The Other Kind of Roommate

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Wed May 18, 2011 1:43 am

Well, this wasn't going to get him drunk. Either she'd watered it down in a final bid to terrorize him or he'd severely overestimated German advancements against sobriety. He tried again and waited. It didn't taste watered down and the bottle was new - unopened, anyway - so he supposed he would have to drink all of it and see where it got him. In the meantime, he had his choice of show. Madeline and the dumpy one were off to endure still more travelling, while March skipped the direct route to take the time to stab some other woman who'd been in the middle of God-knew-what with the Stewart girl.

Overreactions aside, because far be it from him to discourage a catfight when someone was nifty enough to put their hand through another's neck, but the most that situation had called for a was a swift kick to the face, and March was going to have to dig through a pile of paperwork Benoit didn’t envy her for on top of the mass rounds of explanations as to why she’d so willingly offed an Agent his lenses picked out as an – now former – A-3, unless she hid behind Eric for that as well, he had learned one thing he no longer needed to ask about: Eric’s suit-wearers were not here to serve as a defence. Likely not as an offence either, because those tended to come as part of the security deal. They proved as much by failing to intercept Stewart… escaping, or whatever had been going on, and the ten scattered around the floor and the four within grabbing distance of the girl had yet to move following the strongly one-sided scuffle. Information, then, was the name of their game. ‘Information for who’ was obvious, on who, on what, until when or why were questions that would have to be put to Eric directly. And he meant by someone else, because Benoit wasn’t interested enough to find out. If the reasons were protected – protected in the official sense, not in the A-2 ‘classified’ version – and if this not-quite-sure-if-it-was-working schnapps needed to be finished, and if this chair was too comfortable – so comfortable – to get out of, he’d simply have to be satisfied in knowing that they weren’t spying on him and, as such, didn’t actually matter.

Quin mattered even less to him, but on the other hand, he was waving a gun around. At an A-1. At Eric Patten, the A-1. At Eric Patten, ‘I am twenty feet taller than you are and my invisible bodyguard is on your left’. If the man wasn’t so clearly riding the high of having dealt with the Jason situation, which Benoit truly would ask about… eventually, then he might have handled this himself, too. Instead he took his phone from his pocket, idly pulled his attention away from Quin and his light-shooter, and neatly said, off-handedly, “Squiddie, bop ‘im for me.”

This show. Benoit picked this show.

Eric had waited until Quin made it to his last word before he’d given the order. Squiddie – real name protected, his lenses said, along with rank, ID, D.o.B and any other thing that might have hinted this person existed – followed his example, politely standing in place until the air cleared of her owner’s voice. What followed was an impressive display of movement, nearly instantaneous and brightly fluid in its execution, but Benoit was taking extra note of the fact that he was still faster than she was and he did it without an Agency suit. It was the only reason he felt comfortable around the ‘woman’. She rarely spoke, never unless asked, and to this date, he had no real proof that she wasn’t a robot. Eric enjoyed implying she was. This was more evidence towards that.

Three things occurred in that fair moment. First, she dropped the bag of crap the A-1 insisted she drag around. Second, her fading broke and she came into view. The third bit was more of a multi-step action: her elbow cracked into Quin’s, knocking his aim towards anything that wasn’t Patten; her steps fell into his steps, and she’d gone from beside the squirrel to in front of him; her arm – the one she hadn’t struck with, the left one – and her leg shot at his, her fingers grabbing his right ankle and her right leg sweeping the whole of his left off the ground; pulling the freshly captured foot inwards and upwards, Squiddie turned the Oompa Loompa horizontal in the air, and she followed through to stretch past him again, settling in to stand behind him and never loosening her hold on his limb; then finally, with less of the grace and more brute force than Benoit would have used or preferred, she yanked Quin completely upside-down and held him up by his tiny feet, inches above the bare floor. He hung there, swinging slightly until her grip tightened and put an end to any movement around her.

“On the count of using harsh language in and around Mr. Eric Patten’s personal space, you have earned... one bop.”

She bopped him. This consisted of her dropping him on his head, letting a sizeable thud strike through the room, then bouncing him off his skull so he was suspended again. Eric wasn’t watching it. He was listening, because bone-meeting-ground was one of his favourite sounds, but he was too busy tapping on his phone to watch.

“On the count of directing said language towards Mr. Eric Patten’s person, you have earned... one bop.”

Squiddie had an airy voice. The speaker in her mask filtered it into something close to metallic, but underneath, her voice was there. Eric had had it installed because she wouldn’t take it off. Whose idea that had been was entirely debatable. Considering it was a hardened, helmeted version of what any other suit-wearer would have had to cover their head, black and glossy holes in the front serving both as her interface and her only means of seeing out, he should have quickly been able to point the A-1. Then again, this was an Agency woman, and she’d not only volunteered to work for Eric, but she’d turned down the salary to go with it. Anyway, she bounced Quin off the ground again.

“On the count of using said language despite explicit warnings from Mr. Eric Patten, you have earned... one bop.”

That was the part that threw everyone off.

It was an undeniable fact that Eric wouldn’t go anywhere without his pet. He was attacked so often, it was a wonder he left home at all. So Eric’s story went, but Benoit had noticed a rather long list of his proudly reported deaths, suggesting he kept Squiddie on a leash to do petty shit like this rather than serve as a true guard. For those who knew about her, they were satisfied simply knowing she had no intent to interfere. It did not, unfortunately, mean she wasn’t there. In the first car, she had stayed in the trunk with her bag, rattling around when March started to drive. In the plane, she sat beside Eric’s seat and hung on to it during take-off. There had been room for her to legitimately sit when they switched to ride in the limousine, but she had opted for the floor and quietly slipped her bag on the seats instead. Invisible. He wondered if March knew about her. She hadn’t acted like it, but no one had. The fact that her pet had made no mention of it was embarrassing; Jason had a suit of his own and that was more than enough to let him see anyone else around who had faded. It came from familiarity with the technology. He supposed the boy had been distracted, but he hardly saw that as a decent excuse. And Madeline, of course, had no idea. Quin was learning the hard way. Eric had told him not to swear during that phone call on their flight. Squiddie was here to make doubly sure the message had been received.

“On the count of desiring Mr. Eric Patten’s death, you have earned... one bop.”

Aside from the headache or concussion or brain damage he would be stuck with when this was over, Quin shouldn’t feel too badly about earning that one. Benoit saw it as a freebie. The world was hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t have gotten it.

“On the count of attempting to correct Mr. Eric Patten’s interpretation of events, you have earned... one bop.”

“And another demotion, but I didn’t think I’d have to spell it out.” Squiddie paused at his words. Eric waved at her to keep going, adding in, “Worry about the forms after.”

“On the count of terminating Mr. Eric Patten’s five subord–”

“Y’know what? Skip that one. That’s more on Xander than on him.”

Truly, Eric’s mercy knew no bounds.

“On the count of attempting to intimidate Mr. Eric Patten, you have earned... one bop.”

“And he’s messing up the floor,” Eric sang.

Quin was bleeding. Whether it had rolled up from his earlier wounds or dripped from a new one entirely, there was a dark stain building in the spot where his head hit.

“On the count of vandalizing Agency facilities with your fluids,” was the response, “you have earned... one bop.”

“I’m blown away by you good sir,” Eric said, finally snapping his phone closed and putting it back in his pocket. “I never thought I’d meet someone who’d use the ‘do you know who my father is’ defence. I’m tempted to forgive you for pulling a gun on me just because you had the balls to say it! And what a twist – like... snack foods!” He laughed. “People get rich off of anything these days.”

“On the count of attempting to use Mr. Eric Patten’s words against him, you have earned... one bop.”

“As for me and Steph – why, Rudy,” Eric said. “Look at you, picking up on our super-secret, totally underground, 100% unverified beyond your uncanny insight into my and her relationships with other people, just like a spy! Bop him for that, Squiddie.”

“On the count of being like a spy, you have earned... one bop.”

“Now that that’s mostly water under the bridge, let’s get to what you wanted.” Eric started pacing. One of his arms was tucked across his chest, and the other’s elbow was resting on it, tapping a finger on his chin. “Thinking... Thinking... ‘Do we have a deal’? Do I want to make a deal? See – this is weird, I don’t usually put too much thought into it. I’m basically all about coming to a compromise even if that person has so rudely addressed me. I sort’f see it as my duty to make sure people get what they want when they ask, ‘cause if they’re coming to me – hoooo, they must be desperate!” Squiddie showed no signs of her arms tiring. If she – or if Eric – wanted Quin to hang there until eternity, she could do it. “Trouble is, the people who jump over usually have something I want. For that, I am disappointed, Rudy. The gifts you come bearing are lacking in the worst way. Stories about ‘me and Steph’? Sure, go ahead, I don’t care. Her and Jason? Heck – if it’d probably help me, why would I put a stop to it? As for her and – dammit, Rudy, stop saying his name so fast. Squiddie?”

“Graninger. On the count of failing to say a name at the appropriate speed, you have earned... one bop.”

His head was amazing. It looked like it was still in one piece.

“Making me have to ask twice.” Eric shook his head. Squiddie bopped Quin. “Like I was saying, as for her and –”

“Graninger.”

“– I actually asked about that before my dear friend Alex gave me a ring. You glossed over my innocent inquiry, and based on that, I’m forced to assume you’re either full of shit and that this guy probably doesn’t exist – which I doubt, ‘cause no one can lie with a face as honest as yours – or you’re not as quick to spill the beans as you would have otherwise led me to believe. So!” He clapped his hands and spun around excitedly, locked onto Quin as he slowly made his point. “What’s left from you? Leaving me alone? Aw – but Rudy, we were just getting to be friends!”

“On the count of not wanting to be Mr. Eric Patten’s friend, you have earned... one bop.”

Now she was making things up.

“I deal in people, Rudy. I have money, I have information and I have all the technology I could possibly want. What I don’t always have is the right man for every job.” He kindly gestured to his personal punisher. “Squiddie is not the social butterfly you think she is. I can’t send her to do any of that diplomatic ‘talking’ stuff ‘cause she’ll’ve murdered everyone by the time introductions were over. It’s what I love about her. You don’t have that, and unfortunately, you don’t exude the scent of skills that could make up for it. Depressing, yes, but not impossible to manage, because you have something I like to call ‘drive’. And you have it in spades! And in honour of that timeless trait, yes, I will make a deal with you. But not the one you’re thinking of, not yet.”

PATTEN.” Somehow, Benoit had known she was about to shriek. Part of it was because he had seen her walk to a wall out of the corner of his eye, and from the screen displaying the disaster March had made of her colleague, he had seen her flip a panel open and start pressing buttons. There were intercoms around here, it seemed. No one was safe. “YOU WILL TELL YOUR MEN THAT WHILE THEY INFECT MY HALLS, THEY WORK. CLEAN THIS UP.

“Would you listen to that,” Eric exclaimed, checking his watch. “Figured it out in only... four years, three months, three weeks and a day. Sure, do what she wants. And take Jason to the...”

“Sick bay,” Squiddie droned.

“Make sure he’s comfy!” Madeline’s cameras, even in their infinite invasion of privacy, managed to have blind spots. Benoit didn’t see the other faded minion until he walked into the room and grabbed Jason’s legs to drag him. Or, as far as Quin could tell, a ghost was doing it. “I’m thinking I should hold off on taking his suit. I’m digging the whole ‘I’m so guilty’ angle.” Eric thought about it. “Yeah... I’m gonna go with ‘guilty’. Sorry, Rudy, I keep getting interrupted. Where were we?” He tapped at his chin again. Apparently Quin hanging while he bled to death wasn’t enough to jog the man’s memory. “... Something... about... making a deal – right! Wow! Man, you’d think I’d had better stuff to think about with the way this thing is going! Ha, ha, ha! That’s not right at all! So anyway, here’s Deal 1.0 – we’ll talk about your other crap if this gets handled.” With the way his every gesture seemed so practised and in place, Benoit was caught between thinking Eric had either rehearsed all of this in advance or had been in these situations far, far more often than anyone wanted to say. “Bring someone I can use and I’ll take that as your actual bargaining chip. Then we can make a new deal, and depending on the quality and/or success of who you brought me for potentially another suicide mission, I’ll vary my willingness to laugh in your face the next time you come crawling to me and start waving a gun around. Or kill you – vary my laughing and me killing you. And as for Osono – weeeeeeell... I think I’ll just file that away for the next time something like this comes up. Not for any particular reason, mind you, but just in case I need to inform coworkers of an unsupervised, unclaimed target running around blowing people to high hell. Goodness. That’d make her sound kind’f dangerous, huh?” He shrugged. “Ah, well. Toodles, poodles! Got me some evil shit to do!” Then he wiggled his fingers and walked away.

Squiddie dropped Quin. She faded the instant he hit the ground and stalked after her owner. Jason was already dragged halfway down the hall by this point. His legs were going to be sore in the morning. Granted, it could have been worse, but he sympathized nonetheless, up until the point where his lenses flashed.

Proximity alert. Alexander was in the city. Knowing the guest, even if they had a full idea of where to go from here – which, judging from the length of time it took to get here versus the actual distance, appeared not to be the case – all that bitching he’d heard from the vault when Madeline eavesdropped on their conversation meant Benoit had a good hour before he had to move. This was good news, because he took back everything he said about the Germans as their sneaky, sneaky drink hit him at last, so he was going to stay here and spin around in this incredible chair because God he loved this chair so much.

* * *

He almost wasn’t ready to leave the highway. The asphalt and railings had gotten so familiar that he exit brought a wash of bile through his throat. He didn’t know what the point of that was. He’d had plenty of time to get ready for the impenetrable fear of the impending doom from walking into the Charlton base and it was too late to start complaining because everything had started coming together. Osono had put the point on it: what else was there to add? He’d had his time to throw out a sensible, ‘hey, you two, I’m glad you’re ready to finish this, but could someone explain what the fuck are we doing?’ In the face of her determination, Alex could’ve found a way to talk her out of it and Xander, if she dropped out, might’ve seen sense in waiting longer. Thanks to that phone call...

“Yeah, Elmira. That’s gonna be stop number two.” He didn’t add that the city was in the exact opposite direction. They weren’t getting another chance on this, so everyone had to stay focused. “There’s a short list of steps we have to handle before we can get to her there. We’ve got to take care of this first.” Meaning the Agent. “Xander?”

Sup.

That’d been... strangely upbeat.

“We’re here,” he said.

Looks like.

“We need you to act like Peter again.”

Mm-hmm.

... The call had only been ten minutes ago. Alex hadn’t complained when the hellish pounding in his head had cut short and switched to a light tingle in his spine, but he felt a look of distress come over his face as he realized he was a dumbass for not saying anything. Xander didn’t go from ready to rip the road apart to mellow and content unless... never. He didn’t. So...

“Are you... okay with that?”

Noooooooooooooooooooo. I’m busy.

... What the hell.

“Uh.” This could have been a stupid question to ask, but... “With what?”

I am having an epiphany.

And then the tingle in his spine became a gentle, satisfied hum. Alex said to himself again: what the hell?

“You’re – ” He stopped. He paused. Then he asked, “Huh?”

I am enlightened, Alex. I have reached a plane of knowledge known only to a chosen few.

... Yes. And Alex bet they all sounded crazy as hell, too.

“That’s... good for you.” He pointed at a side road after that – immediately after that – because it looked like it led to a small parking lot behind a building. It was coming up on their left and looked, from the thin angle he could make out, dark and shadowy. He had a knack for hiding spots. Since they were going to be ‘handling’ one of Peter’s people, they could probably use the privacy. “Let’s go in there. It feels deserted.” The whole town did. It was warmer and redder than the sterile white-grey-steel Elmira, but it was late in the evening and everyone had gone. The streets were... “What is it, Xander?”

Don’t you want to hear my enlightenment?

“... Not really, but thanks.”

It’s very good enlightenment, Alex. I’ve learned something. I’d like to share it with you.

Alex was drawing a lot of breaths right now. It might’ve had to do with the clear feeling of Xander, more intense than he could’ve pulled off if he’d had a separate body, staring unblinkingly at the back of Alex’s thoughts. It could’ve also been the sound of his voice having landed perfectly in the center of Cindy, Peter, and a serial killer who’d gotten a lobotomy and wasn’t just thrilled about it, but perky. He couldn’t remember a single thing Xander had done that hadn’t scared him or made him nervous, but he could count on one hand the number of times the guy had genuinely creeped him out. ... This was one of them.

“Please go back to your uncontrollable fury,” he said.

Silly Alex. I’m beyond that now.

Reason 472 for why they shouldn’t’ve called Peter: this.

“Xander, snap out of it,” he said, steadying his leg as the car pulled into the tiny lot. He’d been right. The place was empty. Better, there was a fence around it and trees pressed up against that, thick and leafy and the best cover they could get when they were sitting outdoors. “If we park in the corner, we’ll be practically invisible. We can –”

All my life I’ve wondered what it’s like to be angry. The hum was slowly turning into light pinpricks. No, that was wasn’t messed up at all. And the ice down his back? Normal. Definitely. Sometimes I thought I got close. Now I understand it’s beyond what the mind can understand.

“It sounds like Children on the Corn meets Barney on meth,” Alex muttered.

No, jackass. It’s skull-fucking horror meets the cruel of excuse of death and rage, Xander said, normally. But then he went back to using the voice that made him sound like he was a sewing a coat of skin together for a dog, and in this example, everyone had to just assume the dog was dead and had been dead for a while. Was he being specific enough about how... weird this was? I can see it, Alex. I can see the true face of wrath.

“That’s good. When you talk to the Agent, I know you’ll be very convincing about it.” In the meantime, he turned and stretched to sneak up with strap of his bag from the back. “I’ve got rope in here.” Xander was on another planet, so Alex was talking solely to Osono. “I want to tie her up in case she tries something. I don’t trust her or any of them, even if we act the part.” They were going to have to come up with an explanation for it, though. “Any suggestions –”

Say Sparky did it to fuck with her a little more, Xander said. That tone made it sound like Alex was giving him a headache. It was a big improvement. Payback for fighting, punishment for fighting, just for the hell of it, how do you not know how to do this by now?

“He says we can explain the rope by saying you tied her up,” Alex relayed. “You’re the bad cop.”

There’s a certain point – Was he still talking? – that a guy can hit where everything on this planet turns. The sun boils, the oceans bleed, children drown on the shores of futility and the only things you can think about are how much you hate everyone breathing and how they’ll never die enough for a death for you to find peace. How adorable. Headache gone, enlightenment back in. There’s more. Oh, Alex definitely didn’t expect any less. There’s a point beyond that point, Alex. That’s where Peter is.

“Beyond drowning kids in blood oceans?” He had the rope and the courtesy to tell Osono, “This conversation is exactly as messed up as it sounds. Don’t forget to act like you did at that office.”

He opened the car door, but he hesitated again. Getting out meant moving his foot and moving his foot meant excruciating pain. He was going to have to deal with it eventually, but the twitching had only stopped an hour ago. Add that to Osono having done a decent job at keeping the car steady, and he was finding less and less motivation to do anything. Maybe the rope would work as a cast. What did he need for that? Sticks?

Alex.

“For fuck’s sake, what?”

I know how to beat him, Alex.

“Is it with a brick or are you gonna say his name like you’re stroking a doll of his hair, too?”

I’m going to destroy his soul.

... Xander said it so honestly that it was hard not to instantly believe him, even with the tilted voice and – “Stop touching my hair.” Great, so pens weren’t his biggest threat anymore. Now that he’d opened his fat mouth, he had to watch for his-hair goats having sex with his-hair horses.

You’ve got a shit-poor grasp on how the animal kingdom works.

“And yours is too damn thorough,” Alex shot. “Destroy it how? Why his ‘soul’?”

So if he comes back, he’ll be too fucked up to survive. Xander’s teeth were baring. He could hear them reaching out for flesh. Dumb fuck should’ve never answered that phone. He pulled me to his level for one terrible instant, and now I know how he thinks.

“That’s the great thing about enlightenment, I guess.”

I’ve been building up a full list of shit to piece together when I had the time, he said, getting excited. This road-trip? It gave me time. I don’t know what Peter’s full plan is, but he said enough for me to pick a starting point.

“Which is?” His foot twitched. “And not to distract from this or anything, but could you help me out over here?”

Bitch, you didn’t even try to do it yourself. I’m not your damn servant.

“It’s broken,” Alex said. “It’s not like I can walk on it.”

Get your ass up and get the hell out of this car, Xander said. I have to as least see you stand before I can decide what to do with it when I’m out.

“Well, because you asked so nicely...” He undid his seatbelt and pushed the door open the rest of the way. And winced. “About Peter?”

He’s got a project in motion. We’re making things tricky? It’s gonna get worse.

“Messing up his plan is probably only going to annoy him. If that.” He put his hand on his knee. He was going to pull it up and slowly lower it to the ground. “He took the murdering pretty well.”

I’ll see how it goes. Xander sounded confident. He’s put a lot of effort in so far. I doubt he’ll be as cheery once I fuck it up to high hell.

“Effort into what?”

His project.

“You already know what it is?”

... You don’t?

“... No?” Xander’s disappointment was impressive. “How am I supposed to know?”

Alex, what’s two plus two?

“Huh?”

Alright – so that tells me everything I need to know. Hey! Get up. Before I break your other foot.

He wouldn’t, but Alex moved. Crap the pain hit him, starting as soon as his ankle had to hold up its weight half an inch off the ground. The faint numbness of the part Xander still controlled was no help – I’ll let it go, then. – but he appreciated it all the same. It just wasn’t enough for him to concentrate and hold his leg still so his foot didn’t swing, and as it got higher – ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, Xander do something please!

One and an eighth of a second. Pathetic.

A heavy hit of nothing burst through his limb. The thing was completely dead to him, all the way up to his hip. He could feel the gnawing shocks still clawing at his gut, but on the whole, the relief of it nearly brought a tear to his eye. He refilled his lungs, gave a quick look to Osono to make sure she was getting out too, then put his hands on the side of the door and hoisted himself up. And it was longer than a second and an eighth.

I’m sorry, did I hurt your pride? A second and a ninth, how’s that? Alex’s leg clunked out of the car. Yeah, thanks, just slam it on the ground, that’s perfect.

“Sorry.”

He couldn’t help it. Pain-free was amazing, but it was like he was dragging a midget around now.

You’re lucking I’m psyched about fucking him over, otherwise I’d smack you. Xander considered this. The first part, thankfully. I think I’m gonna cackle maniacally for a while. I might drool on your shirt.

“If you hang onto my foot, you can do what you want,” Alex said, getting his balance back.

That was the cue for a roll of rabid, uncontrollable laughter to erupt from Xander’s corner. From the sounds of it, he was enjoying a serene vision of everything he was going to do when he met back up with his ‘friend’. Peter’d picked the wrong guy to piss off.

“Let’s get ready,” he said. “Pop the trunk.”

* * *

I hate you.

Running and running and round and round and running and running and round and round...

Stuck in a fuckin’ tank, inches from havin’ our minds pulled out our asses, and you want t’run on th’hamsta wheel. Dopey bitch...

Running and running and round and round and running –

So’m guessin’ it is too hard for you t’pretend to give a shit about wha’s’appenin’ to us? Not as though’m tryin’ t’cut into your playtime, but – oh yeah – they’re gonna fuckin’ kill us!

She knew, she knew, he wouldn’t stop saying it. Nothing they could do, they were trapped, but they had a wheel to run on. Running and running and round and round... but he didn’t like the wheel.

Y’know... I think I might’ave a tic. Every time I come out, I get a twitch on me face and it doesn’t stop. Y’know where I think’at’s comin’ from, banshee?

No.

From you. From you – from bein’ stuck with you, ‘cause out’f thirteen otha littl‘elpless souls, I get with th’twat who can teleport but’s got a fuckin’ death wish she wants finished first. And now I’ve got a tic. You gave me a tic – I am gonna die in some kid’s body with an idiot crowdin’ this new head, and I am going t’die with a tic. You might think that’s petty, banshee, but I swear t’you that havin’ a tic on top’f all this makes everything much worse.

Yes. He wouldn’t stop talking about it.

Oh dear! Is my desperate need t’escape with my fuckin’ life startin’ t’grate on your precious nerves?

Yes.

Oh, piss off and get back t’work tryin’ to teleport.

She’d tried. She’d tried she’d tried she’d tried.

Well, four times is th’most you can do, what can I say, at least y’tried.

She might have been crazy, but she knew what sarcasm was.

I hate you.

He wouldn’t stop saying it.

She liked it here. It was peaceful. She liked the water. It was blue. The air came from the big pipe at the top. That big pipe kept the tank from sinking any deeper. The food came from the big pipe on the left. It was beside the table and chair and kept the tank from swinging that way. The garbage went through the pipe to the right. It was beside the toilet and sink and it kept the tank from swinging that way. It was simple. She could understand. She liked the way it looked. The tank was clear and she could see through every wall. She couldn’t see to the bottom of the water because there was too much, but she didn’t mind. He minded. He wanted to know how far away the surface was. She couldn’t see to the top of the water, either. He couldn’t swim. She didn’t know how long he could hold his breath. Here was safe. Here she had a hamster wheel. It was big enough to run on. It was fun. She had been on it all day. She knew it was all day because they had a clock. He didn’t like that clock. He hated the hamster wheel the most.

I want t’get out’f here, banshee. He said it slowly. She was happy on her wheel. I don’t want some prick takin’ my powers’n walkin’ off with them. You’re too stupid t’figure it out, but you don’t want that. You want t’get out’f here and run around a real field where there’s lots of hamsters –

She didn’t like hamsters. She only liked their wheel.

Fuckin’ dammit stupid bitch get th’fuck off th’fuckin’ wheel!

Bell chime!

Glorious! Th’doctor! This’s exactly what I wanted at this particular time.

The doctors didn’t come into the tank. One had tried, a long time ago. It had taken a day to clean the mess. He had been tired after. The doctors learned not to come in. The doctors used a TV to talk to them. The TV was at the bottom of the water. The ground lit up and she could see it through the tank’s clear floor, and the doctor’s face would light up and they would talk and their face would be big and they would have a conversation. The bell chime meant they were coming to talk. She liked talking to them. It meant she didn’t have to talk to him.

Listen.

Not again. Not more.

Listen. She had to listen. She couldn’t get away. I’ve been thinkin’ about th’logic of havin’ us down here. I can’t swim – She knew. – and it makes sense t’stick me someplace where that’d be a problem, but they must know you’re not afraid to. So why bother with th’tank at all? Why not stick us in th’air or somewhere we’d both get cut off?

She didn’t know. She didn’t want to hear more of his plans.

I’ll tell y’why, he said. I think it’s th’only thing they have on us. F’some reason, keepin’ us in dirt, keepin’ us in a metal room, keepin’ us hangin’ from th’sky were turned down, an’ they instead spent ‘ow much money makin’ this ridiculous box...

She didn’t care.

Don’t get it? Can’t you – for one quick sec – understand what’m tryin’ t’say? This is our only weakness! That’s got t’be it! There’s not even any guns around ‘cause they know we can’t get out’f this place! We have t’get away from the water, and then we’ll be free –

They would be trapped.

No, no, no, y’stupid –

With each other.

... Oh. She was right. Well – maybe f’now! I can honestly think’f a few worse things.

Like what?

I dunno – dying comes t’mind, he shouted. We can’ave all the time we want on th’outside, but in here, we’ve got clocks tickin’ down! I don’t what otha powers you know we have – ones we can’t use anyway, or at least you can’t – but I’m positive we can get out on our again if we just get out’f here. Come on, banshee! Help me out!

She couldn’t teleport.

You’re gonna keep tryin’ ‘cause you’ve got nothin’ better t’do, he said. ‘Til then, I’m carryin’ us out. If I’ve got t’blast through every one of their heads, I will.

He wasn’t going to explode his way out. He didn’t have the energy.

Then I guess you’ll be lookin’ for some strawberries, ay? So? Are we doin’ this?

She had no choice.

Damn right you’ve got no choice. I’ve’ad about enough of this.

How would it work?

Play sick.

They already played sick.

Yeah – and he gave th’word t’drag us t’the medic the instant he caught word of it, didn’t ‘e? If Patten’s so desperate t’protect his assets, he’s not gonna risk us cryin’ wolf and meanin’ it.

They would work harder to make sure they couldn’t get out.

I expect as much. He was thinking. Okay. Okay – got it. We say our powers’re missin’.

Why?

Two reasons, he said. One, it makes sure we’re conscious. I don’t want ‘em druggin’ us’n’testin’ our vitals in our sleep. It’ll defeat th’whole purpose and we don’t have time f’that. But two, more importantly, we can stall.

But they would know they were trying to use their powers. They would be prepared.

It’s not a perfect plan, he admitted. It’s th’best we’ve got, though. It’ll work. The bell chimed again and he didn’t like it. That’s th’minute warning. They had warnings to make sure they were ‘decent’. Play sick. We can’t say we made progress and risk pullin’ out a talent we don’t actually have. We’ll say I lost mine. Mine’s louder. You keep tryin’ t’teleport.

She would help, but she wouldn’t be much help.

I know. I really know. He was upset. If there’s anything t’be grateful for, it’s’at at least we’re alone t’plan this. Can’t imagine how impossible it’d be otha’wise. Two chimes. The doctor was arriving. Good luck, banshee. Don’t mess this up.

She should have told him about the third voice. She didn’t want him to lose hope. She already lost hers. Now all she had now was her wheel.

* * *

Gary was staying very quiet. He did nothing anyone could say ticked them off. He breathed through his nose, he walked toe-heel, he kept a safe but reachable distance to make sure everyone knew he wasn’t freaking out and was a sneeze away from wetting his pants and he never, ever, ever tried asking the understandable question of, ‘WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED? Are you serious – did that happen – what happened happened in his eyes?’ Because that was rude, or something, and he knew it was ‘cause Jason always got after him for stuff like that. Finally, the stuffy kid’s stuffiness had paid off, or else he wouldn’t’ve had a clue about – “Oh my God she’s not dead!

She was getting up! She was getting up, getting up, and no one else was going nuts over this! Why weren’t they going nuts?!

“IT’S PATTEN’S TOYS, IMBECILE.” Madeline Bergmann didn’t look like wanted to waste time explaining. She had a hand on her hip and a glare in her eye and she was looking at his pants but why was she looking at – “WIPE YOUR FEET.” Then she turned and went back to leading the way to the elevators. Gary was gonna catch up in a sec, but he needed a minute to...

... minute to...

There’s blood on my shoes! There’s blood on my shoes, I stepped in the A-3 – THERE IS BLOOD ON MY SHOES!” Get it off get it off get it off get it off get it off he bolted for the closest carpet he could find and scraped his sneakers over every inch they could reach –

“DUMMKOPF!” Now Madeline sounded really ticked! “GET AWAY FROM MY CARPETS WITH YOUR FILTHY TOES.”

Oh man, he’d smeared A-3 all over them and even in the weak, orange light and the fact that these things were black, he could totally see the mess he was making out’f them. He leapt back and started dabbing more prints on the floor, but now he had nowhere to wipe them ‘cause he couldn’t use the carpet but there was blood on his shoes and he had to get it off!

“I’m sorry!” He had to say it! If Stephanie was fine with offing an A-3 – Noel something, Noel something, he remembered the face but he couldn’t remember the name because his mind was trapped in a frozen block of terror – then Madeline was a good itch from the right mood for getting rid of a lowly A-10 she definitely knew was only tagging along because he wanted to see this thing but was now seriously considering if he was in over his head with. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

“STOP WHINING AND HURRY UP.” And he was right by her side because that was what she wanted! “GET AWAY FROM ME, YOU IDIOT. YOUR BREATH SMELLS LIKE PROCESSED CHEESE.” So now he was away – he was far away – whatever Madeline wanted he’d do and if Stephanie blinked the tiniest bit, he’d be there doing anything he asked – oh crap, he was going to die – this was why he didn’t do the stuff that meant he had to go outside – he was screwed and scared and – “WALK.”

He was walking! He could do that, he’d been walking his whole life! He was – just... well, even in his panic, he couldn’t help noticing they were missing someone important right now, and even though she’d been so nice to him and even given him a hug, he had no idea if Stephanie’d be cool with him talking because she’d come out of the bathroom acting a hundred percent different...

“A-Agent March?” Half of it was fear, half of it was trying to tell himself to think about how lucky he was to see someone like her do her work and do it on somebody who wasn’t Gary. “We’re supposed to be waiting –”

“NO MORE WAITING.” Madeline brought them to their destination. She didn’t really wait for them to get there before she breezed past all the elevators to head for the back wall and... and find a secret box-panel-thing to open and flip a switch – oh man – Madeline had a private elevator! Were they all going in? Could they fit? Some of his excitement bubbled up again but she crushed it when she went back to staring at his pants – “WIPE YOUR FEET.”

But... he’d already... Oh God there was more blood on his shoes! How could there be more blood on his shoes – there was another pile right behind him and he’d just walked through it because he couldn’t see in this light and it was so dark in here and it was getting late and the sun was setting and who was leaving all this stuff around here anyway?! And Madeline didn’t even care! She hadn’t blinked when Stephanie had dished out a firsthand – HA, HA, HA – demonstration of her crazy... crazy thing – he was shaking but he missed not getting a picture and that was a horrible thing to say in his head when someone had died – before she’d found a speaker and yelled at Eric to do stuff about it.

“I’m so sorry, Agent Bergmann,” he pleaded. “I’m not doing this on purpose!”

“YET STILL YOU STEPPED IN ALL THREE POOLS.” Her arms were crossed, but she took one out to point at the puddle a tiny bit beside his heels. “THAT ONE TWICE. CONGRATULATIONS.”

... Three?

“Wait! Where...” He wasn’t supposed to be asking question, so shut up, Gary! Shut up! “Where’s the third one?”

“ON THE STAIRS.”

Yup, she totally said it like it was an everyday thing. She didn’t even stop to turn around from putting a code into the secret box-panel. It caught him off-guard a little, but he recovered fast enough to blurt out, “Agent Bergmann?”

“WHAT?”

Okay, that was a bad sign. Gary should keep his mouth shut now but – “Who put blood on the stairs?!” Man, he could not be making this worse by getting any shriller. He was like a pudgy Mickey Mouse! And she turned her head like she was gonna swallow him in a bite because –

“MY CAT.” ... She smiled about it. Gary smiled back, too. It stopped him from following up with a peppy, ‘What kind of pets are you keeping here?!’ Then the elevator opened and she said, “GET INSIDE.” Gary started heading in – “YOU. YOU ARE NOT BRINGING YOUR SHOES.”

His shoes were off his feet so fast, it was like they’d evaporated. Really, he’d just kicked them off into the corner, just as quickly filled with the tearful regret of messing up her building some more but – uh... problem solved because they started floating in mid-air what was happening in this place there was way too much excitement in here and he didn’t know how much more he could handle.

“So...” He pointed at the floating shoes. They were moving fast. “You have ghosts...?”

“PATTEN MAKES HIS SPIES WEAR SUITS.”

Was he clean enough? Were his feet okay? He hoped so, because he hopped into the elevator after her, crushing himself up against the wall to make sure Stephanie and Gwen Stewart had as much room as they needed to get in.

“Hey,” he said. Her head snapped to look at him. Her smile was long gone but he’d just thought of something. “They have to be ghosts. They’re invisible!”

“AGENCY TECHNOLOGY PERMITS A MANIPULATION OF THE MIND –”

“No, no, I mean – I know –” ... Did... uh... He wasn’t sure, but did he... just interrupt an A-2...? Talk faster, talk faster – she might not notice! “It’s just that I work with someone who wears a suit –”

“THE SICK ONE.”

“Right, exactly – so... I know how the fading stuff is supposed to work,” Gary said. “I can... well – I can actually see the people. You’re supposed to build up an immunity to the trick after a while and it’s been a while for me.” She had ghosts. There were ghosts in her building. Don’t call a priest because he couldn’t get in here past all the ghosts. “Whatever that was, that’s not a suit. Not – uh... not a normal suit.”

Madeline looked like she was frowning less. Still frowning, though.

“INTERESTING. SHUT UP NOW. MARCH, GET IN. BRING YOUR GIRL.”

“What’s at the top of this thing?” He said ‘top’ because there weren’t any down buttons.

“MY HELICOPTER. SHUT UP.”

“You have a helicopter?!” He’d never been in a helicopter! They were going in a helicopter – it was helicopter time! “Well, alright! I’m – ow –”

She slapped him in the beard!

“ONE MORE WORD AND I SEND YOU TO MY CAT.”

... Okay... The one that left blood everywhere and she seemed to be proud about...

“I’ll –”

“WHAT DID I SAY?”

He shut up. As his reward, she didn't hurt his beard again. Baby steps, Gary. He'd eventually - oh man, she frowned like she could hear his thoughts so he stopped thinking -

* * *

“Nice knots, Bettie Page, but you didn’t have to go all bondage on her. She needs to breathe to talk.”

“She’ll manage,” Alex said, shuffling back from his handiwork. It seemed sturdy. “Everyone does.”

“Everyone spits out tiny gasps of information I have no need for because I really don’t give a shit what they have to say. For once, I’d like a clear answer before I kill someone. By the way, I’m killing her. Heads up.”

“We’re playing it safe. Do whatever you want after we make sure we have the right address.” They needed to get to Gwen and they had to beat whatever timer Peter’d put on getting Xander back to his real body. He didn’t know if it was a bluff or not. If they truly were playing it safe, they’d get back in the car and go straight to Elmira, because the sheer knowledge the guy had been in the same room as the real Xander at any point in time should’ve been enough to kill their hope at doing this. Who was to say there was a body anymore? And if Alex was honest, if it’d been him plotting everything, he wouldn’t’ve bothered at all. Xander was getting weaker, and although there was the chance Peter didn’t know, the French guy had been around from the beginning and the news had to have spread from him. Xander wasn’t hiding that he thought that was the point, that Peter was trying to draw him in to make sure he got his berserker back before he disappeared. It changed the air around this. It meant this wasn’t a spur of the moment ‘take advantage of the situation’ deal. It’d been planned by someone who knew what they were walking into and the consequence for messing something up. They wanted their ex-Agent back and they sounded prepared to pull it off, but through it, there’d been a few things suspiciously overlooked. “She’s not waking up.”

They’d be fine. What Xander hadn’t answered... Alex was being paranoid. They’d be fine.

“I’ve gotta stop overestimating everyone’s tolerance for this thing.” Yeah, who knew frying someone’s mind could be so effective? “Wake up! Some of us have shit to do.”

It’d taken fifteen minutes for Alex to be satisfied the Agent was properly tied. He hadn’t taken her out of the trunk the entire time, and she’d been turned up and over as he got her arms, legs, neck and torso immobilized. He’d been banking on the rope being the one thing that wouldn’t disappear if she tried that vanishing trick of hers, but now that it was finished and he could loom over her, it was obvious she wasn’t going anywhere, magic act be damned. It didn’t mean squat if she wasn’t awake to try it.

“I’ve got a water bottle in my bag.” He didn’t expect it to do anything, though.

“Too bad I can’t just punch her in the face. Turns out that’s not the cure for mental trauma.” Xander took over Alex’s hand and poked at the woman’s eye. “Think a double dose’d work?”

“If I’m stupid for saying ‘fight Agents with Agents’, you’re stupid for thinking ‘more seizures will fix seizures’.”

“They could cancel each other out,” Xander countered. “You don’t know, you’re not a doctor.”

“Or you could kill her,” Alex re-countered, “because ‘look at me, six years and I still don’t know how these powers work’.”

“To be fair, I haven’t had a lot of practise with controlled application.” He was opening the Agent’s eye. “Just a tiny jolt –”

“No!”

Alex could imagine this. In Starbucks, he’d been asked if he’d put any thought into what would happen once they split up. ‘Xander would stick around’. No problem. Except for the not-so-simple time-lapse between Xander getting into his body and Xander then leaving. For all the input he’d had until now, the guy hadn’t done a lot to explain what it’d be like. The re-transfer process... He didn’t even know how long it was going to take. He’d have to be defended, he understood that, but when it was done, how was Alex supposed to get up? Could he move right away? Was there another... coma he’d have to go through? And that was on the simple side of things. Whatever effects he ran into, he had to quintuple it for Xander. Six years outside his body... There was no guarantee he’d wake up right away. How long did they have to wait for that?

“We could hit her with the car,” Xander said. “That’s always a good alarm.”

“We’re not hitting her with the car.” How did that make sense?

“We could break her legs,” he suggested instead. “Snap an arm, crack a rib...” He waited like he expected Alex to jump on board. “... No go?”

“Pain makes you pass out, Xander. I’ve got six different anecdotes to prove it, and they all starred you,” Alex said. “We’re not torturing her.”

“I didn’t say ‘torture’.” Just heavily implied it. “She’s unconscious and she’s either coming out of it on her own or we need to hit her with a shot of adrenaline. Soooooo... start the car.”

“You’re not running over her,” Alex said. “If it’s adrenaline she needs –” Which, despite his ideas for how to get it, sounded like an okay plan. “– there’s other ways to get it.”

“... Like setting her on fire?”

“Not –”

“It’d be controlled and regulated by someone with express insight into skin’s flammability,” Xander pointed out.

... Alex still remembered that. He pushed it down. It took some effort.

“We’re not setting her on fire, either,” he said.

“Well – I’m not waiting ten hours for this bitch to have her beauty sleep. Get her ass in gear, monkey butt.”

They hadn’t talked about it. But he was being paranoid. It couldn’t be a real issue if it hadn’t been brought up by now. Xander likely had some secret plan stashed away he just hadn’t bothered sharing because he never did. Or because he was distracted by the brand-new level of immense and total satisfaction that’d swept over his old undertone of wild loathing for the Agency. The guy was the only one with a spark still flickering brightly. Alex was tired. Osono seemed tired. Everything Gwen must have been going through... He could almost hear the echo of the few words she’d reached him with. She’d be okay. She’d make it. ... But Elmira wasn’t going away.

“Ten minutes,” he said. “We smacked her, we shook her and she’s bound to be close to shaking it off by now.” The blast hadn’t been so intense that it’d keep her down for days. “We’ll wait ten minutes and then we’ll –”

“I’ll get the engine running.”

“And then we’ll consider alternative options,” Alex scolded. “Settle down. Save it for Peter.”

“I’m not hitting Peter with a car.” But he thought about it. A second later, he murmured to himself, “Or should I?”

Ten minutes also gave him another short rest to enjoy. He reached a hand to rub his forehead, grateful that his leg was taken care of but annoyed that every other injury was now clamouring to take the spotlight. He leaned against the backlights of the Audi and let out a breath.

“Step one’s complete. Step two, we get the address. Step three, we get to the base.” Step four, step five, step six... “This is gonna be a long night.”


Last edited by Tartra on Mon Jul 23, 2012 12:08 am; edited 6 times in total
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Mon May 23, 2011 1:14 am

What the hell is a Squiddie? Rudy didn't have long to wonder about it when he became aware of someone else in the room with them and understood that this was the person who Patten had been talking to. And they were fast - he learned that right away when his gun was knocked out of line - and before he had a moment to even react, he was swallowing his heart as he sailed through the air and flipped upside down. He barely had time to adjust to his new orientation before the invisi-Flash person spoke and promptly answered the question of "What does 'bop' mean?"

Pain wasn't really something new to him at this point, having carried it on his back like a parasitic brother ever since he'd left the hotel with Gwen Stewart this morning. But he was still able to reach new heights of it when he was slammed head first into the ground. Oddly enough, as the top of his skull pounded and he blinked his bruised eyes rapidly, there was really only one thing on his mind as he listened to the semi-mechanical but vaguely feminine voice coming from the person holding him.

Wait...that's a chick? He wasn't even really listening to what she was saying as he sort of tried to peer up in her direction, his mind reeling and his neck and jaw jarring harshly as he met the floor for a second time. Oh God... This...is so fucking hot!

On the third or fourth "bop", he dropped his gun, the thing clattering to the ground and falling apart like a bunch of Legos, and the tiny metal pieces dematerialized neatly back into the small trigger handle that he carried around. His arms stayed awkwardly hovering about level with his rib cage at first, but then as more trauma was administered to his brain, they hung limply by his head. Thus, the positioning put an extra strain on his already reopened bullet wound, pain lancing through his shoulder and blood drooling from it, down his collarbone and neck. But he didn't care.

In addition to the agony rippling from his skull in jagged waves, Rudy experienced a confusing blend of fear and arousal every time his head made contact with the ground. He simply could not focus on the stuff she was saying with what he was currently going through - although he really tried, getting off on the fact that he was being punished, yet again, by someone of the female gender. So, he was more or less left with a swirling mixture of incoherence and pain-filled pleasure as she continued to scold and discipline him about something-whatever.

Yeah-yeah! Bop me again! UGH! Ohhhhhh...fuuuuck... okay...that's...e..nough... wait... maybe just...one more..time... He honestly didn't know what he wanted, feeling excited and yet everything hurt so freaking bad. Which only made him MORE excited. All he knew was, if she kept going like this, he was either going to climax or pass out. Possibly both.

Drunken with ecstasy, he sobered quickly to realize that Patten was still here - for a little while there, he'd been lost in a world where it was just him and her; she saying things and him blissfully enjoying not listening to her. Quin really struggled for focus when he heard Eric's voice and had to fight for it again every time Miss Sexy Dominatrix decided to punctuate the A-1's displeasure with another attempt to crack his skull open. But it was REALLY hard - that's what she said - and despite the comforting nature of Patten's tone, he found himself incredibly unsettled the more the man went on.

He'd screwed up...again. His plan really seemed perfect for getting what he wanted, despite the fact that he barely knew Patten and he hadn't really talked to Stephanie in years. So...they weren't together? Well, that was just really screwy, because that Jason douche totally thought they were fucking. Not really having anything else to bargain with except the possibility of Stephanie not wanting people to know about her past, he'd latched onto what was possibly the biggest weakness the A-1 could have. Even when the evidence didn't match up, he'd clung to it because otherwise, Patten would have been exactly what he was right now: untouchable.

And then Rudy's thought processes were scrambled again as he got bopped twice more for bringing Graninger up, in his panic --Sweet, motherfuaaaahhhh--!!! Even when Patten started talking again, his head swam and he airily wondered if Squiddie was seeing anybody and if asking for her number would get him anything - possibly it'd "earn" him another bop!? Patten clapped his hands and suddenly turned around, drawing Rudy's wobbly attention back to him - momentarily shaken loose a second later with another headbutt to the floor - but he blinked and swallowed thickly, watching the A-1 Agent as he started to tear Quin's hopes and confidence to shreds. But wouldn't ya know, he handed it right back a minute later.

A deal? Yeah, sure! Anything to not get killed today! Then an incoherent blast of decidedly feminine screeching came from somewhere, but Rudy didn't really have the energy to move or to look around for the source, even though he desperately wanted to - how many possibly violent and angry women did they have in the base today? How freaking lucky could a guy get? Noel would be so pissed when she heard about him cheating on her like this. Then again, if Patten wanted to make deals, he might not have to depend on her anymore after all.

Then Eric was saying stuff about Jason and his homo suit and--whatever, not about me, not important. He didn't notice Jason being dragged away but flinched just the tiniest bit when Patten turned back to him. The new deal that he wanted to make instantly made Rudy's stomach drop through the floor - especially when the A-1 decided to bring Osono up, basically threatening to interfere in her case. But it didn't make him mad this time. He just felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. He didn't know anybody like that - at least, not anybody with skills who would be willing to do him any favors.

Couldn't Patten want something else? Like the 1984 limited edition, mint-condition, still-in-it's-box, Tropical themed Yoda action figure(with beach chair, pina colada drink, and palm tree accessories)? Rudy had all 5 copies that were ever made and their value was at $10,000 each. But he'd happily hand them over if Mr. Patten would just give him what he wanted.

Rudy was still coming to terms with the fact that this conversation - this "negotiation" - was over, when the lovely beast holding him suddenly let him go, his head clunking to the floor before the rest of his wounded and aching body followed. He'd practically forgotten that she'd been holding him this whole time and a shiver of desire swept through him about the same time as a gasping nausea, from physical pain, wrenched through his crumpled and gently spasming form. Ohhhh....the things she could probably do to a man... - and at the moment, he was just thinking of foreplay along the lines of more of this awful, yet magically erotic "bopping". He cracked a bloody smile when actual, sexual thoughts and imaginings occurred to him.

"I think I'm in love..." he muttered.

****
Gwen.

She was touching her.

She was holding her.

Everything else was eclipsed by the fact that she now had firm possession of her target, and all of her senses and attention aimed and focused in on Stewart. Despite this rabid amount of concentration being fixated on the girl, there was no emotion to accompany it. No sense of victory. No relief or sentimental fondness. Stephanie was empty, inside and out, except for the harsh logic which demanded she pay attention and make sure Gwen did not and could not escape ever again. Other than keeping aware of her immediate surroundings for any possible threats to this goal, she pretty much ignored the drama of what was happening in the room, waiting patiently for the higher ranked woman to decide it was time to go.

And she watched as Noel's body was lifted, blinking blankly and instantly zeroing in on the cause of the movement before Gary was squeaking about it, and her eyes didn't leave the dead Agent as she thought about the recent trail of events. She did not regret killing Noel but there was no malice or hostility in the decision or the act. It simply made sense to her that it needed to be done.

In the seconds that Stephanie's eyes had swept over the scene - first latching onto Gwen and analyzing her current state and wounds, which, thankfully, were all pretty superficial - she understood exactly what was going on. There was a level of instability in Noel's face and eyes that told her everything she needed to know - this was an amount of damage that she would not come back from. Whether it was Gwen's fault or the madness had already been present, there was no fixing it except in the way that Stephanie had ultimately chosen - all determined in those tiny seconds before crossing the room to grab ahold of the shorter woman. It was her target and thus, her duty to "clean up" the situation and she felt like she'd done that very efficiently.

Even though she currently lacked the ability to reminisce, she did wonder how Noel had gotten to that state. The short, British woman had been 4 years older than Stephanie and the Lead on the Wallace case back when Stephanie was working on the team as an A-5. Noel had always possessed a girlish and youthful disposition, but she'd been an aggressive and demanding Lead as well. Stephanie shared a lot of the same interests and they'd been friendly outside of work, but it never went beyond an occasional coffee or lunch together. When Richard left and Stephanie was having difficulty dealing with the loss, Noel had understood and allowed her to take some time to get her head together. She'd also suggested the utilization of pharmaceuticals to dull the pain and allow her to keep working. When Stephanie had put requests on the woman's desk for testing out several emotion-inhibiting drugs, Noel had handed the forms over to her without question. She'd been fond of and respected Noel.

So, what had happened to change her so dramatically was something she could only speculate about, but she suspected Rudolph Quin was involved somehow. She didn't really know why she thought that, except that Quin had changed from how she'd known him as well. He'd been a virgin masochist when Stephanie had been involved with him, but now...things had gone way beyond what he used to be capable of. Back when they'd been in training together, he'd passed out when she'd tied him up and dripped hot wax on him. Now, he was carrying around a bullet wound like it was a fashion accessory and he'd stayed conscious while she'd stepped on it - not to mention through the entire, resulting beating. And then there'd been Noel's... dark proclivities and the two had been working on the same case together.

As soon as Madeline began walking, Stephanie was moving as well, pulling Gwen along by her arm. Stewart could move and stay on her feet, but that was as far as it went. Her eyes were closed and there was a small wrinkle of pain or sadness above the bridge of her nose, and her lips stayed semi-parted with her head bowed just the tiniest bit. Her movements went as quick or as slow as Stephanie wanted, but there was no push or direction behind them, completely dependent on the Agent's steering. She was a living doll.

This was what the EDP had been designed for. In the beginning stages, it had been about something else, but as soon as Stewart entered the picture, her efforts had become focused on combating and controlling the psychic's powers. Now, not only was her mind completely shielded, but the mental walls were expansive enough to interfere with Gwen's abilities. And all of that training had paid off. Sure, the Lachesis was helping a lot, but it was a state of mind that had become a part of who she was, and thus, she was able to handle it with efficiency and ease.

When Gary said her name, it was like he'd spontaneously popped back into existence, and she merely glanced in his general direction apathetically, before glancing away again in a silent agreement with the A-2. At first, she was perfectly willing to ignore Gary for this entire trip. Master had told him to go along to help her with the transfer, but she wasn't going through with it until Jason was safe and by her side. And if he was there, then HE'D be able to help her with the transfer. Gary was coming along to stay out of the way of things here and merely following Master's orders for him to accompany her.

So, she didn't care about how he felt or what he did, so long as Stewart stayed safe and firmly within her hold. But then her rationality kicked in and she thought it might be a good idea to inform him about the "Jason situation". It would set him at ease to know that she did have things under control and thus he might stop panicking and upsetting Madeline - and the less virulent the A-2 was, the more cooperative she was likely to be. She not only had a duty to Master in keeping him safe, but to Jason as well. They were best friends, he'd said, so it required her to take decent care of him and keep him out of trouble. Afterall, he was a fish out of water here.

When they arrived at the A-2's private elevator, Stephanie waited patiently for things to get moving again, idly listening to the conversation and surveying reactions and emotions. Yes. That was indeed a smile when Madeline mentioned Benoit - who Stephanie understood to be "her cat" in this case - and it's mere presence confirmed all and any suspicions that Stephanie had about their relationship. She couldn't muster the desire to care about it, but it was information she filed away as a possible relation to detecting the A-2's motives and any possible threats that might present to her case.

Stephanie was more than ready to go by the time Madeline was ushering them into the elevator, but everything came to a halt when Gary kicked off his shoes and they remained in the air. Before, when one of Master's invisible men had picked up the corpse in the sick bay, she'd brushed it aside in preference to thinking about and remembering her old Lead and friend. But now, her attention focused on it and her logic began to hyper analyze the possible implications of having hidden soldiers positioned around the base.

Obviously, first and foremost, they were here to watch Madeline. Master had expressed enough animosity towards the female Agent that it went without saying, he probably did not trust her. So, that was at least one primary reason for their presence. But that brought up a hundred other questions and considerations. How many were there in the base? Where were they situated? Had they only been following Madeline around, or had Master seen fit to snoop and spy on everything going on in the base? How often did they report to him? Did they need to? On the jet, Master had been aware of his men dying by Alexander's hand and had known their location and that they'd fired weapons in the restaurant. In the middle of a fight with an ex-Agent, Stephanie doubted that any of his men had stopped to type up a report to their boss. So, was Master's input from them automatic? Was he able to receive information on everything that they'd seen and heard?

Stephanie admitted, she had not been acting appropriately ever since she got here. At some point, the EDP had fallen out of her control and her emotionless mask kept slipping off. Not an excuse, but merely an explanation. Depending upon where Master had his men positioned, they could have been present during every one of Stephanie's manic slip ups. He hadn't brought it up or indicated that he knew, but now she was seeing hints of it in the different things he'd said to her. Specifically, the way he'd handled the presentation of the "Jason staying in Charlton" plan.

IF he'd been aware of Stephanie's erratic behavior - and she was definitely one of the first to concede that things with Jason had reached a serious level, compared to the playful way in which they'd started - then it was possible that he'd order Jason to stay behind in an attempt to control her. Why he wouldn't simply punish her or call her to task directly, when he had more than enough power to do so, didn't make any immediate sense. Unless, he wanted her to finish the transfer into Gwen. As much as Stephanie had wanted to believe that he liked her and that fondness could have been a good enough reason for him to want to help her, she now doubted such, very much. He'd said so himself; he did not make attachments like that. And with how fond of Benoit that Madeline was, she doubted that the A-2 would not have prepared and provided for their arrival, with the necessary men available for the reverse transfer to take place. That meant there was no logical reason for Jason to NEED to stay.

Master was getting something out of her transfer and he was getting something from separating her and Jason. But he'd done a good job of keeping his motives and projects hidden since he'd been with them, so the exact reason why he would do this was something she could only make guesses about. It did not change much - Jason would probably still be alright staying here and his involvement would eventually help her in Elmira. And besides that, she could not change her mind now. It was too late. She was with Gwen and she was not going to veer off of her course. The transfer was within reach now. No more detours!

Stephanie heard Madeline call for her, but she ignored her for a minute or two, watching the hallway in the direction of the stairs and thinking through everything. Finally, her muscles clicked rigidly and she was moving robotically towards the elevator, dragging Gwen along swiftly, stepping in it and squeezing into the small space. The doors closed and they began moving, but it was barely felt at all, seeming like they were all just standing in an unmoving closet together.

"Gary," Stephanie eventually said, her voice sucking the warmth and life out of the air around her. "About Jason: I know what he said, but I'm the Lead on this case. I already gave him his orders and thoroughly explained to him why it has to happen this way. Besides, Master will not take his suit away if he stays - not if he wants Jason to be able to function properly and do as he's told. He will be fine and he knows what is expected of him." Yes. That was simple enough to let Gary know that she was in charge, was fully aware of the risks and confident that things would happen according to plan. "I cannot go through with the transfer until I get the all-clear from Benoit, so when we get to Elmira, I insist that you find those things that I asked you to get for me before." When Jason did eventually leave Charlton to join up with them, he would have to remove his suit; some cookies would help him feel better and some alcohol would dull the pain. She did not look at him and continued to do so when Gwen began muttering weakly.

"...Xander... please...help... I need..."

Stephanie's attention instantly swept to the girl standing beside her, turning to her and looking her over to make sure everything was as it should be. Her eyes were still closed - although the wrinkle in her brow was larger, as if she were concentrating - and her voice had been dreamy and frail, her head still tipped slightly forward. She was trying to reach Alexander through Stephanie's shield. How foolish.

Reaching forward, Stephanie gently closed Gwen's mouth - which, the simple action got it to stay closed with Gwen in this easily manipulatable state - and brushed her brown hair out of her face. Adjusting her firm hold on Gwen's arm and brushing a stray wrinkle off of the tiny shirt she was wearing, Stephanie stood facing forward once again, waiting for the elevator to reach it's destination. And she began to wonder about Alexander. From everything she'd been told about the man, it was apparent that the guest was a fierce and troublesome person. What exactly was Gwen's relationship with the two men? What had gone on between them?

Losing sight of Gwen had been a terrible mistake and as a result of it, she no longer knew exactly who Gwendolyn Stewart was anymore. It almost felt like she'd been disconnected from a part of herself, and Gwen had changed and experienced so much. That first fight in the apartment building had been like battling her shadow, knowing everything that Gwen would think and do, blending with her. And the panic and desperation had been clearly felt in every move that she threw in Stephanie's direction. She'd been weak and afraid, just like Stephanie knew she would be, it being consistent with Stewart's state of mind for the past year. But she hadn't stayed that way.

It could have been argued that Alexander or the guest probably convinced Gwen to attempt the eavesdropping on Stephanie's thoughts, using her partner's goggles to breech the distance. And she had been confident that the mere backlash of the event, even when the pain of it faded, would be traumatic enough to keep her mousy, little Gwen from attempting it a second time - at least, not until she'd had more time to gather the courage for it, which curiosity necessitated that she would. It had barely been an hour later when they'd stopped for breakfast and Jason had suddenly come up with the idea about Alexander the guest wanting his body back - which, Stephanie had figured out almost immediately had been a result of Gwen invading her partner's mind.

It was a small thing and Stephanie had ignored the larger implications of it at the time, merely taking it into account when she put forth her plan in anticipation of Gwen's apparent willingness to test her powers if she felt safe from harm at such distances. But things should have become clear to her when Gwendolyn had read her mind in Elmira and taken in the false information she'd fed to her target. The EDP layers of her mind were impenetrable and Stephanie, even at that time when she'd begun entertaining playful advances towards her partner, had retained complete control of information going in and out of each layer. It had been isolated. There was no way Gwendolyn would have been able to detect that they were lies. It was even set up in just the right way to keep Gwen from asking Alexander directly about it.

But she had not reacted the way that Stephanie had predicted. Something had gone wrong and she'd not only left with Alexander, she'd stayed with him until Quin had captured her - and they'd been at the restaurant with Rudy and his target; that right there spoke of an established ease and trust between them. She'd gotten stronger. Not just her powers but her personality as well. When Stephanie had faced her again, there had been fear but she was full of a quiet confidence now and a willingness to fight. Even now, when there was no hope and the pain was enough to put her in a catatonic state, she was struggling to break through the shield and reach her friend. What had Alexander done to her target?

The elevator doors opened on the seemingly static elevator, the scenery beyond the door changed from the ground floor to a concrete and red brick rooftop outside, the sky open above them and the sun disappearing in the west. Even so, there were a couple of lights positioned around the top of the building, illuminating the large space. The first part of the roof was smooth and empty, with 4 steps leading up to a heliport platform on the far end. Positioned on it and resting on a large, white stenciled version of the Agency logo, was a shining black helicopter.

The body was wide and long, with large, glossy windows on the front half, while the tail tapered down to an almost rigid point, possessing a second, smaller rotor at it's tip. The propellers were already moving, apparently alerted of their arrival by either the movement or code put into the elevator. And although it had not picked up enough speed for take-off yet, as they left the elevator and proceeded towards the platform, the gusts violently whipped Stephanie and Gwen's hair about their faces.

Madeline went first, stalking ahead quickly, with Stephanie dragging Gwen along behind her and Gary following her like a shadow. And they boarded in that order, filling the four seats in the belly of the chopper, cramped close together and Stephanie taking the seat next to her target - unable and unwilling to release the girl from her hold. Then the wind was cut off and the thundering noise of the rotors was muffled as the side door was slammed shut, and the blonde pilot glanced back at the A-2 before taking off.

And just like with the elevator and the sick bay, everyone else became a silent movie playing in another room, while she held Gwen's hand and brushed the hair from her face, making sure the girl was still in a neutralized state. And despite the still new and confounding behavior of Stewart still looking like she was concentrating really hard on something behind her eyelids, Stephanie was not worried. It no longer mattered who Gwendolyn Stewart was, because in just a few hours, she would be Stephanie March.

****
Maybe she should have tried harder to be nice to the guy they needed for the next step in this adventure. She couldn't hold up the act on her own - possibly Alex might help and attempt to act the way he was supposed to, but the Agent girl would probably notice the difference and wouldn't fall for it again. But Ozzie had felt the need to subtly let him know that she wasn't pleased with having to depend on a possible traitor. And now, from the one-sided conversation, it kinda sounded like he was giving Alex trouble about helping them.

She resisted the urge to join the discussion, because she was mad and annoyed now and really had no idea what the real problem was - was he pouting now? Still raging? What was going on? And since he seemed to have enough to deal with right now, she didn't get mad at Alex or ask him to translate/transfer their conversation to out in the open. So, keeping her mouth shut, she followed Alex's direction when he pointed out a promising looking turn off and even directed the Audi into a corner when he suggested it.

Slowly she started to relax, when despite the clearly weirded out state he was in, Alex acted like they were definitely doing this - and even told her what explanation Xander said they were going to use for the rope. Clearly, the temperamental Agent dude was on board with this, so it left Ozzie relieved but still confused. If he wasn't pouting or throwing a temper tantrum still, then what was he doing? When Alex addressed her with that casual reference to the conversation he was having with the guy in his head, Osono cracked a grin and opened her door. Yeah, okay. Things were alright.

He didn't get out immediately, apparently still talking with Xander and having difficulty with his leg, but she'd had enough driving and sitting, and stood up to stretch her long legs. Looking around at their surroundings, she couldn't help but be impressed by Alex's choice in location. All the windows in the building that blocked their view of the road, were dark and silent, and there was a fence surrounding the lot. She breathed deeply, watching as the trees surrounding the lot turned pink in the fading light and leaned upon the roof of the car. Waiting until Alex was stepping out - still talking to himself - she slammed her door shut, coming around the car as he did, ready and wielding the keychain with the small remote attached to it, already pushing the small button with a picture of a car and opened trunk on it before he asked.

Then Ozzie stood back and allowed Alex to tie her up, not really sure what to say about his apparent familiarity and expertise in doing it. Watching him, she thought about all that had happened during their trip and made an effort in trying to separate things that Alex had said to her and stuff that Xander said, attempting to add up the points and determine her current relationship with the two men.

Well, let's see: there were the constant, scornful jibes he'd made towards her tendency to set people on fire - which, she'd only done once and to Agents who'd been attacking and trying to kill her. But she hadn't helped things by bitchily flaunting her ability and willingness to do so, threatening to do it at every turn, just to spite him. It seemed like Xander being the Agent, he might be suspicious and wary of people with powers. But then again...from what she now knew about Them, it was probably more likely that he'd be fond of her destructive and violent behavior. That meant...Alex was the one who'd made all of those snide warnings against her "barbecuing" people, like it was a pleasurable hobby of hers rather than her biggest and most effective defense.

Then there'd been all the times he'd complimented her and occasionally called her 'Sparky' - which she was actually annoyed by while at the same time sort of enjoying the fact that he'd given her a nickname. She was willing to bet that the times he'd called her that it had been Xander who'd done it, because of the slick and smart-mouthed way he talked. For the same reason, she also suspected that Xander wouldn't have been stupid enough to keep bringing Rudy up and hurting her feelings about it...

So. What was the score? Ozzie let out a breath through her nose and adjusted her position to leaning on her other foot. It was really hard to know how to feel about it all. Because for one thing, even though she was now almost positive that this whole time she'd actually been fighting with Alex, who'd been acting like a jerk towards her, he was the one being nice and considerate to her now. And even though she could pretty much rely on the probability that Xander had been the one who'd actually put forth the occasional approving comment...he was an Agent, and that meant he was part of - or at least HAD BEEN a part of - the organization that had ruined her life. So now, she was left with the confusing mixture of hostility towards the enemy in their midst and yet desiring his continued approval.

And Alex... she couldn't really find the urge to hate him, anymore. What was even more troubling, was when she realized on a certain level, she'd actually been enjoying herself when trading barbs with him. Like a really mean game they'd been playing.

Realizing that she'd been staring at his face while she'd been thinking, she suddenly put on a scowl to cover it up and looked instead at the cat-suit lady. When he was done, she cleared her head and focused on preparing herself for playing pretend while he attempted to wake the bitch up. But it wasn't working. From their discussion, what he'd actually done was gave her a seizure or something - so that's what his powers were; she'd originally thought it might be more electrical from the way those people in the coffee shop had started jerking and spasming when they'd fallen from their seats. And then there was what Peter had said...

A few times while they talked things over, Ozzie unwillingly cracked a smile at some of the things they said and she had to keep reminding herself that this was serious. But she couldn't help it! That shit about using the car was actually pretty funny. Knowing it was Xander, the Agent, who was talking didn't really hammer in while he said those things. Although she fully believed he was willing to run the girl over and would probably not regret whatever happened as a result, she couldn't help but be amused by the immaturity of the suggestion and entertained by the two men's back and forth, with Alex actually trying to convince him that it was in no way a good idea. They were like real-life cartoon characters.

Finally, when it seemed Alex was going with the plan to just wait the girl out, her smile faltered a little to watch him lean wearily against the car, rubbing at his forehead. Even though she had an idea of how to wake her up, she stopped and let the guy have a moment to just take a break. She still felt an urgency to get moving as soon as possible, but a couple of minutes couldn't hurt.

Coming to stand beside him, she folded her arms and nudged him loosely with her elbow, and gave him a mockingly weary sigh. "It's almost over, penis-neck," and she laughed about that again, when she realized, it had been Xander who'd drawn that on him - Oh my God! That's fucking awesome! What a dick! "Oh, God..." she said, smirking and shaking her head. "All this time, I thought you were just a crazy asshole. Now looking back, I realize that each was only true for one of you. It'll be a bit of a shame to split the comedy pair up, but I guess 6 years is a long time to be without your own head space."

The sun was going down now, everything painted blue, and the color almost hovering tangibly in the air about them. It had a bit of a calming affect on her and she smiled again. "It's been a wild ride... kinda don't want to get off, heh." And then she glanced at him, giving him that smile before it suddenly faded. Fuck! What the hell was she talking about? And what was she doing??? Smiling prettily and batting her eyes? Ugh! The stupid twilight was getting into her head and making her soft!

To cover it up, Osono rolled her eyes and turned the faded smile into a dry smirk, giving him a playful punch on the shoulder before stepping away from him and moving towards the Agent girl. "Come on. Let's get started and get you guys separated. I know how to wake her up."

And just making sure he knew she understood the rules, she rolled her eyes sarcastically and tapped her fingers as she counted. "And 'No burning or torturing'. Got it. I'll be gentle."

And just so that he wouldn't have to, she lifted the trunk and grabbed the still unconscious Agent, hoisting her out and depositing her on the cracked and worn out asphalt. Stepping to stand over the unconscious Agent, she planted her feet on either side of the woman's body and smoothly crouched down to hover over her. Then she casually reached out and pinched the Agent's nose closed. It took a few seconds but suddenly the Agent's eyes were popping open and a large gasp exploded from her mouth, her chest rising as she tried to suck in a gulp of air, which ended in her coughing when the ropes around her body prevented her lungs from opening any further.

As soon as the woman woke up, Ozzie took her hand away from her, waiting a moment for the coughing and gasping to stop. It was pretty dark now, but in the darkening blue she could see the Agent's head moving groggily from side to side. A spark flared and filled the space between them with light as Ozzie loosely held her hand up, the appendage swarming and swirling with dancing flames. The girl flinched and squinted against the sudden light, but was suddenly blinking in remembrance as her eyes adjusted and she saw Osono's illuminated features.

"Thanks for deciding to finally join us," Ozzie said with a sneer, as if the woman had been deliberately staying unconscious just to piss her off. "I'm feeling bored and cagey. Since you're such a willing and available victim, I decided, 'What the hell? Let's start part two of your punishment right now.'"

The woman's eyes widened a bit and she started to move her arms within her binds, but immediately found the rope to be unforgiving. "Yeah," Osono commented casually. "Couldn't have my prey squirming and trying to protect yourself. And apparently, having someone running around while on fire is hazardous or something." Rolling her eyes and shrugging as if it was an annoying and stupid fact of life. "Although, it's very pretty." And Ozzie could see each new degree of fear and dread as the phrases 'prey' and 'person on fire' registered in the Agent's mind.

Brie was extremely groggy but waking up fast, a headache making her thoughts fuzzy and increasing her sense of panic as her disorientation only heightened the feeling of helplessness that clung to her. Her eyes darted around worriedly, but she didn't want to look away from the fire woman to try and figure out where they were, keeping her gaze latched onto the blazing hand and the shadowed face hovering beside it. All the doubts she'd felt before were slow to return in the fogginess, so for now she accepted her situation and the very real possibility that she would be burned alive.

"I-I-I thought you said you were going to let me live. You said staying alive to face the consequences would be worse for me--"

Ozzie's other hand swooped out from the shadows at her side and she grabbed a fistful of Brie's short, brown hair, bringing her other hand close to the Agent's face to hover near her skin. "YOU'RE the one who failed your test, jackass! Don't mistake my previous generosity for anything other than a whim, which can just as easily be flipped at my pleasure. My happy pills have worn off and I feel like hurting somebody! And guess what? You won today's special prize, bitch!"

The Agent was trembling beneath her, the woman's eyes squeezed closed and she was whimpering softly as Osono's fire-hand leered in front of her face. Ozzie was keeping a firm hold on the flames, controlling how much heat actually touched the woman, but even so, it was bright enough and close enough that it was still incredibly threatening. She actually expected Osono to torture her and kill her. She didn't even need a good reason other than 'she felt like it'. And it was all because this woman was used to dealing with people like this, accepting of her place as worthless because of her subordinate status.

And as Ozzie watched her cry and shiver, a surge of pleasure and satisfaction coursed through her. Finally punishing one of these people, face-to-face. Getting her to feel the fear and threat of death that Osono had been stuck with for years. Finally taking the power and control away from this nameless enemy and dominating one of them. This woman feared her sadistic, manic wrath - Osono could totally be that for her. She could become this woman's pain and terror, paying the Agency back for the loss of her ability to feel safe anywhere.

Then she stopped. No. It hadn't been this woman who'd done that to her. It hadn't even been the nameless enemy which they were facing up against now. It'd been Rudy. Everything that the Agency had done to her had been because of him...and herself. Facing this bitterness and understanding what these people were really like on the inside and recognizing her own responsibility for what her life had become, she vowed to punish the real culprit and put an end to it once and for all.

Feeling kind of sick, she let out a small growl and shoved the Agent's head away as she let her go and stood up, the light of the flames on her hand rising with her. But she stayed where she was, standing over the woman and looking down at her, trying to hang onto the role she was playing, even though she really, kinda wanted to stop now. "How about we start this barbecue from the feet up? Maybe I'll stop halfway through, melting the flesh off of your legs and just leaving you with nothing but the crisp bones for you to stand on?"

The tears on Brie's face glittered in the light from Osono's fire, her eyes shining and horrified. But she did not argue, merely letting her eyes dance from her to the now revealed man standing nearby, silently begging and pleading for mercy. And Ozzie was nauseated all over again. Any time you're ready, Alex. Join the frickin' party...

****
Rousing, Rudy blinked his eyes weakly, realizing that he was naked and wet and not remembering how the hell he'd gotten that way. Where the fuck am I? Sitting up defensively, instantly regaining a sliver of alertness, he flinched when his head came under the spray of the still running water spout on the wall. Looking up at it, he remembered. The locker room. Right.

Not wanting to pass out and possibly get punished for "sleeping on the job" if Eric happened to come back, Rudy had crawled from the red pickle-people room, leaving a trail of blood as he went. Turning down the hallways, he'd eventually come upon a door with a little "man" symbol above it, and had gotten shakily to his feet before he'd entered. He initially intended to merely splash some sink water on himself and call it "good to go", but he was delighted to find that the room actually possessed showers and an aisle or two of lockers. And he was the only one in the room, so privacy was his - at least, for now. The journey of actually getting undressed took a while, since he couldn't seem to stay on his feet, his head pounding and feeling heavier than the rest of him, and his clothes soaked with blood and sticking to him. But he eventually made it, on wobbly legs standing beneath the nozzle on the wall in the small side room with tile-to-tile walls and floor.

He'd passed out when the water hit the raw flesh of his bullet wound, a burst of stinging pain finally tipping the scale of endurance and dragging him under.

He didn't know how long he'd been out, but decided not to dwell on it, getting to his feet again and finishing up as best he could without hurting himself too much more. And he didn't dawdle, pushing his now fragile form to it's limits to keep working for him, urging his bruised limbs to go faster. He knew what he had to do and he wanted to get started as soon as possible. On his crawl here, he'd had time to think about what Patten had said and decided that he was going to take the offered deal. The man fucking terrified him and the less he had to talk to and/or deal with him, the more comfortable he'd be. But Patten hadn't said "no" to Rudy's requests. He'd just changed the pieces on the table. There was still a chance that Rudy could become an A-3 again and keep his Leadership over Ozzie's case.

The warm water soothed his aching body parts and the shower itself cleared his head, so when he turned it off and walked from the room, he was able to do so with better motor control and more ease than he'd entered with. Toweling himself off, he got dressed in an extra uniform that he'd found, emptying the pockets of his jeans and tossing the old clothes into a large trash can under the sink. The pants he put on were made for a taller gentleman, so they needed to be rolled up at the bottom, and a belt to keep them up, and they were dark gray, almost black, with a thin, yellow stripe up the outside of each leg. The black boots were a bit big, but he could wear them - and they also made a fun "S.W.A.T. team" boot noise when he clunked around the room.

The dime-sized bullet wound - which had an exit hole in his upper back - actually stopped bleeding after his shower, so he put on the plain white T-shirt that the uniform came with. He'd still need to hop down to the sick bay eventually and handle it, but for now, so long as he didn't piss anyone else off, it'd be alright. He'd washed his face in the shower as well, and other than the swelling of his bruises and the gash at the bridge of his nose, everything seemed in one piece. It would scab up and look kinda hideous for a while and his nose would probably heal crooked, but that was sufferable; he really didn't have the time or the patience right now to worry about "looking pretty", and the damn thing didn't hurt anymore anyway. The uniform was completed with a thin jacket - the same colors as the pants, and the simple stripe design repeated on the sleeves, with an Agency logo on the left breast - which he left casually unzipped.

Once he was dressed, he then proceeded to raid the lockers, opening them all with one shot from the Aurora, and regaining a bit of his former lucidity as he searched through them. His head still hurt really bad - did Squiddie like flowers or chocolates? Would asking her to have his babies be too forward? - but his mind was clear and he was already making a mental list of acquaintances who could help him with the task Patten had set before him. Finally, he found what he was looking for - a cellphone. Somebody else's. But it was a really killer phone so, now it was his. At least, until someone possibly bigger than him asked for it back.

Looking around, he decided to stay here to make his phone calls to retain some level of privacy - they wouldn't put cameras in the bathroom; that'd just be perverse! Turning the phone on, he rapidly tapped the buttons, putting in the number that he had memorized by heart.

And it rang...and rang...and rang... Where the hell was she? His first thought was that Noel was ignoring him on purpose but then he realized, that didn't make sense - it wasn't his phone, so how could she know who it was? Cursing silently to himself and tugging his drooping pants back up a bit, he put in another number. This one, he typed slower because he didn't remember it quite so well, but he entered the right numbers anyway. On the second ring, a familiar voice appeared, uttering the neutral command "Talk." Authoritative and "no nonsense" as ever.

"Granny! Heeeeeyyyy! 'Sup? How's my favorite A-2 Agent?" Rudy asked, getting his regular dorky grin back and his voice returning to it's rapidly flowing speeds.

There was the slightest pause before the raspy voice on the other line said, "Quin," in chagrined recognition, and then there was the hinted breath of impatience before he continued in a tolerant yet condescending tone. "I told you not to call me that. It's either 'Graninger', 'Sir', or if you prefer, you may call me by my title."

"Yeah - heh. Okay," was the breezy response, quickly brushing the warning aside. "Hey, I hear you're not in the recruitment biz anymore, yeah? No longer stuck training a bunch of incompetent nobodies. That kinda sucked for you, didn't it? Finally on top now, though, right? With your own base of operations and teams of Agents in-" wait...where was he now? "Spokane. Washington! Sweeeeet. Respect and all that."

"Oh? You heard about that? I've 'heard' that you're now an A-6, dropped down from a completely baffling A-3 position. News travels fast doesn't it?" came the smug and snarky reply. "Congratulations, you're exactly where I always expected you to remain - sucking at life." Before Rudy could ask the question How the hell did you know about my demotions? Richard talked over him. "I've been keeping an eye on you over the years - I have an idle interest in your bizarre methodology."

"You've..been stalking me? ...In that case, do you happen to remember where I put my Magic cards? I misplaced them this morning. It's my Elemental Tournament deck with all my highest level cards in it; I'm goin' outta my frickin' mind, here."

There was a long pause and then the other man's voice had lost whatever good-humored patience that it had possessed. "Is there something you wanted Quin, or did you just call to chat? Cut the bullshit. You may be content to sit around licking your genitals instead of actually doing something productive, but I don't have the time to waste playing games with you."

Okay. Time to change gears and lighten it up a bit. He could usually sway Graninger in certain directions by being an annoying twerp, but it wouldn't work if he laid it on too heavy in the beginning. He was more likely to hang up if Rudy pushed too much right away. Taking a deep breath, he sat down on a bench and wiped his sweaty palm on his pant leg.

"Okay, I won't waste your time," Rudy said, his voice gaining what could possibly pass for a "somber" tone. "I need your help--"

"You used up all of the favors that I could possibly be generous enough to give, 6 years ago. Besides, there's nothing that you have that I want that I couldn't just take from you anyway."

"Oh. Well, shit... Look, Patten's not gonna let me have my case and rank back unless I have something to work with. I'm at negative numbers right now..."

Rudy's voice faded as a raspy laugh came through the phone. "That's what you get for pissing off an A-1, genius. I don't give a fuck about your problems, Quin. You had your fun, probably got a very nice lesson in humility, and now it would be smart for you to just shut up and step down gracefully. You're lucky you even have that."

Frustratedly, he ran a hand through his wet, spiky hair and grimaced when he touched the still sensitive parts of his scalp. Even so, he didn't stop, poking and prodding at the bruises, the renewed pain filling him with a burst of determination. "Stephanie March is here."

As if he couldn't remember her, Graninger drawled her name in a thoughtful tone. "March?" A grunt of amusement came to Rudy's ears. "She was one of probably a thousand recruits that I oversaw and handled the training of in that class alone. What makes you think I care?"

"Because," Rudy said, picking at the yellow stripe on his leg. "I know what you did. A man doesn't dedicate himself to a project like that without retaining some sort of...attachment. Have you been stalking her too, Granny? Heh." Even though he'd seen the two of them together, and knew for a FACT they'd been in a relationship, he was leery about attempting the "blackmail/affair" thing again. So, he decided to go in a different direction.

"She's getting ready for her transfer, but it's not a done deal yet. Something's going on around here and I'd bet big money that shit ain't gonna happen the way everybody planned - and yes, I'm talking about something interrupting the transfer." Jason had seemed worried about that when he'd been talking with Eric. "AND, I'm pretty sure she's on some kind of drugs currently, so...you know..that's always a good thing to throw into the mix. Who DOESN'T enjoy a little meth in a stressful and potentially chaotic situation? Am I right?" He had no clue if it was true - it was plausible with the way she'd looked and her manic behavior - but honestly, Rudy was scraping at the bottom of the barrel for anything that'd get Graninger on board.

"I know you don't want anything bad to befall our precious Steph and I think Patten is cheering for her too." Hadn't Jason said something like that...? "I'd really like to help out and do my part to make sure the coked-up whore gets safely planted into her target's body, but the funny thing is -- I don't have what they need. And for some really odd reason, none of my potentially better off and more skillful friends are answering their phones. Except you, so..."

"Hm," it was a curt noise expressing neither amusement or displeasure, and Rudy bit his bottom lip agitatedly while he waited for the other man to mull it over. Come on, you old codger, throw me a bone, here.

"You surprise me Quin," Graninger said finally, his smoke-weathered voice taking on a smoother, oily smugness. "This was actually pretty well-thought out - for you. Did someone else write this plan for you?"

"Mommy only helped a little!"

That actually got a graveled chuckle from the other man and Rudy started to relax a little bit. "Alright, you've got my attention, if only for the fact that I want to hear the rest of your 'grand' plan and see what happens as a result of my interference." It was so nice to hear that somebody in the world had faith in him. "What role do you need me to play in this little game of yours?"

"Alright," and Rudy took a moment to silently pump his arm and fist in victory. Now, just gotta reel him in, baby! "Steph needs to go through with the transfer. It's better for me if I help Patten and he seems to wanna help her so, I need somebody who won't die AND who's skilled in combat." He wasn't exactly lying about the state of things, but he WAS leading Graninger to believe that whoever he offered up would be working to help and protect Stephanie. Which...he had no idea if they would or not; Patten hadn't said exactly what he needed this person for. He'd thrown Steph into it because he knew Richard would put more effort into protecting her, even if it meant helping Rudy in the process. And he was pretty sure that she could take care of herself, so everybody would get what they wanted in the end.

"Hmmm... yeah, I think I know just the guy," Graninger said thoughtfully. "I trained him myself, so I know he'll be efficient and he can't be wounded, so he won't die-" That sounded freaking awesome! "-but..." And then Richard's voice trailed off into a dramatic pause, making Rudy feel uneasy.

"But what?"

"Well, he's technically not an Agent. And before you ask, no, he's not a target either, although he does have powers. Let's just say he's...a person of interest. He's classified as 'invincibility' and so far, everything we've thrown at him during testing has failed to have any impact. Blades, guns, acid, explosions, you name it. Not only has nothing left a mark, but the guy doesn't even feel it. Other than that, he's pretty much like anyone else; shooting a bazooka at his chest will knock him off his feet - for a moment - and although we can't break any of his bones, HE can't break anything else - punching holes through steel and juggling mini-vans is a bit beyond what he's capable of. His strength lies in his ability to keep getting up and we have yet to find a limit to it."

Well that was really neat. Kinda like Superman. ...Except without all of that other cool shit the Man of Steel was known for.

"He wasn't even on our radar until about a year ago when a team in Seattle was chasing down a girl who could manipulate blood. He was traveling with her and seemed to be helping her, but when she was on the verge of killing the Agents - which I have no doubt, with the way her powers work, she would have succeeded - he turned on her and enabled the Agents to have their capture. And then he had the balls to demand a job. I won't bore you with the details, suffice it to say he works for us. But loyalty is a hard thing to pin down, even with action to back it up. He's dedicated to the cause, of course, but late in the interview process, I started to suspect that he's had mental training of some kind. Considering that we had no idea who he was before he showed up on our doorstep, it seems kinda shady."

Wait...none of that sounds good.

"It's not really anything you'd have to worry about, I'm sure, but it hasn't been thoroughly investigated yet. He's sort of operating in a 'limbo' position right now, without an official status, so he'll follow orders from any Agency personnel - even a dipshit like you. Do you still want him?"

Rudy didn't really know what to think. Like, 'wow, this dude sounds like the bomb that'll knock Patten's socks off, but he might be a mole of some kind.' Why would Richard offer him this guy, to supposedly help Stephanie out, if he might end up being a traitor and possibly screw everything up? Was he hoping to make Rudy look bad? Would he do that if Steph was at risk? Maybe he'd gotten it wrong...maybe Graninger didn't really care about her...

His head fucking hurt - God, Squiddie! Would you just marry me, sweetheart? - so he rubbed his forehead and leaned forward to support his elbow on his knee. Alright, no. No. He wouldn't do that. Rudy had seen the two of them together multiple times back when he was in training - and the fact that his whole tone changed when Rudy brought her up, said very clearly that he still loved her. He wouldn't give Rudy a dud if it meant Steph might suffer for it. He's just messing with me, that's all. Trying to make me nervous. He probably knows I'm fucked and desperate, and is getting some sick pleasure out of making me sweat. Jerk.

Besides, if this invincibility guy turned out to be an assassin or something, then how could the godly Mr. Patten face up to a guy he can't even hurt?

Having made his decision, he sat up again and put on his dorky grin. "Hell yeah, I still want him! He sounds like a freakin' super soldier and seriously, that's what we need right now." This was going to be the best bargaining chip ever!

"Alright. His name is Fenton Powell, but we call him Fin. He's currently running an errand for me, but he should be back around 8 or 9 tomorrow morning. The soonest I can get him to you is 24 hours. Since he doesn't have an entry code of his own, I'll be letting him use one that keys into my name and marks him as my representative. Good luck." Well, if Graninger had been trying to dissuade Rudy from wanting the guy with all that "fishy loyalty" and "under investigation" crap, he seemed pretty pleased that Rudy accepted the offer anyway. Then again, from what he remembered of Graninger, he did shit like that to manipulate people. Lucky for Rudy, it takes one to know one.

"Wait, do you know where to send him? I mean, do you know where I am?" He hadn't told Graninger his location...

There was a pause before the older man gave him a sardonic reply. "Don't be stupid, Quin."

And Rudy was left listening to the lonely dial tone. Well...alright then! Cool! Despite the ache that still permeated his skull, and the fact that he was still feeling queasy about his meeting with the A-1, he was actually confident and calm. He had "currency" now and as soon as this Fenton dude showed up, he'd be able to convince Eric to reverse the demotions and then he could go back to what he was doing before and forget any of this ever happened.

He stopped a moment, remaining on the bench, and continued entertaining fantasies about the fembot-psychopath-tigress, Squiddie - would she insist on being on top, like Noel always does? Thinking of Noel, he snapped out of it and typed her number back into the phone. It would be safer to figure out where she was and what she was doing, just so that she wouldn't screw up any of his new plans. It didn't ring. An empty, bleeping disconnection signal reverberated against his ear drums. Okay...now he was worried. And annoyed.

That stupid bitch better not get between me and this case, or I swear, I'll fucking kill her. And I'll make it look like an accident too.

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Mon Jun 13, 2011 8:09 pm

“She’s not fighting it.”

And she wasn’t begging for her life.

Smart kid.

Alex didn’t think so. This wasn’t normal, even for an Agent. This woman was not fighting in any shape or form. When Osono first moved in with her threats, there’d been a few futile jerks of her arms he could in no way describe as anything but a reflex. Other than that, she was acting like this was deserved. Or not deserved, but expected. She was treating this as though it was normal and her half-whimpered question about what Osono had said before came out as if she was helpfully keeping her superior on track with her schedule rather than pleading to get away. His mind was twisting trying to understand it. He knew what was at stake for them – the thought he knew, anyway, because they seemed pretty damn obsessed about getting it: his powers, and everyone else’s powers. Alex might have sworn up and down about the hell his eyes dragged him through, but he didn’t hate what he did. Everything had a use that didn’t need to be about killing someone, but these people had brought it to new heights, ones Alex was sure, even with their godly tech, they had no way of achieving. They couldn’t all think they were going to get powers, could they? And even if they did, how was this worth it? For their prisoner to take one look at the flames on Osono’s skin and tell herself there was no point in saying something – even just calling them crazy – was... well, insane! He couldn’t stop coming back to that word, but what else was he supposed to say? This wasn’t a warrior mantra about going peacefully into the night. This woman was terrified and she was saying nothing because somebody had told her to expect this as part of a fair deal.

His faith in humanity couldn’t take that as an answer. There had to be more.

“Xander?”

He heard a sigh. It was the type of sigh that normally came instants before Alex got told to, unless it specifically related to what was going on, shut the hell up. Fortunately he was in a good mood after figuring out whatever secret he thought Peter had, so instead, grinding in exasperation, Xander asked, What?

“Were you ever like that?”

Don’t be a dick, Xander snapped. I’ve never been caught in my life.

“I don’t mean caught! I mean... everything else,” he murmured, leaning away from the scene in front of him. “Like her. Were you ever like her?”

This was followed by a long and annoyed silence. He was ready to ask again, but Xander picked up on it and told him flatly, Stay focused, idiot.

“I am focused. I’m focused enough to realize she wouldn’t run if I untied her. She’d sit there until we finished her off or until we told her to go.” An uncomfortable shiver went down his back. He quickly looked it over, hoping it was a clue from Xander saying he was on the right track. No. Just Alex. The Agents were creeping him out again. Xander wasn’t giving off any sign he was interested. He was taking his own advice and watching Osono work. “I just don’t get the payoff.”

You wouldn’t.

“Excuse me?”

You pick the shittiest time to think about stuff, Xander said, almost growling. Pay the fuck attention and stop talking. It’s like you do this on purpose!

Fine! He’d shut up!

Great! Thank you. And because he couldn’t just let it go, he snorted, Let’s see how long you last.

Alex opened his mouth but closed it right away. No, he wasn’t giving the guy that satisfaction. He knew how to be quiet and he understood how important it was to keep the image up. Osono was trying hard to put the Agent in her place – actually, he doubted it, because this probably came more naturally to her than anyone else he’d run with before – and considering his job was to stand there and not screw anything up, he wasn’t ruining the mood of terror she’d built by distracting them. He’d stay by the car and wait until he – Xander – saw he was needed and joined them. ... But there was fire on her hand and in the Agent’s face. It wasn’t as though a few whispers were going to stand out.

“I think you should explain the Agency.”

Now Alex’s hand was clamped over his mouth, crushing his jaw and making his teeth grate against his lip. After a minute of that, which felt great and was very much appreciated, Xander loosened up a molecule of space and said, sounding confused, Wait, what?

“I think,” he tried replying, not coming anywhere close because his mouth was both twisted and clenched, “you should explain the Agency.”

What about them?

“Everything,” he said. With his non-possessed fingers, he freed his chin a little. “Everything I didn’t – I couldn’t – figure out from fighting them.”

But that’s all you need to know.

Alex wasn’t allowed to be interested? Xander said it like he couldn’t fathom any reason for it.

“It’s not what I need to know. It’s what I want to know. These people make up the biggest part of my life. They’re organized and –”

Worry about this after.

That was easy for him to say! He knew about them already! He’d worked for them for... for however many years he’d conveniently chosen not to mention. Alex, for all the infinite wisdom he kept passing on to Osono, had seen about as much as her: an army and some hierarchy, but he’d only known about that second one because he didn’t wipe them out before they had a chance to talk to each other. So she was lucky on that end, he guessed, and the stuff he’d been thinking about in Starbucks came back to hit him, too. She didn’t let the Agency tell her what to do, but he had, and as they were coming to a close on this chapter – no matter what they ran into later, no matter what happened to him or to Xander or to Gwen... nothing should have to happen to Gwen – he was facing the stark reality of being one hundred percent blind in fighting them alone because he didn’t have a damn idea of what they were like. Life might have been worse if he’d known he didn’t have a split personality, but it wouldn’t’ve been so ignorant. The most basic of questions, like how they were hired, how they were trained, how they got along with each other – all that stuff, and beyond to hit the barest of bare, like ‘how do you get paid’, ‘how did you hear about them’ and ‘do you commute to work or something?’ Splitting didn’t just mean losing the ability to defend himself. When this re-transfer finished, he’d be back to where he’d been before the Agency had caught him, and memory said that hadn’t work out too well. He wasn’t asking for a lot but his life depended on it. He’d been living under so many assumptions he’d never noticed had been put into his head by a stranger. Although he had those instincts, he didn’t know why he needed them, and because he put so much effort into erring on the side of caution, he’d run through the rest of his years forever staring over his shoulder, permanently paranoid and stupidly looking for something he wouldn’t see.

These damn Agents... He should ask point-blank: how the hell do you sleep at night? But somebody else, because Xander didn’t.

“What are you going to say?”

Shit Peter would.

Things an Agent would say. He’d have to follow on the heels of what Osono was doing. Alex looked at her again. She was very good at this and Xander seemed right about saying she’d fit in. It was weird how easily she was getting a reaction. The Agent was already in tears. Part of him wanted to feel sick about it and he couldn’t help but give in out of habit, but he kept it down and in control. He’d asked her to do this and it wasn’t her fault pretending to be psycho – he double-checked but he was okay with ‘pretending’ – looked so close to the real thing. And she hadn’t needed to agree to what he’d set himself against. Xander wouldn’t’ve. Just to make sure he wasn’t riding that high horse as much, he made special note to remind himself she hadn’t taken the Agent out of the trunk any worse than he was planning to, either. She was controlling herself. He’d call it rude another day, but for now he was amazed she could manage it. She was probably saving it for Rudy. ... Or the ex-Agent in his head. Osono was easier to read than Gwen, mostly because of the ‘wow, this car got really hot very fast’ reflex. She hadn’t liked hearing Xander was who he was. Yeah, a second ago, she seemed alright with it – he knew those two would’ve spent the entire trip adding to his neck and the farm orgy if they could – but that was because the guy was still on a leash. Once they got to when they did it, around the time they saw the whatever-device he’d have to get strapped into, it’d change from a manageable challenge to just...

“Osono, you’ll ruin her suit. The Agency has to pay for that,” Xander said, cheery as he walked over. “Besides, what kind of leader would I be if I just killed someone every time they screwed their one shot to shine and/or demonstrated crucial weaknesses in their defence that could've easily been abused and directly lead to our ultimate downfall? We’re here to learn from our mistakes! That’s what tests are for, I’m nothing if not a man of second chances! So a make-up quiz, I think, is just what the doctor ordered.”

Mindless devotion and endless loyalty: the two things every Agent prided themselves on. It made it impossible to figure out how anyone got promoted. They didn’t expect her to ever be in charge of anything. If they had, they wouldn’t’ve mailed her to them with a ‘please kill me’ stamp. She didn’t have the right spirit, in case he wanted another reason. His years of running on his own gave him a lengthy opportunity to study who was after him and he’d picked up on the differences between the guys in charge and the ones taking orders. Day and night, he’d settled on, and even the bosses stepped down when their bosses showed up. Whoever sat at the top of the pyramid devoured the center stage and everyone underneath it, and they did it without taking any of the blame because there’d always be someone lower to order into being a scapegoat. Now he had that power, made all the stronger by standing like this and lording over her. His stomach flipped once, but on the whole, he was doing okay with the insight. He did wish she’d stop crying. Agents almost never let on they were people and this was one of those times he didn’t have the right to take, but the control he had over her emotions wasn’t being overlooked. He could tell her to stop and she would stop.

Would she prefer that? Would it help? He couldn’t ask her outright ‘cause she’d lie or tell him what she thought he wanted to hear. From where he stood, getting her to calm down helped everybody since –

“Stop crying.” She stopped. Xander added to his Peter Grin. You know what’d help? It you stopped yapping in my ear.

He could hear Alex’s thoughts!

You’re an idiot.

… He couldn’t?

“Relax,” Xander soothed. “It’s easy. I figure you can use the boost to your self-esteem after that embarrassingly pathetic loss to my lovely associate here.” He held up his hand and folded his thumb. “Four questions. For every question you get right, and I mean ‘answer to my satisfaction’, I’ll untie a limb. For every response failing to tickle my toes –” On the inside, Xander sounded like he’d mentally thrown up. “– I tie up something else. Seeing as how the only space left’s around your neck, there’s not a whole lot of suspense to keep you in about which one I’m gonna start with. On the bright side, when that’s over, I won’t have to think about what to end on ‘cause you won’t be around to appreciate it! Isn’t it wonderful how that works out? Let’s start!”

