonlight because it’s gone in a flash.

“David,” she says.

“Are you --” Dave looks at the way she’s sitting to see if she can support her own weight, tries to figure out if her pupils are dilated or if it’s just the moonlight. “Did you take --”

“I’m not going to take something a stranger in Bali gives me, David, ew,” she says, like that isn’t an exact thing that’s happened before to one of the people she used to hang out with. A friend? David’s not sure. “Not after that time I had to help Victoria P escape from Kerobokan.”

“Okay,” David says, and stands, awkwardly. There’s a blister on his left foot.

“Wait,” Alexis says. “Were you worried about me?”

“No,” David says, crossing his arms.

“You were,” Alexis says, and her face looks - almost serious again, but not quite? She pats the marble beside her, and the sound of bad American house music continues to thrum behind them.

“Um, are you sure you didn’t take something from Mr. Stranger Danger?” David asks.

“David, you picked those shoes for style but you didn’t make sure you can run in them, which is just - are you trying to get kidnapped? Sit down.”

David sits. “I don’t know,” he says. “You just -- You used to call me, all the time, to get this and that and --”

“And I don’t anymore. Not like I used to,” Alexis says. “Not as often.”

“Which is good,” he says. It’s not that he liked it, that tangential rush of adrenaline warring with the knowledge that she’s in danger, and that itself warring with the relief of knowing she’s alive. He should be happy that she’s not - taking advantage of him as much, or something, but --

“I’m okay, David,” she says, like she wasn’t just talking about breaking into and out of one of the most notorious prisons in all of Asia.

“And maybe what you’re doing right now stops some of the wilder stuff, but-”

“It takes so much time David, you don’t even understand,” she says. And probably she’s learned to look after herself even more, which is terrifying, or maybe she’s got like, bodyguards, or -- “I promise, if I need to wake someone up at 3am to find me a brick of frankincense and the quickest way out of Siberia, you’re my guy. Okay?”

David feels his breath leave his body in one long, relieved exhale. “Well maybe not at 3 am,” he says. He realizes, suddenly, that if she asks him to, if she really, really needs him to, he will walk into a cartel for her.

“Noted,” she says, and turns her head and they watch the surf. “You know, you could call me, too,” she says, without looking at him. “Sometimes. If you wanted.”

“I feel like that’s pushing it a little,” David says, and makes a face, but tolerates it when she pokes his nice black pants with her grubby, sandy toes.

*

“So, I’m like - moving back to Canada, I guess?” Alexis tells him at Christmas. They’re standing beside the immaculately decorated Christmas tree as guests mill around them.

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Moira says, because she happens to be passing by. “Johnny,” she yells, waving excitedly at him. “Johnny, come here, Alexis has some wonderful news! Alexis, tell your father,” she says as Johnny wraps his arm around Moira.

Alexis does that thing with her eyes. “I’m moving back to Canada,” she says.

“Isn’t it absolutely fantastic?” Moira enthuses.

“Is it, though?” David asks. “Isn’t it - isn’t it going to - aren’t there already people in your line of work, up here?”

“I mean, yes,” Alexis says. “But that’s the case anywhere, really. I mean, none of them are me, though. I’m going to have to make a name for myself some time. And now seems like a good time to start up a group of my own. I even have a couple of - this is wild, okay - but I already even have a couple of students lined up?”

“If you’re certain, honey,” Johnny says, and pats her hand awkwardly.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Moira says. “My little girl, moving up in the world. Taking on a line of work that’s been dominated by brutish men for far too long. You show them what we Rose women are capable of!”

“Oh my god,” David says.

 

*

Easter and Thanksgiving don’t happen, but they all end up in the same place during some random fundraiser in February.

“I think there’s something hinky with the books,” Johnny says when they’re waiting for in the limo. (I was moving money around for lawyers and legal defence in a worst-case scenario, he doesn’t say. Just in case.)

He looks at Alexis expectantly, combing her fingers through her hair to fix her curls

David covers his face. “Can we not do this,” he says. He likes it better when everyone is pretending they believe her.

