'It really makes a difference which way you eat a Kit Kat.'
Nakishdan looked at Mixt. 'Pardon?'
'If you don't eat it the right way, it doesn't taste right.'
'That doesn't make sense.'
'Yes it does. A Kit Kat comes in four fingers. If you break a finger off and put it in your mouth, that's fine. But if you just take a big bite from more than one finger, it doesn't taste right.'
'It's hard to believe a Kit Kat can change flavours depending on how you put it in your mouth.'
'You've never studied the subject,' said Mixt.
They were shopping for food before their group therapy, knowing they'd they'd be too stressed to do it afterwards.
'It's the same with polo mints,' continued Mixt. 'If you crunch it in half, it's hopeless. It only tastes right if you suck it whole.'
'Do you want gin?' asked Nakishdan, as he loaded eight bottles of sake into their shopping trolley.
'Yes. Two of these litre bottles. Are you buying that Japanese beer again? You know it's really brewed here in England?'
'I still like it,' said Nakishdan, stubbornly.
They pushed their shopping trolley towards the checkout.
'What about a Twix? That comes in two fingers. Would it taste wrong if you took a bite out of both at once?'
Mixt looked horrified. 'Of course. Who would even do that?'
Nakishdan paid at the checkout. Mixt didn't like to handle money, as the coins and notes had been touched by so many people. They wheeled their trolley through the car park towards Mixt's car.
'I wonder if Kit Kats were bigger in the 70s?'
Nakishdan considered this. 'Maybe. Chocolate bars do become smaller over the years. Next time we travel back in time, we should check.'
Mixt took off her coat as she settled behind the steering wheel. 'Do you like this t-shirt?'
It was the sixth time she had asked the same question. Nakishdan smiled kindly, like a good friend. 'Yes, I do.'
Mixt smiled back. 'Good. I like to be sure.'
The fairy and the ex-intelligence agent met as they arrived beneath the hidden arch at Vauxhall Station. Neither greeted the other. They stood in silence beneath the red brick dome, waiting. The man was expressionless. The fairy scowled. Rainith the Red didn't like to be kept waiting.
Even in her human form, Rainith was not tall, only slightly over five feet. Her long red hair hung over a shabby brown coat. Glade was unshaven, and wore the same dark green combat jacket as always.
The door opened behind them. Mixt and Nakishdan came in. Still no one spoke. They waited in silence in the bare, brick room. Mixt stared at the blue door in front of them. There was no point trying to open it; it was always locked. She too was irritated by being made to wait, though unlike Rainith, she didn't show it. Mixt had recently cut her blonde hair short. She looked boyish. Neither Rainith nor Glade commented on the change.
Nakishdan stared at his feet. For a second, his shoes flickered into a vibrant shade of pink, before turning black again. Nakishdan wore some very unusual clothes, but he normally used his powers to disguise them in public.
The blue door opened. Agent Duluth stepped out and greeted them. 'Sorry to make you wait. There have been some last minute complications.'
'You always have complications,' said Rainith. The pommels of two short swords peeped out from beneath her coat. 'Just show us the flying snakes and we'll kill them.'
Agent Duluth smiled, very faintly. 'It seems it was a false alarm. We're still checking it out, but headquarters are sure there are no flying snakes.'
The four hunters stared at Duluth. He noted their hostility, but took it calmly. 'It happens. We're sorry to have wasted your time.'
'Damn you,' muttered Rainith.
'You'll still be paid your call-out rate.'
The fairy scowled. So did Glade, the ex-secret agent. The call-out rate was a good deal less than they'd earn for completing a mission. Rainith the Red held out her hand. Unlike the others, she would not, or could not, be paid into a bank account. Rainith only accepted gold. Duluth took out a small purse and handed it to her.
'The agency appreciates your service. I'll see you again on Wednesday. Three of you, anyway.'
Glade, one time MI5 agent, now technically unemployed, nodded in Duluth's direction, though not quite at him. He turned and left. Glade's services would not be required on Wednesday. Unlike Mixt, Nakishdan and Rainith, he could not be sent back in time.
'Do you know where we'll be going yet?' asked Mixt.
'Presumably a gig in the 60s or 70s.'
'We knew that already. Which gig?'
'Does it matter?'
'We need to dress appropriately.'
Agent Duluth looked at Nakishdan. His black kimono hardly seemed appropriate for anything. 'Sorry. We can't tell in advance.'
Rainith the Red left without a word or a backward glance. Duluth nodded politely to Mixt and Nakishdan, then disappeared through the blue door. Mixt and Nakishdan lingered a few moments, having no wish to encounter either Glade or Rainith outside.
Mixt frowned. 'These people are always rotting us. They're rotters.'
'Well, if there's nothing to kill we can go home and watch TV.'
'We've got an assignment to complete.'
Mixt and Nakishdan attended group therapy together.
'We can do it in the morning. There's plenty of other people who can't wait to talk about their problems.'
Mixt put on her gloves to open the door, not wanting to touch the handle. Then she and Nakishdan exited the arch, into the cold grey south London street, heading towards the discretely hidden mansion they shared by the riverbank.
Group therapy was never enjoyable. Mixt spent half her time hating everyone there, and half her time wondering what would happen were she to tell the therapist the truth about her past. She'd be re-classified as insane, she supposed. Unless the therapist took it in good part, and admired her for her imagination. Mr Baker was quite an encouraging man, in his way.
Molly, the young woman with bandaged fingers, laughed as she recounted her struggles to stop washing her hands every ten minutes. The group laughed with her, appreciating her honesty. But suddenly, Molly stopped laughing, and began to cry.
'Oh God,' thought Mixt. 'Not again.'
Nakishdan looked uncomfortable. He didn't enjoy other patients' tears any more that Mixt. Besides, he was worried that the therapist might ask them about their assignments. They hadn't done them; Nakishdan hated to be told off about anything.
Mixt looked down at her hands. Like Molly, she suffered from a fear of touching things; anything in public was liable to be dirty and contaminated. She didn't suffer this as badly as Molly but she didn't like to think about it too much, in case thinking about it made it worse. Other symptoms had worsened. Without Nakishdan to help her, she'd barely be able to make it out the house, with her constant checking that the windows were closed and her keys were in her pocket. Mixt pursed her lips. She'd lived almost four thousand years without any serious mental problems, but the First World War had affected her badly. The amputation tent would have driven anyone insane.
'How have your symptoms been?' Mr Baker was talking to Nakishdan. 'Better?'
'Would you like to tell the group about it?'
Nakishdan shifted uncomfortably in his hard wooden chair. Group therapy was held in a old schoolroom, with a bare floor and ancient, dilapidated furniture. The council's mental health services were very poorly funded.
'I don't want to talk about it,' mumbled Nakishdan.