Four questions? They needed two.

“I’m gonna run you through what I want explained so you know what to think about. Don't be afraid to just ask if you need something repeated, 'cause Osono's here to help you! She’d be happy to lend a hand,” he said. “She might even give you a hint!” And that, in itself, was also a hint. It was Osono’s cue. She was the one who could get away with acting outside of how Agent was supposed to. This woman didn’t know her, and with ‘Peter’ saying she could do what she felt like, the Agent couldn’t complain about it. Xander, on the other hand, was getting to the ‘sticking my neck out too far’ line. If he had to keep talking, he kicked up the threat of saying something wrong. Alex believed in him and his track record with this kind of con was flawless, but there’d been enough of a weight on his shoulder to feel light and freer when it fell off precisely when he heard where the guy intended to stop. “Let me think – what sort of question would be good for you? I don’t want to give them away, but you’re not the brightest bulb in the box so I can’t make this too hard.”

Or obvious, Alex wanted to add. The Agent was listening carefully, alert behind her teary face. Her ears had to have been waiting for anything that let her get out, whether or not she thought herself as worthy of using it to bargain for her life.

Stop breathing down my neck, Xander scolded.

Sorry.

“Question number one.” He dragged the words out, tossing them around in his mouth. They passed through his teeth so sweetly, no one could’ve guessed they’d tasted like acid on his tongue. “This very second, we are in Charlton. Can you use your magic powers to tell me why we’re here?”

He was taking the ‘you’re screwed’ path, huh?

She could actually know, he said. I picked what’s going to happen to her. I’m not gonna waste what little intel she has before then.

He expected to get everything out of her in four questions?

The shit I care about. If she can’t answer, she’s fuckin’ useless to me.

“Question two! Where did I just come from?”

Ha. ‘To his satisfaction’. If the Agent had the smallest clue, she’d give them a full list of places Peter had been around. Alex might not’ve known these cities, but he’d travelled across the country more than twice. He could take a stab at finding a pattern. If not, that was what Xander was for.

“Question three!” He scratched Alex’s chin. “Where am I off to next?”

“Specifically.”

I will bust your skull open if you say another word.

… Sorry.

Dipshit.

“And question four,” he finished. “Who is in charge of that facility? That’s the fastest one to answer because I, of course, expect all my staff to have a full list of Agency superstars in the front of their head. I saved it for last ‘cause it’ll use the least amount of oxygen. Not that I think you’ll get the others wrong! You’re recon! If you can’t fight, you can at least inform, right?” Xander leaned in. “Riiiiiiight?” He smiled wider, then straightened up with a hop. “That’s right! I always have the best employees! You make me so proud of you! Until you fuck up in the simplest ways, I mean. Which you guys do. A lot. Repeatedly. Then I’m not so proud.” He shook his head. “Ten minutes to spit it out? It’s like I’m too generous.” Finally, Xander gave his ‘associate’ a silent go-ahead to help her take her second test, glancing back at the Agent just long enough to look excited and say, “Good luck!”

Dude. Seriously? I can’t tell you how much I need mouthwash. You’d better have some shoved somewhere. And my fucking mouth hurts from smiling like that! Fuck I hate this asshole!

Hold onto that. There was still a lot left to do. And after this, he was shedding some light on the shadowy organization.

Don’t hold your breath for anything fancy. I zoned out during 101 Week.

That was fine. It was a start. All Alex wanted was a solid start.

* * *

Oh gaaaaaaaawd…

Spinning had been a terrible idea.

He would have thought the other six times he found a chair, fought it, then lost would have offered him such genius in advance, but these awful things had it out for him and would not stop until he was destroyed. He would be, he admitted it, because the cushiony pricks were always too soft and too damn recliney and the fucking ergonomics of this one was like a stupid angel had come down and carved the little shit to perfection, and that was the glaring sign it was not to be trusted but the fucking thing could spin and fuck this was such an amazing chair! When he puked, because he could feel the German wonder-drink still sloshing in his stomach even though he stopped twirling five minutes ago – or maybe ten minutes ago, but clocks were hard – he would have the pride of knowing it was on the prettiest seat an ass had ever rubbed against. He would be breaking his two year streak of not doing that, which was unfortunate, but it would be in her private room and he knew he could blame it on Eric, which was hilarious. Why had he even been mad about that douchebag joining their group? Planning all the ways to subtly wreck his shit was the most fun he could have in light of the whole…

Yeah.

Well, he was going to have to find more to drink, wasn’t he? That sounded like a brilliant idea. When he could stand, it was the first thing he would set out to do, because more of what the wonder-drink had been, please. He had his pride to protect and a fucking mickey was not taking him out. It would explain why he was hanging off the side of the chair, however. The wonder-drink had been good shit. Unless it was the spinning that was getting to him.

That meant it was the chair’s fault.

“Hiiiiiiiiiii!”

Oh for shit’s sake.

“I locked the door,” he said, not bothering to sit up when the moron bounced in. Eric was worse when he was upside-down, but Benoit was willing to attribute it to the nausea and Quin’s meeting with the Grim Reaper and his pet still fresh in his head. “Go away.”

“You’re drunk again,” Eric cooed, ignoring him and skipping around the vault. “That’s adorable. And helpful! It means you’ll be complacent.”

The man was going to choke on those words.

“Madeline will murder you if she learns you broke in here,” he told him. “She hates you.”

“Glub-glub to you too, Benny!” Retard. Eric floated from screen to screen, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the lights and images. “I’ve heard so many stories about this place! She’s got a really nice set-up here, huh?”

“It seems extreme,” he replied, changing his mind and taking the effort to slowly pick himself up, “but no more than sending an army of watchdogs to hound her while she works.”

Eric looked at him. He blinked. Then he broke out another of his stupid smiles and repeated, “You’re adorable!”

“I know. Bergmann keeps going on about it, in-between trying to put a collar on me, which was in-between her chaining me to shit. Have I thanked you for that yet?”

For a moment, he wondered if it was right for him to swear this close to an Agency authority. He normally worked to avoid it regardless of how much he had of anything. Again: practice. This was, however, Eric, who not only had little interest in such words until it suited the mood to have some, but he deserved it in Benoit’s highly expert opinion. Anyway, it ended up not mattering because the A-1 laughed and simply explained, “You know you basically said ‘higgljuzzgiv’, right? That’s 100% what I heard.”

“I said you should go,” he articulated. “I need a break from your annoying presence.”

“Alright, that was clearer, but it was in French. Too bad Maddie isn’t around. She’d be going crazy over you,” Eric said. “Hey – uh… speaking of which… where is she?”

“Fuck if I know.” Oh right. He did know. “Elmira. With March.” Good riddance to them both. And the fat one. “They left a while ago. Where were you?” Of course, he would have already known that had he watched the screens rather than kill himself by spinning.

“Still French. Fortunately, I heard ‘Elmira’.” Ooooooh – Eric did not sound happy. No – he did – Benoit just meant… behind it. Under it. Whatever – he was thirsty and Eric was pawing at the controls for the central screen. “That won’t do. I’m gonna have to give her a call.” Madeline had been angry when Benoit cracked through her building’s admittance log. How upset would she be to hear her secret vault was getting played like a piano by the one she marked as her personal immortal enemy? The screen was lighting up with options and menus that made him ill and worse off. “Don’t suppose there’s another chair around here?”

“If you move me, I’ll throw up on your shoe.”

Still French, but I get what you said. I’ll stand.”

He could do the salsa if it meant Benoit could keep his seat.

This floor was tilted. How was everything stopping itself from rolling around? He pondered this until the ringing around the vault stopped. Silence... That wouldn’t last for long. She had speakers on all forty of her screens, and now she was on each of them, angry in a way he hadn’t thought to give her credit for. Wherever she was, it looked cozy. The inside – from the few corners he could see that didn’t have her face in them – was nicely upholstered. Beige. Clean. He would steal it if she brought it back. That might have been the wonder-drink talking, but he agreed with the idea nonetheless.

“PATTEN.” Her voice had been impressively restrained. Too bad they could still hear her trying to crush Eric’s face with her voice. Then her mouth twitched, which he plainly saw, for such was the glory of video calls. And the wonder-drink, because although he took the twitch and the growing curl of her lip as what it was: the calm before the storm and the acoustics in here were... in short, this would make him deaf, but at the other end, dear Lord this was going to be funny. “PATTEN –” She sputtered a bit in rage. “WHERE ARE YOU CALLING FROM?”

“From your building,” Eric said, sounding surprised. “I’m right where you left me.”

He may have intended to segue into how he was in Charlton and she was not, but Madeline bit through his words with her own before Eric could do more than draw his breath. Benoit reclined into his hate-chair. Somehow, the magic of this had taken down his illness.

“PATTEN.” The tension was rising! “ARE YOU IN MY OFFICE?”

“Of course not,” he exclaimed. “I know you A-2s mark your rooms as your oasis...ses... and I would never defile the sanctity of your castle by sneaking in where I’m not supposed to be!”

“THEN WHERE ARE YOU?!”

“I dunno. I think it’s a security room,” Eric said, overjoyed with this prospect. “Hope you don’t mind I had to kick the door in to get over here! There were a lot of locks on your door and I couldn’t figure out how else to do it.”

Madeline could make the most amusing expressions. As Eric went on, her eyes bulged ever slightly outside the realm of what the human face should do, devoid of any wrinkle, knit or crease along her skin to make more room for it. Her mouth had gone rigid and her shoulders had drawn up, and although she managed to speak against the crunching of her jaw along the top of her teeth, Benoit heard her hit a height of bottling her fury enough to form sounds he would have called ‘contained’ in the same way he could have said it about a tornado having only destroyed a few cities and only a few millions of people: sarcastically and in poor taste.

“PATTEN.” Ha, ha, ha! Her eye was twitching, too! “GET OUT OF MY OFFICE.”

“I’m not in your office.” Eric looked at him. “Am I in her office?”

“Don’t drag me into this.”

“See? He said no,” Eric translated. “Okay – so I might’ve had to sneak through to get to here, but don’t worry! I didn’t snoop. Oasis!”

She was going to have an aneurism.

Madeline chose to play it safe. It had taken Benoit all of ten minutes to piece together that this room, while in the vein of the Agency’s faith in its staff, had not been expressly approved. A few flicks through the permits and blueprints later, he then realized this room wasn’t listed anywhere. Had there been documents discussing it, they were hidden, and while he doubted she couldn’t shrug her shoulders and say some half-excuse to make up for it, another perk of her trusted rank and one he was moderately envious of, the paperwork was unavoidable. Forms for each day would have to be registered, and if she managed to pawn it off on a lackey, she still needed to sign and thumbprint all of them and the Agency checked for stamps. Needless to say, if she had been sitting on this for as long as he expected, Eric was in a perfect position to ruin her next eight-to-ten months. With this knowledge likely in mind, Madeline, more incensed and audibly crushing her phone around its camera, asked, “WHY ARE YOU CALLING ME?”

“Just sayin’ hi,” Eric responded, tucking his arms behind his back and rocking on his heels like a child. If Jean was in a grave, he’d be spinning right now. Oh God why did he think that word? “Wonderin’ what you’re up to, wonderin’ how you’re doin’, wonderin’ why on Earth you’d be going to Elmira...”

“IT DOESN’T CONCERN YOU.”

“Well, you either left because I’m here or because I’ve got stuff over there,” he said. “It’s okay, I’m not mad. I just want to know the itinerary. I can throw together a whole welcome party for you!”

“STOP BEING ALIVE, PATTEN,” she snarled. “AND STOP CALLING ME!”

Eric immediately called her back when she hung up. Shockingly, she refused to answer.

“That’s just rude,” he said, hurt. “She changed her number! That’s a week’s request to get! Benny!”

“What?”

“Get her number for me!”

Didn’t he have people to do it for him? He had dozens crawling around these halls this moment!

“If she changed it –” Benoit could guess how many times this had to have happened for the switch to be instantaneous, but it wouldn’t do the truth its justice. “– I imagine it’s because, like I said, she hates you. My advice is to leave her alone.”

“… So is that like your ‘thing’? You forget English? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Is that a yes?”

His mood had plummeted when Eric walked in. It had yet to improve.

“Yes.”

“I know that one!” Good for you. Close your fat mouth, Patten. “So the number?”

“You won’t understand me anyway.”

And of course, Eric, gleaning this message, took out a pen and paper. Fine. He’d look her up.

It took a moment to remember how to use his lenses – ‘intuitive’ his ass, and why was he wasting this technology on a damn phone number – but he got her profile. He vaguely waved his hand to get the paper put into it, and while he had no trouble with that chore, picking up the pen and positioning it in his hand – his left hand, where it did him no good but fuck it, he was using it anyway – was the most complicated bit of acrobatics he had done all month. Now he had to make numbers, shit…

“It’s freaky how hard you’re concentrating,” Eric said, getting his nose directly in the light he was trying to use. “By the way, what’re you writing? French numbers? ‘Cause I can’t read those. Write them less... bad.”

“Va chier.”

… Wait, what was he writing? This wasn’t a nine.

“Thank you, Benny,” Eric sang, peeling the number from his grip. Benoit hadn’t taken the pen off the page yet and he was horrified to have left a line of ink down the middle of it. The motion of trying to get it back failed him two ways, first by grabbing at nothing, then by incurring the wrath of the chair. It couldn’t have been more than eighty degrees, but the turn made him gag. “Hopefully she picks up! She’s got a bad habit of blocking any number I call from.” Benoit could guess that happened with many different people. “I’d get you to do it, but I can’t trust you not to drink the mic.”

It was a smart move on his part. Benoit didn’t trust himself not to try, either.

The ringing dragged on for longer than before. He could almost see her trying to ignore it, refusing to put her phone on silent out of indignation at having to place any effort into it at all, not when she had so thoroughly told the A-1 to leave her alone. So much for that. She had less patience than he knew any person could lack, and they could hear her in the middle of choice words as she took the call and returned to glowering at them. This time, it was just the one screen, but he felt confident in gauging that her anger was exactly as consuming as it had been before.

“WHAT?”

“Hi Madeline – I guess we got disconnected,” Eric said. “We always have the worst reception when we talk!”

“PATTEN, FOLLOW MY WORDS,” she fumed. It looked like her arms were crossed now, though she left her hand enough freedom to hold her phone. “I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU CALLED ME BACK –”

He could have described exactly what raced through his body as Eric decided to, in an effort to show his answer rather than explain it, which the idiot did anyway, grab his chair and pull it over, whipping it around so he could face the camera that seemingly had only been focused on the happy mountain, but he chose not to on the grounds that he needed his strength to keep himself from stabbing the man in the neck for it directly in the center of his stolen throat. Madeline, meanwhile, infuriated the A-1 dare find her twice, seemed noticeably happier now that she could ‘see’ him, so there: one person was getting something out of this.

“Benny got it for me,” Eric buzzed. “You’re not gonna get mad at him, are you?”

“Hi Madeline,” he said. It may or may not have come out as an unintelligible slur.

She peered at him, then squinted, then leaned away, then leaned back in, then studied him closely and she was making him very dizzy doing that, then finally she asked, carefully, “DID YOU DRUG HIM?”

“No! I’d never do that to widdle Ben-Ben! He screwed himself up,” Eric said. “Lookit how sad he is!” He wasn’t sad. “He misses you!” He sure as shit did not miss her. “How can you take off like that and leave him when you’re responsible for this? For shame – leaving alcohol around? It’s his personal kryptonite!”

“HE’S DRUNK?” And with those two words, she morphed from hellish and violated to absolutely mesmerized by the thought of how much she could have put him through had she been there. “THAT’S ADORABLE!”

“That’s what I said!”

“I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING MORE ADORABLE IN MY LIFE!”

“Wait, wait, wait!” Then Eric pushed him. He pushed him – and Benoit – fuck, he wasn’t stopping that. He accepted it and simply despised them both from his new settlement: back to hanging over the armrest. “Isn’t that hilarious?! He just flops over! Awwww, but he still looks so sad!”

Of course I look sad! You pushed me and –

HE’S SPEAKING FRENCH!

Right, right, that...

“So let’s see,” Eric said, preparing himself to count. His fingers were up and he wiggled one whenever he scrounged up a new point. “He’s drunk, incapacitated, in need of a very big hug, and he’s stuck speaking French for as long as he’s got booze in him.” Don’t ask where he got it. Don’t ask where he got it. Don’t ask where he got it... “And you’re on a plane to Elmira, throwing this away.”

“Fuck you, Patten.”

Could he at least pretend this was something other than whoring him out? It wounded him when Eric wouldn’t try to hide it. His self-esteem was taking a critical dive.

“STOP TRYING TO SELL ME WHAT I OWN.” Oh really?! “MY KITTY ALREADY KNOWS TO WAIT,” she added, smiling confidently. “I AM COMING BACK FOR HIM WHEN I AM FINISHED HERE. DON’T TOUCH HIM AND STOP FEEDING HIM.” ... Did she actually think he was a cat? Was that... was that a real thought in her head? He had been getting worried that eventually she would – and this had only occurred to him halfway through the spinning – figure out he had stolen from her ‘personal reserve’ of wonder-drink. Now he was thinking he could use this. Humiliating? Perhaps. But as long as she kept the chains out of this, there weren’t... too many drawbacks to playing along for an extremely limited and regulated amount of time that only ever occurred in areas with a vast number of exits. “DON’T CALL ME AGAIN.”

“Don’t make me have to call you,” Eric said, “and put Stephie on the phone! I’d like to talk to her.”

Madeline’s eyebrow quirked in an unusual mixture of expectance, annoyance and mistrust, but she kept it out of her voice, specifically by screaming over it, as she replied, “SHE CAN ALREADY HEAR YOU.” Because it was a video call. The speaker was automatically on.

“I’m aware she can hear me,” Eric chipperly informed. “I’m equally aware that if I begin talking to her, you’ll hear me.”

“GETTING PARANOID IN YOUR OLD AGE, PATTEN?”

Look who was talking.

“Don’t make it worse by giving me more reasons!”

His words had finished with a giggle. Madeline’s had finished with a frown. Benoit was going to keep sitting here, saying nothing until he was sure it wouldn’t be the last thing he said. Although to be honest, he was miffed the attention was drifting away from him – until Eric made sure he was ‘still breathing’ by shaking the bastard chair. Then he returned to enjoying being ignored.

Her hands were tied this time. Despite his friendly tone, it had been a direct order. Madeline rolled her eyes fiercely but took the command and made it work. With a sarcastic smirk at the phone, she shut off the camera and left them with soft rustling as it was passed to the other. Eric found some mystery cue to start talking. He sounded back to his old self again, but Benoit couldn’t completely tell. Because he was drunk. Thinking was hard. Leave him alone.

“Hi Stephanie,” Eric said, speaking slightly quicker than he usually did. “Sorry I have to rush, but I don’t trust Maddie not to yank this out’f your hands after – like – ten seconds. Good luck on your trip and everything and I’m sorry you got stuck with her...” Eric didn’t have the widest range of emotion in his voice. Aside from obscenely happy and annoyingly happy and cupcake-sprinkle-sugar-cake crap happy, it was hard to pick out anything resembling a change in his tone. When his voice lowered now, it stayed true to that, but for the first time since he had arrived, something deliberate framed his tidings. It wasn’t enough to get Benoit to lift his head, but he decided against tuning this out. “Madeline isn’t technically allowed to be there. It’s not against the rules, but there’s a certain amount of notice to be given and she’s bypassed all of it. I’m not worried about you being incapable and you’ve never seemed the type to get distracted, but as much as I trust you, I have to say to keep your guard up. Gwen is your number one priority, but if you wouldn’t mind making Maddie a close second...” And as an afterthought, “And – hey, if you find a window or something that sort’f looks Lady German sized, I can guarantee not too much of a fuss would follow any ‘accident’.” He didn’t do the air quotes, but close enough. “Anyway, that’s it. You’ve got enough to think about. Really good luck, okay?”

“ENOUGH.” More rustling. Eric had been right about having to rush. “I WANT NO MORE OF YOUR VOICE.”

“Madeline...” Eric shrugged and smiled at her voice. “Have a nice trip.”

“ENJOY YOUR STAY IN MY BUILDING.”

Benoit’s ears perked up.

Eric hung up the phone. He stood in place for several seconds, but for once, he didn’t see fit to break his silence by rambling. Instead, he was waiting for Benoit to ask his question. Fine, he might as well. Sitting up, not enjoying the latest calibration, and guaranteeing what came out of his mouth was in the right language, he inquired, “What do you care if she goes to Elmira?”

“Spectacularly little, in regards to what she’s capable of.” He shrugged again. “I dunno. She might surprise me.”

“And you aren’t worried about a surprise?”

“I do trust Stephanie to handle it. Up to a point, I mean,” Eric said. “Man, that sucks. It’s hard knowing so much stuff you’re not actually supposed to know. I keep almost telling people to ‘look out for that’ or ‘guess what’s coming’!”

Benoit frowned.

“Like what?”

“Odds and ends, she'll be fine, don’t worry about it – so! What’re you up to? Down for the count?”

“Hardly. I’ll be ready to act in twenty minutes, and by my watch, we have over forty.”

“Hmmmmmm...” Eric hummed for much longer than that, but Benoit was more concerned by the atrociously familiar stance he was adopting as he did. He had his hands clasped together, except for his indexes, because those he used to tap on his chin as if he was considering an option or wondering how to approach a topic, as if Benoit wasn’t well aware that whatever came next was an order, not a request. “Y’know – I think Maddie might have something else tucked around in here. You know those Germans! Always stockpiling something!”

“You must be mad,” he said. He put his arms on the rest as if he was about to stand. It was still too early for that, but he was taking considerable steps towards it. “I have everything timed to be ready for Alexander’s arrival.”

“You’re gonna be sober by then? Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Oh. Oh, well... that’s good! That’s good news!” Not to Eric, it wasn’t. Benoit narrowed his eyes. “Just... I’ve been putting some thought towards your plan...”

No.

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

“Never,” Benoit told him. “Whatever you’re thinking, stop thinking it. I will not allow you to interfere again.”

“I learned several very important facts when I ran with Xander, Benny,” Eric said. “Facts that, I’m sure, haven’t changed yet.”

What facts?” Why in fuck was he even asking?! “You aren’t doing anything! You aren’t touching my case!”

“Here’s what I’m proposing –”

No!

Shit, his mind was still fuzzy! As obvious – blatantly, outrageously obvious – as the list of reasons why Eric should keep his shitty hands to himself were, he couldn’t list them all at once like he wanted to.

“Benoit, you still get Alex. That isn’t changing for you, buddy,” Eric said, trying to sound compassionate and doing a miserable job because fuck Eric. “It’s just that I happen to live on a ‘waste not, want not’ mindset and I’d really, really hate to see a flipping Pain Eater get tossed out. I mean – I’m proof of that already!”

One, that was a shitbag thing to say. Two, Eric was insane. He’d never denied it before, but now its depths were being revealed. Eric was crazy – he hadn’t even finished drooling out what the details of his fucking fucktarded fucked plan were and already Benoit could smell the putrid stench of disaster wafting off of him. Had Patten been working in isolation, he would have welcomed it upon the man, because like he could not emphasize enough, fuck Eric, but this was the critical moment of what he was working for! Jean and his agenda was something else, but he couldn’t factor in anything if this man was genuinely standing before him and explaining that he wanted to let Marshall Elias out of the cage he’d been kept in that Benoit had celebrated over for a fucking good reason.

“What part of ‘no’ aren’t you understanding, Eric?”

“The ‘no’ part,” Eric admitted. “I mean... you get that I’m going through with this, right? Your bitching and moaning isn’t going to change my mind. I’ve been planning this for a while.”

“You’ve been planning to bring a rogue Agent to complicate every possible thing we could ever get our hands on later?” Oh, and as for important details: “He went rogue, Eric. That means he stopped listening to us, Eric.”

“I’ve got it covered.” Smile, smile, smile!

“Bullshit you do,” Benoit thundered. “Get away from my case!”

“Would it help if I said –”

No! It! Would! Not!

“Benny, I like you. You’re a fun guy to hang around,” Eric said, switching gears louder than Benoit would have expected. The man dropped his ‘please let me do this’ charade and regained his old role, and the juxtaposition dumbfounded him. Benoit leaned back in his chair, unsure of what was coming but bracing himself for the worst. “There’s not a whole lot of people I can say I respect, but you’re one of them. You’ve got these... ethics. You have a very practical idea of what’s right and wrong, and despite your shenanigans when the ol’ A-2 leaves you unsupervised for ten minutes, you’ve never strayed from a logical – and occasionally moral – approach to furthering the goal of the Agency. It’s something I can count on, that I do count on, which is why I’m treating you like the sensible adult and –” He paused for added emphasis. “– colleague that you are and informing you, in no interpretable terms, that I am going to do this, and it’s with that undying sense of admiration for everything you are that I also extend to you this choice: you can do this the easy way, or you can do this the Jason way. I could not be more tolerant of either or, so whad’ya say?”

Benoit should have seen that coming.

“... I reserve full rights to call you a retard when you die from this.”

And he would.

“Reserved.” Eric clapped, as if it sealed his words in stone. “Now I don’t have to lock you in here! Yaaaaaaay! Benoit has my trust now!”

More bullshit, and not what he needed to know.

“How is this going to change things for me?”

God help him... This far into what was happening and now Eric was bending the plan again.

“It won’t. In fact, you’ll have less work to do,” the A-1 said. “You were gonna interrupt the transfer? Now you won’t touch it. Let it happen.”

“And in the meantime, what do you expect me to do?”

Eric’s grin grew painfully wide. He tilted his head and questioned politely, “What did Madeline tell you to do?”

Several unspeakable things, actually, all of them thanks to this asshole shoving him at her, but most recently, “She told me to stay in here.”

“Well, Benny,” Eric said, brightening the room with his shark grin, “that’s what I strongly suggest you do.”

Benoit’s eyes had drifted open at some point. He narrowed them again now, crushing his nails into the chair.

“Why?”

“Because like I said, ‘waste not’.” Eric reached over and gave him two heavy pats on the shoulder, beginning to leave after a casually offhand, “Stay where you’re safe.”

Crap. Now he had to turn in the chair to keep an eye on him. His gut did not appreciate this.

“Safe from what?”

There was no answer. There was no direct answer, at any rate. As Eric left her office, Benoit caught him singing, “Madeline, Madeline, what are we to do with you?”

Hmm.

So... where were the rest she’d supposedly stockpiled? It seemed like he’d be here for a while.

* * *

... Okay... Okay... Nothing to be worried about because it was all okay... He’d sit here twiddling his thumbs until he stopped trying to talk. He did that a lot. Whenever he got nervous, he rambled ‘til he passed out or until someone let him go home. Not that... okay, he stood by what he said about this being the best day of his life ‘cause he’d gone from hopping down to Charlton to fix Jason’s goggles and already knew his boss – ex-boss? – was gonna scream at him even though he’d totally saved Jason-not-Jason telling him to reset it and that wasn’t his fault ‘cause how was he supposed to know it was stolen and if Jason’d just called him this whole thing could’ve been dodged to actually meeting Stephanie March and getting to talk to Madeline Bergmann and now he was on a helicopter with both of them and he was living on the strength from the greatest cookie he’d ever eaten and it came from Eric Patten’s pocket, so he wanted everyone to know he was overwhelmed with gratitude and fandom and honour at being special enough to be in their presence and breathe their air but... these guys were – like... professional bad-asses and he stuck out like a tiny thumb and it sucked that he didn’t even have Jason around so he could tell himself, ‘Okay, I don’t have anything to do with this and I’m only here because I asked Eric Patten and he said yes, but I’m helping my boss get stuff done...’ But they’d left him. Jason’d said to wait – but – like... they hadn’t. Gary expected to him to call sooner or later and ask ‘what’s up’ but he didn’t wanna answer that ‘cause the guy would be heartbroken under his dumb ‘superior Agents don’t have emotions so I don’t want any either grrrrrr!’ routine, and with the way Stephanie was totally glued to what she was doing...

And – uh... yeah, he also didn’t want Jason to call for that other reason, either. Madeline was pretty angry – umm... except by ‘angry’ he meant ‘walking to the Gates of Hell’ – she didn’t seem to like him very much already and even though her eyes were closed like she was trying hard to calm down after her chat with Eric, her arms were crossed really tightly and her eyebrows were pointed in a superhuman look of thought domination, so he was hoping he didn’t have to interrupt her by getting his phone out and he didn’t want to find it to put it on silent so it wouldn’t bug her and he didn’t remember if it was already ‘cause sometimes he just kept it on –

“WILL YOU BE QUIET?”

He screamed. So – um... no?

“I-I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t saying anything!”

“I CAN HEAR YOUR FAT HEAD CHITTERING TO ITSELF.”

He was nervous! He was just nervous – he always chittered when he was nervous! Well – he’d never called it that but – oh God she opened her eyes and she was looking at him! OH GOD!

“I’m sorry,” he yelped. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

“I’M SURPRISED YOU DON’T WORK FOR PATTEN,” she said. Her voice was so cool! “YOU SEEM THE TYPE TO MANAGE HIS PUBLIC SIDE: HAPPY AND STUPID.”

Did she mean that? All at once, the fear in his heart faded and it was filled with inspiration and dreams and – oh God she was looking at him again! The fear was back! Sweet Sally, it was back!

“I’m sorry – I’m sorry – I’m sorry,” he gasped. “I’m just – psyched to be here – and everything – uh... I’m just...” Come on, Gary! He could do this! “I’m just – uh... I’m a big fan. Huge fan. This is – like – six things off my bucket list and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d wanna be.” Okay, he was probably smiling like an idiot, but at least she’d stopped frowning as much and she’d closed her eyes for the third time. “Uh...” Uh-oh. He was pushing his luck, wasn’t he? “What’s it like being –”

“I DIDN’T TELL YOU TO TALK.”

“Oh – right! Okay – uh...” He’d shut up then. If Jason was here, Gary would’ve gotten a smack on his head. He figured A-3s and A-2s didn’t do that ‘cause whenever they hit someone, somebody’s head exploded. He twiddled his thumbs again, completely stumped about whether he should be traumatized for seeing what Stephanie did. It was really grisly... Did Jason know about it? What did he think? “Hey... Agent March? I wanted –”

“NO TALKING!”

He shut right up and twiddled his thumbs and looked out the window and didn’t move. For five minutes. Then he drifted back to the inside of the cabin and looked around again. It was really nice. It was probably like the limo of helicopters, with two benches on either side and two wide windows on the others. He – uh... he’d been sitting on the benches at first... but he’d gotten carried away when he ‘trembled in excitement’. Madeline made him sit on the floor. It was okay, though! It was carpeted and really fluffy and soft. This place was just missing the bed, ‘cause otherwise it could’ve a hotel! The bit where the pilot sat was cut off by a black window, giving them even more awesome stuff to look at, and Madeline’d put it up because... he might’ve gotten carried away pointing out all the buttons and switches and how smart the pilot was for knowing what they all did, too. She’d been flattered, but Madeline... Having it up meant there was no more sound from the outside. They couldn’t hear the propeller at all – it was like was a pin could drop and they’d hear it! If... if it landed on something hard, he meant. Like on the door or something, not the carpet for the seats. But how was that supposed to work? It meant he’d have to throw it, and the extra force and therefore the extra sound defeated the purpose – “Sorry!”

“I CAN ACCEPT THE PAPERWORK OF THROWING YOU OUTSIDE,” she said. What a kidder! And that was exactly what he’d tell himself right up until she did it... “I AM TRYING TO THINK.”

“About what?”

She kept her arms crossed, but she flinched like she was gonna hit him. So luckily, she changed her mind and just stretched her fingers instead. Then her eyes moved over to Stephanie, thoughtfully considering whatever she’d been thinking about before, and when she stretched her fingers again, Madeline said to her, “YOU KNOW HE WANTS SOMETHING FROM YOU.” ... Who? ... Eric? “HIS INTEREST IN OTHERS BEGINS AND ENDS AT WHAT HE CAN GET FROM THEM. HE HAS A PLAN FOR YOU. DON’T TELL ME YOU DON’T KNOW THAT.”

She wasn’t totally yelling anymore. She was still booming and it wasn’t like she’d gotten quieter, but Gary thought it sounded less crack-your-ears. This was ‘serious voice’. It got him even more interested, and he hadn’t thought that was possible!

“What kinda plan? Like... a bad one?”

“BAD FOR ANYONE HE DOESN’T LIKE,” she said. “NEED I EXPLAIN HE ONLY LIKES HIMSELF?” ... He seemed like an awesome guy – oh – whoa – Madeline totally just guessed what he was thinking! He didn’t breathe until she took her glare off and gave a science-y look at Gwen Stewart. “ISN’T IT CONVENIENT THAT HE ARRIVED AS SOON AS YOUR WORK HIT ITS SNAG? YOU GOING THROUGH WITH THIS, TRANSFERRING INTO HER...” She shook her head. “I CAN’T TELL WHO WANTS IT MORE.”

“Ummm...” Not to... interrupt... but... “Why is that bad? Wouldn’t you want an A-1 to be.... y’know – helping...?”

“HE’S HELPING TOO MUCH,” she said, getting tense. “HE STAYED BEHIND WHERE ALEXANDER CAN FIND HIM. THAT IS NOT AN ACT OF CHARITY. HE EXPECTS MARCH TO REPAY THIS DEBT.” Back to Stephanie, and then right to the point. Gary couldn’t believe he was allowed to hear this! “ONCE YOU GET YOUR GIRL, HE OWNS YOU. BODY AND SOUL, YOU WILL ANSWER TO HIM. I HAVE SEEN IT SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEN AND NOW IS HOW MUCH MORE CARE HE PUT INTO SUPPORTING YOU.” Stephanie was special, too! ... And Madeline didn’t think that was something to be proud of! Why was he still cheering! He stopped when she curled her lip, but she was pointing it at Agent March for once. “OR MAYBE HE LIKES THAT YOU’VE BOWED TO HIM ALRADY. YOU WORK FAST TO CURRY FAVOUR.”

Hey, now... That didn’t sound polite.

“We’re all just trying to get along,” he said, sounding weak the instant her attention flooded back. “We’re... all friends...?”

I AM NOT ‘FRIENDS’ WITH HIM.” ... The Gates of Hell had opened. Yup. Opened right up. “AND ANY FRIEND OF HIS IS AN ENEMY OF MINE. THINK OF WHAT YOU’RE RISKING, MARCH.” Her eyes flashed. “YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE HALF THE STORY.”

She turned her head away, ending the one-sided conversation, leaving Gary alone to look up at Stephanie. ... Not a lot to read on a face like hers. If Jason were here, he’d know what to say. Gary didn’t, so he’d just stay upbeat in case Stephanie needed a sunny face. ... But not so sunny that he’d make Madeline upset. This was tricky. It was a good thing no one expected him to do anything, or else he’d be in a lot of trouble.


Last edited by Tartra on Fri Jul 15, 2011 10:29 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Age : 27
Location : Ottawa, Canada


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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Mon Jun 20, 2011 9:15 pm

The further away from the Charlton base that the helicopter flew, the smaller everything outside of Stephanie's world became. She did not listen to the phone conversation, barely aware of it at all despite sitting with her back straight as a pole and staring right at Madeline while she talked. Staring through her. The voices came through a tunnel, all meaning and inflection drained from the words, reduced to a blurred cacophony to her ears. Even the sound of Master's cheerful voice could not register as more than a diluted warbling.

Stephanie was absorbed with Gwendolyn Stewart. Her hand clasped around her target's, feeling her warm pulse mirroring her own through their touching palms, as id Gwen's life was pounding and echoing through the empty caverns of Stephanie's body. The distance they traveled was no longer measured by how far away Charlton was, but how much closer they were to Elmira and what awaited them there. The goal was in sight and her skin shivered and itched in anticipation of her eventual transformation.

In addition to thoughts of her transfer, Stephanie also found her concentration tested by Gwen's state of mind. Occasionally, her doll-like fingers would come to life and lightly spasm in Stephanie's hand, like a tiny slumbering creature rousing in the Agent's robotic grasp. Her breathing changed, every once in a while jolted from the placid, level tempo of her static condition to something almost resembling consciousness - an awareness that understood she was trapped and softly fearful, her lungs taking in tiny, rapid gulps of air before becoming docile and slumbering once more.

Was she still trying to contact Alexander? Was she STILL attempting to escape? It was ridiculous and she would have even said laughable if hilarity had been within her reach at the moment. The Emotion Desensitization Program was fully active, each layer bolted shut and scraped clean and raw within her mind. It was unbreakable and Gwen would never get through. And if the girl woke up, Stephanie merely had to direct her concentration at the wounded and timid probing of Gwen's presence just at the edge of the her consciousness to render her target helpless again.

Someone said her name. Well, a version of it - Master's nickname for her. As Stephanie focused on the people around her, the volume and distortion of their voices cleared and she patiently waited for the current squabbling to resolve itself, making note of Madeline's eventual acquiescence to Master's authority. But she did not move to take the phone, nor was it offered to her and she blinked dully at the other woman as it was held up and pointed in her general direction. Not moving an inch, she sat listening to Master's voice as it continued to come through the speaker, seemingly unaware of not being held confidentially to her ear. Now that conversation was directed at her, she latched onto every word and nuance in his tone, reading the possible hidden meanings in the words themselves and also picking up on what was possibly not being said.

First, she was given orders to basically keep an eye on the A-2 Agent and be ready for... what? What exactly was she on guard against? Did he think that Madeline would interfere with her transfer or was he worried the female Agent intended to mess with some other project of his in Elmira? Either way, it didn't matter. The latter question was irrelevant and the former was a situation Stephanie had already considered and planned for. His authority and rank was enough to ensure her obedience, even though her emotional loyalty was no longer present, and despite not needing his permission to kill the A-2, she accepted it as an order. He would not have assured her that she would be free from responsibility unless he expected her to kill Bergmann. But whether he was warning her that it would be necessary or merely adding it to her to-do list, she couldn't tell.

Secondly, her thoughts drifted to Master himself to hear him compliment her. "I’m not worried about you being incapable and you’ve never seemed the type to get distracted"... Was he reprimanding her? Without a doubt, he'd known things were going on between her and Jason from the beginning; he was far too intelligent and vigilant for her to think she'd ever truly been successfully "sneaky" while he was in the same premises as she was. And add onto that the things he'd said and hinted at during their conversations in Charlton - basically promising her that there would be opportunities and time to develop her relationship with her partner after her transfer. During a great bulk of the time she'd known Master, she HAD been distracted and barely capable of executing the small tasks he'd set before her without falling apart.

It was a warning, not praise. He'd taken Jason away from her, the one thing he probably thought had been holding her back and was now leaving her no excuses for further failure. That admonition was also unnecessary. This project was her life and this grand moment was what she'd been working for, which was why even when Jason attempted to join her, she'd left him behind. Whether Madeline had men available for the task or not, Jason would make sure the transfer occurred and Alexander was incapacitated. And she knew that these favors and this immunity were not gifts he handed out to everybody. Although she was aware that Master had been manipulating her, she did not see how she wasn't benefiting from this plan and decided it wasn't really important. Who cared what he got out of it? She was doing what she wanted. Period.

And then he was gone. Once more in the silence of the helicopter, Stephanie let her surroundings fade away as she returned to thinking about Gwen, the girl's sleepy hand gently squeezing her own before falling dormant again. With a glance at her, nothing had outwardly changed - her eyes were closed, her mouth still obediently shut and a tiny wrinkle sat in between her dark eyebrows - and Stephanie would have immediately been able to detect if the girl was awake of not. Looking over those gentle features contorted in futile concentration, Stephanie tried to remember why she wanted to become Gwen Stewart in the first place. Beyond and underneath the icy hold that the Lachesis had over her, there was a stronger, deeper compulsion pushing her towards this transfer. With her head clear and alert she could probably analyze the source of this feeling of imminent catastrophe that was urging her forw--

When Gary screamed, Stephanie's bright green eyes were drawn placidly to him, once again remembering that he existed only when her gaze fell upon him. Apparently, Stephanie's attempt to calm the man down had worked but he was still bothering Madeline. The last thing she wanted was for the woman to be tense in this still relatively small space, but she understood that his anxiousness and ability to get under Madeline's skin was not something he had any control over, and decided it wasn't worth the effort to try shutting him up again. Besides, once Bergmann began to talk to Stephanie, she didn't seem to mind Gary's occasional interruptions and even responded to him in a decent manner - at least, with as much decency as one could expect from Madeline.

And just like with Master speaking to her, Stephanie targeted the sound of Madeline's voice and picked apart each word as they reverberated against her ear drums. But in the end, there wasn't any content there for her to care about either. It was basically information she was already aware of and whatever extra knowledge that Madeline possessed, she was only willing to mention it for now. That was alright. It would change nothing.

What exactly did the woman want? Was she worried that Stephanie might interfere with whatever it was she intended to do or was she trying to get her support? Either way, she didn't care; she had her orders. And she thought about that for a moment. Madeline had made her stance very clear and was vocal about her opposition to Master and his goals. Stephanie's transfer into Gwendolyn Stewart was one of those apparent goals. But Madeline's threat to her case was something she'd already considered and was prepared to deal with, so whether it was an open threat or not did not alter the established plan.

As far as owing a debt to Master went, it was a little late for buyer's remorse at this point. As long as she got inside Gwen's head and got to keep her options with Jason open, there was nothing else that she wanted. Master was certainly welcome to own her and in a way she felt he already did. He was an A-1; it wasn't like it made a difference since he could pretty much order her to do whatever he wanted anyways. Whether she was directly returning a favor or paying a debt seemed a trivial specification to make.

How to proceed? Obviously, Madeline had said what she wanted to say and considered the conversation over. But would it be better if she let the woman know how little she cared about her infantile war with Master? What would she really be saying, though? Madeline at least felt some level of sympathy towards her, enough to want to "reason" with her and stop Stephanie from making what she considered to be a mistake. But she was obviously motivated by her own goals.

She expected Stephanie to defend him and to not be bothered by the current situation. From her apparent opinion of March and the way she'd ended her little spiel, she seemed to assume that saying anything more would be pointless; that Stephanie was beyond convincing.

"I know," she said dully, looking straight at the dark-haired woman. There had not been more than a minute or two of silence in the helicopter before her voice invaded it with an emotionless that contrasted sharply with Madeline's animated voice. "It's something I've only recently become aware of. Distraction. Blind infatuation." She glanced at Gary. "Celebrity worship. My perception has not been working at it's highest capability. I am seeing clearer now, and despite being unable to express displeasure at the moment, this is not something that I want to happen. But I don't see any other options. If you're asking for my support with something, my hands are tied.

"My lover is standing close to where Alexander will be as well, and it has only been within the last hour that I've realized, it was something He made happen, without a clear reason why. I thought He cared about me and I thought it was a good plan, but now it appears that I've allowed myself to be manipulated. Either way, Jason is out of my reach now. From my own experience, I have learned that you have to make sacrifices to fuel progression, giving away parts of yourself as currency until you finally reach the top." No emotion, but as Jason passed through her mind and was shoved coldly aside, a thin trickle of blood seeped from her right nostril. Not even a flicker of change registered in her marble features as Stephanie's hand drifted up and wiped it away.

"I cannot have the things I want and remain intact." With a small tissue she'd fished from her pocket, she neatly cleaned her fingers and face before continuing. "Unless you can help me, I'm going through with the transfer like He wants me to and I will allow Him to have whatever is left of me afterward. If you can't, then shut up and leave me alone. I'm busy."

Gwen softly murmured something, and Stephanie held her hand again after tucking the tissue away. The contact instantly got the girl to quiet down. Eventually, she was going to need to deal with this fighting spirit in her target and crush it somehow. Not that it made any real difference in the end.

***
She missed Six. It was weird to feel that way because they'd barely ever talked outside of what was necessary for them to communicate as team. But she couldn't stop thinking about how her first impression of him had been that he was attractive and nice looking. Her job made it nearly impossible to consider a relationship with him, but it wasn't just him she was thinking of. ANY men she would have liked to date...guys she hadn't even met yet... all of those opportunities now gone forever. No eventual promotions. No family of her own someday.

And Brie kept going over all the things she would never get to do in her life because she was certain she was going to die. Her boss was going to let this crazy woman kill her. All of the fight left her as she looked back and forth between them, sobbing as she visualized goodbyes to friends and loved ones. The tears continued to flow when Patten stepped forward finally to talk to her, seemingly unable to stop crying either out of a frantic relief or a hopeless pessimism. A second chance? Was this real?

At his order, she abruptly stopped weeping and was able to somewhat compose herself with thoughts of this new prospective quiz. She wasn't going to die! She'd prove to him that she deserved to be a part of his team. But when he described the little quiz he was setting up for her and the penalties for wrong answers, she started to lose a bit of her confidence. It was only 4 questions though. It shouldn't be a big deal. Afterall, it was specifically her job to know things. Yeah, she could still do this.

Tremulously, she cast a quick look at the fire woman - who he called 'Osono' - as the woman cracked her knuckles idly, seemingly unperturbed by the fire that now covered both of her hands. Focusing back on the A-1 when he started thinking aloud, she wet her lips nervously and gave him a determined stare. She could do this. She was ready.

But when it came, it wasn't what she expected. Charlton? Immediately the name rang a bell for her but she spent several seconds wildly trying to figure out what kind of answer he wanted for this. Then the second question was upon her. This too confused her; did he want to know the city where they just came from; the one where she failed her first test? Or did he want to know where he'd been immediately before that when she and Six had first gotten the mission order from him?

By the time the third question came from his lips, she started to lose hope that she was even meant to pass this "quiz". It seemed like every question was so vague so as to have multiple different answers if taken in a certain context, that he failed to elaborate on. Almost like this "second chance" was just him messing with her and a trap for her to fail. Unless the actual information wasn't important but how eagerly and readily she provided answers for every possible meaning. Briefly, she contemplated the possibility that the quiz was like her test before where she was supposed to assume and treat them like the enemy - a kind of prep-interrogation situation - but she didn't think so because--

Wait a minute... What was that? Something happened. It was so subtle and quick, she couldn't be sure she even saw it, but suddenly, despite the heat radiating from above her, she was very, very cold inside. If that was what she thought it was, then for a split second, Eric Patten had seemed like somebody else. She didn't know who; just not HIM.

Even as the doubt and suspicions began to creep back in, she was wildly trying to find justifications for it not to be true - he was insane. Clearly that was indisputable and should excuse him for all and any abnormal behavior. Even accepting that, the bright red flag that had shot up, when he'd said that one word, would not go away. It just didn't feel like the right kind of crazy. When she and Six had first come upon the office building and found the two "targets", Patten had talked and acted differently towards Osono then too, before the charade was broken. It was probably a part of that. ...But why would he be pretending now?

As much as she tried to get away from it, she couldn't deny, that small moment had seemed like a slip in an act rather than a tiny act itself.

By the time the fourth question came, everything fell apart and the doubts rushed in. Every little mannerism and smile seemed glaringly obvious in how phony and put-on it was, and she realized that her earlier belief that he was her boss was actually clouded by her fear of "what if it really is him?" Either way, her fear quickly fled now as she watched him ramble on with an over-enthusiastic tone of voice and expression. She was still scared, of course - whoever these people were, they could and probably would kill her once they were done with her. And they knew enough about the Agency and the A-1 Agent to be able to at least do a fairly decent impression of him. But she wasn't terrified in her soul like she would be if this were the real Eric Patten.

Alright. 10 minutes to answer. What to do? Did she answer quickly and hope that they spared her or did she try to stall? Letting them know she was onto their ruse would not be smart, since it was much more likely for them to think she'd been trained not to reveal information to people outside the Agency - she had been, but that was beside the point - and kill her because they thought she was unbreakable and useless. These were still the targets she'd been sent to spy on and gather information about. And she was still going to do that and live to file a report. If it meant she had to play their pretend game to do it, then so be it.

It had been 2 minutes since he'd given her a cheerful 'Good luck!'

Licking her lips to wet them, her dark brown eyes darted from one to the other as she cleared her throat and spoke. "I-I-I'm having difficulty concentrating. Please, just untie me for a second. I really need to go to the bathroom..." she ended pathetically. While she'd spoken, she kept her eyes focused on the guy who'd so far played a pretty forgiving and amiable Mr. Patten, hoping for a bit of stupid mercy.

But as soon as Osono heard her whimper out her plea, the tall woman made an irritated click with her mouth and was suddenly grabbing ahold of Brie's hair and shoving an emblazoned hand in her face again. "Cut the bullshit! Are you an elite fucking Agent or not? You are fully expected to hold it for 10 minutes and this pathetic attempt to get more time is almost enough to warrant a total failure."

Osono paused when she noticed that rather than crying like last time, Brie was now frantically trying to get her face away from the fire and was dribbling and sweating in her animalistic panic. Disgusted and beyond frustrated with this idiot, she made a fist and slammed it - still on fire - into the Agent's face twice, Brie's head bouncing back against the concrete as Osono let go of her hair on the first punch.

"Knock it off!" she yelled in reprimand - a little late though, since Brie was no longer crying or spitting but breathing heavy, bleeding from both nostrils and with a long blistering burn in the shape of a comet on her cheek and on the bridge of her nose.

With a defensive exhalation of breath, Ozzie stood and walked a step away from her - standing on the opposite side of her than Alex was - and folded her arms with her legs spread and standing firm. "You can have a potty break after. 5 minutes left, sweetheart." God, she really hated this...

Okay, so stalling wasn't going to work. The only hope left for her now was to answer his questions as quickly as possible and hope that they untied her enough to allow her to escape and put in a report. Hopefully she could get far enough away before she was burned alive...

Turning her head towards the Patten impostor, she spoke in a wavering voice, looking at him in a way that made certain he knew pleasing him was very important to her. "You're returning to the Charlton base - where the message and our orders supposedly came from - building number 90 on Essex street, run by A-2 Madeline Bergmann and you're going there to..." 2 minutes left. "...finish dolling out my punishment, possibly further test me, simply send me on my way to file back into my team ranks with an encouraging 'Lesson learned!' OR to wash my blood off of your hands."

Brie swallowed thickly and glanced at Osono but quickly looked away again to avoid the woman's murderous glare.

***
By the time Rudy was back on the ground floor, he'd almost completely recovered from his traumatic ordeal with Mr. Patten and the sensual, luscious, sex-kitten Ms. Squiddie. The aches in his wounds and bruises were practically gone - or at least, they'd gotten to a point where his body had adjusted and he barely noticed the pain anymore. And as he searched for the nurse's office, he sauntered along in a natural gait, chomping on a peanut butter and onion sandwich he'd made for himself when he'd stumbled onto the "cafeteria" earlier. It was actually just a break room with a coffee maker, fridge and vending machine - with his last name advertised on the side of it in big flowy lettering. Lucky for him, he'd found enough ingredients lying around in the sparse cupboards, to make himself a decent sandwich.

The top of his head still throbbed dimly, but he hummed happily to himself as he chewed his crunchy, gooey meal and poked his head into a few rooms here and there. Not very many people around. And no sign of Eric or the voracious succubus either. Earlier, he would have been terrified of coming face-to-face with the Dark Lord again, even with his new bargaining chip holstered in his pocket. But his fear had dimmed along with the pain and now that he'd spent more than half an hour by himself, he was much more relaxed and feeling optimistic about more dealings with the giant.

Before he opened the next door he shoved the remainder of his sandwich into his mouth and stepped past the threshold, blinking when his eyes fell upon the lone occupant.

"'oo fm'nk!" he mumbled around his mouthful of dry bread crust and thick, sticky peanut butter, angrily glaring and pointing accusingly at the unconscious man lying on a cot. Then he realized Jason wasn't in the proper state to endure a rant right now and he wandered nonchalantly into the room, letting the door click shut behind him.

Ignoring Jason and the discarded pill bottles littering the floor in front of the glass cabinet, he swallowed the rest of the mess in his mouth and worked his teeth and gums while casually searching through the medical supplies. Rudy didn't notice the jumbled and jarred state of it's contents - or the sweaty, passion-smeared hand print on the glass door - merely poking his finger among the clustered products, and making small, bored "-peesh-peesh-peesh-" sounds under his breath. Alrighty. What exactly did he need for a hole through his body?

Idly digging a finger in his teeth, he was busy reading a label on a clear vial when a small musical chirp came from his pants. Bringing out his new phone, he peered at it and smiled pleasantly as the words on the screen informed him that his HSA program had finished downloading. His attention now diverted, he tossed the vial back into the cabinet and began typing in the codes and temperature readings that he knew by heart. And then he adjusted the Analyzer's base map(300 ft. radius) to include a field of about 40 miles and bracketed the time within the last 2 hours(if he got no results, he'd just extend the time and search again). Finally, he pressed enter.

There was barely a second before a map appeared on his screen and for a moment, seeing where the mark was, he thought perhaps he'd done something wrong or screwed up somehow. So, letting out a harsh breath, and adjusting his position to stand irritatedly with his weight on his left foot, he went back through and adjusted the measurements. He left the degrees the same(because he KNEW those were correct) but lowered the map to only 10 miles and the time to within the last half an hour before very deliberately pressing enter. Come on, stupid thing. Work.

A new map came up but it was merely a zoomed in version of the last map, showing a clearer view of a city with a light outline of visible streets and thicker, yellow colored highway lines branching out from either side of it. This city. Charlton. And there was a nice, bright reddish-orange dot of heat marked on one edge of the city just within the borders. At first, Rudy had assumed that the newly downloaded program was merely confused and was for some reason pointing out his own heat signature on the map. Now having a closer look at where the mark actually was and it's distance from the base, he knew it was indeed showing him exactly what he'd asked for.

"Oh, fuck..." he murmured, an involuntary smile rippling over his lips as his other hand drifted up to rub his mouth in a vague attempt to erase the expression. Osono. What the hell was she doing here? Had she followed him? As much as that thought temporarily boosted his ego, he knew it was a bit unlikely. Then how? But more importantly, why? Even if she was following him, she'd never chased after him before. She usually went the other way after he launched an attack.

Well, whatever she was doing here, within the last half hour she'd used a lot of fire - not an inferno or anything but this wasn't a spark for her cigarette or warming up her coffee. This was serious temperature, a defensive fire, intending to hurt somebody. The smile disappeared as he thought about what that could possibly mean, especially this close to the Agency base. Was it just some random jerk haggling her or was it a person who'd been irritatingly popping their gum while she waited in line behind them? Or... was it Agents? A sudden chill filled him along with a flash of heat that made him grit his teeth. He certainly hadn't sent anybody after her. That meant someone else had.

Not Noel though. She was dead. He'd learned that when he'd looked up her profile after he couldn't get ahold of her for the 50th time - at the sight of the deceased label now pasted onto her profile, his very first thought was "Oh thank God... Now I don't have to strangle the bitch." And that was that.

So, who? Patten? This early? He hadn't done anything! No, no, no, no... He was working on a deal with the guy. He wouldn't touch Osono unless Rudy did something stupid like pull another gun on him. But now that it was on the records that Noel was no longer alive and he was no longer the Lead on the case, someone else might have already shuffled the paperwork around and made a dive for her. Fuck! It was HIS case! It hadn't even been 24 hours since all of this shit happened! Goddammit! Why did the Agency have to be so fucking efficient?!

Sniffling and his eyes watering for some really bizarre reason - damn...allergies! - he quickly brought up Osono's case file and let out a small calming breath to see that the Lead position was still "pending". Okay. Nobody was after her yet. He still had time. She was probably just getting upset about something completely non-Agency related.

Wiping his eyes and nose, he did realize that now things had escalated, becoming way more serious than they were before. She was in the city merely 2 1/2 miles from the base, wielding fire and pissed about something. Someone could notice and they probably would. And he didn't even want to consider the possibility that she could find the base or that she was even looking for it. He needed to find and talk to Patten NOW. This Fenton dude wasn't here yet, but he could still get started talking deals with Eric. He had to get on top of this case before someone else did. She was HIS and nobody else even had a right to touch her!

A sound from the other side of the room interrupted Rudy's possessive internal explosion and he pivoted towards it, his eyes quickly searching for the source. When it came again, his whole body jerked with tension as he watched the door handle of the closet turn against a chair edge that was blocking it. Absentmindedly, he slipped his phone back into his pocket and pulled out the Aurora, the gun clicking rapidly together over his hand as he inched his way warily towards the corner of the room.

The door knob shook a few more times and then stopped and a hushed whispering came from within along with a faint scraping and rustling. Denying every bone in his body that screamed 'I've seen this movie before! The guy dies! Get out! Get out!' he moved the chair out of the way, holding up his lightly humming gun as he reached out and turned the knob. Flinging the door wide, he bounced back a few feet, releasing panicky breaths as he targeted the slithering and dark, creatures within.

Oh, no, wait. Those were people. As the first stepped out cautiously and looked about the room, Rudy lowered his gun and quirked an eyebrow. Then he spotted the girl and a lewd smirk crossed his face, accompanied by a small, obnoxious chuckle when he noticed the disheveled appearance of both. That's hot. But why were they barricaded in there?

The guy had a uniform shirt on that Rudy didn't recognize and his dark eyes moved about agitatedly, looking sufficiently freaked out as he seemed to search for some expected terror. As soon as he realized that Quin was the only one in the room besides them, he swiftly crossed to the door and left, barely casting a look back. If the woman was offended by his hasty exit, she didn't let it show and quickly stepped from the closet as well, neatly adjusting her white uniform and brushing her waist-long, silky black hair over her shoulders and tying it up as she walked to the middle of the room. Rudy on the other hand turned in a small circle watching the two separate and then focusing just on the girl... then focusing on just her perky--

She was giving him a discreet, annoyed look and he gave her a dorky grin in response. Such pretty, large, exotic eyes. Angry eyes. Whatever she'd been thinking quickly melted away to a more neutral expression as she spoke. "Thank you for opening the door."

"Hey, sure, no problem" he paused a moment and glanced back at the still open closet before turning back to her and giving her a knowing grin. "So, uh...what happened in there? A lil' bit a' on the clock hanky-panky, yeah? Did he give it to ya good?"

Yep. The annoyed look was back - so sexy! She looked like she maybe wanted to hurt him a little bit - oh, baby! But then the anger did it's little vanishing act again and her thin eyebrows arched arrogantly as she twirled her hair into a neat bun and snapped an elastic band around it to hold it in place. "I do not want to talk about that. Besides, it's not appropriate." And her slender form turned gracefully and walked back to the closet with the precise and elegant steps of a soldier.

While she busied herself with ignoring him and cleaning up the closet - apparently the shelves and supplies were thrown in disarray by recent activities within - and he leaned upon the wall beside it, relaxed and playful, slipping the Aurora back into his pocket. "Come on, don't be a scaly prude," he said coaxingly. "Spill the juicy details! Was it dirty? Are you a naughty girl - did you let 'im go bareback? Are you a screamer?"

She emerged from the closet, still not looking at him as she held a few items in her hands and reclosed the door. But he noticed the pink blush shining through the olive tones of her skin and he poked his tongue out the side of his smile in wicked triumph. "You let him spank you, didn't you?" Rudy asked as he followed her across the room where she threw the things she carried into the trash can - apparently supplies that had been desanitized or damaged.

When she turned around to face him, she was definitely angry again, with a wild look in her dark, almond shaped eyes. "Is there something you need? If not, then I demand that you leave right now. I have work to do."

Mmmm, feisty! ...maybe he could push her further and get her to forcibly throw him from the room. Her expression softened once more as she looked over his shoulder and finally noticed Jason still laying on his cot. And she made sure not to touch him as she slipped past Rudy and positioned herself by Jason's side, fussing over him - checking his pulse, opening each eyelid and flashing a small light into them, gingerly touching his head looking for any bumps or open wounds.

And Rudy scowled with a narrowed gaze at the unconscious Agent. Then he was standing beside her, taking a small, flat stick from her uniform pocket and lightly jabbing Jason in the neck and face with it. "Eh, he's a'ight. He just fainted. Like a girl."

The female Agent didn't say anything but quickly snatched the tongue depressor from his hand and shoved him away without letting very much of her body touch him. And Rudy backed up willingly to sit casually on a neighboring cot. "I, on the other hand, am in serious need of medical attention." No reaction. "I'm a lot more injured than Miss Weepy Fruitpie over there."

"Really?" she asked distractedly, finishing with her inspection of Jason and finally, reluctantly, turning towards Rudy. Hm, she didn't look like she believed him. "Where are you 'injured'? Head trauma?"

"No, I have a-- Wait... why was that your first guess?" he asked suddenly, pausing as he began to lift his shirt.

"Your face."

At first, he thought maybe he should be offended. Then he remembered how he looked. "Ha, no that's fine. Actually, I have a bullet wound in my shoulder and it goes all the way through. I got it several hours ago and was only recently able to clean it, but..."

When he was able to lift his shirt enough to give her a little peek at it, her expression cleared from annoyance and suspicion to a tolerant and professional concern. "Take off your jacket and shirt," she ordered and left the cots to rummage through some supplies on the counter against the far wall.

"Yes, ma'am," he muttered pleasantly. Smiling to himself, Rudy obeyed, tossing his new uniform jacket and shirt on the cot beside him and idly kicking his dangling feet. When she returned, she did not look at his face - even though he clearly pressured her to do so, focusing on her eyes and facial features in a friendly and open manner - but instead kept her eyes on his wound and her expression guarded and distant. She instructed him to lay back and after donning gloves, she cleaned and stitched up the small hole in his right shoulder. It took all of 3 minutes, but even so, the flesh around the wound was sensitive and sore and she was poking him a bunch of times with a needle. Needless to say, the discomfort of the small amount of pain was like a sensual teasing and warmed his blood as he watched her work.

When she was done, she filled a syringe with a smoky, transparent liquid - it looked a little bit like soapy water. "What's that?" he asked, watching interestedly as she flicked the side of the syringe to get rid of a stray bubble.

"Just an antiseptic mixture including a few chemicals to accelerate healing," she said in formal tones and injected it into his arm. The bite of the syringe's needle pricking into his arm got an instant physical reaction from him, but he stayed still until she was finished. "Alright, you're all set. You can go now." She sounded relieved to be rid of him. He almost felt bad for disappointing her.

"Actually, I do have one more problem," he said giving her a seductive look as he smoothly sat back up on the cot. She was still standing close, but her attention was focused on cleaning up her supplies and taking off her gloves. As soon as the first glove was slipped off and her nude hand was set free, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her towards him. "I have a bit of swelling in my lower extremities," he said in a husky tone positioning her hand right on his crotch. "Perhaps you could help remedy the situation..."

He caught her by surprise, so for the first couple of seconds she stood still in shock, but then she was suddenly stabbing him in the leg with the syringe and jerking out of his grip. "Ow! Jesus!" he said, hissing as he pulled it out of his flesh and tossed it away, rubbing the spot with his hand and giving her a hurt look. "That was mean! ...Do it again!"

"Put your clothes on and get out now!" she yelled, pointing aggressively at the door. "And you can be sure that I'm writing you up for sexual harassment!"

For several seconds, Rudy just sat there blinking blankly at her. Then he let out a breathy laugh and cocked his head like a curious puppy. "What is that? Sexual harassment. Is that even a 'thing'?" He felt giddy as she huffed and rolled her eyes, stomping away from him towards the glass medicine cabinet. Slipping his shirt on and tying the arms of his uniform jacket around his waist, he hopped off of the cot and hurried after her.

She obviously expected him to either leave or stay where he was because he surprised her again when she bent over to pick up the fallen pill bottles, his hand inserted itself snugly between her legs and grabbed a nice fistful of pert ass-flesh - accompanied by a cheerful honking sound as he squeezed her. And Rudy got to appreciate her speed again as she gasped and whirled around, slapping him on the cheek.

"Ouch..." he muttered, frowning slightly as he rubbed his face. Then he blinked and jerked his head back a little bit as an angry finger was thrust inches from his nose.

"Are you aware of the Agency's policy on molestation in the workplace? Keep it up, dickwad; I'll sue your ass!" Oh wow, she sounded serious.

He gently pushed her finger out of his face and gave her a know-it-all look. "Mmkay, first of all, go ahead and sue me. I doubt you'll reach a price high enough to get me scared and homeless anytime soon. Secondly, who says 'dickwad' anymore? What are you? A middle schooler?" She huffed again and went back to picking up pill bottles and putting them away while Rudy kept talking. "And thirdly: molestation? Seriously, I don't know what that means. I think you're just makin' up words and playing hard to get."

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Part 1

Post by Tartra on Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:48 am

Madeline might not’ve meant to keep talking after she’d said her thing, but when Stephanie snapped the silence, somehow... kinda making it quieter even though she was saying stuff, she turned her head back to look at her while she listened. It was respectful, right? Gary thought it was, up until the A-2’s mouth started turning. Then she just plain ol’ smirked and laughed to herself, going right back to staring outside, like Stephanie wasn’t saying anything she wasn’t completely expecting. Except for ‘shut up’. She looked back when Stephanie said ‘shut up’. She – uh... she’d definitely wanted to hear a nicer comment, but she changed her mind about whatever she’d been planning on saying back – and Gary guessed it wouldn’t’ve been any nicer because these ladies weren’t getting along at all, not from what he was seeing – and another smirk went on over to her. Madeline thought Agent March was being funny, but not in a good way. He’d just work on being invisible for the next whatever hours now... please?

“You’re lost.” Ohhhhhhh no – that was not a friendly reply. It came out ten times worse ‘cause that was the first thing she’d ever said without – like... belting it. Invisible faster, invisible faster! And yeah, that was his only hope, ‘cause the cabin got super tiny when Madeline leaned forward, enough to put her elbows on her nears, and that sucked out any room to hide. “I think you are also confused. I have never dreamed of helping you or asking for your support. Patten’s stink has only been so great on a handful of others. You’re his new prized possession, and you can’t be saved. You tell me ‘you know’ as though you weighed what you think you’re getting against what he is handing you. In my mind, I am hearing both sides of whether to give you my advice. But you know, March? Although it may sound cruel, I think I’ll learn to enjoy myself this time. Patten can pull a show from it, so why shouldn’t I?”

“Because it’s –” Great going, Gary! She was looking at him again! He had to finish talking now. “... wrong...”

“IS IT WRONG?” And there was the belting. Madeline straightened up and crossed her arms and her legs. That was doubly ticked off, he felt. “I FIND IT FUNNY. STEPHANIE MARCH, THE WONDER CHILD, PUMPED TO THE TEETH WITH LIQUID CONCENTRATRION, CLAIMS SHE THINKS CLEARER THAN SHE EVER HAS BEFORE, AND YET I KNOW SHE HAS LEFT HERSELF BLINDER THAN A BAT WITH NO HEAD.” Bats weren’t actually blind – that was a common misconception, and it sounded like she’d mixed it up when a headless chick– fat head chirp, right, he remembered, and he balled himself back up in his corner. Why didn’t she like him?! “AND A LOVER, YOU SAY?” She smiled. That wasn’t very friendly, either. “HOW CUTE. I’M SURE YOUR BOY IS EXCITED TO LOCK LIPS WITH A HOLLOWED OUT GIRL HE HELPED DRAG FROM HER HOME AFTER STALKING HER FOR HOWEVER MANY WEEKS HE’S BEEN ON THE JOB. IT ALMOST MAKES ME GLAD ERIC’S LATCHED ONTO YOU. WHEN YOU WAKE UP AND SEE YOU HAVE NOTHING LEFT, HE CAN KEEP YOU DISTRACTED BY LETTING YOU KILL FOR HIM.” The closer she got to the end of that sentence, the darker her face had gone. She was in 100% scowl-mode, and she used it to add a mean, “YOU KNOCKED ONE OFF ALREADY. GOOD FOR YOU. IT MADE A MESS OF MY FLOOR.”

H-hey! Come on! Quit it! This was the worst timing ever to be picking a fight! Stephanie wasn’t giving him any clue about what she was thinking, and if Jason wasn’t here, well... well – it was up to him to watch out for! That meant he had to make sure there wasn’t a fight at five million feet, and because Stephanie had ended her first one – the one at the Charlton place – really specifically and because Eric – Eric Patten, the one they were talking about – had said all that – okay, he head to be joking, ‘cause he was an A-1 and he wouldn’t really let Madeline get tossed out a window – then Gary had to get into the middle of everything to take the heat off. Look over here, everybody! Everyone laugh at the fat guy! Then they could joke and have a good giggle, and maybe they weren’t gonna be doing each other’s hair in a month – well, they could if they laughed really hard – but the point was just to make it to Elmira. So... take a breath, Gary! He was going in!

“Jason will – uh...” No, no, he was not backing down on this one. Keep the peace, people! Why was everyone always at each other’s throats? Was it him? ‘Cause he hadn’t seen any of the kissy love that’d led up to the face masching in the people room, so either he had some hilariously bad timing or he just brought a world of terrible news wherever he went. Either one of those... sucked, basically. But he’d figure it out later! “She’ll have Jason! Jason is going to be there.” For sure. Definitely!

“CERTAINLY,” she said, totally not agreeing. “FOR AS LONG AS SHE HAS HIM BEFORE PATTEN PICKS HIM UP. HE’S IMPORTANT NOW. MARCH MADE HIM IMPORTANT.”

Pick Jason up? Why? Jason was cool, but didn’t he get demoted? And wasn’t he losing his suit?

“I don’t get –”

“‘LOVER’.” She didn’t laugh that time. Her eyes were glued to Stephanie’s unreadable ones. “IF YOU CALL HIM THAT IN FRONT OF ME, THEN PATTEN HAS KNOWN FOR AGES.”

Yeah... And Gary had been thinking. Jason had been left behind, right? There were a lot of ultra-complicated-mega-strategy-top-Agent points for it, and Eric seemed really cool about it, but Agency relationships... It wasn’t like they weren’t allowed! Half the org’ had gotten together after one job or another. Three-quarters of them were practically family by blood by now, and here was how he’d met his fluffy DiDi. For all the lectures and griping and rules about ‘hands off’, he knew from the gossip and from the weddings he’d eagerly jumped to made their bosses sound a lot like they were quietly encouraging a little of the light hand holing from behind the scenes. It did make it easier to find people to work for them later, and it had grown a few super soldiers in process. The best sneaky people came from other sneaky people, and it wasn’t like they could grab Pain Eaters and Frontliners and other guys-who-did-so-much-they-might-as-well-have-powers-but-amazingly-didn’t-which-made-them-more-incredible Agent stars from off the street. It was the on-the-job stuff that got tricky. The people in charge didn’t hate anything like they hated a mission going south, so a bit of him wondered if Jason hadn’t gotten left behind because... Eric made this sound very important...

“Mr. Patten didn’t want them together, huh,” Gary said, trying not to sound hugely bummed out.

“ARE YOU STUPID? ERIC COULD NOT BE HAPPIER ABOUT THOSE TWO,” Madeline spat. “CONGRATULATIONS. YOU HAVE PROVEN THAT YOU FEAR EVERY POSSIBLE ANGLE YOU HAVE NO REASON TO, AND IN TURN LET YOURSELVES NEGLECT WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE GUARDED AGAINST. I TAKE IT BACK. I CAN’T ENJOY THIS. I THOUGHT YOU HAD BEEN PULLED TO YOUR END, MARCH, NOT SPRINTED TO IT.”

“What does that mean?” What did that mean?

Okay – whoa – Madeline was not allowed to look so mad about having to explain stuff if she was gonna be mysterious about it. They didn’t know what she knew! And from the way she spoke, she knew a helluva lot. He wanted to ask if it was all from practise, but she might smack him for it, and he didn’t want to mess up such a nice helicopter by getting teeth everywhere. Would she ever do that? Had she ever done it? If Stephanie could put her hand through someone else, it made a little sense to think that Madeline knew how to knock a few teeth out with a good slap.

Too much chirping?

“DOG,” she said. “COME HERE.” Come... where – come over? To her? She was looking at him, so... yeah, he guessed that was what she wanted. He shuffled to her, and a teeny bit more obviously afraid than he should’ve been, he waited for her to – “OPEN YOUR MOUTH.” Open his what now? “STICK OUT YOUR TONGUE.”

Well, he’d had worse orders. One time, he’d really gotten an A-7 mad, and he had – tongue out! See? Tongue out, no head chirps, no more – “OW!

“AWAY FROM ME.” Then she wiped her fingers on the couch ‘cause she’d – just... she’d pinched his tongue! She’d pinched it! Was there any blood or...? Well, no, but it stung a lot. Gary shuffled back to where he’d been, really hurt and sad. “IT’S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD. IF I CONTINUE TO HEAR YOUR VOICE, I AM GOING TO POISON YOU.”

He’d heard that one before. He just wished this time it wasn’t from someone who could actually get away with it. He had an anniversary to plan!

“Sorry, Agent Bergmann –”

WHAT DID I JUST SAY?

sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry

“WITH ALL YOUR TALKING, I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY YOU HAVEN’T HAD HIM EXPLAIN ALREADY,” she told them. “THAT IS HOW HE WORKS, MARCH.” Just Stephanie? ‘Cause he was the one asking and all... “YOU BEGAN HIS GAME THE MINUTE YOU FIRST SPOKE TO HIM. LET ME TELL YOU THE RULES I TOOK FIVE YEARS TO UNDERSTAND: THE MORE HE KNOWS A PERSON, THE DEEPER INTO HIS WEB THEY ARE, THE MORE HONEST HE IS ABOUT EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING.”

“Why?”

Weird. His tongue felt kind’f rubbery. He stuck it out again, ‘cause maybe that pinch was doing it. Aw man, why’d she have to pinch him? He hadn’t been trying to talk that much, he was just curious!

“BECAUSE HE THINKS IT’S FUNNY,” she explained. “HE LIKES IT. HE ONLY STEPS FORWARD WHEN IT GAINS HIM IN SOME WAY AND PERSONAL ENTERTAINMENT – FROM EGO STROKING ABOUT HOW SMART HE IS – IS AT THE TOP OF HIS LIST. IT’S HIS GUIDING MOTIVATION! IT’S WHY HE’S SO UNBEARABLY STUPID!” She’d put a lot of thought into this. Gary wasn’t sure what to think. His tongue was distracting him, sort of, so maybe that was throwing him off. “HE ANSWERS EVERY QUESTION BECAUSE HE KNOWS HE’LL NEVER BE ASKED THE RIGHT ONE. HE PRIDES HIMSELF ON SEEING HOW LONG IT TAKES TO SOLVE HIS RIDDLE, AND ONLY TODAY HAVE I SOLVED MINE. THE ONE LIE HE EVER FED TO ME – THE SMALLEST, SIMPLEST, MOST INCONSPICUOUS OF TALES – DEFINED EVERYTHING HE HAS EVER SAID TO ME AND DONE.” Gary was going back into his ball. It was safer trying to hide. Madeline was getting worked up about this and he didn’t like it. His tongue was floppy. “THAT IS WHAT HE HAS BEEN DOING TO YOU. HE LIED ONCE, TOLD THE TRUTH EVER SINCE, AND NOW HE WANTS TO SEE HOW FAR HE CAN TAKE IT BEFORE LETTING IT CONSUME YOU. I’D SAY WITH YOU, IT’S OBVIOUS. HE PICKS THE GAME THAT SUITS THE PLAYER, AND YOU, HIS IRREPLACABLE STEPHANIE, WANT TO BE SOMEONE ELSE. THE SMELL OF DESPERATION IS INESCAPABLE. LISTEN TO SOMEONE WHO HAS LIVED THROUGH IT: THIS IS WHAT HE IS AIMING FOR. YOU WANT TO BE HER, BUT HE WANTS TO MAKE YOU NO ONE. HE WANTS YOU TO FOLLOW AS A SLAVE, NOT AN EQUAL, AND HE WANTS YOU TRAPPED AND STRIPPED OF WHAT MAKES YOU WHO YOU ARE. YOUR LIFELESS HEART WILL BE IN HIS HAND UNTIL THE DAY YOU TURN TO DUST. THERE IS ONLY ONE OTHER PERSON I KNOW OF WHO ALREADY FILLS THAT ROLE, AND SHE HAS NO NAME BEYOND THE PET NAME HE GAVE HER. THAT WILL BE YOU, MARCH. WHY CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT THAT IS GOING TO BE YOU?” Then she shook her head, like she couldn’t believe what she was saying. “I’M WASTING MY BREATH. I TELL YOU YOU’LL BE A SLAVE, AND ALL YOU MUST HEAR IS HOW ONLY ONE OTHER PERSON EVER MADE IT THAT FAR.” She had her hand in her pocket. A moment later, she had her phone out again, and once more, she was leaning forward, offering it to woman across from her. Gary curled out of his ball to watch with giant eyes. “YOU WON’T BELIEVE ME BECAUSE IT’S MY WORD AGAINST HIS. HE IS PROMISING YOU THE WORLD, BUT HE IS WORKING TO BE YOUR WORLD AND YOU’RE HALFWAY THERE. SO CALL HIM. ASK HIM. PIN HIM TO THE WALL. DEMAND AN ANSWER AND KNOW IT’S THE TRUTH BECAUSE HE THINKS YOU’RE TOO DEDICATED TO EVER QUESTION YOUR PLACE.”

Didn’t she say she wasn’t gonna help?

“Uh thuht you wurn gonna help.” His tongue was numb! “Uh... Ay-jun Buh-muhn? Ay-jun Buh-muhn, Uh can feel muh thungue.”

“I KNOW. THAT’S THE POINT.” She frowned at him. It softened when she brought it over to Stephanie, but it stayed put. “IT WON’T HELP YOU. WHEN YOU HEAR IT FROM HIM, IT WILL DESTROY YOU. THAT IS THE POINT. I THINK YOU’RE FOOLISH, MARCH, BUT I DON’T HATE YOU. I SIMPLY CAN’T AFFORD ANOTHER TO JOIN HIS RANKS. EITHER YOU PULL THE TRIGGER NOW OR HE PULLS IT FOR YOU, BUT NO MATTER WHAT YOU CHOOSE, YOU WILL NOT SURVIVE. I ONLY WANT IT OVER BEFORE HE GETS WHAT HE WANTS.” She shook her phone. “CALL HIM. HEAR WHAT HE HAS TO SAY. TELL ME HE’S YOUR ‘MASTER’ AFTER THAT.”

* * *

His heart hurt. Jason woke up.

He knew what it meant.

Jason was an embarrassment. He’d collapsed in a pathetic pile when his lead had needed him the least, and he’d still been surprised she wasn’t here. He was a moron. She had her target and Eric’s blessing to reach Elmira and take the last steps she would ever as the woman he knew. She’d trained for this, waited for it, and Alexander was bearing down on them, threatening to take Stewart away. He was nothing less than incompetent for expecting anything else, much less her hovering around while he scraped himself from the floor. How could he demand that? As far as she knew, she’d given him what he wanted. He’d spent 80% of this case at her side and had done nothing but fail her and try to resign. If he didn’t try to catch her, he could let himself pretend he’d collapsed on purpose to free his lead from him. He should’ve wanted that anyway. It was the professional thing to do, and it was the right thing to do on top of it. What’d happened between them no longer had a side. What she’d started, he’d returned, and he’d done it without a clue about what was supposed to happen or how he planned to live with it later. It’d led to him somehow stringing her along, and he’d hurt her enough with it already. She was doing things alone, and whether it’d been infatuation or being as insane as everyone made it sound, it’d be easier to shake it he stood aside before she made the switch. He couldn’t help her and he was required to come to terms with this, because as incapable of anything else as he was, he could give her the one thing she’d been searching for through the chaos of this case: a clean break, a chance to start over, and peace of mind he refused to wreck because he wouldn’t be with her.

His heart also hurt because someone had stabbed him.

A blast of steel had shredded through his body, ripping through his chest and flooding him with pain. His body seized as an unforgivable current jolted to every end of him, screaming as his veins shook and tried to burst. Jason roared in a gasp for air and felt his lungs tear as they collapsed and ballooned, whipping his arms as he blindly scratched to grab something – anything –

“Come on, Jason. You’re okay.” Eric! Eric, Eric, that was Eric! “It’s just adrenaline.” Why was he giving him adrenaline? “I need you on your feet, kiddo. Try to slow it down with those breaths, alright?”

“W-wh–”

Jason was drowning. Jason was dying. His jaw was spasming too hard for him to put a word together.

“Easy there. Think slow thoughts.” If he hadn’t been feeling each of his nerves explode, or if a massive shudder hadn’t crushed his collarbone as it squeezed his shoulders to powder, he would have been reassured by the sound of the A-1’s voice. Then it left him, moving over as the man started talking to someone Jason could only hear because his eyes were open but he couldn’t see. “Don’t mind me! Just act like I’m not even here! You silly ducks go on with your respecting-Agency-personnel-guidelines fun!”

His mind was crackling with blood. The noise of energy drilled at his ears. He couldn’t get away from it, couldn’t move couldn’t run couldn’t hide, and his gashed thoughts could only pull together long enough to understand Eric was hanging onto him to keep him hurling himself off whatever they’d put him on before it exploded in horror because he couldn’t feel the rest of his body. The suit! The suit was choking him! It wanted him out, it wanted him dead, he’d fucking lost everything.

“Wh-when did she go?”

His throat was raw and it was weeping with his blood and sweat and tears and his skin was shaving off in rusted squares of flesh – “A second ago. How’re you feeling?” Withdrawal. It had to be and it was slaughtering him and his bones were crumbling as the suit strangled and strangled and strangled and strangled. “Can you get up?”

Jason couldn’t move.

“Help –”

His body screeched again. Eric had propped him up more gently than any person should have managed, but his hands felt like iron and this was death. Everything he’d wanted was being taken away and Jason felt it centred on the spot the needle had plunged through.

“Hmmmmm.” Jason could hardly hear him, but he tried. He had to force his senses home. He had to. He had to breathe. “I’m gonna give you something else.”

“Wh...” Talk, dammit! “W-what?”

“Can’t give you the good stuff or it’ll shock your system and kill you,” Eric pleasantly pointed out. “What a company we work for! You can’t use their medicine unless you already haven’t used it!” He was fine with adrenaline he didn’t need any more!

“I can’t,” he panted hoarsely. “I can’t – have any –”

“Pish posh.” Jason nearly collapsed when Eric let him go and headed for the counter and the cupboards overheard. He could barely make them out, and even less of the closet beside them. Two of the cupboards were locked, but the third swung free and he, in his delirium, could swear he felt a gentle breeze. Eric immediately rooted through it. “I know, I know. You’re all about saying no to drugs and I’m very proud of your dedication, but time’s a-wastin’! We’ve got guests coming, Jay-jay!”

The back of his eyes were frayed and his pulse was beating in his teeth. Something, his body begged. He couldn’t.

“Sir,” he rasped.

“Butter Juice!” He’d found something. He turned around and shone like an angel, walking back with a tiny glass bottle in his fingers. It would have fit neatly in Quin’s palm. In the Flunky’s, it looked like a thimble. “See? No problem!”

“Sir, I can’t!” The adrenaline was pulling into him, almost like it was settling down. If he focused harder... “I can’t.”

“We give this stuff to children, Jason.” Where was... This was the sick bay, wasn’t it? This was – “It’s like a liquid band-aid. For your brains. Through your neck.”

Butter Juice made a person smell butter while they were on it. He’d admit there were worse things – real things – to be offered, but his hands had clenched as soon as they’d heard the name. Kids’ stuff or not, he wasn’t taking anything. He’d come this far clean and he wouldn’t throw it away because it was all he had left. All.

... But this case... had brought on a lot of other firsts...

“No.” And Eric couldn’t make him. “No. No.”

“Jason,” Eric said, sounding patient but restless. “You look awful.”

He looked awful?! That was... what – that was the excuse?

“I know I look fucking awful,” he raged, immediately consumed by a hate for everything he couldn’t fucking do. “Stephanie is gone, I’m losing my suit, I couldn’t get my fucking target back after I lost her to some kid telling me shit and I don’t know why, I’m demoted, I’m going to die in two months –” If he lived that fucking long at all! “– and now I’m supposed to fight fucking Alexander for the third damn time when I can’t even stand and he’s not even my fucking case! He’s going to kill me, Eric, just because he can, but any other fucking person on this planet could see how fucking ‘awful’ I look and spare my life because they know I’m too fucking inferior to waste time with and that’s not the worst fucking part!” He was screaming in the face of an A-1 and he couldn’t give a shit about how easy it’d be for Eric to put all five of Jason’s limbs in wildly separate rooms. The man had on a face he should have been paying more attention to: quizzical and studious, like he wasn’t exactly sure if he was supposed to be as entertained as he blatantly was. He seemed to want to hear what Jason had to say, not because of what he was getting across, but because of how he was, thoroughly impressed by the audacity Jason had to make it this far. Jason had to quit while he was alive. It wasn’t like he knew where he stood in Eric’s eyes. Benoit had the best idea of what he could get away with, but he hadn’t been offering lessons and Jason learned by seeing how other people worked in the same situation, and Frenchie wasn’t dumb enough to ever cross the secret, jagged line Eric seemed to always move around. Benoit was allowed to openly resent him; Quin, meanwhile, got strung up by his neck, after he’d brought Gwen Stewart to them. Jason would have to assume Eric saying he looked ill meant he was being pitied. It was better than nothing, so it would have to do, because he couldn’t stop at being stupid and useless. He had to be selfish and remember that Eric had said he could go. If the A-1 had given him more time to think about what he was doing, maybe he could have accepted his fate... “Something is wrong with her. She’s tough – you said she was tough – but she’s been pushing her limits this entire time. I was part of what was helping her! And now I need your help to get to Elmira before she transfers and disappears!”

“‘Disappears’?”

Eric was asking honestly, as he always was, as he always did, yet again genuinely intrigued by the notion that some effect would be triggered to tear Jason’s lead apart and had decided to press for more information. Jason should have been paying attention to that too, but he’d leave it for another day. If he could use whatever quasi-friendship Stephanie had built up with the A-1, he would, but simply knowing that made him feel as if he’d slid onto thin ice. This was not trying to turn information against someone. It was trying to find common enough ground to get Eric on board. He couldn’t save her alone.

“... I don’t know,” he admitted. “She’s been getting close to some edge. Whatever’s happening, it’s getting worse.”

“You’re not inspiring a lot of confidence.”

Shit.

“She can do this,” he said quickly. “Eric, you can trust her. You do trust her because you’ve been helping her, too! She’s done everything to get this case to where it is and she’s dedicated to a fault, but that’s why I need to get to her. She’ll destroy herself in the Agency’s name, in your name, and I’m the only one who can stop that.”

“Exactly what are you planning to do, Jason?”

“I –” No. Wait. “I...” ... Wait... “... What do you mean?”

He’d asked to stall. Jason felt alert. Sick, woozy, ready to fall to pieces, but alert, and it let him feel a shift he hadn’t felt before. Eric didn’t move or change, and Jason could only see joy in his eyes and hear an ocean of warmth in his voice. But something was different. Eric was watching him now.

“If you were with her,” the A-1 rephrased, “what would change about the situation? What’re you bringing to the table she can’t make this transfer without?”

It wasn’t a threat. It wasn’t a reprimand. He tried to sense it. A challenge?

“Whatever she needs,” he answered. “I’ll help whatever way I can.”

“Okay. And you expect the plane she’s on – helicopter, jetpack, I forget what she took – to turn around and get you?”

Innocent. Friendly. An entire level was swimming underneath those words.

“When she arrives in Charlton –”

“You want her to wait?” Eric’s eyebrows raised a little. His glasses took on a shine Jason had to squint against. The light of it brought a stunning sense of clarity, reminding him of what had happened, why he was here and she wasn’t. She’d already been given a choice to wait. He’d already said staying behind was best for her. “You’ve been talking a lot about your skills, Jay-jay. I haven’t seen any of them. Every mistake that’s been made so far has been directly linked to something you did. Alexander, the goggles, Elmira... Now you have a chance to redeem yourself because your lead gave you a direct order to assist somewhere else, you’re not just throwing it back in her face, but you’re trying to convince me to send you to the only person you’ve been successfully and systematically hacking apart.” ... He wasn’t. She’d asked for him before... “She says she’s waiting on Benny’s word that Xander’ll be handled before she moves on. I’m giving you my word that he’s been handled.”

“You can’t promise that!”

“Really? You’re gonna go with that?” Eric rolled his eyes. “I’ll let you in on what I can’t do, Jason: I can’t afford to let you go anywhere with a damn, damn good reason. You’re a mess, she’s a mess, you’re both a little messy, but like you cleverly pointed out, I trust her. More than you. She’s playing her part divinely and I couldn’t be prouder of what she’s accomplished. You, on the other hand, brought this all the way to Charlton. And now back to Elmira.”

Jason’s eyes had fallen to his feet as he sat up on the sick bay’s bed, crippled. What Eric was saying... It wasn’t careless. There was a reason for it. The man wanted a reaction he wouldn’t get because Jason felt himself collapsing in a new way. His will was failing him. As it ran down to fumes, he thought to ask one last thing, just able to muster the interest to care about the answer: “Am I really better off fighting Alexander?”

“No. But he’ll be here in forty minutes. Butter Juice’ll take the sting off of things. Barely – but... y’know.” He sighed loudly, humming at the end of it, and then he turned and abruptly headed for the door. “Well – this was disappointing!”

“... I’m going.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m going,” Jason said. He refused to look up. Carefully, he brought his weight off the locked arms he’d been using to keep him off the bed, balancing to get ready to put his feet on the ground. A feeling of desperation had come over him. It was from the final threads of prowess he’d used to get his reputation in the first place. He’d put his duty to his lead before everything else, and even if it killed him – three times, it almost had – it was why he’d been so strongly recommended for this assignment. Everything he’d heard through the snippets he had about her old life... He wasn’t like the others she’d worked with. Alright, so he was likely as useless as the others Alexander had torn through and he knew he fell under Quin based on what’d been happening, he was persistent as fuck and he’d walk if he had to. He owed it to her. “I’ll drop off my suit when I get there.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I do believe he’s serious,” Eric said. “She’s got a solid head start on you, Jay-jay.”

“I know. I’ll call her.”

“On what phone?”

... She’d left hers behind a while ago, before they’d even got on the plane. If she had a new one, he couldn’t get it. Such a high-level request meant two weeks of clearance checking and security analysis.

“Elmira’s,” he said. “I’ll call ahead.”

“Good thinking, good thinking,” Eric carolled. “And if she fails to get the message?”

“A fresh transfer takes hours to complete,” Jason worked out. “If she left a second ago, I can make it. I can talk to her while they’re scanning her mind.”

“There also tends to be a lockdown of the building a transfer’s happening in,” Eric noted. “If the transfer’s started and there’s no door to get through...”

“I’ll crawl in through the window.” He was being sarcastic, because Elmira didn’t have windows. “I’ll figure something out when I’m there!”

“Or I could give you this.” Jason heard rustling. Eric’s wonder-coat had brought out more forms. He stepped over with them, and smiling ten times wider than a minute ago, and politely handed them over. Jason took them half-warily. They didn’t explode when they were in his hands, so he accepted it as a sign that they were safe to leaf through. “You ever hear of Doctor Li?”

“No.”

These were access forms. These were golden tickets to getting around.

“You will. Once you get there, just ask for her. She’ll be the frown-y one who thinks everyone’s an idiot – close and trusted ally of yours truly, nearly a woman of my heart if she didn’t think I was an idiot, too. Those skinny arms would stick a sword through anyone’s head who asked to hang around when this thing happens,” Eric explained, “but I’m thinking she might make an excuse for you if you give her those.”

“I don’t understand.” Every access code and every sign off. Watching a transfer was not a free event. For all the hanging around Gary was doing, Jason knew he wouldn’t actually be let inside. But Eric had put... What the hell? “What are these?”

“Demotion forms.”

And one of the signatures of it was smudged.

“You’re giving me these?”

“To do with as you please,” Eric whistled. “A-6s don’t get suits.”

“But you demoted me!” He was holding these forms. He was holding them. “I lost my target! That kid!”

“Actually, I made you sign the papers to demote you, and I, having hired very lazy help – Squiddie – never got around to processing those. I’m not carryin’ ‘em around all day – what’re you, nuts? These pockets are full enough already! As for letting Gwen go – oh, don’t worry! Somewhere, there’s definitely an A-2’s trying to kill you with his brains. Protocol is extremely strict, Jason,” Eric said. “I think it’s safe to say your rep is shot, and I still can’t believe you actually did that back there! Little Nathan was so dirty and... Australian!”

“But then why –” He wasn’t complaining! He wasn’t – he – just... He didn’t get it!

“You bombed an A-3’s assignment, but you delivered on an A-1’s.” Eric squeezed his cheek. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell Xander. He’s gonna be pretty mad on his own without letting that slip.”

... This was impossible, but the documents were in his hands.

“I can go?”

“You can go,” Eric said. “I said you could before you passed out. And then I never said I changed my mind – you assumed that.”

... What the fuck?!

“You could’ve said something!”

“I like letting people figure it out on their own,” Eric told him. “Don’t you feel empowered now? Plus, I stand by what I asked: what were you planning to do when you got there? Stephie’s head is in a good place thanks to some liquid gold, but it doesn’t last forever, right? I’m not having you mess things up by playing the ‘oh, gee, don’t know if I like her yet’ game right in front of her. Also, you’re a present.”

Jason’s heart was pounding again. For once, he embraced the feeling.

“Why am I a present?”

“She’s worked ridiculously hard and she has pushed her limits, so I’m sending you over since you finally seem more willing and able...” Eric instantly brought himself up short. “Not that I’m suggesting anything! But she enjoys your company. Even if you don’t make it on time, I think she deserves to at least know you’re trying to get to her, and not because I told you to. In fact, you told me – geez. Way to hurt my feelings, Jason! Ooh – be sure to mention that! She’ll like it!”

“Sorry,” he said, distracted, feeling lightheaded as he tried to put this all together. “But... Eric – you’re serious about this?”

“Right now, you’re the one who’s not doing everything he can to get on a plane.” Shit, he was right. Jason started trying to get off the bed. “Okay, okay, hold on, cowboy! You’re more messed up than she is, Mr. Fainty!”

“Butter Juice is kids’ stuff?”

“Well – yeah –” Eric seemed surprised. “Are you actually taking it? I was kind of saving it for if you failed and I had to stick you in the face to get you ready for Alex.”

... ‘Failed’.

This had been a test.

“You were expecting me to fail?”

“I always plan for the worst-case scenario,” Eric said, “but I was sure you’d be all, ‘love? What is love? I must not call love ‘love’ and then go to her and pretend that it’s not love some more because that never gets old, ever’. I had strong grounds to have faith in you. You tried to throw your suit at me twice. After trying to sneak both of them by me.”

“Eric,” Jason said, clearing his head to have room for this. “... Are you... trying to set me up with Stephanie?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What – why?”

“You two are so cute together,” the A-1 giggled. “And I really have to make sure she lasts long enough to actually show up to Elmira, ready to transfer at a second’s notice. Drugs don’t last forever, but love goes on for extra-squishy-special length of time! Seriously, you weren’t kidding about helping her. I dunno if you’re the best in the universe, but you’re the best in the world, so... go to her, my child! Fly, fly! And please don’t collapse again.”

Jason had his suit back. He wasn’t doing anything like that.

“The Butter Juice,” he said. “What’s in it?” He didn’t research ‘kid stuff’.

“Fennel... lith... Chemistry? And science? Chemistry and science!”

“Phenethylamine,” Jason said. “You’re giving me chocolate.”

“And science! I said it wasn’t a problem,” Eric shrugged. “But it goes in your neck. It’s like an energy drink. Red Bull, only less than that. A lot less. Like... I could just give you coffee and some other chemically stuff...”

Jason rolled the back of his collar down. It felt sore.

“Go for it. I’m going to need it to get on the plane. You’re letting me take a plane, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll get a car for you. Call Elmira on the way, I’ll try to get in touch with Di Fuhrer again – probably throw more French at her.” Eric paused. “I really think I might be a pimp. Darn it, Benny – why’d you put that in my head? Anyway, here’s a needle.” Eric seemed to have had way too much practise with one. “... You seriously don’t have to take it. They have coffee at Elmira –”

“I need to get to Elmira first,” Jason said.

“Okay.” Poke. “There ya go. How’s it feel to be a druggie now?”

“Is this addictive?”

“Depending on your opinion of butter.”

“I’ll be fine,” Jason assured him.

“Great! Then I’ve gotta go. This was stop four on my tour of Madeline’s kingdom and I’ve got – like... tons to do to get ready.”

Eric tossed the needle away and waltzed to the door, pausing to pat Quin – Quin? – on the head. The tiny Agent was enough of a distraction for Jason to come close to missing out gratefully, “Eric? Thank you.”

“Don’t mess this up, Jay-jay! Woo her! Appropriately! Within the bounds of basic hygiene – I’m trusting you to figure out whatever the hell that means. And show Benny the tape before you go!”

He hadn’t stopped walking. In under a second, Eric was gone to float around a different room of the base.