“I think someone might be doing something hinky with the books,” Johnny repeats, looking directly at Alexis until she looks up to find him staring at her.

“Umm,” she says. “I’m sorry to hear that and all, but why are you telling me?”

“Because of your job,” Johnny says, and waits expectantly.

Alexis purses her lips. “Okay, I like, I still think you don’t understand what I do?”

“And I don’t need to. Just know that I’m - that I’m very proud of you. I know that it must be hard, being a woman in your line of work.”

Alexis looks thrown. “It is,” she says, finally. And “Thank you.” And-- “Okay, look, I’ll ask around and see what - I might know a guy at the new place, I’ll see if he can look into it, but no promises.”

Johnny smiles. His shoulders relax. “Thank you, Alexis,” he says. He steps forward to take her elbows and leans in to kiss her cheek and she leans back as far and as fast from him as she can.

“What,” she says, flat, eyes narrowed.

“I thought it was traditional,” Johnny says, standing awkward with his hands still on her elbows.

“I think that’s like, tradition in the mafia,” Alexis says. “And I’m not--”

“Right, of course,” Johnny says. “Sorry.”

Cartel, Moira mouths at David, and David pointedly doesn’t google ‘can you divorce your entire family.’

Mostly because he’s done it a few (dozen) times before and the answer never changes.

*

“Alexis took care of it,” Johnny says over breakfast one morning.

David’s working extremely - extremely - hard at picking out new pieces to get the feng shui just right for the gallery opening and definitely not reading a gossip rag in another tab, so it takes a minute to penetrate.

“Wait,” David says. “When you say she took care of it, do you mean she - took care of it?”

“I have no idea,” Johnny says. “She took care of it. That’s all I know.”

“Okay, but did she--”

“I don’t know, David,” Johnny says, and “thanks, Estelle,” as she sets down an omelette before him. “I didn’t ask too many questions. I don’t ask the chef how he makes these delicious omelettes, do we? Because he knows what he’s doing, and you have to respect a person’s area of expertise.”

“Okay, but I feel like we should probably be aware of whether George murdered anyone to get these eggs,” David says, and Estelle very quickly leaves the room.

“Best not to know,” Moira says, patting David’s hand without looking up from her paper. “Plausible deniability and all. But yes, we believe your sister had him - taken out, shall we say.”

“Oh my god,” David says.

“Taken out behind one of the video stores and shot, maybe,” Moira says, almost meditatively. “Or dismembered, I really can’t keep up with how the kids these days are disposing of bodies.”

“Oh my god,” David repeats. He feels like there’s something sitting on his chest, which doesn’t even make sense because he’s standing up, nothing could be sitting on his chest, it would slide right off. “Oh my god,” David repeats, and goes outside to try to figure out why it feels like he can’t breathe.

*

“Let me open up my laptop,” David says when his phone rings in the middle of the night. “What do you need?”

“You should come visit me,” Alexis says. For once, there’s not really any noise behind her. No thrumming bass of a club, no hollow echo of a jail, no whistles and laughter of a party.

“Right now?” he asks, looking up private jets. “Where are you?”

“Not like, right this minute. Obviously.” Alexis says. There’s something weird in the connection that makes her sound nervous or something. “Just, you know - sometime.”

“Oh my god,” David says, and hangs up the phone.

It rings again and he sends it to voicemail.

Daaaaaaaaavid Alexis texts, followed by approximately fifty praying hand emojis and a bunch of broken hearts.

Fine, he texts.

Alexis sends back an emoji of a cat with heart eyes, and he definitely doesn’t fall asleep with a smile on his face.

*

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” David says. They’re sitting in - Alexis has this cute little townhouse, and it’s not what he would have expected for a mob boss or a cartel queen or whatever she is. “And I think you should quit your job.”

Alexis drops her glass, but it’s empty and there’s a carpet - a carpet, and oh my god, that must make the blood so hard to clean up, she must have taken care of the accountant somewhere else - and the glass just rolls. “Um, excuse me?”

