Monthly Archives: January 2015

“Tough morning?”

At a quarter past seven, Beth heard a knock. Score one for Mr. Coffee and his fashionable sense of time. She meant to do it back at him when she tip-toed to the door and stylishly delayed answering, but after a pause, she remembered he’d seen her shadow last night. This more than likely looked as though she was waiting there with her finger rammed up a nostril. New plan: open the door, which she did with a flourish of her arm and brilliant smile that only strained when she saw how tight and nervous his smile seemed. It was uncomfortably similar to the one he used when they’d first talked.

“Heeeey,” she welcomed, ramping down her giddiness. The arm she flourished tucked behind her head as if she’d been stretching all along. “You made it.” This earned a half-hearted nod. “Tough morning?”

“Why? Did you hear something?”

“No,” she said quickly, flicking her damp ponytail. “I was in the shower. Showering. Noisily, and for hours.”

Beth dubbed this her Plausible Deniability. She considered adding that fake dog to the story – for consistency’s sake, of course – but eeeeee. Creepy. She had an aunt who showered with her dog. It was an image no one should feel too keen on adopting.

He gave her a second nod, this time with an equally passive, “Oh. Good.”

Kind of an awkward silence there, buddy.

“So – um…” She guessed it was up to her to stir things. “Do you –”

“I’m Alex.”

Whoa. Alex was intense. She took it that that was his name, but he said it so seriously, as if he’d expected more of reaction than, ‘Cool. I’ll stop calling you Mr. Coffee’.

She wouldn’t, by the way. Mmm, Coffee.

“It’s nice to meet you, Alex. I’m Beth.” Soon to be known as tomorrow’s local kidnapping headline. “You look good!”

He did look good. Alex had a whole I’m Too Cool to Iron ensemble. Plain, faded jeans slung around his waist. His white-ish shirt went ever so slightly taut against his chest. A pale red, checked button-down layered over that, and it almost seemed like he’d taken a brush to tease his cocoa black hair into careless bedhead. Hot. This was ignoring the bluish-black and green bruises surrounding his jaw. Other than those, the eye-witnesses sketches were going to look amazing.

Yeah, she still wasn’t ‘sure’ about this. Carpe diem only brought her so far before hitting YOLO territory.

“Thanks. You, too.”

Ha! Liar. She was wearing almost exactly the same as yesterday: overalls and a teeny pair of black booty shorts for the ass she didn’t have, except she’d swapped her crappy top for a stretchy, long-sleeved one. On second thought, she shouldn’t have picked a hue of fabric that clashed as badly with her vampire skin as dark purple did. On third thought, that was every hue but orchid, and laundry day had dictated no dice there.

“Thank you.”

That floated between them fairly listlessly. Beth curled her hair around her hand and tugged it, trying to rattle out a plan for her next move. Should she let him in…?

“Is that a horse licking a dragon?”

“What?” She jerked her head over her shoulder, towards the garish display of yellow-trimmed wings and soaring hooves stacked up against her kitchen bar. The colours were hard to miss. They practically leered at her and him. “Ah! No. That’s Pink Beauty. The tongue is…” Beth was a professional artist. “The tongue is his horn. He’s a unicorn.” To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there lay her dying reputation. “It’s a commissioned series. I don’t… I mean – this isn’t really my thing, the whole fantasy element, but when a client says jump, am I right?”

He appeared to be thinking awfully hard about the three-legged, magical pony. It was like he didn’t trust her, or thought the joke was on him somehow.

“What do you usually paint?”

Alex asked as though he wasn’t sure he could handle the answer. To be fair, drip painting was a violent cascade of emotions. She could rein them in long enough to title their blazing moods, but otherwise, she fell as lost to them as any person before a wonder. Beth wasn’t the only person saying so, either. Her work didn’t stand for simple explanations; it elucidated through a subconscious interpretation. That’s what the critics wrote anyway, and so as long as they kept awarding her cash, she would let them pile on whatever smarmy narrative they wanted.

Under these casual settings, however…

“I’ll show you.” Her heart began to race. She barely knew this person, and already her palms had sweat from the pressure of living up to his standards. While she rushed inside and leafed through the throwaway series, she eased her mind towards him hating it. Her style didn’t always top a guy’s list. Beth tried not to blame anyone for their opinions, but when they couldn’t see the canvases come alive, there was a certain sadness she had to bury. “Here.”

Oh God, his thumbs went straight onto the paint when he grabbed the frame. From the record scratch that went off in her head, Beth winced. He, more focused on studying the piece, missed this look of pain and lifted her portrait higher in the far window’s daylight.

This was the one ‘real’ entry from RAR she would sell to Edison. Its blues flashed out to the sides, taunted by reds calling from the edges. Sprays of black shattered the contrast to ebb below a muted green. This was an experiment in primary tones, and as she recalled, it was from the last night her neighbours owned a TV before Screamy flipped and smashed the damn thing. Primed and Tuned, she’d named this. The dark streak across its middle was from their screen crashing to the floor.

He took his time to gather his thoughts. She didn’t wholly mind the wait. The way he had to hold the bulky shape made his biceps flex. At last, he did utter, albeit more to himself than her, and staying in low in his throat, “This looks angry.”