A test. That’s what this had been. All of this had been some... elaborate... overdone test. And he’d passed it.

Jason had done something right.
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Tartra
Apparition
Apparition

Join date : 2010-07-10
Female

Posts : 581
Age : 27
Location : Ottawa, Canada


http://www.fictionpress.com/s/2851668/1/The_Other_Kind_of_Roomma

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Part 2

Post by Tartra on Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:48 am

* * *

This shit had to stop. It wouldn’t, because everyone in this thing sucked. Everyone who worked for her sucked. She was going to kill everyone who sucked who wasn’t already dead and then she’d dig up their graves – they weren’t getting graves – she’d kick over their urns – socks! They were getting socks! She was burning them alive and sticking their ashes in socks and burning that alive and flinging whatever was left into an ash pit so they could sit there forever and blow around which’d be great ‘cause it’d give them a break from sucking! She was coming close to having a panic attack. There was a tic – a tiny tic, twitching constantly – on her cheek. It making her mental and she was waiting for the one excuse she needed to go berserk...

Her phone rang. She picked it up. She read it.

GOD FUCKING DAMMIT!

So in ran Dalton, freaking out because he’d heard her scream, and that twitchy asshole couldn’t ever just fucking knock like a normal person!

“Danielle?”

Why the fuck is Breton dead? When the fuck did he die?

Dalton had a choice. He chose to look confused. Dalton had made the wrong choice. She whipped her phone in his face. It went through his head. That wasn’t helpful.

“A few days ago, Danielle,” Dalton said. “We told you.”

OH MY GOD, you did not tell me! I would know if you told me!” Dalton had another choice. He kept his ugly mouth shut. She almost regretted chucking her phone at his face, but then she remembered why she’d thrown it and applauded her decision. “So what does this mean? What does this mean?

“I don’t know, Danielle,” he stammered. “I guess we – just... move on.”

Dalton, I wish I had enough things on my desk to throw at you. You’ll notice it’s all along the walls right now. That’s because I never get to hit you with anything because you always hog the transparency. But do you know why I keep throwing things at you, despite its blatant futility from your power hogging?

“... ‘Cause you’re a bitch?”

Mom told you to stop calling me that!

“... Then stop?”

Stop. Stop. Sure – ‘cause she had elevated levels of stress. That happened when she had to drag around two people. Not that he cared. He couldn’t stop hogging the fucking transparency, so her best bet was to stop.

Dalton.” His ugly mouth was shut again. “Do you know why I’m upset about this?

“Because he died and you think we didn’t tell you,” Dalton said.

Because he did two things for me, Dalton,” she said, spelling it out for her idiot sidekick. “He kept tabs on Elias, and he gave us Lamarre. You know what we don’t have now that he’s dead?

“I’m not answering a rhetorical question.”

Guess what we lost, Dalton!

“In someone’s defence,” Dalton incorrectly responded. “Don’t pick the desk up. You aren’t that strong. In someone’s defence, Lamarre was never really on our side. He just wasn’t calling Breton out. We didn’t lose anything. And Elias is around. Buzzy’ll find him. It’s the only thing she’s good for.”

Dalton was right. Buzzy would know. Where the fuck was she and why wasn’t she here? Why had nobody told her this shit had been going on? Everyone in this camp sucked!

She better be out there, Dalton,” Danielle said, stomping through her crummy grey tent and out the flap to hit the field. What the fuck – it was night now? They’d agreed it was gonna be a daylight strike! Oh – Bergmann was going down for this, unless stupid ugly Dalton hadn’t told her something else! So apologies to Bergmann – God damn it, Dalton! She did not have the blood pressure for this! This field was wet now, too! Morning dew was supposed to be in the morning, or was that another thing that’d been left out?!Scissor!

Scissor was sitting by the campfire, roasting some crap she’d be having for dinner. He looked over at her, awaiting orders. Excellent plan of action!

“What’s up, Danielle?”

Did you know Breton died?

“Yeah, Danielle. We came right to you with it.”

EVERYONE WAS A GODDAMN LIAR!

“Could you trust me on this? I’m telling you, you were told,” Dalton said.

She probably had been told. Scissor wouldn’t lie to her. If Dalton would stop hogging the transparency, she could rest enough to get some damn short-term to long-term memory going!

We’re switching tonight, Dalton. Ten damn days? I can’t even remember what I ate yesterday!” She marched down the hill, almost slid down it, then walked heavily around until she gave up and turned to the ugly one. “I don’t see her.

“Danielle!” It was Scissor again. She turned around. “Cryptic called you.”

When?

“A second ago. He left a message – said he didn’t want to talk to you ‘cause he knows you didn’t switch so you’re probably PMSing all over the place.” FUCK. CRYPTIC. “He says Madeline’s heading to Elmira. We’re one step closer to a go-ahead.”

Heading to Elmira?

“Tell me you at least remember that,” Dalton said.

Shut up, Dalton!

“You don’t remember.” Dalton was astounded. “Danielle, I think we should switch. That’s two days you don’t know about. A lot happened.”

We’re one step closer to a go-ahead, Dalton. I can’t switch. I have to be here to fight.” Two days were gone? That was two days worth of switching. Dalton should be crazy they were gonna get to pop around a building and beat Patten’s fucked up army to a pulp! If she switched now, she was wasting precious energy! “Just give me the Cliff Notes. Where’s Buzzy?

“I don’t think you wanna talk to Buzzy now,” Dalton said. “You’re gonna be in for something big.”

How big?

“Let’s just switch.” Stupid ugly ghost, floating around the air like that! They would switch when she said they would switch! They had not gone through all this – she had not gone through all this – just to give it up now! They got Bergmann’s signal? The Charlton base was theirs. And that she remembered. Ha, ha! “Danielle, things have changed...”

Cliff Notes, Dalton!

Where was Buzzy?!

“Breton’s dead.” Yeah – laugh it up, asshole! She knew that one, even if someone hadn’t gotten around to tell her. “That happened in Elmira.”

What happened in Elmira?” Oh. My. God. “Why was Elmira just mentioned? What the fuck is going on in Elmira?

“Oh boy.” Dalton got in front of her and put his dumb hands on her shoulders. She couldn’t even feel it – what a pointless gesture! “Danielle. I told you all of this as it happened. Scissor told you all of this as it happened. CryShadow and Heat Storm put literal papers in your hands documenting everything, and you, four days ago, as it was going on, and you still had the capacity to think with a level head, took it like a trooper, and like the leader you are, you explained – point for point – why none of it, except for the Lamarre thing, was likely going to hurt us in the long run.”

She scowled. She scowled – she really did – and she scowled hard.

Spit it out, Dalton.

“Alexander got mixed up with another case and now he’s loose in Charlton. Before you go crazy – wait – before you crazy –”

WHERE THE FUCK IS BUZZY?!

Everyone around the camp scattered, ‘cause they knew she was just gagging to break someone open like piñata. She’d fucking do it – ten days! Her fists were like titanium and they were going right up someone’s ass –

“Patten is also in Charlton.” She stopped walking. “That’s probably why Bergmann isn’t.”

... Patten’s here?

“He is here.”

She pointed.

He’s in that building?

“He is in that building,” Dalton confirmed.

I think me’n’Buzzy are gonna have to have a talk.

“We don’t know what he’s up to and we don’t know where he came from,” Dalton said, “but until we hear from Madeline, we’re forced to assume the worst.”

The worst, the worst. She’d had it with the worst. The camp was calming down again. Why couldn’t she be calm? The second this fight was over, her and Dalton were switching, and then he could be the crazy one who stomped around – there she was! Stupid twit, just sitting on a rock and staring at that stupid fucking building they were gonna trash anyway so she didn’t know why the dumb girl wanted to keep looking at it, like she was gonna get attached!

What’s the worst, Dalton?

“That he knows absolutely everything we’re –”

Shut up. Patten’s retarded.

“Yeah, you said that,” Dalton informed her. “That’s one of the reasons we’re still going through with this, even though there’s Agents running around in there being directly led by him.”

Patten’s too stupid to lead anybody.” She whipped around and looked at that dumb ghost. “I’m not scared of that dumbass. If he’s here, then fuck yes! I get to kill him for the twenty-seventh time! You think he’d be sick of it by now!

“I think he enjoys it,” Dalton said. “I think he likes knowing you can’t really kill him.”

Not yet, but this is damn fucking close. Damn close, sir! Hit ‘im where it hurts!” She might not be calm, but she felt a lot happier! “BUZZY.

Buzzy jumped a foot in the air and dropped the computer she’d been holding ‘cause she was stupid.

“Danielle! I didn’t hear you coming!”

Bullshit. Everyone hears me. Quit it with your wet dream and tell me why the fuck is Elias here?

“She looks stupid when she does those eyes,” Dalton said. Those were the correct words to describe this. “Tell her I said she looks stupid.”

Dalton says you look stupid. You look stupid, Buzzy.

“I don’t care,” Buzzy said, swooning. Like an idiot. “He’s here, Danielle!”

Oh, my God, you are so messed up.

“Tell her to google Stockholm Syndrome.”

Dalton says to google Stockholm Syndrome,” Danielle said. “Why is he here, Buzzy, you stupid kid?

“I think he’s going to transfer!”

She said it all breathy like that was a good thing, in her annoying, bubbly, high-pitched, diabetes-sweet voice. So how many times had Danielle been told that? She turned expectantly to Dalton, waiting to see what he had to say. Dalton gaped at her.

“I never heard that,” Dalton said.

... Good mood crushed, happiness destroyed.

What the fuck do you mean he’s going to transfer? Dalton – we can’t let that happen!

“We won’t let it happen, Danielle,” Dalton said, quickly. “We’ll stop it. How does she know anyway?”

Buzzy, you stupid kid, how the fuck do you even know?

“Look!” She held up her computer. It was a dumb map on a screen with two dots on it. “See this one? This one is a truck.” YES SHE COULD SEE IT WAS A TRUCK. “This one came from six states over, from the secure lab in Helena. The super secure lab. Then it stopped here, dropped off a stasis cell, then left. That was Marshall!”

“She would know,” Dalton said. “She stalks the guy.”

You’re a freak, Buzzy. I’m not talking about his stupid stasis cell –

“It’s not stupid!”

Don’t kill her! Don’t kill her! We still need her, and without Breton, she’s the next best thing!” Ooooooooohohohohoho – Buzzy was lucky Danielle still had a bit of the ol’ thinking tools grinding away in her two-person brain. “Keep asking what you were asking.”

I was doing that,” she told his face. “Buzzy, where’s Elias?

“He’s here, too.” She wasn’t picking up her screen this time. So did that mean she had any proof? “I can feel him.”

“... Tell her to google ‘daddy issues’.”

Dalton says to google some fucking insight into your daddy issues. Elias killed your cousins, idiot!

Buzzy smiled the dreamiest smile she’d probably smiled all week, if Danielle could remember.

“I know.”

Oh God, I’m gonna throw up if I keep talking to her,” Danielle said. She walked away. But first she told that blue, baby doll nightmare, “I hope he stabs you when you’re in the middle of sucking his dick. God, why did we even bring her?

“Every team needs one nutbar,” Dalton said, floating beside her. “And someone stealthy. Until you start switching, she’s the best we have for that, too.”

We put our plan in the hands of a lunatic with sparkplugs for hands. Whose idea was that, huh? Cryptic’s? That asshole! The minute this is done and he finishes his part, him and his stupid hugbox can fuck off back to where they came from!

“What are we going to do, Danielle?”

I’ll tell you what we won’t do,” Danielle said. “Patten thinks he’s being fucking clever! Patten thinks we aren’t gonna notice! If he shows up, and then Elias shows up, but the Alexander is MIA – Alexander is MIA, right? If he’s made it to Elmira?

“If Buzzy says his stasis cell is here, I’d say we guess he’s on his way.”

Fuck. Now we have to handle that in case shit goes down.

Everybody here sucked.

“You’re taking a long time to say ‘let’s hit the kill button on his body’,” Dalton said. “Elias is dead, we grab Charlotte, then Cryptic can make his attack.”

No, that’s what retarded Patten wants us to do. You think it’s a fucking coincidence? It’s a trap, Dalton! The guy’s trying to cover all his bases and he did something to that cell to try to throw us off! Well – it’s not gonna fucking work, ‘cause we’re not gonna play by his rules!

“So we aren’t going to do anything?”

Alexander shows up? We take that son of a bitch and put his ass on lockdown. No Breton? Then he fucking stays in one spot until we know how to lead him around again,” she said, walking back towards her crummy tent. “A spot away from Buzzy. GOD DAMMIT, BRETON! Scissor!

“Ma’am, yes ma’am?”

We’re close to a go-ahead but we don’t have a go-ahead? If Bergmann’s fucking off to Elmira, why in fuck’s name don’t we have confirmation?

“Can’t say, Danielle, but I called her to double check and her number’s been changed,” Scissor said. “You know the drill. Dinner’s up in five.”

Two weeks through the normal channels, two days by the wrong ones – for fuck’s fucking fuckers, Bergmann was getting a bitch slap to the face if she didn’t have a miracle for why they had to wait for her to contact them. She kicked the flap on her tent open and walked back inside.

Dalton!

“You want to switch Danielle?”

I want to switch,” she said, “but I can’t. I need to be out here.

“It’s okay, Danielle,” Dalton said. “You’re not that big of a bitch.”

Bergmann isn’t gonna screw us over, right? I don’t trust anyone who’s not one of us.

“Bergmann might screw us over,” Dalton said, “but she hates Patten more than any of us. And those Germans of hers, they’re on our side. We’ve got a powerful team behind us. We can trust them not to betray us, but the most I can say is ‘they’ll do their best not to screw up’.”

And Cryptic isn’t gonna fuck us either, right?

“No. He promised he wouldn’t,” Dalton said. “Go rest, Danielle. I’ll write this down for you.”

Ha, ha, ha! Write it down? In another two hours, she wasn’t gonna be able to read. Oh man, her hands were going smashing through every bone in Patten’s newest body. This was going to be great. She could think of three things that’d screw the mission, but as long as she made Patten bite the big one again, everything was going to be fine.

* * *

Yeah. Like there’s gonna be blood. Stupid Agents, seriously...

Shut it down, Xander. They needed to talk about this.

He didn’t have to be told twice. He was happy to oblige and didn’t waste time trying to talk the girl back into his trust. Instead, he reached down and grabbed her head, and with the Agent complying nicely, made a full sweep of eye contact before hers rolled painfully into the back of her skull. Xander was content with this. The guy even grinned before Alex pushed him over and took back control.

“Are we gonna believe that?” He was asking both of them, waving his hand at the Agent that’d dropped to the ground when he let go. “Are we listening to her?”

“Why not? You think it’s a trap? ‘Cause newsflash: that keeps the odds at 1:1.”

“I’m worried, Xander,” Alex said. “This could be a different kind of trap. She could walk in first to fake us out or try to go in last –”

“You fall for that? You deserve to die.”

Or,” he continued, ignoring how bored the guy was now that there was no one around to mess with, “they give her a fake address and we all walk in and all of us die together.”

“‘A fake address’.” Xander thought he was retarded. “Yes. Because I know when I get caught – except I don’t – I’d go straight for my mental rolodex of conveniently located death houses, built exclusively for that purpose ‘cause, hey, you never know.”

Alex didn’t know! That’s what he’d been trying to explain! He had no idea! Appear, surround, attack; that was his exclusive knowledge on how the Agency fought, mixing it up by adding either more guys and more guns or a smaller place to fight with three insanely overpowered warriors. But those guns? They were too advanced for him. Those guys? There were always too many. And the warriors – holy crap – the warriors! When he’d been on his own, he’d been fortunate not to have to deal with a lot of them, and every time he did, the hand of salvation would come down from the sky and set up such an inexcusable stroke of luck, Alex more than once wondered if he had a second ability hanging around. He didn’t, because eventually his luck ran out, and Xander had brought on the next level of what he’d had to deal with from here on out. The Agency might have been toning down their focus, but whenever they remembered he existed, what they threw at him was their best. They weren’t going back to lobbing softballs once he went returned to being him and only him. They might even pick up steam, hitting harder and faster because then he’d be at his weakest. So yes, fine, a ‘death house’ wasn’t the most realistic guess he could have made, but he was working with nothing but shadows of monsters in his closest. In his mind, even saying they had dragons guarding their doors didn’t sound too place out of place. And the people they’d hired to let him think there really were dragons...

“She could have been a dancer,” Alex muttered to no one. “A gymnast, a swimmer...”

“A prostitute.”

“You’re hilarious.” He headed for the Agent, now to tug her up and stuff her back in the trunk. He pulled her halfway at least, to where he got a clear view of the burns and tears on her face. “Do you guys know this is gonna happen?”

Hmm?

Shedding light on that closet started now.

“When you signed up,” he asked carefully, trying to word whatever he said to get the most revealing answers, “did you know life was going to be like this?”

“Yeah.”

“And you signed up anyway?”

“I signed up to be a pain eater. This chick’s a damn scout-and-out. She’s not supposed to take hits – so again, congrats to the Agency for sending a suit to die. That’s three times this week, and if I didn’t count this as a hobby, I’d be pissed by now.” He felt his toe twitch. “Sparky! Can you give me a hand with her? Alex can’t lift for shit and I’m trying to save energy.”

Night had finally fallen. It’d been creeping up quietly as they’d done this routine, but Alex had been thrown off by the shadows of the trees and hadn’t noticed the drooping sun had dissolved into a weak glow beyond the fence. If everything worked out, by morning, he’d done with this, but that still left the problem of where to hide next and how to fend for himself on the back of whatever threat Peter was. And about what would happen to Xander. Gwen would be saved, and while she’d be on the run too, she’d have a better chance of getting away than he did. Osono? She hadn’t stopped being a wildcard. She’d just upgraded to a wildcard in his deck. He wondered what he was to her. He hoped the Agent hadn’t taken away too much of her mood.

“You’re a pain eater?”

“Wow, that sounds really weird coming from you.” But Xander was going to explain it. “Pain Eaters – capital P, capital E. One of several divisions the Agency has and without a doubt the most badass. That’s why you’re still alive.”

“And it sounds like it’s why you’ve got no problems breaking my foot,” Alex snapped. “What did you do?”

“Kicked ass.”

“Xander, seriously.”

“Seriously. Trained, ate, punched people in the face, went to bed, did it again the next morning. Perfect life.”

“‘Perfect’? That’s perfect to you?” Okay, so that put every puzzle piece in its proper spot! “How is that ‘perfect’?”

“Settle down, Suburbia. Some people have families, some people have cars, and some people have swinging a fist through someone’s face at Mach One Million and a Half. Everyone is different.”

“But I thought there was a reason for you joining them,” Alex said. He slammed down the trunk door with an angry slap, locking the woman inside. “I thought this was a crusade you – just... forgot or gave up because you’ve been with me for so long, but you’re actually telling me you joined the Agency just so you could... punch people?”

“Sometimes kick. Right in the face!” Alex was horrified. Xander was laughing. “Dude, relax. I know what you’re thinking.” And could he explain that, too? “Yes, there’re guys who see this as an epic war between chaos and order and new balance and status quo and on and on and on... I just didn’t care about that.” Through his voice, he’d shrugged. “I could’ve if I wanted to, and it’s not like you can’t go from punching to actually making a tangible contribution to what the bosses want, but it’s rarer for Pain Eaters ‘cause we’re so intense about what we do, and we’ve got such a bad reputation for it, as you’re in that slot, you’re there for a long time. And I was in my long time, enjoying it ‘cause I figured ‘what the hell’.” Alex didn’t say anything for a minute. Xander took it as his cue to ask, “Would you prefer me to be an Agency zealot?”

“No.” Of course not. He’d already reasoned out why this was better. “It just sounds shallow.”

“It is shallow, I agree with you, but I had two options growing up and I figured I’d take the one where I wasn’t behind a desk. Also, punching!”

“Glad to hear you had it narrowed down so fast...”

“Save it, fruit cup. Get in the car. Let’s bounce!”

90 Essex Street. Trap or no trap – but almost certainly a trap – they had nothing else to go off of, and unless he thought he could think of some way to ask if the Agent was telling the truth, they’d have to check it out. He’d plug it into the GPS when he finished hobbling to the Audi’s door. Osono was going to have to keep driving. He’d offer, but he couldn’t really take her place. Damn, his foot was going to be like this forever.

“Then we were right,” Alex said, after he’d finally sat down and pulled the seatbelt around him. “Gwen and I. You can’t feel pain.”

“No, you were wrong, like I told you before,” Xander said. “I can feel pain. I just don’t give a shit.”

“And you were born like that or...?”

“Trained. That’s part of training.” ... Alex didn’t feel comfortable asking for details. “Yeah, that’s probably for the best. It gets graphic.”

Wasted talent. If he’d wanted to fight, why couldn’t he have joined the army? Or become a cop or a firefighter or something that didn’t involve kidnapping people on a regular basis? Kidnapping to start the process, never mind what they did once they had their victims.

“You never asked about the people you fought? Did you know about the transfers?”

“I had my fair share of knowledge. More than most people in the business, actually. You don’t get a lot of information unless you’re the right rank for it.”

Ranks. Right. They had those.

“What were the ranks?”

“Aw, man. I’ve gotta list them?” Were there a lot? “No – but they’re organized... oddly.”

“What’s – ‘oddly’, what’s that mean?”

“There’s no straight path up,” Xander said, as if he’d meant to add ‘for one thing’ to the end of it. “There is at the very top, but not at the bottom. You can go – like... A-14, A-12, A-7, A... I think if you’re looking to be a techie, I think you stop at A-5. I think. I’m not sure. It depends on what you’re in for and half the ranks don’t matter. You’re not a ‘person’ until you’re an A-5 and you’re not anything until you’re at least A-10.”

“How far did you get?”

“A-4.”

“That’s good?”

“... Yeeeees...”

That was a great answer, Xander, good work.

“So it’s not good,” he said.

“It matters who you ask. It’s a capped rank, meaning they made it specifically to be a promotable dead zone. The problem’s they don’t mention that, so you’ve got all these ambitious pricks lined up at A-5 thinking they’ll go A-4, A-3, A-2. Nope. A-4 means A-4 forever.” He shrugged again. “Hey – I thought it was a genius idea. I stop just before I get nailed with any actual responsibility, plus I get to pull rank on 90% of everyone around me? So much fun.” Alex could imagine. “I abused the shit out of those people, which is exactly what they expected me to do, which is exactly why they put me there. Which meant my brilliant master plan worked flawlessly.”

“Yes, I can certainly see how flawlessly it turned out.”

“That was me deviating from the master plan. The master plan was perfect.”

And here was the road to Stupidtown.

“If it was perfect,” Alex asked, “why’d you do something different?”

“To prove a point.”

“Was it a retarded point?”

“... In hindsight.”

“Thanks, Xander,” Alex said, laying on the sarcasm harder than he’d ever had. “I just wanted to be extra sure you ruined my life for precisely no reason.”

“Hey – it wasn’t like I was trying to get you. I just grabbed a file and went with it.”

Holy shit, that’s ten times worse,” he cried. “So you randomly ruined my life for no reason!”

“You saw the guys that were chasing you, right? You saw how ‘Alex bad, Agency good’ they were? ‘Cause I just want to be extra sure you know you’d be dead if it wasn’t for me stepping in there and then later killing each of them in an incrementally legendary fashion.”

“You picked me out of a pile,” he grunted. Then he said, louder, “Why am I not surprised that that’s how I ended up with you? I’m not even angry – I might’ve actually been expecting you to say something like that!”

Xander paused. After it, he asked, “Would you feel better if I said I narrowed the pile down a few times first?”

... Possibly.

“How many times?”

“Pfft – I dunno. Eight?” ... Eight wasn’t bad. “There’s a lot of crappy powers out there. For every one guy who kills people with his eyes and every girl who spits fire – that’s you, Sparky! – there’s eight whose arms’ll drop off and ‘magically’ attach on again later. But you were in a dead heat with a guy who could talk to animals. Fucking squirrels, man. I was all for that.”

Telling sign number two that he’d gotten too used to the crappy reasoning Xander had behind everything: Alex had just been told his stiffest competition was a man who could talk to squirrels, but for whatever, that tempting offer had been turned down and Xander had picked him instead. And Alex was flattered. In that dammit-Xander-you’re-an-idiot way.

“They wouldn’t promote you –” Smart move, Agency. Don’t be a dick. That hurts me. “– but they’d let you take someone else’s body?”

“And that’s why I left the master plan to prove my retarded point. I got promoted, and it fucking sucked. A-3s are the worst rank ever. No – A-2s are the worst rank ever, but A-3s are for sure in second place, ‘cause even though A-2s have the shit-boring job of managing all the HR crap that comes from having an entire domain under them, A-3s have to manage a team of ungrateful bastards and secretly chase a kid who farts lightning through the city. Then there’s the dozen other A-3 teams all trying to catch the same guy and it turns into a race and everyone hates everyone and – surprise! After all that, you still fail the transfer!”

“And then you die,” Alex said.

“Technically. Technically, you’re permanently trying to overtake the original mind, so you’re alive, just in a coma until you make it work.”

The jars of people he’d seen in Elmira... The people who’d been in the green and yellow tanks, pushed into rows and abandoned...

“They’re alive,” he said. “Back in that room, they were all alive.”

“Half are empty, because they’re what was transferred out of. The original’s kept until the transfer’s complete, just in case,” Xander said. “They failed transfers get put in storage until they do wake up or a way to force the transfer to work comes along, since they can’t be reverse-transferred when past a point of attachment. They’d kill themselves, so the Agency leaves them in there. It’s better than saying they’ve lost everything. And there’s families and stuff who go by.”

... That didn’t sound...

“The Agency’s...” He was confused. “The Agency’s... being merciful to them?”

“Trying to be. It’s more hopelessly optimistic,” Xander said. “That’s the story of the company. It’s why they started off making medicine.”

“I thought the point was to steal our powers,” Alex said, resentfully.

“That’s the objective, not the goal, and I’m not the guy to talk to about that.”

“But it goes against everything the Agency stands for!”

“Everything you’ve seen,” Xander said. He said it calmly. “You’re the victim. You’re not gonna see it the same way.”

“As in ‘good enough to die’?” His confusion had turned to outrage. This was ridiculous! “You people –” Ex-Agent, asshole! “Fine – the Agents spend every waking moment of their lives planning to one day find some person who’s trying to live their life and rip them away from their families, and maybe not quite kill them, but kill everything that makes them alive, and they won’t even stop –”

Alex. I’m not guy to talk about it. There’s a bunch reasons floating around for why the Agency does what it does that I didn’t bother picking up.”

“No, but you still used one that let you work for a group that doesn’t just ‘almost kill’ other people, but actually kills each other,” Alex fired. “Why, Xander? I’m asking why! Who the hell would ever think –”

‘Kills each other’?

“Slaughters!”

Man and woman and people not much younger than him had each shown up and tried to kill him, were horribly mismatched, and then forgotten about. Entire waves had been thrown at enemies and been decimated. That could’ve been Xander at any second, and he called his life back there ‘perfect’? There shouldn’t have been any of them left at all!

“Alex,” Xander said, “how many Agents do you think I’ve killed?”

“Billions,” Alex said, angry.

“Before I left.”

“Thousands,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands and thousands.”

“Zero.”

“Zero what?”

“Dude. Agents don’t kill other Agents. That’s fucked up.”

... What the hell was he hearing?

“What are you talking about? You’re always say –”

“Whatever you think I said, I was exaggerating when I said it. Don't get me completely wrong, 'cause I beat the shit out of lower ranks every single day, but that’s because we Pain Eaters are impressively violent and we thought it was funny and so did everyone who wasn’t getting their assed kicked, but I never killed another Agent until I booked it and they made the mistake of trying to kill me – and they only did that ‘cause they assumed when I went rogue, the first thing I’d do was go on a mass rampage and destroy them with my bare hands. Turns out that’s the second thing I’d do. I’d like my body back now please.”

“But the Agent –” Alex half-turned like he was going to reach through the backseat and pull the woman they’d captured out to show him. “She was –”

“It’s Peter.” He felt a burning fury starting to pick up in the centre of his core. “Peter is fucked up. I don’t know how many times I can tell you that before you believe me, but he’s fucked up.” Short embers started flowing down his throat as he breathed. “Any Agent who does kill another is as fucked up as he is. It’s 40% of how he builds his army. Higher ranks? If it does happen, that’s where, but there is a planet of corruption that has to be around before they ever even think of it. I only remember three times, where an A-3 killed an A-2, an A-2 killed another A-2, and A-1 killed an A-5. Trust me when I say it’s not something that gets tossed around.” Xander’s voice turned bitter. “But maybe I’m old-fashioned. And if I am, I’m got Peter to thank for it. Guess how.”

He guessed. The wall around his chest said he got it right. And on the first try and everything...


Last edited by Tartra on Sat Oct 01, 2011 3:32 am; edited 3 times in total
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Sat Jul 02, 2011 1:54 pm

Blatantly disobeying the implied order he'd just been given, Rudy drew his hand back and quickly smacked the slutty Agent girl on the bottom, the perky flesh beneath her uniform bouncing a little from the impact. After he was rewarded with a punch to his stomach, he happily swallowed his lungs and wandered gingerly over to the familiar voice of the A-1. Good. So he was still around and Rudy didn't have to search through the whole base for the guy. Remembering the data he'd gotten off the HSA, he stood by impatiently, waiting for an opportunity to dive into the conversation between the other two and say what he needed to say. But equally accessible to his memory was the pain from the last time he was rude to the A-1 and, showing some uncharacteristic restraint, he eventually decided it'd be better NOT to interrupt.

What the hell? What was wrong with Jason? Oh, right. He rolled his eyes when it became clear that the problem was the guy's faggy suit or Stephanie or something-- whatever. In a second Rudy had his phone out and entertained himself for a few minutes by playing games on it, his thumbs moving with the practiced speed from having spent 50% of his life in front of a hundred different game systems. But after the 7th time he died, and Jason started screaming in Patten's face, his attention was diverted back into the conversation, a restless expression skittering over his features. Weren't they done yet? Yeah, yeah, fuck, 'I'm Jason and I'm gonna die and it serves me right for tricking people into getting their asses kicked by an A-1-- blahblahblah!'

The irritation he felt towards Jason's pathetic bawling was only alleviated by the bold and out of line things the guy was saying, and Rudy waited in malicious anticipation for Eric to beat the crap out of someone else for a change. But Eric disappointingly failed to punish the guy when Jason started whining about Stephanie again and Rudy exhaled heavily, in irritation. It wouldn't be so bad hearing all of this dumb shit about Steph and this queerbait gettin' it on, but he just didn't have the time for it right now. Every minute that ticked by he felt a growing pressure weighing down on him, and obsessively, he checked his phone to make sure his target wasn't blowing things up yet.

10 minutes was entered into the time slot and the spots of fire from before were gone - but he knew where they had been. That was a good sign. That meant it was something Ozzie had control over and she hadn't just set a fire and left something burning - like a building or a person. But until she started another fire, she was off of his radar and he was divided about wanting her to use it, so he could find her, and desperately hoping that she wouldn't, so that no one else could.

Back in Eric and Unitard Man's world, he realized things were coming to a close and eagerly got himself ready to start talking a mile a minute to the man who could, and probably would, save him. But Jason just wouldn't just shut the fuck up and then... the most unfair thing in the universe happened.

What. The. Fuck?!

Did that really just happen? Eric overturned Jason's demotion - which Rudy'd had no clue about until now - and for what? Oh. Okay. That was great. Fucking perfect. So, not only did that gay-ass loser get away with screaming and cussing at an A-1, but now he was being rewarded because Eric apparently wanted to fulfill a life-long dream of being "Agency matchmaker". How did that even make sense?!

Rudy hated his life. He really did. But now, he hated Jason even more. No. Not hate. Hate wasn't a strong enough word to describe the depth of the loathing currently aimed in Jason's direction. Not only did that dick trick him into screwing up his own chances at redemption - and got him into deeper shit than he would have on his own - but NOW, because those two were best fucking buddies, Jason got everything he wanted from Eric, handed to him on a silver platter. And there was nothing, no pain, no punishment or obvious trade of goods and skills that preceded it - the way that Eric was demanding from Rudy. Eric just gave it to him.

As Eric walked by and touched his head, Rudy became distracted from his new mission to glare a hell-fire hole through Jason's skull. Remembering his own problems, he quickly turned to Patten to start talking his ear off, but froze when he realized he wasn't prepared for Round 2. Did he have everything he needed to make sure things went his way, this time? Sure, Graninger had agreed to give him Fenton but... Rudy didn't trust that guy. It was very possible that he would wait here forever for this invincible man who might never show up. There was nothing tying the puppeteering A-2 to the deal they'd made except his word - and that wasn't worth anything to Quin. Rudy had asked for something and Graninger had verbally offered him something. They weren't friends and not only did Graninger not owe him anything but Rudy most certainly wasn't selling anything valuable. It wasn't a done deal until his bargaining chip actually got here.

So, he wasn't ready. He couldn't do this now. But even as he watched Eric leave the room, he realized he couldn't wait for Fenton to get here either. He NEEDED to move now or else he'd lose everything. But first...

Looking over at Jason, an ugly sneer crossed Rudy's face as he surged forward to close the distance between them. "You stupid fuck!" he hissed through clenched teeth, violently shoving Jason in the chest with one hand. Then he was talking, his normally quick speech pattern speeding up to abnormal levels as the volume of his voice increased and filled with unbridled rage.

"They weren't sleeping together, asshole! You got me in a lot of trouble with that trick you pulled! Oh, yeah, REAL funny - my neck almost got turned into taffy by fucking King Kong because of you! Laugh it up while you can you son of a bitch! This shit ain't over and I won't forget! You'll be sorry!"

He had to get out of here. He had to find Ozzie. Turning around, he stalked grumpily towards the door, and just because he couldn't help himself and he was still buzzing with that intoxicating rush of anger, he paused in the doorway to shoot his mouth off some more. "Oh, and congratulations to you and that psychotic slut. Really, truly. You guys are fucking made for each other. And it's great to see that she's finally gotten more discriminate about who she sleeps with. Hell, even I got a ride and I didn't even deserve it. I didn't even have to fuckin' earn it.

"But, you know, I shouldn't be telling you that. I'm sorry. I'll shut my mouth. Go ahead and live happily ever after and continue to hump her brains out. Just one last word of caution, from a guy who knows her history: if I were you, I'd get myself tested for ADD and SPDs before I committed to anything." Those were real things, right? "Smell you later, queer."

Alright, enough of that. He had more important things to worry about right now than that skanky cunt's love-life. He wasn't jealous. He just didn't want either of those two to be happy, especially after what they'd both put him through. He should have never grabbed Gwen Stewart and for probably the hundredth time today, he regretted the path his life had taken as a result of that one bad decision. That stupid cow's bad luck would never wash off of him... Whatever; moving on.

Back in the hallway, Rudy started walking quickly, his new Agency-issue boots clacking hollowly whenever there wasn't any carpet to muffle the sound. Weaving through the maze, his mind was a blur, his brain scrabbling frantically as he tried to figure out what he had to do next. Okay, the Yugo was still in the garage - hopefully - he could use that to catch up to her without wasting too much time. He just needed to get to the elevator without being stopped and THEN figure out where she was and where she was headed. And then he had to figure out a way to scare her off without a team of guys to fling at her.

Repeatedly, Rudy glanced behind and around himself, not stopping as he continued to speed walk through the shadowed corridors, but there was no sign of anyone either behind or in front of him. And alright, he admitted it; now that he'd decided what he was going to do, he was terrified of running into Patten and needing to explain himself. Well... what did it matter, anyway? It wasn't like he'd been ordered to stick around. All of the shit that was currently going on around here had nothing to do with him. He could leave whenever he wanted. They didn't need him.

Finding the elevator, he impatiently pressed the button over and over, and warily watched his surroundings to make sure no one was coming. He knew the real reason he was sweating was not whether Eric would let him leave or not. It was the probability of being asked WHY he was leaving. He could always lie - in fact, he enjoyed doing so, frequently. But there was something about Eric that made him feel like the man could see right through him; like he couldn't hide. He'd be exposed no matter what he said and then he'd be dead.

Finally the elevator opened and he slipped inside and agitatedly pressed the button to go down, his eyes darting around nervously before the doors finally closed. Releasing a small breath, he relaxed just the tiniest bit as the elevator descended, having successfully made it past the first obstacle. Now he just needed to get into his car and get to Osono before she attracted any attention. He had to get her out of the city somehow without compromising her trust in him, and he had to keep her away from the Charlton base and out of Agency hands. And most importantly, he had to do it before Alexander arrived and kicked the fucking beehive.

40 minutes, Patten had said.

***
As soon as the girl fell unconscious again, Ozzie let out a breath and visibly relaxed. Glad that's over. She'd been more than willing to allow Xander to step in and take over, even though it meant SHE was left with the job of punisher in case the Agent got out of line. It hadn't seemed like it would be a problem because the catsuit lady was pathetically broken down and pretty much willing to do anything to salvage her life. That had changed during the second part of the interrogation. Osono didn't understand how or why they'd been made but she did know when it had happened. And in her opinion, everything went downhill from that point forward.

Now, even though she was happy she no longer had to deal with pretending to be a merciless psychopath, she almost wanted to continue to torture the hell out of the girl just to get some truthful answers. In response to Alex's question: No. Osono did not believe anything that girl had said. But for lack of any other leads at the moment, she kept her mouth shut and helped Alex shove the Agent back into the darkness of the trunk.

The continued banter between the two men was enough of a distraction to keep her from worrying about where this address would lead them, and she found herself smiling again at their comfortable, yet aggressive, familiarity with each other. And it was really strange but it had almost become normal to see both voices coming out of the same mouth. After a while, she could forget that there wasn't two guys physically present. Even though she had nothing to contribute to the current topic, she listened interestedly anyway, taking in each new bit of information voraciously, hungry to finally understand this organization after all of these years.

A smile curled on her lips to hear Xander explain to Alex why he'd become an Agent and the reasons he eventually got himself shoved inside the guy's head. And it was made even funnier because of Alex's reactions to it. Sliding into the driver's seat, she felt as if a weight was lifted off of her shoulders and despite where they were going and what they were going to do, she no longer felt on edge and paranoid while in the car with him/them. So Xander wasn't like the others. He wasn't like Peter. Even though he'd still joined the Agents and still apathetically talked about the process like they weren't talking about what they were talking about, Osono no longer considered him a part of that group. In fact, she even sympathized with him - a lot, actually - and she understood the appeal and power his position and training must have given him. Even though her life wasn't much of a life anymore, she did admit that she enjoyed fighting and beating the crap out of her enemies. Her fear of being killed or captured was constantly balanced by her ability to completely decimate everyone around her, almost effortlessly.

As soon as Alex typed the address into the GPS, Osono restarted the car and used the parking lot to turn around and head back out the way they'd come in. She kept her eyes on the road, alert and watchful now that the streets were dark with only the light of street lamps to keep the roads from disappearing, but she continued to listen quietly. One thing that occurred to her while Xander explained things was what was Rudy's rank and department or whatever? She had a hard time believing that he was in any position of authority at all - even though as Xander had been kind enough to point out, the biggest requirement seemed to be brawn over brains - because he just wasn't that type of person. Stubborn, persistent and manipulative, Rudy didn't have the confidence or the balls to make anyone willingly follow him. Then again... she was no longer afraid to admit that there was a lot she didn't know about him.

She also wondered once again if Rudy knew about the transfers and whether or not he was trying to capture her so that HE could transfer into her - that would be weird... and creepy - and why he became an Agent. Was it a simple "Nothing better to do" like Xander or was his story more complex than that? Did he believe and support the Agency goals or was he just "trying to do his job"?

Adjusting her grip on the steering wheel, Ozzie glared out the windshield when she realized what she was doing. She was making excuses for him - again - and trying to find reasons why she shouldn't kill him on sight as soon as she saw him. It didn't matter why he'd joined the Agency or what his motivations were. He was still a liar and had stolen 6 years of her life. Opportunities, relationships, dreams; crushed, broken, missed and discarded. She could have gotten over herself at some point and actually do something productive with her life. She could have reconciled with her parents and gotten to be by her mother's side before she died of cancer. She could have found a Satanist-anarchist-metalhead boyfriend and taken him home to tease her folks with promises to marry him. All wasted and fucking gone now.

No more excuses. She wanted her life back and the little idiot was going to pay for everything she'd lost.

Realizing that the mood in the car had changed, and not just from her but from those two as well, she glanced at Alex and smirked playfully. "So... wow. Xander's dream job involves kicking in faces and punching people? Be still, my heart." When Alex looked at her she let out a raspy, teasing laugh and slapped his left knee.

Then something occurred to her. "Hey... wait a minute... Does Gwen know about Xander?" Well, she had to, didn't she? If she had mind powers and all. "Which one of you is she dating? Or are you both bangin' her? You are, aren't you?" She smiled knowingly and cocked a lewd eyebrow. "You dogs." Another sly chuckle left her throat.

***
The biggest question that had been on her mind before she'd opened her mouth was 'Does Madeline intend to sabotage my case?' Depending on the answer, Stephanie planned on eliminating the woman right here where there was less room for Madeline to fight back - or run away, but she doubted the A-2 would do that. But apparently she did not see Stephanie as a threat and she wasn't falling for her helpless act. Even so, listening to her, it didn't seem like she really understood Stephanie at all. And that led Stephanie to come to two conclusions: Either Madeline was stupid or she was faking too.

She could make a case for both being true since the other Agent did a great job of running in circles with her words, saying just enough to inspire doubt without really saying anything. If she was an idiot, then she pitied March more than she saw her as an actual opponent. That was good. It meant Stephanie didn't need to kill her and they could both leave each other alone and stay out of each other's way. But whatever feelings of sympathy or responsibility that Madeline felt towards Stephanie's situation, from what she was warning against, her 'concern' was largely misplaced.

She would have Gwen and she would have Jason. Stephanie was not worried about losing either, but even so, Madeline's grim predictions of the future did not sound like a bad way to live. So long as she was out of this flawed and disgusting body she would be perfect, and everything that followed would be the whipped topping on her existence. She'd still be alive and starting fresh. Besides, Stephanie wouldn't lose herself completely so long as she had Jason by her side. And not only did she believe he would be there, but Madeline assured her that he would be safe from harm and able to fill that position and Gary confirmed that her partner was ready and willing to do so.

But if this show of concern was just a large fabrication, then she was only making herself seem unthreatening to Stephanie's case and eventual transformation. Without meaning to, Stephanie's first impulse was to take Madeline at her word and roll her eyes and yawn about the whole stupid thing. However, maybe that's what Madeline was waiting for. Maybe she was trying to get her to let her guard down?

One thing was for sure: she was not bluffing about what she said Master was planning to do. She would not have offered Stephanie her phone if there was a chance that she'd take it and actually talk to him. But her reasons for even giving Stephanie a second chance at being convinced were immediately clear in what she stated would be the end result of these revelations: Madeline was trying to eliminate one of Master's devoted followers to gain some sort of point in their little war. Not trying to help her. Then she didn't listen to directions very well, did she?

"You're right. I should call him. ...At the very least, just to make sure...and shut you up."

Ignoring Gwen's progressively changing breathing patterns, Stephanie reached out and took the cell phone from the other woman's fingers. Robotically typing the numbers in, with a small exhalation of breath, she looked straight at Madeline while the speaker trilled hollowly in the small space. When she heard him answer, there was a moment's pause as she felt Gwen tugging her hand to free herself from her grasp and Stephanie looked over to find the struggling girl still half-asleep. But only just.

"Hello, Master," her dead voice greeted distractedly, readjusting her hold on Gwen and tightening her grip until her target stopped moving. "I know you're busy and I know we just spoke a little while ago, but Bergmann has been saying things... I just wanted to make sure about something-- please, don't get the wrong idea. I trust you and you've been nothing but kind and supportive of me... I adore you, Sir, and I want to believe that our goals are the same...and I want to believe that you adore me too. But I cannot go through with this if you're setting some sort of trap for me. I want the truth and I want your promise."

She looked up to stare at Madeline again and in a voice devoid of any energy, but with a touch of sarcasm, she asked him, "You said I could kill her, right? You will protect me if it could be reasonably argued that she'd been pushed down the Elmira base elevator shaft? I want your word that this won't end up harming me if an accidental death looks less like an accident and more like she tried to block bullets with her face."

There was a ten-second pause before she continued in a dull, vaguely complaining voice. "She's bothering me. My target is waking up and the current dosage of Lachesis in my system will wear off soon - I can already feel it because she's pissing me off enough that I'm very seriously considering making the helicopter window 'Lady German sized'. I cannot afford a break in my concentration right now but she won't stop screaming. Even after she's been politely threatened.

"You're an A-1. She'll obey you. Please, Master, make her shut up. Tell her not to talk to me during the rest of this ride or I'll consider it provocation and her trying to deliberately sabotage me - which is reason enough to take action to protect my case." Releasing a bored sigh, she held the phone back out to Madeline and - with just the faintest hint of smugness - stonily said, "It's for you."

***
"This is bullshit, Alex! There's nothing here!"

20 minutes later, the hilarity had been sucked out of the car and they sat, parked, in the dark, in a vacant lot. Almost immediately as soon as they started to leave the shops and office buildings behind, traded in for the slums and eventually warehouses, Osono realized that the Agent bitch had fucking lied. But the anger from this realization didn't really hit her until the little GPS arrow reached it's destination and she looked around to find nothing but an empty spot where something had once stood, with trash littered around the edges of the neighboring building. And THAT certainly wasn't an Agency base, with crumbling brick and boarded up windows, the dilapidated office looking like it was on it's last legs and ready to collapse.

Ozzie smacked the steering wheel and turned to him angrily. "What the hell are we going to do now? She's not going to tell us where it is. Not unless you let me torture her; pain will be a great motivation. I'll get her to--"

"Hey, baby. Lookin' for a date?"

Annoyed and startled, Ozzie turned her head to look at the owner of the voice and gaped at the short man standing leaning on her rolled down window. Looking the same as ever, Rudy gave her a dorky grin, as if it was the most normal thing in the world for him to appear here and now. Where did he come from? Glancing in her rearview mirror, she thought she spotted a car parked haphazardly at the edge of the lot, which maybe hadn't been there before.

"Wait, you're not a cop, are you?" he asked giving her a mockingly wary look.

With the utterance of that joke, Osono finally recovered from whatever shock she'd been in and she struggled to remember the plans she'd made to kill him. Face to face with that boyish smile and those familiar, immature mannerisms, she remembered all of the times he'd played her exactly like this in the past. Thinking about how much she let him manipulate her, and how confident he was that it would work again this time, she gritted her teeth as the rage flooded in. "Didya get it?" he asked with another confidential smile. "'Cause those are things that a hooker would say and we're in the poor section of the city. Not that I have any experience with that sort of thing or any--What the hell are you doing with THAT douchebag?!"

Finally noticing him, Rudy was suddenly pointing into the car and glaring possessively in Alex's direction, but Osono didn't let him say anything else as she snapped into action. With him leaning down into the car window like he was, Ozzie easily reached over his shoulder and grabbed a fistful of the jean jacket he was wearing, jerking it forward and over his head. He let out a muffled sound of protest, but as soon as his head popped up from the other side, her other hand - now making a fist - slammed into his face, hitting him right between the eyes and slipping his arms clean out of his sleeves.

While he stumbled back, groaning and holding his nose woundedly, Ozzie carelessly tossed the jacket towards Alex's lap, and keeping her eyes focused on Rudy, she opened her door and said, "I'll handle this." As she left the car, she took the boiling heat with her, stalking towards Rudy as he sniffled and gave her a defensive look.

"Ozzie-- Ozzie, wait! Please! Let me explain--it's not what you think!"

"Oh, it's not?!" she yelled, stomping across the hard packed dirt and kicking a crushed can out of her path. "It's been you all along! Every time I let you come back because I thought we were friends--"

"We ARE friends!"

"--but the whole time, you were the one I was really running from! Do you have any fucking clue what you've done to me?!" His mouth bobbed open to reply but her fist was there, plunging into his gut and knocking the air out of him. "You've ruined my life!" As he wheezed and coughed, doubled over, she grasped his head and shoved it down into her knee. He lost his feet and fell back onto the ground and Ozzie only stopped her attack to pick up a rusty metal pipe laying nearby.

"Always running! Always hiding! Never safe anywhere and you were always right there beside me, drawing Them to me!" He lay back on the ground, gasping fearfully, half supporting himself on his elbow and raising a hand to shield himself - a lot of good it did him when the pipe came down, smashing into his wrist. There was a dry snap and immediately, Rudy began screaming in pain, his voice actually sounding like a grown man for once, rather than the falsetto that she expected. He was silenced a second later when she swung the pipe like a golf club and his head whipped violently to the side.

Laying back on the ground, he moaned softly, his head and limbs moving weakly in vague attempts to squirm away from the pain, but remaining directionless and random. Tossing the pipe away, Ozzie crouched over him and just started punching him over and over, everywhere she could reach. And other than the occasional agonized flailing, Rudy didn't move or fight back.

"I've lost everything and everyone that matters to me! Lost my home and my family! My mother's funeral, Rudy! I never got to say goodbye to her!"

Adrenaline and heat filled her body and despite her labored breathing, she was far from finished. She'd make sure he knew everything he'd done wrong before she finally burned him alive. Grabbing the front of his T-shirt, she drew her fist back, ready to punch his face into unrecognizable mush, but she stopped. His cheek was reddened from where she'd hit him and his nose was bleeding, streaming off to the left side of his face, and he looked up at her with fear for probably the first time since they'd been together.

It made her feel weird, and she didn't know how to react, but without realizing or even consciously deciding to do it, she was suddenly kissing him instead. His body jerked beneath her at first - was he as surprised by this as she was? - but then his lips parted and he was returning it. It was like a release of aching pressure inside her, soothing and comforting to finally do this - had she really been waiting for this from him? - but it also hurt her as well.

After just 15 seconds, she pulled away, still holding him by his shirt and catching her breath. "My one good thing," she said sadly, tears filling her eyes but not falling - she mustn't do that. She couldn't be weak. Not in front of him. "My one good thing and you ruined it." The lovestruck look that had been swimming in his eyes was faded now, replaced with a bereft and confused expression, after she spoke. She glared at him and clenched her teeth. "I hate you," she said, hating him again for the way she didn't mean it and hating him some more when she had the urge to cry about it like a stupid little girl.

Rudy didn't know what to say. NONE of this was anything that he expected. His undercover persona had been shattered and there was no recovering it. But he no longer felt scared that she'd possibly kill him, drawn to her by the tears glimmering in her eyes. She was so beautiful. And sad. He'd made her sad and he was strangely proud of himself, smitten by this vulnerable side of her.

For the whole 5 minute beating, the entire world had faded away from him leaving nothing but the two of them caught in this intimate and twisted moment. But now, he remembered everything and frantically tried to bring to mind the reasoning that had pushed him to come here in the first place. There had to be a logical explanation; something he wanted to do and a direct reason why! Then an abrupt calm spread over him when he realized...and finally admitted to himself what she had become to him... what his Agency career now meant to him.

Rudy's good hand drifted up to cradle her face - and she let him touch her, seemingly waiting for some sort of response or admission of guilt from him. But he could only think of one thing to say. "I know," a soft smile touched his lips. "And I'm not sorry."

Leaning up, he captured her lips again, moving his mouth against hers, tender yet insistent. And she kissed him back.


She wished she deserved a happily ever after like that...

But she didn't and with that realization, the day-dream fell apart, revealing the soft glow of the Audi's internal lights. The closer the tiny arrow got to the star on the map, the more anxious Osono became. She was driving herself crazy wondering what they'd find when they eventually arrived at their destination. Was this really it? Was there an Agency base at the end of this road? Or did they need to find another secluded spot so Osono could burn Ms. Agent Liar's feet until she told the truth? But the biggest thing she worried about was Rudy. Would he be there? If they did happen to find him in the base, would he act like he always did or would the mask finally come off?

The thing that drove her nuts, though, was trying to figure out and plan how she would react to either scenario. If imagination Osono's opinion of her own will was any indication, things did not look good for her finally setting herself free. There was no way she'd actually let herself kiss that little fucktard. But if he started playing his geeky 'little brother' game - EVEN in the middle of the Agent's headquarters and EVEN if he happened to be wearing a uniform - she'd probably let him live. She tried to shove such an absurd decision out of the way; tried to replace it, but she couldn't deny how she truly felt about the situation. If Rudy acted like an obnoxious yet innocent man-child and told his stupid jokes, she did not feel right about just setting him on fire and watching her only friend-enemy burn alive.

But thinking of the future, it only made her mad. No! She couldn't fucking do this anymore!

Glancing down at the GPS screen, she guessed they had about 10-20 minutes before arrow and star become one. Then she cleared her throat and looked at Alex, urging herself to shut up even as she tried to convince herself to say something.

"Hey," Ozzie paused and let out a silent breath. She was so fucking stupid. "Do you think... we'll see Rudy there?" Oh, great. Could she try not to sound like a teenager hoping to see her crush at the mall? "I mean, if he is..." Okay, shut up! shut up! Shut up! Start over, dumbass!

"I've learned a lot recently and I know better now - I'm not an expert of course, but it's enough to change my mind about some things I was willing to let slide before." Another pause. How to say this?

"I can't keep doing this. And if it were anybody else, I could deal with it. Even if they keep pestering me for the rest of my life, I can deal with it. ...But not Rudy." And here comes the stupid part. "If he's there... if we see him... Can you do me a favor and...make sure I kill him? I won't ask you to do it - and don't, I don't want you to do it; I'LL do it. And I can do it. I just... need a little help, I think. If he's there and your there and it looks like I won't go through with it, can you just remind me what a scumbag he is? Remind me that I'll never have a future with him still coming after me."

Gragh! That was so pathetic and weak! Inside she raged and berated herself, skin crawling with her self-loathing, but she couldn't make herself take it back or "nevermind" it. She couldn't trust herself to be as merciless as They were.

Then as a thoughtful addition, "Please."

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Wed Jul 13, 2011 6:30 pm

HOW.

IN HELL.

HAD JEAN.

PULLED THIS OFF.

WHY DIDN’T HE HAVE THE DECENCY TO EXPLAIN TO EVERYONE ELSE? AND THEN HE DIED? AS IF HE HAD DONE IT ON PURPOSE, JUST TO SCREW WITH THE OTHER BRANCHES!

MADELINE DIDN’T KNOW HOW MARCH HAD LASTED THIS LONG, BUT HER HOURGLASS WAS ON ITS FINAL GRAINS. SHE WAS DEADER THAN PATTEN AND THE THREAD HOLDING HER TOGETHER WAS BREAKING AT A RAPID PACE. HER EYES HAD FADED AND SUNKEN IN HER SKIN. HER HAIR HAD BEEN DULL WHEN SHE FIRST ARRIVED, BUT NOW IT SAT SLUMPED AGAINST HER SHOULDERS, TATTERED, TANGLED, AND IF MADELINE WAS NOT DECEIVED, TORN, AS THOUGH IT HAD RIPPED OUT. SHE EVEN WIPED HER NOSE LIKE IT CUT INTO HER SCHEDULE. ALL OF IT FLEW IN THE FACE OF HOW SHE SHOULD HAVE BEEN. AS DISASTROUSLY AS SOME STAFF HAD TURNED OUT, THE AGENCY NEVER FELT THE NEED TO TWEAK THEIR HIRING PRACTISES. THEY EMPLOYED TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE: QUESTION-LESS SOLDIERS MADE TO SCUFFLE AT THE FRONT LINE UNTIL THEY DROPPED OF EXHAUSTION AND LANDED IN THEIR GRAVES, AND APATHETIC STRATEGISTS UNMOVED BY WHO THEY HAD TO KILL TO REACH THEIR COMPANY’S GOALS. AS PATTEN PUT IT, ‘FUN’ AND ‘NO FUN’, AND WHILE IT ALONE EXPLAINED WHAT CAMP MARCH HAD BEEN PULLED FROM, THERE WERE OTHER SIGNS SCATTERED ACROSS HER FACE AND DRESS AS CRUMBLING REMINDERS OF A TIME WHEN SHE GAVE A DAMN. HER NAILS WERE TOO POLISHED FOR A LUNATIC. THAT SKIRT HAD COME WITH A JACKET. THOSE SHOES WERE SCUFFED WITH TRAVEL AND FATIGUE, BUT EYEING THE DESIGN WAS ENOUGH. THEY ALONG WITH EVERYTHING ELSE DEFIED WHAT SHE KNEW, AND WHAT SHE KNEW WAS THAT MARCH WASN’T HEALTHY, DESPERATE OR INCAPABLE, AND SO THEY HAD LOST THE USUAL OUTCOME OF SPECIAL FORCES, NEW RECRUITS AND CANNON FODDER. PATTEN WANTED HER FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT. MADELINE COULD GUESS FOR YEARS AND NEVER KNOW, AND THEIR RESIDENT PATTEN EXPERT WAS SOMEONE SHE HAD LITTLE INTEREST IN SPEAKING TO – AND CRYPTIC HAD SAID THE SAME IN-BETWEEN WRESTLING BEARS OR MAILING BRIDES OR WHATEVER IT WAS HE AND HIS MAFIA DID WHEN DECIDEDLY NOT CONTRIBUTING TO THE ‘GRUNT WORK’. IT MEANT SHE HAD TWO OPTIONS, BOTH DESPERATE AND DAMNING SHOULD THEY DARE TO BACKFIRE. THE FIRST: KILL MARCH. THE DOG TOO, TO KEEP THINGS CLEAN, AND THE PILOT ONCE SHE HAD LANDED. GWENDOLYN STEWART WOULD BE FREE TO GO AND WITH LUCK, HAVING SEEN WHAT THE AGENCY WAS DOING TO MILLIONS ACROSS THIS PLANET, JOIN THEM IN THIS FIGHT. THE SECOND: BREAK THEM UP. THAT PLAN WAS EASY. THE STEPS TO IT COULD NOT BE MORE CLEAR. PATTEN HAS MARCH, PATTEN LOSES MARCH, WHATEVER GREAT INVESTMENT HE HAD IN HER DISAPPEARS, AND SHE DESTROYS ANYTHING HE HAD BEEN TRYING TO GET PAST HER. MARCH WAS SMART. BLINDED BY PATTEN’S ANGEL DUST AND ARSENIC, BUT SMART. MADELINE HAD GIVEN HER THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING, WHICH WAS ALMOST BETTER THAN THE ANSWERS NEITHER OF THEM HAD, AND EVERYONE IN THIS HELICOPTER KNEW THE MINUTE THE FULL... EVERYTHING DAWNED ON HER, MARCH WOULD BE GONE FASTER THAN IF SHE HAD BEEN KILLED. IF SHE ASKED THE RIGHT QUESTION...

‘I WANT THE TRUTH AND I WANT YOUR PROMISE.’

...

...

...

... WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!

COULD SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN TO HER HOW A DAMN A-3, ONE OF THE SIX WHO HAD MAGICALLY CAUGHT AND DROWNED – NOT JUST KILLED, BUT DROWNED – THE ENTIRE MOROCCAN BRANCH, COULD BE CONVINCED BY A GORILLA TO STOP WHAT HE WAS DOING AND HELP THE PEOPLE HE WAS EXPRESSLY TRYING TO WIPE OFF THIS EARTH, WHILE SHE COULDN’T GET A GODDAMN JUNKIE TO ASK PATTEN A POINT-BLANK QUESTION?! MARCH WAS THROWING THIS CHANCE AWAY TO SIDE WITH A MAN WHO WAS SO FAR REMOVED FROM THEIR DIVINE PURPOSE, THEY HAD LITERALLY ONLY PROMOTED HIM BECAUSE HE HAD ABSORBED ONE OF THE LAST A-1S! WHICH, COINCIDENTALLY, THOUGH IT SHOULD COME AS A SURPRISE TO NO ONE, WAS THE SAME FUCKING WAY HE WENT UP TO AN A-2! HAD MARCH NEVER HEARD OF THIS? HAD SHE HEARD BUT JUST NOT CARED? MAYBE SHE THOUGHT IT WAS GLORIOUS, TOO! THIS WAS UNBELIEVABLE BUT – AGAIN – NO SURPRISE TO ANYONE, BECAUSE SHE HAD BEEN JUST AS READY TO FILE A HOLE THROUGH HER COLLEAGUE’S ESOPHAGUS AS SHE WAS TO HAVE LUNCH. AND IF MADELINE WAS BACK TO GUESSING, PATTEN WOULD COVER IT USING HIS INFAMOUS TAKE ON AGENCY PROTOCOL: ‘WE DON’T WANT YOU TO KILL EACH OTHER, BUT THOSE MARKS ARE DANGEROUS – AND THIS ONE WAS A PSYCHIC! THAT GIRL COULD HAVE PUT HER OWN HAND THROUGH HER THROAT. WHAT SECURITY CAMERAS?” THE AGENCY WOULD BELIEVE IT, BECAUSE ALTHOUGH THEY KNEW IT WAS BULLSHIT, AT LEAST IT SOUNDED LIKE SOMETHING CLOSE TO PLAUSIBLE, AND PATTEN HAD HIS FINGERS IN TOO MANY THINGS TO HAVE A GOOD THING WRECKED BY PUTTING HIM IN HIS PLACE. AND HE WAS FRIENDLY! WHAT WAS SHE COMPLAINING ABOUT? HOW COULD SHE HOLD A GRUDGE AGAINST A MAN SO ‘KIND’ AND FUCKING ‘SUPPORTIVE?

THE RAGE IN HER BUILT UNTIL EVEN THE DOG FIGURED OUT TO SHUT UP AND QUIT WHINING ABOUT THE TONGUE NO LONGER CAPABLE OF STAYING IN HIS MOUTH. HE HAD THE SIDE OF HIS HAND UNDERNEATH, TRYING TO USE IT AS A DAM AGAINST THE DROOL, BUT IF MARCH HAD TOLD HIM TO SHUT UP – TWICE – HE WOULDN’T HAVE HAD THIS PROBLEM! HE SHOULD HAVE STAYED BEHIND. IT WAS SUICIDE EITHER HERE OR THERE, BUT IF HE HAD STAYED, SHE COULD HAVE LEFT HIS NAME IN PEACE. NOW SHE HAD TO ADD IT TO THE LIST AND HOPE HE WAS TAKEN OUT – PAINLESSLY, BECAUSE SHE KNEW OTHERS WHO DESERVED IT MORE, BUT ENTIRELY, BECAUSE HE WAS STILL ONE OF THEM. AND AT LAST, SHE COULD SAY THE SAME TO MARCH. SHE WAS ONE OF THEM, AND BY SO PROFUSELY TURNING MADELINE’S HAND AWAY WITH SEVERELY ILL-ADVISED THREATS – MADELINE CURLED HER LIP AND GROWLED HARSHLY, FORGETTING THE POINT OF ACTING CIVIL WHEN HER COUNTERPART WAS NEGOTIATING AN ALIBI – SHE HAD LOST ALL SYMPATHY. FIRST PULLED, THEN SPRINTED, AND NOW WITH AS MUCH ASSISTANCE AS AN A-2 COULD PROVIDE, PUSHED TO WHATEVER FATE PATTEN HAD IN STORE FOR HER. BUT MARCH WOULD LIKE IT. THERE WAS HARDLY A PERSON IN THERE. WHAT WAS TO LOSE?

THE POISON IN HER VEINS CHURNED AGAIN WHEN MARCH HELD UP THE PHONE FOR HER.

“THANK YOU, MARCH.”

DIE.

THE BEAUTY OF THE WORD WAS THAT IT WAS MEANT FOR EVERYONE AROUND.

Maddie-pad!” THE CANNON OF VERBAL CONFETTI EXPLODED IN HER EARDRUM. MADELINE JERKED HER HEAD AWAY AND SNARLED AT HIM FROM THE DISTANCE. “What’s up, amiga?”

“DO YOU HAVE TO BE SO DAMN CHEERFUL ALL THE TIME?”

“Maybe. Does it bother you?”

“YES!”

“Then I doooooo!”

FOR GOODNESS SAKE – THIS WAS THE MAN SHE HAD NAMED HER ARCH-NEMESIS? IT WASN’T ORIGINAL AND IT WASN’T UNIQUE, AND THAT WAS TWO STRIKES ALREADY AGAINST HIM. TO HAVE HIM GUSH SO... READILY WAS INSULTING TO THE STRAINED RELATIONSHIP SHE HAD WORKED HARD TO BUILD.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT, PATTEN?”

“Nothin’ much. Heard you’re buggin’ Stephanie, so I'm just checkin’ in and makin’ sure everything’s okay. Plus she called me and then passed me off to you, so it’s really more ‘what do you want’.”

“FOR YOU TO LEAVE ME ALONE!” BUT A BETTER IDEA STRUCK BEFORE SHE HUNG UP. “I WANT YOU TO EXPLAIN TO HER WHAT YOU’RE PLANNING TO DO.”

“Hmm?”

“I TOLD HER EVERYTHING, PATTEN. EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING I KNEW – EVERYTHING I COULD AFFORD TO SAY, AND FOR SOME REASON, SHE WON’T BELIEVE ME. I WANT HER TO HEAR IT FROM YOU SINCE SHE REFUSES TO ASK PROPERLY.”

“Hear what, Maddie?”

MADELINE GRITTED HER TEETH. SHE DIDN’T KNOW HIS RULES AS UTTERLY AS SHE WOULD LIKE, ALTHOUGH SHE REALIZED A FIRSTHAND DEMONSTRATION WAS WELL ON ITS WAY TO HER. SURELY SOMETHING HAD TO CHANGE IF SHE HAD HIT THIS EDUCATIONAL MILESTONE. SHE KNEW HE HAD BEEN SCREWING WITH HER NOW. SOMEONE LIKE HIM COULD FEEL IT IN HER VOICE, SO HIDING IT WAS OUT OF THE QUESTION. THE PROBLEM WAS WHAT IT MEANT FOR HOW HE HANDLED HER BEYOND THIS. MARCH STILL HAD HER BASIC RULES IN PLAY, AND PERHAPS SHE COULD USE IT AGAINST HIM – IF THE ADDICT CO-OPERATED – SHOULD THINGS SPIRAL OUT OF HER CONTROL, BUT LEVEL TWO WAS NOT A ROUND SHE HAD HEARD ANYONE REACHING. SHE HADN’T BEEN CONSUMED, AND AS FAR AS SHE COULD TELL, SHE HAD ESCAPED. SHE WAS ONLY ENTERTAINING THE IDEA HE WAS STILL A STEP AHEAD BECAUSE CRYPTIC’S NOTES HAD COME TO HAUNT HER. IN THE COLDEST VOICE HER MIND COULD MAKE, SHE HEARD THE WORDS, ‘WHAT IF THAT’S WHAT HE WANTS YOU TO THINK?’

“YOU KNOW DAMN WELL WHAT,” she spat. “THERE IS NO LIGHT AT THE END OF THIS TUNNEL. TELL HER, PATTEN. TELL HER.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” HE REPLIED, SPARKLING THROUGH THE PHONE. “But thanks for answering my unasked question: ‘trap’? ‘Cause... I’m pretty sure I only heard about one trap, and that one’s set for me. Unless you’re hoarding information, Maddie, which would be unfortunate since it violates – like... ten different rules of disclosure. Oh – and the whole ‘that makes you a traitor’ thing.”

MADELINE FROZE. SHE FORCED HERSELF TO GET A GRIP, BUT HER VOICE STAYED STIFF WHEN SHE SPOKE AGAIN. SHE ALREADY KNEW HE KNEW – GET A GRIP, BERGMANN!

“THAT’S A DANGEROUS ACCUSATION, MR. PATTEN.”

“Quite. Would suck if Benoit heard about it. Stuff like that gets stuck in his head and the guy hates traitors.”

AND WHAT WAS SHE SUPPOSED TO SAY?

“WHERE IS HE?”

“Where I left him!” A WEIGHT SHE HADN’T REALIZED THAT’D BEEN DROPPED ONTO HIS WORDS ROCKETED AWAY AND LEFT HIM BOUNCY AGAIN. “In one piece and breathing – just how you like ‘im. And incapacitated, how you love ‘im. If you want to come back...”

“HAS ANYONE EVER TOLD YOU TO MIND YOUR BUSINESS?”

“A-1!” THAT MEANT NOTHING TO HER, BUT BEFORE SHE COULD TELL HIM THIS, HE RUSHED THROUGH TO HIS NEXT POINT. “So can you leave poor Stephie alone? She’s been having a rough couple of days. Target escapes, target comes back, target escapes, target comes back, now she’s getting ready for her transfer and you’re yellin’ in her ear... It’s not polite, Madeline. Cut her some slack.”

WHO IN FUCK DID HE THINK SHE WAS? THAT WAS THREE TIMES HE HAD BEEN ASKED, AND HE HAD YET TO EVEN BREEZE OVER THE ISSUE. SHE WAS NOT LETTING HIM HANG UP WITHOUT HIM SAYING IT. HER PHONE WAS ALREADY CRACKED ALONG ITS SIDE, BUT IT HAD MORE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE IT BROKE COMPLETELY. SHE BROUGHT IT A STEP CLOSER AS HER GRIP TWISTED IN.

TELL HER WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO DO.

“Finish eating is the main thing. Then I’ve got Xander heading up –”

“PATTEN!”

“– and Nathan’s making trouble –”

PATTEN!

“Just wanna be clear,” HE SAID, NOW THROUGH LOUD BITES OF WHATEVER HE TOOK FROM HER KITCHENS. “You’re telling me to tell her everything I know about... what directly relates to her.” TRAP. “‘Cause – y’know –” SHAMELESS CHEWING. “– right now, you relate to her. And for someone who’s suddenly a huge fan of the truth, you’ve got a lot riding on me keeping my mouth shut.”

HE KNEW.

... He knew.

SHE FROWNED. SHE NARROWED HER EYES. PATTEN COULD SURELY FEEL THIS, IF NOT HEAR IT.

“WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY?”

“Nothin’. Pass me back to Steph?”

“PASS YOU BACK NOW?”

“So I can’t talk to her? Okay.” CHOMP, CHOMP, CHOMP. “Hey – how’s your sister?”

THAT FUCKER

* * *

Oh, great. She was doing it again. After a few hours of her not being a pain, Osono dove right back into crass the instant she realized she needed to make up for it. He rolled his eyes and tried not to turn this into another ‘thing’. They ran it to the ground already anyway. Ha, ha, she liked saying stuff way too personal and he got annoyed by it because even joking about Gwen – “Even if we are, there’s still tons of room for you.”

“Can you go five minutes without immediately encouraging what she says?”

Short answer: no. And then clamping down on Alex’s jaw, he added, Dude – I can’t help it. It’s like a disease.

“It’s called ‘being an asshole’,” Alex snapped. “In case you forgot, Gwen’s a hostage right now. She’s gonna lose her life if we don’t catch up in time. I’m happy you’re both recovered from tearing an Agent apart, but I’d like at least some appreciation for everything that’s going on.”

Which, according to Xander, was ten times worse than... whatever Alex was expecting, because he didn’t have a full experience to rely on. Half of when he’d been captured was a foggy memory and the other half had been purposely blocked out. What he knew was he hadn’t been hurt because they wanted him in good shape if they were sending in one of their own. But Peter wasn’t playing by any of the Agents’ rules. Gwen’s powers were mind based. What the hell did she need to walk for if she got out of hand? It wasn’t like it had to be permanent. Not that Xander’s medical opinion was anything to stick a lot of faith to, but if he said Alex’s foot wasn’t going to cripple him for life – that’s what he prayed he’d said – then all it meant was the Agency knew how to drag on enough pain to make running an impossible idea. And his foot had been by accident. If she’d been taken to a base, wasn’t there somewhere they could medically operate? With enough precise cuts in a set of specific nerves, Gwen could have her own body be its chains. He didn’t know. It was the dragon thing again. And despite his assurances and whatever theory he’d been basing his timeline on, the one thing keeping Alex from sliding into a total panic mode, Xander didn’t know for sure either. ‘Old-fashioned’ meant ‘out of date’, and the Agency he’d come from? Same people, he’d give him that, but it didn’t mean it was the group.

Xander could stop him anytime.

... The standards may have changed.

Changed for the worse was what he was implying, because Alex didn’t have enough shitty news to last him the rest of his life.

“Alright.” He took a breath, as if that was gonna help brace him. “How?”

Xander had been on his best behaviour today. He’d kept Osono entertained, he’d actually solved a mystery or two, and right when Alex needed it the most, he’d moved from talking about his favourite thing in the world – well, second, because even signing the firewoman up for a threesome slipped under Starbucks in his point of view – to deliberately guiding them through whatever the latest fucked up part of the Agents was. His voice had purposely turned patient and low, and Alex was relieved that, for once, this wasn’t going to be dumped on his head. He couldn’t take it right now. He felt selfish even suggesting he had it worse than Gwen, but he knew his limits inside and out and they were telling him he couldn’t take this bluntly.

“You said,” Xander began, easing both of them – but mostly Alex – into it, “the Agency, based on everything you’ve seen, was a military-slash-government thing. That’s perfect, ‘cause that’s what they are. So what does the military do?”

He wasn’t expecting anything complex. Alex just calmed down faster when the guy lobbed softballs at his head.

“Kills stuff. Takes orders.”

“And what’s the government do?”

“Gives orders.” Xander was waiting. “... And...”

“Pays for shit,” he finished. “The government pays for shit, and if the Agency is doing both those things, that means they’re paying for shit, too.” Alex heard tapping. Xander was drumming his fingers against the side of the passenger door. Okay – that wasn’t calming him down – “How many Agents have I killed? After I broke out, this time.”

Alex shrugged.

“I didn’t count.”

“499.” Xander did. “This bitch’s gonna be my half-thousand.” He was proud of it, too. “But that’s the problem. When I say it’s a big deal for somebody to die, I mean it’s a dangerous line of work where no one expects to leave without scars, but no one walks in planning to sacrifice themselves and killing each other is fucked the fuck up. When they say it’s a big deal, it’s ‘cause we have a price tag. People like me – Pain Eaters and all the special forces made to handle you – exist because it’s lethal to test the waters with someone who’s not one of those ‘arms fall off’ rejects. In an ideal world, every Agent would be like me, but it’s not possible.” That was terrifying. Not the Pain Eater thought, the ‘every Agent is Xander’ one. “Ha. Funny. I’m serious. You chewed through how many guys before I showed up? That’s an A-3’s nightmare, ‘cause the Agency goes from ‘give all the best people to this team so we can wrap this case up’ to ‘holy shit, stop giving them guys ‘cause this case is gonna be their death’. The parent company is calling this a moral war. The Agency’s just like, ‘Seriously, stop dying, ‘cause you people are expensive as hell’. And I killed 499.”

“So they’re broke?”

“No – they’re not broke, dumbass. But they took a heavy hit. I didn’t just fight the idiots who kept trying to get you back. I went on the hunt and I dragged those dicks from whatever rock they hid under. I made you a threat, not a capture priority, which is why they sent Peter in to con me into standing down and probably the only reason that French douche was saving the big guy ‘til the end. He’s not getting another one. I take this to mean I win.”

They were still talking about Gwen, right? That hadn’t changed?

“The standards?”

“Lowered.” Xander had said it with mixed emotion, thrilled he’d made such a clear impact, but tempered because yes, they were still talking about Gwen. “Depending on the type, Agents cost millions to train and superior tech has to be custom-made. Given the choice between talent and sticking to the tenets of what the founder wanted the Agency for in the first place, the Agency’s going with the first one. It started a little before I left, but now I’d bet everyone alive joined to get something for it. That lowers the standards, that changes the attitude, and that means everyone decides to interpret things strictly to the letter.”

He had almost trailed off. Almost. Xander had taken them as far as he could based on what he knew. Anything after was a reasonable assumption or an estimated guess.

It was better than nothing.

“What’s going to happen to her?”

Xander didn’t waste time saying he didn’t know. He got to the meat of it.

“They’re probably going to change the transfer.” His tone picked up. “If I’m looking at a worst-case scenario, nothing in the procedure itself is broken. Find a target, make a case, get the target, transfer over, close the case – simple, straightforward, hasn’t failed. But the transfer itself is the tricky part. More than bringing the guy in, that’s where the lives are lost, and long before I signed up, the Agency’s been desperate to fix the damn thing. They can’t make it consistent, and with someone like Peter having any sort of control, interpreting to the letter means doing whatever it takes to make the transfer work.”

“You make it sound like it’s worse than what they’re already up to,” Alex said.

“David.” Xander’s voice got sharp. “Tell me he doesn’t feel like an evolution.”

Crazy Two-Headed Aussie-Woman?

“Is he a failed experiment?”

“Maybe. They could be keeping him awake to study what went wrong.” He seemed disturbed by this. He was tapping on the passenger door again. “And a lot of shit went wrong.”

Alex heard the pause before he said ‘wrong’.

“There’s something worse than that?”

“Yeah. Shit going right. I know you were having your headache, but David – Nathan – whoever it was – came back after the brawl in Elmira. That wasn’t the kid I was smacking around, and it wasn’t the woman who wanted pancakes.”

Alex frowned, deeply. Images of those fourteen cells in the room so quaintly called ‘successes’ came back and burned his eyes.

“Was it another Agent?”

“Seemed like it.”

“But –”

Why the hell did they have to think about this now? How was it helping at all?

It isn’t. That's my point. Do I what do, Xander said. Keep this stuff in your mind, and when you have a reason, go over it. Until then, don’t. You’re gonna drive yourself insane, and I didn’t spend six years saving your ass just to have you lose it on me now.

It wasn’t open for discussion. Xander slapped the topic shut and went right back to Osono.

“Well – that killed the mood! This is why Alex's gonna be sitting outside,” he said. “So Sparky, you a top or bottom kind of girl?”

* * *

It was funny how things had changed. Benoit should have been concerned with the events unfolding before his eyes. A year ago or a simply a month, he could have been. Likely it would come from Jean nagging him to get involved, but even left to his own devices, he should have felt a tug to act. Instead he was apathetic, nearly stoic as he sat in this vault, feet up on the console under the central screen and tipped in the chair he was offended to say was the only thing he enjoyed anymore. Lulls like these were dangerous. He thought too much, and when he did, he remembered why he never wanted to.

Salcon tried so hard. The lengths they went to find a solution was outmatched by only the holes they overlooked. Their persistence was nothing short of admirable, but their failures wrought such exhausting losses, the problems devoured the rewards and grew more focused. But it’d started properly. When the deaths had brought with a horde seeking vengeance and Salcon, in its innocence, was not equipped to handle it, they formed an entirely separate division to manage the hostility. It worked. The attacks stopped. Delighted, Salcon went on to guide its division to new heights, carefully pushing towards more proactive measures, never allowing a line to be crossed despite the casualties that ensued. It worked. Negotiations followed. Slowly groups had formed, and the committees they made of those who had been gifted – or cursed, as the case had sometimes been – reached out to Salcon to decide how to contain the ones who were completely uncontrollable: criminals and those who couldn’t keep a handle on their strength. They settled on a solution for both, and as a result, created the stasis cells. It worked, giving the convicts their fair trial and answer to what Salcon expected to do when they could rip through a regular prison in minutes, and giving those overwhelmed by their powers a safe suppression to be lifted when a more appropriate counter could be developed. Now Salcon had people to help. It couldn’t spend every day judging whoever was brought down. It gave their silver division the authority instead.

Salcon had made its first mistake.

With the lines blurred between who was actually hostile and who needed help and the division’s only function to gather, sort and restrain, those committees got pissed off. Salcon was back to being attacked and now had triple the crowd to manage, so it gave its division the authority to develop counters, too. That had been the second mistake. The division never stopped being proactive, and now that it was free to catch and judge and imprison exclusively as it saw fit, this had really been inevitable. Elias had not been the cause of the split, just the name to put forward when Salcon had asked. The division said it needed absolute autonomy. They would handle the countermeasures; Salcon could just go back to working on a cure. The Agency was official in less than a week.

The little things were what amused him. White and grey were Salcon’s colours. The Agency had taken them on as a lip servicing show of loyalty. They never deviated from what they said they’d do, but in the eight, nearly nine years they’d existed, Benoit had yet to see the slightest change towards the greater good of those they were kidnapping. Did it differ from his time under Salcon? Not exactly. The work was the same but the purpose was hollow. The Agency couldn’t give two shits for who they were working on, but they made considerable progress clamping down on the mess Charlotte made and the transfers had never been closer to guaranteed, despite 'putting an end to this chaos' dropping to the end of their list of priorities. It was the most he could hope for and it depressed him immensely. The Agency could not be believed when they claimed to have anyone’s interest at heart, but they could be trusted to work like it.

And then – oh God, Eric. Not four days after the split was public, he had pulled out every stop to move to A-1. The enthusiasm came from nowhere, since everyone knew he’d been on cloud nine to complete his transfer, then lost interest in advancing Salcon’s work. He’d said he’d found new meaning in it, now that the division had become its own boss, and the Agency went along with it. They weren’t insane. They were in love. They’d never found someone so in tune with how they thought, not because Patten thought the same way – in fact, he thought in reverse. Benoit gave no points to anyone who realized Eric wasn’t someone to be trusted. He did show, however, some respect to those who noticed he could be taken at his word. What should have been a balance of directly opposing forces instead gave way to a harmony headed sharply in the same direction. Believed and Not Trusted had his promotion approved by Trusted, Not Believed after three years. It hadn’t made sense at the time, even if Eric met every challenge the Agency had set out for him. The twenty A-1 slots were full, and because it wouldn’t fit their structure, an additional slot was off the table. No one recognized the full deal made until after Eric’s most recent corpse had appeared and he was nowhere to be found. Not until a month later, anyway, when he grinned from a then current A-1. Murder, obviously. Eric admitted it. The Agency was quite displeased, they promised, but since Patten had been doing such a good job, it didn’t make sense to take him out. They vouched for him to revolutionize their work and he delivered tenfold, over and over and over again, prospering and accomplishing more in a month than Salcon had in a decade.

One of them had to go.

If he had more wonder-drink, he could’ve drowned that thought before it got any worse, but he hadn’t found any more. If he wanted schnapps, he could have had schnapps, but he decided he’d stick to sobering up.

One of them he could live with. He’d be willing to spend the rest of his life only ever trusting, but not believing, or believing, but not trusting whoever was officially put in charge. Both of them, together, as a team, working for the same goals? Which he doubted were the same as Salcon’s, but that didn’t add the already established impossibility of Benoit putting up with it for much longer. He was starting to acknowledge he’d only been loyal to Salcon, not to either of them, because although it would have seemed their values meant he got a world where everything was trusted and believed, better than what Salcon could deliver, it was just his luck that reality had landed on the other end of that scale.

One of them had to go.

And the Anti-Agents would go, too.

Jason had not appreciated the slam Quin had given to his chest. He supposed the line Eric had drilled through the boy’s body had been reawakened in the blow and enhanced by the adrenaline. He took his time shaking it off, unaided by the Butter Juice – very clever, Patten – and therefore bravely getting back to his feet. Benoit had no sound on that screen. The knobs he’d flipped was somehow stuck on following the A-1 around. Just in time for another chat with Miss Agent March, his absolute favourite A-3 in the world, next to Elias when he’d been one.

Uhhh-hhuhh-huhhhuh-huhhhuhhuh!

Eric had dialled out to a number Benoit didn’t recognize, but going off his hackles, raised instantaneously, he had to assume it was the fat one that’d tagged along.

“She threw her phone?” Eric was joyfully surprised. “Did she break it?”

Uhh-huhuh-huhuh-uhuhuhuhuhuhhhuhh!

“It smashed into a hundred pieces and cracked the window? Goodness me, Gary – that’s not a healthy response to anger!”

Benoit must have missed the first part. Was it any great loss? He thought not.

Uhhhhhhhhhh-huhuh-huhuhuhu-huhuhuh-uhuh-huhuhh!

“I know, I know – I’m really sorry to hear about your tongue,” Eric said. “Try not to touch her hands anymore. You know that now, but y’might want to let Stephie know. Oh – right, you can’t talk. It’s okay, I’ll tell her later.”

Heh. ‘Later’.

Uhhhuh-huhhuhuhhu-huhuhhuh?

“I’m sure it wears off eventually! She’d get in serious trouble if your tongue popped out –”

UH! UH-UH-UH-UH!

“– and I’m ninety-nine percent sure that’s not what’s going to happen to you! Ninety-nine. That’s almost a hundred! So can you put Stephie on the phone?”

Uh-huh.

There was a soft shuffle as Eric continued to wander through random parts of the Charlton base. He was eating a sandwich beside a plate balanced on a lackey’s head, his juice being held by another one of his spies. Why not go the whole way and have them form a table?

“Hi, Stephanie!” Benoit hadn’t been paying close enough attention to hear if she’d answered. “Wow – I am so sorry about the mess Madeline’s been making. She’s just not an easy person to get along with, is she? I’d say ‘at least she means well’, but she can’t even do that.” He put his sandwich back on the plate. The suited minion twisted carefully to keep it from falling off. “Anyway, if you’re gonna kill her –” What? “– please do me the favour of not trying to cover it up. It’s so much simpler when I can I just say, ‘Yeah, she’s dead, alright’, rather than having to jump through hoops explaining why the bullet wrapped her in a carpet and rolled her into a pier. And I’d rather explain how that’s easier when you’re on the ground, only because I’d strongly prefer you to not try it when you’re in the air. I don’t know if you know how to fly that thing and I’m not risking someone crashing because Maddie killed the pilot to ensure your mutual destruction. That’s so ‘her’, too – she’d do it.

“As for your first concern...” He paused to think it over, then he paused to have some of his juice. “I’m grateful you let me know you two’ve been talking, but I’m at a loss for what you want me to say. I don’t get people asking for the truth and a promise if they’re only calling to humour someone else. It’s not the wrong idea of you, it’s the wrong one of her. I really thought she had better survival instincts... Huh. But you have my promise, if you’ll accept it, that I’m truthfully not setting anything. No trap, no ambush, no... I don’t... know what other kind of traps there’d be – pits, maybe? – but I’m not setting those either. You’re clear to land and get started as soon as you can shake Berg-bottom off your tail. And if you can’t, well... kill her.” He wasn’t serious. He couldn’t be serious. “But call me beforehand in case she says anything about that, too. I’ll give you the full logic behind it then.

“I know you can handle Gwen, so you saying ‘she’s waking up’ is something I can comfortably ignore.” Famous last words, Benoit was sure. “I’m glad you called again, Stephie! I’ve got good news from my end! Well – good news... and a question... but that can wait ‘til later, ‘cause someone’s comin’ to Elmira to visit you! I’m not spoiling the surprise, I’m just cluing you in that his plane won’t be landing until two or three hours after you touch down. If you can’t wait, don’t wait, don’t risk it, but if you feel like sitting with Gwen for a little bit longer, it’ll be worth your time. And that’s everything, I think, unless there’s something else while you’ve got me on the phone?”

Benoit was distracted by a weak groan from behind. He looked over his shoulder. There was Jason, hand still on his chest, trudging determinedly through Madeline’s office with his goggles hanging tightly from his hand. Benoit glanced back at the central screen, realized he didn’t care about the rest of the conversation, then took his feet off the console to swing around enough to turn his head completely. Jason shouldn’t take it personally if Benoit didn’t feel the need to fully turn and face him. He’d do the same to Eric. What he would not do was point out: “You look like shit.”

Jason grabbed an expression that seemed very close to glaring while he panted and leaned against the side of the vault’s doorway. “Thank you, Benoit,” he said, throwing a polite nod in, as if he agreed. “Is there another chair in here?”

“No.”

“Oh.” Jason awkwardly stayed standing until he remembered what he’d come here for. “Eric asked me to show you this.” He lifted his goggles up. “It’s what I recorded in Elmira.”

“You didn’t have those in Elmira.”

“I did,” he said. “I got them back from my target.”

“Did you.” Jason was a remarkably boring storyteller. Evidently, he was a remarkably stupid person as well, because he decided to stand there and stare at him until Benoit had to prompt, “Can you show me?”

“Oh! Yeah.”

He lifted his goggles up again, fought with them to stop spinning... Benoit rolled his eyes and relaxed into his seat. After another two minutes of this child – Jean had been right – trying to figure out the one piece of equipment he was supposed to actually know, he took the time to muse, “If you were going to break your drug stance, you should have waited for something that didn’t suck.”

“It’s not... drugs...” He was having quite a time with those things. “I’m just tired,” he said, finally untangling them or whatever the problem had been. “I collapsed from withdrawal and Eric had to stab me awake.”

“You had withdrawal?”

“From the suit.” Now there was another problem. At least he’d gotten some kind of screen going. “Withdrawal from the suit.”

“You’re wearing the suit.”

“It’s not just wearing the suit,” Jason said, too quickly and quite defensive. “It’s about knowing I can keep it.”

“... Ah.”

“It’s complicated."

“I’m sure it is,” he said. “Rest assured I can live without you trying to explain.” The boy lifted his head as though he’d secretly been insisting it was explained. When Benoit raised his eyebrow, he got the message, and went back to work trying to understand the technology he’d most likely trained with for years. Behind him, sliding in through the office door, was one of Eric’s spies – lost, most certainly. Benoit raised an eyebrow at the spy, too. The spy, in return, froze, as though he or she hadn’t been expecting it. The thing darted like a rabbit when he shooed it out with a hand wave. Jason popped up his head up a second late, looking at what he’d been waving towards and then back to over to Benoit. “Hurry up. I’m sure you have places to be.”

“I just have get to where it is,” Jason explained. “Eric wanted you to see the fight, so I have to find the start of it.” Of course. “But I’m trying to make sure you don’t see more than you have to.” Sure. “And by that I mean –”

“Jason.” Stop talking. No one liked it when he talked. Benoit liked it least of all, but he was trying to be respectful. “Why don’t you go now, and I’ll just ask Elias when he wakes up, because apparently Eric wants him walking again.”

There. Jason didn’t have much to impress him with, but he recognized a bad idea when he heard one.

“Why would he want to do that?”

“I don’t know. But you agree it’s a terrible decision.”

Yeah, I agree,” Jason said. “I thought you were killing him.”

“I thought so, too.”

“Marshall went rogue – how’s he supposed to come back?”

“Ask Eric. He says he’ll do it. He wouldn’t try if he wasn’t sure.” He finally did swing around completely, but only because he was tired of facing a wall. “The man has a plan for everybody.”

Jason snorted. That sound caught Benoit’s ear, paving the way for a surprising response of, “Yeah. I noticed.”

“Really? I thought he got it by you.”

“Got what?”

The boy’s hand had switched on the recording at the same time he had asked. Benoit put up his to silence him. He couldn’t hear if there was talking, Jason, but he could certainly make out the sounds of a battle. Jean, then. Alexander. He knew them too well for it to be anyone else. At some point the goggles were going to have to face the fight, but – okay, these walls were also very lovely. And Jean was punching them. It clearly sounded like a wall being punched. How many times had Benoit said to aim? Jean always did that, and then he whined for a week about his hand being broken, as if not whining wasn’t his sole job. It was worse when he kicked the wall, because then he expected Benoit to have sympathy when it all it triggered in his mind was to get up on a roof eat everything that'd been 'banned' because Jean couldn’t climb and screaming wasn’t going to get him down. Sometimes Benoit would feel guilty when he did it, but then he ate more candy and feeling guilty went away.

What was Jean saying?

“How much of the fight did you record?”

“Technically the entire thing,” Jason reported. “My target had them with her when the fight began. By this point, I have them.”

‘... Before you break through’? Break through what? The lenses? Was that what Alexander said before? Contacts?

Had Jean been keeping eye contact...?

“I can’t see anything like this.” His chest was tight. “Does it move?”

Where were his cigarettes?

“No, this is it,” Jason said. “But the audio’s intact, in case there’s something else you can hear.”

What he heard was Jean saying things he had never said in his life.

This was a bad idea. Benoit should stop watching.

Where the hell were his cigarettes?

“Turn it off,” he said, going through his pockets. “It’s useless.”

“Eric wanted to know what you thought about the fight,” Jason said. “I’ll just skip to –”

Turn it off.

Where the fuck were his cigarettes?

Jason pieced that message together and shut down his lightshow. In the time it took for him to put the shoddy things around his neck, Benoit had found his pack, lit one, and got half an inch through. It spoke volumes of how incompetent this kid was. Who lost equipment they wore around their neck? Wasn’t he supposed to turn invisible? But if he said that, he’d be stuck for an hour listening to excuses. He had something better to criticize.

“The charging hadn’t started yet...”

“Why was that camera only facing the wall?”

For some reason, Jason was confused he’d been asked this.

“It’s where my target was,” he said. “I had to –”

“It was around your arm? Your headpiece? Your arm was facing the wall the entire time?”

“Yes.”

“And it never occurred to you to get involved with the one who’d been putting up a fight?”

“No. Well... at the time, I wasn’t going to turn my back on my target,” he tried explaining. “And I thought Jean was handling it. If I left her, she could have attacked –”

“Are you telling me saw Jean fight Alexander and let him die because you were worried about a little girl?” Benoit was out of his chair, but he couldn’t move past that. “You, a fully trained Agent, thought she was the greater danger?”

Jason was too weak to pretend about anything. It didn’t stop him from answering, “I’m obligated to put a higher –” Bullshit. Jason backed down for one short moment, but getting his rank back had gone to his head. “I’m not responsible for what happened to Jean. That was Alexander.”

“Believe me,” Benoit seethed. “I am aware of his involvement.”

“Then don’t blame me for it.”

He hadn’t been. He was now.

“Get out. Go to your lead.”

If Jason lived long enough to get to her.

“I’m sorry he –”

Go!

Jason left, still with his hand over where Quin had shoved him and trudging, but swiftly and without another word. Benoit watched him leave to make sure he did, before grabbing his pack and getting a second one out. He hooked the corner of the chair with his foot, yanking it over and dropping in its seat, about to aggressively put this out of his mind, wondering where showing him that fit into Eric’s plans, then violently putting it out of his mind instead. Why did the A-1 like him? Because Benoit was incapable of having less of a shit to give for whatever the man was doing in the background. Ethics, Eric wanted to call it. If he needed him, he’d give the order. If it fell within the Agency, Benoit would follow through. It made for an easy arrangement to understand and not once had they had to ask what the limits of Eric’s authority were. In other words, it didn’t matter where it fit because Benoit wasn’t doing anything about it. Eric knew already. This had been a legitimate sharing of information. It was stupid fucking Jason who’d turned it personal, but he wasn’t about to act on it either, partly since it went against his personal code, but mostly since the boy was already on his way out. When he had gathered his thoughts, he would give Eric the opinion he’d sent the suit to find. Until then, he was strictly keeping to what he was known for.

He was glad he had found the schnapps.

* * *

Alex had been resting while Osono led them through the streets. Each of the lights hanging over the road had been too closely spaced for his comfort. As they flew past, he’d noticed an uncomfortable resemblance to a metronome, and then to a timer, and then to a countdown, and the only countdown he could think about was the one for Gwen until she got to where they were taking her. He’d taken Xander’s advice and stopped trying to put every detail in place. He was sure he could have managed something if he’d worked for it, but it wouldn’t have helped him if it sat on his plate as more thing he couldn’t change. So he’d rested. Xander was still stirring, but Alex leaned his head against the window and stared at the road. He didn’t move from this until she cleared her throat.

This was what he’d been worried about. Yeah, he’d brought it up in the worst ways, but when he’d been mentioning about Rudy, this was what he’d meant. He’d looked over when she’d asked her first question, ready to say ‘yes’ before he caught on that it wasn’t everything she wanted to know. When he’d asked her to help...

This is not gonna end well.

His point exactly.

“I still have to put this guy back,” Alex said. “Other than that... yeah. I’ll do my best.”

“What’d he do to you?” Xander now. At the gas station, he’d dropped asking entirely. Alex could hear a small reminder of that in his voice, not quite a push, not saying ‘you owe me for not bringing it up before’, but definitely expecting some kind of answer and thinking it was overdue. “It’s not a bad way to go, but you’re travelling alone. Something tells me he’s partly to blame, and by ‘partly’, I mean ‘absolutely’, in the way only Agents can be.”

Was he referring to something?

Sort of. She’s not gonna do it.

Kill Rudy?

She likes him. ... The elf? The constant. She’s not gonna dump every memory he’s been in ‘cause that’s been her entire life up ‘til now. That’s all he needs. Keep them away from each other.

Back to murmuring as politely as he could, Alex said into his shoulder, “But she says she’s gonna do it.”

What she says, what she thinks and what she can do are three incredibly separate things. It’s my personal experience telling you to change whatever sounds like ‘I have to kill him but only I can do it’ to ‘I am not going to be able to kill this guy, don’t put me in the same room as him’.

“That’s a bold translation.”

Hasn’t let me down. I only trust people telling me, ‘if you have a shot, you damn well take it’. By the way, if you find Peter, blow his head open.

Will do. Somehow.

“What happened to the elaborate death fantasy?”