David twists his hands in his sleeves. “It’s just - it’s dangerous, okay, and maybe it’s always been dangerous, but -”

“I am very careful when I’m in the lab,” Alexis says. “David, I have - I have students okay, I would never --”

“And this place isn’t even - look, this is cute, but if you’re going to sell your soul, you should at least get a mansion and an above-ground swimming pool out of it.”

“Rude,” Alexis says. “Cute? I bought this with my own money, okay, with money I made myself.” Alexis wrinkles her nose at him. “And we have a pool at home, okay, why would I need another?”

David waves his hands. “Okay, I think we’ve gotten sidetracked by the pool.”

Alexis jerks her chin. “But you’re the one who --”

“It’s not about the pool, okay,” David says.

“It sounds like it’s about a pool,” she says.

David pinches his nose. “Just. Look. If you ever want to - if you ever decide it’s too much, I just - I want you to know that I have papers. For a couple of places. I don’t know which cartel you’re in, so I don’t know which countries are safe, so--”

Alexis, who had just bent over to pick up her glass, drops it again. “Um,” she says. And, “what.”

*

“It’s okay,” David reassure her when she drags him onto campus. “Look, Alexis, I get it. We know - we know what you do, okay. It’s okay. You don’t have to--”

“David! Ugh, just -- come with me, I'll show you,” she says, cutting through students with long, clicking strides as he bobs along in the wake behind her.

“Uh-huh,” David says, and decides to just let this play itself out. He’d be impressed that she’s gone this far, but he’s seen some of the parties she’s thrown and events she’s organized in the past. He just hopes there are no base-jumping clowns at this one.

“Walk faster, David,” she says. “You’re making me late.”

Really, though, this entire thing is a little declasse, he thinks as he settles into a hard wooden seat, the kind he thought he’d left far behind in his youth. She’s rented out an actual lecture theatre at an actual university, and all the recent cutbacks to educational funding are on full display. The ‘students’ quiet down as she walks to the front of the room, dress billowing around her legs as she descends the tiered stairs.

Really, she’s mostly done a pretty good job at filling it out with realistic-looking students.

David realizes that the man sitting beside him has introduced himself when he wasn’t paying attention. Okay, Alexis has mostly done a good job. “You’re a little old to be playing a student, aren’t you?” David whispers. “Where did she find you, Craig’s List?” The guy is cute and David would normally flirt but he really wants to see how far Alexis is going to take this.

“Today we’re going to pick up where we left off on the biological consequences of altered glycosylation,” Alexis says, and oh my god, she has a PowerPoint presentation and everything, it’s adorable, this is adorable. He loves how hard she’s trying.

“OH. MY. GOD.” David says, sometime between ten minutes and fifty years later, while Alexis is talking about genetic variation in glycosylation enzymes and chemical deglycosylation of completed chains and protein folding in the endoplasmic reticulum, because either this is the most elaborate con she’s ever pulled off, or - or --

The cute guy is laughing at him.

“Excuse me,” David hisses loudly. “I am going through something right now.”

“Of course you are,” the guy says. “I’m guessing you’re David.”

David waves his hand in a circle. “Okay, we will circle back to how you knew my name later --”

The guy is still laughing. His forehead crinkles.

“I need you to pinch me,” David says. “I need you to pinch me because I’m pretty sure this isn’t real life, and I need to wake up.”

“Okay, so what I’m going to need is for both of you to leave,” Alexis breaks in.

“What,” David says, and looks up.

Alexis is standing at the podium with her arms crossed and a huge scowl on her face.

It’s nothing compared to the murderous way the rest of the class is looking at them.

“You weren’t exactly quiet,” the man says.

“Excuse you,” David says. “I don’t think you understand-”

“No,” a nearby student says. “I don’t think you understand how hard it is to get into this class.”

“Into this class,” David says. Pinches himself. “Into this class, in particular. Taught by my sister. Who teaches. Here.”

“I am trying to teach my ducklings about the role glycan abnormalities and recognition can play in cancer and other disease processes,” Alexis says.

“I don’t know what to say to that,” David says. “I have no idea.”

The man beside David is still giggling.

“Out,” Alexis says. Voice cold and terrifying. “Both of you. Out, now.”