Spoiler alert: he dies. That’s the only thing I care about. Everything else is details.

He’d keep that in mind, too.

“So. Explain,” Xander said. And as his thoughtful addition, he also added, “Please.”


Last edited by Tartra on Wed Nov 30, 2011 2:16 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Sun Jul 17, 2011 11:26 pm

There was the faintest feeling of triumph fluttering inside her as she watched the A-2 scowl and take the phone back. That frown articulated even more displeasure when the other woman realized that she'd just spent the last 10 minutes screeching at a brick wall and now had to do more screeching at another. The whole reason Stephanie even made the call was just to let the woman think for a few seconds that she'd successfully convinced her and then crush the entirety of that hope. How dare she presume that she understood or knew more about the situation than Stephanie did.

The other Agent had said absolutely nothing that Stephanie hadn't already been aware of - yes, Master was evil and enjoyed controlling others. She saw it the moment he'd stepped onto the scene in Elmira, wearing the body of a weaselly tech, forcing Benoit to bend over and take it up the ass - by handing over his dead partner - within 5 minutes. And yes, he had his own agenda and was using people - using her. But who didn't? Did anyone honestly believe that Stephanie's desire to transfer into Gwen was anything except a personal quest? How was her using Master to get her transfer any different from him helping her with the transfer in order to use her?

And Madeline clearly had her own agenda too. That was the only useful thing the woman had shrieked: telling Stephanie that she wanted to destroy her. So Stephanie did the exact same thing - albeit indirectly. Just to rub it in her face and force another uncomfortable confrontation between the A-1 and A-2. And THAT had ended nicely as well, with the phone suddenly in pieces, Madeline unnerved about something and Stephanie staring stonily ahead, almost practically humming pleasantly to herself.

But now that Stephanie had Gary's phone to her ear and was listening to Master's voice, she realized that she'd made a big mistake. It was just a joke. She didn't know how to tell him without offending him or looking unprofessional, that almost everything she'd said was just her being a bitch to Madeline. What was worse, she could hear it in his voice; he already knew all of that. He was reprimanding her and putting her back in her place. He was upset with her. It was foolish and petty of her to even involve him in her little squabble with the A-2, when he deserved so much better than to act as "daddy" telling the girls to behave.

Whether it was meant in jest or not, her calling his plans into question was offensive and disloyal. Madeline had actually won this round by getting Stephanie to confront him at all, even if it wasn't what she wanted her to say and even if Stephanie hadn't meant any of it. He was not playing games and he clearly expected more from her. She'd disappointed him. She should have just ignored Madeline and stayed focused on her target. Not only had she failed that but she'd let him know that she'd been sitting here trading barbs with the other woman and complaining rather than concentrating on her goals. He was working hard to make things work for her back in Charlton and she was acting like she'd already transferred and was queen of the world; there was still so much left that could trip her up if she wasn't careful.

Her asking if she could kill Madeline had also been a part of the joke, but she took his answer as an order and his explanation as a thorough scolding for feeling the need to clarify these things for her. Like she was a baby or some stupid underling Agent who pissed herself when forced to make a decision - like, fucking Gary. He was talking to her like she was Gary. She was such an idiot. She KNEW what she needed to do and even though she'd been contemplating killing Madeline in the helicopter, she didn't actually give a damn about hiding the murder once it was done - that had been the joke. So, she'd forced him to explain himself, again, and made him think she was an idiot who needed these things translated into small words so she could understand.

He was "glad" that she'd called. Stephanie felt sick.

Momentarily, she was distracted by his "good news", but when she was given the chance to speak, she let go of Gwen and cradled the phone with both hands against the side of her face. "I'm sorry, Sir," there was an undertone of remorse in her dead voice. "I didn't mean to question your motives. She was upsetting me and I let myself get distracted by arguing with her. I just wanted her to shut her huge, arrogant mouth. I did not want to make you think that I have anything except perfect faith in you. And I'm sorry I--" She cut herself off. No. Stop. Enough of this. She wasn't making herself look less like Gary by sniveling and baring her stomach like a submissive dog. She needed to assure him that his words had solved whatever problem had gotten her off course and that she was firmly focused now. Her head started pounding...

"You've made your orders perfectly clear, Sir," Stephanie said firmly, shooting a small glance at Madeline. "I know what is expected of me and I will not disappoint you again. Thank you." There. Settled. Now, what did he say about a "visitor"?

***
It felt like it should be later, but the sun was still shining in late afternoon glory through the large silver-lined windows. Jetlag was a bitch. And his opinion of the east coast hadn't improved with this trip. But at least he'd been successful in what he was sent out to accomplish. Even as degrading as the assignment turned out to be, Fin hoped this would be the last test before he was finally accepted. Being a long-term assistant and lackey certainly sounded appealing, but he had more glamorous goals in mind for his future career here. And a year was long enough to work at gaining the Agency's trust when he was so willing to take bullets for Them.

The hallways of the Spokane base were as bright as the sun-lit lobby had been, walls, floors, doors and lights sterile and painted white and silver, transforming everything into a reflective surface. They were just short of making the interior theme "chrome". Ahead of him walked his guide, because he wasn't allowed to go anywhere in the base unescorted by an actual Agent. Which was humiliating in itself, but this guy was an A-17 - who's face just screamed 'I will still be living with my mother when I'm 40' - totally underlining and emphasizing Fin's lack of status for everyone who saw them. He'd have to remember to thank his boss for that.

Stopping in front of clear, double-doors leading into an office, he adjusted the satchel over his shoulder as the Agent stepped forward and timidly knocked on the glass, drawing the attention of the lone occupant in the room. A very curt, authoritative voice called out "Enter", before the guy fumbled and turned the silver door knob and opened it for Fin - he wasn't allowed to touch doors here either; God forbid there was ever a fire - and nodded politely as he stepped past the Agent into the room and the glass door was closed behind him. He glanced back and made a gesture with his thumb over his shoulder, indicating his fainthearted guide, who sat in a chair outside in the office foyer, looking like a kid waiting to receive punishment from the principal.

"Keep your eye on that one. He's a star. Just totally gonna fly up that Agency ladder - he'll become your boss before you can blink."

"Not everyone here is trying to become an A-1," the man said in a humorless tone, clicking his computer mouse and not even looking up from the screen perched on his desk. Fin pressed his lips together in a "not-smile". The guy could always see right through Fin's sarcasm and usually humored him with jabs of his own, but today he was distracted. "You let your beard grow out again - you will shave by tomorrow morning." Apparently not that distracted. "Did you locate the items I ordered you to retrieve?" Still clicking the mouse, with just a little bit of typing.

Letting out a silent breath, Fin stepped forward and plopped heavily into the chair in front of the desk. "The flight was great, thanks for asking. Since I was lucky enough to leave only 2 days ago, my body hadn't fully recovered from the trip to New York before I put myself through the rigors of cross-country time travel again. I was so lucky, I got fingered by a TSA Agent - twice - and I sat next to the one guy onboard who's aerophobia-induced panic attacks involved vomiting." More clicking. He had yet to look directly at Fin. "Next time, you should come with. I really shouldn't be having that much fun on my own."

No reaction. "I'm sorry," Fin said, unapologetically. "I didn't mean to interrupt - I'll come back later when you're not on a Solitaire winning streak."

"I'm sending an important email to someone," Graninger said irritatedly, clicking away at the mouse and scrolling. "Believe it or not, you're not my main concern right now. Did you complete your mission? It should have been a very simple task and doesn't deserve this much bullshit foreplay."

Somebody didn't get a pudding pop with their lunch today. For a minute longer, he regarded the older man - wearing a smooth, pressed pinstripe suit, with his neat, short, blonde hair combed back so his wavy bangs were out of his face - and thought again about why he was putting up with all of this. Graninger must have been in his late 40's, but other than elaborate crow's feet around his eyes and a few lines at the edges of his mouth, his chin was firm and strong, and his dark blue gaze was sharp and lit with a smooth charisma. For the past year, the old man had done nothing but lead Fin along with test after test and a multitude of meaningless tasks, working him like a servant and yet at other times paradoxically treating him like a confidant. But Richard was the gatekeeper and the only thing holding him back from what he wanted. The fate of his career - and his life - rested on the words and decisions of this man.

Reaching into his bag, Fin pulled out 3 flat, soft-cover journals that were half an inch thick each; one tan, one an earthy brown and one a slate gray. Each was weathered and worn but had no distinguishable markings on their mottled leather covers. Finally, Graninger turned to look at him with piercing dark eyes and took the journals from him as he handed them across the wide desk. Laying the stack in front of himself, the Agent began flipping through the pages - probably making sure it was filled with her handwriting.

"Did you have any trouble getting into her apartment?" the older man asked in a smoke weathered voice.

"Nope. Your key still works - I guess she never changed the locks. She must've been hoping that you'd come walking back through the door someday."

He gave Fin a look. "Did you read any of these?"

Haha. Look who was getting defensive. If he didn't know any better, he'd think this errand had personal significance to the Agent. Fin shrugged and admitted, "Yeah, I read through most of them. It was either those or the SkyMall catalog and I already have the Toilet Paper iPod Holder, the Head Spa Massager, and those slippers with the little flashlights in the toe." Actually, it'd been more about his insatiable curiosity than from any lack of something better to do. Once he found out that the journals he was supposed to steal weren't top secret Agency documents or notes on lab projects, but were just some woman's series of diaries, he'd wanted to find out why exactly Graninger sent him on this "mission". It had turned out to be a lot more interesting than he'd expected, but it was still degrading nonetheless.

The aggressive look had turned expectant. Oh, he wanted a report, then. "The first one was started April 2006 and is just FULL of weepy shit. At first I kinda felt for her - after what she said you did to her - but then she just kept going on like that for the rest of the book. It's like, 'Come on. He left you in March. It's September; move the fuck on already." After that initial glimmer of aggression, Graninger's features smoothed out in a neutral expression and he went back to studying the books in front of him, listening as he stopped occasionally to look over a few pages.

"The second one is when she starts experimenting with drugs and talking about this Emotional Desensitization Programming thing - honestly, I didn't really understand her notes on how it's supposed to work, but God damn, I was rooting for her. She definitely needed something to keep her from bawling her eyes out every time a piece of lint from the dryer or a penny in her couch reminded her of you. ...A couple of backhanded smacks on the face might've worked just as well, though." Graninger didn't respond to that jibe. Actually, as irritating as the overflow of emotion in Stephanie March's journals had been, the more he read on, the more his heart went out to her. It was blatantly clear that she'd really loved this guy. After getting to knowing Graninger, he supposed somebody had to.

"Near the middle of that one, she stops talking about you completely and starts focusing on that author, Gwen Stewart, but it gets just as obsessive as her writing about you was. She got so upset when one of the characters in this lady's book died, for the first couple of paragraphs, I thought she was talking about a real person. And by the end of that entry, I'm not entirely convinced that she was aware that they weren't." He shook his head and rolled his eyes. A part of him understood that the journals were probably a therapuetic venting of some kind - and women were overly dramatic with their emotions and issues anyways - but he seriously doubted this girl's sanity through most of what he'd read. These weren't healthy reactions to the things happening around her.

"The last one," Fin sighed and scratched the back of his head a little bit. "I'm not really sure what happened, but the energy and journalistic quality of the first two quickly faded and the entries became shorter; mostly just lists of daily activities, like a military log. She did talk a little more about the EDP and the drugs, saying that her project was a success, so I assume that's what it was. But she doesn't even get to the middle of the notebook before she stopped writing. No 'ending'. Just completely cuts off after February 2007. The rest is blank and untouched." Such a dramatic change in just one year. If it wasn't for her unmistakable handwriting, he wouldn't have guessed the last book was written by the same girl. And even though she described a 23rd birthday in the beginning of the second journal, and detailed a myriad of sexual exploits that made him cringe and wince, she was definitely more girl than woman inside. At least, that's what he'd gathered from the writing. But what the fuck did he know?

Fin paused for a moment. "Hey, do you mind if I ask why you wanted those?"

"Not at all," was the flippant response. There was no further comment from the A-2 Agent as he closed the books and leaned down in his seat to put the stack into a side desk drawer. Oh. So, he was playing it like that, was he? It's not like Fin cared anyway. Just curious about the very obvious controversial implications of his "mission" and the almost complete lack of Agency-related importance in the items he'd been told to collect. But, whatever. If the guy wanted to be creepy about his ex, then he could; he was the boss.

New topic. Fin bit the inside of his lip and adjusted his jacket. "Did you reconsider my request?" he asked, with a hopeful note in his voice, his leg bouncing anxiously.

Graninger closed the drawer and paused to look at him. His hard features and immovable frown softened just for a moment, but he was all business and ruthless again as he laced his fingers on the desktop. "I already gave you my answer about that before you left. I do not think it'd be a good idea for you to see her."

He was talking about the girl he'd been traveling with when the Agency found him a year ago. Pie... Fin shook his head. He couldn't back down from this. "No. You said, you didn't think I should see her right now. You said--"

"I changed my mind," Graninger interrupted, his voice devoid of his characteristic patience. "Look, she went through the transfer 9 months ago. Do you understand what that means? She's not the same girl inside her head anymore, Fenton. Whatever reunion you're hoping for, there's nothing but disappointment waiting for you." That wasn't the point and it wasn't why Fin had asked. Everything in Graninger's voice said that he wasn't in the mood to argue about it, and he was willing to hammer the point to death just to shut Fin up - and possibly even punish him if he kept pushing. So after scowling at the smooth, polished white marble floor for several minutes, he finally just shrugged and let it go. He'd bring it up again later and he would see Pie again, no matter who it was they'd stuck inside her head.

"Are there any other ex-girlfriends you want me to help you stalk?" he asked with a tolerant sigh, disjointedly segueing onto a new topic. Graninger appeared triumphant.

The older man cast an oily smile at him and leaned back in his chair behind his massive, shining desk. "Actually, how would you like an opportunity to prove yourself? A real mission. There's an official job and rank in it for you if you agree."

Did he mean that? For real? He was finally going to let him join the Agency? Were there any strings attached to this? It was hard to tell with Graninger; he had a way of holding things back. But so far, he'd never specifically said anything even resembling a decision to accept his application. Until now. What did Fin really have to lose?

Glibly he said, "Hmm, I don't know. With the humiliating babysitters and all the repetitious tests where some lab guy sticks live grenades in my mouth 'just to see what happens', I'm very comfortable here. Plus, another mission might cut into my sitting-around time." He paused, mockingly thoughtful. "I'll have to think about it and get back to you."

Graninger was not amused.

***
She needed to get her lazy ass up. She couldn't spend another day in bed, no matter how warm and cozy it was. The coffee was almost gone. She needed to go grocery shopping at some point today. Should give her mom a call. And her editor - he was probably going nuts wondering where she was. Maybe stop off at the neighbor's and see if he wanted to get a bite to eat and some coffee - so she could study more of his weird habits and spend more time with his sexy other half. But she had to be careful when she went out because Agents...were after...them...

Static welcomed her back as she rose to consciousness and Gwen wondered if her radio alarm was broken before she remembered and knew she wasn't at home, safe in her bed. She could hear people talking, and instinctively, she mentally reached out to them... and almost threw up from the effort. There was nothing but the buzzing, gravel noise that emanated from the seat to her right and an inner queasiness and panic, that she didn't understand, swelled inside her. Not only was her internal sense disrupted by it but the rest of her senses were disoriented by the noise as well; with her eyes closed, she could almost believe that it was just her and Stephanie suspended in a blank nothingness.

Opening her eyes, Gwen squinted and blinked rapidly, restoring her sense of balance as her surroundings became physical and real. But now there was something new to deal with: pain. There was a sore spot in her chest that sent a twinge through the area when she moved, but it was nothing compared to the screaming laceration inside her head. It felt like her brain was bleeding. She knew that was an absurd thought, but it really did feel like something was torn open and wounded inside her skull, agony surging behind her eyes and deep inside her head. And it was dragging her back under - she was convincing herself that she just needed to close her eyes again and it would fade. All of this would disappear.

She waited instead and it eventually subsided to a heated throbbing, and she became more lucid, finally able to attach memories to her surroundings. Blinking softly, she looked around slowly, taking everything in one at a time. There was the portly man from before with... Was she still dreaming? It looked like he was drooling and panting, with his tongue hanging out like a dog. Deciding that this was indeed real - and realizing there was something wrong with his tongue and he couldn't put it back in his mouth - she moved on to look at the dark haired woman sitting near him, who was still frowning like she'd been in the infirmary doorway. Who were these people? Agents, surely. But why were they here? Were they Stephanie's friends? The woman looked cold and threatening but the guy might be an ally - or at least, maybe he could be turned into one.

And then next there was... Stephanie, sitting beside her. Robotic and looking like the victim of a violent crime and the perpetrator of one all at the same time, she was on the phone and turned a little away from Gwen, fully absorbed in her conversation. They were in some sort of vehicle together, sitting in seats facing the other two people and there was nothing but black beyond the glass of the window near her - with a white, webbed crack near the top corner of it. Were they on a plane? Too small. A helicopter. Where were they going? They'd been in Charlton, she knew, but now... Where was Xander..? Wait-- The phone!

"As for the last thing you mentioned," Stephanie said, her voice monotone but not as unyielding as it'd been before, hinting at an inner excitement. "Are you talking about who I think you're talking about? The original plan was that he was going to come to Elmira after he was finished with his work there - you promised that he'd 'skedaddle' over. Has the plan changed or do you mean after?"

Stephanie was distracted! This was her chance! She might be able to convince the pilot to land somewhere and maybe she could reach out to Xander if they weren't too far away yet... Licking her lips to wet them and her bright blue eyes darting to look at the occupants of the cabin, Gwen stayed still and hesitantly reached out to the minds of those around her. Nothing. They weren't there. Nothing but static. And add onto that her current mental discomfort and the experience had her wincing and gasping before she finally let go.

So, apparently the Agent wasn't distracted enough and Stephanie had done something to hurt her back at the base, which made it difficult to concentrate. She might be able to work through the pain if there wasn't that harsh noise crinkling through her skull, but that meant she had to fully disable Stephanie in some way. Crap! And it was only made worse by the fact that she was restrained-- wait. No, she wasn't! Her arms and legs were free!

There was a small, almost happy noise from the blonde Agent and Gwen looked to make sure she didn't notice anything. "Either way, I know things will be handled and I will try to wait for him. But what about his suit? Did he talk to you - is that why--" A soft grunt came ripping jaggedly from Stephanie's throat and she almost dropped the phone as the blow landed and snapped her head to the side.

Shaking it off, she turned back to Gwen with the slightest annoyed expression and gave her a forceful glare. Gwen felt it. What she'd done before in the infirmary - she was trying to do it again. It was like a bullet glancing off the top edge of her forehead and Gwen flinched but remained unaffected, still holding her fists up and ready. Stephanie's eyebrows shot up a quarter of an inch and her green eyes blinked wide in surprise, which Gwen took as her opening and tried to punch her again. The Agent quickly recovered herself and surged forward, her face an emotionless mask once more. With the speed and precision she'd displayed while killing Noel, Stephanie's hand swung out horizontally and flat like a sword, the straight edge of her hand slamming into Gwen's jaw and neck. Faster than Gwen could react, she hit her three more times in quick succession, 'chopping' into her throat, before Gwen blacked out and slumped back against her seat.

And then Stephanie calmly returned the phone to her ear, her demeanor unaffected by the outburst. "I'm sorry, I have to go now. I will not lose focus and I will not fail you, Master." Then she pressed a button on the phone and tossed it loosely into Gary's lap.

Gwen's little tantrum had been smothered within 2 minutes, but still Stephanie was left feeling unsettled and confused about how it happened. She knew the defensive recoil of the EDP shield wouldn't keep her target in a stupor forever, but she hadn't expected Gwen to regain full function of her autonomy so quickly. And then she'd tried to stun her again... but it hadn't done anything. That was when Stephanie became aware of the emotions that had been leaking through for the past 30 minutes of the helicopter ride - her childishly poking Madeline; her shame from disappointing Master; her excitement and confusion about Jason coming. And her headache was getting worse...

Her hands were shaking and she tried to stop them, but couldn't. The Lachesis. It had to be. But why was it wearing off so quickly? It should have kept her steady for the entire 7 hour flight, especially with the dosage she'd given herself. Her head throbbed heavily and she tried to concentrate on the problem, but finally, she just decided that she simply needed more. That's all. Just some more to patch up the EDP walls that were coming loose.

Reaching into the back pocket of her pants, she brought out the case that Master had given to her and opened it on her lap. Ignoring Madeline and Gary, she removed the vial of light yellow, clear liquid and held it for a moment, remembering her talk with Jason in front of the bathroom. She knew he'd been concerned about the drugs. Stephanie had assumed that it was simply because he wasn't familiar with them and misinterpreted her behavior while she was on them. But now that it wasn't working the way she knew it was supposed to be, she wondered if maybe he'd been right to be worried. She cast a glance at Gwen, who sat propped haphazardly in the corner of her seat, her head half resting on the window and no longer simply locked in a trance but fully unconscious now. She couldn't make another mistake like that. They were in the air now, so it didn't matter, but once they were back on solid ground, any other slips like this and Gwen could vanish. Especially if the EDP wasn't strong enough to work offensively.

The Lachesis had been great while it worked, but it had proven itself untrustworthy for her cause, so she could not afford to depend on it again. She put it back into the case and removed the third and final vial instead. There was a symbol on the label, red, black and yellow, declaring some sort of warning, but Stephanie focused on the block-letters of the printed name: Clothozine. Inside the vial, the liquid was black and it looked like it could have been ink, but it didn't stain the clear glass insides of it's container.

Clothozine. Another drug she'd experimented with while trying to develop the Emotion Desensitization Program. It was still in the same chemical family as Atropytamine and Lachesis, but it was the temperamental sister of the trio, with a potency that consumed the body, not just the mind. It enhanced focus and taking it had strengthened her EDP shields better than the other two, but it had a lot of detrimental side effects, not least of which was it's addictive properties. She didn't have a choice. The Atropytamine was gone and the other wasn't working. And right now, she needed something to keep her going, to stop her from feeling anything and to give her back the non-physical control she'd had over Gwen. Master and Jason were counting on her, and her case - her whole life - depended on this.

Madeline and Gary might as well have not even existed as Stephanie pulled a syringe from the case and stuck it into the spongy top of the vial, methodically handling the items like a pro. Wanting to make extra sure that things didn't fall apart prematurely this time, she filled the entire syringe, depleting half of the liquid in the vial. Resting her arm on her lap, she steadied her trembling hand and stabbed herself with it, shooting it into a vein - her aim had gotten better despite the tremors. Almost immediately, an icy chill coated the back of her neck, moving up the back of her head, tingling behind her ears and over the crown of her scalp and she blinked hazily for a moment as everything inside her head quieted down to dead silence. Like the Lachesis, intense focus and strength filled her, energy tingling in every limb and the EDP shield felt thick and impenetrable. And even though she didn't have a mirror, she was familiar with the effect of the drug upon her appearance, namely, that her green irises had now turned a deep black - a condition nicknamed "fish eyes" because of the 'large pupil' effect it had one's appearance.

Just to be safe - and wanting more of this high, powerful feeling - she impulsively stuck the syringe back into the vial and took the remaining liquid from it, injecting it into her other arm. More ice, down her back, straightening her out rigidly and seeping through her face, freezing her features in place. So cold... Her arms and legs felt a little numb, but there was also a volatile energy rushing through them, like something inside of her had taken possession of her limbs. She felt like a puppet and a crushing weight was lifted off of her shoulders as she relaxed to the sensation of giving up control to the drug and what it was doing to her body.

Calmly, she put her things neatly back into the case and put it back into her pocket, her head buzzing pleasantly as she sat straight in her seat and stared, like a corpse stuck in rigor mortis. She was unstoppable now.

***
"Come oooooonnnn! Stupid thing! Start!"

The engine murmured encouragingly but failed to turnover and Rudy stopped twisting the key to smack the steering wheel in agitation. "Sonofabitch!" he shouted at the windshield and slumped back into his seat. The Yugo wouldn't start and since he didn't know jack shit about cars, he didn't know what to do about the problem or even what the problem was. A feeling of helplessness blossomed inside and ate away at him when he realized he couldn't steal any of the cars in the garage without keys either. In trying to hotwire anything, he was more likely to make the thing explode. Ozzie could steal any car. If she was here, all she'd have to do was touch it to make it hers.

He didn't have any fucking time for this! Why did the car have to stop working now? With his head resting against the headrest, he lazily rolled it to the side and looked at the empty front passenger seat. It was that obese psychic, Gwen Stewart's, fault! Somehow, even though she wasn't physically present, she'd left her stain on him and now the bad luck that had been plaguing him since yesterday evening was still clinging to his heels and dragging him down. He should've killed her at that truck stop and freed himself from her spiritual influence. He would have at least still been an A-5 and on Osono's case, and Noel, his sexually manipulable boss, could have easily been persuaded to make him Lead again. Everything would have been so much better and easier than it was now...

With a frustrated growl in his throat, he sat up and jerked his door open, the momentum opening it fully and then recoiling back towards him, and he shoved it angrily out of the way before he could stand up from his blood-stained seat. He put all of his anger and impotence in the force behind slamming the door shut, and then he paced and pouted beside the car before finally exploding in rage. The tantrum wasn't as big as he was capable of - or as big as some of the fits he'd thrown in the past - but still, his whole body became involved, like a man touched by a live wire, limbs failing and body twisting; curses sputtered between his broken lips and screamed through clenched teeth. After being sure to kick the front tire several times, he finally stopped, panting as he paced a few more times beside the vehicle and then abjectly falling back to lean his butt against the uncooperative Yugo.

Alright, alright. New plan: There was a street outside with cars on it. Already mobile and turned on vehicles. ...With people in them. Not a problem, though. Just a blast or two from the Aurora and he'd be the owner of a new Chevy or whatever. There was the downside that shooting people and jacking a car right in front of the Agency building might draw unwanted attention, but he was less concerned about that than he was about keeping Osono safe.

He paused and thought that over one more time. No, wait... was that really why he was doing this? As the realization dawned on him, there was a burst of anxiety and rabid denial, then an amused denial trying to brush it off - "Pfffffttt!" he said aloud with sarcastically cocked eyebrows - and then a little bit of somber awkwardness that had him blushing--

"Ah, fuckit. Whatever." Another time then, he'd figure all of that out. Right now, it didn't matter, he couldn't turn back and he couldn't stop until she'd been deflected away from the base. If he had to make her angry... if she needed to hate him in order for her to leave, then he'd do that. There wasn't anyone else but him for her to direct it at, but he hoped there was enough history between them to keep her from burning him alive - THAT would certainly draw the Agents towards her in a heartbeat.

The telltale beat and music for "Baby Got Back" started tinkling and thumping from his pocket, interrupting his thoughts - one of the first things he'd done with his new phone was downloaded his ringtones and address book, assigning the general "undesignated caller" the popular Sir Mixalot song. Still leaning against the car, he fished it out and slid the phone open, cutting the song off before the word "sprung" in the lyrics could be uttered. The screen lit up and declared that he had received a message from someone and he pushed a button to open it - an email with a multimedia attachment from an address he didn't recognize, but the message itself said,


I put this together for you, in lieu of any actual files. Just a little teaser for the package you're getting.

G.>

Who the fuck was G? Then it clicked. Granny! Lookit that! The old geezer was hip enough to operate a computer, apparently - probably a skill he picked up during his mid-life crisis or something. D'aaawww, and now they were email buddies! But what the hell did he send him? Arching an eyebrow, Rudy pressed another button to open the attached file and a video window popped up on his 2" wide screen. After the initial black of the loading screen, the video started, and there was a code number uttered by an offscreen voice with the preface "Test no." tacked on it.

The camera was set within what appeared to be a lab the size of a hangar inside, with white walls and grey concrete flooring. For the most part the view stayed steady, with just a hint of jostling as the camera was adjusted to be pointed another way and the video quality was grainy but clear enough to identify the general facial features of the people present. A man in his mid 20's - about 6' 2" and 208 lbs. of hard packed muscle - stood in the middle of the room about 20-30 feet from the camera, shirtless, with dark pants but no shoes or socks on. The cameraman appeared to be positioned behind a wall of glass or plastic of some kind, and several feet away, parallel from the cameraman, another section of glass wall was facing the random guy in the middle, with a couple of lab techs huddled behind it. They had something positioned through a slot in the wall, but it was too far to make out what it was before the camera pointed back at the shirtless dude.

What the hell was this? The guy in the middle appeared to be ready and standing defensively, but it wasn't clear what was going on. He was about to send a reply message to Graninger telling him that his taste in porn was boring and weird but then Rudy jumped as the sound of gunfire exploded from the phone speakers. Bullets from offscreen - coming from the direction of the wall where the techs had been - rained upon the guy standing in the middle of the room, who flailed in jerky motions from the shots. At first, Rudy's body tensed in response, getting ready for the sight of blood and death, but after a few seconds and the guy didn't fall down - and the glass window in front of the camera got hit with a ricocheted bullet - he realized what this was. Invincible man!

After 15-20 seconds of rifle-fire, it stopped and the guy stumbled but bent over and held himself up with hands on his knees. The cameraman quickly moved from behind the glass screen and rushed forward, with jostled movements, steadying as he came up beside Fenton Powell. Up close, he could now clearly see sensor stickers stuck to the guy's body, and other than short, light brown hair, he also sported thickening stubble on his angular chin and jaw. The techs asked him some questions and Fin shook his head and shrugged with negative responses and stood up straight. There wasn't a mark on him anywhere.

Abruptly it cut off to show another test and number with Fin standing just 3 -5 feet from the camera. A lab tech holding a silver pistol pressed the gun against the guy's temple - and Fin had the presence of mind to look bored and tolerant about the whole thing - before pulling the trigger. As expected, Fin's head whipped back violently and he stumbled, but shook his head and stood back in place like it was no big deal. It cut off again, just a few minutes later, and the lab tech told Fin to put the barrel in his mouth. Again, looking incredibly blase yet curious and willing at the same time, he did as instructed, placing the smooth angular gun nose between his lips. And when told to, he pulled the trigger, merely blinking harshly at the impact and recoil. Removing the gun, the tech asked him something and Fin reached between his lips and pulled something small out of his mouth, holding it up so the camera could focus on it. A grey bullet with a completely flattened tip sat perched between the guy's finger and thumb.

By this point, Rudy hadn't stopped saying "Holy fuck!" over and over again, getting more and more excited. But when the video showed the lab guy's firing bazookas at Fin's chest, exploding on impact and knocking him off his feet - but which he ended up brushing off as if someone had hit him with a snowball - Rudy had started bouncing up and down in place like a gyrating dolphin. And then he stopped and danced a little bit.

"Fuck yes! Fuck! Yes! Y-E-S!" he shouted with a huge dorky grin as he watched Fin jump from a platform 70 feet from the ground, land flat upon concrete and after just 10 seconds, sit up and give the camera guy a thumbs up.

And then it was over and Rudy celebrated for couple minutes about how fucking awesome that was. There was no way that Mr. Patten was gonna say "no" to anything Rudy wanted, once he showed him that video. Once his excitement died down, he realized that he still didn't have time to sit and make negotiations with the A-1 - not if he wanted to be on top of this before Osono wandered into harm's way. He certainly couldn't account for anything he might do in desperation and panic, and he couldn't get wounded again right now. So, finally, he stopped and stood by his car, bringing up Eric's phone number and attached the video file to an email - hopefully, a guy like Patten had a good enough phone to receive it and watch it. He didn't bother with typing up a message, thinking that the video was pretty much self-explanatory, but he did title the message like so:

Title: "my barguning chip"
To: eric paten
From: rudy zipper murderface quin

After he hit "send", he closed his phone and stuck it into his back pocket, unable to wipe the smile off his face. Well, that had really improved his mood; now, he was much more optimistic about having to steal a car and kill people.

***
She was already feeling exposed and stupid for asking him, only staying firm and keeping herself from canceling what she'd said by her realization that other than Rudy, Alex was the only friend she had right now. And he was here, at least willing now to treat her like a person rather than a rabid animal. Osono didn't like to depend on someone else for anything, but that fantasy... Rudy was her problem, she knew, but she also knew how he could endanger those around her because he'd done it a hundred times before - albeit indirectly with other Agents. And she'd signed up for this quest with Alex, Xander and Gwen, making her a part of their team; they were depending on her. She couldn't hesitate this time and let Rudy hurt these people.

Even so, her guard was up and she tense even before Alex answered, fully expecting him to say something that would make her regret opening herself up like this. But he didn't and she relaxed a little bit, once again reminded of why she was starting to like Alex. Xander's question got her defensive again, ready to tell him off - was he blaming her? She'd already owned her responsibility in what had happened to her life! Killing Rudy was taking that responsibility on herself! Wasn't that good enough for him?

After Alex had another mumble session against his shoulder, she looked at him and searched his face - or Xander's; she couldn't tell who was in the driver's seat when he was just sitting there - looking for anything that indicated a trap of some kind. Was he trying to make her look like an idiot? Just waiting for a moment when her guard was down to stab her in the back?

Ozzie hadn't expected him to ask questions and she didn't want to tell him anything and then get ridiculed for it. The past and her memories were very precious to her and she didn't want him to callously poke at any wounds she had. But she wanted to tell him too... There was no one else and had been no one else except Rudy for so long, and any time she tried to confront him about anything he made excuses and came up with justified stories that were always bulletproof. He came up with stuff that she wanted to believe until she finally stopped asking and just accepted that when he showed up again, she could enjoy his company until he decided to unleash another attack on her.

There was a long minute of silence with her focusing on the road instead of him, intending to just ignore him. But the way Xander had insisted on a response forced her to start talking. "Do you have a family? I mean, either of you?" the way she asked, it was obvious she didn't really want an answer. "I did. My mother died about 5 months after I started running with Them on my tail. Quin traveled with me most of the time. When I heard about it, I wanted to go to her funeral, but I didn't want to go alone...so I took him with me. I went to it and he was right by my side up to the moment They attacked. I don't know where he went - he always kinda vanishes the moment Agents show up - but it disrupted the ceremony and... I got really upset, so I started a few fires that I didn't mean to set."

Osono hated to remember that day. She'd been away from home for a year and everything inside of her was still very fragile and sore, so she was already vulnerable being back, in addition to the fact that she'd just lost someone and never got to apologize to her mother before she died. Osono had been attacked by pairs and small teams of Agents at least a couple times up to that point in her life, but she thought she could get away with just one special day. Later, after it became apparent that Rudy was involved with the attacks in some way, it hurt even more, because he'd known how upset she was by her mother's death and how important that trip had been to her. But he'd chosen that day and that moment to call an attack.

"I haven't seen my dad in 5 years. I don't want him or anyone else I care about to get hurt because of me; I don't want what happened at my mom's funeral to happen again. But he's growing old and I don't know how much longer I can keep running and ignoring this before I completely miss the opportunity to see him again. Rudy's my best friend." There. She said it. And she hated how retarded and gushy it sounded coming from her mouth. "He's my only friend, because he's the only one that he'll let me talk to - everybody else runs away or dies...or gets captured." Did she need to apologize about Gwen again?

"You were right before. I deserve better than that." He'd actually implied that Rudy was her boyfriend then, and it'd made her mad, but it still applied to her isolated friendship with the guy. And then she shrugged, trying to be casual and cool about it. "He hasn't really done anything to me. Not directly. I just really want to go home and I can't do that if I continue to play games with him."

That was a lot. And she felt kind of better telling someone about it. Osono looked away from the road to glance at his face. What did he think of that? Did he think she was stupid for letting Rudy lie and manipulate her when it had been so obvious what had been going on? Did he think that she was weak for admitting that she wasn't this hard-core warrior; that she actually had a sentimental side? Did he think that she was pathetic for actually liking the little twerp and for not being able to kill the guy after the story she told?

Well, he could just shut the fuck up, then. Frowning, and hating herself for every word she'd let slip out, the car heated up a few notches before she was finally shaking her head and rolling her eyes. She was so stupid. "Just...fuck it," she said, her raspy voice cracking a little from emotion - which she tried to hide with anger. "I know it's dumb and it's my problem. Forget I asked, alright? Forget I said anything. I don't want your help." Glancing down at the GPS, the little arrow and star were about half an inch from each other and she pressed harder on the gas pedal, the car speeding up and jolting harshly as it bumped over a crack and a few gaps in the roadway. She just wanted to get there already and get this over with.

He didn't even need to say anything. She already regretted opening her big mouth.

***
The car lurched upwards and her head smacked against the trunk lid, leaving her squinting and groaning softly in the dark. Her face burned and stung really bad... That's when she remembered. The 'pop quiz' and the fake Eric Patten. Immediately, Brie realized where she was, and she quickly pulled herself into consciousness as she began to assess the problem and figure a way out of it.

She was tied up in the trunk of a car and they were going somewhere. Probably to the Charlton base since that's what the impostor had asked about. The address she'd given to them would put them at the Agency's doorstep, but that was because she hadn't expected them to knock her out again. She thought they would have kept her awake just in case she wasn't telling the truth - or at the very least, keep up the ruse and keep their promise to untie her a little bit. Seems they weren't as stupid as she originally hoped. But they were stupid for putting her in a place where they couldn't keep an eye on her.

Swiveling her fingers, Brie unlatched a tiny, hidden blade in the fingertip of her glove on each hand and began to work at the ropes near her. The small knife was sharp, top of the line Agency tech, crafted and coated with hard metals that never needed to be resharpened, so she sliced through the binds on her wrists within a minute. And even as complex as the rest of her bindings were, she had completely freed herself in 5 minutes.

She was just about to start looking for a way to break out - she could probably pick the trunk lock from the inside and jump out and disappear before they noticed anything had happened - but it felt like the car was slowing down. So, she cloaked herself and crouched tensely in the room she had to move in, waiting and ready to attack anyone who opened the trunk lid.

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Fri Aug 19, 2011 1:51 pm

NEW PLAN. THIS WASN’T WORKING, AND BREAKING HER PHONE HAD BEEN HER POOREST DECISION TO DATE. DANIELLE WAS ONLY HALF AS PARANOID AS CRYPTIC, BUT FOR ONCE, IN THE WAKE OF A ONE-IN-A-MILLION CHANCE OF FALLING INTO THIS PARTICULAR SITUATION, IT WORKED AGAINST THEM. SHE WOULD NOT ANSWER ANY LINE OF CONTACT NOT EXPRESSLY DEEMED SECURE FOR FEAR OF COMPROMISING THEIR DELICATE PLANS. CRYPTIC, MEANWHILE, HAD BEEN WORKING IN THE ‘KNOWLEDGE’ OF PATTEN’S EYES ON EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING AT EVERY MOMENT, ALWAYS. ACCORDING TO HIM, THEY WERE DAMNED FROM THE START, AND THE SOLE REASON PATTEN HADN’T LEAPT AT IT YET WAS BECAUSE IT FIT WITHIN SOME GODLY PLOT THAT ALREADY ACCOUNTED FOR ANYTHING THEY COULD DO. CRYPTIC WOULD ANSWER, AND SHOULD HE BOTHER ASKING FOR PROOF IT WAS HER, HE WOULD BREAK INTO AN OPEN DISCUSSION REGARDLESS OF REASONABLE DOUBT. ‘THERE WAS NO WALL TO STOP THE TIDE,’ HE INSISTED. ‘SUCH POINTLESS CALLS FOR SECURITY WOULD HURT THEM AND THEM ALONE.’ BUT THEN SHE WOULD HAVE TO ENDURE HIS WORDS UNTIL HE DEIGNED HER FRUSTRATION TO HIS LIKING, CALLED HER NAIVE ONE LAST TIME, THEN PASSED WHATEVER MESSAGE ALONG UNDERNEATH HIS PRAISING OF PATTEN’S MAGNIFICENT MANIPULATION OF HER RAGE TO CUT HER OFF FROM DANIELLE IN WHAT WAS SURELY ANOTHER MASTERFUL STEP ALONG AN UNYIELDING PATH OF DESTRUCTION. NO EXPLANATION SHE GAVE WOULD CONVINCE HIM OTHERWISE. HOW BRAVE IT WAS FOR HIM TO JOIN THEIR KAMIKAZE, THEN.

“DOG. PHONE.” IT WAS IN HER HAND AT ONCE. HER THOUGHTS MEEKLY SUGGESTED SHE THANK HIM FOR IT, BUT THE DROOL-BEAST WOULD TAKE IT AS PERMISSION TO SPEAK EVEN THROUGH HIS BALL-GAG OF A TONGUE.

SHORT NOTES. CALLING WAS A STUPID IDEA WITH MARCH HERE LIKE... THAT WAS THE STARE OF A WOMAN FULLY UNDER HIS CONTROL. PATTEN COULD STOP TRYING NOW – HE’D WON. MARCH WAS HIS, AND NOW HE HAD A PSYCHIC FOR A GUARD. CRYPTIC COULD SLEEP EASY. PATTEN WAS ALMOST AT THE OMNIPOTENCE THE RUSSIAN SWORE HE ALREADYHAD. SHE COULD CHANGE THINGS IF SHE STRUCK, NOW, ENDING ONE OR BOTH HALVES OF THE TRANSFER BRIGADE. MADELINE SPARED NO EXPENSE TO ENSURE HER TRAIL WAS COVERED WHEN IT CAME TIME TO PROVE HER LOYALTY; SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE STAYED IN CHARLTON TO SHOW SOME EFFORT IN FENDING OFF THE ATTACK BUT HAD BURNED THAT BRIDGE THE MINUTE SHE LEFT. SO SHORTLY BEFORE THE STRIKE PUT HER PAST ANY HOPE OF AN ALIBI, BUT SHE’D DONE IT BECAUSE SHE WOULDN’T RISK BEING ANYWHERE HE WAS. NOW, WHAT WAS THE POINT OF IT? SHE WAS HOURS FROM BEING REVEALED – SHE MIGHT AS WELL DO ALL THE DAMAGE SHE COULD, AND LOSING MARCH WOULD BE QUITE THE BLOW.

PATTEN WAS GENUINELY SURPRISED. UNCONCERNED, PERHAPS, BUT TAKEN BACK BY HER PRESENCE ON THIS TRIP. THAT THOUGHT BROUGHT A SMILE TO HER LIPS. HE REALLY WAS STUPID. HAD HE NOT ASSUMED IT WAS THE FIRST THING SHE WOULD SETTLE ON AFTER HEARING OF SPIES IN HER BUILDING? WAS THE BEST LINE OF HIS DEFENCE AGAINST IT POLITELY ASKING HER TO RETURN? IT COULD HAVE BEEN A MIND GAME OR AN ACT PURELY TO HAVE HIS REQUEST ON FILE, AND IF THAT WAS TRUE, THEN AT LONG LAST, HE’D SHOWN INSIGHT INTO SOMETHING. SHE SHOULD CELEBRATE THIS MILESTONE AGAINST THE TRAGEDY OF HOW CRYPTIC COULD BE SO INFATUATED WITH THE DREAM OF PATTEN’S GRANDEUR. HE WASN’T SHAKEN BY MADELINE’S INTRUSION ON THE HELICOPTER FLIGHT BECAUSE HE HAD AN UNHEALTHY LEVEL OF FAITH IN THE DRUG ADDICT BEFORE HER, BUT THE ONLY WAY TO STRETCH IT TO BE ‘GODLIKE’ WAS TO TELL HERSELF HE HAD PLANNED THIS BECAUSE HE WANTED MADELINE HERE. AND WHAT WOULD THAT HAVE REQUIRED? ABSOLUTE KNOWLEDGE OF HER REACTIONS. THE TIMING TO CORRESPOND WITH MARCH’S DEPARTURE. CONTROL OF HER KITTY’S RESISTANCE TO ANYTHING THAT MIGHT HAVE KEPT HER FROM HEARING WHAT PATTEN SAID TO THE TINY AGENT. THREE THINGS HE HAD NO INFLUENCE OVER – THAT NO ONE COULD – UNLESS HE COULD SEE INTO THE FUTURE. SHE LEFT BECAUSE SHE COULD NOT ABIDE HIS PRESENCE AND THOUGHT HE MIGHT HAVE KNOWN ABOUT THE ATTACK FROM HIS SLAVES AND SO HAVE PUT A TRAP IN PLACE FOR HER. THE ONLY KIND OF TRAP HE COULD SET WOULD HAVE TO COME FROM HIS SPIES. SHE FOUND OUT ABOUT THE SPIES BECAUSE HER KITTY HAD BEEN UPSET. HER KITTY HAD BEEN UPSET BECAUSE MARCH HAD NO RESPECT FOR THE DEATHS OF HER COLLEAGUES, AND THAT DISCUSSION HAD ONLY COME ABOUT BECAUSE MADELINE HAD FINALLY CAUGHT HER PRIZE... WHICH WAS... AFTER... PATTEN CAUGHT HIM. ACCIDENTALLY. AND BY CHANCE. AND BEFORE HER MIND DID ANYTHING TO THE VILE THOUGHT TWITCHING IN HER MIND, SHE REMINDED HERSELF THAT PATTEN NEVER STARTED THE FIGHT BETWEEN HER CAT AND MARCH. HE DID NOT STOP IT, BUT NEITHER HAD SHE, AND SHE HADN’T BECAUSE HER PET HAD BEEN VERY WELL BEHAVED AND SAID WHAT HAD NEEDED TO BE SAID. ... GRANTED, SHE HADN’T EXPECTED HIM TO TAKE THE SQUABBLE SO PERSONALLY, BUT PATTEN WOULDN’T HAVE, EITHER. HOW COULD HE? FROM WHAT HER KITTY-KITTY SAID, THE A-1 HAD BEEN WITH THEM FOR AN EVENING, A NIGHT AND A DAY. THAT WAS NOT ENOUGH TIME TO INTIMATELY KNOW HE WOULD BE SO RESENTFUL OF THE FIGHT. IT WASN’T. PATTEN COULD HAVE GUESSED, BUT NO MORE THAN THAT. ... AND HE HAD ONLY SENT HER A CAT TO PLAY WITH BECAUSE HE WAS FRENCH, NOT BECAUSE HE HAD THOSE... EYE THINGS THAT LET HIM SEE THE INVISIBLE SOLDIERS. COINCIDENCE, WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN REVEALED AT ANY TIME – POTENTIALLY BEFORE THE FIGHT, AND THEN MADELINE MIGHT HAVE LEFT BEFORE MARCH ALTOGETHER. WHAT THEN? HMM? EXACTLY. THAT WAS EXACTLY HER POINT. EXACTLY THAT.

HER SMILE HAD FADED FROM HER FACE.

SHUT UP, MADELINE, SHE TOLD HERSELF. BECAUSE IT DIDN’T MATTER. NOTHING AWAITED HER AT ELMIRA BUT MORE ALLIES – IF NOT IN THE AGENCY, PROVIDED HER COVER WAS INTACT UPON LANDING, THEN IN CRYPTIC AND HIS ARMY. SHE WOULD HELP IN THAT FIGHT INSTEAD. PATTEN HAD NOTHING TO GAIN IN SENDING HER AWAY. IN FACT, HE WAS RISKING HIS DEAREST POSSESSION. HE HAD EVEN SPOKEN TO HER – TWICE – AND BOTH TIMES HE HAD FAILED TO GIVE MARCH ANY PERSPECTIVE ON WHAT SHE WAS DEALING WITH. HE WOULD REGRET MAKING SUCH A HEINOUS MISTAKE.

UNLESS IT WASN’T A MISTAKE.

SCREW THIS. THAT MADE EVEN LESS SENSE THAN WHAT SHE’D BEEN RAMBLING ON BEFORE! SHE TAPPED THE DOG’S PHONE HARSHLY, JAMMING CRYPTIC’S NUMBER INTO THE RECIPIENT’S NAME. ERIC PATTEN WAS STUPID, AND WHEN HE WASN’T, HE WAS LUCKY. MARCH WAS NOT THAT GOOD AND MADELINE HAD A STRICT UPPER-HAND IN CLOSE QUARTERS. IF SHE TRIED ANYTHING, THIS CABIN WOULD BE HER GRAVE, AND THEN STEWART WOULD BE SET FREE.

Bergmann: March drugged Stewart. Patten confirmed transfer. Confirmed in Elmira? Ready to attack.

SHE WAS NOT KEPT WAITING. MINUTES LATER, ALL SPENT STARING AT WHATEVER WAS NOT THE COLD, DEAD-EYED WOMAN, THE DOG’S PHONE CHIMED. CRYPTIC HAD ANSWERED.

Confirmed in Elmira. Stewart can escape?

‘HOW DO I KNOW THIS IS YOU?’ ‘WHAT NUMBER IS THIS?’ ‘I WILL TELL DANIELLE’. ALL THREE WERE FULLY ABSENT FROM HIS MESSAGE, AND SO MADELINE WOULD HAVE TO HUMOUR THE FOOL TO HURRY THIS ALONG. SHE TAPPED BACK, Not on her own. Ready to attack. Tell Danielle.

SHE KNEW THE REPLY BEFORE THE PHONE CHIMED AGAIN, BUT ONLY IN THE SENSE THAT IT WOULD NOT RELATE TO WHAT SHE NEEDED TO HEAR IN THE SLIGHTEST.

March/P?

‘P’ WAS FOR PATTEN. ‘MARCH/P’ WAS FOR ‘WHO THE HELL CARED’.

Not our concern, SHE REPLIED. Tell Danielle ready to attack.

THERE WAS TIME BETWEEN HER NOTE AND HIS. THE DELAY UPSET HER INSTANTLY. IT WAS NOT ONE OF PRODUCTIVITY, WHERE HE DELAYED TO PASS THE MESSAGE ON THROUGH A NUMBER DANIELLE WOULD RECOGNIZE AND TRUST. IT WAS INTENDED TO BE CONDESCENDING, SCOLDING FOR FAILING TO FEED HIS INSATIABLE THIRST FOR ANYTHING THAT COMPLIMENTED HIS HERO. TO HIM, IT WASN’T WASTING TIME. HIS KING HAD ALREADY PUT IN ‘THE BIG PLAN’.

M/P?

Confirm Danielle ready to attack.

M/P??

SHUT UP, CRYPTIC!

Obsessed. THERE. WAS HE SATISFIED? HE AND MARCH COULD SWAP SHRINES ONE DAY. Confirm ready to attack.

Explain obsessed.

MADELINE UNDERSTOOD THIS WAS PART OF ‘HUMOURING’, BUT SHE HAD VASTLY UNDERESTIMATED HER PATIENCE FOR IT. SHE DELETED EVERY MESSAGE IN THE DOG’S PHONE, BOTH SENT AND RECEIVED, BOTH OUT OF NECESSITY AND AS A FAVOUR. THE BRIEFEST GLANCE AT WHAT WAS SAVED MADE HER STOMACH CHURN AND LIP CURL, AD WHILE HE KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING TO HIS PARADE OF HEARTS AND SMILIES, THE DOG KEPT TO HIMSELF. BUT DELETING A MESSAGE TOOK MOMENTS AWAY FROM HER. MARCH HAD NO REASON OR RIGHT TO INTERRUPT, BUT HAVING TO BE HECKLED FOR INFORMATION CRYPTIC WOULD NEVER TAKE AS ENOUGH GAVE THE WOMAN MORE CHANCES TO INTERRUPT. UNTIL CRYPTIC CONFIRMED, SHE WAS ON HIGH ALERT, WATCHING FOR ANY MOVEMENT, NO MATTER HOW MINOR OR FEW.

She is in awe of him and happy to serve, she wrote.

Good. Safe until change. MADELINE FROWNED AT THE WORD. ‘CHANGE’? UNTIL MARCH CHANGED? Will confirm soon.

HE WAS NOT DROPPING A BOMB ON HER LIKE THAT AND THEN DISAPPEARING. CRYPTIC’S THEORIES WERE FLIGHTS OF FANCY, BUT THE CLOUDS HE BUILT HIS CASTLES ON WERE SOLID, REAL AND WORTH LOOKING OVER.

What changes? From what to what?

HE MADE HER SIT THROUGH ANOTHER LENGTH OF LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW STUBBORNLY, GRINDING HER TEETH AS HE CONSIDERED AN ANSWER, IF HE FOUND HER WORTHY OF ONE TO BEGIN WITH.

Patten has plans. TODAY SHE WAS. WORTHY, THAT IS. Do not interfere. Do not make him change. Do not make her change. He will get stronger.

How?

He will get stronger. Do not interfere.

INTERFERE WITH WHAT?

I need to know what can go wrong if I am supposed to stop it, SHE TYPED, FURIOUS SHE HAD TO EXPLAIN THIS. What can change?

Do not make her change. CRYPTIC, YOU STUPID – Awe stays. Happy stays. Do not let her hate.

MADELINE’S HANDS DID NOT MOVE RIGHT AWAY. SHE NEEDED TO PIECE HIS REPLY TOGETHER BEFORE SHE SENT HER OWN. WHAT WAS HIS WILD THEORY NOW? MARCH COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE ANY MORE DEVOTED TO THE MAN THAN SHE WAS THIS SECOND. PATTEN COULD BLINK AND HAVE HER WORLD FLIPPED OVER WITHOUT A QUESTION ASKED. GOING DEEPER INTO CRYPTIC’S RATIONALE FOR HOW SOMETHING LESS COULD BE IN HIS FAVOUR WAS A DOOR DANIELLE WOULD, IN MADELINE’S PLACE, HAD SHE FOR SOME REASON NOT ENDED THE CONSERVATION FIVE MINUTES AGO, SLAM SHUT AND BOLT CLOSED, BUT SINCE THE PHONE WAS STILL IN HER HAND, MARCH WAS OBVIOUSLY ENOUGH OF AN AGENT TO REMEMBER TO KEEP HER HANDS OFF A SUPERIOR’S NEW PROPERTY. SHE WOULD TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY, DESPITE THE HEADACHE IT WOULD GIVE HER.

Does Patten want March to love him?

P wants everyone to love him.

Does her awe of him help him?

Awe is love. Love is special forces.

CRYPTIC HAD COINED THE TERM. MADELINE HAD LEARNED IT FROM HIM YEARS BEFORE. IT DID NOT MAKE SENSE TO USE IT NOW.

Special forces is for those that work for him. March does not work for him. NOT DIRECTLY, AND DIRECTLY WAS WHAT MATTERED.

Everyone works for P.

SHE SNEERED. THEN HER EGO GOT THE BEST OF HER AND SHE SAID, I think it’s clear I don’t. SHE HAD YET TO DECIDE ABOUT THE RUSKIE.

Your hate is clear. He feeds. He is stronger.

THAT RESPONSE HAD COME SO QUICKLY, SHE WONDERED IF HE HAD HAD IT QUEUED TO SEND IN ADVANCE.

No. He is not. Confirm ready to attack.

He is, Cryptic said. Your hate is his power.

THIS IDIOT COULDN’T GO TWO MINUTES WITHOUT TRIPPING OVER HIS STORY! AS IF THEY HAD NEVER SPOKEN OF IT BEFORE! MADELINE WAS HERE TO CAUSE HAVOC. MADELINE WAS HERE TO DESTROY. MADELINE HAD DONE NOTHING BUT STOP, ERASE AND UNDERMINE PATTEN’S ABILITY TO DO ANYTHING SHE CAUGHT WIND OF. PART OF IT HAD TO BE WHY SHE WAS IN THE DARK ABOUT THE DETAILS SURROUNDING HIS PRESENCE HERE. SHE WOULD HAVE STOPPED HIM FROM COMING TO CHARLTON HAD SHE KNOWN. SHE WAS HIS GREATEST THREAT, AND HE WAS NOT A MASOCHIST. THE LAST THING HE DREW STRENGTH FROM WAS HER HATE.

Which is it? What helps him, love or hate?

SHE FELT STUPID DROPPING TO HIS LEVEL.

Love makes him strong, hate makes him stronger, CRYPTIC DRIPPED. HIS WORDS OOZED MORE AWE THAN MARCH COULD EVER HOPE TO MATCH. Desperation makes him invincible.

Broken plans screw him up. I could break her now and he would lose everything.

Do not interfere, came the next order. Madeline sat back from it. The dog’s eyes flicked up to her and she scowled at him until he – just as quickly – smartened up. Then Cryptic sent a new message. You cannot understand. Danielle cannot. He has a plan for March and for you and for everyone. Do not change them. He will be stronger.

You honestly believe I can’t ruin his day by killing his flavour of the week? MADELINE SAW IT. HIS GRAND PLAN DID NOT SIMPLY NEED MARCH TO FILL WHATEVER ROLE SHE HAD BEEN ASSIGNED; IT HINGED ON HER CO-OPERATION. MORE IMPORTANTLY, IT HINGED ON HER BEING ALIVE. HE NEEDED HER. AND STEWART, BECAUSE HE NEEDED MARCH’S TRANSFER. I can tear her apart.

You are not Danielle. SPEAKING OF WHICH, WHERE WAS THE ATTACK CONFIRMATION? She cannot understand. P plans for everyone. Everyone works for P. You cannot spread your hate. You cannot interfere.

I will spread whatever I please, SHE SAID. I’d like to see how happy he is with March breaking his new body.

You can make her hate him. You can kill her. He knows this. He wants this.

ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT. GET TO THE POINT.

Does he need her or not?

He needs all. He needs none. CRYPTIC NEEDED A FIST THROUGH HIS TEETH. We planned for March. She will be removed. HE CHOSE NOT TO ADD ‘BUT NO ONE CAN PLAN OVER PATTEN’S PLAN BECAUSE HIS GREAT PLAN PUTS THIS PLAN IN A NEW PLAN DEFINING UNSTOPPABLE’. IT WAS, AFTER ALL, TO BE ASSUMED. Contact if March changes. Will inform of next act.

Confirm ready to attack.

Confirm contact if March changes.

SHE FAILED TO SEE HOW THIS WAS AN ISSUE. THE PLAN FOR MARCH WAS TO BREAK HER TRANSFER IN ITS MIDDLE, SENDING THE WOMAN INTO A MENTAL LIMBO – SHE WAS HALFWAY THERE BY HERSELF – AND THE TRANSFER, NO MATTER HOW SHE FELT ABOUT PATTEN, WAS GOING TO HAPPEN IF SHE HAD ANY SAY IN IT. SHE WANTED STEWART TOO BADLY TO BE PUT OFF BY WHAT THAT IDIOT SAID. MADELINE’S GOAL WAS TO KEEP HER FROM JOINING HIM AFTER, BEFORE OR AROUND IT. ERIC ENJOYED CONTINGENCY TACTICS. SHE KNEW HE HAD ONE LYING IN WAIT THIS MOMENT, AND SHE WAS NOT ABOUT TO ALLOW MARCH TO TAKE PART. BUT IF CRYPTIC WOULD DEMAND NO LESS AND HAD NOT PASSED THE MESSAGE ON YET...

Confirmed.

Attack confirmed. IT TOOK HIM LONG ENOUGH. Join us when you arrive.

WITH THE TOPIC OF DISCUSSION OFF PATTEN, SHE COULD RETURN TO SEEING CRYPTIC AS SOMEWHAT OF AN EQUAL. AS A RESULT, SHE FELT CONFIDENT IN GETTING A REAL ANSWER IN RESPONSE TO HER NEXT INNOCENT REQUEST.

Tell Danielle to stay on the outlined path. MADELINE HAD WALKED HER THROUGH THE BUILDING’S BLUEPRINTS A HUNDRED TIMES, BUT THE NORDIC BRANCH RESTED FIRMLY ON THE STRENGTH OF ITS LEADERS AND DANIELLE WAS FLIGHTY AT THE BEST OF TIMES WHEN SHE CHOSE NOT TO SWITCH WITH HER BROTHER. THE WHOLE OF HER ARMY WOULD FIND EVERY REASON TO BREAK FROM THE ROUTE IF THEY WERE NOT REMINDED TO STAY ON TRACK.

CRYPTIC ALREADY KNEW WHY SHE MENTIONED IT. HE HAD BEEN CONSIDERABLY MORE FORGIVING THAN DANIELLE OVER THE YEARS, AND NOW HE MERELY ASKED, How many and where?

One in my office. AND THAT WAS NOT ON THE OUTLINED PATH. I said to stay but cats can wander. But I think he’s drunk. That will help. A FLUSH OF JOY ROSE THROUGH HER.

Your office is our communication centre. Danielle may want to investigate. Can he fight?

ASK THE MOROCCANS.

He is familiar with countermeasures against us.

SHE SHOULD CALL HIM AFTER THIS. SHE WANTED TO SEE HOW HE WAS. POOR KITTY WAS STILL SAD WHEN HE SPOKE AND HE NEEDED HER. PATTEN’S OBSERVATION HAD BEEN VERY TEMPTING.

Path confirmed, CRYPTIC ASSURED HER. Be nice to this one or I will take him away. SHE WAS ALWAYS NICE TO HER KITTIES. WHAT WAS HE TALKING ABOUT? IF HIS RESPONSE HAD NOT SET HER IN SUCH A GOOD MOOD, SHE WOULD HAVE FROWNED AT HIM THROUGH THE SCREEN.
Land safely.

THE ICING ON THIS CAKE WAS HIS SEVERE LACK OF MENTION FOR ANY PART PATTEN COULD HAVE PLAYED IN THIS. KITTIES WERE APPARENTLY NOT IN HIS PLAN, WHICH SEEMED ODD. OUT OF ALL THEM, THIS ONE SHOULD FACTOR IN, ESPECIALLY SINCE PATTEN HAD TAKEN A PERSONAL LIKING TO TEASING HIM. BUT MADELINE WOULD MENTION THE TINY DETAIL OF WHO HER CAT WAS LATER. FOR NOW, SHE WOULD ENJOY NOT HAVING TO BE LECTURED ON DANGERS OF HAVING A NEW ONE. SHE GOT TO KEEP HIM!

“WELL THEN, MARCH,” SHE SAID, PUTTING THE PHONE AWAY AND IGNORING THE PITIFUL STARE OF LOSS FROM THE DOG. “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE LAND? STRAIGHT TO WORK ON THE TRANSFER, OR WILL YOU NEED TO DOSE UP AGAIN?”

* * *

This wasn’t how things were supposed to be. Jason felt... pretty good. But that wasn’t... It wasn’t how he expected to feel. The rip through his chest from the adrenaline shot was as raw and fresh as ever, and although his lungs had to shudder around it, it was the only thing they had to dodge. The rest of him... He was okay. And because his mind was clear enough to pointlessly analyze every gift he’d been given for the one torn corner in the box to ruin everything, he was thinking that it wasn’t okay.

The withdrawal was gone, like it’d been magic or never there at all. The effects of it hadn’t vanished yet because he still felt apart from his suit – which meant his fading was taking on a serious blow to its effectiveness, not that it mattered since the one person he’d needed it to work against when it hadn’t was showing up any minute – but not as terribly as before, he realized. It spread across his skin like silk, distinct and controlling, but welcoming him back. He didn’t know why, and at once, his mind spat out two answers. Both of them spelled out his life in the worst possible terms.

He had never come so close to breaking from his suit before. It’d tried to devour him, and part of him doubted it’d been the full attack. He’d heard to people going nuts from it, as bad as anyone trying to transfer could get, and he trusted that as an actual comparison now that he’d seen the truth behind those types of Agents. Maybe not Benoit, but everyone after him – his lead was his best example. Even with Stewart, she was still collapsing. Here he was though, in pain but practically perky. By that he meant he could walk, and had been walking down the hall for a while, heading for the stairs he’d slipped on coming up. To go from what he’d suffered to as full a recovery as this was... not impossible, but he couldn’t do it without very serious mindsets, the kind he’d turned the drugs to avoid in the first place. And now? Fucking Butter Juice. As weak as it was, it was something, and he knew it was having some effect beyond the smell and the angry bump on his neck from the needle. It was like his medal for figuring out staying clean hadn’t given him anything but another perfect record, and even Gary knew by now how well those mixed with this case. Really his only regret was that Eric had been sparing him by giving him a low dose. Now he was cut off from anything stronger because it actually would kill him. It was for the best. With the door open, he knew he’d be through it in an hour if something wasn’t holding him back. It was the fun of being an addict without being an addict – another quick present from wearing the suit. He’d reached this end again: the one where he gave up, said ‘fuck it’ and was right about to stop thinking and just do.

He’d said ‘fuck it’ to this once already. Everything – he’d made everything worse.

He’d turned the thought over before, that he’d been assigned to her because he’d have been the only one to make it this far at her side. Great, okay, except he’d also had how utterly he’d failed her at that hammered in his head, too. He paused then, waiting for the quake to start in his arms when he remembered what he’d been willing to give up to go to her. They didn’t. It drove him crazy. He’d fully meant what he’d said about giving up his suit – his suit, complete with his goggles – but... nothing happened. He didn’t flinch, and yet it’d been the very thought to drop him in the limo. His fingers wouldn’t even twinge, not in mild discomfort, not in anything. There was the torn corner he’d been searching for. Someone else would’ve happily assumed it was how he knew he’d been serious, but they’d be forgetting Eric, who’d put the papers in his hands that shimmered out, ‘Thanks for being ready to say you’ll make the choice you’ll now never have to make.’ So possible life-spelling answer number one was that he was so consumed by the glory of his suit, any fear of losing it and any point of trying to give it up were destroyed the second he finally felt safe about not ever having to give them back. The second sat perfectly on a simple question: why the hell would Eric let him go if he’d needed Jason so badly to run the transfer for Alexander?

The short answer was the A-1 didn’t. Jason had never actually been needed. So the man lied? ... No... It didn’t seem like Eric... Plus, he was an A-1. What did he have to lie about when he could have just given the order? If Eric had needed Jason to run the transfers, then he’d needed him to run the transfers. It was just the purpose for it... Why jump through so many hoops? He’d just said he wanted Jason and her together, but running the transfer split them up.

He stopped walking. Then he closed his eyes, shook his head, and let out a long sigh. He still thought Benoit had gone overboard with the look he’d gotten on his face when Eric first showed up, but if Eric had always been like this – like what Jason now thought he was like – then Frenchie was more patient than he’d been given credit for, and Jason had given him a lot of credit.

Eric had just said he wanted Jason and her together. He’d only just. Maybe before he’d been implying it and teasing them and giggling about the idea, but he hadn’t committed to a damn thing until Jason put the question to him, and maybe – and shit, if Benoit wasn’t so pissed about the video right now, which he’d only been shown on Eric’s orders and that showed there’d been nothing he or anyone could do to stop Alexander from killing the idiot who’d gotten in the face of a person who, oh yeah, was exclusively known for killing people that way, then Jason could have run back and asked him about this – it was a sign Eric had only been ready to admit it then because it was the first time he could have said it honestly. Then... Eric had never wanted them to be together until very, very recently... Something had changed. What had changed? And when had it changed – if he could put an answer to that, he might finally have a clue about what was going on.

Alright. Think. And keep walking. He was moving too slow to spare the time lost from standing still.

Eric trusted Stephanie. Eric believed in her. Eric had given her everything she’d asked for, including the drugs – no, especially the drugs – in absolute confidence she could handle it. He’d called her tough, and while it was hard to tell with the smile, he hadn’t seemed to be joking. Eric, to his golden core, somehow knew Jason’s lead was not only capable of pulling this off, but downright guaranteed to do it. And Jason...?

The demotion didn’t put it on the center stage. What got it reversed did. Eric liked her, but he didn’t trust him any father than he could throw him. Back when he’d been Melvin, Jason meant, not now, because the Flunky could toss him to the moon if he wanted to and would have if Frenchie hadn’t stepped in with all the enthusiasm of a kid turning off the TV. Wherever Jason’s lead fit into what Eric was planning – and who even knew there was a plan, because find him one person who didn’t think the A-1 wasn’t happy to help her just for the hell of it – Jason had made his part obvious: way the hell away from her where he’d just do more damage. He’d messed up from the start, and as he drowned, he’d been pulling her under with him. Eric had seen it, but she’d been the one to give the order for Jason to stay behind. Having her say it was somehow better than doing Eric doing it himself, and while his mind hurt from putting the pieces together, everything seemed to fit. He’d heard it: the game they’d been playing had gotten serious between them. If Jason was taken away, she’d be free to work, but Eric would be lashing out at her because they’d manage to tie themselves together. Pushing him away meant she would have to accept it was the right decision, and if she felt anything under the drugs she’d sipped, then it’d be overwhelmed by the full acceptance of her true priority in transferring. She’d move on. And she had. She was hours ahead of him, who hadn’t even left the Charlton base. Alright. He could understand that. Eric split them up because he didn’t want anything to take her mind off of what she was doing. It meant letting him go now was for the exact opposite reason, that making him stay would somehow tear her apart.

... Maybe he was thinking too much of himself. But hadn’t that been what he’d screamed in Eric’s face? That his lead needed him to be there or else she wouldn’t even make it off the plane? Eric had listened! Because before, when he’d first agreed, the A-1 smoothly slipped in that Jason would be allowed to go if he’d ‘be so kind’ as to drop his suit off. Those words had floored him. They’d also vanished in Eric’s rush to get him back on his feet. The test had been about making sure Jason understood his job was to protect her, not his suit or his reputation, but now it clicked that he’d never questioned when the test had started. It fit every logical checklist to think Jason hadn’t gotten a passing grade until he’d started shrieking, and it explained to him he had been failing. So Eric hadn’t lied. He needed Jason to stay behind and run the transfer because he, for whatever reason, could not afford to let Jason go unless he was willing to give his life for her.

Was he?

Eric thought so. Jason didn’t know. It was a lot to ask. He still felt uncomfortable using her name in his head. The kind of dedication Eric was expecting was... love. And this wasn’t love – it wasn’t humanly possible, because no matter what she’d been acting like, everything on his end had started today. He tried to stop thinking about it when he reached the stairs, casually noting they weren’t doused in blood anymore – thanks, Benoit – but the doubt followed him as he made his way down. He’d told himself to stop analyzing everything before. Why couldn’t he listen to that voice? For once, please, just go with it and stop hurting everyone else because he didn’t want to choose without a full hand of facts. He had to get to the plane.

Right then, a gleam of light flashed from behind him, opposite the way of the elevators. Through the glass doors of the front entrance, at the nose of the dark lobby, something was moving. Jason sighed again and pulled his goggles over his eyes. Immediately he felt a wave of nausea. He sucked it back and kept them on, but he felt it sparking sprays of acid at the bottom of his throat. The plane ride over would give him time to reconnect with them. He couldn’t undo the years spent fine-tuning them, but he’d at least stop them from scratching at his mind like he was an intruder when all he wanted was to zoom in on who was driving the car that’d pulled up. Leave it to Eric to have timed perfectly, when he –

Stop.

Hide. Hide now. Hide right fucking now – hide.

* * *

Xander gave a short nod of his head as his only response to what she’d said, like he’d heard what he’d wanted – and magically half-expected – and wasn’t going to push it. Alex figured he’d do the same. What was with these two and their rules? Have a question, ask it an hour later, get an answer almost the next day – who came up with that? As soon as they had Gwen back, they were all sitting down and writing these out. He was tired of guessing. He always got it wrong. Anyway, the car was slowing down. What was up?

“That doesn’t like an Agent building,” he said, trailing off unsurely.

Not ‘Agent’ Agent, Xander wonderfully failed to explain. This place is old. It’s probably from when they used to blend in with everybody, ‘stead of just sticking shit up on Satan’s Hill. Was that what they were calling the Elmira place? Alex could work with that. Alright, come on.

Alex’s foot was sucked into another black abyss, dying again before it moved on its own. It pulled towards the car door, so that meant it was time to get out. He swung it open so Xander didn’t have to and then hobbled out of his seatbelt to stand up heavily on the road. If he didn’t know it was going to, he’d’ve never thought this leg would ever bend again, but once the fight – they’d agreed there’d be a fight – broke out, his limb was going to be dragged through every angle a human knee and ankle could go, then all the others Xander made up on the spot. He’d be lucky if he got it back with eight toes attached. Just seven was already wishful thinking.

“How are we getting in?”

The door.

What door? They’d pulled up to the front of the building.

“On the side?”

Alex didn’t want to walk. They could have driven there if Xander’d said it to begin with.

The one in front of you, dumbass. Move.

“The front door?” Yeah – he could see when his eyes were rolled. It wasn’t subtle, and it wasn’t stopping him from being the only sane person in this head. “That doesn’t strike you as a horrible decision?”

No.

What part of ‘it’s a trap’ wasn’t this guy getting? And he had the nerve to act impatient about it, letting his toes tingle irritably until Alex started shuffling towards the curb. Xander’s assistance ended at keeping the torrent of pain away. On its own, t was a lot, but couldn’t he lift his foot a little? It looked much more uncomfortable dragging like that. But whatever – the ‘Pain Eater’ – don’t – could do what he wanted, so long as nothing fell off and this worked. Panting, he got onto the sidewalk and rationally told them both, “We’re not going through the front door.”

Side doors don’t have handles going in, Xander lazily countered, like it was too obvious to say.

“Well – what about the roof?”

So now you want the roof. Go ahead, tough guy. Start climbing.

He would! If there were stairs or a ladder or a fire escape somewhere...

“We’re not using the front door,” he said again, even as Xander pulled him over to look inside. “The place is probably rigged to blow the second we get it open – Xander!”

It’s locked.

“I got that from you yanking on it,” Alex snapped.

If it’s locked, it means they don’t want us to go this way, Xander said, even lazier. That means we should.

“Unless they think you’re thinking that so you’ll walk in and get your head shot off.”

His head. Alex meant ‘his head’.

Xander’s tone changed. He was smirking now.

Not likely.

His hand cupped around his eyes to get a better view of what was inside. Not much. Not much that Alex could see, anyway. To Xander, it could have been crawling with information. Through the pitch blackness, the most he could make out was a shadowy outline of a receptionist desk tucked in a very far back corner and a thin line of lights going up in a zig-zag halfway along the wall on the left side. They must have been outlining stairs. Oh, and there was another orange glow from deeper within. He squinted, realized those were elevators, then stepped back from the glass doors unconvinced. It was spooky and dead and empty, and he didn’t like the withered plant he spotted right at the foot of them, or how the streetlights didn’t seem to make in there, but it didn’t feel ‘Agency’. The building seemed like a normal office, red bricked and a bunch of stories high, but nothing to be scared about. The one they’d gone into before had had a stronger vibe, but that seemed unfair to say because they’d only gone in after Osono because two Agents had jumped in first. Hey – the Agent!

“What are we doing with her? In the trunk?”

Leaving her.

“Leave her?”

“Yeah, leave her,” Xander said. “I’ve got enough dead weight to handle. I’m not dragging around the chunk that wants to kill me. She escapes, so what.” He was looking elsewhere now. His stare was running along the building’s outside. It settled on a small grey box stuck to the wall beside them. “Keypad. This place is old.”

“So we need the Agent in the trunk,” Alex reasoned. “She can get us in.”

Nope. You’re thinking about traps, try thinking they’d want them set at a certain time. He wouldn’t stop switching between talking in Alex’s head and out loud. Was he still conserving energy? “Peter knows we have her. He’d rig ‘em to explode if we used her to get in. That’s what I’d do.”

“Okay.” That made sense. “Then the roof –”

Hey. Beach ball. Stop with the roof. You like how there’s no one in there? It’s ‘cause they’re posted where they think we can get in. This door’s the safest way. He didn’t have to be a dick about it... I’ll get it open.

“You’re gonna punch it ‘til it quits?”

Plan B. And no, I’d just jump in. Your tiny fists can’t get through that.

“Thank you for not trying,” he muttered.

You’re welcome. Then his attention turned to the rubber buttons weakly lit yellow. The numbers were worn. Alex hoped it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s an old building and it still uses a keypad... That means the public codes should work.

“What’s a public code?”

“It’s a...” Xander sounded distracted by figuring out this door. “It’s a code. Like a general code, just attached to everyone’s account. Non-Agents got them, same as us.”

“Non-Agents? And they’re just numbers?” Alex snorted. “That’s a great way to keep the super secret project under wraps.”

“I know, right? The best part’s no non-Agent bothers changing ‘em ‘cause they rarely come down. It kinda conflicts with the instant security alerts. They’ve got a computer keeping track of the most recent locations a code’s been used to check in. If there’s a discrepancy between where it’s used now and where it was last used – like, say, some son-of-a-bitch is sittin’ pretty in California and couldn’t possibly have made it to Charlton in time – then it tells you to code in ‘it’s me, relax’ four digits, or else it’s a bright mark on the owner’s security record.”

His hand started to raise as if he was gathering himself to type. While it did, Alex asked, “Why is that the best part?” Besides the ‘we can use it’ thing.

“The owner only gets three before the Agency drags them through a nightmare to clean it up. Hilarious the first time, hilarious the twelfth, and I guarantee it’s gonna be hilarious the twenty-sixth.” His mouth tightened in concentration. “Come on, come on, what was it? I swear to fuck, I used it every other week...”

“You’re using someone else’s code?”

Yeah. Mine’s deactivated, and I’m not wasting my shot at double-checking. His’ll work.

“Friend of yours?”

“Balls no. But – shit, what was it?”

“You don’t even remember it?!” The roof looked pretty good right now. Alex tried to turn to Osono to see if she had anything to back him up, but Xander went in right at that moment and pressed ‘8’ with a solid pound. “Please tell me you did not just put it in without remembering it.”

What’d Gwen say? ‘How many chances do I get?’ Alex’s heart stopped. Nah, it’s fine, I got it. Four, four, six...?

Alex had to stand there in silence while his possessed hand pushed buttons, never without a full pause between each one. Seven later, and the weak yellow became a bright green, followed by a sharp buzz from the door.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it!” Xander pointed at the keypad. It’d instantly gone bright blue. “That’s security!” Alex wasn’t letting the buzz go to waste. He shuffled as fast as he could to the door, beckoning wildly for Osono to come, all while the other guy giddily kept an eye on what was happening with the light.

He got to the door. He pulled it open and didn’t think about traps until after he’d hopped inside, keeping it open long enough for Osono to catch it and follow. Nothing out here exploded. Xander, meanwhile, took one look at the blue changing to a flashing red and burst into the happiest laugh Alex had heard this side of Peter. Alex winced.

“So we’re safe?”

“Fuck you, Roland – that’s for my bike.” And because the keypad deserved it, Xander flipped it off. “Alright, fun’s over. Where the hell is Peter?”

“... You mean your body, right?”

“Yeah,” Xander said. “That too.”

* * *

“There, there, Danielle.” He felt bad. “Everything’s going to be okay.” This was kind of funny.

His sister had rolled from her leader-rage to a steady wall of leader-grief. Dalton was trying to be sympathetic about it, but she wasn’t making it easy with how wolfishly loud her tears were. Gone was the giant who’d stomped through the camp, screaming at everybody to get in line – Buzzy disappeared after a call from Cryptic, so their signal couldn’t have been far behind – and in her place was the pathetically sobbing mass of 546 pounds of sheer density. A poke of her finger would be like a baseball bat to the face. When they finally did switch and Dalton could stop being a ghost, any punch he threw, no matter how light, was going to be like a train made of biceps and steroids. To the face.

I just try so hard, you know? I just try so hard.”

“I know, Danielle.”

It was difficult to explain the situation. He didn’t like details.

The basics. Simple enough. Danielle was the leader of the Nordic branch – meaning Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, as well as the few Anti-Agent groups huddled along the islands – and he was her twin, not really important in any way besides being related to her, being her favourite voice of reason and sharing a very gift/curse set of powers. Those powers took time to build up, and the longer they built for, the better they became – like he said, this was simple. Unfortunately, it worked like a balloon; everything inflated, but when the balloon was let go, the air ran out until they were both back to normal. The ‘letting go’ part was switching. The inflation – for her, since she’d taken on the physical role to stay out and lead the others – was... this.

And I mean – I just put so much effort into it! I just try so hard and everybody – nobody – nobody ever appreciates it!

It’d rolled back to being sad again. ‘Sad’ like ‘why I am stuck here for this’, not ‘sad’ as in ‘depressing’. She might have been a bitch but he changed his mind about not wanting her to be that anymore. It’d been twenty minutes of her holing up in her tent crying. He couldn’t leave because she’d crazy without him, and it wasn’t like there was much else to do out there. As she built up, he faded. He’d been invisible and floating for three days. She’d been stupid for two. Well... ‘stupider’. Danielle was Danielle, after all. He’d grown up with her. As great as she was as a leader, especially since she’d been the one to get all the main branches working together, she pulled a couple dumb moves every now and then. It was partly why he trusted her to take Patten down. No one could kill an idiot faster than an almost idiot.

“Did your phone go off? We should get ready to move,” he suggested.

Nobody calls me,” she wailed to herself, at least having the courtesy to use the box of tissues. She soaked them in minutes, rendering them useless, but he appreciated the effort nonetheless. “Nobody ever thinks I might want to know what’s going on! Nobody tells me any damn thing –

And then the phone rang, waving in its greatest timing ever. Danielle’s voice had been about to rise and from there she’d switch to rage-rage. Rage-rage actually scared hm, and the longer she’d been going with this lack of switching stuff, the harder it’d been to get her off it. The key was to distract her, but as the weight built around her mind and her ability to think dwindled, surprisingly less crap worked. From the ringtone, Dalton knew it was Cryptic. That’d work.

“Pick up the phone, Danielle.” She’d stopped crying to look confused about the sound but hadn’t done anything else. Poor sis. “The phone, dummy. Behind you on the desk. No – the desk.”

I know what a desk is!” Yes, and she got it on the very third try. Danielle picked the small, black thing up, looked at it, then just pointed it to him. “Can’t read.

“Cryptic says it’s time to go.” Odd. Bergmann was the one who was supposed to have contacted them. Danielle was aware enough to mirror his thoughts. “If Patten did find out –”

Fuck Patten!” Then alright. It was go time. Danielle stood up at last, finished sitting either on the floor or on her knees, almost brushing the top of her head against the tent. She’d be happier when she shrunk. They’d all be. “Patten wants to trick us by making us do what we wanted? Fine! Let him! We kill his ass faster!

“This time,” Dalton threw in.

Fucking corpse thief. It’s disgusting.” And... she spat. To... prove her point. “SCISSOR.

Ol’ Scissor could’ve heard that two days from now. The ground shook a bit. After few seconds after she’d screamed, Scissor bounced in.

“What’s going on?”

Where the fuck is my dinner?

“You already ate, Danielle.”

Scissor was a brave guy. Danielle liked him for that. Dalton thought it was rude and his casualness was uncalled for, but he’d accepted it might only be because he enjoyed being the only one his sister used to depend on. Someone like Scissor was good for her. Still, he couldn’t do much either way as a ghost. It was handy, he’d admit, but the guy’s attitude was spreading. When Dalton was active, he’d take care of it.

Oh.” Her voice went up. Somehow, there was room for her to be stronger. “Cryptic called. We’ve got the signal.

Also, he was way too happy about killing people. Danielle thought it was a good asset to have in this fight, but Dalton wasn’t sure.

“I’ll get the cell team up,” Scissor said. That was his part of the plan: handling Charlotte. “We’ll get going.”

“Tell him Buzzy already left,” Dalton said.

Dalton says the stupid girl went,” Danielle said. “She couldn’t wait to go.

When Buzzy got there, she’d spend five minutes groping Elias through his cell. Considering she had three minutes in her schedule, they should have sent someone to go with her. Whatever Cryptic saw in the kid, it was lost on everyone else here. She better do her job. Danielle mirrored that, too. Hypocrite. So the Russians had Buzzy, his sister had Scissor... Who’d Bergmann pick to shakily trust?

“Tell Dalton I said thanks for the tip,” Scissor said, scowling too subtly for Danielle to see.

“Tell Scissor he’s an asshole and I can hear him just fine.”

Dalton says to shut your face and stop being such a prick. Quit standing there! Fucking go!

Scissor drew himself up, nodded his head, and humbly excused himself to find his cronies. Dalton watched him go with no small pleasure.

“If Patten kills anyone, I hope it’s him.”

Patten’s not getting the chance,” Danielle answered. “We’re set?

“We’re set,” he said.

Then let’s go rob a dragon.

More importantly, they could switch. Dalton got ready.

* * *

-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-

“I’m checking the elevators. I wanna see what floors they have.”

-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit – Jason was beside the elevators! He’d flattened himself against the wall in a desperate bid to hide, and the panic had shoved his hand into the call button before the flash of danger from the fucking chime that’d follow entered his mind. Alexander was on the other side of the lobby, steps ahead of the front entrance, but that gave him twenty seconds – if he decided to walk – to no time at all if he went faster. Dammit, how the hell did this always happen to him? It was like the man had made it his personal mission to see Jason destroyed, and he was doing a damn good job of getting closer to it every time. Start thinking! Don’t stop analyzing now – now he needed it!

He faded. The effect was weak and his mind and suit weren’t making the proper connection, so the best he could hope for was solid camouflage. That wasn’t enough, and the tear through his chest throbbed in fury as his heart beat faster. The elevator was on its way but there was no lights overhead to say where it was or how much longer it’d take. Instead, he had the failing orange ones directly over his head, making his situation worse now that he could hear Alexander’s footsteps.

“... upstairs or downstairs? I’m thinking upstairs. Why upstairs? ‘Cause it’s stupid to put it underneath. In a place like this, it’s asking for trouble. Elmira’s was downstairs. Yeah, and so was the rest of the damn thing. It’s upstairs. Trust me. I just don’t know which floor. And an elevator’s gonna solve that?”

Everything about this person broke through to Jason’s core. It wasn’t enough that he could kill with his eyes and it wasn’t enough that Marshall was in there, he had to have the original Alexander, too. That was Pain Eater training on top of the ‘host’ and his natural-born skill with his powers. Where was Benoit? Why wasn’t he here the second the door opened? Frenchie couldn’t say he didn’t know what was going on. With his lenses and the hundred different screens he’d been sitting in front of, he could have followed his target’s every step down the road. So what the hell?

“What’s wrong?” Alexander paused for a while. He’d stopped walking, too. “Xander?” Then he answered himself with a more relaxed, “Nothing, it’s fine. Sparky! Eyes open! I smell soap.” Then more anxiously, “Soap is bad?” Then back to relaxed and almost uninterested, “Something’s been washed. Since it’s coming from the floor, and since it’s not everywhere, it’s a spot clean. Something spilled. And before you ask, ‘cause I know you will, I’m talking about blood.”

Jason’s eyes dropped to the floor. Alexander – Marshall? – was right. The bodies were gone and the pool of blood Quin had slipped in had vanished. That one observation had put the man on alert. Jason needed the elevator this second, but with Alexander so close...!

“Whose blood?” He paused again. “I was just asking, geez.”

And he was getting closer. He was six steps away from coming around the corner because he’d been more or less sticking close to the walls instead of cutting down the lobby’s middle. In a stroke of life that called in his salvation and his imminent death, the elevator chose that particular moment to open its doors with a sugary chime – and was abruptly drowned out by the sound of every current in this place shutting down with a massive, dying whine. The orange lights blinked off. The elevator froze half-open. The darkness jumped to a level that went from selectively uncomfortable to undeniably overpowering. Had the fuses overloaded?

“Power’s out. Fantastic. They better have my cell on a separate system. What if they don’t? They do. Elevator, now. Stop taking forever to move. I’m crippled. Yeah? You’re gonna be worse than that in a second.”

A clank rang out. A whirr started up. The back-up generators had turned on and the building was awake for the first time, awash in a red light that flowed on and off. The elevator opened up the rest of the way. Jason didn’t have time to let out the breath he’d been holding before he streaked into it, barely managing to stay quiet as he jumped up and at the panel on its ceiling, trying to knock it out to get – “Excuse me, good sir!”

Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit!

What – what do you want – I don’t have anything!

And he slammed himself into the farthest corner the elevator had to offer, trying to burrow into it with his back and fuck he couldn’t fade and fuck it wouldn’t have helped if he could and fuck, fuck, fuck where the fuck was Benoit?!

The power cut out again. They were back to total darkness, but Alexander had seen where the other exit was. Jason wasn’t going to make it to through the panel in time. ... Did... did this mean he couldn’t use his powers?

You know who could’ve answered that?Benoit! He was going to kill that French bastard!

“‘What, what do you want, I don’t have anything’.” Alexander’s voice floated around him and wrapped around Jason’s throat. He couldn’t tell if the man was sneering or smirking, but he was pretty sure it was a mixture of both. “This is reason suits aren’t sent out to fight.”

“What do you want?”

Jason’s voice was grating as bounced around the elevator walls. He sounded hoarse and hysterical. Alexander liked it.

“Oh, not much. Hey, do you know where my body is? I’d kill to know where my body is.”

“It’s upstairs,” Jason shot out. “You already guessed that!”

“... What floor, retard?”

The cell room had been on the second floor.

“The second,” Jason croaked. He hated this. He had no reason to blame Eric for making him stay behind. Look at what was happening. His lead would have never caved like this. But Alexander had taken his goggles once before... “The second – it’s on the second.”

“Wow. Suits really do know everything.” And then in a voice that froze Jason’s blood, Alexander calmly suggested, “You should take the stairs. It’s faster.”

Steps. Steps leading away.

“Second floor, Sparky!”

Jason almost started hyperventilating.

‘Take the stairs’. Crap like that was practically code for ‘I’d murder you, but I’m busy with something else’. Or their A-2s were watching. In any case, every time, someone’s life flashed before their eyes. He should have been sick. He hated Pain Eaters like nerds hated jocks, and he hated Marshall twice as much because he was the one who’d gotten a suit despite everything he was. But the Butter Juice was working after all. He might have been in the dark in a powered-down elevator, but he was alive and conscious.

... ‘Take the stairs’.

At least it was good advice.


Last edited by Tartra on Sun Jun 17, 2012 2:27 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Sun Sep 04, 2011 6:51 pm

Who the fuck was she talking to? After the drug started to take a hold of her, freezing everything from the outside in to the point where she felt like she could barely move, a strength and focus built inside that was only shattered when she became aware of Madeline texting on Gary's phone. For all of the phone calls in the helicopter so far, Madeline talked aloud so everybody could hear what was being said and, more importantly, so they knew who she was talking to. Both times it was Master on the phone, but after the way the previous conversation ended - and the fact that all the times they'd spoken, Madeline was never the one to initiate contact with Him - Stephanie doubted it was Master whom she was texting now.

Could it be that the A-2 Agent was taking a moment to issue orders to those back at her base...or someone at the base ahead? Then why the secrecy? Unless there was something there she didn't want Master - and by extension, Stephanie - to know about. Was it more proof that she was up to something? After everything that was said so far between them, she wouldn't doubt it. It wouldn't do her any good to further argue or engage the woman now, though. She would just expect everyone she met upon landing to be a minion of the other Agent and regard them all as a potential threat, while keeping her eyes out for whatever trap the A-2 was currently setting. And when they touched down, she'd find a way to kill the other woman and cut off the head of the entire swarm.

That got Stephanie to wondering who Madeline answered to. She obviously had her own agenda and a war with Stephanie's Master... but was it really the A-2's agenda and was it really her war? Was Madeline in a similar position as Stephanie, used as a soldier in the army of a higher Agent? Stephanie's first impression was that such a thing would require a level of manipulation that Madeline probably wouldn't fall for. Then again, the other woman said herself that she fell for Master's manipulations and Stephanie suspected that Madeline wasn't as strong-willed or smart as she tried to make herself out to be. Afterall, she made an awful lot of noise to make up for an inability to just command respect.

Thinking of manipulation, Stephanie was forced to remember her own dealings with higher Agents and the games they played. Graninger, her old training manager, was incredibly manipulative. Their whole 3 year relationship, that started back when she was in training, was based on his puppetry of her emotions in order to mold and "train" her. Even though memories of that time made her break down in the Charlton elevator, Stephanie was thankfully shielded from it by the Clothozine chilling her. Instead of regret and sorrow, anger and hate filled her instead.

She was such a lost and wild young woman when she joined the Agency, intent on buying her way to the top with whatever people were willing to pay for - all of her was for sale at the time. However, the one person who mattered, Richard Graninger, refused to be bought, and their dominant natures clashed and burned against each other until the heat grew into the warmth of passion. She fell in love. And she was led to believe through every means possible - moving in together, receiving a special "slave brand" from him to show that he owned her forever, etc. - that he felt the same depth of devotion to her as well. Everything was a lie. As soon as she grew out of her rebellious, promiscuous ways and accomplished a name for herself as a rising star, he told her that she "passed" and then moved all the way across the fucking country, leaving her confused and heartbroken.

Stephanie wasn't crying about it now, though, instead glaring with haunted fish eyes at Madeline's typing fingers, still as a statue as her mind raced with the possibilities. The trail of thought didn't end at her own history with Richard but began blending with the present. Madeline's possible manipulation by a higher Agent was no longer being compared to what Graninger did to Stephanie; now, in her mind, Madeline WAS working for Graninger. All of this time, Stephanie assumed that Madeline's presence and threat were independently motivated as a way to strike out at Master. But now she was beginning to entertain the possibility that it had nothing to do with Master at all - that the real target was and always had been Stephanie herself. And that Richard was somehow behind it.

It made a sort of twisted sense to her, considering Richard might have known or suspected her plans to abandon him and his memory - and the marks he'd left on her heart and body - and this was an elaborate attempt to keep his "property" in line. It was a fantasy she often entertained in those dark months after he left, that he didn't mean the things he'd said. He really did care about and want her, but he was either attempting to let her grow stronger by allowing her to fly on her own, outside of his controlling influence, or he didn't want their affair to ruin either of their careers. It didn't make the betrayal any less painful, but it could explain his reaching out to her now, like this.

The branding ceremony they held together had been almost as sacred as exchanging wedding vows and she remembered clearly the look of pride and desire in his eyes as he gazed down at his mark seared into the flesh of her outer right thigh. But more than anything, he'd been intoxicated by the awe and worship in her own eyes during the entire event. He could not simply allow her to jump into another body and destroy the value of what was his - or at least, what he probably still felt was his.

Yes. Now she saw it clearly. Madeline was here to take her case away from her, working as an agent for him to keep her chained to this body. ...Or worse. To punish her. Afterall, she already let it slip once that Jason was her lover. Maybe that was what the texting was about? Was it possible Richard already knew? If he truly did still desire her, was it possible that he saw Jason as moving in on his territory? Or was it simply her who was going to be punished for showing such physical interest in another man?

Feeling like she'd unlocked a really complex puzzle, Stephanie gave Madeline a narrow look as the woman tucked the phone away. At her question, Stephanie bristled and her eyes widened, her mind racing with the hidden implications in those words - what was she trying to say? Was she just being a bitch, expressing disapproval about the drugs or was she hinting at something? Was she trying to find a weakness to exploit? Who was really asking: Madeline or Richard? Did he disapprove of her choice to depend on the medication?

Finally, coming to the conclusion that no matter what was planned, she couldn't go through with the transfer until she was sure she was protected, she said, "No. We wait." The Clothozine was brutal to her voice and body as it kept everything feeling like it was encased in ice, including her throat. So her mouth opened and closed rigidly like a nutcracker soldier and her voice came filtering out robotically from between her lips. "Master promised me. My partner is coming. I'm not starting until he arrives. I want him standing safe by my side. I told him I would wait."

She looked away to stare at her target and when her deadened hair fell in her face, she stopped to run her hand through it to brush the strands back. As her fingers slipped through it like stiff and sharpened blades, they came away with another net of hair, effortlessly sliding free to clump in her hand. No knots this time. And it felt like there was more of it tangled on her fingers than before, but she didn't even look at it as she twitched her fingers, letting the wispy threads fall to the ground at her feet.

"Besides," she continued, her voice coming out as if it took effort to force her mouth open. "We're waiting for Alexander's capture. Benoit will call. We're not in any hurry." Large black circles swimming in two white ponds, came back to focus on Madeline with a blonde eyebrow arching dramatically. "Unless you're in a rush. I cannot imagine why you would be. I don't know why you'd even care at all."

Slightly accusatory but not directly questioning. Just subtly hinting that she knew what was happening and warning the woman to back off. They couldn't take her case without a reason - not when she was under the protection and support of an A-1 - so they were trying to do it underhandedly through sabotage. Once Jason arrived - the one person she absolutely trusted - everything would be alright. He'd help protect her when she went through the transfer. She just had to keep things relaxed and stall until then.

"While we wait," she said, glancing at Gwen again. "Gary will retrieve alcohol and cookies. In preparation for Jason's arrival. And some rope." She gave Gary a pointed look that was made creepy by her current appearance. "I will tend to my target. I haven't really talked to her yet. I have a million questions. I'm a huge fan of hers," she explained. "I would like a chance to bond with my new body. Before I enter it." Then, to Madeline, her jaws snapping open and shut with each disjointed syllable and her fish eyes staring blankly at the other woman. "I do not want to be near you. If it is at all possible. Maybe you can be aggravatingly bitchy. Without a reason. To somebody else? I'm sure you can find someone. Either way. I want you to go away. As soon as the option for more distance opens. I do not like you. I do not need you. You are not even supposed to be here. So. There is no 'we'."

Was that fucking clear enough, Richard?