“Oh my god,” David says, and lets the man pull him out of the room while he considers the possibility that Alexis could ALSO be running a cartel.

*

“I just - I’m going to need a minute,” David says, staring blankly at the menu on the wall of the university coffee shop.

“Uh huh,” the man, whose name is Patrick, says. “Thing is, you’ve had about fifteen of those, and the line behind us is starting to get a little cranky.”

“Oh,” David says, and lets Patrick order him something and install him at a table.

“She really teaches here,” David says. Wraps his hands around the cup in front of him and drinks automatically. “Alexis,” he clarifies when Patrick raises an eyebrow. “She really teaches here.”

“Yes,” Patrick says. “She does.”

“Is - “ David pauses. “Is she good?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says. He quirks his mouth. “She really is.”

“Of course I am,” Alexis says. She drops down beside him with her designer bag and flowing dress and picks up what David now realizes is the extra cup on their table. “You should see my rate my prof page, my chili pepper rating is almost as high as my teaching score.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” an infant who David presumes is a student says. “But Doctor Rose, could I ask you a question?”

“Um, okay,” Alexis says. “But like, quick?”

“Doctor Rose,” David says.

“Of course,” the student says. “Can you just clarify - I’m having a hard time with the protein crystallization?.”

“Okay, so,” Alexis says, “here’s the thing, growing protein crystals is like - it’s witchcraft, okay, we all just kind of hold our breath and stand on one foot and hope for the best. They’re so sensitive to your initial conditions, to the environment around them - if your pH or salinity is a little off, or if the humidity or temperature of the room changes, they just like - they form up into the wildest shapes,” and then she starts off on, like, electron densities and tertiary structures and David blinks and takes another drink of what he blankly realizes is peppermint tea, which he hates.

“I think I’m having a stroke,” David says. He drinks some tea. “How do you know if you’re having a stroke? Wait, if I’m hallucinating this, you only know what I know. Do I know how you know if you’re having a stroke?”

Alexis sends the student on her way with a little shooing flip of her hand. Patrick leans back and grins.

“Are you enjoying the show?” David hiss-whispers at him.

Patrick grins. “Yes, actually.”

David doesn’t blush.

“They’re all just so CUTE,” Alexis says when the student has left. “Even the ones who aren’t, you know? In the face?” She picks up the cup of whatever that Patrick bought her and kind of grins into it.

“How do you know all that?” David asks. “That stuff about compulsive heterosexuality?”

Alexis whaps him. “Don’t play dumb, David. You know I was talking about structural heterogeneity.”

“Yes,” David says, smoothing his hair back. “Obviously.”

“I went to Yale, David. Even though their PhD gowns are like, totally hideous. And the stupid hat that I had to wear to convocate was just - uggg.”

“Wait,” David says. “You actually went to Yale.”

“Yes, David. I told you. Have you seen the shoreline in Connecticut? Why else would I ever even live in New Haven?” Alexis rolls her eyes. “Wait, what did you think I did at Yale? And Harvard?”

“We didn’t actually think you went,” David says. He crosses his arms. Uncrosses them. “Or that you like, went and hooked up with a professor, not that you went-went.”

“Oh my god,” Alexis says. “Do Mom and Dad --”

“Um,” David says. “Well.”

“David,” Alexis says.

“... they think you’re like, a mafia kingpin, or running a meth cartel or something.”

“Ewww, David,” she says.

“Can you blame them?” David asks.

“Um, yes?” Alexis says.

Patrick leans in. “Okay, seriously, I need to hear this. Walk me through this logic.”

David waves his arm. Scratches his chin. “Well, you know - that stuff about making crystals?”

“Oh my god, David.” Alexis stops. “Oh my god, David, I make protein crystals, not crystal meth. Do you have any idea how volatile the chemicals used to make methamphetamine are? Being on fire is not a cute look, and respirator straps are way too harsh on your hair. You can forget beachy waves basically FOREVER.”

“I’m sorry,” David says. “I didn’t consider how a career as a drug lord would have impacted your whole look.”