***
The car remained warm as she pulled to a stop and the GPS congratulated them on their arrival. Yeah, that's great. They were 'here', but where the fuck were they? She didn't make a move to get out, nor did the temperature around her go down, her hands holding onto the wheel tensely, waiting for him to say something. Anything. But he didn't. And suddenly, as he was swinging the door open and stumbling out of his seat, she realized he wasn't going to. Slowly, she loosened her grip.

It wasn't like she'd made a secret of how uncomfortable she was when asking him for help, but she was also basically waiting for him to tell her something that would make her feel better, to show that he understood and didn't judge her. Surprisingly, he accomplished that without uttering a word AND they avoided any mushy, sentimental crap that would have made it even more awkward. Ozzie let out a relieved breath as she watched him stand and slam his door shut before she followed suit out the driver's side. Even though she was already putting the moment behind her, the heat did not leave her as she stood by her door and slipped her army jacket back on, checking her gun and making sure it was ready to use. Tucking it back into the waistband of her leather pants, she watched Alex walk onto the sidewalk like one of the undead, for the first time actually truly alarmed by the sight.

Last time she'd been paying attention he was merely limping as if his foot hurt. Now it looked like he couldn't even use it. Was Xander doing that, or had it really gotten that bad? She was a little worried about how much she could depend on him, so she stayed tense and watched her surroundings, heat swirling around her as her dark eyes scanned the street and the buildings towering over it. She didn't join him on the sidewalk until he was standing by what appeared to be some sort of keyboard on the wall and she kept her distance from the doors right in front of them.

When she heard Alex say something about the girl in the trunk, Ozzie murmured, "I'll go get..." before fading off as Xander immediately shut the idea down. Okay, so what were they going to do, then? What was that about the roof? Osono glanced up, searching what she could see of the tall building in only the lights from the street lamps, but before she could ask how they were getting up there, both men were already way ahead of her and discussing codes or something. Ozzie stood nearby and continued to watch their surroundings while listening to them, but other than the value the information had for them right now, she wasn't really interested when Xander explained the Agency's general security.

The only thing that really caught her attention was when he mentioned "non-Agents" having codes. What did he mean by that? If a person worked for the Agency they were Agents, weren't they? Then she remembered the cheery voice of the woman they talked to on the phone, Peter's secretary or whatever. Were there really people working for the Agents who didn't know anything about what they were really doing? Or did they know and just not care, the way Cindy didn't seem to?

A smile quickly danced across Osono's face when Xander uttered the phrase 'Balls no' and the tension she was feeling faded somewhat. Balls no. She liked that. She didn't mention testicles nearly enough in normal conversation and now that she'd heard it, she had the sudden desire to do so.

Letting out a harsh sigh, she was about to urge the guys to stop toying with Alex's nads and get going when Xander ignored Alex's complaints and started pressing buttons. The tension came back as she waited, confident that Xander knew at least a little bit of what he was doing and getting ready for whatever they might find inside, once he got the door open. If he didn't... Well, they were getting inside whether this code worked or not. The only problem she saw was that the Agents inside would know about their presence sooner rather than later, depending on which way they decided to enter the building. If he thought to ask her, she wasn't sure she could think of a subtle way to slip inside.

A smirk twisted on her face as the keypad responded, buzzing and turning colors. "Wow, it worked?" she asked with a raspy laugh, when Alex began dragging himself over to the door, and she was already on his heels before he motioned at her to follow. Resisting the urge to shove him because of how slow his hobbling walk was, she slipped through the door immediately after him with just a minor glance back at the street they left. The car remained undisturbed and they hadn't attracted any attention, but as the door closed she couldn't get rid of the feeling they were being watched.

She was right. Not long after he finished celebrating about the video Graninger sent him, Rudy's phone alerted him that the heat signature was on the move. Looking at the screen, he nearly burst into tears when he realized that not only was Osono coming closer, but she was coming straight for the Agency base. Back on street level, he was seconds behind them, the heat signature flaring in a soft yellow glow on his tiny map, just inside the front doors. He didn't know why she was here - or why the fuck she was IN the fucking base fuckfuckfuckFuuuuuuuuuuuck! - but he hadn't failed yet. He could still make it and get her out of there without anyone knowing.

Inside, she felt a chill run up her spine, looking around the dimly lit room and trying to make out details. While Alex continued to emulate scenes from Dawn of the Dead as he made his way through the room towards the elevators, Ozzie instead stood right in front of the doors, sweeping her eyes over everything. First she looked over the minor furnishings that made the place seem almost normal, and then looked at the stairs and up where more faded lights loomed way up above. There was an adventurous urge to go exploring, but she realized she couldn't leave Alex, even with Xander protecting him, and finally decided to stay put until he figured out where they needed to go.

Where the fuck was everybody? This wasn't what she'd expected at all, not with the impressions she got from everything she heard so far. Other than Alex and Xander talking back and forth to each other, it was quiet. No thundering boots. No guns being cocked. No humming or whirring of sinister machinery. She was prepared to fight her way in here but now, she stood in their lobby uncontested and unchallenged. It was both a little relieving and made her feel uneasy at the same time.

When full darkness enveloped the place, her short blonde hair stood on end and she glared aggressively around her, holding her fists out and ready for a fight. This couldn't be good. Did they forget to pay their electrical bill - their lights indicated a lack of concern over being able to see or not, so it was quite possible somebody let it go past the deadline. As visions flashed in her mind of soldiers surrounding them through the cover of the shadows, she stifled the urge to start a fire, not wanting to make a target of herself. But through the darkness she heard Alex and Xander still chatting away and it calmed her a little bit to know they were both okay. Before she could make a move in their direction or call out to them, the power came back on again and she could see. That was odd. And definitely not a coincidence; the power getting cut right when they walked through the front doors. But what was the point of it?

Further by the elevators, it sounded like Xander found someone, but then she was completely distracted by a hushed voice saying her name from behind her. "Hey! Psst! Ozzie!" Turning to look, she was confronted with the familiar face of Rudy standing with his head and foot poking past the door she'd just walked through. "Hey! There you are!" he said, his face blossoming into a happy, dorky smile.

Everything she told Alex in the car and everything that happened in the past couple of days came rushing back to her. Peter, her dad, the catsuit Agent girl, Gwen; all of it, remembered in those split seconds and she glared hatefully at him, her fists tightening at her sides and her teeth clenching. She was going to do it. She was going to finish this. Just burn him alive and then he'd never bother her again. He'd never hurt the people she cared about ever again. And she could be free--

"Hey, what's the matter?" he asked, blissfully unaware of how much she hated him and the fact that she was planning on killing him right now. Glancing back out the door he still had propped open with his body, he motioned to her and said, "C'mere!" as if he had something to show her. Osono paused for a long moment, then with a sigh and kicking herself for how weak she was, she let go of the tension in her body and walked over to stand in front of him. With the door open and the angle with which he was standing between the glass, light from the street spilled over his features and Osono got her first good look at him since the last time they'd spoken to each other.

"Rudy!" she exclaimed, putting her hand on the side of his neck to turn him towards her so she could get a better look. Her voice got his attention but he looked back at her with a confused slant to his eyebrows, obviously not understanding the reason behind the sudden physical contact. "What the fuck happened to your face?" she asked, her voice taking on an angry tone and her eyes sparking with a protective intensity. She didn't really care about him - okay, just a little; she didn't want to care about him - but whoever did this had completely bullied and abused the shit out of the tiny dork. From the extent of the injuries she could see - there were more bruises on his arms past the plain white T-shirt he was wearing - his attacker had gone overboard, way beyond the point of 'just shutting the little freak up.'

Before coming to the door, Rudy didn't really have a plan on how to convince her to leave the base and leave the city, but thankfully, now he didn't need to. Fitting into the old familiar mold that she laid out for him, he played into her concern and in the tone of a small kid he pitifully murmured, "That fat chick... uh...Gwen, did it." Oh, God, that was so pathetic... but he loved the thought of pulling her heart strings like that. He called it his 'Little Bro Voice'. Even with all of his concerns over the past few hours, he could still get her in the palm of his hand.

Instantly, Osono got an ache in the pit of her gut that let her know she made the wrong choice. That tone of voice he used... it was something he did a thousand times before and it was clearly faked, but in those times when they were together it was easy to just play along. Now, after everything that had happened, even though she still had no desire to kill him, she wasn't in the mood to play games either. Promptly, she abandoned her concern for a more interrogative approach and still grasping the side of his neck, she gave him a sharp jerk and roughly asked, "Gwen? Do you know where she is? Have they started her transfer yet? What did you do? What happened to her?" Osono already sort of knew where Gwen was from the information they got from Peter, but she wanted to see if this little dipshit would be honest with her for once and if the information would connect. It was very possible that Peter lied to them - she still had trouble believing the guy would just tell them everything like that.

With his head leaning back defensively in her hold and giving her a wary look, Rudy suddenly relaxed and said, "Hm. I'm pretty sure she got hit by a truck. And died." He nodded and his eyes darted to look out the door before coming back to her face. Where did the sudden concern for that psychic pig come from? She'd only been around Gwen for no more than an hour. Whether he understood it or not, he couldn't resist taking another jab at the stupid fatty. But he stifled the urge to tell Osono about his "problem" with pushing people into traffic, since she didn't seem too tolerant at the moment and he didn't want to accidentally push her in the wrong direction. Needless to say, it was not what Ozzie wanted to hear and she frowned at him impatiently.

Suddenly, the lights went out and darkness flooded the small space between them and Rudy practically swallowed his heart in his rising panic. Fuck! Was Alexander here??? That meant Patten would be starting the party soon. And Ozzie would be right here in the middle of it, at the mercy of the A-1 AND that psycho. He could barely make out her features from the light reflecting off of his face, but hiding the tremors that threatened to invade his voice he casually said, "Anyway, who cares? Listen, we have to get out of here, okay? You're not even supposed to be in here - what did you do? Break in? I think I hear sirens," he didn't really, but was she worried that he mentioned it? "Come on, let's get outta this dump and go get some fajitas, yeah? My treat. I'll even let you put hot sauce all over everything we order, just like last time. I'll freak out and throw up again and you'll laugh your ass off and then beat up the waiter; come on, it'll be great." He flashed his eyes excitedly at her, like he couldn't wait to act out the plan he just outlined.

Osono didn't like this. It felt like her insides were being split in two. She knew it was true, she KNEW he was an Agent and he wasn't fooling anybody for a second. But it was the memory of those good times with him, those moments when running and fighting weren't important and it was just the two of them hanging out together. There was no way she was going to go with him right now - whether he was actually craving Mexican food or planning an ambush outside of the base somewhere - because she wasn't leaving Alex. But remembering those good times, especially with the way he was acting right now, completely un-Agent-like, she was having difficulty deciding what to do.

Alex expected her to take care of this problem and after what she said about Rudy, Xander wasn't going to allow the kid to live if it in any way threatened his revenge against Peter and getting his body back. And Rudy was a wild card when it came to her and other people, so he was a very big threat. As stupid as she was for even considering it, she didn't want to hurt the relationship she had with Rudy. If Xander saw her being weak like this, he might take it upon himself to kill Rudy for her. She glared through the darkness towards the elevators. God! This was so stupid! But she needed to get him out of here and keep him away from Xander and she had to do it in a way that he wouldn't get offended by.

What was happening? She was drawing away and her hand slipped off his shoulder until she was no longer touching him, stepping back so the light couldn't reach her anymore. "Yeah, sure," her raspy voice said from the darkness, not more than a couple of steps away from him. "You go on ahead and I'll meet you there. There's something important I need to do first."

Wait...what was happening!? She had something more important to do than saving her own skin? And what the hell did that even meeeaaan, anyway??? No! Fuck, no! He wasn't leaving without her! Not when Patten was here, practically in command of everyone on the premises, ready and willing to capture her and suck the life out of her. It wasn't going to happen! She was HIS, Goddammit!

Licking his lips to wet them, his words hurried after hers, spitting them out rapidly, and he finally let go of the door to step inside. "What do you mean you have something important to do? In here? The place is totally lights out right now. Besides, whatever you did to get in, you screwed up anyway, because I can totally hear the cast of Law & Order on their way here, like, right now. I'm sure whatever it is you need to do will still be here and worth doing tomorrow morning when the Heat isn't so bad - or at the very least we could leave and get some flashlights, you know?" From the sounds of things, she'd stopped walking away from him, but she didn't say anything. Desperately, he urged her, "Please, Ozzie. It's not safe here."

What was his game? This was the Agency base, wasn't it? Xander's code got them in through the door, so it had to be. Why was he so intent on taking her out of here? Wouldn't things be better for him to lead her further into the building where she'd be trapped? More importantly, why was he so intent on getting his brain fried by the one guy who not only had no problem killing people but even had plenty of reasons to kill Rudy - including the fact that Rudy stole the guy's girlfriend? The little idiot wasn't listening to her when she was trying to be fucking nice for once. Now she was willing to do anything to get him to leave before Alex came back from across the dark room.

"Safe? Since when did you ever care about my safety, you little jerk?" she growled in his direction.

Whoa. Anger. This wasn't what he expected, but she sometimes got blistering angry for no reason. It's alright. It's still cool. Work with it!Work with it! "What are you talking about?," he let out a small breathless laugh and tried to smile in her direction. "You silly goose! You're my best frie--"

"Shove it, asshole," she spat. "Enough bullshit. You know and I know what's been going on and I'm done putting up with it. Get out of here now, before I have to burn your sorry-Agent-ass to a crisp."

It's okay!It's okay! She'd said this kind of shit before! She never called him an Agent before - who taught her that word? - but IT. WAS. OKAY. He could salvage this. His cover wasn't completely blown. He'd lied his way out of these situations plenty of times, and he could do it again. All he had to do was keep talking.

He snorted in nervous amusement. "Whaaaaat? Come on, Ozzie--"

Flames sprouted just 5 feet away from him hovering in the air and he jumped back a few feet before he realized it was enveloping her hand, orange and glowing yellow dancing over her palm and fingers. The way she held it up, he could see her face in the flickering light and from the look she was giving him, the threat was clear. She wasn't going to fall for it. Fuck... He didn't want to have to do this, but he would if it got her out of this building. Biting the inside of his lip as they locked gazes for several seconds, finally he shrugged and nodded. "Alright, yeah, fine. I'm a goddamn Agent." He paused to pull the Aurora out of his pocket, the pieces rapidly forming together over his hand and the gun lighting up as it charged, illuminating his surroundings in the neon orange glow. Trying to put on his best 'badass' voice he glared back at her and said, "And I will fucking kill you if you don't leave right now."

Was she scared? She'd never seen him like this before, and he did a pretty good job of hiding this side of himself from her for years, but did that mean she didn't believe him? She knew what an 'Agent' was enough to accuse him of it, so she must also be aware of what that meant and what he was capable of. If he had to, he'd fire off a warning shot to scare her. Fuck! Why was this so damn hard? What was she even DOING here? Nervously, Rudy glanced where he knew the stairs were behind her. Where was Eric? Was he lurking nearby? Did he have a certain lustful-Amazon-invisible soldier hiding close and watching?

Ozzie smirked proudly when he pulled out a geeky looking weapon and threatened her with it, basically coming directly clean for the first time EVER. Arching a haughty eyebrow at him, she regarded him coolly, completely confident that he had no intention of pulling the trigger for whatever the hell that thing did. Because right from his lips, he admitted it: he was an Agent. He was her Agent and that meant he wanted to capture her, not kill her. Right then, Xander called out to her and was coming back from his visit to the elevators - which she could just make out from here by the light of her flames. As he came closer, she turned from Rudy and completely cast the harmless twerp out of mind as she started walking towards the stairs.

"Second floor?" she asked him, to make sure she heard right. "Are you going to be alright going up the stairs with your leg falling off or do you need me to drag you by your ball hairs?" Heh, balls.

... What the fuck was happening??? Who the fuck was that?! Rudy squinted in the dim lighting from his gun and Ozzie's fire and then his heart sank. No... Please, God, no. That was Alex, wasn't it? Seriously, the next time he was within a few feet of that corpulent psychic, he was going to kill her and GET RID OF THIS DEMONIC INFLUENCE SHE HAD OVER HIS LUCK!!!

"Waitaminute!" Rudy called out, just as Ozzie put her foot on the bottom step. She still had flames licking at her hand, but Rudy had lowered his gun arm, the soft glow lighting up his features enough for them to see the confused look on his face. "What is going on? Where are you going? Why are you hangin' out with this queer? And why, in Whedon's name, is he calling you 'Sparky'?"

Rudy's voice had reached a hysterical note, as he made his demands known and Osono was actually enjoying herself a little bit as she turned back to him. "Because that's my name, ballsack. It's what he calls me." She shrugged with a small, tolerant yet amused smirk. Whether he was harmless now or not, he was still an Agent and she didn't feel like telling him anything about what they were doing. So, after answering the least important question, she felt like they were done and ready to move on.

What? They had fucking nicknames for each other? He wasn't breathing down her neck for 24+ hours and she was already slurping on another asshole's dick? He couldn't let that stand and the thought of the entire thing made him angry. Angry with Alex - but he already hated that douchebag - angry with Eric and especially angry with her. Before she could turn away again he shot out a mocking, "What? Are you like his dog or something?"

Her immediate response to that was defensive - she was actually fond of the pet name Xander had given her - but she relaxed when she realized how helpless and harmless Rudy was now. Whatever he was trying to do, he was getting stupidly desperate. Instantly, she thought of the perfect response to this. "Balls no," and she cocked her eyebrow at him, looking at him like the child he was behaving as.

Something was going on here and the deeper implications of it came upon him like a knee to the groin. Agent. She'd learned that word from that guy. They'd probably been traveling together ever since he left the restaurant - which was bizarre and totally out of character for her. What other out of character things had she done? Did she let Alex fuck her? After all the times she'd rejected Rudy... And Alex probably convinced her that Rudy was bad too. Never. She never would have stood up to him like this at any other time and here she was, forcing him to break his cover, destroying his case as a result, and walking away from him with another man. He... He could salvage this. He could. She belonged to him and it was his case now. Noel was dead and he was in charge. Nobody was going to make him look bad, least of all that jackass. And nobody was going to take her away from him. The easiest way to correct the problem...

After several moments of Rudy just staring at her as if she was getting ready to burn his comic collection, his face broke with a sudden insincere smile and he shook his head. Letting out a little laugh, Rudy sneered an ugly grin and aimed his gun at Alex with murderous ease, muttering under his breath, "Motherfucker."

He didn't hesitate when his finger pulled the trigger.

***
Alright, he admitted it, today was the best day he'd had since he arrived to the Spokane base. Although, those first interviews when they accused him of everything and the Lead Agent on his case almost ripped him out of his brain - those had been really good times too. But this was ten times better.

Standing in front of the mirror in his new Agency uniform, he felt like for the first time, things were going right. His year of servitude, tests and interrogations had finally paid off. It wasn't official yet, but the paperwork was on it's way to being approved. Fenton was going to be an Agent. An A-12, no less. Screw all those preliminary ranks and get him a running start up that ladder! And even though Graninger failed to explain exactly what he'd be doing other than working for a high-level Agent on the other side of the country, he didn't care.

Fin had a place now and a code with his name on it. He had a fucking name now. No more babysitters, no more restrictions, no more being ignored or treated like shit. Well... okay, he still expected some of that because he was a low rank yet, but it was on an entirely different level. He wasn't going to be disrespected as a civilian-nobody anymore. Now he would get abused and degraded as an actual employee. Totally different.

Slipping on the thin, dark gray jacket he'd been given, he turned to the right and straightened out his arm and then bent his elbow, watching the yellow stripe up the sleeve fold and stretch with the movement. In addition to the cool uniform, he also got to utilize standard Agency equipment: his own phone, his own sunglasses, and his own pen. He wasn't required to sign important documents yet, but he could certainly provide a higher ranked Agent with a writing utensil if they needed it. Being an A-12 was serious business.

"Much better," Richard commented as he entered the locker room and got a look at Fin's clean-shaven face. Then Graninger's face grew focused and he stepped forward, turning Fin towards him and promptly zipped the gray jacket closed so only a small white triangle of the shirt underneath showed. "Always keep the jacket zipped. Agency dress code regulations do not permit more than an inch of the undershirt to be shown - any more than that and it looks unprofessional. You are also required to take care of it, keeping it spotless and presentable at all times. You're not a high enough level yet to get uniforms for free, so if you ruin this one, it'll be coming out of your paycheck. Hopefully that'll motivate you to take better care of your appearance."

The guy could really be a condescending prick sometimes. "Do you always get this sentimental with your employees or is it just for me?" Fin asked glibly. "Because you're kind of making me uncomfortable."

Surprisingly, that actually got him a smirk from the older man. "Try to keep a hold on that tongue as well. It'll get you into trouble with Agents a lot less patient than myself." Yeah, the guy was a real jolly jokester. This advice was greatly appreciated and all, but it was also a repeat of things Graninger had said before. Not just a few minutes ago in the guy's office, but before that, during his year of training under the older man. As much as Fin continued to joke, he knew what was expected of him. Besides, not all Agents were as big of hardasses as the A-2 made them out to be. Richard himself was proof of that, as much as he tried to hide it.

"I'll attempt to remember," Fin said, mockingly sincere. "But if I slip up and accidentally upset someone with my comments, I'm going to tell them I learned, from you, that this sort of behavior is tolerated."

The A-2 frowned but said nothing to that, and with the air of impatience he turned on his heel and headed out of the room with Fin following behind at a respectful distance. As they proceeded through the glimmering halls, Fin held his head high but also kept himself cool and casual. He owned this suit and he belonged here and everyone they passed noticed and recognized him as one of their own. And they were all impressed. Well... except for a couple who weren't - who obviously had something they wanted to say if the puritan A-2 wasn't present. But that was okay. Fenton already knew where he stood with those guys and if all of his plans eventually worked out, they'd be running and getting coffee for him someday.

Eventually, Graninger stopped in front of spotless, mirror-faced elevator doors, and he smoothly tapped the call button before folding his hands formally behind his back. "I'll be visiting New York in a couple of days," the man's raspy voice echoed in the corridor. His dark suit contrasted harshly with the gleaming white of the floor and walls, a spot of comfort for Fin's eyes in the midst of the brightly lit hall.

Fin waited for the man to say more, but he didn't before the elevator arrived and they stepped inside together. He was about to ask whether the visit was for business or pleasure when as soon as the doors closed, Graninger reached into the inner breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out what appeared to be a Glock. Surprised, Fenton blinked at Graninger's reflection in the elevator doors but he was ignored while the other man loaded the pistol with crisp, practiced movements.

Then it was handed to him. Fin couldn't help but hesitate, remembering Graninger saying something before about holding off on giving him a weapon until his application went through, but he obediently took the gun, his hand fitting over the grip with familiar ease. "Put it away and just keep it with you," he instructed Fin coldly. Glancing up at the ceiling where he knew a camera was, Fin tucked the gun into his waistband under his jacket.

"Anyone in particular you want me to shoot?" he asked brightly. Graninger glanced at him, raising his eyebrow at Fin's tone, but Fin just shrugged back at him. "You know how fond I am of injuring people. I even have a shirt that says 'Your trauma makes me happy.'"

Richard shook his head and sighed in resignation, facing forward once again. "It's just as a precaution, and although I'd prefer that you use your words in all cases where it is possible, I expect you to at least have some level of discernment when a bit more force is necessary. I have very little knowledge of what you'll be working on or even about Patten himself, but I'm not stupid enough to believe every A-1 deserved to get where they are by following all of the rules." The elevator doors opened and Richard stepped out with a stately grace, with Fin following behind. The sun was still in the sky but making it's gradual descent outside the lofty windows, golden light filling every space like a physical thing in the tall-ceilinged lobby. "Either way, if you're smart, you'll keep the Agency's goals in mind when following orders. If you have any trouble knowing if something is right or if you need a review of the rules, give me a call."

This type of behavior wasn't new - making Fin believe that he didn't think he could do anything - but he had a hard time knowing if that was what this was or if Graninger truly thought Eric Patten would try to trick him into doing something he wasn't supposed to. The guy was supposed to be an A-1 wasn't he? Those guys had freedom, sure, but they also had to be the strictest hardasses about the rules, didn't they? Then again, Graninger was as obsessed about the rules as a person could get and yet he ordered Fin to break into his ex-girlfriend's apartment and steal her diaries.

As they walked through the glass front doors, Fin said, "Are you sure you don't want to come with me? You can hold my leash."

Graninger released a smoky chuckle in his throat as he walked up to a gleaming, black and silver-trimmed car, opening the back door for Fin to get inside. "I have no doubt that this job will be a good opportunity for you to learn and grow. Keep your eyes open and no matter what Patten tells you to do, remember who you really work for. I'll be in touch."

Wait... So, Fin was going to be a spy or something? Didn't he have enough to worry about? Then, remembering what Graninger said about his phone call with Quin, Fin realized this might not have anything to do with Patten at all. Sitting in the back seat but keeping his foot on the pavement, Fenton looked up at the A-2 and said, "Sure, I'll keep it in my back pocket. The person I really work for is someone who's name starts with "A", right?" he pointed at the black and white logo on his left breast. "Does this mean they own me or am I a walking billboard? Alright, in all seriousness, I do have one question: Does this - any of this - have anything to do with Stephanie March?"

Graninger gave him a neutral look as he considered the question like it wasn't even important to him, then nodded. "March will probably be there, but I have no idea if what Patten wants you for has any relation to her at all. In all likelihood, it probably doesn't. Either way, March is my concern, not yours. Whatever happens with her, you are ordered to stay out of it." And to avoid losing his foot, Fin brought his leg into the car just as the door was slammed shut. There was a muffled tapping on the roof and then the idling car was pulling away from the curb. Graninger did not stay to watch the car drive away.

***

When Gwen woke up again, she wasn't met with the familiar static, but a high, repetitive strumming. Blinking and coughing, she soon realized that this noise too was coming from the woman sitting beside her, and as Stephanie turned to regard her, Gwen recoiled defensively in her seat. Rigidly, like her neck was on a mechanical joint, the Agent turned to look at her while the internal strumming grew more frantic like the sound of screeching violins or tearing metal. It made her wince and shy away from the dark glass-eye stare of the other woman, but it was slightly more comfortable than the foggy static because it didn't weigh so heavily on her mind.

"Hello," Stephanie said, forcing the word out between lips that opened with movements from the woman's entire jaw. "Welcome back. I hope you have learned your lesson."

God... she thought this woman was scary before. She'd always seemed less than human and threateningly robotic, but this right now had the taste of a building on it's last leg and ready to collapse, taking everyone within down with it and burying them alive. Blue eyes blinked in fear but Gwen nodded a little bit to indicate that she understood. A quick check told her that thoughts were still closed off to her, and she'd already decided that there had to be better opportunities for escape on the ground, rather than right now. Gwen couldn't overpower Stephanie physically, but maybe she could outrun her?

"Good," came the unnaturally jagged response. "Let us talk of something else. There's something I've wanted to ask you. For at least a year now."

Gwen didn't want to talk to this woman, nor did she desire to be talked to. But until those other opportunities came up, she figured she needed to do what she could to keep Stephanie "happy", and hopefully stay conscious when they landed. So, she gave the Agent a look that indicated she should go on - Stephanie watched her with lifeless eyes, seemingly waiting for permission to ask her question. When she got the go ahead, Stephanie blinked and then said, "Why did you kill Andrew?"

Her brow wrinkled in confusion for a moment. "...what?" she finally asked, shifting in her seat uncomfortably.

"In your book. The Forever Sleep. During the final battle. Andrew died. You killed him. Why?" Gwen cast a wild, disbelieving look at the dark haired woman and the guy with the tongue. Was she seriously asking about her books...like a fan? As if she wasn't holding Gwen captive and planning to kill her. She wanted to say something smart back to her - for some reason, the fact that her Agent was a fan of hers was all at once insulting and at the same time felt intimately violating. Stephanie liked her books enough to read the entire series and yet she was still going to kill her.

"He was back on their side. He changed. And he was helping them. I found it unfair. That you punished him like that."

Calming herself down, Gwen collected her thoughts for an acceptable answer to the question. Stephanie was of course, talking about Andrew, one of the three main characters in her Nightshade series. The books revolved around 3 siblings, Andrew the eldest, Janic, his sister and the middle child, and then Joana, the youngest sister. They were set in a fantasy world with different regions on the brink of war. The main focus of the stories were Janic and the love triangles she entertained through the different novels - a dark and troubled general on one of the opposing armies and a kind nobleman from her own kingdom who was supposed to marry someone else. But Andrew had his own subplot where he eventually betrayed his sisters and his kingdom, seduced by the evil Queen on the opposing side--and OHMYGOD!! Why was she even thinking about this right now?!

Tucking her hair behind her ears and letting out a heavy breath, Gwen said, "I didn't punish him, alright? After everything he did, I felt it was the most powerful way to redeem himself. To make the ultimate sacrifice to end the war." She paused to tremulously lick her lips. She knew how to deal with this; sometimes fans got attached to her characters and were upset when bad things happened to them. "The decision was very hard and I didn't make it lightly, believe me. Andrew was my favorite."

Actually, the main character, Janic was, but Stephanie seemed pleased with this and said, "Mine too." Stephanie looked away to stare at the space next to the scowling Agent's seat, then, as if Gwen needed her permission or approval, "I understand. It was the right choice. I just wanted to hear. Your reasons."

Out of line of that awful stare, Gwen relaxed in her seat a little, but immediately tensed again as Stephanie looked back at her. "I wish to talk. Of something else," Gwen was holding her breath, waiting. "Tell me of your time. With Alexander."

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Wed Sep 14, 2011 1:52 am

"That's the third time you've let the guy live," Alex muttered. He was falling into a bad mood. The weight of his leg was dragging on his hip and he had to use his hands to swing his knee around to move. Xander'd already stopped walking for him. Yeah, yeah, he appreciated it, but the anticipation of what was yet to come was wearing his gratitude kind of thin."Out of everyone you've called a loose end, why's he off the list?"

The dude's a gold mine. If we find him again, I'm wringin' his neck for a full update. I've gotta know what's changed around here.

Alex paused for a moment.

"'If... we find him'?"

Settle down, Xander said, cutting through the excitement that'd started bubbling up. Don't read too much into it. I don't have a choice. My body's been on ice for years and when I'm out, I'm not gonna be at full strength. I've gotta lie low and figure out what the fuck I'm doing now that this is over. So yeah, fine, I'll stay for a month.

That was what cut his excitement in two. Alex had been puffing up in giddiness as Xander was talking. 'Excitement' was the right word - it fit everything he knew about his 'roommate' to get his body and then take off, but when the guy was seriously agreeing to hang around for that long at least, he felt safe removing the heavy weight from his throat and enjoying the thought of everything he'd get from it. Finding out a better way to fight the Agents - that was a given. When he knew how they worked, what the actual thoughts were behind ordering these people to kidnap innocents, he might be able to come up with a plan that'd let him have his paranoia and a normal life. Or something close to it, but anything'd be better than hiding in apartments. From there, he could get a full understanding of the Agency, not just a rushed explanation in a car, and the fear of knowing he'd probably keep being hunted after Xander was gone could be wiped out if Alex could convince him to... uh... alright, for lack of a better term, get rid of anyone who was planning on it. And Gwen - by far, she was the most important person in this. With Xander standing on his own, they wouldn't have to struggle for control of a body. Anything he wanted to do, he could do, and would have to if they were going to break her out of whatever cage they'd put her in. But he dropped back to reality when Xander's tone floated in.

"Why does it sound like that's not the hard part?" Besides the fight still ahead, waiting wherever Peter had put it since he hadn't put it here. "What aren't you telling me?"

Ha, ha! Check it out! No, don't change - It's the Lollipop Guild!

Crap! Don't mean Rudy. Alex looked up. Crap. Dammit... Xander meant Rudy.

I meant Shithead, the eighth dwarf. His good knee tugged forward. Giddy-up, horsey. I wanna say hi.

"Let's not do that," Alex said. He could see Rudy by the door, outlined by the streetlights pressed up against it that stopped out of fear of coming in. The tiny jerk's presence immediately freaked him out. He was glad he was standing in the open because Xander would have kicked him if he tried to hide out of habit. "What the hell is he doing here?"

Good question. Why don't we ask? And... Xander turned Alex's head down to look at his feet. How 'bout you stop inching towards the wall?

"Sorry." Alex didn't know what to make of this. Was he... Should he be going over there? She'd been determined in the car that right now - a moment she'd flawlessly predicted - was going to be the end of everything Rudy had done to her. He didn't feel he had the right to interrupt when she was handling something so important. Xander, obviously, was on a different level about it. If he felt like butting in, he'd be okay. He knew the 'rules' already, and if Osono exploded the way Alex expected, Xander either saw it coming and was getting ready to run or had already guessed how it'd happen and brushed it off, confident. "So... is it safe?"

He's breathing, isn't he? Xander was not pleased. He didn't dwell on it, though. He yanked at Alex's knee again. Go.

He didn't want to, but he did. He felt relieved doing it. ... Damn. He hadn't felt that in a while. Why was wasting time on Rudy somehow something good?

"I'm an idiot if I get sentimental, right?"

Can't make you worse.

Right.

Alex cautiously slid his leg across the floor, creeping over, trying not to catch attention, only to feel a pressure bear down on him he didn't get in the Elmira lab. Just... this transfer thing was getting too real. Dammit - why did Xander have to agree to a month? It had the opposite effect of what it should've. It didn't settle any of his nerves. A month and then... what - poof, gone? Why not? As much as these years had ruined Alex's life, they'd ruined his, too. If not, which he doubted, it meant he had one to go back to. Either way, he wasn't hearing a true reason for Xander to deal with him or Gwen beyond those four weeks he was planning. Alex could ask... but he couldn't expect an honest response. The best he might get was an 'I don't know until I know' for all the good - none - those did. Would... Gwen stay if Xander didn't? She didn't have much more of a reason. He couldn't live with it if she only hung around because she felt like she owed him when they saved her. But she was a writer. In theory, she could... possibly... Alright, stop getting distracted. Just because Xander'd said a month, something Alex had asked for in the first place, didn't mean he'd keep to it. Xander could have liked them more than he let on, no one knew what would happen in the future, and they wouldn't be alive to stress about it if he didn't go back to handling... Not that he had anything to be stressed about.

Because he didn't.

"... So what is the plan for when the month's up?"

Seriously? Now?

He knew, he knew, he already knew. He'd be quiet. He'd stop.

"But off the top of your head?"

Alex.

"Okay! I... okay."

He kept this up and Xander wouldn't stay a week.

You're such a girl.

But if Xander did that, Alex wouldn't want him to stay. And Xander's answer was an in-head snort. Well... that was ambiguous. Was he snorting because he thought Alex was talking out his ass or because he was fine with leaving straight away? He wasn't staying because he had to, was he? Beyond the 'full strength' stuff, was he only agreeing to shut Alex up or... And there was another snort. That was even more ambiguous! ... Or... wait. Did Alex only think it was ambiguous because he -

There're two ways out of here, Xander said. One of them's on the second floor and Batboy's holding the other.

There was a glow coming from Rudy's arm. It wasn't fire.

"What is that?"

Same as before. Oh, the light glove. Xander was bored by it, but he picked up in time to explain, I'm pointing it out 'cause I'm gonna use it to kill you if you don't relax for ten seconds. I'll stay if I stay, I'll go if I go, now kindly shut up and keep walking, 'cause holy shit, please shut up.

... That... helped... Until he got it in his head that Rudy had a gun pointed at Osono.

"Xander?"

She's got it.

Got what? Alex wasn't exactly beside her, but he was near enough to see her response to Rudy's threat was to turn her back on the Agent - and he was an Agent, so that should've been all the excuse she needed, old memories aside - I wouldn't call it an aside.

"You heard what I heard, right? You were there - you were listening? When she explained it?" Because she'd been pissed to a point that'd made him think she'd dance to get her revenge. Or was this another 'rule'?

"It's not his leg, it's his foot," Xander called back. "Keep the offer open for when he goes downstairs without me."

"She has a gun," Alex hissed, "pointed at her face!"

Xander thought it was funny.

Endurance, efficiency and obsession, he said, peppy while spelling it out. That's what pays the Agency's bills. It's practically fatal for how exploitable it is. Like now. He hasn't shot her yet? He won't. "When do I get a nickname?"

"When you give us your real one," Alex snapped.

But I did that already, he whined.

"Shut up, Xander."

But why would I lie about it?

Why would he lie about half the things he lied about? Alex wanted that gun gone, right now, and since Osono was fine with it ignoring it, he would have to make it happen.

So... uh... Get on that.

Figures.

The humour in his words dried out when they saw Rudy watching them darkly. It wasn't direct and it wasn't constant; he was flicking his eyes back and forth between Alex and Osono like he was trying to make some choice. Alex felt the challenge long before he saw the glint in Rudy's eye. What was he thinking in that small head? This choice was the wrong the one. He'd said he had a trick for staring contests. Xander was willing to demonstrate, and adding to the list of things he'd always be unfairly better at no matter how long he stayed to dish out training and practise, Xander was six steps ahead of the lesson Rudy apparently hadn't learned: every weapon they'd had aimed at them over the years had been some psychotic wave of energy that consumed a full building, hallucinative gas pumped through a room that locked behind them, electrified net that covered a whole field - in other words, stuff Xander couldn't dodge, dangerous but guessable traps Alex had half a mind to accuse the guy of running into on purpose just to prove he'd get out of them and send the Frenchman back to the drawing board.

The Agent almost hadn't needed to with whatever sealed Alex inside his own mind. He vaguely let a thought wrap around it. Xander hadn't been worried, and even if Alex had instinctively guessed it was from the ex-Agent finally getting what he wanted, it'd been enough to calm him down. It wouldn't have worked forever. It'd only been for a day, but if they hadn't gone to Elmira, how long would Alex have been in there? And then getting out - seriously, could someone explain to him what happened? Because everyone was describing something Alex was pretty sure he didn't know how to do. And yet it'd caught Peter's interest. How had he heard about it?

He was down to five steps ahead now. Plenty of time. The difference between the Frenchman's traps and Rudy's attack was that: a trap. No way out, a hundred ways in, and every single time Alex's life flashed before his eyes. But this? The thing could've shot bees and still not made a dent in his concern. Alex felt Xander actually sink in disappointment when the gun got turned on him. The movement in Rudy's shoulder stood out like a sign had been painted on and Xander had taken over enough to move Alex's shoulder out of the way, convinced - and right about it - that was all he had to do to dodge the shot.

The trigger was pulled without a second's pause. If Alex hadn't moved, he would have died. Instead, the blazing spurt of light utterly, valiantly missed - he heard Xander gave Rudy credit for being batshit insane on two separate occasions - and, "Who the hell is that?"

Xander backed up. He missed the body landing on his shoe as it collapsed into a dead pile of limbs.

What the fuck...?

Those were not words he was allowed to say.

"Rudy -" Holy shit. Alex's mouth had dropped open. "Rudy... who is that? What did you do?"

He shot someone. Xander was serious, and he was locked onto the crumpled heap that'd fallen from thin air. That's the short answer, anyway.

If Alex wasn't so freaked by the fact that the shot that'd been meant to bore a hole through his face that Xander helpfully avoided on his behalf had instead hit the empty space he'd previously been standing in that hadn't actually been empty because an invisible Agent was there and taken the shot by accident, he might have said something about Xander's remarkable insight and reading of the present situation. But he was right, and the gun worked. As quickly as it'd found its mark, it'd wiped it out. And it didn't just break the effect. It shattered it. The reveal was explosive. No 'appearing', just a crackling sound of something shorting out and an electrical outline that fizzled into nothing by the time the man - it was a man - hit the ground with a dull, wet thud.

Whether it was what had been said before the girl Agent's interrogation or the sheer... violence of what just happened, Alex's throat went dry.

Two birds with one stone.

"I think you hit your 500."

Nothing. Alex quickly backed up. If Xander wasn't gloating yet, then something was still off and he wasn't standing by that thing unti it was figured out. The problem was the corpse had ended up between him and Osono. She had the stairs on her side. The body had its head pointed at Rudy. It was covered by a helmet, black along with the rest of the suit, but it wasn't any less creepy. Alex could still feel eyes on him.

Agents were the worst.

"You." Forget the body. Xander was talking to Rudy. "You don't fucking move." His eyes weren't much kinder when they turned back to Osono. "I know it's a little much to ask, but if you'd be oh-so-gracious, maybe watch him for a sec?"

Alex's senses were fired up again, focused, but not overwhelming. Out of fear of skin grafts, he tried to give Osono a wry smile, a weak smile - anything to kind of tell her not to take what Xander'd said the wrong way. Xander didn't let him. He'd stepped back to the body and crouched over it, grabbing the side of the helmet and turning it over. And over. And over. It was harder when the gear was still attached, but he didn't have an interest in taking it off.

"What are you doing?"

Getting answers.

Good thinking. Good idea.

The helmet had a hole melted in one side. The hard plastic had been eaten away and opened up a face fried from either the gunshot or the fizzling. Was he inspecting it?

No.

"Then what are you looking for?"

"Something." He flipped the body over. It didn't turn at the waist, so the corpse's legs were still on their side. You feel anything?

"You have my hands."

You see anything?

"You'd know before me."

At that, Xander gave up. He let the body flop back on its face and from where he was crouched, swept his gaze harshly over the lobby again. He was scanning it. Alex started to brace himself, but before the paranoia could set in, he was stood up and walked over to the stairs, callously stepping over the corpse like he never gave a shit to begin with and likelooking it over'd been a way to kill time. Xander did not give back control.

"I'm getting my body," he told Osono, moving past her until he reached the fourth step. "Coming or staying?"

It wasn't a threat. He actually was asking. The shortness in his breath was from a reluctance to talk at all, but otherwise his voice was level. Rudy wasn't an issue anymore and Xander wasn't rending the shrimp into forty pieces. He was letting it go. ... Why?

"You okay?"

Fine. "Whatever you're gonna do, do it fast and catch up. See you up there."

Then he climbed the rest of the stairs. He still hadn't given back control.

"Why aren't you waiting for her? Rudy's with her," Alex said, the minute his feet settled on the upper walkway.

She's fine.

"She'll get lost!" In more ways than one. What if she got recruited? "She isn't Gwen. We can't send a message to her."

It's fine.

'Fine, fine, fine.' Xander's favourite word, after 'fuck', 'kill', 'Starbucks' and 'shut up, Alex'. Gwen had seen through it and Osono had rolled her eyes. They knew what 'fine' meant: the exact opposite but with a full refusal to share. And now the paranoia was here.

"What was wrong with that body? You didn't brag about it. I thought you liked crossfire."

Body's fine. He ignored the part about the crossfire. 'Cept for the dead thing, but I don't think that counts.

"Why are you holding the rail so tightly?" Xander let go of it. Alex hadn't seen that reaction before. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Yeah. Why?

Six years. For six years, Alex had lived with him. They'd talked, they'd fought, they'd backed out of a few fights - and Xander threw a fit for a week afterwards - but he hadn't heard an answer like that from him. There was an emptiness to it. The guy didn't act the way other people did, so there went any natural assumptions about what it was. Alex would have to guess, because he wasn't going any farther in unless he knew they weren't falling into certain death.

"You seem..." He had never thought to use this word before. Alex swallowed thickly. "... like you're nervous."

Do I.

There was a hallway at the end of the bordering floor they were walking along. Xander went straight through it and was doused by the slow, spinning, red lights at the corners of the walls. Back-up power - more of it. Any chance it was a trail?

"Are you?"

No.

Of course not. Stupid Alex.

"Don't go so far. Xander? I don't want to lose her -"

We're on a time crunch here.

That. That was exactly what Alex meant. The first two words of that sentence had been sharp and annoyed and Xander-in-a-nutshell, but then it tapered into the same, falsely mellow tone he'd used on Osono downstairs.

'Getting answers'...?

"Xander..." He had used this word once before, but he'd been joking about it, busy tossing around how good it felt to know the guy was overreacting to something he turned out to be perfectly okay with twenty minutes later. A solid lump of nerves slid down his neck and landed in his stomach, weighing it down and leaving him numb. Xander ignoring it made it worse. In a cruel twist of fate, Alex was quickly clued in to how much he needed his assholish reassurance. So say 'relax'. Say 'shut up'. Say something so he knew -

Would you fucking shut up?

That helped for two seconds, but faded as soon as they fell back into his empty lull.

"You're not okay."

Stop worrying about it. He couldn't. Xander knew better than to ask. Sure enough, Alex saw his eyes roll before he heard an aggravated sigh and demanding order to Just calm down.

He did, as far as Xander knew. His heart wasn't beating any faster than Xander already had it going. His hands were clenched, too. The silence deepened, even though the rush of adrenaline was grinding againt his ears. It wasn't anything to be concerned about per se; hell, Alex almost always never believed him when Xander said he could handle things and 'don't freak out, I know what I'm doing'. This was one of the few times, though, that it hadn't been followed up with a punch to knock sense into him, and it was the first Xander wasn't paying enough attention to notice he probably should.

Distracted.

Quiet.

Withdrawn.

Restrained.

Xander was scared.

And Alex didn't know what to say.

* * *

Ugh...

Lights go on. Lights go off. Lights go on. Lights go off. Lights go on. Lights go off. Lights go back on - straight up, this was the most boring thing she'd ever had to do. Bad enough she got stuck with the Vikings, but they put her in the one spot away from the other one spot that would've actually made this grunt work worth it. No, Buzzy, stay here and flip the light switch. You're the technical one! No one else was gonna figure out how to flip it off then short it out. That was something special only she could do, even though it didn't damn matter 'cause Cryptic said Eric would've planned to fight in the dark. Danielle was so stupid... and her brother was ten times worse! Ugh - she had to get out of this place! How many stupid generators did this building even have?

So she wasn't a fighter. She wasn't getting called off the front line to finish up a dumb chore, but she actually was the technical girl. She figured when the Vikings asked for her - or when Cryptic sent her over - it'd be for something... oh, maybe, possibly for something potentially actually technical? Her talents were being squandered here! And Marshall was so far away...

Wow. Thinking his name made her melt. She stopped playing with the dumb fusebox and ran it through her mind. Marshall. Marshall. Was it too much to ask to have a minute alone with him? She just wanted to see his cell... She'd earned it! She knew she had! She'd been the one tracking it, so why couldn't she? But nope - that wasn't happening. Marshall was never supposed to be here. Eric just changed his mind about where he wanted things. Okay, she knew what Cryptic would say: 'Eric doesn't change his mind. He simply reveals his plans'. But it was Danielle who was putting her foot down. If her dumb powers would stop making her crazy - what'd she have anyway, Power Periods? - long enough to listen, Buzzy could've explained how fishy this was. Wasn't it fishy to anyone else? Moving Marshall - she rubbed the little tattoo on her ankle - was one thing and she appreciated it a lot, but to move his brothers, too? Trevor, okay, she saw something stirring there that made a little sense. He was alive, in that 'I'm not dead but I'm technically dead even though I'm not dead' way - like... half the people in stasis cells were. But Dylan? He was... dead-dead. As in 'dead'. As in 'why even keep his body 'cause they were only supposed to do that until the transfer failed or worked and boy had Dylan's failed'. She didn't know. It seemed weird, especially since quasi-alive Trevor was going to Elmira but not-even-a-little-alive Dylan was going to a farther away, undisclosed, super high security place that - see? She could've traced that if she'd been asked, but Danielle wouldn't budge because it wasn't what they'd prepared for and she could call Eric stupid but at least he kept moving.

She'd called Cryptic. Unlike the Vikings who refused to talk to anyone, the Russians were a family and never turned each other away. She'd mentioned the new cells thing. Cryptic said to keep her mind on the job and not to tempt Eric to go further, but also to enjoy her bonus guest for as long as she could. He'd been impressed but not surprised to hear Eric had something else in motion. He wondered what he was up to, too. It could've had to do with the branches or absolutely nothing at all, but Eric wouldn't be stopped no matter who he was plotting against. Buzzy frowned. So, why were they helping the Vikings again? And was it too late to get a wall around Russia? China had one. Germany had one until they'd chickened out. Man - she didn't trust Bergmann. What did she take off for? Was she double-crossing them? That bitch. Oh, and Buzzy knew about her, by the way. Wouldn't Danielle be pleased to know her partner-in-crime had taken a liking to the man who made sure they couldn't reach the bathroom without dodging a knife through their neck? Hello? The Moroccans? Danielle was dumb. Bergmann was hopeless. Cryptic had the patience of a saint for putting up with them. And she, the sweet girl caught in the middle of this, was a tortured heart pulled from her lover and she wanted to see him right now!

"Hello?"

"Hi, Buzzy."

"Oh. You." Scissor. "You here yet?"

"Heading out now. Did you warm up a seat for me?"

Ugh.

"I don't think Eric's looking to kill any of us," Buzzy said, smartly quoting Cryptic's predictions, "but if he does off someone, I hope it's you, 'cause you are getting so annoying."

"I think Dalton said the same thing."

Dammit! She hated when she agreed with those cavemen!

"What do you want? I'm working." By the way, lights went off. "Everyone's going swell here. You don't have to keep checking up on me."

"Where are you?"

"Doesn't matter. You're not supposed to be anywhere near me."

Sometimes, Buzzy was sad that she looked like she was fifteen. She wasn't helping by keeping her perky blonde hair in pigtails laced with white ribbons, but she'd thought the black tights took the dollish-ness out of the pink shirt and yellow slippers. So she wasn't gonna win any fashion shows - sue her! It looked cute and boys liked it but Scissor liked it too much. What a creep.

... Would Marshall like it?

She wasn't blind. She knew what his predicament was and her heart went out to him. To be locked in a coma for two years, then trapped in a half-transfer for another six - oh, Marshall, you poor thing! It meant her odds were slim and she understood that. But she'd been fixed on seeing him again ever since he killed her cousins, which admittedly wasn't the most romantic way to meet a guy but - wow. Just wow. The way his shoulders rippled with strength a he'd pinned them by their necks... The way his eyes sparkled in the sunlight of that warehouse - green, she remembered completely, and when she'd been hiding in the corner as her cousins failed to fend him off - stupid for trying - she remembered those big eyes had been all she'd looked at. Until one of them ripped his shirt. Then it was, 'Ooh! Marshall! You do work out!' She'd been - like, twelve, but her heart had known. Didn't that say everything? And it wasn't something as shallow as the others thought it was. She'd shared his soul. She knew she did, because she'd seen his brothers, too. The ones that worked on the public side - ugh! Tiny and weak and... bleh. But the Agent Eliases - ohhhhh goodness. She'd felt like Goldilocks. They were all fantastic but Trevor was too big - and too psycho - and Dylan was too boring - he'd stopped being a Pain Eater to join a higher rank - but that sparkle in Marshall let him hit all the right marks. She was curling her toes just thinking about him! Maybe it was a good thing she wasn't seeing him now 'cause she'd be a puddle in the middle of the room, and he was in one of the older tanks and those ones weren't known for modesty -

"Buzzy, I hear you drooling."

"That's because I'm thinking about someone worth drooling over. Do you have a point for calling me?"

"Just wanted to know where you were. I've been thinking about another celebration when we're done here."

"Oh my God, you're making me vomit." Marshall would never be this clingy, but ride Scissor once and suddenly... "Whatever - if you don't have a point, I have one." Cryptic had given her a message to relay. "Bergmann said something about... like... Agents or whatever. Agents hiding? Hidden Agents? I don't know - she's German. Something about Agents."

"We're all set for those, Bumblebee." Did everyone get it? 'Cause bees went buzz. "We know Patten's tricks."

She seriously doubted that.

"Can I go back to drooling?" Lights went on, lights went off. This was boring, enough to make her want to talk to this loser. "You're bothering me."

"Elias is never gonna like you," Scissor sneered. Great, she was picturing his face. Him and stupid chin cleft - nothing good ever came from gingers. And their freckles. Marshall didn't have any of those. He had these really cool war wounds and this one crazy scar across his chest - damn, he was - like... a warrior. "You heard the other reports, right?"

"What reports?"

Bullshit. She knew everything about her man.

"Breton's final words," Scissor kept going, oozing through his headpiece into hers. "Alex and some chick named Gwen joined forces. Breton was complaining about the guy on the other Agent team. You know what that means?"

"He found a little skank on the side?" Everyone wanted her pooky pie, even when he wasn't in his own body. And they'd tried to make him cut his hair! It'd spoil his majesty! But maybe he'd shave a little, just for her. ... Wait, what was she saying? She liked it rough. "Am I supposed to be threatened?"

"They were in a hotel together." Nice try. "She was with him in Elmira." She loved his hair! It was this perfect mix between chocolate brown and oak. ... Yes, they were different colours. She was talking about the reflection in the light - chocolate in the dark, oak in the sun. Don't doubt her. She'd analyzed this. "Buzzy!"

"What?!"

"She's helping him get his body back!"

"So?!" What was her problem with that supposed to be? "Best of luck!" She couldn't wait for him to transfer. If only she was staying long enough to actually see it happen...

"Don't you think that's something he'd want to repay?"

"Marshall doesn't repay debts because he doesn't owe anyone, stupid." More switches lit up. Another generator. She fiddled with a few more switches and - whoomf. Those lights went off. Just two more rounds of this and those spinning red lights Bergmann'd put everywhere would be down for the count. ... Unless she had another generator. Damn her. "I think we should take him instead of Charlotte. Cryptic says Eric set her up as a trap."

"Cryptic thinks the fucking moon is part of Eric's scheme. Buzzy, I'm not trying to break up your weird, obsessive crush -" The hell he wasn't! "I'm just saying you might want to consider other options since your lust lamp's got a new blip on his radar."

"Yeah? Well, that's weird. 'Cause I'm looking through my files right now." Yes, she knew about Gwen. She'd made a sidenote of it on her laptop. She rolled her eyes at it. "Says she's taken already. Problem solved!"

"You don't think he'll want her back?"

"Maybe." Fat chance. "At least until he sees his 'other options'." Meaning her. Meaning Buzzy. "So he wants to save her. He's still gotta make it through recovery. You think he's just going to bounce up on his feet? By that time, Gwen's gonna be long gone." It was funny, 'cause it was true. That was part of the plan, to take out Gwen and her Agent. Her laptop had helpfully reminded her. ... Hey. Yeah. This was a shared report. Scissor knew that already. "You're sending up a lot of flags for something we've already accounted for. 'We're all set for those,' doofus."

"Uh... yeah." Oh - like that wasn't so giving it away! "Well, it's just because -"

"What are you Vikings doing to him?"

Don't try to lie. Buzzy could smell lies.

"We're not doing anything. He can sit in his dumb cell and rot."

"It's not dumb."

"Buzzy, I just think you and I should hook up again. It doesn't even have to be a full thing. Just quickly - just before we get started on this. The building's practically empty - there's Bergmann's guards, but we outnumber them - so how about you and I find a private room -"

"Why're you acting like this is your last chance? I'll probably have to hook up with you," she said, grabbing the waterbottle out of her backpack. She'd made a nice nest for herself here. She had a cushion she'd been sitting on in front of this ridiculous panel - lights on, lights off! "I'll be so depressed when Marshall's... gone..." Scissor had shut up, like that was somehow supposed to stop her from figuring it out. Those damn Vikings! "Marshall's not going?"

"No - he is -"

"Don't you bullshit me with your stupid 'technicalities', Scissor!" She was getting to her feet because she couldn't hate this guy sitting! "You tell me what's happening right now or I swear you will never see me in anything less than a parka again!"

"Aaaaarghh!" That was a cry of victory for her side. The Russians had won again. Stupid Vikings. "Okay! Okay, fine! But we're still having break-up sex!"

"If you don't spit it out, you'll be lucky to get -"

"Danielle wants to capture Marshall and drag him back to base," he blurted. "She says with Breton gone, there's no way to track his movements and use them to our benefit, so we might as well haul him off and keep him in a cage until we find a new solution."

... Oh... my...

"She's bring Marshall with us?!" This was the happiest day of her life! "Before or after the transfer?!" After, after, after!

"Before." Shit. Good enough! "But I know you're not gonna look at me if he's around so... you know... One for the road?"

"Scissor, you disgust me. But you've made my day more bearable, and as such, I will let you touch my breasts."

"And -"

"Don't push it."

She stopped the call, then squealed delightedly as she went over the news again her head! Marshall! Marshall, Marshall! Danielle was keeping him? She almost took back everything she said about that branch! She didn't, obviously, because Danielle and her brother were so horrible, but she almost did and that counted for something! Hooray for Vikings! And maybe he'd be in Alexander's body, but if they could seduce him over to their side - he hated Eric, he should be good to hear their deal - there was no reason they couldn't stage another attack and get his real body out! Ahhhhhh, Marshall! She'd ravish him! She'd make his cage the most comfortable he'd ever known! He wouldn't want to leave by the time she was done with it! Ooooh - she had to get ready! What would she do? What would she say? Fantasyland was thinking he'd remember her, but with patience, she was sure he'd feel a vague sense of familiarity, and then she was in! She'd have him!

Lights on, lights off, whatever! This was way more important! Alright, screw this. Enough lights were off! She was sitting by that cell and waiting for her man!

* * *

Jason was aware the crisis was not averted. Alexander had taken his information and left, but while it meant he'd allowed Jason to get away, he was still an active target running loose in an Agency building. The hundred problems based on what he'd seen were piling in his mind. Benoit was drunk, Eric had his own agenda, Agent Bergmann was gone, plus the lights kept cutting out. It wasn't possible for Eric to have ordered that or even Madeline from wherever she was. Something was wrong with the system. His goggles were registered to his rank by default and it was enough to tell him the power was supposed to be running. It'd been a sharp pain to the left side of his mind, but it'd been worth the ache in his chest from digging through his broken suit to confirm his suspicions: the building was being sabotaged. The attack the A-1 was expecting hadn't been a bluff. It explained the need to put his lead's transfer elsewhere, but unfortunately not much else. If Eric had rightly forseen this, there should have been more precautions taken. This wasn't one failed transfer and his psychic, criminal friend anymore. It was an armed force set to destroy them, and as far as he could tell, Eric - as the only one who'd had a hunch - was letting it happen. Jason knew he and Madeline didn't get along, but he couldn't honestly believe this was happening out of spite. Eric had a purpose behind this. He could feel it. He'd been feeling it. Security here was low but effective based on the building's minimal-risk location and precious storage, but there'd been a nagging sense around him that Eric wsan't counting on it to win this. So... Jason chose to be satisfied. The man was an A-1. There was no one better to handle this mess. And Jason had his own problems, like transportation. He still needed a car.

He'd taken the stairs, however reluctantly. There'd been more than he'd thought there'd be. By the time he'd reached the halfway mark, he was wondering if there was a car for him at all. Eric said there'd be, but - another nagging feeling - Jason was sure it wasn't so simple. He didn't doubt him - he just.... He thought it in his best interest not to take Eric at his word anymore. No - better - he thought it best to take Eric precisely at his word. He'd asked for a car? He'd get one. It was Jason's fault for not asking for more details, but that let him fill in the blanks alone.

Ha. This wasn't so bad. Now that he knew the rules, how hard would it be to play? Jason was proud of himself for understanding this much by himself.

... Although there was something to be said about experience.

Jason stopped on the steps and rested as he worked something over in his mind. Benoit. What he'd said. What he'd been about to say. 'I thought he got it by you.' 'He' meant Eric, and Jason won nothing for figuring that out, but the rest of it...

Eric Patten was so obviously dangerous that he didn't actually seem dangerous. He was a wolf dressed in sheep's clothing, but he was wearing it to hunt ducks. Jason couldn't picture the man ever holding a gun or wielding a hammer, and stringing Rudy up had been done with such... such joy that it felt like Eric had been playing. The fact that Rudy'd probably done something to ask for it didn't hurt, either. Truth be told, if Benoit wasn't in the picture and bent on biting at the man after his every word, Jason might not have suspected anything. His lead had been charmed right away, so there was a chance she wouldn't have noticed. Madeline's hate was obvious in the other way: so exaggerated, it came off strongly misplaced. But... Benoit. Jean's death was a separate situation and Jason saw how Frenchie was handling that. It was a wonder he hadn't passed out by now. But the possession itself... Benoit hadn't said a word. He'd taken his shots at Eric's powers as a whole but had been unnaturally closed on the matter of specifically controlling Jean. It did hit him as odd. It wasn't as though Benoit didn't care about it. He'd given his protest and he'd made his disgust known. Everything was in place for him to remark on it even off-handedly and he hadn't. He'd simply... backed off. 'Backed off' as in he was trying not to get involved.

Did it feel to anyone that Frenchie knew they were sitting on tracks, and he was the only one to see the train bearing down on them and step off? Jason's head was running again. Had that been the only time it'd happened? As far as he knew, but it was all the evidence he needed. There was something going on - like that was news - and Benoit not only had it figured out, but had casually been giving Jason a warning.

Then the video played.

Then Benoit stopped warning him.

No problem. Eric was so blindingly helpful that Jason knew he'd've been told if he was being walked to his grave. He was needed to rescue Stephanie. Benoit, however, had brought up a new line of inquiry. Who said it was all he'd be in Elmira to do? His lead was incredibly important, as much to Jason as to Eric's plan, but when he'd fulfilled his mission and his lead began her transfer, his hands would be idle and he could feel a list of chores rising around his feet. This was technically a favour on Eric's part and he spoke like someone who could easily collect. That had to be where the danger was. That had to be worth the warning. For Benoit to bring it up the way he had - before he'd contented himself to blame Jason for his friend's death and then left him to twist in the wind - meant it was something to be puzzled out. The plane ride would be helpful after all. He could think. But then again, without any further insight, he could wind up overwhelming himself and walk into whatever he should have been guarding against.

Dammit, Frenchie. He didn't fucking kill Jean. The idiot brought it on himself. Why did Jason have to pay for his mistake?

He'd gone back to walking. He'd reached the bottom. The parking lot was almost empty, which made sense considering how late it was. Almost empty. Something told him, out of everything left, Jason could have his pick.

He found one.


Last edited by Tartra on Wed Dec 28, 2011 11:03 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Fri Sep 16, 2011 11:39 pm

At first she'd been a bit relieved to get off the subject of her novels - it was just too ridiculous to sit here talking to Stephanie about something so normal - but now that the Agent wanted to actually talk about the last couple of days of pure Hell, Gwen kind of wished they were still gushing over her books. "What do you want to know?" she asked after a moment.

"Everything. Every small detail. Start from the beginning." For most of the conversation the noise that was coming from inside of Stephanie's head was reduced to a repetitive strumming with occasional high points of squeaking sound. But now as she stared at Gwen with those dark eyes - they weren't normally that color, were they? She could have sworn they'd been green before - the internal noise screeched jarringly, causing Gwen to wince. She wasn't like this earlier... what happened? "I found your pizza. He gave it to you?"

Gwen hesitated. "Yes, he brought it over as a peace offering. You were in my apartment?" Okay, NOW she felt violated. This was almost as bad as when Tagman stalked her.

"During investigation. You ran off, I had to find you. Why a peace offering?"

Gwen had the defensive urge to tell the woman to fuck off - she was INSIDE my house and searching through my things! - but for the sake of keeping calm and rational, she didn't. If she didn't answer Stephanie's questions, would she knock her unconscious again? Gwen couldn't afford to let that happen, the closer they got to their destination. "He was being noisy and I went over to yell at him. Xander brought the pizza over afterward to say he was sorry." Remembering that moment it felt like weeks ago, especially when she remembered how she felt to see Alex suddenly turn charming and smooth-talking his way into a date with her.

Stephanie didn't pause before jumping into her next question and there was nothing on her face to even indicate the previous answers meant anything to her. "Why did you leave? You went with him; why?"

Didn't Stephanie ever hear of chemistry? "I don't know. There was something strange about him and I wanted to find out what it was. Besides, he's good-looking and seemed really nervous and shy... I figured I'd be leading most of the time and he didn't seem like the type to try and pressure me into anything." Gwen stopped and cast a glance at the guy sitting across from her. "It's been a while since I've been with anyone... I thought he seemed safe and I was in control of the situation. I just wanted a little inspiration for my next book..."

"Did you find out, why he was strange?"

"Yes."

"You knew, there was an Agent, in his head?"

She stopped for a moment. Why did it feel like Stephanie was disappointed in her or as if she were admitting to doing something wrong? "Yes."

"You stayed with him, and ran away with him. Even after I attacked you, and you knew, people were after you. You stayed. Why?"

Stephanie WAS disappointed in her! She could hear it clearly in her voice through the robotic, clipped tone. Was she trying to make Gwen feel bad about escaping her? Well, it wasn't going to work. Gwen admitted she hadn't made the best choices in the past few days, but she'd be damned if she let this woman think she could reprimand Gwen for anything. "While I was on my date with him, I started hearing voices from the people around me, the stuff that they weren't saying aloud. And he said something weird about superpowers. I thought he knew what was happening to me. I thought he could help me."

"Did he?"

A glare formed on Gwen's face and she shot back, "Yes! He protected me! He saved me from you--"

"But not from Rudolph Quin, the world's worst Agent. And the shortest. Alexander was just...helpless? Did he even try, Gwen?"

"We were all caught off guard at that restaurant. He was wounded and he was protecting me from the Agents that were shooting at us. It's not like he intended to let Rudy capture me." First it was Gwen's fault that she ran away with the guy and now it was Xander's fault for not being everywhere at once? This woman was trying every guilt trip she could get her hands on. And too bad because it made her all the more unbelievable.

"Of course not," there was something almost soothing in Stephanie's tone, but it was practically torn apart by the way her mouth moved like the top of a chest opening and closing. "I'm only trying to understand, why. He gave you every reason, not to trust him. Didn't you learn anything? Or have you forgotten Tagman?"

There was something almost smug and haughty in her voice now, but Gwen refused to be talked down. Her faith in Xander hadn't been misplaced. Compared to what she had at the time, he was the best advantage she could have asked for. He'd admitted himself, a couple of times, that she shouldn't trust him. But she could, she knew she could depend on him. He tried to hide it but he cared. She reached out for him then but frowned when she hit the wall of high-pitched screeching inside the Agent's head. "What am I supposed to do? Stay hung up on that psycho forever and not ever let anyone in? You don't know anything about me."

"Silly Gwendolyn. I know everything about you. Where you like to shop. What scares you. What comforts you. I know your schedule. Your habits. Your interests. I even know, the exact nuances, of your menstrual cycle." Did she say she felt violated and creeped out before? Forget that wimpy shit; NOW she felt vulnerable and scared. And it wasn't just the stuff Stephanie listed off, but the death lingering in the woman's voice. She wasn't just talking about an idle hobby or her "job". Every ounce of Stephanie's obsession came through her voice, stripping Gwen bare and drenching her in what Gwen could only articulate as a feverish hunger.

"I was assigned, to your case, 4 years ago, but I researched your history. I know that your mother, got pregnant with you by her boss, while working as his secretary. Rather than fulfill, his fatherly duties and leave his wife, he paid your mother off, to keep her happy and quiet. And spent most of his time, with his real family, doting on and loving them, leaving you, fatherless."

Gwen's whole body tensed in her seat, but rather than feeling scared she just became angrier and angrier the more Stephanie went on. "For your information I was very happy while growing up and both of my parents loved me! He might not have always been around but my father didn't abandon us. He showed up for every one of my birthdays and spent time with me...at least once a month. That's better than most kids can say when born in such a situation! Quit trying to act like I was some waif, abused and left starved for love, because none of that shit ever happened."

Gwen folded her arms and frowned. She wasn't getting defensive. Sure, there had been hard times, living with her mother in a crummy apartment and going to crappy schools, surviving off food stamps and cable that they stole from their neighbors. But not once had she ever been under the delusion that she had it worse than some of the other kids in her neighborhood who wore the same exact clothes from elementary school and all through middle school and who had one or both parents in jail. And her dad... why did any of this shit matter, anyway? She was an adult now and all of that was behind her.

But Stephanie wasn't done. "I know that, those visits meant, the world to you. He'd show up, out of the blue, at least once a month, and he'd take you, to the park or the zoo. Those sunny afternoons, you truly were happy. He probably missed a month or two, here and there. But he was busy, doing important work, and that's why he, couldn't see you. Certainly not because, he was taking his real family, camping or grilling, on the weekends. Certainly not because he, was boning his new mistress. After all, you knew the truth, didn't you? Whatever kept him away, it had to be important, because there was nothing, he'd rather do than spend time, with you. Right?"

Gwen didn't know why, but she wanted to cry. None of this mattered. She was trapped and on her way to being killed by this woman and none of these things she was saying mattered any more. "Please... stop," she croaked, tears filling her deep blue eyes and her nose reddening from the effort of holding them back.

"Did you dream, of him coming to rescue you, some day? Just take you away, from the tiny apartment, that you and your mother lived in, off to wherever he went, while he was away. Did you know, about his daughters? I know that, you imagined him with them. Reading them stories, in bed at night, getting to curl up in his lap. Comforted and protected, by his strength, when he checked for monsters, under the bed. And you, going to bed alone, because your mother worked late. I know that, you looked for him, in the crowd of parents, while reading your winning entry, to the National Scholastic Pre-teen Writing contest. And I know that, you dream of him, walking you down, the aisle, when you finally find the one."

"Please, I really don't want to talk anymore..." her voice sounded so quiet compared to Stephanie's and she was openly crying now.

"You want to know, how I know, these things? Because it's all over, your fucking books. As if you thought, no one would notice, you recreating your childhood fantasies, through Janic. You couldn't be, more transparent, even if you hadn't made, both love interests, twice her age. Even Andrew mirrored aspects, of your father, seduced and corrupted, by the Evil Queen - because your mother, was to blame, for chasing him away. You didn't kill Andrew, to honor him. Your father died, last year, and you tried to glorify, his passing - this man whom, you barely knew - by building the legend, that he finally broke free, from her wicked grasp, and saved, the kingdom."

"It was just a story, Stephanie!" she burst out defensively, wiping her nose and trying to stop crying. "It was completely fictional! You're trying too hard to stretch it to fit my life!"

"I'm not wrong," was the placid response. "And I know, that's why you stayed, with Alexander. Despite what you knew, and the danger he was, you followed him. He was daddy, finally coming to rescue you, from your boring, crappy life."

"I stayed with him because I subconsciously thought he was my dad? Really?" some of the power returned to Gwen's voice as she sniffled hard and sneered at the other woman. "Neither Alex nor Xander is anything like my father, so you're really reaching with that. And he's not dangerous, okay? Xander knows what he's doing. You people just weren't a threat to him."

"Gwen, he led me to you." She stopped and thought about that for a moment and started to shake her head, but Stephanie continued talking. "Not only does he have, very obvious symptoms, relating to his powers, and attacks, but the man in charge, of his case, had a way, to specifically track him. And we wouldn't have, teamed up, if you hadn't followed him. You wouldn't be, completely untraceable, but you might have, had a better chance."

Gwen folded her arms tightly under her chest again and shook her head. She wasn't crying anymore and she knew what Stephanie was trying to do, but it did bring up doubts in her mind. "You make it sound like it's his fault, though. How were any of us supposed to know about that?"

"Xander, was it? - He's an Agent. You think, he didn't know?" Gwen was about to fire back how stupid that was - why would he let them track him like that if he knew about it? It wasn't just bad for her, but bad for him as well - but was talked over, the robotic voice cutting through what she tried to say. "So, let's recap. It's his fault, that you met. It's his fault, that we were able, to follow you to Vestal. It's his fault, that I almost had you, in Elmira - his Agent knew he was going, to that base and why. It's his fault, that Rudy got his hands, on you. Where is the part, when he was, protecting you? It sounds more like, he's been protecting, himself. Afterall you're here, and he's still out there."

None of that was true and she knew it. Gwen wanted to bring up all of the things that Xander did to help her, but in light of everything that went wrong - especially all the things that Stephanie didn't know to blame him for - it didn't seem worth it to argue. He'd been such a big freaking baby when they left that coffee shop, as if she owed him some sort of loyalty and just MINUTES after he finished telling her and Alex that they couldn't trust him. And yet when it mattered most, he'd left her wide open and vulnerable with that creep Rudy Quin. At the time, she'd been scared that he would still be mad at her and not chase after her, and since then had decided that it wasn't his fault. Now though... she wouldn't put it past him to just get rid of her. Afterall, she promised the exact same thing when she told him off.

Biting one of her fingernails, she looked out the window for a moment and turned back as Stephanie said, "But I wouldn't bet, on him staying free, for much longer."

What did that mean? Was something going to happen to them? Xander's body was in Charlton and they were probably still going for the retransfer. Did Stephanie mean that the Agency already knew and were setting a trap for them? There was a moment of concern for Alex, but Gwen didn't even try to reach out to either of them.

***
Another airplane. Fin was thrilled. At least he didn't have to deal with long lines, sitting in cramped seats next to unpleasant people or invasive security checks - those did absolutely nothing to make him feel safe by the way, especially when they started targeting children for strip searches and pat-downs. How was the thought of kids suddenly becoming terrorist threats supposed to put him at ease? Screaming brats were bad enough as it is, but now they were plotting to take down Boeing 747s? What was the world coming to?

No, this time he got to travel in true Agent-y style in Graninger's private jet. It wasn't as luxurious as he would have imagined, with four seats positioned in two rows and all facing the front of the aircraft with limited space between them. But compared to both of the recent flights he took across the country, on commercial jets, the foot and elbow room was like having a football stadium all to himself. Not to mention no one else was in here, except for the flight attendant - a young woman with cream and coffee colored skin and a smile that made him want to make-out with her dentist. Or...just make-out with her. Either one. Fin wasn't picky.

Other than a tiny logo on her uniform, there was nothing else to indicate that the flight attendant was any part of the Agency. That, added onto his isolation in the cabin of the plane, made him suddenly realize how independent he'd become within the last hour. He was an Agent now and that gave him more privileges than before - namely, he could now make phone calls using his very own Agency issued cell phone. And despite the restrictions on him at the time, he'd pilfered the phone number of the Agent on Pie's case. Billy King, the woman who eventually transferred into her.

The most important aspect of this was that Graninger wasn't here lurking over his shoulder anymore. And he'd reviewed the rules as much as the older man had been willing to drill them into his head; he didn't need permission for this one little phone call. The jet had yet to take off and when he asked the dazzling Mona Lisa when they were leaving, she told him they were waiting for others. So, he wouldn't be flying all on his lonesome after all. He guessed that ruled out making a fort in between the empty seats out of extra blankets and tiny pillows. Since he apparently had a little time, he took his cell phone out and punched in the number, rubbing at his missing mustache and beard while he listened to the phone trill in his ear.

"Hey, King here," was the response as soon as the phone picked up. Fin's voice caught in his throat and he froze like a pillar of stone in his seat. God... it sounded just like her... but it wasn't Pie. Well, technically it was Pie, but the teenaged voice he was familiar with had been warped into something clipped and full of authority, almost completely unrecognizable from the playful young girl he'd known. "Hello?" the stranger's voice prompted, an irritation and impatience filtering through the earpiece on his phone, making her sound all the more bizarre as familiarity tingled through his ear drums and down his spine.

Not wanting her to hang up without having said anything to her, Fenton cleared his throat and stumbled over a few brisk words, suddenly uncomfortable and eager to end this. "Uh... Sorry, your majesty, I must have dialed the wrong number. My bad."

As he started to pull the phone away from his ear he could have sworn he heard Pie say "Fin?" in a hopeful tone, before he rushed to hang up. No. That didn't just happen. Still, as he sat staring at the phone in his hand, he couldn't shake the sound of the recognition in her voice echoing in his head. Graninger was right. This wasn't good for him and he needed to stop doing this to himself.

He didn't have long to dwell on that when his thoughts were interrupted by someone new boarding the plane. A tall man in his late thirties bowed his head as he moved through the door, his wide, muscular shoulders covered in a slimming beige suit with a white dress shirt underneath - no tie and an unbuttoned collar, Fin noticed - and a thin silver earring dangling from his right ear. The casual look was contrasted by the sculpted salt and pepper beard centralized around the man's mouth and the militant haircut, his calculating blue eyes scrutinizing the cabin of the plane in seconds as he walked towards the seats.

"Sorry for the wait," the man said in a relaxed, apologetic tone. "I just got out of briefing and was notified that this was the last private aircraft leaving for the next couple of hours. I didn't want to wait that long so we tried to catch this flight before it took off, especially since it's going exactly where I need to be."

Actually, Fenton was just a little bit irritated by the delay - he was eager to report to his new boss and take up his first official assignments as an Agent - and this guy, whoever he was, took his damn time getting here. But there was something open and confident in the man's demeanor that drew Fenton in and tickled his curiosity. As the man sat in the seat behind him, Fin turned in his chair to look at him and said, "Damn right you better be sorry. I had to entertain myself by oggling the flight attendant and actually getting bedroom eyes made back at me.." He glanced over his shoulder where the slender woman stood leaning into the cockpit talking to the pilot, her elegant legs bent at the knee and her perky round bottom accentuated by her slimming skirt as she bent over slightly. Fin turned back and shook his head with a sigh. "Torture."

There was a moment where Fenton worried about what rank this guy was - Graninger's warning echoed in his head in that smug, raspy voice - but the older man gave him a genuine smile and nodded. "Oh, my, you poor man. Is there any way I can repay you for the ordeal my tardiness has put you through?" the guy asked, seemingly amused and playing along.

"I dunno. What've you got? Actually, you wouldn't happen to have a gift card to Outback Steakhouse in your pocket, would you? I hear nothing but good and yummy things about their new woodfire grill entrees." Alright, really, he needed to stop now. The guy chuckled and shook his head but Fin said, "Sorry, this is the first time I've been let out of my cage and my Master forgot to muzzle me before setting me free. Which is unfortunate because I've already bitten, like, 3 people..."

There was a brief pause that was just long enough to get Fin feeling uneasy - and it didn't help that those blue eyes were fixed on him and he couldn't tell if that was a thoughtful gaze or if he was looking for a physical weakness - but finally the guy's small smile widened generously and he extended his hand. "My name's Creasy," he said as Fin grasped his hand in a firm shake - two solid jerks and then he was released. "What's yours?"

Restraining the urge to blurt out more lame jokes, he instead gave a polite smile back and said, "Fin." Usually when he mentioned his nickname to professionals, they gave Fenton odd looks, but this guy smiled and nodded his head as if to silently say Not bad. As if Fin could have been saddled with worse...like his actual name.

Adjusting his suit coat briefly, Creasy asked, "What rank and/or position are you? Nice uniform, by the way."

"Thank you. I got it because I've heard that chicks dig guys in uniforms. It works. Ms. Never-Had-A-Cavity back there could barely keep her hands off me." Another amused smirk stayed in place on the older man's lips. "A-12. No position yet but I'm being reassigned to someone in the Charlton, Massachusetts base," that got nothing more than an eyebrow bounce, but it was enough to let Fin know he'd surprised the guy by even daring to talk to him the way that he had. After nervously wondering if he should apologize, he finally decided to ignore it and play it naturally until he was called on it or reprimanded. Granted, it wasn't how he was going to handle talking to other Agents in the future, but Creasy seemed pretty laid-back. Why shoot himself in the foot and overcompensate for the rules if Creasy wasn't offended? "You're headed to Charlton as well? Working on a case?"

Any answer Creasy was about to give was abruptly interrupted as someone else entered the plane just as the flight attendant was passing by the door and they collided right in the aisle. It didn't help that the guy had a briefcase that wasn't latched properly - thus opening and spilling it's papery contents upon impact - and a yarmulke that promptly fell off his head as he teetered and flailed on his feet. The commotion lasted all of 5 seconds with the flight attendant looking less frazzled and unnerved than the kid was. And he was most certainly a kid, looking at least 19 years old but Fin bet the guy had never shaved before. Tall and lanky in a dark black suit, which only emphasized his awkwardly long and skinny limbs, and topped with short curly hair with two perfect Shirley-Temple-curls dangling in front of his ears down to his chin.

The kid was stammering apologies to the flight attendant and anxiously crouching to collect the puddle of files that had spilled from his case, unable to decide if it was more important to let her know how sorry and awkwardly embarrassed he was or to put all of his papers away as quickly as possible. From behind him, Fin heard Creasy release a small chuckle, followed by a heavy breath. "Haggins," he called, and immediately the younger man stopped what he was doing and looked up. Like a deer caught in headlights, big brown eyes, long nose and rosy lips froze in a questioning and reluctant expression of dread, while the flight attendant knelt beside him and helped get papers that had fallen under the seat to Fin's right. "Quit fooling around, boy. Did you get the box from the trunk?"

"Uhhh..." Haggins only glanced away to take the papers the stewardess collected for him but immediately looked back and set his yarmulke back on his crown. "I didn't think we'd need it. The other Agency bases should provide us with any basic equipment--"

"I'm not leaving unprepared and I packed it in the car for a reason," the older man said in a calm, stern voice. "Go and get it, please. And focus. You can flirt on your own time."

"Right," was the response, with no sign of impatience or attitude for being forced to the task, although he did blush and give the flight attendant an anxious look. Fin tried not to laugh. Somebody was most certainly still a virgin and it was painted in neon lighting right above exactly who that was.

As the briefcase was restored to order and set aside, Haggins left the plane again and Fin turned back to Creasy and gestured with his thumb. "Cute kid. A little skittish though. Might need to work on that if you don't want him to wet the carpet when company comes over."

Creasy let out a deep throated chuckle and said, "Yeah, isn't he? Skittish is alright for now, although it does get a bit bothersome occasionally. He'll even out eventually, as soon as he gets laid." So, Fin wasn't the only one who noticed.

Fenton stopped for a moment... Why did he get the feeling that last part was really 'as soon as I lay him'? After looking Creasy over while the older man buckled his seat belt, Fin finally shrugged and shook his head a little. Then he noticed something on the guy's belt. "Nice badge," he commented, briefly pointing at it. Not a police badge but very obviously Agency inspired with a large, stylized "A" overlaid on a black and gold crest. "Where can I get one? Chicks love shiny things too."

Creasy glanced down and smiled as he said, "Well for that, you'll need to train in the Agency's investigation courses, like Haggins, and put in a few good years of undercover work for the DOC."

Fin blinked at him. "The Department of Commerce? Undercover? Wow... I didn't realize those guys were so hardcore..."

"No, the Docimasy. The Agency's specialized disciplinary unit." Fin blinked again but gave the guy an interested look. "We're assigned the task of investigating claims of misconduct in the Agency and meting out charges and punishments - specifically in regards to suspicious deaths, but we also handle reports of fraud and sexual assault. Usually we're only called in for the more extreme offenses. Everything else is handled by whoever runs the local bases."

"Wow..." Fin nodded slowly, thinking that over. He had no idea these guys existed. Did Graninger know about them? "'Extreme offenses'... Is someone in trouble? Did something bad happen in Charlton? Did someone die and then get sexually assaulted? I think there's a fetish for that."

Fin was getting used to Creasy's understanding and slightly paternal grin. "I'm sorry, I cannot discuss any open cases we're working on."

"Fair enough," Fin could totally respect that, but it didn't make him any less nervous. Who sent these guys out? Who were they after? He prayed that Eric Patten wasn't currently on their radar. Finally, he got out from underneath Graninger's shadow and it'd be absolutely fantastic if he was sent straight back here because Patten got arrested or something. God! Why couldn't Graninger's words stop haunting him? "So, when you say 'suspicious deaths' you're talking about murder?"

"Agent-to-Agent murder, yes."

"How do you investigate something like that? Do you just ask the guy if he did it, or what?" Fin was actually really interested in this. Apart from the apprehension that Patten was possibly the one being targeted, finding out how the Agency handled crime and punishment within the ranks was something he wondered about. Particularly when he personally knew these guys had very little respect for the laws of the land, to hear someone say that somebody actually cared if some of them died in the line of duty was a bit of a shock.

"That and we do an autopsy on the body of the deceased and dig into backgrounds to try and establish a picture of the previous relationship. Any witnesses are questioned to get a clearer view of the crime. Just what you'd expect from an actual police investigation, except handled by the Agency's own. Since a lot of these types of deaths involve higher Agents, we try to keep things in-house due to the confidential nature of any cases they may be working on." Haggins came back and sat in the seat next to his boss, "If you're truly interested, you should sign up for the training program. We could always use a few more Docs on the payroll." And Creasy gave him another warming smile and that was it. The conversation was over as he and Haggins conferred over files from the kid's briefcase.

It didn't matter, even if he wanted to risk interrupting, because right then Fin found himself distracted as a young woman boarded the plane as well and sat in the seat next to him. The first thing he noticed was the dark eyes and dark makeup around them, but then the short hair and long stylized bangs came into view, along with the slick, shiny black suit hugging her thin body like a second skin. As soon as she sat down, Fin turned to her and said, "Hi, my name is Fin. What's yours?"

As if he'd used a lame pick-up line, she sighed heavily without looking at him and said in the most disgusted tone he'd ever heard, "I'm a lesbian." And she adjusted her seat belt like she expected that to completely shut him down. Too bad Fin wasn't the type of guy to know when to shut his mouth.

"I'm terribly sorry..." he said after a moment, putting on a mockingly sorrowful tone. "Your parents... What bastards. I bet the kids in middle school were ruthless with a name like that." She tried not to smile but continued not to look at him. "Let me guess, your last or your middle name is 'You can stop trying to get into my pants now.'"

Briefly, his attention was diverted to the backseats when a tiny chirping alert came from Haggins' cell phone. "I got an email from him," he informed Creasy, while looking at his phone and pressing buttons. "He says case no. 62724 has left Charlton and will be arriving in Elmira, New York in a few hours. That's going to take us out of our way. What should we do?"

Creasy, his attention completely on his companion, shook his head and shrugged a little. "We'll stay on course and just go after the other one first. Besides, he's the more serious threat anyways."

Nothing about that conversation assuaged his earlier suspicions but he was momentarily distracted again while as he watched, Creasy reached across the small gap between the seats and touched one of Haggins' sidecurls, fingertips gently tugging on it and releasing it so it bounced like a spring. Obviously, the man was unaware that Fenton peeked back there when he did, but he wasn't sure which was stranger, the sign of affection or the fact that Haggins noticed but seemed unbothered by the gesture. Now, Fin wasn't an idiot and he knew as well as anyone that romantic relations between Agents was prohibited. How exactly did that work for someone who was supposed to defend the rules like Creasy did?

Then again, he was probably putting more into what he saw than was actually there. Turning to the woman again he let out a deep breath between pursed lips then said, "Well, you know what they say; when you assume you make an ass of you and me." Again, she tried not to smile, but she actually looked at him this time.

"Anjelica," she said after a moment of consideration, and reached out to shake his hand.

***
A body dropped. It took her a second to realize that it wasn't Alex and she released a lungful she'd been holding in without realizing it. Everything happened so fast, she didn't have time to react, but as soon as the gun was raised and pointed at Xander, she'd been in the process of starting a fire somewhere on Rudy's person. That damn Rudy! He almost killed her friend! And it was her fault for letting it happen, AGAIN! The twinge of guilt was soothed by the fact that Alex was alright, and at least now she knew she could depend on Xander to be quick on his feet, but she focused all of the rage she felt at herself towards the one who deserved it. That stupid little idiot!

"Whoa..." was Rudy's mumbled response as Alex was suddenly laying the blame at his feet. "Hey! I didn't mean to do that! He was just there! If you hadn't stepped outta the way - that's on you, man!" No wait, that sounded lame and Ozzie was watching. "Uh, I mean, yeah, I totally knew where he was." He shrugged and casually thumbed his nose. "I'm a killer. That's what I do, man. You're lucky I felt like icing someone else right then, or you'd be buttered toast!"

Actually, that was kind of weird and disconcerting. He was perfectly willing to kill Alex just a second ago and even desired it more than anything else in the world - deep in his soul he wanted to fucking kill that target-stealing-case-ruining bastard. But the sudden appearance of one of Eric's invisible soldiers was like a jolt to his system and brought him back to reality. Rudy needed to be careful, because if there was one of them - it took him just a split second to check and make sure he didn't accidentally hit the delicious Squiddie - then there were certainly more. Waiting and watching.

Then suddenly Xander was issuing orders, first to Rudy and then to her, and immediately she felt a rise of defensive heat burst within her. The thing was, she didn't know what to be angry about: his tone, like he could boss her around - whatever happened to asking nice, jerkoff? - or the actual implications in what he said, as if she wasn't capable of keeping an eye on Rudy. But then suddenly she grew a bit morose as she realized why he was mad at her. She promised to kill him as soon as she saw him again and here Rudy was, walking around, perfectly fine and shooting at people.

When that dick started telling him what to do, Rudy had a mind to listen to him but only because it seemed like a good idea. Don't fucking move. Instead, he stood in place and searched the lobby for anyone else around, but still they appeared to be alone. He wasn't taking that very far though, because he really hadn't seen the first guy.

When Xander was done with his inspection and moving past her on the steps, Ozzie reluctantly drew her hateful gaze off of the shrimp to turn to him instead. Right, his body. But she couldn't help feeling another wave of guilt in the tone he took with her. God! Why did he insist on making her feel bad about this? She asked him for his help in the car, but instead he HAD to know about her stupid history with the guy and embarrass her about it! Well, fuck Xander, then! She wasn't going to be made to feel responsible when she already told him that she couldn't fucking do it!

"Yeah, see ya, jackass!" Rudy called from behind her, making her cringe. "The pickle people room is up the stairs, down the hall, take a right and then a left. Follow the red fucking glow, retard. Buh-byeee!" Rudy didn't have a clue if his directions were correct - probably not; his crawl on the upper floors was still a bit hazy - he was just eager to have that psycho out of the picture. As soon as he got Osono alone, he'd be able to turn on the charm and work at fixing and rebuilding what that moron had undone. All of those years of hard work! Dammit!

Seriously, she was going to kill the stupid fuck, but she waited long enough to hear Xander's final orders to her. Curt and to the point. He was giving her another chance to finish it for real and he was trusting her to do it. After what Rudy just did, it gave her the biggest reason why she needed to deal with this problem like she originally planned. But as soon as Xander was walking away from her, she felt herself fall back into the same mindset as before. She couldn't let Rudy go. Well, at least she could teach him a lesson and set things straight. He may be her Agent, but he wasn't going to fucking capture her - not if he wanted to continue to live. And that meant he needed to stop hurting the people around her.

When that freak left, Rudy walked forward to nudge the corpse with his foot and made a soft, "Ew..." noise when it flipped over and he got a look at the hole in the helmet. "Oh, God! Ozzie!" he said excitedly, waving her over. "C'mere! This is so gross! Check it out!" He glanced down at the gun on his hand. "I had no idea it could do that to someone. Musta been the suit he's wearin' or somethin'." And he looked up at her as she marched towards him, only having a second to see the anger in her face before her hand swooped out and smacked his arm dislodging his weapon and sending the Aurora clattering to the floor. "Hey... my gun..." he murmured pathetically as she suddenly grabbed a fistful of his shirt and jerked him violently.

"WHY did you do that?! Why did you shoot at him?" she shouted in his face. He seemed scared for the moment, flinching from her as she held her other fist clenched and up, ready to pummel the crap out of him.

"I'm sorry! No, for real! I didn't know that Agent was even there! I meant to kill the other guy!"

Wrong answer and he paid for it with a swift punch to the eye which left him dazed for a couple of seconds. Holy shit...yes, mother... wait, wait, wait! He couldn't act like he liked it with her! He had to keep in character if he was going to sneak back into her trust and 'masochistic creep' was not the role he was supposed to be playing. As his head righted itself and he blinked the stars out of his vision, Rudy put on an unhappy face and tried to ignore the throbbing sensation in his groin when he stared back into those hot, viciously terrifying eyes.

"Why, goddammit!? He's my friend!" she yelled. She hit Rudy plenty of times before - even broke a few bones - but for some reason, right now, with his Agent status out in the open, it felt REALLY good to punch him. Just give me a reason! PLEASE!

"Which one? The dead one or the gay one?" he blinked at her and his eyes darted around the room briefly. When he started talking again, his voice sped up comfortably, while getting a defensive note to it, as he clung to the wrist of the hand that held his shirt. "Anyway, your 'friend' is a total nutcase who tried to kill me in the bathroom! All I wanted to do was help the guy and he went all 'psychotically unbalanced Jackie Chan' and hit me for no reason! I shot at him now because he was coming near you! I was trying to protect you from that homicidal maniac!"

Another wrong answer and he got backhanded across the cheek, his head whipping to the side and a cut on his lip reopening. "ENOUGH!" she growled - Oh, yes...Rudy like.... - giving him another fierce jerk. "It's over, you hear me!? I know you're an Agent and I know you're the one who's been after me all these years! So just cut the shit now, or I will seriously start burning your limbs one by one!" Oh wait... was... was she crying? God... he didn't know if that was sexy or not. Rudy wasn't a fan of tears, but she was still blisteringly angry at him and he certainly liked that. How confusing and...arousing. "Just tell me the fucking truth for once!"

"Oh, we're telling the truth now?" he perked up a little. "In that case, I have to be honest, please, don't stop hitting me; I fucking love it. Just one or two more like what you've already given me and I'll finally be able to fully empathize with the song "Jizz in my pants"." He let out a small sigh and gave her a crooked grin. "God... Wow, thank you for that. I'm so glad to finally get that off of my chest."

Osono didn't know if he was being serious or not, but it didn't matter. There was nothing but jokes with this guy and she was just about at the end of her rope. She wasn't crying but she didn't know what to do now. If he wasn't lying, then he was getting off on his beating and she had nothing but brute force to threaten him with. "Why would you care about keeping me safe?" she asked, her voice growing quieter as she let him go. "You've done nothing but keep me in a constant state of fear and danger since I met you. All of a sudden, you want to play like you're my hero? Don't bullshit me, alright? Just stop."

Oh, God. She WAS crying. Jesus. What a way to kill a boner. Massaging the neck of his T-shirt, he glanced around the lobby again - the lights kept going on and off but neither of them noticed - suddenly remembering what he needed to do. Alright, so... lying to her and trying to get into her head the usual way wasn't working, nor did threatening her and threatening her friends certainly didn't help either. Maybe... just a little bit of truth and she'd take that as a very strong commitment on his part and want to leave with him?

"Okay... okay, yeah, all of that shit is true, but I was protecting you, alright? I'm the fucking Lead Agent on your case. Do you know what that means? I'm in charge of capturing you and bringing you in. Do you think that I'm stupid enough to not realize my tactics weren't working after the first few dozen times? Wait... don't answer that." He shook his head and bit his lip. They needed to get out of here, like, now, or else the Boogeyman Patten would sneak up from the darkness and trap her here forever. "Sometimes... I just suck on purpose, alright? I never sent any teams after you that I thought might overwhelm you. I'm probably the worst level A-3 Agent on the planet and I did that for you, to keep you out of their hands." Rudy shrugged and flopped his hands at his sides. "If you want me to say that I'm sorry, I won't."

Osono's body tensed as that last sentence came from his lips, so eerily similar to what she imagined he might say. It was enough to shock her back to reality, and shake loose the sympathy that was growing during his little speech. "No, you didn't do any of that for me. If you really wanted to protect me, you woulda told me the truth and stopped being an Agent." She watched as his shoulders slumped a little, but he didn't look sad, merely disappointed. As she turned to leave him behind for the last time, he put a hand out and touched her arm to stop her.

"Yeah, you don't know my girlfriend, alright? She was pressuring me to keep on you and she woulda killed me if I tried to escape. I'm not with her anymore, by the way. Grenade launching incident. She's dead now. You just gotta believe me when I say I'm trying to protect you now. We have to get out of here, Ozzie. It's really not safe for you to be here." She turned back to look at him and he took his finger off the truth button as he desperately pleaded, "Look, you want me to leave the Agency, fine, I'll do that." Not really. "I'll walk away from it right now... if you come with me." Lies. "I... I like you and don't want you to get hurt." The thing about all of this was, the Agency had become such a big part of his being, even without Noel keeping him chained to the floor, he couldn't imagine himself doing anything else. There was no one to go home to if he got fired and he certainly didn't want to be a REAL fugitive on the run with Osono; he just liked pretending to be one while also being a super secret Agent man. The perks! The power! The danger! And the women!

Fuck. She believed him. She didn't want to and Ozzie fought against it, but he'd never said anything like this before and his concern seemed genuine. It was exactly what she always wanted - for him to be by her side and be a real person. To actually HAVE him as a friend and not just believe in him being a friend. Or at least... it used to be what she wanted. Now it was too late for the truth to matter except as a bandage for old wounds. And she was done playing sissy games with him. Xander needed her right now.

"I can't leave Alex. I've got to help him and help him save Gwen. If it's a choice between 'leave with you now' or 'have you continuing to chase me and hurt the people I care about', then fuck that shit. Just stay the hell away from me, alright? That's the best thing you can do for me now is forget about everything and leave me alone."

Why wasn't this working??? What more did she want? He'd fucking fake-poured his heart out and she was still stuck on those morons that they just met fucking yesterday! Okay! He had just one more thing up his sleeve! Reaching up to her, he grabbed her by the back of the neck and pulled her down for a kiss, his hurt lip scraping urgently against hers and wriggling his tongue--suddenly he let go and air exploded from Rudy's lips as he doubled over, holding his stomach where Ozzie powerfully thrust her fist.

"Knock it off, stupid!" she yelled at him and promptly turned to start marching up the stairs grumpily. That was a lot less pleasant than she imagined it would be, even if she took away the fact that he tasted like blood and onions.

Alright, fine. He wasn't going to convince her to leave and if he kept trying it wasn't going to do anything except make her mad - God, his spleen hurt so fucking good right now! - so... Whatever. The least he could do was stay with her and make sure she didn't get hurt while she went tromping around the base with that fag, Alex. How much more could he possibly piss Patten off by getting in the way like this?

Smirking a little, Rudy sang to himself, "♫ When I'm not with ya, I lose my mind, give meh a siiiign! Hit me, babeh, one more time! ♪" before tripping up the stairs after her.

***
The car had been stopped and quiet for at least 20 minutes before Brie finally decided that they weren't going to drag her out of there. The Audi was a newer car so she eventually found the safety latch inside the trunk and popped it open. A quick peek told her that her captors were nowhere in sight and she faded before slipping the rest of the way out of the car. The car was parked in front of the Charlton base and even though she'd never been here before, she knew what it was immediately when she saw it.

Looking up and down the street, she looked for those two con artists but couldn't see them. They probably broke into the base, then - why else would they question her so much about it? She didn't have her mask with her, and a quick search of her pockets told her she'd lost her phone somehow, so she couldn't contact anyone about this. She needed to get inside and alert security and find a phone to call the branch manager and tell her what was going on.

She'd screwed up really bad with this assignment, not only in the original task but also the fact that she'd been tricked into believing both targets were higher level Agents. Brie couldn't just accept defeat and she felt a deep-seated need to get back at them for what they'd done to her - the burns on her face still fucking hurt really bad - so she had to make up for everything now. Her failures would be forgiven if she got in the base on time and was able to stop them from doing whatever it was they planned to do.

It was a safe bet that those two morons wouldn't have used the front doors to break in, so she was safe to do so. Since it was the simplest way in, Brie walked over to the keypad on the wall and put her code in, a small smile coming to her lips as the light flashed green. Walking over to the door, she tried to pull it open and was stopped short as it locked again. Letting out a frustrated sigh, she walked over to the keypad and tried again, but it didn't log her number this time. The thing wasn't even on. What the hell?

Walking over to the doors, she peered inside and realized that all of the lights were off. A power outage? Glancing at the streetlamps behind her and the shops on this street, she finally decided no. Just the base. That meant, those two impostors were messing with the fuse-box! This was bad, really bad. If the power was out inside, how was she going to contact anyone? Either way, she needed to find another way inside that wasn't controlled by the power.

Swiftly, and still cloaked, she walked off the street and started to make her way quietly around the building.

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Part 1

Post by Tartra on Fri Sep 30, 2011 5:17 am

‘Xander, someone broke into our room and I can’t see him.’
‘Again? Alright, move fast. I’ve got a date.’

‘Xander, there’s a hobo-Agent trying to kill me in an alley.’
‘Aw, you’ll be fine. Dibs on his wallet.’

‘Xander, I can’t control my body and you’re collapsing every six seconds.’
‘It takes five to get to Starbucks. What’s the problem?’

All of that had happened in the time since they met Gwen. That was four days ago. Four. Osono had been around for only one but she could still lay claim to the full Xander experience: ‘There’s Agents flooding the restaurant and they’re shooting everything.’ ‘Alex, I’m busy. Tell them to take a number. I can’t kill everyone at once’, followed quickly by a slightly less believable, ‘What the fuck did I come out of the bathroom for if these are all the asses they brought for me to kick? And I had to share? This is bullshit.’

Fear did not make sense. In the years he’d been around, he’d never even hinted he knew what it was.

Alex had seen everything else. He’d been dragged through everything else, kicking and screaming and pleading with him to have some sense of survival and stop terrorizing the group out to destroy him, so yeah, he had proof to back it up. Every fight needed to be topped by the next. Every stunt was pulled just to see if he could. On twelve separate occasions, Xander – completely after the fact and out of breath because it’d been so ‘hilarious’ – quaintly admitted he’d nearly been killed, proceeded to dissect what could’ve gone wrong and how close he’d come to it happening, then plunged into the next battle after a coffee break because ‘Alex, I’m on a roll now!’ And Alex would be convinced. His confidence was contagious. A war he couldn’t win purely meant he had to change his tactics, and if the best case scenario was breaking four ribs, dislocating a shoulder and concussing, Alex got one sigh of relief for not losing a leg too before those four ribs were taped and he got called a bitch for squirming because ‘shoulders popped back in’.

What did it take, Xander? What had broken through?

“Do you know where you’re going? I don’t see signs anywhere.” And he wasn’t counting on Rudy for directions. “The walls look the same. I can barely tell if we’re walking in circles.”

Elmira might have been a body harvesting, mad scientist playpen, but there’d been arrows and stuff and people to take hostage. Here, nothing was marked. He wasn’t even sure what colour things were. The walls were either beige or yellow, but because of the red lights, he was only sure they weren’t white. It was more than he could say for the neatly doors around them. Those were just dark. Maybe brown, maybe blue, but standard size and neatly spaced and windowless, except for the ones in the corners. Those had windows reinforced by a criss-crossing wire tucked behind their glass, but they were pitch black. The handles and hinges seemed bronze or gold, almost matching the neutral carpet, and the ceiling was a dead... grey? Was it grey? He’d call it ‘other light’, and they kept it clean. There were no smudges to work off of and no smears set in from age. Waiting for Osono sounded better and better.

It’s not a standard layout, but they’d keep stasis cells in the center of building. It’s an easier in and out for moving ‘em.

‘Easier’, huh?

“How many would they have in a place like this?”

Not a lot. Meaning? Seven, eight... Ten’d be the max.

And they’d be softly bobbing inside a room, clustered together like they were there to have parts harvested. Alex shivered.

“Why here? Elmira had plenty of room.”

Different reasons. Further study, per request, trophies...

He curled his lip at that.

“‘Trophies.’”

Sometimes.

“These crackpots don’t surprise me anymore.” Xander grunted, but it wasn’t in agreement. Alex tried to ignore what that implied for his safety. He awkwardly cleared his throat and brought up something else. “So... how much time will the transfer take?”

Less than a real one. We don’t have to do that brain scan.

“There’s a brain scan?”

Uh-huh.

Question. But Alex sighed loudly and slapped it away. He got those questions all the time, even though he’d told himself forever ago he wasn’t getting an answer.

“So how long is it? Minus the – uh... brain scan.”

Not sure. It’s not like I’m going anywhere new. It’s back to the head I was in before, Xander said. Probably take a few minutes. You’ll be out soon. And then they’d find a way to Elmira. They needed to get Gwen. Yeah.

Question.

Seriously, stop it.

“Think the Audi’ll take us back there in time?” Alex felt nervous. About Gwen, not about the question on his mind. If he ignored it long enough, it’d go away. That was how things worked with him. ... It’d... uh... never worked when it was about Agents... but if he didn’t think about it, then how the hell did he know what it was about? A part of him was probably just worried about... dinner. And lunch. And about how those beef Skittles were going to settle in. “That timeline of yours. You said you thought we had two days. That’s including today, isn’t it?”

Yeah, but the Audi’s gonna be fine.

Alex let out a snort through his nose. When Xander countered with what was basically him raising his eyebrow, he gave in and said, “I trust your judgement on travel time.”

But not the actual words?

“You and ‘fine’ need to get a room.” Xander laughed. “I’m not kidding. You call me a girl but you’re the one making me play roulette to figure out if ‘fine’ literally means ‘okay’ or if you’re ducking out of explaining anything.”

To be fair, there’s no quick answer for half the shit you wanna know. Question. Question, question – shut up, please. You’re gonna be mad at me for all of it. I’d prefer to hold off until we’re somewhere I don’t have to worry about... He very purposely drifted off. Alex waited, only to realize that sentence wasn’t finishing. It’s fine. And that one? That one means both.

He sounded amused, but Alex heard the shifting emptiness underneath.

“Is there something I can help with? Anything?”

No. Focus on the transfer.

“... Alright. The transfer.” Question. It was getting worse. “The one without the brain scan,” he added. “Right. Sure.”

So they kept walking. Alex had his own too-controlled silence up. It was incredibly unfair that Xander got to comment on it and he didn’t.

Spit it out. You’re annoying me.

“When the hell has there ever been a brain scan?” Holy crap, that was fantastic to get off his chest. A whoosh of relief fell out of Alex. “I don’t remember a brain scan.”

It took five days. I remember ‘cause I spent ‘em all gloating. It’s just to make sure whoever’s going in is actually gonna fit inside your head. Like those goggles he stole. Right. It’s to force compatibility. I’ll explain the rest later. There’s a lot you don’t remember I wanna go through but I don’t have time.

The reasoning made sense, but the rest of it dawned on him quickly.

“Is that why you’re sure we have time to save Gwen?”

It’s part of it. Like I keep saying, the technology’s improved, but that doesn’t change that it’s only been eight years since I was there. Besides, Peter’s reset the clock. He’s been doing something new.

... Question.

“What’s he doing new?”

Well... The first day we met her, you asked why I thought she was interesting. He paused, almost like he’d flipped his decision to get into this. He powered through anyway. I don’t know. I got a vibe off her. It was a... ‘Agent sixth sense’ or whatever. There was just that look. It’s not what’s important.

Alex thought back to that night.

“You said she was hot.”

She is. And if that’d been all it was, I’d’ve stayed for the night and been gone in the morning. Cocky bastard. No Starbucks? Always Starbucks, but I wouldn’t’ve brought her. I don’t ‘date’. And yet, there’d been one. She wanted information, which she pointed out with her lovely biography of us. What biography? I wanted to know who she was. It was a silent business arrangement.

“Silent and unnecessary!”

I didn’t trust her, Alex. I still don’t.

He bristled at that.

“Gwen has been nothing but loyal, Xander,” he said. “I know you’ve got issues getting close to people, but she’s been a friend from the start.” Aside from when she promised to call the landlord, but they were past that by now. “She’s not a threat.”

Not yet.

Alex scowled.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

You remember what I said. Agents are expensive. I’ve ripped through almost five hundred. I haven’t done anything to give off that I’m any less dangerous than I’ve always been. I’m trained to work with a suit – they know that – and as paranoid as you think you are, I’m twenty times worse and I’m the one who always has a grip on what’s happening. So try to think about this the way I do, he said, firm but oddly... understanding. Sending in a suit – one suit – is suicide against someone like me. The Agency wouldn’t throw money away like that, but for a minute, I thought it could’ve been part of a bigger trap. The jackass sunk that theory when he didn’t know who I was, but I saw them hanging around everywhere for a week. That was a full team for her, except Gwen’s powers weren’t even on yet. Alex – come on. Why were they so prepared?

“Because...” He slowed back down. Then he stopped. Xander waited patiently. “Because they were worried she’d escape?”

That’s one reason. There was a note of approval in there. Alex felt kind of proud. Another’s they thought her powers would turn active. Another’s that she could have had someone around to protect her.

“Like you?”

Like me or whoever else. They weren’t leaving room for error on this. That is why I don’t trust her.

“You’re saying Gwen’s dangerous.”

Extremely. Probably. The words were grim. It’s not her fault, but there’s something in there we’re not seeing.

“She’s a psychic,” Alex said, as Xander began again down the hall. “She can read our thoughts.”

And change them. Change them? When you woke up outside of Elmira, she did something. She – How’s the neck? Alex put his hand to it. The bruises were still sore. Nothing had healed. But you’re feeling better, huh?

“… She did that?”

So I’m wondering what else she can do. Hate burned through his body. And I’m wondering what Peter knows.

That was a decent question. Why didn’t Alex have questions like those?

“You think he cares?”

There’s not a chance in Hell he doesn’t. I don’t know to what extent he’s personally involved. It could be... He puffed out his cheeks. It could be strictly business or it could be the next revolution, but that woman he sent to go after Gwen’s got her research and training down like a pro. Peter put this in good hands. Whatever he wants done with her – either of them – it’s not gonna be something he’ll rush. Gwen’s an asset, and that makes the other bitch the insurance.

Alex narrowed his eyes as he carefully demanded, “… Kind of sounds like you’re basing this on Peter being in charge. He said someone else sent his guards out.”

Sure. But the only point he got across was going out of his way to tell me my body’s here in Charlton. And that he’s here in Charlton. And that I’m not getting another chance after this. I dunno, Alex. Is it me, or does he sound like he wants me away from her? Xander had managed to destroy their first attempts at catching Gwen. Yeah. I did. Then I came here. Tell me it wouldn’t’ve been awesome if they’d fucking brought her here, too.

Instead they’d carted her to Elmira... If Peter somehow wasn’t running things, then they’d be wise to recruit him for this part of the problem. Geez. Xander was a superhero. He had his own arch-nemesis and everything.

“I guess I can stop worrying about you immediately going back. You’ve got a lot of apologizing to do after all the crap you’ve done.”

I’ll send ‘em a fruit basket.

“A fruit basket of pain.”

With Grapes of Wrath? Alex sputtered. What?

“That’s a nerdy joke,” he pointed out.

Cultured. It was a cultured joke. Read a book. He might as well, since Xander looked down on TVs. He’d missed out on a lot of shows that way. When this was done, he was marathonning everything, just because he could. That’s gross. TV is stupid.

“It’s comments like that that make me wonder how I didn’t know you were a separate person.” Question. What to do about Gwen wasn’t something he couldn’t move faster on than he already was, but about something else – “Hey... I’ve been thinking.”

Shit.

“Yeah – ha... Don’t say that too early.” Although Xander had many other colourful words safely tucked in reserve. “I’ve gotta know. Why did you use that excuse? You could’ve said anything, but you picked...” It wasn’t unbelievable now that he knew him. “... calling me crazy. I mean…”

I challenge your scepticism, considering you bought it.

“It was a little bold, though, don’t you think?”

Name a part of me that isn’t.

And none of those parts were Alex. That’s why he felt dumb.

Alex had always had questions he’d never let reach a spoken word. He mused about them constantly, to the point where he was getting tired of suspense, but even after Xander appeared, he’d kept them locked up. He’d assumed there’d been no point. He was on his own in getting information, and since none of the people chasing him felt like stopping for an interview, he’d picked permanent ignorance over drowning in mystery. Everyone else seemed to go along with it. Nobody asked him what the Agents were like, and while a lot of it had to do with Xander fielding outside interest, Alex never offered his personal insight. And why? Because he’d come to terms with it. He’d rationalized until it fit: the coma was a twisting mess of half-awake, half-asleep wandering. He couldn’t remember more than blurry sounds and muffled voices mixed with streaks of light he’d been told were muzzle flare from the escape. Until now, right now, as he slowly regained enough control to pause in the middle of the hall once more, it’d never bothered him. The truth, however, was it should’ve, way the hell to his core and much, much earlier. It fell heavily into place when he realized the closest he’d been to experiencing a transfer was hearing the details from David.

... It was... different... thinking about it this way. He’d been cornered and escaped, but at last he was seeing it: everything he didn’t remember was when the time the Agents won. So… he hadn’t escaped... Not really. The actual term was ‘rescued’.

“Xander?”

Hm?

“I want to hear about my transfer.”

Xander hesitated. From that, Alex gleaned the message: the guy had known this moment was coming and he hadn’t been looking forward to it.

I think I did say it too early.

“Yeah. A little. Can you live with that?”

I’d rather have the sex talk. From you.

Alex was missing a part of his life. For six years, he’d thought he’d been fine – well, relatively speaking, but he’d always assumed the worst was yet to come. To hear the worst had happened already and he’d just plain, fucking... been late...

“Why did you never tell me? You didn’t have to out yourself, but you didn’t have to hide it.”

You would’ve put it together. I couldn’t risk it, ‘specially not when you can drink me into oblivion. Oh. Right. That. But that only lasted until he was sober. It wouldn’t’ve been permanent. ... Unless... he’d decided to never be sober again. You can see my dilemma.

Xander nudged him forward. Alex took an awkward step ahead, then fell back into the motions. The spinning lights on the walls left him cold as he walked by. They were red and bright. Shouldn’t there be some warmth coming off?

“So if the brain scanning –” Look at him, already talking like he was an expert. “If that took a few days, then I was missing, right? I have a family, Xander. My mom, my dad, my friends? They didn’t notice?”

They noticed.

“And?”

The Agency took care of them. They – what? Relax. They think you eloped. Fastest explanation, until I woke up to completely sever ties. You’re lucky I’m lazy and never got around to it, otherwise you’d have a lot of bad blood to clear. I’m great with parents, but I take a personal pride in being their worst nightmare, too.

“You would take pride in that,” Alex muttered. “Woke up from what?”

The coma.

The coma – right! That was another world of problems!

“How the hell did you hide that? It’s a full four weeks unaccounted for,” he cried.

Can we not do this?

“What did you say to make me look at a date and think, ‘Oh, it’s not the same month as five minutes ago. That’s interesting. I’ll go back to fleeing for my life, then forget the Agents and what all that could mean’?” It felt like Alex was chasing after the guy. Xander wouldn’t slow down or stop walking ahead and he was purposely trying to ignore this place. Alex wasn’t letting it happen. “You can’t get away from me. You live inside my head.”

Not if you move faster.

Xander!” With all the effort he could muster, Alex grabbed his knees and locked them. He wasn’t going anywhere. “What happened during that month? You escaped, things exploded, somehow my brain was picked at for a week, but then I’m awake and walking down a street. You said you took over, which I was mostly okay with, but you aren’t actually me. So what happened? What did you do?”

Try it. Try to get past him. Alex was not letting go and whatever issue had Xander’s skin crawling when he’d been downstairs, how did he like knowing he had to sit through it until he explained this?

We can talk after.

“Of course, because I’ve got a much more convenient time coming up, oh wait, we’ve gotta rescue Gwen. Now, Xander, if you’re feeling generous.”

I’m seriously not, he said, sarcastically apologizing. It’s fun playing therapist, but we’ve got shit to do. Alex sat down. ... What are you doing?

“Getting comfortable. That foot can’t be easy to stand on.” He stretched his legs and absently rubbed his thigh. Just then, he discovered it’d been twitching and spasming the same as when he’d fallen on it. Xander simply held it still so Alex didn’t see it move. “Be honest. Should I cut it off?”

I’ll break it off if you don’t get up. I’m not wasting energy pulling you from the floor.

“Well, that sucks. I really like this carpet.” Actually, it was scratchy, and when he ran his hand over it, he wondered how many screaming victims had been dragged across its fibres. “Let’s wait here for Osono. I just hope no one gets to your body before we do.”

Dude, don’t be such a girl. This is petty. And Alex would have been embarrassed if it’d been anyone other than Xander. It’s just a coma.

“What are you again? A Pain Eater? Remember when I called you ‘Doctor Xander’? Triple that in your head,” Alex snapped. “Comas lead to brain damage. I might have brain damage!”

An Agent snuck in. I’d say that’s pretty damaging. Let’s go remedy that now by getting off your ass.

“You can drag me –”

I can let go of your foot. You’re talking about getting comfortable, but I’m sorta runnin’ low on batteries. So get the fuck up, start walking, or I’m not one that’s dragging anyone anywhere ‘cause I won’t have the strength to move.

Alex heard the threat. He understood it. After six years, his response was practically reflexive.

“It sounds like that clock’s ticking, and I’m not sure how fast I can crawl writhing in pain. If only my foot wasn’t shattered.”

The standoff had begun. This was exactly what happened seconds before said foot broke four days ago, so he sat in his spot and waited for some reaction. He was on full alert for the first cord of pain to light up. It didn’t, because Xander wanted to test the waters by reminding him, You realize I’m not destroying you because I need you to be conscious?

“That’s the power of extortion. Talk.”

Xander was impressed by this.

I can’t believe how much you’ve grown, little Alex. There goes my doubt about you surviving without me.

“Thank you. I – OW!

That’s for blackmailing me, you fuck. No, it was okay. He didn’t say it aggressively. The slam of Alex’s fist into his own gut took care of the hostility for him. Fine. What do you want? He was speaking quickly. He was serious about his energy, then. Finally, something to exploit.

“How did you make me forget about a month? Even if I completely believed you, how could I’ve possibly not wanted to know what happened?”

Wasn’t hard. I said you repressed it. Can we go now?

“And all you did for a month was break out? Bullshit. You had free reign and no supervision. Did you catch other people with powers?”

How many other enemies did he have hiding in the background?

No, I wasn’t cleared. That was a very weary sigh. Xander had given in and set himself to offer full responses, but he was going to sulk about it for as long as he could. I had to fix you before I could do anything.

“Fix me?”

Your maximum physical potential was categorized into speed. Someone had made him memorize that, and Xander definitely still resented it. I was a Pain Eater. You weren’t exactly the right tool for the job and you’ve got baby skin. It’s gross. They’d analyzed him? They did that much work to know who he was? Did that... fall under ‘obsession’ or ‘efficiency’...? With Agents, the answer’s always both. Can we go now?

“Stop. Last one. Why weren’t you in a coma, too?”

What?

“That’s been bugging me,” Alex said. If the coma was me getting crushed by you trying to take over my brain, when I fought back and got stronger, why didn’t I crush you down? How are you still here?”

I dunno. Science?

Alex frowned at him.

“You said that kind of fast.”

Did I? Did I sound stressed, too? It’s because I’m having trouble choosing if I wanna keep a grip on your foot or have energy leftover for when we’re inevitably attacked. Get up!

“Xander, you’re a great liar –” And a shameless one, and probably a little pathological. “– but I know by now when you’re blatantly covering. What, so you were in a coma?” That was the only time the guy tipped his hand about ‘fibbing’: when Alex got it wrong by guessing the opposite. “When?”

I wasn’t in a coma. Crap. That sounded honest. He was burying the lie within the truth – Alex hated when he did that. I guarantee you’ve got less time than you think to figure it out, so move.

Great. A dead-end. He’d isolated the problem, at least. Alex counted this as a draw, not a loss, and he wasn’t going to let it go. There’d been nothing but car rides in this adventure, and since they had another coming up to rush back to Elmira, there was plenty of time to grill him.

Xander dropped back into his too-controlled silence. Alex nearly asked him what was wrong before his toe tingled. He sighed. Maybe now was a bad time, but he was just starting to separate his life from the one he’d had the details smudged on. He got up carefully, trying not to jostle anything, then let Xander walk him through the building again. But this wasn’t over. That month was his. He wanted it back.

* * *

It was a truck. It was a big, white truck parked on the green loading square, surrounded by people Jason was positive the Agency would have to be blown up before it let go near these levels of equipment. Lower ranks weren’t known for being classy, but these four had no uniforms or anything that hinted they worked here. In his mind, it was proof enough they didn’t. Eric’s prediction stormed through his mind just then. These people were the enemy. Anti-Agents. The attack had been building under their feet and none of them had noticed. Eric must have. He always wound up knowing everything.

Jason wasn’t going to stand where they could see him. He ducked behind a pillar. Fade. Come on – fade! The blessing of the power outage struck him, too. If he’d gone down the elevator and let it open with a chime, he’d probably be a dead man right now. Sure, ‘probably’, as if he hadn’t blown all his good luck on living through Alexander. The stairs let him sneak in, but come on, come on, fade.

“It’d be nice if the next time you got her on the phone, you asked about work instead of setting up a booty call.”

“If you wanted it done your way, you should’ve done it yourself. But you can’t, ‘cause I’m in charge.”

Low grunts of acceptance followed this. Jason took note of the tension. Meanwhile, he pulled his goggles up from his neck and fastened them around his eyes. He swallowed past the nausea. He couldn’t shake it, even now. Damn.

“What’s the word, boss?”

A third voice, low and sleepy, balancing the frustrated first and quasi-dickhole voice of the second. Jason leaned out, taking a calmer look at was what around. His goggles didn’t help, except to outline the assailants and confirm what he already knew: there were four of them. It was that kind of useless information he’d painstakingly worked to correct. No height, no estimated weight, no detection of weapons or insight into their stances. His interface had even defaulted back to green, ‘mint’ or ‘mucous’ depending on who was asked. He wanted his orange back. He wanted everything back. His stomach clenched in cruel sympathy, but otherwise, his pleas went unnoticed.

“The word is we get inside when the lights go out for good. Buzzy’s still playing with ‘em.” This was the second voice again. He had a clunky way of talking, like his consonants had to be hammered in. The other two sounded similar. “Dumb bitch didn’t give an ETA.”

“You should have asked about it –”

“Night, back off! I’m in charge, I didn’t ask, I don’t need to! We know when they’re going out and she has to call us. She can’t lift the cell by herself.”

“She’s not gon’ lift it. She’s gon’ stare at ‘is.” … Huh. They’d… brought a… chipmunk. “Tell you what she’s gon’ do – look at ‘is.”

Jason had slunk back around the pillar. He didn’t get what to see what was happening, but he heard rustling of something being passed over. Given the weak context, it didn’t sound related to their objective here – and that objective could’ve ranged from theft, fraud, total destruction of the building, or whatever else a group with enough spine to take the Agency on had come up with – but one of them, specifically the third, found it fascinating enough to comment on.

“You keep pictures of naked men in your pocket?”

“Jus’ t’e sexy ones. Gus, you know, you lose some weight, you can join in, too – but scissor, you see ‘is? Eight pack. ‘At’s not easy to get, man, ‘specially not for a stick like you. She likes ‘em ripply, stripes. I take one look at you and your floppy arms and I say your girlfriend’s gone.”

“… Tops, why do you have pictures of naked men in your pocket?”

“‘Cause it’s what I do – I come prepared. Where’s your naked men, Gus? Night? Scissor? T’ey’re cells, my friend! All t‘e cells – look, here’s ‘e best. Boom! Charlotte. Buzzy gets ten minutes wit’ her boy alone, we get months in Spank City wit’ ‘is one. What’s Patten gon’ do, get more pissed at us? Hell no – pass it around, admire ‘e curves, ‘e gentle angle, t‘e lighting, t‘e grooming – ‘is, my friends, is ‘e hallmark of a criminal. To let something as good as ‘is go to waste…!”

The fourth voice had said all of that without stopping for breath. Jason hated him already.

“Tops, screw yourself.”

“Scissor, your words, ‘ey hurt, you know? You wound me, but I’ll take it as a sign of your grief at hearin’ your best ride bumped it to a new man, tellin’ you she’d rat’er bob for apples in a pickle jar ‘an spend one more day wit’ you, and I’ll do my part by not holdin’ it against y’sorry ass. Hey, who wants to see a naked body-builder? ‘Is one’s a girl! Super strength! How hot is ‘at?”

The second voice, apparently… ‘Scissor’, didn’t like where this conversation was going. Jason found a use for it. This idle chat was something that came at the start of waiting around. They must have shown up recently.

“Scissor.” The first voice. “Call her back. Ask what her –”

“Gus, move the truck over! It’s not in the middle,” Scissor barked. “Night, I told you you’re not in charge. You make me say it again and I’ll slice you in two.”

Jason wasn’t here for them. The need to fall into his regular role and stalk these idiots until he knew their hopes, dreams and darkest fears was pushed down by greater need to get on the road and head for Elmira. Unfortunately, he overestimated himself. As he crept along the side of the immense, weakly lit parking lot, running on its emergency lights along with the rest of the building, his dedication to his work came back in full and restless force. This might not be his responsibility, but he had a natural obligation to pass this information along. His goggles sluggishly responded to his call, unaware there was anything to anticipate, but forcing a connection between them and what he was trying to do sent a request for Eric’s number. Good work, suit. This was a tiny step forward, but the success was overwhelming through its symbolism. He could fix them. Later. For now, he brought up his screen and wrote a message.

Anti-Agents in basement. Attack imminent.

There. It was all he had to say. He gave the four a damning look from among the few remaining cars, then returned to slinking along, getting closer to fading the way he was meant to. The sensation was like pushing a stubborn lock into place. If he could twist the metal far enough, eventually he’d hit its lip and fall into it. But the energy he needed to get there…

“She say why she like him? I heard he killed her cousins – man, ‘at’s sick! It’s unforgivable! Buzzy’s got weird taste in boys, I’ll tell you ‘at much – everyone knows. A killer tops her list? Scissor, I don’ know how you don’t take ‘at spot. It’s ’e one t’ing you’re good for an’ you let some Agent walk off wit’ it? You know what? I’m not gon’ stand for it. It’s my new duty to help you two, ‘cause if t’ere’s one thing I love, it’s love. Hey – ‘at sound like Patten? I do him good, don’t I? You t’ink Buzzy’s over t‘e big man next since we snuffin’ out Elias? She’s gon’ need a rebound, Scissor, and Patten’s good’s any.” The fourth voice took a break. He didn’t stop for long. “Hey, she got more family? Maybe a sister – you bump ‘at off, you get Buzzy’s hand in fuckin’ marriage. She loves ‘at shit, apparently. Yo, tell ‘er to see a doctor.”

“We aren’t ‘snuffing’ anyone out. He’s more useful alive,” the first voice said. “We aren’t in charge of it anyway.”

:-)

Jason blinked. That note had fluttered over his screen with nothing else attached. It was from Eric. Did his messages really need to smile, too? And was that all he could say?

The cry of an engine snapped him to attention. He froze, on the cusp of finally fading at the level he had trained so long to master, caught between the front bumper of one car the Agency loaned out to guests and wheel of a van that’d backed into the spot and was used for the types of chores he’d always considered too ‘hands on’. He hadn’t thought to secure a full visual of the four. It wasn’t his problem – specifically given the circumstances – and according to Eric’s happy face, it wasn’t supposed to be. Stopping like this, however, gave him the clear line of sight he needed. Yes, there were four, and based on their voices, he had very little trouble matching each one to a face. His goggles lit up to feed him uninteresting tidbits. Had they been programmed, they would have known to analyse whatever he was not. This was inefficient.

The tall, sulky one with his arms crossed was the first voice. Jason recognized the expression. The Anti-Agent was scowling but trying to hide that fact from the others. He was doing a piss-poor job of it. His arms were crossed and that gave it away, but his glaring at the scalp of his shorter allies was equally as informative. The second voice belonged to a… scarred… guy. There were sharp, vertical lines cut into his face and down his arms. They weren’t red, but they were raised, and they looked like the kind to have hurt. He was pacing irritably, snarling at the ground and muttering to himself. He had something in his hand, as well. It must have been the picture. He’d crumpled it - thankfully, Jason remembered to add, considering what was on it and how quick his goggles were to zoom in on the clenched fist. The third voice was a fat man, older than the others and either bored with his work or exhausted from it. He was leaning against the truck in a way suggesting he expected to drive it soon. All four of them were dressed casually. Regardless, the last one stood out.

The first three had the same basic features: blond hair, fair skin and round faces. They weren’t related, Jason clarified, but they looked alike. More alike than the fourth one. Mr. Peppy. He had his hands tented and was twitching his criss-crossed fingers, like he couldn’t keep them still and honestly didn’t want to. He had a much sharper look to everything. His hair was black, his skin was copper, and his face was thin enough for someone to say it was stretched. He didn’t seem to belong with them.

It wasn’t his job to care. He had to get going. Jason crept through and relaxed at the softness of his feet, slinking by another van before realizing he’d run out of cars to hide behind. The rest of the lot was empty. He was not going to survive the run to the exit if he couldn’t get his fading to work properly.

Slow down. Breathe. Go back to basics if there was no other choice. His goggles… They weren’t rejecting him. They just didn’t know who he was anymore. His suit was a whole. He could do this.

‘Snuff him out’? That wasn’t what Benoit’d said Eric said.

He was typing within instants.

I apologize for getting involved, but I heard them say they’re planning to engage Elias. I understand if it’s classified, but it may interfere with your plans.

Whatever the fuck those were.

:-O

Was it a bad thing Jason could picture Eric somehow making those faces as he wrote them? It seemed incredibly disrespectful to the A-1.

… Well, he was the one typing expressions instead of using words.

“Do I have to move this again?” The fat one was complaining about it. “Could you make up your mind?”

“Move it,” the second voice snapped. It knocked the ‘quasi’ out of his first impression notes. “I should call Buzzy back.”

“You’re going to ask if she’ll sleep with you again, aren’t you? Let it go, Scissor.”

“She don’t ‘ave to sleep, you catch my drift,” Mr. Peppy was saying. “She could stand, she could sit, she could lie down – my t’ing’s to get ‘em on a desk, you know, ‘cause ‘en you got the chair, you build a li’l height – my secret charm ‘f’you swing it wit’ a tall girl – but you get a rolly chair in ‘ere? Man, don’t do t’at, ‘at’s askin’ for trouble. My cousin did ‘at? Fell off, hit down, stabs pen right through his neck. Dead. In ‘e ground t‘e next morning. We had a couple lots already open so we jus’ kicked out one o’ ‘e junkies and spruce it up for him? You know – like family meant to do? No good son-of-a-bitch, stealin’ from his own mot’er – I hope t’e worms eat him and choke on ‘is skin and t’en he dies again. He deserves it. But I know what you t’inking: Tops, how you gon’ fall on a pen, pen falls, it’s on side, you know? Shag carpet, my friends. Points ‘ose pens in ‘e air. It’s dangerous. And t’at is why you always go for linoleum. Hardwood’s too high maintenance – linoleum. Got a friend who works in flooring, you give me five minutes, I talk, get a deal – make you wan’ kick a li’l girl downstairs, it’s so good.”

“… So anyway, let it go, Scissor.”

“I’ll let it go when it’s time to let it go! He’s not here yet! He’s got no interest in her! Have you taken more than five minutes to talk to her? There is something unbalanced in her head. No one wants to get close to that.”

“You did,” the fat one said.

“Shut up, Gus! I’m different! I live on the edge!”

At those words, as if he’d commanded it, the lights broke down and flooded the lot with darkness. They – all of them – heard a rough clanking from overhead, like a massive machine was stuck in the ceiling, screaming to start but was hammered back by whoever was pulling the strings. Jason pushed himself against the wall. He didn’t hear the others move from their spots, but he had to admit he wasn’t listening very carefully. After four minutes of that… racket, it stopped abruptly, gave one last hiccupping groan, then choked back into operation. The emergency lights slowly returned. There were considerably less than there’d been before. He saw one flicker dangerously before it determinedly came back on. Another did the same. That one didn’t make it. He tried not to empathize. He also tried not to take it as an omen.

“Your girl?” Peppy sounded amazed. Jason assumed. Peppy didn’t have much emotion in his voice. It seemed to be a case of ‘fast’ and ‘faster’. “Your girl is good.”

“She’s not our girl,” the first voice said. “She’s Russian.”

“Hey – we’re all family here! Rooski, Svenka, Italiano – t’row ‘em Deutsch in the mix, grab t’em Polskis, t’em … I don’ know what Chinese is – but get ‘em and those Arabian Nights and we got ourselves a party! ‘Course, ’is no shit ‘til you get us Cubanos pumpin’! Jus’ admit it – we already know: t’is wan’ no party ‘til ‘e Island arrived! You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome.”

“Tops, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re the kind of family I crop out of reunion pictures.”

Mas vale algo que nada, ‘cause you sayin’ I’m still in ‘e picture! ‘At means you ‘ad to invite me. Mi hermano!

“Tops, don’t hug me! We talked about this!”

The lights were back on. He’d already noticed, but he still felt as though he was… He remembered this. He exhaled gently. Finally. Even now, it wasn’t optimal, but he had finally faded enough to risk the run. He was leaving.

Eric, I can’t stay. I have to go to Elmira. Is everything alright here?

:-P

… Good enough.

Four Anti-Agents in the basement of an Agency building, armed with an Agency truck and discussing the theft of a stasis cell… and he was walking away! He was invisible again, free to meld with the shadows, but while the relief in taking these steps towards his lead assure him he was doing the right thing, his responsibility could not be ignored.

Is there anything I should know before I leave? Is there anything I can do?

He had made it halfway to the exit by the time the response arrived.

Did Benoit see the clip?

Some of it. Not the important parts.

He asked that it be shut off. It’s too early for him to review it.

:-(

Expendable bullets. Even Benoit. In an A-1’s eyes, at least.

I’ll send the video to your account. I’m sorry I couldn’t do it myself. Then, because he couldn’t help himself, and because he was feeling brave from slipped away from four intruders, likely to have been looking for an ambush, he politely added, Please send my regrets when he’s sober. He wouldn’t want to hear it drunk or from Jason at any time. Because Jean had decided to be the stuck-up caveman he’d been playing as, Jason had burned one of his bridges. Pissing off an A-3 was not going to help his career. An endorsement from an A-1 could overturn it, but a leprechaun riding a unicorn would be an easier sight to behold.

:-D

He took that as ‘no problem’.

Jason went up the ramp and carefully around the barrier. He only relaxed when he made it outside, and even then, only until he remembered there could be others here. He made sure he was as invisible as he could manage, then set to work trying to find the car Eric had ‘promised’ him. It took two minutes for him to settle on the sleek, silver Audi parked outside the front door.

Well, if Alexander wasn’t here to stop him…

* * *

“So this is weird.”

What?

Mr. Sulky was being sulky despite Alex apologizing twice. He was sorry about the impromptu hostage situation, but it’d been his memories on the line at the last time he’d have ever the chance to muscle Xander into anything, and what’d he’d heard about Gwen was news she’d want to know when they found her. Everyone should be on the same page about it. Besides, the guy made him sit through his crazy epiphany. He could knock it off with the moodiness. Anyway, it felt like they were close. Alex was excited. The worry had subsided long enough for him to get swept up. Don’t worry – it would pass, but for now, he was looking forward to it.

“In ten minutes, I’m going to meet you,” he said. “Then when you go back, I’m going to meet you again. Then Gwen’s going to meet you and Osono’s going to meet you –”

Calm down, skippy. It’s not a big deal.

What a pain.

“You don’t find it interesting?” Clearly, Xander didn’t. “Come on – think of how fun it’s going to be! Do you age in there? Are you still the same?” He’d take that as a ‘no’ and ‘yes’ respectively. “Then it’s like picking up where you left off.”

Uh-huh.

“Alright, not exactly where you left off, but close.”

Would you stop being happy?

Alex grinned. He couldn’t help it. He innocently asked, “Why? You want to stick around?”

I’ll fucking kill you.

“No, you won’t. Lighten up. Hey – when do I get to ask about your real life?”

When you pry my fist out of your throat. Alex rolled his eyes. Xander wouldn’t do that. What do you care?

“You’ve lived with me for six years and you came from a group that knew enough to assign a ‘maximum physical potential’. I’ve been confiding in you for forever and even with the… very frequent fights, I think of you as family. So… yeah. I should get to know you.”

‘Family’. Xander snorted. You did get brain damage.

“I know you tried to steal my body.” And break his foot and drag him into danger and beat him senseless whenever Starbucks was forbidden. “You’ve made up for it. You’ve been helping. You might not’ve meant to originally, but you did and it’s appreciated. And again, all the times I confided in you…” He shrugged. “It almost makes you my –”

Say ‘brother’ and I let your leg go right now.

Even that wasn’t enough to bother him.

“What would you call it?”

‘Dedicated babysitter’. He was walking faster. You’ve been decent at staying away from sappy, Alex. Don’t fuck it up on the last day.

“Okay, okay.”

… Although staying away from sappy meant there was sappy to stay away from, so Xander trying not –

Stop smiling.

“I’m sorry!” But this was funny to him. “It’s hard to take you seriously when you’ve been here for so long and you yell at me for everything anyway. I’m used to it, and you’re not a babysitter.”

I guess I’m not getting paid, then.

“What’s your problem?” Congratulations. Now Alex was annoyed, too. “I was being nice.”

Don’t be nice. Be the opposite of nice.

He’d been ignoring every door they’d walked by until a new colour showed up along the wall. This one was lighter than the others, and instead of a handle, it was a doorknob. Xander, without warning, stepped towards it and turned it open. It wasn’t locked but it was dark inside. Alex heard him rustling for a bit before he walked back out, holding what looked like three or four tensor bandages. He jammed those in his pocket and went back on his way. That must have been a supply closet.

“Are those for my foot?”

Yeah. I’m expecting Osono to drag you. When she hits the stairs, it’ll be a bumpy ride. This’ll keep her from setting you on fire when you start crying like a bitch.

“That’s a lot of concern for a babysitter,” Alex dug in.

Dude, stop. I’ve got enough family.

“… That’s not actually possible.”

Ha! Fucking only child.

“... Spoken like someone’s who’s not an only child.” And the massive roll of his eyes – it actually stung – clinched it. “That’s... awesome! Xander – so... Brothers? Sisters? Do they know what happened?”

The first thing I’m doing when I get out is eating a crate of Prozac. If I tell you – Nice timing. Alex had just opened his mouth to ask again. – will you shut up?

“I promise.”

You’re a damn liar. Well, he knew where Alex learned that. Screw off.

“That’s not fair! You know everything about me!”

And you were fine with that arrangement until a few days ago! I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I’m pissed you think it means you can ask me shit.

“By ‘what’s gotten into me’, you’re of course referring to the grand reveal you’re an absolutely distinct identity, right?” Alex scoffed. Xander scoffed back, mocking him. “What am I supposed to say? ‘Get out of my head, I don’t want to know anything about you ever?’”

You said it in Vestal. I was thrilled.

In Vestal? ... Oh. Oh, that...

“I didn’t –”

Stop, stop, stop, just stop, seriously, stop. Stop. But he kept walking, because he didn’t mean ‘stop’ in that way. I am not offended. I am not hurt. I am not betrayed. I’m not holding anything against you. Don’t ask questions about my life.

“Why not?”

Fucking – because, okay? Just because. Don’t ask me questions just because. It creeps me out.

Hypocrite.

“Oh… I just thought…” It figured the first thing Alex asked about was a sensitive subject. That was how his luck ran. “I’m sorry...”

Nooooo – don’t make that sound! Ha, yes! Why, did he feel guilty? Was it working? Go suck a dick! This was immediately topped by a furiously reluctant, Do you swear you’ll leave me alone if I answer one thing? Alex didn’t know why this did when nothing else bothered him, but there was a very particular way of sounding sad Xander simply could not stand. The coma thing might have been a draw, but this was a victory for Team Alex. One thing, Alex. One thing.

If he could milk how depressed he was going to be to be losing his dearest, closest friend, Xander might spit out a full on PowerPoint. Alex might not always be able to fight, but when he was... But he only got to do it once a year, because for the rest of it, Xander would be on to his game, and it’d take around ten months for him to stop expecting it.

“One thing. Sure.”

Xander didn’t retract his comment about Alex being a liar. That was okay. Alex actually was on this most special of occasions. Why couldn’t he have done this to Osono? No one was ever around when he inexplicably managed to act.

... Fine. Ha, ha, ha, ha! Check and mate. What?

“How many brothers and/or sisters do you have in your real life?”

This is so stupid.

Alex tried not to laugh about it. He came close to pulling it off, but not quite. Still, he had the prudence to explain before Xander said anything, “I don’t know why this is making you so uncomfortable. Wouldn’t you want to talk about yourself? You’ve been living as me for six years. This is as much a refresher as it is an introduction.”

Shut up, Alex.

Whatever. He’d tried.

“So, siblings?”

... Five. Holy shit. He’d answered. It took Alex a minute to realize it because Xander said it the same way he mumbled ‘fine’, but he’d answered! They’re half-brothers. Daddy was a whore.

“Wow.” He was stunned. “I didn’t think you actually –”

Okay, enough now.

HA. Like that was happening. Next to car rides, ‘firsts’ had dominated everything around them. Whoever Xander was, he was finally coming into focus. Alex wasn’t letting him slip away. Guilt trips – he’d said they were an annual thing. He had to make this count.

... Xander had brothers. What else did he have?

“Are you close with them?” He’d braced himself for Xander’s outraged attack for having shockingly not stuck to one thing. “Do they know what happened?”

More or less.

“‘More or less’ is useless, Xander. It’s a nothing response.” This tiny flaunt of power was cooler knowing now he wasn’t trying to trick a fragment of his psyche, but someone new. “... If you don’t trust me... Sorry. Forget I asked. I’ll… go back to being quiet…”

Thirty seconds. Hey, he’d held out longer than he usually did.

I’m seriously gonna fucking kill you. But not until later. Two were great, the others were not, I will end you if you say a word about any fucking ‘past tense, present tense’ bullshit. Shut up!

Alright, sorry! No more talk about his suddenly existing brothers.

“Where were you born?”

Alex!

“I’m gonna find out eventually.”

Then eventually is when it’s gonna happen! He honestly didn’t want Alex to know anything about him? … Getting answers was going to be the highlight of next month. Gwen would get a kick out of this. Osono, too, if she stayed. Oh, look, it’s a red room. Thank God, he just about snarled. Go nuts with that. Stop prying.

They’d turned a final corner, and now they’d hit a crossroads. To their left was another hallway that looked the same as the ones they’d gone through, winding past several other rooms before disappearing in the distance. To their right, there was something else. This hallway was darkened. The spinning lights had veered away from there, and their silence made the dark glow at its end so much brighter and unforgiving. And it was warmer. That wasn’t a point in its favour.

The entrance into this room didn’t have a door. If it did, it would’ve been a double and it would’ve been on the side of the wall, not facing them. They could sneak up instead of worrying about being stared down as they approached. But the glow... It didn’t seem... friendly – which wasn’t what he meant, because what he meant was it looked like the mouth of Hell – and the excitement faded. The giddy rush he’d had melted from his face and he stared, quietly, at was probably the longest walk he’d ever have to take. Peter was somewhere around here. He didn’t know where, but somewhere. Xander thought something else was up. Wherever that was, it had a right to be feared. But after that, if Alex made it and lived through those two incredible dangers, his reward would be the Agent who’d... done this.

Ah, Xander pleasantly exhaled. So now we’ve shut up. Thank you.

“I don’t want to go in there.”

Kinda have to, unless you’re holding me hostage again. Alex stopped walking. Xander tried kicking at his knees to force his foot forward. Time crunch. Still happening. His toe twitched again.

“... Xander.” His breathing picked up. He couldn’t bring himself to slow it down. “... I can’t go if you’re going to turn against us.”

You know what I said about that. You also know what I said in the car.

Peter’s presence was everywhere. He would never leave them alone.

“I can’t do it.”

You have to, he said, frank, or I will have to make you.

“You’re asking for a leap of faith,” Alex bit off. “You won’t even tell me your name! How am I –”

It’s Marshall. I said it. Listen.

“Yeah – well... that’s great to throw out there. It doesn’t mean it’s not a lie,” he retorted.

It’s written on the tank! Go in – you’ll see it! It’s on a sign at the bottom. He didn’t move. He flinched, however, when Xander sighed deeply. Okay. Alright. I’ll level with you. You don’t want to trust me? I’ve been encouraging it. I don’t know what Peter wants but it’s going to happen soon, and unfortunately, even if I guarantee I’d get away, I can’t make you believe I wouldn’t be a danger to you later. It’s not possible.

“Saying I have to kill you doesn’t help.”

Well, we’re not doing what Rudy and Osono do. I’m not letting you go through that. He sighed again, more sternly. There’s... Fuck.

“What?”

There’s a button on the bottom of every stasis cell. Every model has it. It’s a kill switch. ... What? It’s big and red. You press it, a flap on the side opens up. Turn the key to left, pull it out, and that’s the end. Whatever’s inside goes off life support. It’d take about a minute.

Alex ‘looked’ at him. Xander was serious.

“Why would you tell me that?”

Because I’m not going to kill you. Should it ever get to that point, I’ll let you kill me first – that is a promise I can make regardless of what Peter does. But it doesn’t mean he won’t make me try. Those words echoed in his nightmares. Alex, if you sincerely don’t trust me and you can’t let me leave, then now’s your chance to stop it. I’ll understand.

The spinning lights behind him cast a flickering shadow down the corridor. He saw his body outlined and stretched towards the end room. It was like it was taunting him.

“I’m not killing you.”

Then go in.

“I can’t if I don’t –”

Then you’re killing me anyway! He felt a tug of panic. It was real. It was one of the glimpses he got from Xander’s vault of thoughts. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but that energy thing? It’s getting worse. Turn around and leave if you want, but I’m not gonna last in here. So – I’m sorry, I know it sounds pathetic, but if I’m gonna live, I need you to do this. Make a choice.

“Not when you’re telling me the choice is between letting you out to terrorize everyone or killing your body and letting you rot in my brain,” Alex spat.

If you want to be a retard, sure, those are your two options. Or you could not be a dumbass and transfer me in, hit the button and let me die in there.

“Why do you have to die?”

I’m just giving you your fucking options!

Whatever response Alex was supposed to have prepared was seared from his chest as his foot lit up. He didn’t remember hitting the ground. He just felt the pain. It pierced through his skull and it roared up his leg, slashing through his tendons as it ground his bones to dust. It came with a sound, a sharp static that screeched in his head, and burst so violently through his eyes that he blinded himself with a frenzy of light that shrieked back down his spine. The pain kept renewing. It felt worse and worse and worse –

... exactly what I told you was going to happen, don’t fucking blame a thing on me. Xander sounded livid, but more than that, he sounded far away. Alex, you in there? Alex?

“Yeah?”

There was a very sudden pause following Alex’s acknowledgement.

The fuck do you mean, ‘yeah’? Are you alive?

“... Yeah.” And to prove it, he sat up. Alex put an arm out to help himself and felt a weak tremble in his elbow, but other than that, he was... fine. He was... abruptly and... totally fine. “The pain’s gone.”

Now Xander was livid and confused.

What are you talking about? How is it gone?

“I don’t know. What happened?”

The thing I said was gonna happen. Had Xander lost his grip on Alex’s foot? He had it back now, but... You’re okay? Seriously?

“Yeah, I’m okay.” Frazzled, but he could live with it.

Great! Then I’m not apologizing. Xander hovered for a moment, then started to pull to him to feet. Can you stand?

“Yeah – Xander – stop. I’m okay.” Which... was weird, because at the restaurant, he’d been breathing around a sword that’d been lanced through his chest. Shouldn’t he still be in pain right now? “What the hell have you been doing to my foot?”

Therapeutic massage.

“I don’t feel it.” Alex gawked at his shoe. “Let go again.”

Fuck you. Go inside.

“No, really! Xander, let go. I want to see if it’s okay.” This was probably wishful thinking, but Alex’s head was clear and the nerves that’d been charring to blackness now seemed... ‘Fine’ was right the word. “For a second.”

Only for a second? Then what am I waiting for?! Now cut it out and move.

He wasn’t ready yet. He looked down the hall as if he expected the answer to come trotting down it. When it didn’t, he looked the other way at the red room. The glow hadn’t lessened. It was equally as useless. His eyes wouldn’t stop, though. He turned around, waiting for something to pop out at him.

“There’s a hole in ceiling.” He shouldn’t’ve noticed it, but he instinctively looked at the carpet. It might have been dark, but the dust was light enough to stand out. That hadn’t just... appeared...? It was like it’d been drilled in. “Xander. There’s two.”

Xander was studying it impatiently.

Do me a favour, he said. I don’t have time to discuss it. Get Gwen to tell you about Elmira again.

That’s the thing from Elmira?!” What the fuck?! “I can’t put holes in things!”

Talk. To. Gwen. Are you okay?

“Yes –”

Then my interest in this is over. Walk.

Alex staggered ahead, only to glance back at the fucking holes above them and remember why they’d stopped. “Wait, wait!” He’d drilled through a ceiling? He’d – just – what the fuck had just happened? “Wait! We haven’t settled this!”

I told you how to kill me. I told you what’ll happen if you don’t. I told you everything you need to know. What is there left to settle?

Alex sank back at what he said. The starkness of it cut deep.

“… Nothing.” Xander’d put his life in his hands. “You said it all.”

Good. Half the stress in his voice backed off. I’m glad. Now can we go?

“... Yes.”

Alright. Alex got pushed again. Then walk.


Last edited by Tartra on Thu Nov 10, 2011 1:30 pm; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : Soooo maaaaaany typooooos...)
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Part 2

Post by Tartra on Fri Sep 30, 2011 5:18 am


* * *

WHAT WAS ALEXANDER’S PLAN? EAVESDROPPING LIKE THIS – AS THOUGH SHE COULD HAVE MANAGED OTHERWISE, SEEING HOW CLOSE THEY WERE IN THIS CABIN – GOT HER CURIOUS FOR WHAT WAS HAPPENING ON THIS OTHER END. SHE KNEW WHAT WOULD BE HAPPENING, AND CRYPTIC WAS SET TO BEGIN NEARLY AS SOON THEY ARRIVED, BUT THE HYPOTHETICAL HAD HER INTERESTED. WHO WAS THE DASHING PRINCE COME TO SAVE HIS LOST PRINCESS? WAS IT THE TRUE ALEXANDER? WAS IT THE AGENT INSIDE HIM? WAS IT BOTH? THE BEAUTY OF WHAT COULD HAPPEN SHOULD SHE DARE TO FATHOM THAT...

MADELINE DRUMMED HER NAILS ALONG THE ARMS SHE HAD CROSSED. CURIOSER AND CURIOSER. ALEXANDER DID THROW A WRENCH INTO THINGS. FORTUNATELY, HIS WRENCH HAD A TENDENCY TO LAND IN HIS FORMER ALLIANCE’S MACHINERY. WHAT NOW? DID THIS GIRL BELIEVE IN RESCUE? DID SHE SEE A LIGHT AT THE END OF THIS BLEAK TUNNEL?

POOR THING. THIS WAS A PERSON MADELINE WANTED TO HELP. SHE HAD NO USE FOR TEARS AND HAD COME TO FIND THEM DISGRACEFUL, BUT SHE SAW BEYOND THEM WHEN THEY FOLLOWED A CRY FOR AID. MARCH HAD NO MERCY LEFT INSIDE HER. SHE SAT UP STRAIGHT, POISED AS EVERYTHING PATTEN WANTED HER TO BE. THAT, AND ONLY THAT, STILLED MADELINE’S HAND FROM ATTACK. SHE COULD HAVE SAVED THIS GIRL WITH A DRAG OF HER FINGERS, BUT MARCH WAS TOO DANGEROUS. AND MARCH WOULD SURELY BE THE FIRST OF MANY. PATTEN DID NOT UNDERSTAND HOW SUCCESS COULD AVOID REPITITION. IF THIS WOMAN FULFILLED HER PURPOSE, A DOOR WOULD BE OPENED. STEPHANIE HAD TO FAIL. SHE WOULD FALL TO THE TRANSFER AS IT BROKE IN TWO OR SHE FALL TO HERSELF AS THEY KILLED GWENDOLYN. THEY HAD NO CHOICE. MADELINE HAD NO CHOICE. THIS WAS A LIFE THAT WOULD BE EXTINGUISHED TO DESTROY THE REIGN OF THAT MAN, AND WITH A POWERFUL SWEEP OF HER BREATH THROUGH THE AIR, SHE SWORE THE HIGHEST HONOUR SHE COULD GIVE TO THIS GIRL WHO HAD NEVER MEANT TO BE A VICTIM.

SHE ALMOST HOPED ALEXANDER WOULD ARRIVE, BUT THIS WOULD HAVE TO BE PERFECT.

SO LONG AS SHE THOUGHT IN HYPOTHETICAL, WHERE WAS THE HARM IN WONDERING? THE POINT OF THIS WAS TO SHATTER MARCH. STEWART WAS A CASUALTY CHOSEN AT RANDOM. SHOULD THE FORMER DIE AND THE LATTER LIVE, THEIR WORK WOULD HAVE COMPLETED. STEWART WOULD SEE ANOTHER YEAR AND DANCE OFF WITH HER BOYFRIEND, AND PATTEN’S GOLDEN LADY WOULD HAVE DESTROYED THE COURAGE HE NEEDED TO PRESS ON. HIS PLAN WOULD NOT BE STOPPED, BUT THE HALT WOULD SEVERELY IMPEDE HIM. HE MIGHT NOT RECOVER. THEY MIGHT EXPOSE A POINT OF WEAKNESS.

MARCH, MEANWHILE, HAD A DIFFERENT COURSE OF EVENTS PLANNED.

“YOU KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT HER FRIEND, MARCH? DID PATTEN SHARE WITH YOU SOME NEWS?”

IMPOSSIBLE. MADELINE WOULD HAVE HEARD OF IT. IN FACT, THAT WOMAN THOUGHT IN GREATER FANTASY THAN SHE WOULD EVER MANAGE. WHERE PATTEN CONTINUED TO FIND THESE PEOPLE…

THE DOG BEGINNING TO DOZE OFF. MARCH’S LATEST VOICE WAS HYPNOTIC. MADELINE WAS SIMPLY ANNOYED, BUT SHE APPRECIATED THE EFFECT IT HAD ON THE FAT MUTT. SHE STILL KICKED HIM AWAKE AND ORDERED HIM TO GIVE THE SMALL CLOTH SHE KEPT IN HER POCKET TO STEWART. THE YOUNG LADY WAS HAVING A DIFFICULT DAY. IT WAS, TRULY, THE LEAST MADELINE COULD OFFER, BUT GIVEN THEIR PRESENT COMPANY, IT WAS ALMOST MORE THAN SHE COULD AFFORD.

“DO ENLIGHTEN US,” SHE SAID. “I THINK YOU CAN SPARE A MOMENT OF TORMENTING YOUR CAPTIVE TO INFORM ME OF WHATEVER YOU THINK IS HAPPENING IN MY BUILDING.”

* * *

His eyes were closed. He looked at ease.

At least as far as Alex knew. The rest of him could’ve told a different story, but his mouth and nose were covered by a mask and tube hooked to the tank’s top. Still, although it wasn’t much, he could make out a jaw line. It almost wasn’t what he was expecting. He hadn’t come here with any set idea of what Xander should have looked like, but the subtle difference between what he’d been thinking and what reality was spelling out for him was... interesting. His jaw had a curve to its corners, giving it a noted shape before it tucked away. His hair was brown, but probably not as dark as it was in the red light, the very same that made his skin seem both fiery and pale. It was longer than what he thought Xander would’ve had patience for. Likely it wouldn’t make it past the ‘real’ Xander’s chin, if that far in the first place, but it’d get in the way of his ears. The endless air bubbles floated by to lift the front of it. When they did, Alex noticed the small bend down in his hairline. His cheeks were the only thing he could see clearly. The mask didn't cover them, so they were free to stand out enough to interrupt what would’ve been the straight lines of his face. What was the word he should’ve used? ‘Pronounced’? Something close?

Mind if I ask a question?

“Uh... Sure.”

Terrific, thanks. Why the fuck are you staring so intently at my head?

“Am I not supposed to?” ‘Cause… he was naked. Alex had extremely limited options.

Keep it moving, tap dance. There’s plenty of time to ogle my ass when it’s out of the test tube. We need to find the controls.

Xander’d already started looking for them. He just got more determined when he said it, switching from looking at out the corner of Alex’s eyes to turning him and making him walk over to the wall. So… the controls were in the wall? … And hidden, because instead of only an intense study of the surface, he was running his hands along it. Alex wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. Considering the cash they’d spend on their regular weapons, how hard would it be to stick a poisoned spike everywhere? Even a rusted nail could hit him with tetanus, and no matter how smooth the walls looked, he was still working off the red light of dead people. Well – almost-dead people. One of which was Xander. The real one.

“So what is your name? And I’m only asking because I read the sign,” Alex said quickly. “It didn’t say what you said. It was ‘E’ something.”

Elias? … Yeah. It’s called a surname, stupid. But after ‘Elias’, it was ‘M’, right?

“I don’t know. I was trying to ignore anything under your neck.”

Good boy. You’ve learned after all. The search didn’t take long. His hand ran over a groove, and Xander instantly reacted by digging the rest of his fingers into it, pulling until he cracked a line down a short length of the wall, then ripped the front of a panel off entirely. Dozens of switches stared back at them. Naturally, none of them were labelled. Okay. Progress.

“... These are the controls?”

Crap.

These are the controls for the controls. The pre-controls. Xander gave them a careful eye. Let’s… see… what this one does.

Poke.

A gigantic clank broke out from above them, running a tremor under their feet and ever so slightly shaking the five, red, people-holders that were supposed to be stuck to the ground. Alex flattened himself against the wall, hugging it for dear life because that up there sounded like the apocalypse.

“What the hell was that? What did you do?”

No idea.

“… And what the hell was that?” What kind of answer was that? “No ‘wrong switch’, no ‘shut up, I’ve got it’?” Xander didn’t even answer him. Alex’s stress levels skyrocketed. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

We, he said, pushing Alex away from the wall and spinning him around to face the controls again, are transferring. That’s what’s going on. He pressed another switch on the opposite side of the panel. Nothing happened at all now. Alex didn’t feel any better.

“Xander, seriously,” he said softly. “You don’t act like this.” Another switch. They both paused to listen for more awful sounds, but other than a short, low hum, there was nothing. Xander continued toying with the pre-controls. More importantly, he brushed off Alex completely. “This is still about that body. The one Rudy shot.” To be honest, he had more incentive to ask about the eye-beam, but the fact that some dead minion was an issue for any longer than ten seconds meant something was severely amiss, and Xander trying to downplay it was not working like either of them hoped. “Are we okay?”

Yeah. Fine.

“I can hear the ‘for now’ from a mile –”

Nothing I say is gonna make a difference. Just drop it.

Alex heard venom. In that case, this was about the dead Agent and Peter.

“Is he attacking us?”

Does it look like he’s fucking attacking us?

“That’s a bad thing?” More switches, but only the ones away from the mini-Judgement Day toggle. “You’re leaving this up to my imagination, and that thing’s telling me he’s got us at his mercy. So just tell me what’s happening so I can stop…” He noticed the strain growing in the silence. “… Xander. My imagination’s crazy, right?”

We’re gonna need to find someone else to do this. There’d better be a nerd pulling an all-night around here, and he’d better know how this works.

Oh.

Sweet.

Fuck.

“We are?!”

Just be glad he’s not bothering us, Xander said. Evidently, we’re worth more not dead.

Osono! Shit – they’d just left her! They’d fucking left her!

“We have to find her,” he cried. “Why didn’t we stick together?!”

‘Cause the plan was not to?

“The plan was based on us being ambushed! That’s clearly not happening!”

I don’t know about that.

For good measure or for whatever other reason, Xander jabbed at a few more switches. More rumbles, more empty pauses, more nothing of any kind.

“Okay – stop it,” Alex said. “Stop it ‘cause… I have to know now! You can’t keep leaving me in the dark and then expect me to handle it when you’re gone!” But if Xander was this disturbed by the no-name threat around them, would he be able to survive even with the guy’s help? “What was wrong with the Agent Rudy killed? You spent three minutes looking at it –”

He was invisible.

“I can handle that,” he insisted. “I might not see them right away, but it’s not like it’s my first time!”

Alex. He’d finally stopped trying to act like they were safe. He was invisible, not faded. I didn’t see him.

“… You always see them.”

Yeah, well, fuckers got an upgrade.

“Oh…” Then they… Oh, shit. “Shit. So there is –”

Hey. Deep breaths. If we were gonna be killed, it would’ve happened by now. Peter’s waiting for something before he gives the order.

Yeah, and I can guess what it is! He wants you back in your body!” This was a trap. This was the trap they’d been preparing for but hadn’t expected. Invisible Agents, ones who could attack without Xander – Xander – seeing them try. There could be hundreds here! Rudy had shot one of them by firing randomly into the distance! “Dammit, Xander! Why the hell didn’t you say something?!”

So you could panic exactly the way you are now? We have a transfer ahead of us, Alex. I need your concentration. Peter could have killed us but he hasn’t yet. He’s fucking with us. Let’s just… That hesitation meant Alex was going to loathe whatever words came out of him next. Let’s hope he doesn’t get bored.



“Okay, now I’m panicking.”

Xander sighed and flipped more switches, steadily moving down the lines and waiting mere moments between each one.

It could be the one guy. I don’t know how much these new suits cost. They looked expensive. But on the other hand? The retard did walk into a bullet. But it might mean they spent more money on tech than on training, which happens.

“You said they’d never send only one against you.”

Faded. They’d never send only one who was faded, but invisible… He shook his head. I can’t believe they pulled it off.

“I’m thrilled you’re impressed,” Alex shot out.

It’s my only choice, since you won’t let me stop thinking about it, Xander said, frustrated. We can’t change what’s happening. Accept it. And – just… head straight for the exit when I’m in. Your leg’s gonna suck, but you need to move.

“That’s good advice, except we took so many turns getting here, I can’t remember what direction we’re in now.” If only he’d blasted more holes in the ceiling. Or in invisible Agents. “You better remember.”

Let’s hope Sparky does.

‘Hope’ was not allowed to replace ‘fine’, because ‘hope’ was worse in every possible way, and from Xander, Alex was almost sick.

“Yeah. And that she can drag us both.” This foot was not going to be easy to handle. The bandages – Xander was going to have to put them on before he left. Alex wasn’t sure he could do it the way this guy had likely mastered. “By the way, I don’t think you can fit any of my clothes.” Stupid show-off eating steroids… What was doubly unfortunate was that he’d left his bag behind in the car. “I guess… towel?”

Alex. Fuck. Okay – whatever, what? What now? I’m not coming with you.



“Um… Okay.” One second. He wasn’t choosing between demonic outrage and unforgivable horror. “Um… What?”

I’ll find you when I’m awake. You guys can’t wait for me.

“But we have to wait for you,” Alex said slowly. “You have to come with us.”

I will, but only after I catch up.

Did anyone else hear what this voice in his head was saying? Where was it coming from? When the fuck had this been decided?

“Xander, if we leave you, Peter will do… whatever the hell he was planning on,” Alex said.

I know. And he was okay with that? I know the risks. That’s why I explained them.

“But – Gwen! Gwen, she’s…”

He didn’t finish that sentence, even though it’d had an ending. ‘She’s counting on you.’ Something had interrupted him. That something was guilt. A vivid, haunting surge of it rose up from his feet before it was put away. Alex recognized it. That guilt was from Xander, and it was the same rare glimpse of emotion he’d let out when Gwen had been taken away from the restaurant.

Question.

This was one he didn’t want to hear the answer to.

“Xander,” he said, trying to work up his nerve. “Why aren’t you coming with us?”

Alex knew what he’d say if he’d been asked why they weren’t allowed to wait: Peter wanted Xander back in his body, and they might be allowed to leave out of gratitude for delivering their warrior. Staying to stop it would carve their names into Peter’s list. It was the cold rationale he was used to hearing from the guy. Alex could try and deny the logic, but in the end, Xander was laying out their best odds. That wasn’t the problem here. The problem was completely different.

The transfer… He paused to think about his words. The actual transfer – the part where a mind is moved from body to body – is the only part of the process that’s fast. Going to a new body means you have the time sucking brain scans to put up with, then the coma, which takes even longer. Going back, it’s not as bad, but it’s worse depending on how long you’ve been in storage. Xander turned his head back towards his cell. To his body. That’s eight years of no movement, no breathing for myself, no real exposure to light… Even if I was coming, it’s not like I could help. I need time to recover. So there’s no point in staying.

“Oh. Okay. That makes sense.” He didn’t want to ask. He didn’t. “Then… I guess my next question is, ‘how long have you known about this’?”

I’ve always known.

“What I’m getting at is, if you’ve known for a while, why would you take so long to bring it up? You never told us and you never even implied… but you’ve known.” Xander had known when he’d walked in here. He’d known in the car. He’d known at the restaurant…

I figured now would be the best time for it.

No. No trying to ‘obvious answer’ his way out.

“Best for who?” That wasn’t hard. “Best for you? Why? Why did you need to tell me at the last minute?” That guilt. That guilt was not forgotten. Xander had felt it so intensely back there. “What did it have to do with Gwen? Because honestly, other than ruining your chances of us putting you first, there’s nothing I can…”

It hit him. Xander didn’t have much to say about it.

… Yeah.

“You…” He shouldn’t’ve asked. “You didn’t tell us… because you didn’t want to risk not coming here first?” That guilt hadn’t been a charming ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough to save you, Gwen’. It’d been a ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough to save you, Gwen, but I have to get my body now, so good luck with not having your mind destroyed’. “You knew she was in danger! And you weren’t – you’re in a fucking aquarium!” The pressure hadn’t been on back then. Peter hadn’t given them the ultimatum, and they would’ve never heard if Xander hadn’t – “That’s why you called him?!”

I told you why I was calling.

Bullshit! I knew it made no sense, no matter what you said!”

It did make sense, Xander snapped. It wasn’t like I was doing it on purpose.

He admitted it. He’d just admitted it.

“Part of you was.” The guilt. Alex couldn’t shake the memory. “Part of you needed a reason not to feel so bad about throwing her to the Agents, and calling Peter gave you one.” The timeline Xander’d come up with… It’d accounted for the trip to Charlton and what it’d take to get back to Elmira. He’d been thinking about this all day. And night, because those notes – the Braille ones… “Peter really helped you, didn’t he? It looks like you two are still friends.” Xander had stopped flipping switches. His fingers were touching one of the last ones, rigid with hate that’d consumed them as Alex connected the dots. “And you’re picking him over us.”

Fuck you.

“No, think about it.” Although Xander probably already had. “You walked us into a deathtrap knowing Peter wanted you to transfer. Those invisible Agents? Wow.” Alex couldn’t help laughing. “Wow. You’re a fucking genius. Because you know who would’ve known there were other people in here, Xander? A psychic. A psychic would have known. So good job on making sure we didn’t have one of those, otherwise we might’ve called this off.” They didn’t know where Osono was. Hell, even Rudy was in trouble, considering he’d shot one. “It’s nice getting your way, huh?”

Amazingly, Xander didn’t have anything to say. The hate had faded, but nothing had taken its place. Alex didn’t feel anything from him, but there was no mental wall up to stop him. Xander – just… wasn’t feeling anything right now. But if he wasn’t working the pre-controls, Alex would, because he had enough of this wild ride and he wanted it to be over. He went through three more before a new sound appeared. Sliding. Metal sliding, and against more metal. Behind them, part of the wall was rising up. A full system had been tucked away behind it, beginning with a wide monitor and moving on to a complicated set of buttons and interfaces.

“Are those the real controls?”

Xander nodded. He didn’t say a word.

“Okay.” Alex prepared to shuffle towards them, purely to stop before he started. There was one last thing he should say. “Xander?”

No reply, just a mild shift of focus.

“Best of luck with Peter.”

… Thanks…

“Don’t thank me for that.”

He started to cross the room, wincing at the sight of the console he’d have to figure out in minutes. He had no intention of going back on his word – he wanted Xander to be transferred out, as much for that guy’s sake as his own – or testing the ex-Agent’s. He wasn’t going to look for a kill switch. But he wondered about it. He wondered if Xander regret telling him it existed. He had nothing to be afraid of, but was he nervous about it anyway?

Alex sincerely, profusely hoped so.


Last edited by Tartra on Thu Nov 10, 2011 1:42 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Part One

Post by Guest on Thu Oct 06, 2011 8:56 pm

"Very nice to meet you, Anjelica," Fin said, taking her hand in a small shake - a lot less formal than Creasy's - and she actually smiled just the tiniest bit. "So, are you with the Docs or are you just here to make sure the plane ride is as enjoyable as possible?"

She regarded him with a considering look for a moment and glanced at the seats behind him. "Yes, I'm with the Docimasy, but I'm not one of them." Indicating the two Agents in the back. Fin looked back as well. Haggins had papers out and was silently mouthing the words while reading, seemingly lost in deep, concentrated thought. A quick glance behind his seat told him that Creasy wasn't paying attention either but messing with his cell phone, possibly messaging someone or checking his Facebook updates. Neither of them seemed to acknowledge the conversation he was having with Anjelica, nor the fact that the plane was moving and picking up speed.

"What do you mean, 'them'?" Fenton asked, quirking an eyebrow. "Do you mean 'them' as in a man? Because, yes, I believe I noticed that about you right away." He paused and looked her over, letting his eyes wander over all of her smooth curves covered in skin-tight, shiny fabric - the only things left exposed were her hands and her head but she might as well have been sitting there naked for all the suit kept concealed. The best part was, she was the perfect body type to wear it. "It was the lesbian comment that tipped me off."

He was beginning to really like the almost tolerant expressions she kept giving him, particularly the smile she kept struggling to hide. "No, I meant, I'm not a part of the detective unit. I'm a doctor."

There was a long pause in conversation as the jet picked up speed and lifted off but once they were steady in the air, Fin turned back and said, "A doctor? Wow. Aren't you a little... young?" She couldn't have been much older than he was - 30 at the most but that was pushing it. Nobody took that much care of their body to stay looking that good. Unless... she'd transferred into it... "I thought medical school was supposed to take a hundred years or something. So, either you're looking really fine for 90 or..." He gave her a wary look that turned secretive as he leaned forward and whispered, "...did you sell your soul to Satan?"

A deep chuckle came from the seat behind him and he glanced back to see Creasy shaking his head with a humored smile on his face and going back to his text conversation. Anjelica shook her head as well, turning away from him and doing her 'trying not to smile' thing towards the front of the plane. Creasy's laughter had gotten Haggins's attention and he leaned forward a little and said to Fin, "More like the Bride of Satan."

Anjelica frowned and turned in her seat to scowl at the kid sitting behind her and rolled her eyes before righting herself. If she was 10 years younger, Fin would have expected her to smack the kid on the head like an annoyed older sister. Hm, interesting. First Creasy with his fatherly teasing and now these two were acting like siblings. It was completely different from the atmosphere of distance and authority that Graninger cultivated in his base. Maybe other Agency divisions and bases encouraged this 'familial' approach?

He had a smart comment for Haggins prepared, but decided to ignore him for now. "Do you take walk-ins?"

"In the morgue, I do," she said giving him a slanted smile and a sultry look. Fin blinked at her. Okay... that was a little odd. If he didn't know any better, he'd almost swear that she was flirting with him. Or threatening him. It was hard to tell. Noticing his confusion, she tried not to smile and said, "My specialty is dead people." Oh. That kind of 'doctor'.

"Hm. Sounds like you might've missed a few classes in medical school. Patients aren't typically supposed to end up like that when they come to see you, you know. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's an oath that'll tell you all about it." She pursed her lips and scowled in amusement, shaking her head and glancing out the window. "Okay, so you're an Agency coroner? That never would have occurred to me. I bet it impresses the ladies, though." God, she was cute when she smirked like that - he could do this all day and still be entertained by her struggle to hide her amusement. And she was amused. Good. Then he'd keep making references to her sexuality until she told him to stop or admitted that she digged him. That seemed to be a consistent way of handling these situations... "What rank do you have to be to get the privilege of cutting bodies open?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "A-6," she said smoothly. "Each Doc team is assigned an M.E. that travels with the group during investigations, specifically when a murder may be involved."

"So, there was a murder? In Charlton?" There was an abrupt and short grunt from behind Fenton's seat and immediately she grew quiet and cautious. Very subtle, Creasy.

"I'm sorry, I can't discuss it." Of course not. Not with her boss breathing down their necks. Well, although it didn't make him any less nervous about their presence, at least now he knew someone had been killed, otherwise they wouldn't have brought along their gothic forensic lady to do an autopsy. Who was murdered and who was the murderer? Fenton supposed that they wouldn't be out here with their investigators if they already knew the answer to that, but they had to at least have somebody they suspected. Why did he automatically want to point the finger at Patten? He had absolutely nothing to base his suspicions on except for Graninger's cryptic comments before he left.

Changing gears, she finally asked, "What rank are you and where do you work?"

None of this sat well with him. A little because he was concerned for his job but mostly because he was snoopy. He had to know if they were really coming after Eric Patten. He had a duty to protect his new boss - or at least, that was what he was telling himself his was motivation for pressing the matter. Fin probably wasn't going to get anything out of her directly, but he might be able to gauge her reactions if he said the right things. "I'm an A-12. And I'm going to be working for an A-1 named Eric Patten." He was watching her closely as her dark eyes widened briefly and she looked him up and down again as if re-assessing him. "Do you know him?"

"No, but he's an A-1, so I'm familiar with the name. Nothing but rumors really."

Immediately whatever surprise had been there was gone and she almost seemed genuinely uninterested in talking about the guy. Great way to sweep that under the rug and deflect his attention, Anjie. Too bad he already saw-- "Are you really an A-12? You don't act like it." Oh, wait. Of course. His rank was what surprised her. Once again, Fin was brought face-to-face with the fact that he'd let his tongue run away from him in front of higher level Agents. There was a very specific hierarchy at play here and he was ignoring all of it in favor of being friendly and hitting on girls. He had to get rid of this habit before he finally reported to Patten, otherwise he'd really start to pay for it.

"Yeah, I'm sorry," he said, mockingly humble. "I had a lot of sugar today."

That was when something occurred to him, and he suddenly had the urge to talk to Graninger about all of this. It was his private jet. Creasy had said that this was the last private flight leaving for Charlton in the next couple of hours, yet Fin couldn't see the guy being let on unless he got permission from Graninger to board. There was no way that smug bastard didn't know they were here but how involved was he? Did he know about this before Fin left or after? If it was the former, then why wouldn't he tell Fin to expect company on this flight? What might he be trying to hide? He didn't want to be paranoid, but he didn't like feeling Graninger playing with his strings either.

When the seat belt light finally turned off, he unbuckled himself and stood up. Speaking to Anjelica, Fin said "'scuse me for just a moment," before turning and proceeding down the aisle to the bathroom in the back of the plane. As soon as the door to the small cubicle was shut, he pulled out his cell phone and began typing a message, sending it to Graninger's number. He didn't usually text, but he really didn't want to risk being overheard if he spoke aloud. If the door was any indication, these walls weren't very thick

what do you know about the docimasy? There, straight to the point and no confusion about what he was asking.

There was a minute or two before he finally got a response and Fin was leaning against the sink when his phone beeped the alert. Why? Did you make some friends? He could almost see the guy's smug little smirk and Fin let out a silent sigh. Well, alright, if Graninger wanted to play games...

yeah. the vampy necrophiliac and the jewish kid are nice but the lecherous socal mobster is my favorite. were bffs.

Be respectful. Fin wanted to laugh. There was something still incredibly amusing about Graninger's reactions, particularly because he could see the guy being stone-cold serious with that reprimand. They all outrank you and should be treated with humble subservience. Don't be a hot shot and keep your mouth shut unless you're addressed.

relax. apprently i pass for a higher rank. Was the A-2 cringing and resisting the urge to tell him how impersonating a higher rank was strictly against the rules? It was really hard to hate Graninger sometimes. The guy was just so high-strung and easy to bait. they're after a murderer in charlton. seriously do you know anything about that?

Fenton tried to imagine how Graninger would react and he was pretty close when the next message popped up on his screen, Nothing for you to worry about. What they're doing doesn't affect you. Leave it alone. That is an order.

This was just like what happened with his orders about Pie. Not only was Fin just supposed to shut up and not ask questions just because the man said so but also he said it in such a way that made Fin feel like there were plans that involved him that he wasn't being told about. But he was in their club now and there were rules he had to follow if he wanted to make his way to the top. So, all of this nosy, mouthing off needed to stop if he wanted to reach his goals without any more delays or obstacles. Besides, he'd contacted Graninger to try and weasel information out of him and the man made it clear that he wasn't going to be useful on that front.

Before he could make any final decision one way or the other, it was made for him as a knock came from the door. "Just a second," he called out, while hastily typing out ys sir and pressing send.

He turned to flush the toilet for the sound effect of it, pretending he actually did something productive in here, and his hand was at the latch just as his phone beeped again. Good boy. Have a safe trip. Yeah, sure. It wasn't like if they crashed he wouldn't survive or something. And he knew how Graninger might say it too; with the condescension he'd express towards a dog. Biting the inside of his lip, Fenton opened the door and left the tiny water closet.

At least, he would have if she hadn't been in the way. Anjelica. One minute she was blocking the doorway with her gorgeous, lithe form and the next, he was gently pushed backwards and she was suddenly occupying the cramped space with him. He stood looking at her as she closed the door again, waiting for her to say something first and when it finally came, it was exactly what he expected. "I need you," she purred huskily.

"I'm sorry," he murmured in a falsely apologetic tone. "I'm just not comfortable with chaperoning. You're going to have to use it by yourself this time." And he pointed at the toilet off to the right of the sink then tapped her on the side of the shoulder encouragingly.

An actual smile blossomed on her face, bringing an entirely new dynamic to her cold and morbidly stern features, actually looking like a young woman for the first time since he met her. Moving forward to press her body flush up against his, she kissed him with soft and urgent lips, unzipping the jacket of his uniform and running her hands all over him. He didn't stop her, kissing her back for a moment or two before finally breaking off and saying, "Hey, I thought you said you were batting for the other team."

"I lied," she said simply, pushing her long bangs out of her face, her dark eyelashes hovering low over her cheeks while giving him a coquettish look.

"I knew it--!" he said triumphantly before her lips enveloped his once again, her hand running through his hair and the other slipping under his shirt to stroke his flat abdomen. That's when his paranoia kicked in. Wasn't she working with people who were specifically going after Agents who broke the Agency's biggest rules? Fin was pretty certain - despite Graninger's naughty example and past exploits - that Agency affairs were somewhat serious business. What with the conflict of interest and all. While she directed her attention to his neck, biting him like an actual vampire, he once again spoke up, deliberately whispering. "What about your boss? I mean, he's right outside the door and he said something about the Docimasy and sexual assault..."

Anjelica released a heavy breath and drew back from him, craning her arms to reach her back while giving him a tolerant yet impatient look. "Creasy? Everyone knows that he's boning his secretary. He won't care about this so long as you don't file an official complaint against me." The harsh sound of a zipper accompanied her words and by the time she was finished talking, she'd slipped both arms free and stood exposed down to the waist.

Fenton looked at the plush and supple expanse of skin - taking back what he thought earlier about her being the same as naked with her suit on - and pursed his lips, slowly shaking his head. "Nope... No...complaints here..."

Smiling again, she wrapped her arms around him, kissing him feverishly as his hands cradled the smooth, warm skin of her back.

***
Gwen didn't know what to think of that, but not wanting to be rude, she gingerly took the handkerchief from the guy and wiped the slow-drying tears off her cheeks. She still held true to her first impressions of this woman being extremely unpleasant, especially now that she'd begun shouting - did she always talk like that or was she actually angry about something? It almost sounded conversational, if one could use that term to categorize screeching. Anything was a relief from the noise that came from inside Stephanie March's mind. With the way she spoke, it was obvious she was an Agent as well - what about the guy with the glasses? Was he the dark haired woman's assistant or something?

From her demeanor and Stephanie's reactions, it was immediately obvious that these women were not friends and something changed inside of Stephanie when the other woman began talking, as images and thoughts suddenly began filtering out of her head. There was still the internal violin and nails-on-a-chalkboard screeching that kept Gwen from touching anyone else, but the blonde Agent's mind was now an open book. At first, Gwen thought maybe it was from a lack of focus that made the internal walls slip and fall down briefly. But as Stephanie turned to her - very stubbornly refusing to talk to the dark-haired Agent - she realized it had nothing to do with concentration. The woman was falling apart inside.

"Not something, that Master told me," she said to Gwen - and ONLY Gwen. "It was a plan, that the lazy Canuck, and I came up, with prior to His joining, our team. To lure you both, to Charlton where, Xander's body would be, making sure, that we arrived first, and allowing Alexander, to attempt a retransfer. In the middle of it, if the drunkard can get, off of his ass, long enough to do, his fucking job, then he'll stop the transfer, right when, Xander is between bodies. Killing him. Forever. Then Alexander, will be taken into, custody."

There were several unfamiliar nicknames that were being used that flooded Gwen's mind with impressions, cluing her into who these people were - at least in direct relation to Stephanie. First, she recognized the name the other woman shouted: Patten. He was the corpse-like signature that Rudy talked to on the cellphone; the guy who put the fear of God into the short weasel and who's threats kept Rudy from hurting or killing her during their hellish trip. Remembering the few times Rudy had punched and slapped her and feeling the dull ache in her bruises, she amended that to "mostly" and was merely thankful the sociopathic little Agent hadn't also given into the urge to shoot her. This Patten guy had seemed involved before but how was he involved now? Was he the dark-haired Agent's boss or Stephanie's?

Second, was the oddly named "Master" - his real name was Master inside Stephanie's head - who's mental impression was accompanied by a picture of a gargantuan, muscular man posing dramatically on a mountaintop, like a superhero or a Greek God or something. He was holding the Earth cupped in the palm of his hand, dwarfed by his massive grip, a blood red sunset shined behind him, casting him in a demonic light, and a large, brilliantly blinding yet strangely charming smile dominated his face. Normally, when Gwen got impressions like this - well, at least what she'd come to regard as "normal" during the 3 days she'd had her powers - an image like a photo of a person showed up in her head, or some flash of memory like a small movie seen from the person's point of view. Seeing this guy in such a glorified depiction, she couldn't help but question if he was real or not.

And finally, there were the references to a Canadian and the impression she got, although just as dramatic and exaggerated as the other, Gwen instantly recognized him as the Frenchman from Alex's memories. This was where she got the greatest reveal of what was wrong inside Stephanie's head, when she was given the opportunity to compare the image of how the woman saw him to Alex's memories of him - the ones he didn't mean to share with her but that she'd caught and saved that night in the hotel. There was the smoking, the sunglasses, the slicked back hairdo and the obvious accent - which Stephanie's mind warped cartoonishly with babbling "French-ish" words. Everything else was like looking at a Dracula-themed parody of the guy: creepy and thin, pale, with a hideous, snooty frown, sharp widow's peak and a thousand cigarettes coming from his mouth, ears and nose. Ah, so, he was most definitely not a friend either. As if the insults didn't clue her in.

"Even if the, arrogant Quebecer is, unable to muster the motivation, to participate in the, greatest moment of, his pathetic life - what he's been chasing, and waiting for, for years - then Master and I, have already set someone, to pick up, the very predictable, slack."

Jason. She was talking about the possessive addict, with the invisible suit, who stole her goggles. From the few impressions she got from Stephanie's head, he was her knight in shining armor and from the images presented, it almost seemed literal - fighting a dragon with a sword and everything. Although, it was a bit hard to separate Stephanie's fantasies from the reality of what was happening between them, apparently... they'd gotten closer since the last time Gwen saw either of them. And he'd been ordered to stay behind to help with Alex and Xander's retransfer.

Again, she felt a moment of concern for Alex after hearing the plan, wondering what would happen to him and if he'd get out alive. Or next time they saw each other, would they both be looking at one other with Agents behind their eyes? She felt nothing after hearing that Xander was going to die. There was a second when she felt appalled that she could be so heartless, but from the things Stephanie said combined with what Xander himself kept saying to her and Alex, she didn't feel like she could depend on or trust him if he made it through the transfer alive. What was stopping him from going back to the Agency? He was and always had been one of THEM. And she was almost certain now, that even if he didn't die and the best case scenario happened where he made it back into his original body and decided to tell the Agency to go fuck themselves, he would not come for her. He had no loyalty to her and during their last argument, she made it clear that she had none for him either. Even though she hadn't really felt that way at the time, right now she experienced no guilt over the things she'd said.

The thing that ground at her the most though, was the fact that Alex didn't have a choice. He couldn't just wait for Xander to get weaker and weaker and risk himself being affected when the guy faded. After 6 years of being stuck together, there was no telling how attached they actually were on the inside and whether or not parts of Alex would disappear when Xander finally did. So, she didn't blame him for walking into the trap, knowing that they had a limited amount of time to do what they needed to do. But she hated how helpless the situation made her feel - aside from the fact that she couldn't reach out to Alex and warn him about it - particularly the fact that Xander had become necessary to Alex's survival. He couldn't go through with the transfer because Xander might actually make it and then turn on him; he couldn't wait for Xander to fade because he might die too; and yet, Alex couldn't make it in and out of there in one piece without Xander's help.

"As I, already said Alexander's, Agent may be a shiftless, freeloader but he knows, his target inside and out. He is able, to predict what he'll, do and that, is how I am, absolutely certain, Alexander will come for his, body and fall into, our trap. It is also, how I know, he doesn't give a shit, about you."

Alright, she'd had enough of this mental game that Stephanie was playing. Even if some of what she said was true, she was saying it for the specific purpose of cutting Gwen down and she KNEW it. Gwen hadn't seen it when she was crying before, but then again, she hadn't possessed this very open view into Stephanie's head, which allowed her to see the woman's intent. Anyway, it was time to turn the tables.

Looking at her, not only could Gwen see what was inside of Stephanie's mind but she could also touch the parts of her brain that controlled her body's biological systems. She'd already known something was wrong with Stephanie just by the way she looked and acted now, but it became ever clearer as she got an X-ray look at the woman's body. Something was wrong, but as far as pinpointing a direct cause, she couldn't find it. An unbelievable amount of stress was being put upon Stephanie's internal systems, to the point where Gwen found several weak mental and physical supports that were on the verge of snapping under the pressure.

If there was ever a chance that she might be able to escape, then this was the best weakness she could exploit. Let's see how you like it when people bring up your most vulnerable wounds and darkest secrets, Stephanie. "What about Jason?" Stephanie didn't blink but inside there was a flurry of thoughts and emotions in response to Gwen's words. "He tried to leave you, twice, didn't he? I think that says something about how he feels about you, but then who could blame him? You've practically drained him dry, bullying him with your fists and then your vagina. He can't even do his job because you're taking every tool he needs to do it, weakening him to become your little plaything. It's sick. Leaving him behind was probably the most generous thing you've done for the guy. Too little too late, if you ask me, but I'm sure Jason would say it too if he hasn't passed out from withdrawal."

It took very little effort to rile Stephanie up and although physically she kept herself looking like a diseased porcelain doll with painted-on features, inside she was reacting violently. The only real effect of this was that the more Gwen talked about Jason, the more Stephanie thought of him...thus giving Gwen more to talk about. Then she hit upon an interesting train of thought.

Gwen frowned and squinted. "Are... are you really planning to go through with this transfer, into my body, because you think Jason will prefer a brunette over a blonde?" That wasn't exactly it but it was pretty close to Stephanie's reasoning for it. Gwen licked her lips and only glanced at the other two before scoffing a laugh and shaking her head. "I can't believe this...! Out of all the illogical-- You do realize that will change nothing, right? I may not be an expert on the...the 'transferring' or whatever you call it, but I'm pretty sure I know the basics. You're not going to magically become me when you transfer in. You'll still be the sadistic, domineering bitch you are right now. Even if he had the hots for me physically, you'll crush all of it just by being yourself."

Finally, Stephanie blinked. "You're wrong," she said calmly. "When I am, you, I will be perfect, and he will, love me." There was no doubt in Stephanie's mind or in her voice and Gwen's resolve to fight her on the issue wavered a little to see the psychotic level of obsession and devotion she felt towards Gwen. Turning from Gwen, she stared blankly at a spot on the seat to the right of the dark-haired woman and with a death-grip finality ringing in her voice, said, "And if he doesn't, then I'll have the, power to make him, love me."

Gwen suppressed a shiver and pressed her lips together briefly, hesitating for only a second before leaping. "I thought we were talking about Jason..."

Stephanie didn't look at her but gave Gwen's lap a sideways glance. "We are."

"Then why does this sound exactly like the plan you had for getting Richard back?"

It was like fucking lightning struck, the beehive officially and unceremoniously kicked, Stephanie's thoughts frantic and frenzied and fruitlessly trying to hide things when there was no wall to hide behind. The supports of the woman's mind and body shivered at mention of his name but held fast, and with how erratic everything was inside, Gwen wasn't sure if she should be relieved that an explosion didn't happen. One thing did get released, however, and Gwen watched, inside and outside, as the pressure broke open in Stephanie's eyes and tears streamed down her face. There was no sadness behind it - the woman was sanguineous when thinking of the man now, even though Gwen knew there was more to it than that - but more a physical letting of the current stress she was under. Stephanie noticed the wetness, dully touched her cheek and glanced at her moistened fingers boredly, before settling her hand back in her lap.

When she looked at Gwen, even though she continued to shed tears, there was rage bubbling like boiling oil beneath the surface of her motionless features. "Stop. Snooping."

Gwen put on a small show of being penitent and wary and merely shrugged and said, "I'm sorry. I can't control what I'm getting from you. It's like I can't turn you off." Which was actually true, but she wasn't upset about the fact. This was the biggest advantage over Stephanie that she could ever possibly get and she knew exactly how to play the woman like she did to Noel. Thoughts of that other Agent woman reminded her of how she messed that up and she briefly touched the bandage, feeling a sting in the cuts on her chest. She had no one else to depend on except herself, so she couldn't stop now. And there was no room for error.

Another interesting thing - other than her bizarre, past relationship with the guy - came up in the thoughts regarding Richard: Stephanie was convinced that everyone was in on some sort of conspiracy against her, with him acting as the mastermind behind it all. Again, it was very hard for Gwen to separate the memories from the fantasies inside Stephanie's mind, but apparently she thought that Madeline, the dark haired woman, was sent here to stop her from transferring. Gwen's eyebrows wrinkled in thought as she looked again at the other two Agents - the guy didn't have a name, or Stephanie did not remember it; he was no more than a piece of furniture in the helicopter for all the acknowledgment Stephanie gave him - and she supposed wondering whether or not they were actually sent by Stephanie's old boss to control her really didn't matter. An enemy of Stephanie's was a friend of hers and the woman was threatened by Madeline. Whatever else she knew about this situation, Stephanie's condition wasn't lost on them. They couldn't be so irresponsible to allow her to go through with it in this state, especially when the margin for error was so wide under normal circumstances - and Gwen was merely basing this off of what she'd seen with Alex, Xander and David and Maggie. The transfer was probably not going to happen any time soon.

It was almost enough to get Gwen actually feeling sorry for her. She knew now what Stephanie had been through and although she still thought the woman was being unreasonable and obsessive to hang onto the pain of a breakup for almost 4 years, it added a new dimension to the seemingly robotic Agent. She understood that desire to heal a broken heart. It didn't make her want to give in or give up but it wasn't as rigid a course as Stephanie thought it was. Stephanie could still have everything she wanted... by letting Gwen go. And in her volatile emotional state, Gwen thought she might be able to convince her of this alternative solution.

"I know what he did was painful," as Gwen spoke, Stephanie looked away again, chaos raging inside her. Not wanting to take the chance that the woman wouldn't hear her, she decided to add an extra push to her words. "But putting on a different face won't change what happened. Certainly not if you end up doing the exact same thing he did to you, to someone else." Gwen glanced again at the other two, before reaching forward and gently slipping her hand into Stephanie's, in a comforting gesture. "You don't have to trick someone else into loving you... You just have to realize that maybe Richard or Jason or Master aren't the ones."

Feeling Gwen's touch, Stephanie turned back to her, looking straight down at their joined hands, staring at them while Gwen rubbed her thumb against the back of Stephanie's knuckles. Slowly, her black eyes came back up to Gwen's face and-- a sharp pain blasted inside her head along with maniacal screeching blaring through her temples and behind her eyes. Gwen winced and gasped in pain, her other hand flying up to press against her forehead as she bent over her lap and tried to will the discomfort away.

Meanwhile, as Gwen writhed in agony, Stephanie silently reached onto her lap where Gwen had dropped the cloth that Madeline gave to her and picked it up. Gwen could barely think through the cloud of noise but she was aware of Stephanie using the napkin to wipe tears off of her face while ignoring her own - Gwen wasn't aware that she was crying again and Stephanie's touch was gentle as she smoothed the cloth over Gwen's cheeks. She would have liked to move or to lean away from her but the sound subsided while Stephanie worked, leaving a dull, throbbing pain in it's place. She was still holding Gwen's hand and she got the distinct impression that Stephanie enjoyed caring for and touching her. If she didn't fear what Stephanie might do in retaliation, Gwen would have jerked her hand back and gotten as far away from her as she could.

"So, so silly, Gwendolyn," Stephanie muttered. "Although I will say, I appreciate the effort, and recognize the, resourcefulness of the, attempt. At one point, this quest may, have been about, him and finding some, sort of retribution or, regaining what was lost. But I no longer, care what he wants, or what he thinks. Now, my only wish, is to no longer be me."

Gwen was able to get enough relief from the headache she had to open her eyes and lift her head right in time to watch Stephanie regard the wet stains on the cloth. After a moment or two of blankly staring at it, she brought it to her lips and licked the moistened spot, a burst of pleasure filling her to taste the saltiness from Gwen's tears. Tucking the cloth away into the back pocket of her pants - for reasons unknown; saving it for later? - Stephanie turned back to Gwen. "I'm not doing, this, to hurt you, you know. Nobody else deserves, you. Not Alex. Not Xander. Not your, dead father. I'm doing the transfer, because I love you, so much."

Gwen squinted at her through her headache. She was absolutely certain that Stephanie had no idea what love was. And it wasn't from a lack of trying to understand it, either.