Alexis smooths her hair back. “Apology accepted.” They sit in silence for a minute until -- “Wait, is what why Dad kept asking me to find out who was responsible for whatever was wrong with the books?”

David picks at his cup. “... yes?”

“And they think I…”

“Maybe?” David offers, because ‘yes,’ seems a little harsh, in retrospect.

“Ew, David. Do you have any idea what that would do to my manicure?”

“Right,” David says. Gestures at her up and down. “The ~look.~”

“I just got Patrick to look at the books, and he then he called Revenue Canada on some guy for like, tax evasion or embezzling or something.”

Patrick shakes his head. “It’s a good thing she did, or - it could have ended a lot differently.”

“Oh,” David says. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Patrick says. And, resting a hand on Alexis’s arm. “I think you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Alexis says, and smiles up at him. “Thank you.”

“Any time,” Patrick says, then appears to reconsider. “You don’t actually have any other siblings, do you?”

Alexis smacks his arm, and he grins at her and leaves, and David realizes, slowly, that the two of them are friends. That he knew Alexis’s coffee order and turned up to make sure her reunion with her brother went well. Like, they’re actually friend-friends.

“Patrick was just going to LEAVE the school,” Alexis says, leaning across the table towards David like she’s confiding something. “He was going to go back to some dumb little town and like, live in someone’s spare room and fill out small business licenses there and I just couldn’t let him do that to himself.”

“Well,” David says, “I’m glad he didn’t,” and tries not to flush.

“Uh-huh,” Alexis says. She makes a fluttering motion with her hands. “But he still, like, wants me to go and visit his dumb little town with him sometime.”

“You’re going to do it,” David says, with slowly dawning horror.

“No, David, ewwww,” she says.

“You are,” David says.

Alexis rolls one shoulder and both of her eyes. She drinks her coffee. “You could come with us,” she finally says. “You know. If you wanted to get a chance to ~know him~,” she says, and David can hear the tildes somehow.

She picks at the label of her cup. David realizes that her nails, while elaborately manicured, are kept short. Something about working in a lab full of ick, maybe, David thinks, and wonders again if he’s having a stroke. They sit quietly and David drinks his peppermint tea (ugg), until finally, he can’t take the silence anymore - and since when can Alexis deal with silence, she’s twitching in a way that means she’s going to break but hasn’t yet - when “how did this happen” bubbles out of him.

“I don’t know, David,” Alexis says and shrugs. “How does anything happen, really?”

“Um, you don’t accidentally end up teaching glycobiology at a university.”

“Technically, I teach structural biology,” Alexis says.

“That is so not the point,” David says.

“Look,” Alexis says. “It’s - I don’t know. It was a joke at first, or a lark, or - but it turns out I’m good at it, David. I really am. And the boys - they made these little faces when I beat them,” Alexis says, screwing her face up and pursing her lips in parody. “It was just the funniest thing you’ve ever seen.”

“I guess I can see how that would be appealing,” David says.

“And like - everyone kept saying or implying that I couldn’t do it, because I’m a girl or I’m pretty and I have nice shoes or I didn’t finish high school or whatever,” Alexis says.

“Wait,” David says. “You didn’t finish high school? I was at your graduation.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t. And honestly, at this point, I feel like it’s kind of on you for not noticing.” She waves her hand and David wants to argue, but she’s still talking. “It’s not like you NEED a high school diploma when you have a PhD. No one asks to see your pedal bike if you have a Maserati.”

David clicks his mouth shut. “That is a surprisingly salient point,” he says. “Even if it did feel a little pointed at my bicyclular trauma.” He finishes his tea. Alexis drinks her coffee.

“I’m glad you’re here, David,” Alexis says. She smiles, and it’s - smaller than he’s used to, somehow, creases her eyes differently, and it’s the most real he’s ever seen her look.

“Yeah,” David says, and he reaches out, tentatively, to put his hand on her arm, like he’d seen Patrick do. “I’m, um, I’m glad too.”

*

“How’s it going with that lawyer I told Dad and Mom to hire, anyway?” Alexis asks.

They’re talking on the phone, which is - it’s a little weird in and of itself, but they’re trying, and it’s - okay, maybe it’s nice, to talk to her when she’s not calling from some dingy opium den because she’s finally escaped from a sheik's compound. Or something. But it’s still weird, so it takes a second for what she’s asked to register. “Wait,” David says, but she’s still talking.

“ -- because Patrick can recommend someone else if it’s not working out,” Alexis says.

“What lawyer?” David asks, phone tucked between his ear and his shoulder as he goes through one of his closets.

Alexis snorts, just a little, almost (but not quite) delicately. “The lawyer to deal with the embezzlement stuff, duh.”

David ducks out of his closet and holds his phone to make sure he’s hearing properly. “No, Alexis, I’m not asking which lawyer, I’m asking WHAT lawyer.”

“Ugggg, I’d think Dad would be taking this more seriously, but it’s not even bugging him enough to talk about it? We could lose everything.”

“Oh my god,” David says, trying not to drop his phone as horror slowly dawns. “Oh my god, Alexis, he thought you took care of it.”

“I know, and just - eww, really. David, have you seen what people look like inside? It’s so gross, it’s like, a miracle that human bodies work at all. Why would I go digging around inside people in my free time, I took one anatomy class and it was more than enough for me.”

“Okay, well, the mental image of you wrist-deep in some old guy is completely horrifying and we’re never going to speak of it again,” David says. “But. No, Alexis, they thought you took care of it.”

“But the lawyer, David. I told him to get a lawyer. What did he think the lawyer was for?”

“He got a criminal lawyer,” David says, faintly. “Alexis, he thought the lawyer was for you, in case anyone figured out that you --” he makes a vague gesture that’s somewhere between a stab and noose and realizes she can’t see him.“You said forensics,” David said.

“I said forensic accountant,” Alexis says. “I said a lawyer and a forensic accountant, and forensic as in ‘suitable for use in a court of law.’”

“Okay, well, if I had to guess, I’d say they thought you meant forensics as in ‘oh my god, I murdered a guy and maybe there will be people in those ugly police windbreakers poking around with magnifying glasses.”

“Again, ew,” Alexis says. “And that’s sweet and all, but if I decided to kill someone, there’s no way I’d get caught.”

David stays quiet, waiting for the penny to drop.

“Wait,” she says. “Wait,” she says again, and it sounds like she’s moving. Students noise and heels clicking rapidly on linoleum. “He got a criminal lawyer. He didn’t --”

“No,” David says. “No, he--”

“He didn’t get a - oh my god, David, do you know how bad this is?” Her heels echo, faster and faster.

“I - yes,” David says faintly. His chest feels tight. “Maybe?” The edges of his vision are wavery.

“PATRICK,” Alexis yells, and David tries to get his breathing under control. There’s clunking and rattling and then he hears Alexis yelling “oh my god, you can reschedule this tutorial, my stupid family hired a criminal lawyer because they thought I murdered the accountant.”

“David,” Alexis says, back to the phone again. “Okay, David, I can hear you hyperventilating, so I’m just - I’m going to need you to breathe with me,” she says, counting in and out as the dark spots around the edges of David’s vision start to clear.

“Okay,” David says. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Alexis says. “David, listen to me. Are you at home?”

“Yes,” David says. “I think.” He looks around his room. Okay, definitely his room. “Okay, yes, I’m at home.”

“Okay, good,” Alexis says. “I need you to find Mom and Dad and put me on speaker.”

“Right,” David says. He closes his eyes for a second and clutches his phone to his chest. Everything is a little wobbly. He puts the phone back to his ear. “Yeah, no, I can’t do it.”

“David,” Alexis says, and he thinks he hears her stomp her foot. “You once climbed the Spanish Stairs in three-inch heels while bombed out of your mind on absinthe and tequila. You can do this.”

“Right,” David says, and finds that his legs work after all.

“What’s going on?” he hears Patrick ask.

“So you know how my parents think I, like, murdered the financial planner or whatever?”

“Kind of hard to forget,” Patrick laughs, and David’s heart does a weird hop. It’s probably because of everything else.

“Okay, so, apparently, they got a criminal lawyer?” Alexis says. “Instead of one who does money?”