***

The tension immediately left him as soon as that other guy left. Not that Theodore particularly cared one way or another - he had a lot of work to do and he wasn't really paying attention to the stuff going on around him anyway. But Creasy became tense when that guy, Fin or whatever, started asking questions about the case. It was subtle and the older man hid it well, but Haggins had become particularly in tune with his mentor's moods and emotions. And whenever Creasy got tense, Haggins became anxious.

So, he felt a lot better as soon as that guy left and he let out a small breath while going back to the paperwork in front of him. Not too long after that, Anj rose from her seat - again, Theodore normally wouldn't have noticed, since he was so wrapped up but Creasy looked up from his phone to watch her walk to the back of the plane and he sat listening to her as she knocked on the door. When the door closed again and neither Fin nor Anjelica came back to their seats, Haggins leaned into the aisle to glance back there. Sure enough, nobody was standing in the small alcove and the door was closed, which meant the both of them were in there together.

Whatever Creasy had been listening for, he seemed satisfied and was already back to typing on his phone. Sitting back in his seat, Haggins shook his head a little and murmured, "Shouldn't you say something to her or, you know, I mean, to both of them, maybe?" Even though he was nervous, his voice actually came out slow as he stammered, entering each new idea into the conversation when he thought of something else he should be worried about. He just didn't want to come off as if he was targeting Anjelica - which, he was; the way she got away with breaking the rules seriously bothered him a lot - and he also didn't want to make it seem like he was trying to tell Creasy how to do his job - it was just a suggestion, that's all. All of which he only thought of after he started talking.

Creasy didn't look up from his phone but stopped typing, obviously waiting for a reply message and shook his head in a relaxed fashion. "No. Anjeru knows what she's doing." Of course. She was screwing some dude in the jet bathroom and Creasy was going to let it slide because they were the only ones who would know about it. The fact that the older Agent used his pet name for her also spoke volumes about how he was handling the situation. Haggins wasn't about to go over Creasy's head and report her but he still found it annoying that she'd take advantage of the A-3's generosity like that.

Glancing up from his phone, Creasy smiled crookedly at him and nudged him with his elbow as he said, "If you were really concerned about her sleeping with someone else, maybe you should have made your move before ole Fin jumped in and took the spotlight." Yeah, that was something Theodore really didn't need; suggestions of romantic feelings towards that woman. He'd rather shoot his own foot or pull his own tooth out or something. Without any anesthesia or lollipop afterward.

Creasy was always doing that, teasing him about women. Most of the time it made him uncomfortable - which he knew was probably the reaction Creasy was going for - but other times he enjoyed it, feeling at ease from the jovial attention. He felt like they had a connection. Haggins knew Creasy was gay, even though the older man was probably the most manly person he knew, and he was also aware that Creasy was attracted to him. Theodore didn't share those feelings but Creasy's occasional display of affection didn't bother him, mostly because despite how... forceful Creasy could sometimes be, he knew he'd never be pressured to go further than he was comfortable. Plus, he worried that if he told the older man to stop - especially when he hadn't done anything, really - that it would offend Creasy and make him shut down and grow distant. If it meant he got to enjoy a sense of familiarity and kinship with the guy, then sure, he could put up with his payot being tugged occasionally or given a gentle stroke on his back every once in a while.

Haggins gave a small roll of his eyes and indulgent smile and shake of his head, then Creasy chuckled and went back to his phone. A muffled murmur came from behind his head through the wall and Haggins set aside his paperwork again. "Okay, but what about the other guy? I mean, she outranks him. If he tells someone, especially an A-1, she could--"

"Teddy," Creasy said in exasperation. When he looked at Theodore now, there was a stern patience in his bright blue eyes. "He's getting laid. Trust me, he's not going to blow the whistle on her. Just, relax, alright?"

"Right. Okay. Yep," were Haggins' nervously, curt responses to each point that was made, meekly inserted in between each of Creasy's pauses. Noticing that he was still bothered by it even though he'd resolved not to say anything else, Creasy reached out and put his hand on the back of Theodore's neck. The contact was unexpected but not unwanted, and it wasn't an indecent touch or anything. Just a very casual hold on that very sensitive part of his body.

"I've got it under control. You just focus on your work, alright? Let me handle the bigger things." Basically: shut up, Haggins.

Trying not to think of the way Creasy's warm fingers brushed at the short curls on the nape of his neck, Haggins nodded his head and tried to hide the rosy blush that he could feel filling his boyish cheeks. Creasy smiled warmly and gave him a friendly shake and then let go, leaving Haggins feeling incredibly cold in the absence of the contact, both put at ease by the touch and yet relieved it was gone at the same time.

When the other man went back to his phone, he typed one more message and then slid the cover shut and tucked it away into an interior pocket of his beige jacket. "What did he say?" Haggins asked. He knew Creasy had been talking to Graninger because after the first email or text or whatever, he'd asked to talk with the A-2.

"Not much. He was just telling me how to best handle Quin." Case no. 7846. Haggins really preferred using the numbers rather than the people's names. With the confidential nature of the reports they received and the resulting investigations, he felt it was more appropriate than advertising the suspect's actual name. At least not until the case was closed and the full findings were published.

"You think he'll give us trouble?" he did ask Theodore to run back and get that big trunk from the car - which Haggins put in the compartment in the underside of the jet.

"Nah, he's a little guy," Creasy said, leaning with his head against the back of the headrest. "I'm sure even you could subdue him with ease." Wow. That was saying a lot and he didn't know whether to take it as a compliment to himself or as an insult to Quin. Creasy leaned his head to the side and nodded at the papers in his lap. "You're working on his case?"

"Hm?" Theodore had been lost in thought briefly, tapping his pen against his lips, but now looked from Creasy to the paperwork he was holding and nervously replied, "Oh, yeah, just trying to go over the records for the Wallace case and the files of Agent Team request forms." This was where Haggins shined - the research part of the investigations - and his voice grew more steady and confident as he went on. "There's a lot of discrepancies that should have been addressed by whoever got this paperwork put on their desk. I mean, there's dozens of request forms for new teams - I've got at least 12 forms here for a total of 30 new Agents to be assigned to the case, all submitted between May and September of 2008 - and there's no record of where the previous teams went. The case reports are very vague about what happened during different target encounters and capture attempts. There's no official death notices anywhere but I'm assuming that's what happened to them. Otherwise there should be at least 150 Agents on this case now, which originally only required a dozen, at the most." Haggins shook his head in grim frustration. "Somebody down the line turned a blind eye to these records and it's been going on for years. I'd put my money on one of the archivists or somebody in the filing department in Grissom base. If they've been doing this for this case, who knows how many other cases have gotten away with this sort of thing?"

"Hm," Creasy grunted, his expression thoughtful as he arched an eyebrow. "Don't worry about it. We'll go after the bigger fish. The case is not a money pit; it's Quin that's the problem. He's the Lead on it right?"

"Yeah, co-Lead," Haggins said, glancing down for a moment to check the file in his lap. Creasy's brow scrunched up in a confused scowl as he looked at his apprentice. "There were two A-3s on the case."

"Hm, when I get a chance, I'm going to ask Quin about that specifically. Even for a case and target that supposedly needed 100 plus Agents, having two Leads on it seems excessive." Then the older man let out a heavy sigh and leaned his head back against the headrest, settling into his seat and closing his eyes.

"You're going to sleep?" More important question: Haggins now had to play babysitter to Mr. Quipster and Little Miss Slutty Pants?

"Mhm, I'm just going to get some rest before we need to get to work. We'll be landing sometime tomorrow morning, so, if you need to, go ahead and get a little shut eye as well." And leave the two flirty birds unsupervised? No way!

"Okay, yeah, maybe. Have a nice nap and everything. I'll let you know if anything that needs your attention happens." He really wasn't very fond of being left in charge but if he complained, it would make him a burden on the older Agent for forcing him to stay awake. Anjelica better behave herself when she got back out here, because Haggins wasn't going to tolerate anything.


Last edited by Ten on Sat Oct 08, 2011 9:43 am; edited 1 time in total

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Part Two

Post by Guest on Thu Oct 06, 2011 8:57 pm

***
Rudy was having fun again. Sure, he was in an unfamiliar, dark, creepy and possibly haunted base, while some dumbass psycho was running around and if Patten found him with Ozzie like this, any explanation he gave to either one would get him in trouble with the other. But he was willing to overlook all of that in favor of feeling free for the first time ever. Who knew telling the truth could be so liberating?

"While my brother was away at summer camp one year, I played with the model Rebel blockade runner that he got for Christmas, even though I was forbidden from ever, ever touching it," Rudy said in his speedy voice, sauntering casually along next to Osono while she searched the halls for signs of where her new bff went. "When I was 12, I dropped my oldest brother's toothbrush into the toilet, accidentally on purpose, twice, and never told him about it. At age 13, I killed the neighbor's demon-possessed Pekingese with rat poison because God told me to--"

"Do you have any idea where we are or where I need to go?" Ozzie asked, turning to him with an impatient growl.

"No, I told you already: the hallways and staircases move by themselves when no one's looking. Also, I do not work in this building." She rolled her eyes and let out another frustrated breath. "And don't interrupt. I'm trying to clear my conscience here."

"Fuck, Rudy! If you're not going to help me, then just shut the fuck up!"

"Hey, don't get mad at me. You're the one who started this and I can't stop now. Each new revelation of long buried truths is like another jolt to my system, filling me with new life and a cloudburst of happiness in my heart--"

"Alright fine!" she shouted, turning on him again and glaring at him through the dim red flashing lights. "If you're so hot on the truth now, then why don't you reveal shit that I actually give a fuck about!"

Rudy stopped and blinked. "Okay. Like what?" He was actually hoping that she'd ask him about the reasons why he wasn't allowed to talk to half of his extended family anymore. It was a really great story and one she'd never heard before in their 6 years running together.

Marching stoically down the hallways, she was silent for a moment, merely looking this way and that and trying to find her way through the darkened maze while silence dragged on between them. He hated the fucking quiet, especially since it only creeped him out to think of Patten or somebody silently lurking in the shadows and following them...waiting for an opportunity to strike. Quickly, he spun around in place to look down the empty hall and hopefully catch their stalker in the act but there was no one there. With a cocked eyebrow, he warily turned back around. I'm onto you... Charlton Phantom.

When she finally spoke, he'd caught up to her and was walking by her side as her raspy voice asked, "Why did you join the Agency?"

"What?" This wasn't how they played this game! That sounded like a boring topic of conversation - despite the topic actually being about himself, which was always a fun thing to talk about. Suddenly, he stopped and struck a karate pose at whoever was breathing down his neck--!! Empty. "What kinda question is that?" he asked while jogging beside her.

"It's what I want to know, alright? You feel like telling the truth, then make it truth that actually matters. Either answer me or shut your fucking mouth. Why did you become an Agent?"

"Because I wanted to carry a gun and hang around with violent women." Honestly, what the hell did she want from him? This wasn't fun anymore and he took it back: telling the truth sucked! She gave him a threatening scowl and he shrugged emphatically. "I don't know what you want me to say."

"That's not what I asked you for," she said, stopping to actually face him. "Don't think about 'what I wanna hear'. Can you actually be truthful with me or is it all for show? Is there ever any part of you that is real?"

Normally, Rudy wouldn't give a shit about any of this. She wanted to back him into a corner and he would have been fine with saying, 'Alright, game over. Not playing that. Let's talk about something meaningless and fun.' But she had to hit him with that last part. Not that he was worried that she thought he was a phony - far from it. He'd gotten by for years allowing her to think he was made out of cardboard half of the time and it didn't bother him that she knew he was a liar. All of this shit that he'd successfully kept them from talking about for as long as they'd known each other was now out in the open and her willingness to allow him to stick around - and the balance of her attachment to the thought of killing him - weighed heavily on how he acted now that he was exposed. Downstairs in the base lobby it had been hit, miss, miss, miss, and hit, but he was running short on the amount of mistakes he could make before everything totally crashed and burned.

Taking a deep breath, Rudy's shoulders slumped and he whined a little bit. "I don't fucking know! It was either this or join the army since my dad was tired of me sitting around the house in my underwear playing video games and watching movies all day and spending all of my allowance money on comics and convention tickets even though he's more than rich enough to support me in two dozen lifetimes of sitting on my ass and goofing off." He stopped for a breath, even though he didn't need it and shrugged with an ambivalent, dorky grin. "I have 3 very successful older brothers and I'm the disappointment of the family. When I was told about the Agency it sounded like it'd be cool and at the very least entertaining, which as you can tell, I am making a very kickass career out of it." Well... mostly getting his ass kicked.

It was hard to tell what she thought of that but she didn't seem angry at him anymore - or at least, not as angry - and Osono remained silent as she began walking again. After taking a moment to trick whatever was behind him by feigning and then turning around quickly, he caught up with her again. "Okay, my turn!" She glanced at him with a sneer and he merely smiled widely. After a moment she nodded her head tolerantly. "Why are you so obsessed with helping that herpes-ridden, walking vagina, Alex? Do you have the hots for 'im?"

Rudy was actually, genuinely interested in this. In all the time he'd been chasing her, making sure that she was too scared to stay with anyone for long, she'd never expressed sexual interest in anyone. Not that he was saying that was what this was but it was a level of concern that he'd never seen in her. How something could spontaneously erupt like this in just 24 hours was most easily explained by infatuation or feelings of attraction towards the guy. Plus, if Rudy could pinpoint what exactly hooked her to Alex, it might be easier to shake her loose and she'd be clinging only to Rudy for support again.

"Why?" she asked after a moment of consideration, giving him a crooked smirk. "Are you jealous?"

Ha! Okay, he didn't like where this was going - there was no way he could reasonably answer that and keep her loyalties going in the direction that he wanted them to. If he told her he was, she'd most likely catch onto the fact that he was lying. If he told her the truth, and she expected him to actually have feelings for her - which he didn't - then it would push her further away. Ozzie didn't usually get sentimental, but he couldn't risk his answer being important to her and end up hurting her feelings. When Osono got upset, she didn't just get depressed or kinda sad; she got fucking pissed.

Then Rudy's eyes fell upon a door on the far wall. "Heeeeeeyyyyyy! I know where we are!" Skipping ahead of her, he rushed to the door and pulled the Aurora handle out of his pocket without opening the gun. Clicking a small button on the edge of it, a bright flashlight flickered on and he pointed the beam down at the door, finding dark colored smears staining the wood and on the light colored wall right beside it. Osono came up to stand at his shoulder as he shined the light down at the carpet, revealing more smears and dark droplets.

"See that?" he asked, waiting for her to nod before continuing. "That's the life-essence of yours truly. I came this way earlier - after enduring the hottest physical beating of my life - and left this trail of blood behind. It should go all the way to the red-room if we follow it. And if your sleazy boyfriend found the right way then we should be able to meet him there." Yippee. Then without hesitation he began leading the way, keeping the spotlight of the Aurora flashlight trained on the speckled pathway.

There wasn't more than a couple of beats of silence this time before Ozzie spoke up. "Why did you kiss me downstairs?"

Oh, God! He really didn't want to talk about this! What was wrong with her and all of these mushy-gushy subjects? "I didn't," he answered curtly. "I bumped into you. With my mouth. Completely and totally by accident. However, if you insist on taking advantage of me by referring to it as a kiss - which I did not willingly give to you - then I will have to ask that you stand at least 2 feet away from me at all times so as to prevent any more accidental violation of my... lips."

She let out a raspy laugh. "No need to get so defensive about it. I was just wondering what took you so long to finally make a move." Even though he was nudged in the ribs by her elbow, Rudy failed to get any more comfortable with this conversation.

"That's... I'm sorry, that's just really gross."

"Don't be a fucking dick, Rudy," she said harshly, an edge entering her voice. "You're the one who said you liked me. Why would kissing me be so horribly nasty to you?"

Seriously? He really, really didn't want to talk about this! There was no decent way for this conversation to end in his favor but since she wasn't about to let it go... "It's not nasty to ME - if anything, I actually think it's really hot, especially when you start getting all 'tough girl' on me - but I just think it's kinda inappropriate with the way you think of me, is all."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Rudy shrugged and tried to give her an innocent look, pleading with the Gods of DC Comics for her to get distracted and just forget about the entire conversation. Apparently, the Comic Lords were intent on punishing him, because she did the exact opposite, actually walking a few steps ahead of him and stopping right in his path. "Tell me, what the fuck are you talking about, 'the way I see you'?"

Just rip it off quickly. Like a bandaid. "I just know that you tend to think of me the way that you remember Claus, that's all." And he tried to laugh about it, hoping to encourage an air of lightness around the comment. Again... his prayers went unanswered as the exact opposite happened.

"What did you just say to me, you son of a bitch?!" Every line in Osono's body was filled with violent tension, just waiting for the go ahead to jump him and tear him to pieces. Staring up into her eyes, which were filled with the burning light of murder, he tried to suppress the erotic shiver that coursed through him.

So far, he'd been telling the truth about how he felt about her. He wasn't physically attracted to Osono. But now, seeing her like this, and seeing her here in this place with himself not needing to hold anything back any more, he couldn't deny how sexy her body language was. So... angry and...threatening. Rudy just couldn't help himself and he forgot all about being honest or trying to get her out of here safe and alive as the urge to provoke her overwhelmed him.

"I'm sorry, you didn't hear me and you want me to repeat myself or was there something that I said that you didn't understand?" His eyes darted down quickly and he noticed her fists balled at her sides, her arms shaking just the tiniest bit. "Wait, am I still supposed to be telling the truth?"

There was no warning when she grabbed ahold of him, her fist in his T-shirt and shoving him face-first against the nearby wall. Rudy let out a heavy gasp and grunt as he slammed into the flat surface, arousal coursing through him as her voice hissed dangerously in his ear. "I will give you about five seconds to explain what you just said about Claus before I start hurting you, Rudy!" Oh, God! That hit him right in the pit of his gut! The fear and the new, blossoming headache from the pressure on his shoulders and neck! Fucking Mother-of-Christ, she was scary!!!

"You're already hurting me!" Rudy exclaimed, half muffled with his cheek pressed against the wall. "And you're doing excellent! Don't stop now! This is me being completely truthful again, by the way!" A sharp scream left his throat as she grabbed his wrist and twisted his arm against his back, pressing him harder into the wall and putting pressure on his wounded shoulder - Ow! What the fuck??? Oh, right, he'd been shot. He totally forgot about that because it stopped hurting after he left the sick bay. But hot damn! He was so grateful he was being forced to remember it!

"Cut the bullshit, you sick fuck!" she was screaming now too, her voice made a few notches deeper by her gravely, smoky voice. "Tell me what you know about my brother!"

"You mean, aside from the fact that he's dead?" Ooooo! He was going to get in sooooooo much trouble for that! What was he really supposed to be doing? He couldn't remember. Rudy was so drunken with arousal at the moment, that he was having trouble focusing on anything else except this potentially life-threatening and painful game he was playing with her. But he wasn't so far gone not to notice the sound of a door when it echoed in the hall.

Both Ozzie and Rudy turned towards the noise just in time to see further down the hall, a figure retreating into one of the rooms. Having found a new enemy to engage, she shoved away from Rudy and pursued the other person, leaving him to stumble through a fog of ecstasy after her. Stopping in front of the door, she tried the handle but without results, stepping back to stare straight ahead at the door, heat radiating in the space around her. After only a couple of seconds, the door handle began to glow red and before Rudy could say anything, Ozzie surged forward with her left boot striking out to kick the door in.

Splinters showered from the door frame as the door swung open and she stood proudly in the middle of the room. There were red lights flashing in here as well, but looking around the computer desks, it was hard to make anything out. Either way, the room appeared to be empty.

Fully recovered from his orgasmic ordeal, Rudy stood near her and murmured, "See? That's what happens when you barge into a place. You scare people off!" he said in mock offense. When Osono noticed that he was there - and seemingly remembering that she wanted to kill him for mentioning her little brother - she quickly drew her fist back, intending to backhand him with it. Rudy made a weak, mockingly feminine noise of complaint as he shied away from her, but before she could hit him, their attentions were diverted again as papers fell off of a desk on the far side of the room.

Instantly, when Osono turned towards the noise, fire erupted from the spot where it originated from and a sharp shout burst forth, accompanied by a dark skinned man stumbling past the desks and into the middle of the room by Ozzie's feet. He rolled on the floor briefly to put out the flames on the edge of his white pants, but once they were gone, he shakily got to his hands and knees and looked up at them. Immediately, the skinny black man looked at Osono with obvious fear, but when his eyes fell on Rudy, there was confusion mixed with it, almost like he expected help. Oh, right. The uniform.

Feeling amused by the way things probably looked to this guy - who, from the geeky clothes and wimpy demeanor was obviously in the computer department or an IT guy or something - Rudy looked at Osono and shook his finger rigidly at her. "No! Bad target!" Heh, she didn't like that.

Ignoring Rudy, she rushed forward and grabbed ahold of the guy by his shirt, fire bursting on her other hand which she used to threaten him. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"He looks like a tech," Rudy commented. "And he was probably using the Agency computers to surf for some late night internet porn. Probably the really dirty, nasty stuff too, because his mom checks the browser history on his laptop. Ain't that right, buddy? Yeah... you sicko..."

For the time being, it seemed that Osono was setting aside their drama from before to deal with this new problem, because she turned to him and asked, "Tech? What does that mean?"

For real? Was she serious? "It means he likes to stick his dick into computer disc-drives. He just works with the computers, that's all, and he's probably the most harmless species of Agent there is, aside from the lab breed. In fact, I'm surprised he's still conscious. I'm pretty sure they're trained to pass out and play dead when they sense danger. Just let him go, Ozzie."

"He might run and alert the others that we're here," she said, ignoring the guy's rapid and silent denial, as she gruffly picked him up to stand on his feet and shoving him to walk ahead of her back out the door.

"So you're gonna take him with you? As what? Like, a hostage?"

"Shut the fuck up, Rudy. If you don't like it, then go away!" she stopped to shout in his face, but shook her head with a dark sneer. "I don't have time to deal with any more of your bullshit. You've distracted me enough."

Casting him out of mind, she left the room, dragging the skittish Agent with her as she continued to follow Rudy's blood trail down the hallway. After a few moments, Rudy appeared at her side again, the jacket of the uniform he was wearing now untied from around his waist and back on his arms, hanging unzipped in the front. Well, that had been a nice little delay - REALLY nice, actually - and now they had a new friend to torture! Or maybe she was thinking more along the lines of handing him over to that sadistic bastard, Alex? As some sort of twisted present for her new lover or something.

When Rudy noticed it was growing quiet again, he tried to get rid of the itch in his back that made him feel like someone was following them, and finally gave into the urge to talk. "Did I ever tell you about the time I ruined my brother's wedding? It's now a stipulation in the family records that I'm never allowed to exist in the same state, building or even room that he's in." Ozzie groaned low in her throat and jerked the guy she was holding so he wouldn't fall behind her. Not too much farther until they reached their destination; Rudy recognized that the blood trail was getting thicker, signaling that they were getting closer to the beginning of his wounded journey.

***
Shit. He couldn't feel anything. Fin knew something was happening because her hand was inside his unbuttoned pants and her arm was moving in a vaguely... stroking motion. But aside from an internal pressure that let him know his body was being touched, there was no sensation to accompany it, either pleasurable or painful.

This always happened. Under normal circumstances, his body always had a level of resistance to injury, but it got really bad - particularly the problem with his nerves - whenever his body was under any amount of stress. If his heart rate increased or if he began breathing heavier or sweating, then everything faded to that neutral internal pressure and nothing else. It allowed him to keep his balance and move around without falling over on numbed legs, and it let him hold things and still use his joints and muscles even though he couldn't feel them, but he lost all other feeling. Which wasn't saying much because he didn't have much of that to begin with. But at least when he wasn't panicked or... excited, he could enjoy a kiss or a caress.

Now it was gone, though. Fin tried to ignore it, tried to enjoy it, running his fingers through her hair - which had been cut with an electric razor on the nape of her neck, it was so short - with barely a hum of feeling on the insides of the appendages. Her lips, which were hungry and needy, became like kissing her through a film of tight plastic, the stroking of her tongue too soft for him to appreciate it to any degree. And her body, which had been warm and smooth against his, felt like he was holding and groping an incorporeal mass.

Great. He couldn't do this like this. Granted, it had been years and he was aching for release - he even convinced himself before this point that he deserved to celebrate finally getting the job he wanted. But it took the entire purpose out of it if he couldn't benefit from it at all. And as much as he wanted to be a hero and just do it for her and help her out... well, okay, truthfully he didn't care about that. If he wasn't having fun, then it took all the fun out of making sure she was having fun. Now, he just needed to figure out how to end this without making her angry.

Breaking the kiss, he stood back and looked at her, taking a few breaths with his hands on her shoulders, before finally reluctantly opening his mouth. "Listen, I'm really sorry, I'm sure you're a terrific young woman but--"

"But what?" she interrupted with a tiny frown. Oh, great. She looked hurt, like she knew what he was trying to do. She wasn't going to make rejecting her easy, was she? "You flirted with me out there like you were ready to drill a hole with that thing, but now all of a sudden you don't want to?"

"No, that's not it at all," he said soothingly. "Of course, I want to-- I mean, that should be obvious." He briefly gestured at the front of his pants. "I just... can't." She scowled at him and he let out a heavy sigh. "Look, I just got this job today and I'm on my way to work for somebody really influential. This could be my big chance and... I really don't want to screw it up if someone happens to find out I had sex with you. It's against the rules."

She was putting her suit back on, already having signed him off apparently, and stopped in the middle of zipping it up to glare at him, the dark makeup giving her features a more threatening cast. "Bullshit. I already told you, neither of my colleagues care and they won't report us. I'm a higher rank than you, so anything I have to say about it will reflect more badly on me, especially with me being the initiator. The only one who's threatening your career with this is you. You already blew this big chance, so the least you could do is give me some credit and tell me why you really don't want to."

Well, they did say the truth would set him free. "Okay, I can respect that. The truth is, I'm having a bit of difficulty with physical sensation right now."

"What?" she was briefly distracted but now stood before him, fully dressed again. Her nipples were still hard and poking through the shiny black fabric... Fin tried to focus on her eyes, convincing himself, one more time, that he was doing the best thing.

"I'm sure you're really fantastic at this, it's just I can't... feel anything you're doing to me." There. He said it.

Anjelica's eyes widened and she made an 'offended' face. "Oh yeah?" she scoffed at him. "Then feel this motherfucker!" Her body moved smoothly and silently in the small space, muscles tensing and stretching beneath her black second-skin as her hand came surging from below to slam into his gut. He felt the internal pressure that registered in his brain as his body being "touched" by something but as far as how hard she hit him or any pain related to that, there was nothing. He'd been trained to react quicker than this but he'd already decided to let her hate him when he lost any emotional attachments to his erection. So, he also let her knee him in the junk before she snootily turned and left him alone in the tiny room.

"I already told you, I can't," he murmured in exasperation, rolling his eyes and letting out a heavy sigh. The only good thing about what had happened was, even after he gained the feeling back - that small bit of sensation that still allowed him to enjoy a bit of humanity - there would be no wounds or bruises to cause him pain. He could say a lot of things about the annoying aspects of his powers - like the inability to get laid without taking a sedative first - but one thing he was eternally grateful for: whether he was in an agitated state or not, his body was always 100% indestructible. Even in sleep.

That went about as well as he could have hoped for, considering what he told her and how he worded it and although he was glad it was over quickly, he was still in a bad mood from needing to cut her off in the first place. Then again, it was his fault for thinking with his dick and Fin tried to remind himself that he had very high goals that he needed to reach and these distractions weren't helping. He told himself that, but it didn't make him feel any better about not getting any sweet, delicious candy.

Zipping everything back up, he left the bathroom - with little to no difficulty this time - and walked out to find Anjelica still standing in the aisle next to Haggins' seat. They both glanced at him, the kid looking from Fin to her nervously until she glared at him and he finished collecting his things. Upon further inspection of the scene, Fenton realized that Creasy was asleep and Haggins was being bullied out of his seat to move up to where Anjelica had previously been sitting. Okay, she could be immature about it if she needed to be. He had a feeling that her company wouldn't have been very pleasant after that anyway.

Once everybody was switched around, Fin walked up the aisle, glancing back at Anjelica as he took his seat. She refused to look at him and had an iPod out, putting the headphones into her ears and pressing buttons. So, she was going for the 'nuclear ignore' approach. As much as it saddened him that she'd turned so cold so quickly, this actually made things easier for him. It would have been worse if she'd decided to stay in her seat and actually pay attention to him after he'd humiliated and embarrassed himself like that. If only all sex related arguments ended up this clean.

Turning to the kid sitting next to him, he watched as Haggins rifled through his papers, adjusting and organizing them while using his lap as a desk. Although he'd been in a bit of a bad mood, as Fin watched the younger Agent fret over the order of his papers - and seemingly panicking over something he thought was missing - he actually felt a lot better about the whole situation. And he'd relaxed enough to finally feel the soft cushions of the seat underneath him, so it was a full recovery.

"Hi, how ya doin'?" he said, giving the kid a casual grin - and completely ignoring Graninger's warning about waiting to speak only when being spoken to. "I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Fin."

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Thu Nov 03, 2011 1:28 am

This was a nice car. These seats were comfy and the steering wheel moved gently under his gloves. Like… satin. Or velvet. Maybe suede. Something smooth. It was leather actually, but he was glad to have the peace of mind to think and pretend it wasn’t. He relaxed and enjoyed the silence, cramming as much of it into the minute he allowed himself before he set off again. Being in here was like a vacation. It was like the start of a new mission. No, better – it was like the end of a long mission. Since longer than he cared to remember, he was by himself. He wasn’t being groped, attacked, tied down or falling apart from withdrawal, and – damn… It felt stupendous. Along his arms and spine had been this… this tension growing as mistake after mistake dropped on him, each attributable – to varying degrees – to something he did or didn’t do. The tension wasn’t gone, but it was holding off. He wasn’t getting the stab at redemption he’d been hoping for. Quin’s target was already inside and Stewart had been caught, but Eric’s blessing gave him a more important project: saving his lead. From a professional standpoint, he couldn’t ask for anything better. He would be there make sure the transfer, although he wouldn’t have sway over the technical aspects of it, successfully held. Nobody really knew what’d botched Alexander’s because the crazy man hadn’t stuck around to let the Agency check it out, but if Jason had his way, they could cross off emotional stress. This would work if his lead’s pain could any way sabotage her effort. It was a promise he’d made to her that he intended to keep. And then, of course, from the less professional standpoint… he just wanted to be there.

She wasn’t in a good place. What she’d used to fill her veins started at the level of a growing addict’s choice to help with the suit. He’d been shocked she’d consider it, but given what came next, it was almost justified. He’d already seen the look in her eyes when she’d come out of the bathroom. He remembered it from his peers who’d stiffly stepped around, jumping between an unholy calculation in every move to breathtaking grace as they trained, worked and killed. Only those types killed. Some wound up as pseudo-assassins, as fragile as glass and twice as sharp. The difference was that his peers had gone through years of steady ‘ups’ in their highs, whereas she’d done in it days. Jason knew that wasn’t the end of it. She had more. There was always more. God, what if she had taken it already? The way she’d spoken had been all business. It’d be logical to move along if there was any waver in her current dose’s effectiveness. Had he chosen to be supportive of his lead’s decisions like he was supposed to, like he was known for, he could have offered to hold onto the vials for a moment. She would have taken them back eventually, but he could have had a closer look, and then he could have gauged the stress on her system and more accurately assumed the danger he’d be driving into. This case was nothing but emotion and regrets. Some of it came from her wandering hands, a lot of it came from losing his goggles, but now he was left to regret his emotion in swearing off drugs entirely.

Why had he lectured her? When in hell had he ever lectured a lead Agent? Against an A-3 – he’d been trying to argue, as a subordinate A-5, against the choice of a superior. What did he expect?

He should have been done with this. That he wasn’t meant he’d had more time to get involved. Just… the case he was getting involved with was so different... No. Stop, no, that was it. That was the problem. He was lying to himself. The contents of this assignment might have been his first taste of the Agency’s true work, but everything else was the same. He’d started off so well with his quiet obedience and steady stream of updates, and then – alright, he’d lost it, but it was all he needed to prove that his usual methods still worked. Sitting here wasn’t going to give him the time to get back to that, however. The car ride and plane trip might help, but if he was counting on a full recovery, he could forget it. He needed a week to put his mind in order and compose himself enough to return to the near-constant nods of his head and summary analyses of all the variables he and his suit could see, like before. Like on the first day.

The angry bump on his neck throbbed. It was still sore, trying to absorb the Butter Juice. He wasn’t touching it, though. He’d let go of the steering wheel, but it was to grab was a small box he’d had pushed towards him. He’d kept it. She’d gotten it from Eric, but it’d wound up in Jason’s hands. It was the suit drugs from the limo: neatly packaged, neatly measured, one hundred percent going to fry every part of his humanity. He hadn’t had this stuff before. Ever. The way his lead had handled it suggested a chilling familiarity, but he didn’t have that luxury or desire. He wasn’t using these. The box dug a cruel outline on the inside of his pocket, but he shoved it deeper and out of the way. He was going to ignore it. No one was telling him he couldn’t ignore it. In fact, everyone was expecting him to ignore it.

He wasn’t ignoring it.

He should check the car.

Yeah, checking the car was a good idea. He’d do that. Right now.

Jason hadn’t left the front of the building. He’d been parked instead, relishing the feeling of not having to travel. When this mission was over, he wasn’t moving any farther than a block for a year. All his next assignments were going to be strictly local. Anyway, he hopped out and onto the curb, skipping over the areas he’d already checked out of habit, like the keyhole and windows for scratches and the ignition for any sign of being tampered with. The doors hadn’t been locked. He guessed Alexander and Co. hadn’t planned on staying long. Sorry to fuck up that plan, Alex. But not really. Jason checked the tires in case there’d been a wire attached. A short stay meant little time for booby-traps, but there were a few things that could have been put in place with a couple of minutes and a strong know-how. No wires, though, and nothing obvious wrapped around the axles or standing out from under the hood – and he jumped back as he opened it, only remembering afterwards it wasn’t this Elias who played the ‘surprise! It’s a gun!’ game. Nothing in the tailpipe, either. The last fast place to check was the trunk. … And the trunk was open.

Maybe it was a family game. So Jason moved to the side before he gingerly nudged it.

… Nudge. Nudge, nudge.

The trunk swung open on its own after a point. This time, he stayed steady. The Butter Juice had helped again. Probably. But the trunk was open now and Jason peered in. There were three bags tucked to the sides, one of which he immediately recognized as his target’s. The other two? Well, no prizes for guessing. He grabbed the closest.

Inside of what he’d ripped apart was men’s clothing. This was Alexander’s, unless Quin’s target dressed way, way down. There was money in there – thank you – and credit cards with sparkling gold memberships. And… passports. Five of them. Each one had a different name listed, but it was Alexander’s face every time. Pushed to the corner, there was food, emergency supplies… various forms of ID that – what, seriously? Jason frowned at them. There were… driver’s licences and… birth certificates sporting subtly different dates. Did Alexander just find them over the six years he’d been on the loose? That didn’t make sense. These took a while to process – the passports especially. How’d he pull it off with Benoit hounding him and all those Agents he’d killed almost daily?

… That was a good question. These should have been intercepted. Benoit only had to catch wind of one to justify scouting any ID applications for traces back to his target. They could checked the black market, too. It was one of the reasons the suits and the incredible system they ran on had been developed. Six years? Frenchie never thought of it? Jason grinned. It was kind of ridiculous.

It couldn’t have been because of a stand against technology since Benoit’d been willing to invest in those lenses of his, and although maybe it was possible to go an obscene amount of time and not come up with an idea so obvious, or maybe Frenchie devised a cunning strategy that didn’t need such free and basic tactics, the man had stopped for lunch in the middle of chasing Alexander. Twice. He’d obviously found enough of a schedule to let him lounge when he wanted. He couldn’t take a few minutes to think of this? Then he got stuffy when Eric wanted to eat. Talk about unstable priorities… Jason admit he hadn’t bothered to look into his lead like he should have, but he didn’t fault himself for it. He’d expected this case to be wrapped up and those sorts of investigations weren’t worth the effort. Based on that, could he be blamed for not looking into Benoit? He regretted it a bit. Right now, he was genuinely curious to hear what was so special about their impromptu teammate – not ‘teammate’ for much longer if they were all splitting up – that the Agency would entrust such a deadly target to his exclusive care. Jason hadn’t seen whatever they’d seen. All he knew was Benoit was damn lazy and quick to drink. So… once again: why was he so trusted?

This would be a long flight. There was plenty of time to put his goggles in order and solve that riddle before landing.

So the car was clean. There was no more reason for him to be here. He closed the trunk and went back to driver’s seat, immensely enjoying the weight off his feet. Even the pain in his chest was fading. He was free to drive off the instant he turned the car on.

He would, he told himself. Soon.

But he wasn’t ready to go yet.

… Not yet.

* * *

Uh-oh! Uh-oh, uh-oh! Someone had said something wrong again and Madeline was getting mad! Gary knew she was getting mad because there was that feeling that said someone was gonna get smacked, and since Gary was the only one close enough – why oh why didn’t he bring a helmet – he was the first one on that list. Oh, she looked mad! She looked way more ticked than usual and she looked – OH CRAP, she was looking! Don’t make eye contact! Don’t make eye contact! See, that’d probably been the problem the whole time – higher ranks probably didn’t like little guys staring –

“CAN YOU GO FIVE WORDS WITHOUT ATTACKING YOUR MARK? THERE’LL BE NOTHING OF HER LEFT BY THE TIME WE LAND.”

She’d stopped looking. Oh. He was safe. Oh. The heart attack’d been for nothing. Oh. Well – uh… just a second for him to make sure he didn’t pee his SWEET TERROR, she was looking at him again!

“It’s closed! My mouth’s closed,” he tried to say. “I’m being quiet!”

“STOP DROOLING IN MY HELICOPTER, DOG!”

He just wanted her to like him. Why didn’t she like him? Stephanie had liked him a little before, but now she’d done something and he was alone. He wasn’t allowed to talk to targets, either, and he didn’t have his phone because Madeline had grabbed it. He’d’ve been so happy to hand it over, but she didn’t want him to…

He started to sniffle.

The first teeniest, tiniest, smallest noise he made got her head to spin.

“No crying,” he said sadly. “I know…”

He couldn’t talk, but they could still hear that. His tongue was really cold hanging out like this. When was it supposed to stop swelling? Why did Agent Bergmann have to pinch him so hard? He couldn’t feel his tongue at all. That was – like – a super pinch, and it wasn’t as much fun when it happened to him.

Still awesome, though.

Super awesome.

“I UNDERSTAND YOUR EXCITEMENT, MARCH. FEW TAKE TO THE TRANSFER AS PASSIONATELY AS YOU. I CAN ONLY IMAGINE YOUR JOY IN CUTTING THE COSTS OF BUYING A NEW WARDROBE INSTEAD,” she said crossly. “BUT YOU HAVE HER NOW. YOU’VE WON. GIVE US ALL A REST AND LET HER HAVE HER LAST HOURS IN SILENCE.” She flicked her eyes back at Gary. He tried smiling – “STOP DROOLING ON MY UPHOLSTERY!”

Gary was very sad. No one seemed to care about it. Madeline turned back to the window with a snap of her head that sent her hair whipping around like a… like a whip! She wasn’t listening to him at all, either. Accidentally, Gary did sniffle again, and she totally ignored it! Gary was heartbroken. She might not have liked him, but he still wanted to talk to her!

Gary started to cry.

Okay he wasn’t crying anymore he was sorry he stopped he was sorry!

“Please don’t rip my tongue out,” he wailed. “Please don’t kill me!”

“I’M NOT GOING TO KILL YOU, YOU DOLT,” she snarled, practically restraining herself with her arms and legs all crossed. “I WANT YOU TO SHUT UP.” … Okay. But on the bright side, she’d heard what he said. Was his tongue getting better? Was he just getting good at talking around it? Maybe he – eep! “CUT IT OUT. NOT EVERY MOVE I MAKE RELATES TO YOU, DOG. STOP FLINCHING.”

“Sorry, Agent Bergmann…”

“SHUT UP,” she roared. Then she sounded a little bit calmer and fiddled with Gary’s phone. “I HAVE TO MAKE A CALL. MARCH HAS GIVEN ME SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT.” And – uh… whatever it was, she didn’t look too tickled. What did Stephanie say? He couldn’t really remember because she’d been saying a lot, and the stuff between her and her target had been kinda mesmerizing – “DOG.”

“Yes, ma’am! Ma’am – yes? Yes, ma’am?”

“IF YOU CAN’T KEEP YOUR DUMPY HEAD QUIET, TALK TO HER.” She snapped her fingers at Gwen Stewart. The other hand already had the phone up to her ear. “SHE COULD USE A GOOD LAUGH AT SOMEONE WHO THINKS HE’S SPECIAL.”

“Oh no, Agent Bergmann! I don’t think I’m special,” he dutifully explained. “I’m only as special as you tell me to be and you’ve been very, very, super clear –” Right, to Gwen! … Uh… Well – uh… Okay, Madeline was an A-2 but – uh… it was Stephanie March’s case and she hadn’t said… anything… “Are you sure I’m allowed –”

TALK!

“Hi Gwen, I’m Gary,” he quickly whimpered. “I’m an A-10. I’m on a helicopter with you.” There was no way she was gonna understand what he was saying. But – wait! She was psychic! Oh, but Stephanie was doing something to cancel it out. All Gwen must’ve been hearing was a big ‘blurgh, blurgh, blurgh, blurgh, blurgh!’ “I’m – uh… Well, I’m the guy I think you talked to when you stole Jason’s… Not that I’m accusing you of anything – and technically what you stole – the goggles, I mean – ‘cause you didn’t – from him – ‘cause they’re not his but – like, the Agency’s –”

“PATTEN.” Agent Eric Patten! Madeline was calling him! Ooooh – she didn’t look like she was enjoying it… Hey – hey! Maybe she’d put him on speakerphone again! Hey – yeah! That’d be great! Or – “DO YOU MIND TELLING ME WHAT THE FUCK YOUR PET MEANS BY SAYING MY KITTY IS CANADIAN?!

Gary couldn’t help it. Man, maybe she should be smacking him, because he was too nervous to stay quiet on his own!

“Is that… bad?”

She gave him a pinch on the air sharp enough for him to think she was gonna stick a diamond in it. Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh – that smarted and it hurt!

“I DEMAND AN EXPLANATION! DOES YOUR DECEIT KNOW NO END?!”

Was he still supposed to talk to Gwen? But his ear…!

“Agent Berg–”

“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘A LITTLE CANADIAN’! I WANT AN ANSWER AND I WANT IT NOW!”

Uh-oh.

Uh-oh, uh-oh.

Uh-oh-uh-oh-uh-oh-uh-oh-how bad was this gonna be?! She was about to break his phone next – look, it was crunching a little and everything! Noooooooo – oh, his ear hurt like it was gonna fall off!

“Agent Bergmann, my ear,” he cried. “You have to fix it, Agent Bergmann! Pleeease!”

And she…!

… Immediately looked at ease and nestled into her seat with a short, “FINE. I SUPPOSE THAT MAKES SENSE. I SUPPOSE. BUT YOU WILL TELL YOUR SLAVE TO STAY QUIET. I AM AT MY END WITH HER.” She snapped the phone shut. She didn’t give it back, though. She was opening it again and pressing numbers – but his ear! “YOUR ‘MASTER’ SAYS TO BE QUIET. CAN YOU MANAGE THAT, MARCH? YOUR VOICE IS UNBEARABLE.”

“… Miss Bergmann…!”

“OH, ENOUGH WITH YOU,” she blasted at him, then fired out her hand back at his ear and pinched him again. This time it hurt even… Oh. Oh, that wasn’t… Well, hey! Pretty fast, it started feeling… Wait. Wait! Wait – no, now it was feeling numb, too! This wasn’t nice! No, no, no, it wasn’t what he wanted! Agent Bergmann, help – “BE QUIET! I AM MAKING A CALL!”

Gary burbled a tiny ‘sorry’. But… well… If he had to pick, a numb ear was better than a… painful ear…

Why did the high ranks get all the cool training? He wanted to learn this crazy pressure point stuff. But not on him anymore – this wasn’t learning. Hey, did Jason know how to do it? Because maybe if Gary asked him

Uh… but only after Madeline was done with his phone.

She looked happy now. Why was she happy? If she was happy, Gary was happy, but what’d just happened?

“Agent Bergmann? Who are you calling?”

“MY CAT. WHO ELSE?” Oh! That was good! She’d be nice for a while, wouldn’t she? And as soon as he thought it, Madeline Bergmann was smiling and having a lovely time and she sang into her phone – because her cat could use phones, too – a cheery, “HI, KIT-TY!” She never sounded that friendly to any of them… “ARE YOU STILL DRUNK? GOOD – MAKE CUTE NOISES! THESE PEOPLE PUT ME IN A BAD MOOD AND I’M SICK OF ALL OF THEM.”

* * *

He wondered.

He wondered if it meant something. He wondered if it served a greater purpose. Patten had made his camp on the third floor of this base and left the rest of his Agency allies below on the second. He wondered if the choice was based in symbolism rather than function. Following the stir of noise growing under their feet, the right to hide on higher ground had fallen into place, but to treat the commotion with an act of caution didn’t fit what Leon knew. Patten preferred to get his hands dirty. It wasn’t to say he couldn’t grow bored, but given the strike the Nordic branch would launch when Miss Madeline called it in, it was unusual for his tastes to change today.

Were Victoria here, she would have glibly repeated the Russians’ faithful mantra: Patten didn’t change; he revealed more to his plan. She, however, was downstairs. They spoke briefly and only when the need arose, but last he heard, she wanted to track the newcomers. Alexander was here. He brought friends. As Victoria explained, if the France operative was ‘indisposed’, as her tasteful way of skirting the more accurate description of ‘killed, possessed, then worn’, then she would have to watch them until Danielle arrived. Word had come from the Nordics that they had every intention of keeping Alexander in their arsenal. Details around how it would happen had not been provided in the message, but he and Victoria agreed they would most likely draw on their usual method and bluntly drop the man in a box.

She had been away for some time. He didn’t enjoy being alone with Patten.

‘Alone’. Leon didn’t laugh. Alone was relatively speaking, unless Patten had regained the power to float a plate through the air. Fortunately, telekinesis was the one weapon they had successfully neutralized. Alexander made quite the unlikely friend. If he ever found out about his part in this, he would have to be thanked, because the branches could not have made it this far without his help carving a bloodied path. It seemed as though his usefulness had had a limit, however. Miss Madeline was right: there were other Agents here, ones that neither he nor Alexander nor the rest of the German away-team could find. He wondered how long they had been around. He wondered how much they had seen. The away-team specialized in stealth and intelligence and yet there’d been no sign of anyone in the building unaccounted for. Here was proof. The plate was being held, and Leon, with all the training he’d amassed to use the Agents’ suit technology and perfect their fabled fading, could not see what was in front of him. It was not for lack of trying.

The suits came in two styles: with the full mask or with the half. The former merely covered one’s face to assist in overall non-detection. It could be modified to guard against specific targets, either standard surveillance equipment that saw past the façade or else whatever civilian that’d made the poor decision to be born with special abilities and be added to the Agency’s list. The amateurs, the sleuths, those under request, and those who needed their every defence raised chose the full mask as their headpiece of choice. The analysts, the technical class, and the data collectors preferred the latter. Half-masks were bulky, painful, addictive, and incredible. Leon could do a lot of damage with one. What a shame the Agency didn’t trust him enough to have it. He supposed his loathing could only be so concealed. His ‘superiors’ must have sensed it. Regardless, there had been visits from those suits before, accompanying other Agents and teams and taking no notice of the ghosts haunting Miss Madeline’s claimed land. Surely they would have acknowledged each other. Surely Miss Madeline would have been informed. No one had spoken or hinted otherwise, and this, more than anything, was what unnerved him. They didn’t know where Patten had them stationed. They didn’t know how many were here. They didn’t know the extent of their roles, whether it was to silently observe or strike from the corner, but worst of all, and most threateningly, they didn’t know what else Patten had. Rest assured, Patten had something else.

He must have had something else. The man could not contain himself and his very being – no matter the form he took on – was carefully crafted to lull his audience into the falsest of false securities: first they found him unbeatable; then they found a plan to best him; then, when it failed, they thought him invincible; then a man of both balance and respect, holding both strengths and weaknesses like anyone. According to Miss Madeline and several other accounts, that was usually when Patten murdered them. It revived the ‘unbeatable’ link in the chain. More than that, it put his world in order. Leon had grown the theory that the man did not appreciate those he had to work with – a group that went out of its way to include those who worked to kill him – settling into any state of comfort or relaxation. Everyone must have either loved him or hated him, and he would gladly pull at every string to ensure he had what he wanted. He thrived on chaos. It was one of the reasons the Russians found him fascinating: to breathe war and feed on the fire of panic but still find the order in each opponent to exploit and turn against them was a trait Cryptic had struggled to emulate. They thought Patten could hear the music in Hell. The Nordics said it was crazy leading crazy. Miss Madeline hadn’t made up her mind. Because of it, neither had the rest of her branch. It was why Leon felt so unsure. Had she sided with Cryptic, he could prepare for death. With Danielle, and he might have smiled over the premature reveal.

He didn’t smile.

Leon couldn’t believe these ghosts were all Patten brought, but he couldn’t accept that his fate was unavoidable. For others, certainly, their lives were at their end, but he trusted himself to survive long enough for the Nordic branch to show. Should they fail to arrive, Leon would not die quietly.

Patten had stood in the same place since he'd stopped to talk ten minutes ago. At one time, he had moved to rest against the wall. It was the highlight of the time spent waiting here; otherwise, Patten was silent. His attention had fallen to his phone and the letters scrawled over its screen. Someone on the other end was in steady correspondence. That had not been an easy fact to acknowledge. At first the man typed so quickly, Leon had assumed it was one long message. He revised this when the small beeps of notice were addressed without a break in his fingers’ movements. Now and then, Patten paused to read what he received, but there was no change in his content demeanour to hint at what it said. The sole reaction he had had to anything so far was a snort and a smirk as the phone rang in his hands. Four times, Patten had hushed it, and four times, it had cried again. It was, however, only until now, when the phone rang for the fifth time, that Patten at last and without any warning answered it.

Leon was crouching. He had had no reason to stand or to sit, but this sudden interaction nearly changed that. His face was set grimly behind his mask and his eyes sharpened to consume Patten’s narrow range of expression. Would a half-mask have helped to interpret it? Yes, and although he resented the softly growing dependence on Agency equipment, he remembered the abuse he would have had to endure to continue on with to the higher tiers. The half-mask was not a forgiving instrument. Every suit he had seen had thrown themselves to Agency brand narcotics to cope. He stressed the addiction in the ‘narcotics’. Many seemed to apply for the half-mask purely to sample and lose themselves. Leon expected no better from them.

“Graaaaace,” Patten greeted energetically. “So sorry I missed you the first nineteen times, but I’m glad you called to make it a round twenty! You’re so thorough in your work! It’s why I know you wouldn’t bother me if it wasn’t for a super special emergency.”

“Leon.”

His name was not said out loud. He felt it through a touch on his shoulder.

“Victoria.”

He had replied through a turn of his head. It was their sign of alliance. She was not one of them.

Victoria kneeled by his side, and they faced their enemy together.

“He can see us.”

Leon already knew. Suits kept their eyes on other suits. Though they had not cracked the ghosts’ code, they would have seen past fading. Regardless, he kept it maintained. Victoria, in her full mask, mimicked him. Whether Patten knew or didn’t, he had yet to respond. A curse in disguise, potentially, but any information they could gather and send before the ghosts came to destroy them would have its use in the end.

“Have you warned the Nordic branch?”

“Yes.”

She had nodded, for the same reason she continued to fade. They spoke through their hands and gestures. Words were noise and noise would break the truce to observe in peace.

“What did they say?”

“They doubted its importance.” As they would. “They chose not to see it as a challenge.”

“I have faith in them no matter what they choose to see,” Leon replied, “but I find their confidence overwhelming.”

Patten was listening in raw amusement. He seemed on constant verge of rolling his eyes and shaking his head, as though whatever reason the caller had provided was both innocent and childish.

“As long as they win, they can act as they please.” They were in agreement, then: the Nordics themselves were of no concern, only their achieved results. It was this focus that had passed down from Miss Madeline. She was the chain that breached the gap between the other two central teams. The Nordics and Russians would have fallen from their in-fights long ago if not for her. “Why is he on the third floor?”

“I assumed he finished his work downstairs.”

It was up to Victoria to confirm it, if her most recent task truly had been to follow Alexander and the woman who joined him.

“Lamarre is one place,” she reported. “Alexander is in another. His new friend and her Agent are on the move.”

“You left them,” he noted.

“The Agent was alert. I didn’t risk it. I can’t maintain the illusion under pressure.” Leon expected more from her. She sensed this. “I waited for confirmation. They found the technician Miss Madeline left. They will be in one place soon.”

“Good.”

It was enough.

“Well – I dunno, Gracie. I’m in Charlton. What do you expect me to do?”

Victoria listened to the phone call. She had the air of someone who also mourned the talents of a half-mask.

“Who is he speaking with?”

“Grace Li,” Leon explained. He signed each letter individually. “She’s the A-2 of the Elmira lab. An S-1, to be specific.”

“Why is he speaking with an S-1?”

Why indeed. He wondered.

“We’ve been waiting on the Russians to tell us.” Waiting because Elmira was Russian territory. The drawn lines had been a small split of jurisdiction, but it alone had hit the German team with too many problems to count. “They haven’t.”

“I bet they think we’re already dead,” she reasoned. Leon accepted it as possible. “The Cubans are here with the Nordic cell handlers and the Russians will finish the building’s power. Their next move will be to clear Charlotte’s stasis cell. After that, we’re leaving. We only have to stay to make sure they know where the cells are.”

“I really think you’re overreacting. It can’t be that bad,” Patten said.

They ceased their briefings as the sound of his voice twinkled. They waited a time after as well, hoping to catch part of what the doctor was screaming on the other end. Giving up, and frustrated by it, Leon informed her, “The Nordics say Alexander is attempting to retransfer. If the Russians try to clear Charlotte’s stasis cell, they may be attacked in the process.”

“They know. The Russians were who alerted the Nordics,” Victoria clarified. Leon prepared to press for further details. She stopped him. “It’s Buzzy.”

Victoria didn’t spell the name. Seemingly, there was a gesture just for her. It looked familiar.

“Is that the girl obsessed with him?”

“With the Agent inside him? Yes.”

Buzzy. Hmm.

“Didn’t he kill her cousins?” Victoria shrugged. Leon didn’t ask her to elaborate. This was no time for gossip. “So long as she’s aware of what’s downstairs.”

“No one else is more aware.”

“Grace. Grace, Grace, Grace,” Patten said. “You sound like you’re having a rough time and – really – I’m sympathetic to your situation, but there’s nothing I can do from over here. You shouldn’t’ve let him out. The cage is there for a reason.”

Victoria was upset.

“What involving a cage haven’t we heard about?” She tensed in her place. “Why has any information been withheld?”

“Grace, he’s Australian,” Patten said. “Can’t you just smack him with a dingo? Or use a stingray – those work.”

“I’m calling them.” Outraged, she rose to her feet. The Russians refusal to share what they knew would not be taken lightly by her. “They are required to co-operate.”

“Don’t waste time. They won’t tell you.” Evidently, this was something they’d preferred to handle themselves. “Go back to the woman and her Agent. Make sure they’re in one place.”

“Miss Madeline is on her way there now and I will not let her land if something is wrong,” Victoria snapped.

“She is capable of making that assumption alone. Trust her. Do work that matters.”

“Then I will not follow the woman when I know she intends to join Alexander. I don’t care where her Agent wanders off to.” She was stubborn and cold in explaining this. The chill of death had brought this down on everyone. Victoria did not expect to survive. Like some others on their team, she bought into Cryptic’s words. She merely hid it better. “I’m going to watch Lamarre.”

Apparently, she bought it enough to self-fulfill it.

“He’ll kill you,” he told her.

“Miss Madeline has him in her security room. When he tries to sniff around, I’ll stop him.”

“He’ll kill you,” he told her again.

“I can walk through walls, Leon,” Victoria reminded him. “I understand Lamarre may delight in our destruction, but he’ll find it hard to hurt what he can’t touch.”

She didn’t want an argument. She sank through the floor and vanished, softly and serene, as though she had never arrived. Leon watched her go. He wondered whether he would see her again.

Man.” Leon’s eyes turned sharply back to Patten. The man had snapped his phone shut. He seemed well entertained. “That woman is long overdue for a vacation. I actually think she’s legally required to take one by now. All expenses paid – that’s what I’ll get for her.” And then Patten turned his head. “Anyway, as long as you’re here –”

Leon had time to stand, but not to run. The ghosts – his ghost – moved faster.

She struck under his rib cage first, removing the air from his lungs. She attacked the side of his skull next, to disorient and disable him. She slashed at the back of his legs then, to bend his knees and drag him down. He collapsed. She revealed herself. It was a sign he could not escape.

“Target subdued,” his ghost said.

Her metal voice was paralyzing. Her black lenses didn’t blink.

“Oh, Squiddie, you do earn your keep,” Patten applauded her. The ghost’s gaze did not leave Leon. “Isn’t she great? Sometimes I wonder why she’s not the A-1.” Leon could hear him laughing. He could only hear. He couldn’t lift his head. His cheek scraped the carpet as he twitched to see more than the ghost’s blank gaze. Even at her distance, he felt her loom, and through the ground, he heard Patten’s footsteps. The man walked until he stood between his servant and the Anti-Agent on the floor. He smiled broadly. He began to talk. “So – this is kind of an awkward request, but I’m gonna need you to die.”

No. He would not see Victoria again.

No. He did not believe Cryptic’s words.

Yes. Somewhere, Eric Patten had a weakness. They were prepared to take it tonight.

“… You…” Leon would not fight it. He didn’t have to. “… can’t… stop us…”

Patten toyed with the side of his glasses. His smile grew as though he heard the most beautiful sound in the world, and as he knelt at Leon’s shoulder, his ghost’s gaze joined him to watch. Leon closed his eyes to words he knew he could never answer.

“Poor little German. You don’t get it.” There. God. The piercing sting of death. “That’s exactly what I’m counting on, kids.”

And Leon was thrilled to take this horror to the afterlife.

* * *

“You know, you can talk,” Alex said, trying to decide what he was the most pissed off about. “Just because you threw Gwen to the wolves, led us to our deaths and basically handed yourself to Peter doesn’t mean you have to spend an hour sulking.”

Well, when you put it that way, of course it sounds bad.

Xander sounded lethally sarcastic. Alex honestly didn’t care, and that sentiment shot straight to Xander’s frigid corner and made him sulk even more. Fine, whatever. He took up less space that way, and Alex needed all of it to focus on this… thing in front of him. Who knew the controls for putting someone’s mind in someone else’s body were so specifically the opposite of intuitive? There were dials, screens, knobs, switches… He didn’t see an ‘on’ button anywhere, but he’d sooner cut his own leg off than push it if he did. With this kind of technology, what the hell would ‘on’ mean anyway? Nothing made sense. Everything was everywhere. It almost looked someone tried to organize it, because in the background were grey squares around a few clusters of those dials-screens-knobs-switches, but there was nothing else to go on. Nothing.

“You’d think someone who wanted you back so badly would leave a fucking manual around,” he muttered. “Am I supposed to do this by myself? Do you wanna help me out here?” So Xander reached out and grabbed a lever completely hidden on the side of the console. A chair popped up in the middle of the room. Oh yeah. That was definitely a contender for first place in the anger contest. “… So, you made me stand in front of this for five minutes when you could’ve done that right away.”

Just figured you ran out of things to bitch at me for, Xander said heatedly. Nothing to do with me being too tired or trying to remember a process I’ve only seen twice in my life.

Alex punched his fists into the console’s sides. It gave a dangerous thud that echoed through the room.

Stop doing that.” He didn’t know how to stress those words any harder. “You screwed us over. We don’t owe you shit. Remember what Gwen told you: this is a favour!”

And I’m so obliged. Thank you, Alex. And thank you, Gwen. To think, I could’ve missed all this if you hadn’t selflessly whined about me killing Rudy over killing twenty other Agents. Or – no shit – if you’d let me go to Starbucks.

Stop bringing up Starbucks!

I don’t know why you keep complaining, asshole, Xander spat, hovering on the final edge of self-restraint, barely away from exploding. As I have pointed out, following you pointing it out, your life would’ve been over years ago if I hadn’t transferred in and broken your ass out of HQ. Gwen? You think she’d be better off? Fucking imagine where she’d be right now if I didn’t find her. Dead, Alex, as technically as the Agency can do it. So I love how both of you have no problem telling me I’m the fucking bad guy leading you two into pointlessly dangerous scenarios when – guess what? You two are walking corpses and I’m the one who’s lost anything. So I stand by what I said: fuck you. I am the victim here. You and her fucked my life up, not the other way around.

“How can you say that without laughing? You actually can’t believe it,” Alex cried.

You would be dead without me, and therefore you’re living on borrowed time. My time. Yes, I fucking believe it.

“Then you’re our big hero, right? You’re this swell guy who saw two people in need –”

I’m a fucking tidal wave that put out a volcano, Xander bit. I never came here to make your life easy, but I did, and I’m sorry it’s not as perfect as you wanted, but what the fuck did you expect to get?

“I can’t believe you think you get to be victim. I’m still stuck on that,” Alex said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I always knew you ran on warped logic, but this might be the point where I find out you’re just insane.”

I spent six years living as a voice inside your head and I found out last night that Peter, motherfucking Peter, who I – if I hadn’t met Gwen – would’ve happily gone on thinking was a few rotting flecks of brain matter, is somehow still alive. Yeah, I think I’m insane. And I think I’ve earned it.

Alex let out the tiniest breath. It almost sounded like a laugh, but the noise was so hollow and dead that he wasn’t sure it hadn’t been a sob. He wasn’t breaking down now. Not now, and not here with an army of invisible soldiers that Xander wasn’t even going to try to fight. But this pressure was getting to him all over again. He felt dizzy.

“… You know? When this is over,” he said slowly, “just go. Away. To wherever.”

That’s what I figured.

“I can’t keep dealing with you,” he tried explaining. “I have no idea who you are, and I’m really thinking I don’t want to know.”

It’s for the best.

Those five minutes of staring at the console had been enough time to process what they’d said. The ‘thanks’ and the ‘don’t thank me’ had carried more poison than they’d realized. Now it was in their blood, and their blood had started to boil. Osono was going to have fun dealing with this. If the invisible soldiers hadn’t already killed her, that was. And if those soldiers didn’t kill them.

Alex’s fists had relaxed onto the console. A fake sense of calm had come over him, but his heart kept pumping furiously.

“This seems stupid to ask now,” he said, “but since I don’t know how to use this and you’re still trying to remember, I might as well.”

Sure, shoot. Can’t wait.

Okay.

“Have you ever not hated me?” It didn’t sound so stupid now that it was out there. “After I wised up. Before that, we got along great because you talked me into everything, because I was a stupid kid and you took full advantage.”

You’re still a stupid kid.

“I know. But I also know things changed when I started fighting you.” The first time Alex chose not to follow Xander’s suggestions was the first time he’d ever been punched by the guy for real. Before when Xander smacked him, it’d always been kind of friendly, like he was poking a dog or some other animal. They never went back to that. “I remember there’d be times we’d get along and I’d always kind of think, ‘Okay, so are we friends now?’ But I have never had to ask when you thought I was an enemy. You don’t do that unless you hate someone. So did you always? From the start? Or is that – like – some new thing you slowly built over the years?”

Quiet.

The fire in Alex’s chest slowly settled down. He could picture it, ready to flare up at the first wrong word, but purposely dying to make way for whatever was supposed to be put there next. Xander was thinking, and he was taking his time.

Not always, he finally replied. Alex was surprised by it. I don’t mind you. You’re actually a good guy. You’re not trying to hurt anyone. There was some praise in those words, but no warmth. The other half of the response made sense of it. What I hate is that you exist. A lot of the time, I can’t ignore you do.

Despite himself, Alex grinned weakly.

“My existence offends you?”

Yeah. Because what happened with you was a mistake. The grin fell. I’ve been stuck looking at it for years.

Well… There was an obvious way to solve that problem. Hell, it was the same way Xander solved every problem.

“You could have killed me.”

Tried. Couldn’t.

“Ha.” Xander couldn’t kill someone. “Was it because you love me just that much?”

No. At that, Alex dryly chuckled. I’m selfish, remember? I didn’t kill you ‘cause that’d admit everything. So long as you’re alive, I can fix things.

“‘Things’, huh?” Plural. “Like more than one?”

A wall slammed into his head so fast that Alex actually choked and fell. For one terrible second, he thought Xander had shoved him face first into the console. In the next, he realized that wall was in his mind. Xander had put his back up and its every titanium inch was immaculately polished and fierce.

Fuck, you’re nosy, Xander said. Hey, that felt great. Awesome. Thanks, dude.

Alex was going to take a minute to stay on the floor. His head hurt now.

“You’re welcome. Sort of. I’ll tell you what I won’t miss,” Alex told him, somehow in a lighter mood. For once, the violence had helped a little. “You doing that.”

Neat, right?

Xander was proud of himself.

“It’s probably another trick you should show me. Gwen shouldn’t know every thought I have.”

I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

… He’d said that so casually, Alex almost missed the faint note that’d waved over. Right. They were fighting. The light mood broke enough for Alex to feel guilty.

Xander always did that. If no one was bleeding, his attention drifted in and out and everywhere. He’d change the subject too fast for anyone to remember they had something to settle.

“When I said…” Xander was listening. “When I said ‘when this is over’… you know I meant ‘over’ over… right? Like, when the Agency is out of my life for good.”

They’d have to be destroyed. Completely.

“Yeah. I guess you’ve got work to do.”

Well, what’s the deadline?

“The sooner the better,” Alex admitted. “But I didn’t mean it. I mean, I don’t want you gone.” Too feely. “You’re impossible to deal with and I am never going to have peace in my life if you’re here –” Close call. Good job. “– but it’s not… I mean… You know I just think like that when I’m panicking.”

You’ve been panicking a lot lately.

Alex flashed back through his thoughts from the last few days.

“I don’t mean it,” he said. “You need to stay.”

He’d apologized. Now Xander considered accepting.

… Alright. Alex was relieved. He exhaled quietly. But knock it the fuck off. It’s getting hard to tell if you’re serious anymore.

Once upon a time, he swore ‘emotional’ was the right word for the guy. He would’ve brought it up and laughed a little, but… now really wasn’t the best time. Instead he amiably asked, trying to force the rest of the tension down a different way, “Tired of just reading my thoughts?”

I can’t read your thoughts, dumbass, Xander said, like he never thought he’d have to explain it.

Alex blinked.

“… You… can’t?”

No.

But… he always…

“… Then how do you literally know what I’m thinking all the time?!”

He’d never been reading Alex’s thoughts? Seriously?!

Uh, ‘cause you’re transparent as fuck and I know you? Xander raised an eyebrow at him. What’d you think I was doing? Magic? You’re a retard.

“No, I –”

Retard.

“That’s mature,” Alex snapped.

But familiar, and back to the way they should have been talking. The fire let itself out. Xander seemed better, and Alex felt rested on the floor.

Yeah. Better.

Xander had legitimately fought with him. It hadn’t been for long, and Alex was sure there was something funny to say about the guy throwing fists if his coffee wasn’t perfect but barely raising his voice when it finally turned serious, but a painfully sinking feeling grew in his gut.

He stopped.

Alex stopped because that dead fire had a bed of embers still burning. It brightened as soon as he went to ask what Xander meant back there. He kept his mouth shut, and the mental wall did its part by refusing to disappear. Its message was still loud and clear but… did Xander really think… he was the one who had lost something? The guy wasn’t stupid – he was more aware of what was happening than Alex half the time, and he’d seen what Alex had gone through both as an Agent chasing a target and as that target on the run. So, why would he…? Unless…

Alex took something else back. Yeah, he wanted to know who Xander was. The trouble with that was the mental wall.

It’s for the best.

Best for who?

“… Okay.” He couldn’t say anything else. “But… are we okay? With this?”

Another silence.

Yeah. It’s done. And enough with the ‘feelings’.

Okay. It was done.

“Good.” Then they could forget it. Try to. Alex would try to. Xander’d probably already erased it from his memory. “But… Gwen? You’re okay with her too, right?”

I never said I wasn’t. I don’t trust her, but it’s not the same thing. He moved in Alex’s head like he was shaking himself off. Don’t worry about her and me. You’re the worst mediator on the planet and I’d rather not have you saying something that’ll make her try to strangle me when I come back.

“She’ll probably try no matter what I say. You’re not going to be there when we save her. She’s going to think you abandoned us,” he pointed out.

I know. But the most you can say is I didn’t, and she’s not gonna believe it until I actually show up. She’ll think you’re trying to cover my ass, he said. It’d be nice to mention I was trying to kill Rudy before I was rudely interrupted.

“By her, screaming to you for help.”

Good point. Yeah, don’t say anything.

Alex rolled his eyes. His heart had calmed down. He hadn’t really relaxed from the… squabble, but he was willing to say he’d brought it down to a tolerable nervousness.

“How about I tell her you’re sorry for this happening,” he offered. “She’s gonna want to hear it.”

I doubt that, so don’t get involved. A little bitter. She’ll hate you for it, too. Then he kind of gestured to the console with a slide of his concentration.

“… She doesn’t hate you.”

Yes, Alex, we’re best friends. Can we get back to this?

Alex looked up, warily eyeing the half of the controls he could see from the floor.

“We’re nowhere closer to figuring those out. I’m not giving up, but there’s gotta be something else we can try.” It wouldn’t have hurt for Xander to come in with that ‘something else’. “You don’t want me to say anything to her?”

Alex –

“Because you two were getting along.”

Yeah, hey, and what’s a little kidnapping anyway? Not a word from you, sparkle butt. Controls. Focus.

But Xander didn’t listen to Xander, either. He barely got the last word out before he twisted his neck to look at the doorway. With him so tired, there wasn’t a lot of distance between them this time. Alex was pulled into the subtle sound of movement and the almost imperceptible vibrations loosely dancing through the floor. Xander was hunting and he was on full alert. His legs tensed. His knees bent. His teeth felt too sharp for his mouth – but for all of five seconds before the guy burst into a call of, “Glad you finally made it. Took you long enough.”

Osono was here, but she wasn’t alone. A thirsty curve drew through Alex’s lips as Xander zeroed in on what seemed to be a captive.

“He stays in one piece until we know he can’t help us,” Alex quickly whispered.

I can work with that.

“Xander, behave.”

Why don't I get to have any fun ever?

Alex hoped the captive had health insurance. In ten minutes, he was gonna need it.

* * *

This peace of mind had his head clear. A clear head meant he’d started thinking. That one trait was why he was so sure he’d excel as an A-4, then an A-3, then possibly even an A-2. His mind naturally worked to solve problems. Every A-3 had to be able to say the same, and these blank moments of solitude were the best times for it. They allowed for self-reflection and a deeper look into what was troubling him.

Jason still hadn’t left. He was too busy considering the idea of letting Eric know he’d found a car.

It was just the way he’d responded to Jason’s warning. Not the fact that it was an emoticon, though Jason could write an essay on that point alone, but rather what it stood for. It meant ‘okay’ or ‘thanks’ or ‘whatever, buddy’. That was where it ended. There was no follow-up and no interest in any other detail. Jason was specifically here for details, and it would’ve only taken a word for him to pull out every physical factor in the situation. At least having the ‘okay’ or ‘thanks’ would’ve been an acknowledgement. He would’ve been able to assume it was information Eric already had – and because it was Eric, Jason held no doubts that he had known, either from Benoit sitting in front of the security screens and feeding him information, however reluctantly, or through sheer Patten-powered magic – but the distinct decision to not bother with anything more than… Was a happy face really capable of being condescending? Because that’s what it felt like. It felt like that happy face had been mocking him, patting him on the head and cooing, ‘Good boy, Jason! Now run along back to your lead, and be sure to wear your seatbelt extra tight!’ That was… unfair. It was cold, too. Jason’s hands tightened around the steering wheel and the line through his chest from the adrenaline shot filled with ice. He could have been imaging it, but just entertaining the idea that Eric had been making fun of him… It hurt. It hurt far more than he’d thought it would.

Had he done something wrong?

Back in Elmira, Eric managed to get instantly on his lead’s good side, instantly on Benoit’s bad side, and leave Jason floating roughly in the middle. The three of them had stayed like that. Hell, the one thing his lead could count on was the A-1 pulling out all the stops for her, either as a reward for her loyalty or as legitimate appreciation. Benoit – no question about it – had more than once, behind those shades he now kept almost exclusively for this reason, glared at the man as if he was going to rip Eric apart with his bare hands. So they were taken care of. Jason was the one dangling, and Eric wasn’t going to clear it up. In the first five minutes they’d met, Jason was practically ignored. In the car, he’d gotten some of happy glow, but otherwise, he’d – again – been ignored. Here in Charlton, the one reason Eric had had for talking to him privately for any length of time was because Jason hunted him down. Eric didn’t act like he’d enjoyed it. It felt like it’d been the low point of his entire trip. Jason knew that, but… after that low point had come his suit’s return and an honest endorsement to find his lead.

Their interactions were not clinging to the rules of a code, like Benoit had it. Eric was too informed of Jason’s situation to pretend they hadn’t crossed into shades of gray. They weren’t friends, though. That was despite repeated opportunities Eric had jumped on with Stephanie. Everything about the way he spoke to Jason spelled out… balance. Balance and neutrality. He seemed to want to have Jason on level ground and only level ground. Every burst of kindness was cancelled by a pull from rules. Every favour was only after a punishment came through. Eric would give exclusively after he took and Jason wasn’t sure if he should question these motives or thank the man from sparing him from whatever was brewing in those delightfully crafty shadows.

This was the first in the line of the many things he’d feared about a promotion. These were the emotions hiding in the background, the truths and lies that went above, beyond and below protocol, all used as boundaries in a game he didn’t unlock until the rank A-3 accomplishment was achieved. Jason counted himself fortunate to have such a rare opportunity. To be involved enough to get to see how these things worked – and what happened when an A-1 was involved. Some A-2s didn’t get to do that! … And he wasn't sure he was ready for it.

It was just him. It had to be just him. He was an A-5, he wasn’t very important, and Eric not punching him in the face was already cause for celebration. Jason simply felt like he was missing out because he was seeing how everyone else was treated. His lead was special because of who she was, and Eric probably only cared about that because she was already a lead. Quin, meanwhile, had been a lead. Yeah. Quin. Jason remembered what he’d seen in the cell room. He felt a little better.

He could go further.

By the front door, glancing in and acting like she was trying to find a way inside but had already spent a while circling the building for any entrance that wasn’t that one, was a woman wearing a suit. She was faded, which for him meant Jason spotted her like she was strolling around in a bear costume. She couldn’t have been from here. If she was, why wasn’t she inside? The power might have been out, but she could have gone through the basement and taken the stairs. Those were locked, but what A-6 couldn’t pick them, much less an A-5 in control of this technology? So she wasn’t supposed to be here, not according to Madeline’s security. Jason’s hand went for his goggles. He stiffly moved through the menus and manually drew up the one line of information he was curious about: who she reported to. In the minutes it took, nearly long enough for the woman to wander off again, he had his answer and it wasn’t the longshot he’d thought it be. At the top of her hierarchy, so far removed that it was possible they’d never met, was Eric’s name. This woman worked for him.

Therefore, this woman was coming to Elmira.

Change of plans. He’d gotten away with not knowing about personal lives when the cases were short and his involvement was controlled, but now he needed the backstory and Eric wasn’t someone who could be observed to be understood; he had to be explained. This woman? She was his best shot at figuring the man out. The goggles could handle the others.

“Hey,” he shouted. “If you’re not getting in there, then get in the car. I have to talk to you about your boss.” It was a sizeable distance between her name and Eric’s. He didn’t expect her to know much, but everyone had their rumours. He’d decide how much to believe after he had them laid out. “Trust me. It’s not safe in there anyway.”


Last edited by Tartra on Sat Apr 14, 2012 6:15 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:29 pm

Richard, Richard, Richard, Richard, Richard, Richard, Richard, Richard.

Finally, his name decided to show it's ugly face after subtly displaying evidence of his mark everywhere. What did he see in this awful woman? During her lovely little discussions and reminiscing with Gwendolyn Stewart, it occurred to March that Bergmann and Richard were possibly lovers. At some point between the last phone calls and the one that was being made now, that suspicion had transformed into core-deep certainty. Her ex-boyfriend was fucking Bergmann. It only made sense. Bergmann was an uptight, aggressive and powerful woman. The way she treated everybody, including Master, spoke of an unwillingness to submit or give in to the authority of others. It was reminiscent of the way March had portrayed herself during her affair with Richard... while behind closed doors, every night, she got on hands and knees and crawled around for him, wearing nothing but a collar and leash.

As much as it angered her to imagine this horrible bitch in bed with her mentor, she felt both a sick pleasure and an actual sick nausea to imagine Bergmann in a similar position, being forced to be someone else's "pet". Either way, not only was it not beyond the realm of imagination to mentally put Bergmann in that role, it also seemed more and more likely the more they interacted with each other, because March refused to believe that this plot to stop her transfer was something that Bergmann just cooked up on her own. Oh, the delightful, kinky secrets of Agency women...

"What is wrong with your tongue? ...Anyway, yeah, I remember talking to you and don't worry, the brat stole them back," Gwendolyn's voice came out of nowhere, drawing March's attention away from the private conversation Bergmann was having with Master. Looking at the girl, it appeared she wasn't talking to anybody and temporarily alarmed, March mentally stabbed at her with the EDP shield, a fiendish delight filling her when Gwendolyn's internal presence shivered in pained response. Outwardly, Gwendolyn flinched and gave her a hurt glare, and receiving the reaction she was looking for, March rigidly turned back to Bergmann, satisfied that Gwendolyn hadn't broken through or contacted someone. Silly Gwendolyn, talking nonsense to herself. "I'm not," the psychic said with weary defiance. "Gary is sitting right there. You know? Gary. Your boyfriend's buddy who came along with you? Remember?" Yes, yes, Gerard, something, something. After March tapped her hand and shooshed her like a child, Gwendolyn turned away with an irritated sigh

Back watching Bergmann, a new suspicion started to grip her as the woman's demeanor rapidly changed and she began to seem almost... civil towards Master. Like she was accepting what he had to say without a fight and without expressing her undying hatred in between her words. What was going on? Immediately, March began to doubt, an anxious dread filling her to think that possibly this whole little feud Bergmann had with Master had been a facade and a lie. It did seem heavily played out, didn't it? All the screeching and threats, the promises and established loyalties on either side. Elaborate theatrics made to string her along and force her to submit to the will of her supposed allies. And eventually... what? What was the purpose of the charade? Why would Master, of all people, agree to engage in such an act? Was he working for Richard too?

No...

Beautiful Master... How could he do that to her? She'd been nothing but loyal and obedient this entire time! Had she not dedicated herself above what was expected of her to make him happy? That wasn't even her job and she did it! Bending over backwards to give him a comfortable place to stand. There was no reason for him to suddenly turn on her like this. But what if--!

Only then did it occur to March to question his sudden and "opportune" appearance in Elmira and only then did she truly begin to fear for Jason's safety back in Charlton. Afterall, hadn't Master promised her that Jason would be safe? If he was playing out a lie with Bergmann then he could have lied to her about everything else. After his recent phone call, March had gotten the distinct feeling that Master had been trying to secretly support her relationship with her partner and she'd almost begun to think of him as a surrogate father-figure. Now she saw, he'd been trying to destroy their love and nearly everything he'd done was in support of that theory. And just like with Bergmann, March couldn't find a reasonable motive for him to want to do that unless he was acting on the orders and in the interests of someone else. The way Master tortured Jason by demoting him and then dangled his suit in front of his face, almost seemed like the spiteful taunting of a bitter rival, except for the fact that Master was obviously not making a claim on her at all. Remembering the way he'd kissed her hand at their first meeting, rather than seeing it simply as a flattering gesture intended to imbue himself within her graces, it now seemed like a hidden message from someone else that he'd been dutifully delivering. Old Master puppeteering the new Master...

But why break character now? If Master and Bergmann had pretended to fight in order to push and lead March in certain directions, then what could they possibly gain from letting the masks slip off before the final scores were posted? Unless... unless it no longer mattered whether March knew about it or not. Could they be so arrogant? Richard certainly was and it showed in the way he'd orchestrated this whole thing, pulling the wool over her eyes, anticipating her thoughts and actions and pushing forward the appropriate actors to play the parts of God and the Devil. And now that she'd completely fallen for it, already on her way to her destruction, they'd decided it was no longer relevant whether she still believed or not. They were confident there was nothing she could do to save herself.

As the phone call came to an end, March internally rolled her eyes at Bergmann's comments. Oh, sure, Master gave her orders to shut her mouth. She'd get right on that - it wasn't as if March had done any direct talking to the other Agent anyway, and her conversations with Gwendolyn were none of the woman's business. You're the LAST person to be complaining about someone's voice being unbearable., she snootily thought. A small snicker came from beside her and as she shot a militant scowl in that direction, Gwendolyn bravely met her gaze but pressed her lips together in a thin smile. Well, alright, March would concede that although she wasn't pleased about no longer being able to shield her own thoughts, at least the EDP was working in all of it's other functions. And yes, that had been a humorous observation and it was okay for Gwendolyn to laugh.

Turning back to Bergmann who was engaged in some sort of sickening version of phone sex with March's old, French-speaking colleague, Lamarre, she held back the disgusted sneer that threatened to warp her features as she listened to the woman's screeched cooing. March was already aware of the supposed relationship between the two, but now that she was positive the woman was in a relationship with Richard, who was a very jealous and possessive man, she began to wonder if this was part of the play-acting as well. If that were true, then how involved was Lamarre? And once that thought made it's grand entrance, everything else came bursting through the opened door.

Lamarre, the big actor. Of, course... She was stupid not to have seen it before. Their cases becoming "accidentally" entangled and Lamarre's deliberately slow and languid style of pursuit, were all meant to allow Gwendolyn to flee from March's hands and keep her out of reach. To stop her from transferring and abandoning Richard's memory. And then March concocted a plan with him that would enable them both to get what they wanted by using each other as stepping stones, and who conveniently showed up to play the third point of the triangle? Master. And what were his contributions? Changes to the plan that gave both him and Lamarre control of her project's success while at the same time eliminating her protective partner from the picture. Was that why Master took Jason's things away? To try to force him to abandon the case? And when he refused to, Master ordered him to stay behind anyway.

Did that mean that Alexander wasn't going to get caught? Jason would help him with the retransfer and then he'd try to stop Alexander and the other one from coming after Gwendolyn and they'd probably kill him. Alexander would kill him. There was so much that could go wrong with that plan. Would Richard risk it? Jason could succeed in disabling and detaining Alexander and the guest and then what? Richard had no one else to crash her party. Well, there was Bergmann but she'd revealed herself as a threat and an enemy to the point where she no longer had the upper hand. Honestly, if this was his back-up plan, then Richard had seriously underestimated March's abilities - which was odd, since he was the one who'd trained her.

No, he had to have something set up as a Plan B in case things back at Charlton actually happened the way they were supposed to. That meant there was something in Elmira? Hadn't Master said someone was on their way there? At the time, March assumed he'd meant Jason, but since he wasn't about to let the two of them be together again, could he have been subtly taunting her? What if he meant Richard?

The question seemed irrelevant almost as soon as it was asked, instantly answering itself with itself as suspicion transformed into that same deeply rooted certainty. Richard was coming to Elmira. He was coming and he was going to try to stop her from transferring! The possessive bastard! He had no right! She hadn't done anything wrong and she was doing her job! No matter what his arrival meant, there was absolutely no way that he could just swoop in and take her case away from her. He might be able to delay things by clogging up procedure with motions and reports, but he was sorely mistaken if he thought he could beat her down with paperwork. This was her ticket out of the mess he'd left her in and he would have to kill her before she'd let him take her target away. Quietly, March's hand squeezed Gwendolyn's a little tighter, and the other woman looked at her but said nothing in complaint.

Watching Bergmann with a blank gaze as she thought these things over, her face still streaming with endless tears, March was unafraid of what awaited her in Elmira. They all thought they had her finished and although she did not know what the finale was, nothing was going to stop her from getting into her new body. And since they all had relaxed enough to assume the fight was over, she'd let them continue to think that until the time was right. Then freedom and a new life would be hers.

***
It was basically a repeat of the introduction he'd had with Anjelica, reaching his hand across the aisle and waiting for a hand shake, except Haggins had absolutely no interest in conversation or traded introductions with the guy. Not wanting to cause any trouble or awkward situations, however, he decided to just swallow his pride and go through with it. Warily, Haggins eyed the appendage as it hovered near him and he tried not to think of who or what it had been touching just a few seconds ago. Anjie and this stranger hadn't been in the restroom for more than a couple of minutes and it was basically a closet, so, there was no telling what acrobatics - or dare he think it - alternative methods had to be performed for those two to get off.

Trying to stifle thoughts of Anjelica in sexual situations and swallowing the vomit that threatened to fill his esophagus, Teddy donned a polite smile and moved to put his hand in "Fin's". The act of reaching out and leaning over upset the delicate balance of the piles of papers on his knees, spilling them into the aisle and onto the floor while he watched in dismay. "I'm... Haggins... " he said lamely, not even touching Fin before he was turning to his fallen files, both relieved that contact was averted and annoyed that gravity was picking on him. After he'd just organized everything to be easily accessible! Now he'd have to start all over! Good thing he had a few hours to kill.

"That happens to you a lot," the man seated next to him casually said. Haggins bit his lip while he gathered the fallen papers, keeping back a smart remark. Not only was that the stupidest, most pointless thing the guy could have said, but it could also be construed as being rude and unnecessary, which, if Haggins was a lesser man, he would have shoved his higher rank in Fin's face and told him to shut up and leave him alone. Glancing back at the seat behind Fin, he paused for a moment in his clean-up to regard the sleeping form of his boss, trying to think of what Creasy would do in this situation. The older Agent was very hard to anger, but even when he did get mad, he was always cordial to his enemies, letting them know who was boss with a warm smile on his face. Pure refined and dignified restraint mixed with the capacity for concentrated brutality.

"Ever thought of going digital?" Fin asked flippantly and Haggins let out a breath and forced a smile on his face as he sat back up with his gathered papers.

"Actually, it's not up to me," Haggins said, straightening the papers by tapping their edges on his knees. "The Agency--" Glancing over at Fin, Teddy realized the other man had leaned down to help him pick up the fallen files and he only came to this realization after noticing that Fin now sat with his eyes glued to the papers that he held rather than handing them back to their owner. Frowning, Haggins reached out and snatched the pages back, receiving a wide-eyed and innocent look from Fin as he returned the forms to the pile he held.

"Sorry, I'm a bit nosy. Bad habit." As if that excused him of anything! If Haggins were a different Agent, Fin would get more than just a simple reprimand for snooping like that and for continuing to talk out of turn!

"Yeah," Haggins muttered warily, sorting the papers back together and putting them in the right order. Deciding to just forget about the incident and focus on his work, he began to turn away but Mr. Socialite wasn't going to give him a break.

"So, what do you do for the Docimasy? Are you a clerk or an archivist... or just a secretary?"

"I'm NOT a secretary," Haggins said testily. Glancing at Fin, he noticed the guy gave him a strange look and he could almost swear the man was amused by something. Fin was playing with him! Ben KalbA! "Do you think you're funny? I'm an apprentice investigator AND an A-6 rank! I'd appreciate it if you'd act like you belong in the Agency and adhere to the appropriate rules of conduct. Just because I sat next to you does not mean I'm free to talk to! I should write you up for... for even speaking to me!" Haggins shot a small glance at Anjie who was not paying attention. She was softly lip synching to herself the words of whatever song was currently coming through her headphones and when she noticed Theodore looking at her, she gave him a stony frown and flipped him off. "I could write you up... for a lot of things..." Haggins said quietly once he turned back to Fin.

As soon as he said it, he hated himself for it. Immediately, the amusement faded from the man's eyes as his gaze shot to the woman behind them, his body and demeanor rapidly changing to become more guarded when he looked back at Haggins. It was as if a light had been turned off as Fin's eyes dulled and his expression turned sober and strangely, Haggins regretted it's absence. "I'm sorry, Sir," Fin said, giving him a respectful bow of his head. "I didn't mean to overstep any boundaries. I'm just nervous about my new assignment, that's all."

Harah. He felt like such a Shmok now - and rightfully so. Not even he approved of people who pulled the rank card, especially in a setting as informal as this. And it wasn't that he didn't like the guy, because he actually did. Fin was pretty funny, even when he was flirting with Anjelica and being corny, and he was good-looking in an above average way. ...Not that Haggins had been noticing that or anything. The only thing he didn't like was the way Fin was benefiting from Anjelica's free pass. And also the fact that the guy had sex with her at all; this wasn't the first time Haggins had been made aware of the medical examiner's lustful exploits and needless to say, he was a little disappointed that Fin didn't have better judgment to know trash when it boarded the plane wearing nothing but a shiny, black garbage bag. Either way, it wasn't fair for Haggins to treat him badly just because he didn't like that Anjelica got special treatment from nearly everybody, while others like himself had to work hard for everything they wanted. It wasn't like Fin understood or knew about that or as if he was condoning her spoiled behavior.

Biting the inside of his cheek, Haggins cleared his throat and nervously set his papers back down on his lap. "Hey, it's alright," he said in a humble, apologetic tone. "Lots of people mistake me for an assistant, which I sort of am, but I'm also in a pupil position, so, I like to think that makes a significant difference and I try to remind lower ranks to still be respectful. But not all the time, because that's sort of a douchey thing to do. It's not like you knew though, which was probably why you were asking, so I was just telling you, so you'll be careful when talking to new Agents." He was rambling without meaning to and his cheeks felt really hot.

Fin didn't seem to mind though and Theodore relaxed significantly when the other man grinned a little bit. "Well, thank you, Haggins, Sir," he said with another respectful bow of his head, only this time it had a more mock feel to it that was also particularly graceful. Haggins shifted in his seat anxiously. "I really appreciate it. Question: do I just call you by your last name or do I call you 'Sir'?"

Once again, Haggins was put in a position of authority and... he had to admit he liked the attention and respect. The urge to take advantage of it was there, but he finally decided he preferred the idea of Fin being comfortable. "Just call me by my last name," Haggins said with a shrug, nodding his head so his sidecurls bounced. "I guess it doesn't really matter right now, since I'm technically off the clock." He gave a glance behind Fin's seat to where Creasy snoozed soundly. The older man's eyes were closed and his head was tipped back against the headrest just slightly and his fingers lazily half-laced over his lap while a soft, barely there, droning came from his nostrils. When Haggins looked back at Fin and they both caught each other's gaze after looking at the sleeping Agent, a small smile came to Haggins' bow-shaped lips and Fin looked away with a smirk.

"So, uh, Fin," Haggins said, setting his briefcase on his lap and tucking his pile of papers inside while he spoke. "Why all the questions about the Docimasy? Are you thinking about joining?"

There was a thoughtful pause before Fin nodded his head and said, "Yes, actually. Your boss's pitch about it really won me over." And Haggins bet the "coroner's naughty report" sealed the deal for him. "Plus, I just think rules are really fun. Especially enforcing them."

Haggins laughed a little at that. "Well, you'll definitely get a kick out of it if you enjoy procedures and judicial power. Of course, you won't get that ability until you reach at least A-3 rank and only on the cases that you're assigned. Anything below that is mostly focused on investigation." Clicking his briefcase shut and tucking it under his seat, Haggins asked, "What unit or Agency territory are you thinking of maybe signing up to?" Please, say North-west. Please, say North-west.

"Wait, what do you mean judicial power?" Fin asked, ignoring the other question. "You mean, like a judge and jury and that sort of thing? Hey, how are punishments on cases handled anyway?" Slowly, as Haggins began to realize the way Fin looked to him as the authority with all the answers to his questions, he started to feel not only more self-confident about his ability to provide those answers but also a willingness to do so.

"Well, the Lead on a case for the Docimasy is usually an A-3 who leads a team of investigators to collect all of the evidence and testimonies about a particular incident within the Agency," he started, his voice sounding stronger as he went along. "For instance, just as an example, let's say you were the Lead on a case for a report of sexual assault. You would have the authority to question the victim, any witnesses, the accused, and you could direct your team of Docs to collect evidence of the crime." Haggins felt a chill of excitement tremble up his spine as he noticed the attentive way that Fin was looking at him. He's listening! He's actually interested in what I have to say! "And then you as the Lead would have the authority to make a final decision and close the case."

"Final decision?"

"Yeah, like, whether the accused is guilty or not, and what punishment they should receive."

"Really?" Fin seemed a little shocked by that. "Just right then and there, 'guilty-not guilty' and then 'I sentence you to a month in Agency jail?"

"Well, I don't think confinement is the standard. I mean, Creasy, my Lead, usually has a lot more creative ideas than that and each case is handled differently. When you're on a case like this, the Docs can get really involved. Lead Agents have a tendency to focus on their cases to extreme levels and that's part of why they got where they are - because of that focus, they know their targets intimately even without having met them. Well, it's no different for the Docimasy, except we tend to get focused on other Agents." He paused at the thoughtful frown on Fin's face. "I mean, the focus stops when the case is over, of course. It's not like we'll still be thinking about you once we've wrapped everything up and doled out your punishment."

Haggins tried to laugh about it but Fin just distractedly said, "No, of course not."

There was a bit of a silence that immediately had Haggins feeling worried. Had he said something to upset Fin? Maybe he explained too much and now the guy wasn't interested in joining? That would suck, because then it would severely limit the chance of them ever working on the same assignment together - unless Fin got accused of something. Not that he was particularly interested in that, but Fin might be a fun guy to work on a case with. He certainly asked a lot of probing questions.

Thinking that he should probably bring up the question of what classification Fin might want to sign up for, just to make sure the guy was still interested, he was interrupted when Fin asked, "You're currently working on a murder case aren't you? What would the punishments for murder be?"

Caught off guard, Theodore licked his lips for a moment and stammered a reply. "Well... uh... it really depends on the severity of the case - sometimes we find out that it was a defensive act or otherwise justified, so the punishments end up being a lot less... strict." What was Fin thinking? Was he asking because he thought there might be a flaw in the system? Haggins swallowed heavily and quickly tried to salvage the approval that he felt slipping away from the other man. "It also depends on the Lead on the case and the defining characteristics of the accused. Each verdict is decided with sensitivity to the specific details of the case."

"Characteristics of the accused?" Fin repeated, pursing his lips and squinting his eyes in a brief moment of thought. Then, quietly, Fin glanced at the seat behind him, watching the silently napping Creasy for a moment before turning back to Theodore. When he spoke again, each word was enunciated carefully and spoken deliberately. "What would you say were the defining characteristics of the person you're looking at in the case you're currently working on?"

All of a sudden, Haggins was made aware of how close Fin had gotten, leaning into the aisle to speak to him. So close that Haggins could see the man's eyes were a lighter brown than he'd originally thought and he could smell the spicy aroma of his after shave. That, added onto the almost playfully secretive way Fin was looking at him and the deeper timbre the man's voice possessed when he spoke quietly, sent a burning flush to Haggins' cheeks and neck and made his head spin. "Come on. Spill it. Just a few tiny details," Fin said with a small tilt of his head and a flash of charming white teeth.

With his thoughts wandering into forbidden territory, Haggins tried to focus on what he was being asked and felt a deep, penetrating need to tell Fin about the cases they were going to Charlton to investigate. With his mind dancing between thoughts of being locked in the confines of the bathroom with the other Agent and the details of the cases humming on his tongue like his finger on the trigger, everything was interrupted when a loud snorting sound jolted him out of it. Instantly, he turned to the seat behind Fin where Creasy was adjusting himself in his sleep, smacking his lips in dry mouth slumber, before settling into peaceful silence once more. Taking it as a sign from God that he should keep his mouth shut and not fall for the temptation of this handsome stranger, Haggins licked his rosy lips and gave Fin an apologetic look.

"I'm really sorry," he said, the depths of his regret filling his voice as he spoke. "But it's Docimasy policy that the details of all open cases are kept strictly confidential." Fin had on a peculiar smirk as his eyes glanced behind him and he settled back into his seat, pulling away from Haggins. Feeling anxiously helpless and grieving over the lost moment, Haggins desperately tried to explain the situation so that Fin would not hate him for keeping secrets. "It's not that other people can't be trusted - and I'm definitely not saying that I don't trust you - but more for the safety of the victims and the accused. Because until the final verdict, nothing is really known for certain - we haven't even talked to any of the parties involved yet. So, to talk about it would basically be spreading lies and rumors that may not be true; all Agents are innocent until proven guilty." Haggins gave Fin a pleading look. "I'm really, really sorry."