David, flying down the spiral staircase flags down their parents in the front hall.

“David, we’re late for the play fundraiser,” Johnny says.

“You’re not coming with us, especially not dressed like that,” Moira says “Why, that sweater makes you look positively ill. Chartreuse is most decidedly not your colour.”

On the phone, Patrick says, “As if you’d ever get caught committing a murder,” as David puts him on speaker.

“Like I’m some kind of rank amateur,” Alexis says, voice bounding through the cavernous front hall.

Johnny pauses in the midst of draping Moira’s fur over her shoulders. “That’s, uh -- that’s lovely to hear, sweetheart,” he says.

“My clever girl,” Moira says, “you put those feminine wiles to work. Flutter your eyes just right, and no one will ever suspect. You’ve learned well.”

“Oh my god,” David whispers.

Alexis screams.

“Now, there’s no need for dramatics,” Moira says. She slides the floor-length fur up her shoulders and adjusts her glittering gold and amber wig in the mirror.

“Well, as you said, she did learn from the best,” Johnny says.

“Okay,” Alexis says. And, “okay, so -- Okay, this is Patrick. He’s an accountant. I need you to listen to him.”

“Ah,” Johnny says. “Yes, an ‘accountant.’ Sweetheart, we have our own accountants, and they’re actually accountants.”

“Oh my god,” Alexis says.

“No, I’ve met him,” David says. “He’s really an accountant.”

“Really an accountant?” Moira asks.

“Yeah,” David says. “Like, really really an accountant.”

“Technically --” Patrick says.

“Okay, fine, but I don’t think that right now is the time to get sidetracked with technicalities,” Alexis says.

“Right,” Patrick says, and David thinks he can almost see his dumb little button face creasing around the eyes. “Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Rose, I need you to listen to me carefully.”

EPILOGUE

“Where are we going?” David asks, because he didn’t really get that information before hurricane Alexis blew through her too-small kitchen and he found himself fetched up in her car.

“We are all taking a field trip,” Alexis snaps. “We’re going to work.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Johnny says from the back seat beside David. “I didn’t - I didn’t mean fieldwork, really. More just that, you know, after careful consideration I thought I’d offer my business acumen. I think it would make a useful addition to your, err, team.”

He and David are crammed in knee to knee, because Alexis’s car, like her townhouse, is a flashy little number not meant to hold an entire family. But a few years back, Patrick apparently convinced her to put a couple of investments and a property in her name, so it and some dumb little town are all they have left. Apparently, someone from the government doesn’t like, show up to personally give you your money back just because you point out that someone took it and disappeared it into countries unknown.

“Okay, well, your business acumen has you sleeping in my spare room,” Alexis says, and changes lanes with more vigor than is required.

David is so, so tired of her couch.

“I really don’t know if it’s necessary for your mother to come with us,” Johnny says. “And certainly not your brother. He’s really not cut out for --” He trails off.

“David’s been to work with me before and he was fine,” Alexis says and takes a parking lot corner on two wheels so she can beat another car to an open spot.

“David, really,” Johnny says when they’ve pulled to a stop and they’re on four wheels again.

“My dear, sweet, baby,” Moira says when they’re out of the car, opening her arms and pulling David into her chest.

“Okay, no, we’re not doing this anymore,” Alexis says, and stomps off across campus.

“Really, Alexis, there’s no need for this charade,” Johnny says, as they all trail a very determined Alexis across campus. She ignores them as she stomps right up the stone stairs and into the biology building.

This is where I work,” Alexis says. Spinning around. Working her hands in an emphatic circle. “Here. On campus.”

Patrick, clearly having gotten David’s text, materializes. “How’s it going?” he asks.

“Well,” David says.”

“Hiding right in plain sight,” Johnny says. “Clever.”

Alexis screams.

“Ah,” Patrick says. “I see.”

Moira shakes her head. “Alexis, you have a thing or four left to learn about prop design. Your headshot on the faculty board doesn’t even match the way the real photos were shot.”

“Okay, well, that’s because I have a little something called taste,” Alexis says, “and I got Annie Leibovitz to do mine. I’m a biologist, not some kind of engineer.”

“Of course you are,” Johnny says, and pats her hand, and Alexis grabs him by the collar of his coat and literally drags him down the hall. “Where are we --”

“We are going to see the Dean,” Alexis says. “And maybe she can talk some sense into you.”

“You challenged her authority in public!” Moira calls. “Oh, John, did you learn nothing from the film noir revival I starred in?”

They trail along behind Alexis and Johnny as she drags them past a secretary who looks up at Alexis and exchanges a friendly wink. “She’s in,” the woman says.

“Ah, Alexis,” a harried-looking woman sitting behind a desk in the office says. Something about the way her eye twitches makes David think that Alexis bursts into her office on a semi-regular basis. “And--” she narrows her eyes at the rest of the people spilling into the room.

“Hi, Adrika,” Alexis says.

“Look, if this is about the hand soap in the washrooms again--”

“Adrika, you have no idea how much replacing that industrial sludge with something moisturizing and lavender-scented would improve the mood of literally every person in this building, but, no.”

David, looking around, realizes they’re in an office that’s fancy in the way some academic offices are, which is to say the windows are really big, which means this is probably --

“This is my family,” Alexis says. “Could you just - could you do them a favour, and tell them that I work here? That I work for you?”

“Okay,” David whispers to Patrick, “this woman seems surprisingly chill about all of this.”

“She works with Alexis every day,” Patrick says, and his lips are close to David’s ear.

David shivers, just a little, because - it’s cold in the Dean’s office, or something, you’d think she’d have the power to make sure her office wasn’t chilly.

“I don’t know if anyone really works for me,” Adrika says. “But technically…” She extends her hand.

“Ah,” Johnny says. He takes her hand and starts to raise it to his lips.

“What,” Adrika says.

“Um, what are you doing?” Alexis asks, and he freezes with Adrika’s hand partway to his mouth.

“I’m kissing her ring,” Johnny says, taking a closer look. “Her - class of '92 ring?” he says, taking a closer look at it. “Wait, this isn’t--”

Adrika laughs, but removes her hand from his grasp and puts her desk between them. “Now, people do say academia is a racket, but I’ve never had someone take it quite that literally before.”

“Wait,” Johnny says, and looks a little like he’s been hit over the head. “Wait, are you --” he asks the question to the room in general. Picks up the nameplate on the desk that says Dr. Adrika Patel. “Doctor Adrika. You’re - ”

“The Dean of Science,” Adrika offers.

“Dean.” Johnny stops. “Not - Don. And Alexis, she works here? On campus?”

“Oh, wow, you really weren’t kidding,” Patrick says.

Johnny clears his throat. “Doing - doing what, exactly?”

Adrika’s face finally cracks, just a little, eyebrow twitching.

“Oh my god,” Alexis says. She jerks her chin. “I am a glycobiologist. I do glycobiology, how many times do I have to tell you? It’s not HARD.”

“A structural glycobiologist,” David says, and she crinkles her eyes at him.

“You’re a - you’re a structural glycobiologist,” Johnny says.

The room is quiet for a second, for a minute, then Moira throws up her arms. “Well, why didn’t you just say so, Alexis, we’ve been worried sick!”

Patrick buries his face in David’s shoulder and laughs.

Alexis screams, just a little, but David catches her hand before she can storm out of the room.

“Yale does explain why you were living in New Haven,” Moira says. “Connecticut, really.” Hisses: “The Nutmeg State.”

“Do you sell bumper stickers?” Johnny asks. Asks the Dean of Science.

“I’d just like to point out that you don’t even have a car right now,” Alexis says.

“My child is an honour pupil at - what university are we at right now, anyway?”Johnny asks.

Adrika maintains eye contact while slowly putting on headphones and turning away.

“Oh my god,” Alexis says, and lets David pull her into a hug. “Oh my god,” she says again into David’s collarbone and Patrick laughs into his other shoulder. David bites his lip to keep from smiling.

“Oh my god,” David agrees, and Alexis pulls back and she rolls her eyes, but she smiles right back at him.