Fin turned to him with a ready grin and shook his head with a shrug. "Haggins, it's no big deal. I was just curious. Like I said, I'm nosy and I'm just looking for a bit of entertainment to keep me distracted from my 'new job jitters'. Honestly, don't sweat it, alright?" When Fin gave him a nudge on the arm with his knuckle, Haggins blushed and smiled nervously, relieved that he hadn't offended his new friend. It did not occur to him at all to be worried about this need to impress and befriend a man he barely knew anything about. "In fact, I think I need a little relaxer."

Clicking his fingers to get her attention, Fin called the flight attendant over and when she approached, smiling and flashing blue eyes at him, Haggins gave her a shy smile back. "My friend and I would like some refreshments," Fin said cordially and then stopped himself in the middle of what he was going to say next, scowling thoughtfully and pointing at Haggins. "How old are you?"

"Me? I'm 22. Why?"

"Okay," he said with a nod, turning back to the woman standing before them. "Do you have the appropriate ingredients to make Sea Breezes? Okay, good, we'll have two of those, then, please. Anjelica. Hey, Anjelica." It took a minute of waving and snapping his fingers at her for Fin to get her attention but with an irritated frown, she pulled one of her headphones out of her ear and shook her head questioningly, as if Fin were the biggest moron in the world. "My lovely lady, would you care for anything to drink? Perhaps something sparkling and fat free to tenderize your palate or possibly something sweet to match your sunny disposition?"

The icy hate did not fade from her eyes as she turned to the stewardess and nodded her head curtly with a short, "J&B on the rocks," tucking her headphone back in and turning back to the window to continue ignoring the rest of the plane.

While Fin had been speaking, Haggins found himself distracted as his eyes wandered over the flight attendant, noticing her slender curves, accentuated by the conservative uniform, her toffee colored skin, smooth and free of blemishes, and her curly mane tied back neatly, but left dangling in thin, tiny ringlets upon her back and shoulders. As she walked away and Theodore was left eying her elegant calves and short-heeled shoes, it finally occurred to him what Fin had actually asked her for. "Sea Breez--? No, wait a minute! I can't be drinking right now!"

"Why not?" Fin said, adopting an enticing, cavalier tone of voice. "You said yourself that you're not on the clock right now. Besides, they wouldn't provide alcohol on Agency planes if they didn't want Agents to be drinking, now would they?"

That was extremely faulty logic, and Haggins almost let himself fall for that dashing grin again, but shook it off in favor of common sense. "Yeah, I know, but I have a lot of stuff to go over before we land. I still haven't looked over everything we've collected from the records and I can't afford to be unprepared tomorrow. Creasy--" Oh, God! Creasy! Quickly, Theodore chanced a look backwards but the older Agent was still asleep, the muscles in his shoulders and arms completely relaxed. The man wasn't going to be rousing any time soon.

"Geez, calm down, Haggins," Fin urged, nudging him in the chest with the back of his hand, forcing Haggins to face forward again. "You deserve a break every once in a while. Yes, you're going to be doing a lot of work tomorrow, which is why you need to get in as much RR right now as you can. Even Creasy understands that and he's already got a head start on you."

"Yeah, but--"

All objections died in his throat as the flight attendant came back, pushing a small cart with their drinks on it. Haggins was just about to tell her that he didn't really want an alcoholic drink but probably just some kosher juice instead, but as she handed the tall glass to him, she flashed those dazzling white, straight teeth at him with a womanly cooed, "Here you go," and he forgot what he wanted to say.

After the drinks were handed out and he watched her retreat back to her station with her cart, still sharing a look with her and giving her an approving and thankful smile, Haggins said to Fin, "Well, one can't hurt."

"That's the spirit!" Fin urged, clinking his glass against Theodore's, even though he could tell by the look in the lad's eyes, one drink wasn't the only thing he'd ask their lovely attendant for.

***
She was so pissed off right now. After years of putting up with this shit, she still continued to allow the idiot to haunt her life. She was so weak and as she stomped through the maze-like hallways, following the gory path before her, she dreaded what Xander might say when he saw her entourage. It was bad enough that she'd promised more than once to finish this and failed to do so, making herself look pathetic and wimpy. But she also hated the fact that she even cared what that ex-Agent thought of her anyway.

Although she was still raging and explosively angry about Rudy pushing her sensitive buttons, the rage felt like habitual foreplay compared to the other emotions she was dealing with. Osono was used to that sort of shit coming from Rudy and although she'd never talked about her dead baby brother with him and hearing Claus's name coming from Rudy's mouth had been like him stabbing a knife in the boy's chest, the anger and the argument and his reactions were familiar territory. It was old, practiced and worn. And it was not what her mind was fixating on now as they made their way closer to the room where Rudy said Alex and Xander should be.

She didn't know when she started caring about what Xander thought of her and she felt like punching herself in the face for even allowing the emotion to occupy a space of serious consideration within her for more than five seconds. But it was there and it refused to go away - even if she took the psychotic leap and gave herself a black eye, she doubted it would leave. At first, everything had been about Gwen - Stacy - her new friend that Osono's selfish stupidity had put in harm's way. Alex hadn't wanted her help and had blamed her for what happened, so then it became about proving herself to both of them - Stacy and Ben, as she'd known them then. To prove to them and herself that she was still human and she could still care about other people. To return the kindness and acceptance that had been shown to her after years of semi-solitude. Whether Alex wanted it or not.

She'd been psychotic and argumentative when he wanted to take out his frustration, guilt and fear on someone other than himself, willingly playing his bad guy. She'd been attentive, strong and forgiving when he needed a partner and an equal to share the burden with. And now she was doing nothing but disappointing him and it was upsetting her. Osono couldn't get his tone of voice out of her head and the way he walked away from her, leaving the entire decision in her hands again. Trusting her to deal with it. But as much as she'd transformed during this trip, nothing had changed between her and Rudy. Well, close to nothing. He'd revealed himself as a liar and a professional stalker with murderous motives... but it really wasn't like she hadn't known that before. He just never said it out loud or admitted it until now. If anything, him coming clean about it made her feel even less like killing him.

So, she still couldn't kill the guy and allowing him to stick around was not only making her look bad but endangering everyone else. If she showed up with Rudy still jabbering at her side, alive and well, it would send the message to Xander that not only was she a big, emotional softy, but also that she cared more for this psychotic twerp than she did about their safety. It cast a bad light on everything she'd done for Gwen and Alex up to this point, turning her into a phony. Whether she was ready to accept it or not, Osono wanted him to see that she was genuine about this. And to top it all off, her sense of urgency and the threat of danger had become bigger than Rudy; with invisible Agents wandering around and regular Agents hiding out in the rooms, Xander, with that bum leg of Alex's, could be needing her right at this very moment. She didn't have time to babysit or continue to mess around with her feelings for this loser.

Slowing down and finally coming to a stop, Osono let out a heavy sigh as she gave a rough jerk to the geek she was hanging onto and turned to Rudy who was still going on about something that she had no interest in.

"I still don't understand why everyone's so upset with me. Honestly, if they knew I was a screw up to begin with, then why did they even put me in charge of anything? I just don't see why I should be blamed for them getting exactly what they asked for. I mean, right? If they didn't want racist jokes or to hear me singing to 80's songs, then they shouldn't have asked me to organize the entertainment at the reception."

"Shut up, Rudy," Osono said in a harsh, raspy voice, cutting him off. "I need to talk to you for a minute."

"Alright, but I just want to finish what I was saying by stating that I had no idea the event was going to be publicized on national TV." He paused for a moment. "But still, don't you think I should have at least gotten a copy of that tape? Talk about being treated unfairly."

"Enough," Ozzie said with a growl in her throat, ignoring the flinch from the tech guy standing next to her as she calmed herself enough to talk normally. "Listen, I've been thinking about it and maybe it would be best if you weren't around while I help Xander get through this."

At least, that's how she would have said it if she'd been a decent or polite person. "Listen, you little shithead, we're almost there and you need to beat it. Nobody likes you and nobody wants you around, got it?"

"We've been over this already," Rudy said, having the nerve to let out an exasperated sigh. "I can't leave you alone in here. It's dangerous and I need to protect you." She gave him an icy look while holding the wide-eyed and nervous tech within view between them. Rudy's eyes darted to look at the guy and then back at her before he shrugged and said, "That doesn't count. That's like saying, 'lookit, I can beat up kittens! That means I can handle Rancors!' Which, forgive me for my skepticism, but even Luke had a hard time with one of those. If you prove to me that you can use the force to slay giant alien monsters from the planet Dathomir, then maybe I'll consider letting you run around enemy territory by yourself."

"Shut up, you stupid geek! I don't need protection! Even if I did, how the hell is having you around going to help? Are you gonna pull out your flashlight and blind everybody to death?" A smirk came to Rudy's lips and he opened his mouth like he was about to argue, but she wasn't going to let him - God forbid she let him have a word in; he'd never fucking shut up. "Look, you said you wanted to try now and that you're trying to be honest and trying to help me. For the first time since I've known you, you told me the truth about who you are. All I'm asking is that you leave me alone right now and give me time to process everything you've said. Otherwise, I might still be angry enough to kill you."

An amused snort came from Rudy as he quirked his eyebrows at her, but he was silent for a moment before saying, "Alright, fine. If it'll help you see that I really am on your side, and that I'm serious about helping you," Oh for God's sakes, just shut the fuck up, Ozzie thought but kept her expression as patient as she could make it. "Then I'll go. For now. On one condition."

Osono didn't know whether to be relieved or annoyed. On the one hand, he sounded serious, like he was actually going to listen to her and he only had one thing that he wanted in return. On the other, that one thing could be something she wasn't willing to give up and then he'd never fucking leave. Preparing herself to knock him out if it turned out to be something stupid, she nodded impatiently for him to go ahead and tell her his request.

"Answer my question from before. About Alex."

"What?" She didn't have fucking time for this stupid shit!

"Tell me how you really feel about him and be honest, or I'm not going to leave your side ever again."

"Rudy, this is idiotic! I need to go! Seriously, you need to get out of here now! I'm done playing games!" She really was and she was NOT having this conversation with him, here, or right now.

"I will, just as soon as you tell me."

The tech, who's shirt was still fisted in Ozzie's hand, slumped with a release of breath from his nostrils and Osono snapped her head around at the noise. "Oh, I'm sorry! Are we fucking boring you? What are you in a rush for, you little shit? When we find Alex I MAY decide to cook you from the inside out! Ever think of that?" A wary, nervous look entered his big dark eyes and he kept his mouth deliberately sealed shut as his gaze refused to meet the burning stare of his captor.

"Ozzie."

"WHAT?!" she snarled at Rudy's prompt, ready to punch him to force him to comply with HER demands, but she was stopped by the expectant and smug look on his retarded face. With an irritated click of her tongue and an exhalation of air from her lungs, she chewed the inside of her lip as she considered what she should say to him. How did she feel about Alex? Well, to be perfectly honest, she still wasn't very fond of him, despite the progress they'd made since the restaurant. He complained too goddammed much, whined a lot, and he was an arrogant jerk who thought he was better than everyone else.

Although he did make her laugh sometimes, it was mostly his relation to Xander that she liked, especially when the two guys got to picking on each other. And no matter how much of a snobby jerkface he could be, when it came to making her laugh, Alex would always lose that game to Xander. Osono had only recently become aware of his presence, but through that process of reintroduction to Xander, she'd come to realize that he'd been the parts of Alex that she'd liked all along. As much as she hated to admit it, him being an Agent was the only thing she didn't really like about Xander. Oh, God... Why do I keep falling for these Agent-boys? Somebody shoot me in the face.

Just thinking about her feelings made her angry and annoyed, so it was only a few moments before she burst out with, "Oh FINE! I LIKE HIM! ALRIGHT?!"

"Annnd?"

"And I want to help him so that he'll see that I care about him and maybe he'll like me back..." So that she didn't have to actually say it or talk about her feelings outright.

"Annnnnnnnd?"

Osono glared. "What the fuck? I answered your stupid question, why aren't you leaving? What more do you want?"

"Do you want to fuck him?

"Rudy, goddammit, I swear I will burn the hell out of--!!"

"Hey, it was a two part question! All I want to know is, do you want him for his dick or is there something more to it?"

Everything about this conversation made her uncomfortable - the subject matter, Rudy, and not to mention their current surroundings. It bothered her that he was even asking about this, let alone that he was pressing the matter right now. "Why are you so fucking interested? What does it matter to you?"

"Curiosity and morbid fascination - I DID tell you he tried to rape me in the men's room, right?" When she gave him a threatening look, he interrupted her again. "I'm getting counseling for it and slowly healing my wounded masculinity, so no need to worry about me, I'm just calling into question how 'available' he is. Anyway, tick tock, are ya gonna answer me or not?"

There was a long pause where she tried to find another way around this, but having no other course of action - she certainly couldn't threaten him physically, because anything short of killing him was only going to get him off - she actually took a moment to think about the question. Did she want to sleep with Xander? Well, of course, but what Rudy was really asking, whether he knew it or not, was 'did she want to sleep with Alex?' It wasn't Xander's body and no matter how attracted to him she was now, she did not feel that way towards Alex.

Then everything decided to hit her like the head of a bull ramming into her. Not only was this gushy conversation completely out of place and annoying as hell, but it was pointless as well. She still had no idea which one of them was Gwen's boyfriend and both had seemed plenty interested and worried about her, enough to make Osono think it could be either one. She had no idea which one Gwen had made her claim on and it wasn't fair to plan like this or to even think about this while she was on a mission to save the poor woman. Ozzie hardly thought Gwen would appreciate it if she was saved only to find out that Osono had stolen her boyfriend - whichever one he was. Even if she wanted to make a claim in Gwen's absence, she wasn't dating material to begin with. Alex disliked her and Xander would hate her too if she didn't get rid of Rudy.

"No," she finally said, giving him a serious look. "It's not like that."

"Not even a littl--"

"No, goddammit! I don't want to have sex with him! How many fucking times do I gotta say it?" The sense of urgency was back, prickling at the back of her neck and making her hair stand on end. This conversation was over. NOW. "I answered your stupid questions! Are ya gonna go now?"

There was a small smirk on Rudy's face that Osono had trouble reading - was he amused by her crush? Was it something he expected her to say? Or was he laughing about something else? - but he eventually nodded and shrugged smugly. "Sure. I'll go, for now. I'll just leave you alone to have some private time with your psychotic boyfriend and deal with alla that sexual frustration that's obviously got you both so tightly wound." He laughed at her attempt to object and her raised fist, backing away from her with his hands up in a defensive gesture. "Prove me right, why don't ya? Anyway, you two have fun and stay safe in here, Ozzie. You never know who might be lurking these halls." Starting to walk away, he stopped a few feet down the hall but turned around and said, "Oh, and I WILL catch up to you later-- Ozzie?"

Finally freed from her burden, and not waiting for him to disappear, she turned around, stomping down the bloody trail, not even thinking about him again before she finally reached the end of the line.

The truth of the matter was, as easily as he agreed to leave, Rudy was not actually comfortable with this at all. He really believed he had her with that question - whether she'd actually answer it, which he doubted, or she'd never admit to feelings for that loser. In which case, he would have been much more comfortable with leaving her alone with the gay-ass weirdo. Now that he was done being surprised over her totally going against what he expected, he was filled to the brim with possessive rage.

WHAT THE FUCK HAD ALEX DONE????!!!

Alright, so a few moments ago, he'd been willing to plan ahead for the inevitable "feelings" she might have for the guy, which were clearly being displayed as she continued to risk her neck for him. But for her to actually admit it... She LIKED him?? Osono, the woman who ate ash and breathed fire, who despised PDAs and even acknowledging an emotion other than passionate rage. SHE said that she liked the guy?? This went beyond any feelings that he DIDN'T have for Osono; she was his target and she'd been completely brainwashed and rewritten by this lunatic! All of those years of getting to know her and getting close to her and that motherfucker was changing all of her rules.

He'd tried to be civil about this and tried to do what she wanted to do but it just wasn't going to happen. Things needed to go back to the way they were and there was only one way it was going to happen. Taking out his phone, Rudy quickly dialed the number he had for Eric Patten, anxiously walking through the dimly lit and flashing hallways as the phone rang in his ear, being careful to peer around the halls so she wouldn't know he was still following her. As soon as it picked up, he stopped in the middle of the hall and his voice started speeding along in his rapid tone, almost forgetting yet again who he was talking to before he brought himself up short.

"Hey, Mr. Patten! What's happenin', man? Been a while since we've spoken. I've done a lot of recovery and thinking and I have to ask when am I going to get my balls back from you? Seriously, I can't wait any longer, so if you have any deals to make, I need to do it now. I STILL have her Eric and she still can't kill me. I can fucking do this if you just give me a chance and let me have the authority and tools to do it with. But I gotta tell ya, buddy, I'm running out of time..."

There was the slightest pause for breath as he rubbed a hand against the skin of his forehead agitatedly, glancing around at the empty hall as his mouth began spouting off again. "You mentioned a 'Part two', if I remember correctly, and I think I'm ready to start talking about it now. Did you get my message? The one with the video? Awesome, right? Such a cute little potential killing machine. Well, his name is Fin and he's all yours - completely, all for you, at your service, whatever you wanna do with him, neutered and with all of his shots already, although you may have to potty train him - as soon as he gets here which should be in about--" Rudy pretended to consult a wristwatch he didn't have. "--4 to 6 hours. I don't really have that long to wait, so just trust me when I promise you, he's coming, alright? Now, what else do I have to do for you to get you to put me back on top? I'm just asking for a reversal of those demotions you gave me and a simple sweeping under the rug of anything related to it. I did apologize already, right? By the way, has Squiddie said anything about me?"

Was she already back in the room with him? Was Alex happy that he was no longer there? Was he already twisting her mind some more? "Anyway, I'm all ears," Rudy said with a dorky grin into the phone. Soon, he'd be an A-3 again and then he'd get another team of Agents who'd be able to separate Osono and that ugly fruitcake nutjob who had his hooks in her. Rudy couldn't convince her to leave him and he certainly couldn't take on Alex on his own. But throw enough guys at the problem and there wasn't anything he couldn't get done.

***
Releasing a heavy sigh, she wracked her brain for ideas, even as her eyes scanned and searched the front of the seemingly impenetrable fortress, for a way inside. Several minutes had passed now and Brie still hadn't found another entrance, despite looking all along the parameters and she was beginning to grow frustrated. Who knew what damage those other two were doing inside or what confidential files they were sifting through! And it would all be on her irredeemable head if she didn't get in there and blow the whistle on this right now!

Thinking that she might have better luck if she ventured up and searched the roof, she began to wander towards the side again, searching for an easy way up, when the sound of another voice caused her to instantly freeze in place. Standing in a defensive posture, it took only a half second for her eyes to find the stranger lurking in the car by the curbside and in those breaths of a second, she also processed what he'd said to her. Her boss? Who was he talking about? Was this about Patten again? Honestly, what was wrong with today? It was like one long, exhausting, painful test. And was it just a coincidence that he was sitting behind the wheel in the car that those impostors had been driving?

Venturing closer, she was able to see more clearly that this guy was actually donning an Agency suit, just like hers, so she relaxed a bit more, knowing he wasn't another pretender. "Do you work here?" she asked, bending low so she could make eye contact with him. "I NEED to get inside and if you know a way, then you have to tell me. Two outsiders have broken in and shut the power off and I think they may be trying to find information about Eric Patten." Her big, dark eyes gave him an urgent look and tucking her choppy hair behind an ear she said, "Please, I need your help to stop them. My job is on the line here."

Then, registering the rest of what he'd said, it occurred to her that he probably knew more than he was saying. "Wait, what do you mean 'it's not safe'?" she shot a glance at the building behind herself and gave him a penetrating glare. "Do you know what's happening already? And you're leaving? You're just going to drive away and let them take over the base?" Maybe he wasn't as loyal to the Agency as she originally assumed, and with that thought in mind, she slowly began to stand back up and moved away guardedly. What was going on tonight?

***
"Yeah, since I know my way around here, I decided to take my fucking time and check out the sights," Osono replied as she marched into the room, shoving the geek ahead of her while still keeping a grip on his shirt. She spared only a glance to the ugly tanks in the room, stifling a small shiver before turning back to the boys who had somehow managed to find themselves on the floor again. "What have you two been doing? Taking a nap? Get up, you lazy bitches, before I decide you need more 'motivation' to hurry up. Like roasted nuts, maybe?"

There had been a very brief moment, when she first entered the room, where she felt a knot of concern lodge itself in her throat to see him lying on the floor. In the red lighting that suffused the room, the way he looked laid out like that in the shadows of those awful tanks, her very first thought was that he was dead. The sound of his voice instantly transformed that concern into anger and irritation, first for being made to think the worst had happened while she wasn't here to protect him - when, in reality, he was actually just a clutzy bastard - and then for the feeling itself popping up in the first place. So, despite the joking and sassy tone she took with him, there was an edge of reprimand in it, for him making her fool enough to even care about him.

The playfully threatening tone she took with him actually had the effect of brightening her mood, relieved and filled with the comfort of familiarity in being with him, until she found herself standing in the middle of the room, quiet for a few seconds - while those two murmured to each other, something she couldn't hear - just staring and smirking at them. Quickly recovering, Osono caught the tech watching her and she scowled threateningly in return.

"What are you looking at, scrotum stain? Did you think I'd forgotten about you? Oh yeah, I seem to remember you being quite eager to get here! Better not keep you waiting, huh?"

Fire burst to life, yellow light glowing around her hand, rebelling against the oppressive scarlet that still hummed warmly from the tanks. Bringing him close to her, she held her hand near him so that he trembled and shrank back as much as her grip on his shirt would allow, his eyes squinting defensively as he whimpered and sweated in fear.

"Pl-please, don't hurt me! Please, don't kill me! You need me!"

That stopped her and she only glanced in Alex's direction briefly as he started to rise. "Oh, really? And what the hell would I need a little ball licker like you for?"

Bravely, he looked her in the eyes, his dark skin looking slippery wet in the light of her dancing flames. "Because I know what you're here to do and I know how to work the machinery you need to do it."

Osono drew her head back a little and looked around the room, first letting her dark eyes sweep over the glowing red jars with floating people in them again, then at Alex who stood by the controls. "The retransfer?" she needlessly asked. "You know how to work the computer." He nodded steadfastedly, and she looked at him again. "And you were waiting for us?"

"I was ordered to remain in the building to await your arrival."

That's right. Peter had said he was expecting them, didn't he? And Xander had suggested that this might be a trap that they had no choice but to walk into. Looking around the room, Ozzie's body took on a new shade, her stance growing rigid and tense with stark lines and dramatic angles, the shadows growing darker around her as her flames grew brighter, illuminating more of the space. In the light, her eyes took on a wild tone as she searched the spaces again for what she wasn't able to see. There could be people in here, watching and waiting and she wouldn't even know it. Just like the guy who surprised them all downstairs.

Her search eventually brought her gaze to the chair that sat in the middle of the room. Like the dentist chair equivalent of a heavy metal Lord's steam punk throne, it sat suspended from the floor on a cylindrical base that attached to the bottom of the seat, while the rest of it reclined slightly with the foot rest hovering above the ground. The rest of it was covered in shiny, dark chocolate leather, turned bloody in the lighting, with shining metal bolts connecting it's parts, and wires looping like folded wings from the back in a complex and threateningly barbaric way. It had the feel of shiny new technology while at the same time declaring itself as puzzling, enigmatic and experimental machinery. At least, it was the way she interpreted it.

Looking at Alex again, she began to finally have second thoughts about doing this. There was no going back now and there was no way she'd dream of backing down - she wasn't afraid to lose her life today and she would to protect him. What she was having doubts about was whether it would be enough.

Looking back at the tech guy, she put out her fire and grabbed ahold of his arm, pinching his bicep and digging her short nails in as deep as she could, getting close as her raspy voice lowered so Alex and Xander couldn't hear her. "You do the retransfer exactly how it's supposed to be done and no 'special alterations', got it? If anything bad happens to him during this, you will find out just how hot things can get when you piss me off." The tech nodded silently, swallowing a lump in his throat. "Good," was the curtly hissed response, uttered a second before she shoved him violently to stumble towards the control panel. "Get to work, ball sweat!"

She spared one more long glare as he moved up to the wall of buttons and screens, making sure he was doing as instructed, before glancing at Alex. Not meeting his eyes she muttered, "I'll stand watch over here," stepping back a few paces to stand with her feet planted firmly and her arms held ready at her sides.

"I'm... I'm going to need you to get into the chair..." the tech hesitantly said to Alex, pressed a button and flipping several switches in a row, resulting in the chair seeming to "relax" with a mechanical hiss and slight movement of the arms and back support. The wires and tubes hanging from the back wobbled in a vaguely biological way as the chair continued whirring and moving, turning to face Alex with seemingly open arms, before the whole thing grew quiet and still once more.

And Osono stood by, her eyes hunting and searching the room for any possible...invisible enemies.

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Wed Nov 30, 2011 8:32 pm

Look at that. Peter did leave a manual.

Told you. Right, like he was supposed to be proud. Alex didn’t need more proof of what was happening here, but having it shoved in his face like this started pumping him full of dread. I don’t know how you’ve lasted this long without having a stroke. Your blood pressure must be insane. Maybe an aneurism. A heart attack. Something is gonna happen by the time you hit thirty.

“And –”

Oh no you don’t, Xander cut in. That one is not my fault. If anything, I got you to lighten up.

“You did a bang-up job,” Alex muttered, weakly sitting up in his spot. Osono was saying something to the tech – whatever it was, the guy looked like he was paying attention – but Alex's eyes were following something else. His left hand was pressing lightly on the ground. His back was getting tense, too. Xander was distracted. He also wasn’t sharing so, once again, Alex had to make him. “You hear something?”

Feel something... Then he shrugged. Never mind. Doesn’t matter.

“Well… yeah, it does,” Alex said, starting to pull himself to his feet. He had to grab the control panel to hoist himself up. “You might be staying, but Osono and I have to run out.” Hopefully, they’d trip over a charred corpse on the way. Just because Alex didn’t like killing didn’t mean he didn’t know when it was useful. Where was Rudy? “Is it Agents? The invisible ones?”

No... He was distant. Alex heard him breathe out a frustrated puff and say it again, sharper. No. It’s not.

There was that tone. A cold sweat set up shop along his spine.

“Oh. So, you’re just freaking out because…?”

I’m not freaking out, Xander said, definitely annoyed. I’m pissed off.

“Ah.” That was significantly worse, but apparently the ‘never mind’ wasn’t a suggestion. Osono explained where she was going to be and the tech gave his shy instruction, and with a quick kick of adrenaline to his good leg, Alex was made to start walking. Xander’s little… ‘magic chair’ was waiting. He did not appreciate it being reclined so far back. As if he didn’t have enough to worry about, now he had to hope no one noticed his neck being completely exposed and took a stab at it. With a knife. Or with whatever else these people wanted to use – he had no clue what they liked. Right away he figured out where that came from. As he very hesitantly tapped the edge of the damn thing, just to be sure it didn’t fold shut and snap his hand off, he felt a ripple of impatience go through him. Xander. Of course. The trouble was it wasn’t about Alex taking his time to sit. Xander – pissed, not freaked out – still had his mind on whatever it’d been stuck on downstairs. Now, it seemed worse. There was an uncomfortable ball of stress near the bottom of his chest, directly in the core of his body, and whether it was because the guy didn’t have the strength to hide it or because it truly had gotten that bad, it was there. He wasn’t okay. That meant Alex had a blank cheque not to be okay, either. “You’re sure you’re not freaking out?”

Yes.

“Because it’s alright if you are,” Alex told him. “I just wanna know.”

Alex, shut the hell up and get on the chair.

Alright, alright. Alex… sat. He sat very carefully, certain he wasn’t touching anything that looked like a switch and ready to jump off the instant something sank too far, in case he set off some kind of pressure-controlled trap. It seemed okay, he guessed, but he was now officially inside Agency transfer technology. How ‘okay’ was he supposed to be?

“What’re you doing?”

Xander had fished the tensor bandages out of his pocket.

Fixing your stupid leg. He went to work unravelling one of them. Alex didn’t get to see. Xander’d already looked over at Osono. “‘Cause you missed a few things, I’ll bring you up to speed: I’m staying behind, you two are gonna go, find Gwen in Elmira, then I’ll catch up when I’m walking again.”

“He’s not turning on us,” Alex added quickly. Xander rolled another one open. He’d taken – like… four of them or something. “He just can’t – he says – get up as soon as he’s back in his body. He says it takes a while because he’s been in there for so long.” Should he have pointed to which one Xander was? “Uh… tech guy! Make sure you put him in the right one.”

The middle one. It was pretty obvious. If Peter had actually left his minion here, then the tech already knew. Still, Alex jerked his head towards it, a bit lamely.

“I’m gonna say the same thing I said to him and Gwen,” Xander said. Wait, what? No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no! Hey! Fuck off – I was talking!

“I know! Are you trying to get me skin grafts? You can’t tell her that,” Alex hissed under his breath, because what Xander had said to them before was basically a fat, ‘Hey, I might rejoin the Agency’, rather than the nice ‘Hey, I might be tricked back’ he’d said in front of Osono when they’d all been in the car.

I operate in the interest of free information. She should know what’s going on.

“No, she shouldn’t! Look – I get what you mean when…” Alex had half-turned his head away. Before he said anything else, he gave Osono a quick, tight smile, a ‘just a second’ gesture, then turned right the hell around in the chair so she couldn’t read his lips. Xander yanked back the other way, enough so he could still do whatever with his leg. Alex silently agreed to it, fine, but he kept his head pointed towards the tanks. … And his eyes on the ground. Modesty. Whatever. “I get what you’re trying to say when you say ‘nothing is off the table, I haven’t crossed out my options, blah, blah, blah’ – but listen. She knows something’s going on. She knows as well as I do that Peter’s after you. She’s been unbelievably patient about it so far. Do not get it in her head that you’re crossing over like you want to. That’s exactly what she’s going to think. She’s not Gwen. She doesn’t need you.”

You don’t think this counts as ‘hiding it’? Tell me, if and/or when she finds out, what’s gonna be worse?

“If you’re serious about doing everything in your power to get away from them and come back to us, that’s a huge ‘if’ and a big ‘she won’t’. Keep quiet.”

Sure, ‘cause now she won’t be suspicious at all.

“Just do what I say,” Alex whispered. “Okay? As a going-away present.”

What’s my going-away present?

“That you get to go away.”

Oh, aren’t you thoughtful?

“You’re dying. You don’t get to choose.” In his head, Alex could wag a finger at him. This was gonna be a lot more difficult when Xander was running around on his own. There was no way he could muscle Xander into doing anything. Those were details he’d sort out later, though. “Just don’t.” … And – uh… “And cover for me.”

Make this somehow not suspicious? You want me to clear up that gravity problem, too?

“Xander.”

Fine. Cheap asshole. Xander looked back at Osono, sulking. “What I was trying to say before I was so rudely interrupted, 'cause this jerk doesn’t have any damn manners, is that the most I can say is ‘yes, I will eventually catch up to you’. I don’t know how long it’s gonna take. If we’re lucky, no more than a week. If we’re not…” He gave her a wince. “As far as uncomfortable schedules go, this is one of the top slots on the list.”

‘A week’?

“How are you going to find us?”

“I’ll find you,” Xander answered lazily. “They’ve got so much shit set up to hunt me down already – you, I mean – that I’ll barely have to look to find something to use. It’s in everyone’s best interest for me to stay just because of it. I find the system, I break the system. I’ve been meaning to do it for a while. Too bad Alex is a pussy, ‘cause I would’ve forever ago. Saved us some running.”

“What happened, happened,” Alex said. “We’re okay with how this worked out.”

Don’t speak too soon. It’s not over yet. I still have to make it out of that tube alive.

... Yeah.

... Alex... wanted to come up with something better. He wanted to ask if Xander was sure there was nothing he could do to help. With those thoughts floating around in his head, Xander should have picked up on them, but the guy didn’t say anything. So Xander wasn’t budging: he was doing this alone and Alex and Osono and later Gwen would have to run and – just… cross their fingers. A lot of their fingers. There were so many things that could go wrong and only one – one – way it could go right.

“You okay?”

Xander was distracted again. Like Alex shook him out of it, he forced his head out of the clouds.

Fine. Alex grunted at him for that. Xander ignored it. “Good luck getting out of here, guys. Sorry about…” He vaguely waved his hand. “… this.”

An enormous rush flew by Alex’s ear. He jumped horribly, and although it got an excuse for Xander swearing at him - he shook his leg doing that - no one was allowed to call it unjustified. That'd happened out of nowhere! The inside of the center tank had just started frothing with bubbles. There was no more ‘Xander’… no – Marshall, wasn’t it…? Close to that? Alex couldn’t see him anymore. The bubbles streamed up from the bottom of the glass and streaked to the top, over and over and endlessly. The light inside was changing. At first, he figured – when his throat relaxed enough to get some air to lungs to keep his brain going – the breaks in the - uh... water... were shifting it around. No, it was different. It was getting lighter. Orange, it began, then yellow, then finally it gave up and went a solid white, turned peach at the very edges by the two red chambers on either side of it.

The inside was… crackling

“What’s going on in there?”

My body’s revitalizing. Just like before, Xander was moving around, as if mentally limbering up. Actually – no. He was mentally limbering up. It’s getting pulled out of nap time.

“And…” There were bolts of brightness ripping through it. Thin tendrils of energy – almost blue. “Why does it look like there’s a lightning storm?”

‘Cause it is a lightning storm. It’s using a live current. Nice, raw bolts. Scienced up, naturally. He sounded like he was excited by it! The Agency takes all its ideas from horror stories. This one’s Frankenstein.

“Wait. That’s real electricity in there?” Could one damn thing happen in this place that didn’t scream of terror and agony? “Xander, isn't that gonna hurt?”

Ohhhhhh myyyyyyy. You have no idea.

What?!” Out! He wanted out of this chair! Out right now! “You never said I’d be electrocuted!”

Calm down, diddle dick, Xander said soothingly. Nothing’s gonna happen to you. Stay put.

“But the current –”

– is for me. It’s just for my body. I’m the one who’s coming out the stasis cell. If this was a fresh transfer, there wouldn’t be any at all. … And if it wasn’t a rush job, we could wait the three hours this part takes to finish.

“This takes three hours?”

Uh-huh.

Alex was confused.

“But we’re not waiting? You’re going in now?”

Yep.

More mental limbering.

“You’re… allowing yourself to be electrocuted,” Alex said slowly. “You’re aware of this. And you’re okay with this.”

Fuck. Yes.

“Could you try not sounding like such a maniac?” It helped knowing Xander wasn't bothered, but sounding that excited… “That’s not normally supposed to happen, is it?”

No. You’re supposed to wait until the current’s done its job. People go insane from this shit. Xander bounced around. It's another reason why being me is fucking awesome.

“So before we do anything, you’ve already changed stuff,” Alex cried. "What is wrong with you?"

They heard a groan. They heard a loud, impossible groan. No sooner had Alex spoken than the entire building let out a bellowing, tortured strain. Nothing moved – not that he noticed – but from the sound of it, every wall, ceiling and floor in this place bent, the wood shrieking as it turned, the plaster cracking as it rumbled, and the metal howling as it stretched.

And just like that, it was over, its dying echoes fading as quickly as they’d begun.

Uh…

“What the fuck was that?”

That is officially the ‘hurry up’ bell, Xander said. “Hey, stupid tech, you wanna move this along?”

“Xander?”

Shut up, Alex. Everything’s fine.

“Yeah, and that’s what I’m afraid of.” Alex’s hands gripped the sides of his chair. Xander had finished wrapping his foot. His entire ankle was tied up in a very intricate weave. It only took four bandages for his ankle to be completely immobilized. Alex probably still couldn’t stand on it, but as far as riding in a car went, he should be okay. ... Thanks. “I think we should get out of here.”

You’re paranoid. Nothing about the way Xander said that made it seem like it was a bad thing. He was yet again distracted and yet again not explaining why. We don’t have another chance.

“You want to intentionally botch –” Not ‘botch’. “Fine – alter the transfer, to get electrocuted, in the middle of whatever the hell is going on in this building. This is sounding worse and worse and that’s not even counting the crap we already agreed were awful circumstances.”

It’s fine, Alex.

“It’s not fine! Something’s going on! I’m not joking anymore – I will get out of this chair if you don’t fucking tell me what you know!”

I don’t ‘know’ anything –

“Then what you think! Anything!”

Make that ‘a stroke before the year’s done’, Xander said. You’re scaring yourself.

“Don’t care,” he retorted. “Tell me.”

There was another groan, but this one was tiny compared to the first one. Was someone attacking?

“Yeah. Maybe. I think so, but I’m not sure.” Xander, everyone: the master of certainty. “Shut up, Alex. Don’t bitch when you get your way.”

“Sorry. Just… say it.”

You gonna sit in the chair?

“… Yes.”

Good. “Tech, hurry the fuck up. I wanted this thing done two days ago.” Then Xander sighed, agitated. “Alright. Don’t panic.” Alex immediately got ready to panic. “… Great. Anyway, so… You know how I’ve got that whole ‘holy shit, yes, there’s about to be a fight’, secret sixth sense bullshit?”

“The one you use exclusively to get us involved with those fights?”

“Yeah. That one. It’s something they try to train into every Agent who’s there to fight. Not everyone gets the hang of it, but the more you practice, the better it is, and the better you are at knowing when something’s going to happen. Depending on the kind of Agent you are, the thing that triggers it varies. For Pain Eaters, because they’re usually attached to some other senior Agent – our supervisors, if you want to call ‘em that – and because we basically work as their bodyguards if we aren’t working on a case, it’s – like… hostility. We know when someone's going to attack them. It’s a feeling. It’s specific.”

“So?”

“So, idiot, I wouldn’t bring it up if it wasn’t driving me insane. Shit’s going down soon, and that fucking noise got louder the farther we went in. Here? It’s the worst. Whatever’s happening, this is where whoever the fuck is coming is headed for.”

“… I still don’t get it.”

“Not surprised.” It was Alex’s fault he didn’t understand Xander’s psycho-hunter instinct? “I’ll spell it out for you: I got the feeling we were gonna get attacked the moment we got in. I started getting a worse feeling as we walked into the room. Whatever trap that’s been laid out, it’s centered around here. That means it doesn’t involve those fucking invisible bastards, wherever or how many ever there are. And if they’re not here for us, that means they’re here for someone else.”

Alex swallowed nervously. He wasn’t sure why he was nervous, but this sounded like a ghost story Xander was telling.

“For who?”

“I don’t know, but if it’s not you, it’s for someone worse.”

Xander’s agitation quadrupled.

“Wait. But you said that! You said Peter wanted you to fight,” Alex pointed out. “You’d wake up and then you’d be in the middle of a fight? Remember?”

Dipshit.” Xander was adamant in emphasizing every consonant in that. “I said it’s happening soon. I’m not a fucking psychic – I can’t see into the future, so if I’m picking it up, it’s big and it’s happening in minutes from now. Minutes. So you’re fighting your way out of here. I’ll be trapped.” Then he grumbled more to himself, “Whatever Peter wants me for, it’s not this. I won’t wake up in time.” But if Peter didn’t need him to fight, how did Xander know Peter wanted him back at all? Because he had a hundred chances to kill me when he was around before. He must think I’m worth something.

“Ever think maybe he just didn’t want me to die? I’ve got powers. I’m worth something.”

Hate to break it to you, kid, but the first real sign of interest he’s ever had in you happened during that phone call. He likes your new eye beams, but it still doesn’t mean he wants ‘em. That’s the French guy, and A-3s can’t say shit to A-1s.

“So… I can get away. It’s alright. Osono and I – we can fight our way out,” Alex said, giving her a determined nod. “If there’s a fight, that’s even better. The Agents’ll be distracted. We’ll slip out.”

Xander’s agitation, already dangerous, doubled.

“Whoever’s attacking has two things: brains and balls. They’re smart enough to have planned to take on an Agency base. Their enemies? They can’t be seen, so when these guys do attack, they’ll be looking for everything that’s hiding. Nothing will escape. You can’t ‘slip’ out. They’ll find you. As for a distraction, yeah, the Agents are gonna have their hands full, because I’ve heard of a couple of attack by randoms against global bases. Nothing lives, Alex. They don’t know who you are. We have teams – the Agency has teams of people trained in infiltration. Plus, there’s transfers. Just because you have powers and you’re dressed like a civilian doesn’t mean they won’t think you’re one of them and slaughter you like the rest.”

Slaughter.

… Slaughter?

“How… bad… is this…” Alex’s voice was disturbingly fragile to his own ears. “… gonna be for us?”

Let’s just say… Xander thought about it. ‘Thank fucking God your powers have a boost’.

A third groan. It was deeper and more insistent.

“Okay. Well. Then out of curiosity,” Alex asked, “and because I am really, really, really desperate to hear this answer –”

You shouldn’t’ve heard any of it. I warned you.

“Alright – great – shut up. Ten minutes ago you said you weren’t sure there were any more of those invisible guys. Why are you suddenly convinced there’s an army?” It doubled. Doubled again. Alex had nothing but pain in his chest from the stress Xander was piling into it. He tried to relax into the chair, but then he remembered what chair it was and then he was adding to the problem. They made a fantastic team. If Alex got a stroke, this was the reason why. “You’re not convinced?”

“… No. It’s a theory. Everything I say is a theory. Parts of it just get more and more likely as I go on,” he said. “I know there’s gonna be an attack because Peter said there would be. I know it’s happening soon because I can feel it. I know this is gonna be at the heart of it all, so either they want the cells in this room or they’re tearing the whole building down, and I know from experience that when the Agency’s attacked, it’s destroyed. And then there’s a gigantic Agency fist that goes out to fucking demolish whoever did it. The only thing I know about the invisible people is that they exist. One, at least. Who knows if there’s any more? It might not matter, though. There wasn’t anything from that first guy, so I don’t think he was here to fight. Couldn’t dodge, that’s for damn sure.” He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve never had to be precise with this. It’s just supposed to be a warning to take a closer look. I don’t think anyone’s used it to actually find someone else.”

“Well, then, I guess there won’t be anyone for those people to attack,” Alex said. “We’ll go out the side or – okay, don’t just stop talking when you’re in the middle of this! What now?”

Remember when I tossed around the other idea that one of the ways Peter was going to have me work for him was by dropping me into the middle of his fight and either expecting me to die or shooting me in the face when it’s over?

“If I do or don’t,” Alex snapped, “what’s it matter?”

Peter’s got a fight, we’ve jumped into the middle, but I’m gonna be in a stasis cell. Where do you think you’re gonna be?

Alex very firmly put his head in his hands and squeezed. He had a headache now and this helped, but part of him wondered if he wasn’t subconsciously trying to strangle Xander by his mental throat.

“Are you seriously trying to say that Peter wants us here to fight as his surprise soldiers?”

“That’s the worst-case scenario, but yeah.”

“And you’re sure there’s no one else to fight instead?”

“No,” Xander said, “but if there is, they’re not exactly getting ready for it.”

“You know who’d know for sure?”

“Gwen?”

“Yeah. Gwen. Good job.” All in all, this was too much for him to wrap his head around. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to believe it, but Xander – the unbelievable liar that he was – didn’t lie about fights. But – screw it, Xander said it was a theory. In a burst of confidence he was positive came from some kind of hysteria, right before reality sank in and just after he decided to delude himself until it did, he decided to stick to that. Just a theory. It was just a theory, that’s all. “So that’s it. That’s what you were worried about.”

… Sorry, was the fact that you’re about to be the frontline in Peter’s personal army not enough for you?

“You admitted it was a theory. Osono and I will be okay. You just worry about getting back to us, Xander. And not getting crushed by Gwen when she asks where you’ve been.”

Xander paused, like he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave it at that.

I'm actually sorry, he said after a while. For what’s it worth, we officially set the record for resisting capture. You’ve got all your years of running before I caught you, too.

“Tell them to mail the trophy,” Alex said.

Nah, I’ll bring it with me. Heads up: it’s Peter’s skull on a stick, real Lord of the Flies-like.

He grinned. Peter better pray someone killed Xander in his tank. Alex didn’t need to have a ‘theory’: when that guy got out, he was ripping the Agency apart. There was no doubt about it, and another bar of courage dropped into Alex’s lap because of it. If Xander was ready for what he had to do, Alex would be, too. He wasn’t the one who was going to be trapped inside a tube and he wasn’t the one who was going to spend three hours getting electrocuted. Besides, he had Osono, and after one more day, they’d have Gwen. Xander would be on his own. Alex didn’t like it, but there wasn’t much of a choice.

“Have fun,” he said. “I’d say ‘be careful’, but I think ‘don’t die’ is better advice.”

Definitely the more realistic of the two. Xander went back to limbering up. “You stupid tech, aren’t you done yet? I’ve got places to be, shit to do.” To Osono, behind the tech’s back, he mouthed, “Someone’s killing him after, right?” Then he gave her two thumbs up, like they’d instantly agreed.

Alex almost joked that Xander didn’t need to ask if there was already a ‘dark force’ on their way, but the humour in it died before he could open his mouth. It wasn’t funny. But… for now, at least, he didn’t have to think about it.

* * *

“No,” she said. “I have not.”

Out of every answer she could have offered, Squiddie, without a drop of interest, picked the most boring one. Benoit was disappointed. He hadn’t hung up on Madeline to watch her polar opposite. Things were getting miserable. No one was doing anything to distract him. He didn’t know where his jacket was – he’d chucked it somewhere, and wherever it was, he’d chucked his tie in the other direction, so those were two things he’d lost in under a minute – and although he’d killed ten minutes laughing over how wonderful the small swipes of vengeance were to bask in, like the fact that he was one step closer to being at her desired level of dress and she would never get to see it because she’d destroyed her phone, he was over it now. If he didn’t find something soon, he’d be thinking again. Swearing his undying loyalty to Salcon was one thing, but if he kept it up, he’d talk himself into killing Eric for what he’d done. ‘Killing’ – sorry, he should get that right. Eric couldn’t die. And technically he hadn’t ‘done’ anything wrong. Benoit was being foolish. Jean was dead, who the hell cared what happened to his body?

Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think – arghhhh! Dammit!

Where’d his schnapps go?

Shit, he felt awful. Usually his response to this would be ‘drink more’, and usually his only counter would be ‘it’s not professional’. Well, the first thing wasn’t working and fuck the second, because he’d lost all professionalism the minute he’d let Jean do as he pleased. Once again, as he sat in this god-awful chair and twisted as far as his propped up legs would allow, he pondered that decision. He’d had a duty to kill Jean and he hadn’t, and while he’d reaped the rewards of that over the years – and the Agency, as it related to Benoit’s work – technically, technically it meant he’d allowed Jean to live and therefore die a more gruesome death and then get worn like a coat. So in that sense, Benoit admitted this was his fault, so – ooh! Schnapps! Just in time! That’d been about to go down a dangerous line of thought and the Agency – Salcon, at least – needed him alive. So Benoit busied himself with that for a while, occupying the rest of his presently limited attention with the possibly-a-robot.

She wasn’t saying anything. Screw this woman – honestly, why someone like Eric would insist on working with a person so devoid of entertainment –

“Benny!”

Eric, if you sneak up on me again, I swear to God, I will gladly end you!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa – easy there, buddy! It’s okay! You don’t have to jump up – come on, sit, sit, sit. And weapons away, please. I don’t like anything I can cut myself on waving around in the air. Come on – sit!” Eric wasn’t remotely fazed. He was used to death threats. He collected them. Benoit didn’t see the point in glaring at him for it, so he regrettably sighed and did as he was told: he sat, but he was tired of sitting. He was tired of a lot of things, lately. “There ya go – all better! Nice and comfy, right? Hey, your shirt’s untucked!”

“Is it a problem?”

Let it be a problem. Give him any excuse.

“Not at all! It makes you look much more relaxed,” Eric chirped.

“What a coincidence. Looking ‘relaxed’ was exactly what I’d intended. What’s in the bag?”

“Back to English, are you? Well – I know you didn’t stop drinking, so I guess you got drunk enough to loop back around to being sober,” Eric said, thrilled by this notion. Fucking idiot. “Two things, actually – one’s still kicking. Gotta say, Benny – Jean was a damn good choice in hired help. I’m not one to carry things around myself, but I’m really enjoying that I can practically toss a car around. I can’t tell you how fun it is.”

“Another coincidence, I’m sure.”

He needed a cigarette. Ten, tied together. It’d been the one habit Jean hadn’t complained about. ‘Everyone is allowed one flaw’, he’d said. Benoit had been flattered at the time. Part of him now worried that Jean was encouraging a slow, steady death. … No, that didn’t sound right. If it were true, the man wouldn’t have gone berserk whenever Benoit tried sneak the smallest cake – which was made with both eggs, flour, and milk, so that was three food groups right there. He still didn’t know what the problem had been.

Everyone was allowed one flaw. Jean was a flaw, apparently. The fates had deigned to let Benoit smoke instead. Funny.

He lit one up. Eric was already dead; he wouldn’t mind inhaling anything. Frankly, Benoit was disappointed by it. Could he take offence to anything, or was everything doomed to be dealt a cheery smile?

“Definitely a coincidence. Where’d Squiddie go?”

Benoit had turned the chair to face this barbarian when he entered. Now he turned it again to face the screens. Eric was right. Squiddie was gone. The building might have had cameras everywhere, but the monitors only showed so many. He didn’t see her. He didn’t care very much, either.

“Agent Quin called you,” he lazily reported, speaking over the muffled sounds poking from the bag Eric brought in. He turned the chair back around. “He wants to talk about a deal you made. Squiddie answered. I imagine she’s on her way here.”

“Awesome. Check this out,” Eric said, dropping the bag on the floor. A sharp cry of distress rang out. “Consider it a peace-offering.”

Benoit sighed.

“Eric, you are an A-1. Jean is dead. You had every right to take possession of him. He’s property now.”

It was true. He couldn’t deny that it was true.

Back to smoking.

“Don’t sound so depressed, Benny. Y’know, I’m gettin’ kinda worried about you.” … Was he actually worried? Could he – “Anyway, it’s totally not about that. This is for what I’m about to do to you. It’s one of many, but I figure just in case they don’t come in here, at least you have one to erase off the planet.”

What was he talking about?

“What’s in there?”

“Before I show you, I want to be clear.” Eric had knelt over the bag, ready to open it, but he’d stopped with his hands on the tie he’d wrapped around its mouth to look up at Benoit with what he’d assumed was a ‘sincere’ smile. Bullshit. Eric didn’t know ‘offence’? He damn well didn’t know ‘sincerity’. “I’m not doing this to upset you. You’re just the best person for the job. You need to understand that I accept your insistence on keeping these professional, and that when I give you assignments to complete, it’s derived from that. It’s fully for business purposes.”

“Eric,” Benoit said, “what’s in there?”

“Anti-Agent.” He beamed, then he yanked the bag open and out tumbled two bodies, a man and a woman, though the man did not move. The woman, on the other hand… “I went shopping, picked up one for a little ‘side quest’ and decided to see if it worked.” He beamed brighter. “It does! So – this is Victoria, she’s twenty-six, and she readily informed me of why she was having trouble contacting me – I didn’t have the earpiece on, you see – and that I had to come downstairs and meet her to let the Nordic branch in.” Benoit’s fingers curled into the chair’s arms, scraping them along the way. “I politely enquired as to why she would want to let them in, and she said she’d rather not have them smash the door open and waste time banging up the place when she could guide them instead, especially because after today, she had no intention of pretending to be an Agent anymore. I said, ‘that’s great!’ Then I waited for her to turn around and slapped a collar on ‘er.” Eric gently tipped the woman’s head up. “See? Same one I use on Nathan. Alright, it’s a weaker version, but it does the job of taking out her powers. She walks through walls! Tell me that wouldn’t’ve been a pain to stab!”

“I suppose,” Benoit said quietly.

The woman’s eyes were fierce. She had been gagged and bound and it disturbed him to realize how little he gave a shit. This was a traitor before him. This was someone who had joined the Agency purely to destroy them. Benoit could feel the hate in him beginning to grow. At it, he saw hers fade into a bitter realization of what was to come for her – and a sudden fear in knowing she could not flee with her life.

He spared no other thought to describe her. She didn't deserve it.

“What’d’ya say? Peace-offering accepted?”

Benoit snapped his eyes to him. God, how he wished he hadn’t. Even through that ghastly smile, his friend was there.

Watching.

So he stopped looking.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Babysit! Bodysit, at least. See – I really like Jean and I don’t wanna have to lose him just ‘cause I was too lazy to find a guard and risk the Antis stumbling across him and messing a perfectly good corpse up. I’d like you to watch him, make sure he gets through the next… mmm… hour? I’ll call it an hour.”

“Get your pet to do it,” he said, releasing a long breath of smoke. He leaned back into the chair, trying to remember why he’d thought it a comfort before.

“This is important. I like to assign important things to people with personal motivation.” Yeah. Benoit had noticed the trend long ago, mostly recently with March and her pet. And now, if the messages Eric was well aware Benoit had been spying on were any indication, Elias. Eric never missed an opportunity. “Benoit. I know this is hard for you.” He put his hand on Benoit’s wrist. Idiot. He’d rolled his sleeves up ages ago. Eric whined that there shouldn’t be sharp things ‘waving in the air’ but he’d drop his hand on the arm with the knife attached to it? “I know it’s not something you want to do – I know you need time to grieve, but I need you focused before all that.”

“No, you’re trying to delay my grief in the hopes I’ll be permanently crippled by it. I know your tricks, Eric.”

“And allow me to assure you, as far as I’ve seen, you’re the only one who does,” Eric applauded. He kept his somewhat-sombre note, however. His grin was still ‘sincere’. “But this isn’t a trick. You might be trying to push it down, but all I want is to get as much use out of you before you snap and do something crazy.”

“Crazy like what?”

“I don’t know. ‘Not rationalize something’? That’s crazy for you, right?”

“I don’t rationalize. If I have a reason for acting the way I do, I stand by it. I don’t need to excuse myself.”

“Rationalizing the rationalizing – that’s pretty meta. So, you’ll watch him?”

“Eric…”

“It’ll give you some time to think. I’m gonna be busy anyway, running around, screwing with the Nordics,” Eric said. “You’ve got two options: keep him here and intact, or let me risk putting him somewhere they’d find him.”

“I don’t want him here.”

He tried to sound respectful. It sounded selfish instead. After everything that’d happened, he could spare an hour to watch over his friend? But Jean wasn’t alive – what obligation was he supposed to have?

God, he needed more to drink.

“Benny. Please?” Eric tapped his arm. “I don’t wanna have to order you.”

“You have to. That’s the only way I'll agree.”

Eric shook his head, understanding but disappointed.

“Okay. You're ordered.”

Benoit had already finished his cigarette. He was going through these too quickly. That was his answer, though. He blew out, and not in Eric’s face. Eric was overjoyed.

“Mr. Eric Patten.” Squiddie had arrived. She had her owner’s phone with her, outstretched and politely waiting for his attention. “Agent Rudolph Quin has requested your assistance in overturning his demotion.”

Her voice was completely level. Every syllable had an equal length of duration.

“‘Kay – one sec. Uh – why is he calling about this? I thought we discussed those terms.”

“He cited time as a key factor.”

“Right, right. They always do! ‘Kay, one sec, for real.” Eric went to the corner of the security room and sat down, nestling in. “Roll that dead one out for me, Squiddie.”

Squiddie did so, juggling the phone all the while. When she was done, Eric closed Jean’s eyes, and as if the world had dimmed in an instant, the glorious shine faded from Jean’s face. That purple mist crap was back. Benoit was curious: what would happen if he’d saved his last puff to blow at that soul-cloud? Would Eric resurrect himself coughing? An amusing thought. Pointless to dwell on, but amusing. The purple cloud sank into the other man’s skin.

“So you’re an Anti-Agent now,” Benoit blandly noted.

“Indeedy-do!” The man woke up. Without a break in its existence, the smile had settled in and picked up with its full force. This body was considerably smaller than before. That was to be expected – anyone compared to Jean was pathetically tiny. The man had brown eyes, pale skin and light brown hair. His jaw was round and his brow was low. He was also dressed in an Agency suit. Oh, if only that child were here to see how easy they were to attain. “I’ve gotta do a tiny bit of spy stuff, then I’ll be back. Won’t take long.”

“By all means, don’t rush yourself,” Benoit grunted, pulling out another coffin nail.

“Phone please! Squiddie, get my glasses.” Squiddie delivered on both accounts. She had Eric’s glasses in his hand before the phone had reached his ear. Despite every ounce of his sanity telling him not to, Benoit glanced back at what Jean looked like now. The accessory had truly transformed his face. This was what he was supposed to look like. If someone didn’t find himself something else to get drunk on, Benoit wasn’t going to make it three minutes. “Guttentag, Rudy! What’s crackin’? You having problems on your end?”

“He claims he is capable of capturing a target if you provide him the authority and tools.”

“Sooooo… he’s not capable of capturing a target. And if he is – if you are, Rooty-roo, and you’re just not moving ‘cause you really want your rank back, I’d say that’s pretty darn selfish of you. The Agency should be your priority, not your own piddly goals. I think that right there affirms my decision. Clearly, you don’t have the dedication required of an A-3.”

“Agent Rudy Quin assures you his bargaining chip is en route,” Squiddie informed him. Look at that – she was relaying Quin’s speaking points. She was certainly going above and beyond what she usually did. Benoit had little experience with her, but this was undoubtedly, uncharacteristically talkative of her.

“And? If he’s not here, Rudy,” Eric said, “I don’t know why you’d bother owning a phone, let alone use one to call me.”

“I was listening to the call,” Benoit put in. “He used the f-word. He also said ‘balls’.”

Eric gasped.

Rudy! That sort of language is not appropriate for an A-7! An A-8, maybe, but A-7s are supposed to be above that! I am extremely disappointed in you!” Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha… “In fact, I don’t care to speak to you anymore. Sin seveder!” That didn’t sound German. “Squiddie, go find this guy and hurt him.” Squiddie set off. Eric snapped his phone shut. “The nerve of these people…”

“Quite. Now is that all?”

“Yeah, I think that handles everything. Thanks again, Benny!” Eric waved. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

He went away. Unfortunately, that left him alone again with his thoughts.

And the traitor.

The woman was watching him. She expected this. To them, he was still a monster. He could not help his satisfaction in this understanding, but he kept a steady face as he stood, rolling the chair away. With a practised twist of metal, Benoit slid his knife from the outside of his arm to its top, leaving it to point over his first knuckles. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Subconsciously, then, he wanted this to hurt.

He was glad Jean’s eyes were closed. As the spring released and the blade sliced out, he realized, dead or not, he didn’t want his friend to have to see this.

This.

Maybe he was snapping.

… Well. That was going to make Jean decidedly harder to ignore.

* * *

Someone say he didn’t have to convince her, because his lead was getting closer to Elmira by the second, meaning she was getting farther away from him. He didn’t have time for this! He had to catch up! Planes could only go so fast, in case anyone here needed a reminder!

“I’m leaving because I asked to leave. There’s nothing left for me in there,” Jason said. “And I have permission straight from your boss’ mouth. See this?” The papers Eric’d given him were already coming in use. He grabbed the one with his signature – not one of the ones that mentioned his demotion – and held it up to her, not letting her touch it, because knowing her type… And by ‘her type’, he meant someone who’d taken the effort to get a suit but had stopped short of going for the goggles. Ugh. Druggies. There was a reason the other kind of mask was so popular: they just wanted their fix. He didn’t even see them as suits. Half-suits, and that was generous. He wasn’t feeling any nicer than that right now. She wasn’t getting in the car and he had to get to his lead. Hurry up. “I don’t work here. I’m visiting this base. I’m on a case that’s getting wrapped up in Elmira and I need to be there. As far as I know about here, it’s about to get attacked – so, maybe, if you’re interested, get in the car and let’s get the hell out of here. Everyone inside already knows about the intruders. It’s a trap.”

Was it anymore? The plan kept changing every other minute. Benoit wasn’t supposed to kill Elias, no one had said how they were going to catch the real Alexander, and they hadn’t been clear on what the protocol was for him bringing a buddy, which he had. It looked like Alexander didn’t pride himself on faithfulness. As soon as one woman was gone, he picked up another. Then again, there were two of them in there. Maybe they swapped.

He shouldn’t be this rude. It was just that a lot was falling onto his plate. Narrowly – by the grace of Eric – recovering his suit only emphasized how at a whim he could lose it again. Her job might have been on the line, but his suit was. He almost wanted to explain that to her, but he didn’t trust a half-suit to sympathize. It wasn’t anything personal. They – just… didn’t get it.

“Eric is aware I’m leaving. If you’d like to check, you can give him a call.”

Something caught his eye. Down the road – way, way, way down there, he saw a few faint lights. He normally wouldn’t have cared beyond noticing them, but those were… an awful lot of them. Eight. Then twelve. They were getting closer. Oh, they were cars. That was alright. … Except those were a lot of cars. Why come this way?

“I seriously hope this city has a street racing problem,” Jason mumbled. It sounded exactly as stupid coming out of his mouth as it had in his head. “I’m not trying to you rush or anything, but… alright – I’m definitely trying to rush you, but only because I’m hearing a lot of loud engines heading this way, and I’d like to go before they get too close. If you’re going to call Eric, call him in the car, then you can jump out if you still don’t trust me.” Why the hell wouldn’t she trust him? He’d be hurt, if he hadn’t already written it off as part of – was that a fucking rocket?!

No! No – it was a… firework or something! Some sparkly… ball, like the size of a basketball, was shooting over to the Charlton base. It wasn’t even following a straight line. It was twitching and spastically switching directions like the thing was on meth, and the light trail it left behind was like a child had scribbled it. And he knew it was heading for the Charlton base because a) where else would it be headed, and b) what the hell, it just slammed into the Charlton base!

… And… stuck!

… And then sat there, glowing. Huh. It was almost out of view around the corner, but it was bright enough for Jason to seenow it exploded! What the fuck? And the cars were almost on them – they had to move!

“Get in,” he ordered. “Get in, or I’m leaving you here.”

With that said, he started the car. She had three seconds before he drove off.

* * *

“Yup,” Glue said, pulling her hand back inside the window. “She got ‘em. Defences are down. Go Russia.”

“Yeah, like they wanted to help,” Magnus said. “How do you know they’re down?”

“See where I hit it?” She had her hand back out there, because apparently she couldn’t point unless her finger was outside the car. “The windows? They’re supposed to be covered by a shield by now. See that metal line kind of just above them? Those are the shields. They aren’t coming down.”

Magnus squinted. Glue flicked open the glove compartment and handed him the binoculars. They’d be close enough to see in another few moments, but he was impatient. Sure enough, when he took a closer look, he saw what appeared to be thick, metal strips, barely covering the top inch of the now broken glass. But she was only half-right. The shields weren’t coming down, but they were still moving.

“I think they’re stuck. They’re trying to close,” he said.

“Trying ‘isn’t’, so we have that to be grateful for,” Glue told him. “Wait – so are we gonna be stuck listening to that the entire time we’re in there?”

“Don’t start, Glue.”

“That’s not fair! She said she’d have it handled! I don’t want to listen to that – again,” she complained. “Remember Krakow? How old did that get in five minutes? We couldn’t hear anyone over that junk.”

“Deal with it, Glue.”

Glue chewed on her finger. Then she went back to the glove department, right as the Cuban drove them up to Agency’s front door. They parked on the empty curb, soon surrounded by the other twelve cars carrying their allies, but while the others got out and stretched, Glue dug out a small radio.

“Buzzy,” she said. Magnus rolled his eyes. What, she expected the Russian to care about her delicate ears? He flicked one of them as he opened the back seat, scooching out the passenger side, hoping to remind her to get out, too. She didn’t, but she opened her door. The Cuban stayed behind the wheel. Their branch was for transport, nothing else. They’d circle around until the attack was over. “Buzzy – what’s going on in there? Do you have their defences down or what?”

I’m trying,” came Buzzy’s very peeved voice, “but someone in the cell room flicked a switch that almost locked the room down. I had to kill it in the middle of the whole thing being blocked off. So, sorry, but I was told no one’d be touching any defences until I got to them first.

Someone had tried to lock down the cell room? Magnus shared a look with Glue. She read it, then asked, “Who set off the defences? Did someone find out we were coming?”

Ha! Listen, lady, I don’t know what you Vikings were told, but Eric Patten is here. Of course they know we’re coming.

That set a spark of rage off in Glue. Magnus felt the same. They were sick to death of the Russians and their ‘Patten is unstoppable’ crap.

“Listen, Ruskie, that’s not what I’m asking. Are we clear to go in or did you fuck up?”

Buzzy sounded scandalized. Now Magnus was wondering if they couldn’t make a stop at wherever she was hiding and cook up some collateral damage. Glue was thinking the same thing.

If that’s how you’re gonna talk to me, why don’t you just find out?

With a little click, Buzzy had shut her radio off.

“Unbelievable,” Glue said, stepping out of the passenger seat at last. “These fucking Russians! It’s like we don’t have enough people to fight.”

Magnus disagreed. Their strike force only carried twenty-six people. This was going to be overkill, even with the invisible soldiers Patten now allegedly had. The intel had come straight from the Germans and that alone should have let him believe it, but the fact that it’d been so last minute had raised a few eyebrows. Not Danielle’s. Never Danielle’s. So what if she was a little insane from the build-up of her energy? Patten doing something like this had not gone unexpected and she’d’ve called it adorable in any frame of mind. What this meant was their branch’s favourite flag had been waved: everything got demolished now. Any shadows in the corner? That corner went to Hell. They were supposed to leave the building intact overall – Bergmann and her cronies might have changed their minds about pulling out of this after, Danielle said, and it was supposed to be a back-up in case this didn’t work – but the Germans seemed to have gone AWOL already.

“Isn’t Bergmann on her way to Elmira?”

“To help the Russians or something. I heard she flipped when Patten showed up and took off because of him,” Glue said. “Here’s hoping she won’t wear gloves. I could do with a few less of Cryptic’s crew and you know they love their handshakes.”

Magnus was about to laugh, but he brought it down to a controlled grin. Danielle was stepping out her truck. It was a symbol of respect to keep from showing any too strong of an emotion in front of her. She hadn’t switched in a while.

“You think Dalton’s going to be alright?” Dalton was the one who’d be fighting for the most part. Danielle would throw her punches, but she was the strategist. What her main contribution was to set her brother down where he needed to be, turn ‘ghostly’ and float off to a safer or more convenient spot, then point to where he needed to float to before they switched back. It was a powerful tactic. It was an incredible inspiration. Danielle and Dalton were two of those the branches called ‘unfortunately blessed’. Their powers, in a word, were supposed to be useless. Instead, they’d turned them into a harbinger of war and death. Half the Nordic branch was recruited by that alone; the idea that even the weakest of them could still be such a threat was one that’d carried far. “How many times has he fought with them so…?”

“Messed?”

“Yeah.”

They both meant it with the most love they could muster. Harbinger or not, Danielle and Dalton’s powers were still filled with drawbacks. Only one of them – until their powers deflated and they were both ‘normal’ again – got to have a physical form. That physical form was… interesting, to say the least. They weren’t gifted with super-strength or any great advantage. What they had was ‘the power of two men’ – specifically, the power of Danielle and Dalton. Their body – the non-ghost one – grew until it was exactly the size of both of them combined. Their strength was exactly what both of theirs were, their speed was what those two of had found, and their faces… Well, it was still a ‘two eyes, two ears, one mouth’ scenario, but the features had changed to giant, twisted parodies. They looked like a blond Neanderthal. All that was missing was the club. Hell, even their hair length averaged out. Danielle had hers long, Dalton had his short. The Neanderthal’s was directly in-between. Oh, and their knuckles dragged. Literally. Their arms had also doubled in length.

No one asked what happened in the ‘personal’ parts of their body. They assumed it checked it out down there. After all, Danielle didn’t become Dalton when she switched. They just swapped density. Still, no one was planning to confirm it.

The rest of the Nordic branch was like a lake of lightly coloured hair and fair skin. Glue and Magnus – they were no different. Magnus was taller, obviously, and he’d had to have the back seat to himself to fit. Glue was smaller and almost wirey. Her powers didn’t depend on physical strength, and so she hadn’t bothered. He had, although he got the same free pass when his abilities activated. He simply enjoyed looming over people, and the sense of accomplishment he got from working out kept him happy. The same could not be said for his peers. Out of the two of them, Glue was closer to the norm. It worked in Danielle and Dalton’s favour. They pumped iron like lives depend on it, and in times like these, it truly did. As leaders of this branch, they had an image to uphold. Just as the Cubans specialized in transport, the Nordics were here to search, capture and destroy. Yes, that meant ‘the Vikings’ pillaged and plundered. The Cubans had no end of jokes about it. The problem was that it had spread to the other groups, particularly the Russians. If nothing else, the Germans had earned their respect by refusing to comment. They had no sense of humour. The Nordics liked that.

“Danielle,” someone in the crowd shouted out. “Are we ready?”

Danielle was moving slowly, crushed under her weight. She was strong enough to carry herself, but when her mind was pressured, she could barely act. She needed to think. She needed to switch. When the voice rang out, she stopped shambling forward and leaned on her knuckles as she stood in front of the door, her face reflecting in the glass and the streetlight, her eyes staring through but seeing nothing. She wasn’t listening to her people. Dalton must have been discussing something with her. He was the only one who’d have her ear. Right now, he might have been reminding her of the plan, long-forgotten, and then he’d step in. Dalton was a good friend of Magnus but that didn’t stop him from pointing this out: if either of them was going to be able to fight without a brain, it was Danielle’s brother.

Yes,” their Branch Master’s voice grandly boomed. “We’re ready.

She vanished. In the same instant, Dalton appeared. In the instant after that, the door was torn to pieces.

“Valhalla’s a-waitin’ f’you guys,” the Cuban in their car bubbled. Magnus was sick of him. He burst into his armoured skin and death-gripping, iron talons, then gave the Cuban’s precious machine a new sunroof. “‘Ey, what t’hell, man!

“Pipe down in there or we’ll find out how much dynamite you ‘didn’t bring’,” Glue snapped. “Let’s go, Magnus.”

“‘Ey, yeah, don’t mind me! I’m jus’ t’e guy s’pposed t’get you Vikings out alive!”

Glue ignored him. Magnus followed suit. It sounded like the fight had already started in there.

More importantly, it sounded like Valhalla would have to wait.
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Posts : 581
Age : 27
Location : Ottawa, Canada


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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Tue Dec 13, 2011 3:32 am

Well, that was easy. Haggins was in the middle of his second drink and already the kid was drunk. Fin didn't know whether to feel disappointed that there'd been no challenge in it or to feel triumphant that things were going according to plan. He supposed there was no point in being haughty about things, so he was pleased that Haggins turned out to be such a lightweight.

That had been twice that Creasy somehow interrupted or interfered with the conversation concerning the team's current case. And although Fin would have liked to believe the snoring fit that had spooked Haggins was just coincidental, he comforted himself with the fact that, short of waking up and ordering the conversation to stop, there was nothing Creasy could do now. The boy's inhibitions were completely shot and his tongue was looser than Anjelica's bra clasp.

"And then after he set the baby on Jared's lap, the Mohel turned to get his instruments. He was so nervous about the whole ceremony being performed right in front of him, by the time the Mohel turned back, he'd passed out with the baby still on his knees! Haha!" Haggins giggled before taking another long sip from his glass.

"That's hilarious," Fenton said with a dry smirk, sparing a short glance to the seat behind him, his smile widening as he turned away from the deeply sleeping senior Agent. "A timid, Jewish teenager fainting at a bris; definitely a knee-slapper. Although, I do understand where he's coming from."

The alcohol in Haggins' system prevented him from recognizing the sarcastic tone in Fin's voice, so the lad nodded and said, "Luckily, the baby didn't fall or anything."

"Right. Luckily." Fin was just finishing up his first Sea Breeze and barely feeling a buzz, while Haggins was gulping down the remains of his second and on the verge of losing his balance while sitting motionless in his seat. If there was ever a time to start digging, this was it. Especially if he expected coherent results. After the flight attendant brought them both refills on their drinks and wandered away, Fin casually asked, "So, forgive me for saying so, but you're a pretty high-strung guy yourself. Have you ever passed out while working on a case for the Docimasy? Like, when dealing with sensitive situations or gory scenes?"

Haggins was in mid-swallow - taking his third glass down to a quarter empty already - but shook his head. "No, but Anjelica handles most of the... gross stuff. She likes that sort of thing. Mostly, the cases I've done were just investigations of fraud... Misappropriation of Agency resources, record errors, false reports, that sort of thing. You know, when people don't do their jobs and use Agency money and equipment in ways it's not meant for and then try to hide the fact."

Fin nodded thoughtfully as Haggins swallowed another quarter of pink liquid from his glass, and getting ready to use his contemplative tone, he stopped as the boy continued, talking over him. "Like for instance, this current case we're on... the guy has been Lead on a single case for years..."

Wow. Lookit that. He didn't even need to ask. Seriously, was there going to be any work involved in this? It just didn't feel right to have Docimasy secrets handed to him so willingly. But Fenton really wasn't the type of guy to complain...

"You know, sometimes it AMAZES me how much work some people will go through just to get out of doing what they're being paid for. The guy's been working on this case for 6 years.. 6 years, Fin. There are a thousand Agent team requests that have been submitted, approved and filed during that time and there has not been one report from any of those guys and nobody's ever heard from them again. No death reports. Anything. Just disappeared... Then, recently, the other Lead on the case tried to file the same phony reports that she'd put in before, to hide the missing Agents but it was declined because someone else's property was involved."

"What does that mean?"

"Oh, it was just some A-1's elite team that were requested for the case and then killed in the field," Haggins said with a shrug, not noticing the way Fin's face turned white at the mention of the rank. Was this a different A-1? Please, let it be a different A-1. "The guy refused to let their deaths be buried under the rug, so the termination reports were actually submitted and reviewed outside of the local base. Once those were looked at, the incident was reviewed - dangerous and amateur planning was the initial verdict - and after demotions were handed out, the rest of the case work was looked at. Within hours, they found the mountains of Agent team request forms tucked away in the record room at Grissom base."

"Wow..." Wait a minute... "But I thought you guys were investigating a murder case?" That's why they had the slutty coroner on their team. "Are you saying you think these two Leads actually killed those Agents? Jesus... Talk about trying to cover up slacking off on the job."

Haggins laughed. "No, no. That's the other case we're investigating in Charlton. The two cases are related, so we were handed both at the same time. See, and here's where it gets kinda weird, Fin... The female Lead for the first case was murdered by the Agent under investigation in the second case," Oh, God... NOT Patten. Please, tell him Patten didn't kill her for revenge. If Haggins meant Eric Patten, he would have said "A-1" rather than "Agent". ...Right?

"They use to be working on that same case together but this other female Agent--" Wait. Other female Agent? "--has been working as the Lead on a different case for a couple of years. She's supposedly a real hot-shot and so far all we really have on that case is a body. It's like, zero communication coming out of Charlton - faxes and emails were sent to the A-2 in charge, but no response has come back. Docs don't need prior notice and we're always allowed admittance into every base, so, really, it's a courtesy to even ask her before we get there. So, details about why Harper Anderson was killed are still a mystery..."

"Why is that weird?"

"Well, it's just... so... unexpected. From her files, she's supposed to be some sort of prodigy - joined the Agency young, moved up the ranks like a rocket, developed her own system to combat psychic abilities, which is pretty impressive--"

"Wait! A psychic?" Now that the concern over whether or not his new boss was involved had fully faded, a new sinking feeling filled Fin as he began putting the descriptive puzzle pieces together. Apparently, Haggins misinterpreted the thoughtful faces he was making, somehow thinking the issue was the 'psychic abilities' part, rather than recognition of this Agent's personal bio..

"Yeah... Listen, I know the sort of stories that trickle down and I know the hazing that lower levels go through. You A-12 guys aren't let into the inner circle yet, but let me tell you..." Haggins almost fell out of his seat as he swerved his head to look back at the two seats behind them - Creasy was lightly snoring and Anjelica was brooding and sipping at her drink, still listening to her music. Turning back to Fin, his slurred voice got lower as he leaned across the aisle, his eyes drooping and yet still maintaining an emphatic look. "From my own personal dealings and what I myself have witnessed, I swear to God, the stories are true."

"Stories?" Fin asked, trying to hold back the creeping smile that threatened to burst forth on his face, pulling back a little from the strong smell of alcohol and cranberry juice on the boy's breath.

"About the people with powers."

"Oh-h-h." It took all of Fin's willpower not to burst out laughing and he had a feeling that with more than half of his second glass already in his system, it really wasn't helping the fight for self-control.

Again, Haggins misinterpreted Fin's reactions and grabbed onto his arm as he spoke, trying to get Fenton to see the truth of what he was saying. "They exist, Fin. The stories are real."

"No doubt, my friend," he said politely, prying the boy's fingers from his arm. "I wouldn't be here if they didn't. None of us would." Releasing Haggins' hold on his arm removed any support he had, so the lad fell back into his seat heavily, swaying slightly in his chair. A somber cloud began to drape itself over the boy's shoulders, seemingly put there by the odd and sudden shift in the topic. Not wanting to lose Haggins before he was done with him, Fin cleared his throat and asked, "So, do you mind if I ask you this woman's name?"

That instantly buoyed Haggins out of the mood he'd fallen into and gulping down the rest of his drink, he set his glass aside and went digging in his briefcase. After rifling through his papers for a minute, during which, Fin made a halting gesture to the flight attendant to stop her from bringing the new drink she'd mixed, a paper was pushed into Fin's hands and he took a look at it. "Hm, 'Harper Noel Anderson'," he read. "Interesting middle name. But I meant the other one. The female Agent that you think killed her."

Handing the paper back, Haggins grabbed it and stuffed it back into the briefcase, with little care for order or neatness as he closed it. "Oh..uh. Her. Um.. something with a holiday..." Haggins giggled and rubbed a hand on his forehead, his face flushing a heated pink as he mumbled, "Gosh I can't remember... April?"

"Yeah... that's not really a holiday. That's sort of a month." Hesitantly, he offered, "Stephanie March, maybe?"

"Yeah! That's it! March." Yeah, that's what Fin thought. He knew it wasn't a coincidence that these guys were on her case and just happened to be riding on Graninger's plane. "Do you know her?" The recognition must have shown on Fin's face and since it was a little too late to hide it, he rolled with it. With how drunk Haggins was, it wasn't hard to distract him.

"Yeah, I sorta do. Hey, uh... how exactly do Docimasy teams get notified of a case anyway? I mean, what happens to make you guys go out and go after someone? Do you just have someone poring over the files all day, looking for inconsistencies?" Fin would bet his right ass cheek that Graninger was somehow responsible for sending these guys on the hunt for his ex. All of a sudden, he found himself gritting his teeth as he waited for the answer.

Which Haggins was having difficulty giving, struggling now to keep himself sitting upright, almost as much as he was fighting to concentrate on the conversation. Scared that the boy was gonna pass out soon, Fin gulped down most of the rest of his drink and signaled to the flight attendant to bring him another. When she arrived with the drink in hand, Haggins' eyes brightened, licking his lips as he made to reach for it. Luckily for Fin, the alcohol had slowed the lad down some and his hand swept the glass up before Haggins got more than within a foot of the drink. "Whoa there! I think you've had enough, little camper!" Patting the disappointed Agent's hand, Fenton turned to the attendant and said, "Can you get some water for my friend here? In a nice tall glass, please. Thanks."

With the kid revitalized by the almost-promise of more alcohol, it didn't take more than a sip of water for him to willingly return to the conversation - after Fin reminded him of the question, of course. "Well... a case will usually come to the Docimasy if someone reports something. Missing equipment, paperwork errors, sexual harassment... Someone fills out a form that is directly addressed to our office. With murders, it's different. Every Agent death comes to our desks and gets looked at, but it really only becomes an official case when there's a suspect. Then a full investigation is launched. Even if at the beginning it looks like it might have been an accident, the Docs dig into it to make a final call on it."

"But how did you guys get these two cases? Who assigned them to you?" Honestly, Fin didn't know why he bothered asking. It was obvious; they wouldn't send these guys all the way across the country unless someone had a personal stake in the outcome. A personal grudge to be fulfilled, perhaps? And the other case with the missing Agents was probably just a cover to make it look like they had more of a reason to be here than a 5 year old break-up.

"Granininger," Haggins said, drunkenly stumbling over the syllables in the guy's name. "Richard Granimger."

"The A-2 in charge of the Spokane, Washington base." Fenton nodded, feeling both relieved that he'd solved the mystery and that it had nothing to do with Patten at all - if he WAS the A-1 that Haggins mentioned, then he was only peripherally involved. Honestly, what the fuck was Rich doing now? Even drunk, Fin heard Graninger's voice reiterate the warning he'd spoken before he slammed the car door in Fenton's face. This was about Stephanie and now that he knew, he was supposed to stay away from it. But it was like an itch now, one that refused to be ignored while he just sat by and let this guy's agenda play out in front of him... whatever his goal really was. Either way, Fin had a very strong feeling that it wasn't going to be good for Stephanie.

"AND the Chief of the West Coast division," Haggins continued, nodding agreement and raising his glass as if in salute and then making to drink from it, only to be disappointed by the fact that it was water.

"Wait, what? Chief? Division of what?"

Haggins looked up at him, trying to keep his gaze steady - Fin couldn't figure out if that look meant that he couldn't believe he'd revealed this information, or he couldn't believe that Fin didn't already know about it. "He's the Head of the West Coast North American division of the Docimasy. All Docs stationed in and working on cases from British Columbia, Arizona, Washington, Vancouver, Oregon, and California to... Arizona, Utah, Winnipeg, Montana and Alberta report to him."

"..." Fin openly gaped at him, unsure of how to respond - or, really, how far he should take this information, since the list of territory seemed a bit...dubious.

"What?"

"What?"

"...ha, what?" Haggins was stupidly amused.

Alright, this conversation was going nowhere and Fin's level of inebriation was starting to catch up to Haggins'. He was finally ready to admit, he'd drained the boy dry of everything he needed - and hadn't really wanted - to know. It didn't matter anymore anyways. Haggins was seconds away from losing consciousness or throwing up. "Nothing, nevermind. Now, finish your water, like a good boy. God forbid this ends up being a bad first experience for you."

***
What the hell?! What the fuck did he mean 'he was staying behind'? How could he say it so flippantly, as if he wasn't completely abandoning her and Alex? Yeah, and Alex could go fuck himself with his explanation. She didn't need to be consoled. And now that she was here, she wasn't even close to being worried about Xander turning. Ozzie remembered the phone call with Peter and how insanely mad Xander got - not to mention his bloodthirsty, fired up comments after that when he got used to the idea of possibly getting a shot at revenge. She wasn't concerned and she wanted to punch Alex in the groin for being useless and even bringing it up. As if 1. that was really the first thing her mind would jump to and she'd freak out about it and NEED to be talked down and 2. as if HIM, Alex, saying anything would make ANYTHING 'better'.

She wasn't stupid and she understood the why and all that bullshit. She even understood that Gwen was depending on them and that she could only carry one fool on her back on the way out of here. ...Osono just didn't want to leave him. She thought things were going to be different. She thought it'd be like an outpatient procedure. In, then out, and on to saving Gwen. There was a promised future in that and she had the urge to punch Xander in the groin too for taking it away.

She was being stupid and she knew it, so she remained quiet, silently agreeing to the change in plans... until Alex pointed out which of the bodies was Xander's real one. Up to this point, she'd completely avoided looking at the tanks, partly because she didn't care - those people were asleep or something and not a threat; until they started moving, they remained unimportant - but also because what they represented scared her. They were 'asleep' for a reason and it probably meant that they were "empty". It wasn't something she wanted to think about.

Now, however, with her eyes starting at a bare chest and moving up his neck to his half-covered face, she actually stopped and let herself stare. And then she continued to let her eyes wander, always coming back up to his face and flowing hair, picking out different details on each additional sweep. Osono had never been one to ogle or gush over men or boys and they'd never really been an important aspect of her life, except as comrades or brief sexual adventures. It didn't mean that she wasn't interested in more, though. Laying her eyes upon the man that she was just starting to let herself feel something for - completing the attraction with a pretty package - she called dibs on him right then and there.

After that, Xander spoke again, but she wasn't done with the first thing he'd said, getting herself ready for an argument she was GOING to win. Then Alex did something or they were talking or fighting to themselves in that weird, annoying way, and she rolled her eyes at Alex's pathetic apologetic gesture. He needed to knock that shit off. Honestly, it wasn't like she got mad about stupid shit. Anyway, it gave her a moment to think and she stood by planning how exactly she was going to fight him on this. If both men thought they were leaving without her Xander then she'd say it right now so there wasn't any confusion: screw fucking Gwen. In the span of 10 seconds, she'd made up her mind and she was okay with admitting it was selfish. It really was too fucking bad if Gwen was dating one of them because she wasn't getting that one and as much as Osono felt guilty and as much as she did truly care about Gwen - although she struggled to explain why, even to herself - Gwen was NOT here and Ozzie wasn't going to wait until she was. He may have made saving Gwen a goal on his list, even now giving it a point of importance above Ozzie's feelings, but Xander had made it clear he kinda liked Osono too. You snooze, you lose and she'd made her choice. She wasn't leaving him behind in this place.

When he was finally back to talking to her, she continued to disagree with him in her head, ready to object to everything as soon as he shut up. The small almost regretful face he made gave her pause, finally seeing some sign that this wasn't the ideal situation for him. He didn't want to leave her, but for some reason, he felt he had to. True, it might have something to do with his old body needing time to adjust - she didn't know how the fucking thing was supposed to work, so whatever - but she had a feeling it had more to do with Peter than anything else. She couldn't deny that him finding this guy was important - she heard how insane Peter was during the phone call, the creepy fuck; he needed to die or he'd be another Rudy on their asses... except as an actual, plausible threat - but there was a big part of her that didn't want to be reasonable about this. The part of her that was used to solving her problems with brute force and shouting.

The more Alex talked with him, bringing up different points and concerns, the more upset and aggravated about it she became. Because Xander - or Marshall or whatever; honestly, she'd thought he was joking when he said that was his name, but now she was more than willing to call him that when he finally stood up and showed her a smile untainted by Alex's ugly - but anyways, he was HERS, dammit! She just finished branding him with her eyes. If they left him behind, there was a good chance she'd never see him again.

All thoughts fled from Osono's mind, her body reacting defensively and heating the air around her when the sudden noise started up from Xan--Marshall's tank. With her heart pounding fast, she glanced threateningly at the tech but he wasn't paying attention to her - she was hoping that with his skittish personality, if he WAS doing something against the procedure or possibly harmful to Marshall's body, that the idiot would be guiltily watching her over his shoulder. Since he wasn't, instead, professionally focusing on what he was doing, then she assumed that this was how things were supposed to go.

There wasn't exactly confirmation from Alex and Xander's half-conversation, but Alex was asking the right questions for clarification and despite freaking out briefly, it seemed like Xander was letting him know this was procedure and stuff. Or at least he was at first. Then it kind of seemed like Xander was going to be electrocuted or something? Squinting at the lighted tank in the middle, Osono thought she could maybe see what he was talking about from where she was standing. But before she could offer her own opinion about whether it was a good idea for Xander to be a pussy like Alex, or just go through with the damn thing like a man with balls, her whole body froze.

What the fuck was that noise? Adrenaline pumped through her and she got ready to sling fire - although aiming at 'what' was a bit difficult since it seemed like the sound could be coming from the walls themselves. Finally deciding that the only direction she needed to worry about was the doorway, she headed in that direction, only halfway paying attention to Alex talking to Xander. Leaning out, she looked into the hallway where the red lights were still flashing in some parts of it, but it was still as empty as it had been when she and the tech passed through. There was a moment when she worried that whatever the noise was had to do with Rudy and she growled low in her throat at the thought. She knew it was weird that he gave up so easily! After clinging to her leg since she got here, it seemed improbable that he'd just go away because she told him to. Then she began to get angry at him again for whatever he was planning or doing right now since he promised to leave her alone. The little fucking liar!

Impossibly, things had changed dramatically since they'd parted ways and a gargantuan, protective violence began to soak into her body and clothes. First of all, she'd claimed ownership on Marshall and his body and that alone made Rudy seem even less appetizing or attractive than he had before - and that feeling of distaste for the shrimpy dork was growing by the minute as she let her eyes peek over her shoulder at gorgeous... slender... muscles, elegant sloping abdominal lines leading from hips down towards his barely hidden groin. Oh, yeah. Totally gonna hit it, she thought as she turned back to the door with a smirk. Second of all, she was not going to let anyone or anything harm Xander or destroy this moment for him. Whatever she needed to do, Rudy was NOT getting into this room. In fact, if she even spotted the idiot down this hallway...

Xander shouting at the tech guy to hurry up brought her back into the room briefly and when she glanced at the Agent their eyes met for a moment and she pressed her lips together in an ugly frown and pointed threateningly at him with a small flash of her eyes. Nervously, he turned back around and after making sure he was still working, she went back to searching the hall for whatever had made that sound before. And she started to get irritated... and worried... Because, it occurred to her that it possibly wasn't Rudy who made that noise... Were the ghost Agents doing stuff? They obviously had to know the three of them were here - if God damned Rudy knew where they were and was able to find them, then it was likely something the entire Agency figured out the second they parked the car by the curb.

Idly listening to the sound of Xander's voice and finding comfort in it - and feeling uplifted by the occasional reprimand and insult he directed at Alex - she turned back into the room when she realized he was describing or explaining what that sound might have been. Walking forward a few steps, she stopped to listen and gave Xander a penetrating stare, ready to smack him. THAT was more than a good enough reason to drag Xander with them when they hightailed it out of here - Alex could fucking crawl; she didn't care - if this guy Peter had plans for him. If she left while he was defenseless, there was nothing she could do to protect or help him. Stupid ass...

At Alex's nod, she curled her lip, but tried to keep herself from exploding. Instead of giving him more nasty looks, Osono let her eyes wander back to the tank that housed Marshall's bod, finally close enough to see the "lightning storm" that Alex mentioned before and she wondered if maybe she really didn't have a choice. What if it hurt him when she pulled him out of the tank? Could she really risk that? Caution had never been her thing - she just wanted her fucking Marshall; to know that he was safe and still with them. But then again, friends and... attraction had never been her thing either. A few instances of casual sex during her teenage years and adult life - before she met Rudy - but never... fucking googly-eyed feelings.

Huffing a breath at herself, she reluctantly settled down to the idea that she wasn't actually going to be leaving here with him. If not for the fact that she might accidentally kill him if she tried, but also that he'd never forgive her if she took him away from this opportunity to get close to Peter and finish things - hopefully for good this fucking time. As much as she was starting to care about him, he didn't need her here watching over him - and she didn't want him to need her like that either.

Back to paying attention to Xander, talking now about an attack on this room by unnamed enemies wanting the 'cells', as he called them, she watched him with an air of stubborn fondness. Eventually, Alex came to the point that they were going to need to fight Peter's battle for him against whoever was coming, as if being used in such a way was something he didn't agree with. Osono didn't have a problem with that - she was actually excited about it. They weren't Agents - or at least, Xander indicated that they weren't - so she was very interested in seeing who this new enemy would be. As much as she wanted her life back and to stop running, Ozzie wasn't a crusader and she didn't care about the moral justice of destroying the Agency for good. As long as they left her and her friends alone, what the hell did it matter? So, she had no qualms about fighting those who were against the Agency. If they were in the fucking way then she'd enjoy handing out a massive ass-kicking. And she really didn't care if it was something Peter wanted or not; she personally didn't have a beef with the guy, except for the fact that he was a threat to Xander.

For a moment, Ozzie stopped, annoyed and insulted when Alex mentioned Gwen 'crushing' Xander when he rejoined their group, but it was a minor hesitance. Especially when moments later, Xander turned to her, after shouting more abuse to the guy controlling the machine, and confided in her a plan that she didn't even have to agree with for him to know that she totally did. Which instantly brought a grin to her face. Then it dulled just the tiniest bit. This was really it. The tech was on the verge of moving things forward and whoever was coming was already making the building groan. She didn't have another moment and after this... there'd be no other chance to say goodbye. And she hated the way that sounded and felt inside her head. Osono really was going to make herself throw up if she didn't stop it.

Stepping forward so that she was standing right beside the chair, she glanced at the door again to make sure it was clear before turning her attention back to Alex and Xander. Smirking, she nodded at the middle tank and raised an eyebrow and said, "Nice 'skin' ya got there. I'm a little ticked off that I wasn't informed of this prize for getting you guys split up. I mean, I knew it was gonna be great but..." She whistled and let her eyebrows dance a little as she looked back at his body, finally letting out a small raspy laugh when she returned her gaze to him. Then her joking demeanor sobered and her eyes grew pensive and melancholy. "I know we don't have a lot of time and I really don't want to keep you from this, but this'll only take a second..."

Taking in a deep breath, Osono licked her lips and prepared herself. After calculating the distance and the force necessary, she aimed and began to lean forward... her fingers latching directly onto Alex's nipples through his shirt and without a single pause, she gave them both a harsh twist. "That's for leaving me with that whiny bitch Alex, you bastard!" she said, giving him a frown. "A week or MORE?? Are you fucking shitting me?" Throwing a finger into his face, she squinted and said in a low voice. "You owe me for bringing me into this and not telling me what I was really risking, beforehand." A mean and slanted smirk danced on her lips as she lowered her hand and said, "But I have a feeling you'll make it up to me. Somehow." Subtly, her eyes fluttered to shoot an approving look at the middle tank but they didn't stay long as she finally backed off and turned away.

"Oh, and if I got Alex with that instead..." she said, stopping on the way back to her original spot by the door. "...you deserved it just for being a pussy, you big pussy."

There. Goodbye and good luck, Marshall. For now.

***
Wait...

...did he just say Squiddie was coming? He did say that right? Right after he finished shitting on Rudy again and right before the dial tone echoed in his ear, Rudy could have sworn he heard Eric order Squiddie to find him and... hurt him. His whole body trembled with shivering excitement and heat pulsed in his neck and groin at the thought of being punished by her again. And they'd be completely alone this time. His beloved, the cold, merciless, robotic angel that injured him with such finesse and creativity--Holy shit! Rudy was gonna get bopped again! The sudden, growing tightness in his pants made it hard to jump for joy, but he managed a few uncomfortable hops.

Oh, right, yeah... all of that crap Patten said sucked but Rudy found it really difficult to be pissed about another demotion - fuck! Did he call him an A-7? A fucking A-7??? - and having his request smacked back into his face so glibly. Because not only did Squiddie answer the phone but even with Eric talking, he could hear her talking to Eric, telling him the stuff that Rudy said while he thought he was talking to the higher ranked Agent. And that alone made it difficult to not only concentrate on the conversation but also made it difficult to get mad about any of it. He hadn't realized how much of an impression she'd left before, but he felt it on a primal level, even as he looked at the dried bloody carpeting beneath his feet, remembering the agony and the faintness that threatened to swallow him during every moment of his crawl to the locker room. The tension had been so strong, that Eric's order seemed like a promise of release for him.

Hanging his phone up, Rudy stood in the hallway with a dorky grin on his face, glancing expectantly in either direction. Should he just wait and let her find him or would she like things better if he actually ran and hid from her? Would she be extra rough with him if he prolonged things with a game of hide and seek first? What if she couldn't find him though? Would she eventually give up? That wouldn't be fun at all.

...What was he doing before? Something about sandwiches, right? Oh! Ozzie! Yeah... Well, as much as he hated to admit it, there really wasn't any contest. Between his bff and his future wife, of course he'd choose to have his lust sated before he tried to get under Osono's skin again. A beating was a beating and forever now, Squiddie would come to define his ideal, while Ozzie represented nothing but blue balls - which were fun and all, but... Licking his lips and already breathing heavier, he reached a hand up to the crown of his head and pressed his fingers teasingly into the soft bruise that Squiddie gave him. Briefly, he let out a soft groan and his eyes fluttered, while his erection pulsed in time with the pain lancing through his skull, transported from the NOW back to the room where Squiddie inflicted the damage that he prayed would never go away. The remembered sound of bone meeting hard wood flooring made his balls tighten.

That's it. Rudy made up his mind. He was going to propose to her. He'd never felt like this about anyone ever, even that horrible skank Noel. For 6 years she'd been his Mistress, their hatred for each other only alleviated by what they could do for each other - he got to play victim and she got to play tormentor. It was how their... 'love' worked. Intimacy through violence, as Noel did terrible things to his body and he begged and worshiped her for every moment of it. But she'd been more of a whips, chains, and hot candle wax kind of gal, getting off on torturing him in different ways, each session filled with new and exciting pain as she attempted to push his limits to further heights. Wit