“Angry,” she squealed. “Exactly! It’s supposed to be. Here – see this?” Her fingers waved over a top corner. “This is its defining madness. It snapped out on when the scene hit its high notes. The natural serenity of the blue got completely destroyed when it started chewing away at the red, and the bottom layer was shredded by how harshly the droplets cut in. You’ll notice the light – tilt it this way –” There was a perfect angle she’d found that, if Edison hadn’t screwed her out of wall space, she would’ve pointed a small lamp to catch. “The shadows. Recognize anything?”

Was that a smile? Beneath his furrowed brow of mild concern, did she spy enjoyment?

“Uh…” He cleared his throat. “Scary face.”

Right. Objectively! I hate calling my work objective, but the snarl that this black line ripped up left me a hellish glare from one damning eye. You become the subject of its rage.” She put her hands on his wrists, guiding him along the vision. “It’s powerful, isn’t it? Yet it’s so shy. The glare disappears the instant you turn your head the wrong way. It’s a thin glimpse into the fury it’s trying to hide from the world.”

His glance was more sidelong than she expected, but attentive.

“Your painting is passive-aggressive?”

“Unbearably,” she delighted. “My teeth hurt from clenching at it, but unless I twist to understand the deeper pain, I’ll miss the hidden beauty of its wrath.”

She could’ve stood and marvelled for hours. Beth took a raw pride in her art – in any art that forced her spirit to the surface. Had Jessica slipped even a single emotion into her dumb islands, Beth wouldn’t have complained so much about sharing a space.

Alex stared at her sidelong, having reservedly watched her while she talked. His stance softened a little, and as he lowered the frame, she noticed a light appreciation and intrigue.

“You’re really into this.”

As if until now, he hadn’t believed her.

“Well, yeah. Everybody is, deep down. It’s the same as music,” she told him. “Human nature can’t help forging connections, and with art, it’s to suites of work that can cross generations. We end up connecting to each other. At this very moment, you might feel the same as a stranger will in forty years, but your cousin could walk up tomorrow and have the total opposite experience. It blows my mind.” She quietly nudged the canvas closer. “So… what about you?” Beth leaned in, studying his eyes as they swept across the glossed fabric. “Are you feeling anything?”

Alex looked to be considering it. Then he said, “I think I liked the unicorn.”

“Oh my God.” He was grinning, in that cautiously warm way she’d started growing used to. When she whacked his shoulder, she did it with high spirits. “Come on, neighbour. Let’s get going.”

He didn’t at first. After she’d bent to grab half of the stack by their feet, she saw his head still turned towards Primed and Tuned. He held it firmly, his tentative smile clouding in concentration. Beth delayed bothering him until he came to whatever decision he’d been trying to make and fluttered to reality on his own.

“Sorry. Just…” Another grin. This one was more pensive than earlier. He twitched his arms as though he meant to hand the canvas back, but figured out what was happening and simply added it to his half to carry. “It’s good. I think I’d need a day to get it, but…”

“You’re new to the art world,” she assured him. “Don’t rush it! Let the meanings come to you. That’s the most satisfying way.”

“Yeah.” He apparently glazed over at those words, floating off again to wherever his mind went to think. When he returned this time, he maneuvered in front of her with two deliberate steps. “I’m Alex.”


He was exactly as intense about it as before. Beth blinked, sort of stuck on what to do. He hadn’t seen the napkin she’d left on her counter, which was good, since she’d scribbled a few things on it – height, build, other identifying features – that might be cause for offence. She got so caught up wondering what she’d left out, she nearly missed the offered hand waiting for her.

“Oh.” Then they truly were doing this twice. All right. She shuffled, freeing one of her own. “Hi. I’m still Beth.”

Her hand found his.

… Something happened. Stopped happening, rather.

“I’m not great at first impressions.” Alex smiled. Actually smiled. Sheepish, but real. “Or second. Or – uh – third.”

“No, your…” She swallowed. “Your second one was good. Impression, I mean. Last night. When you apologized. That was sweet of you.”

His eyes. Beth hadn’t realized how deeply they’d pierced her. They brimmed with such a wild energy… No wonder she’d been avoiding them. She never noticed she was avoiding them until now, when his gaze touched hers and she held it. The comfort of the gesture threw her off.

Alex pulled away. Bethany’s hand felt empty from it.

“I’ll try not to need a fourth.”

“Hmm? Oh.” Oh! “Um – sure, no, yeah, you’re fine,” she said. “All is forgotten. Water and bridges.”

She was talking too fast. This marked her other type of nervousness, the one that had her girlishly agree to get coffee with his cheekiness and cocky attitude. But he wasn’t acting like that today. If she had to label him, she would have picked meek. But nice. Beth could live with nice.

“So,” he said, hoisting the last of her wares onto his unignorably toned shoulder, regardless of how many shirts he wanted to wear, “where are we walking?”

“Well…” Weird. Was it a good weird though, to suddenly feel this at ease? “I figured we could drive. My car’s parked out on the street.” She should warn him now: “It’s a screaming, metal death trap, but it has tires and it usually stops before I hit a dog.”

“Great.” Really? He elaborated with, “My old car’s method for braking was exclusively trees. I’m used to tucking and rolling.”

Unlike yesterday, where every word from his mouth apparently won either high-pitched giggles or a snort she continued to smack herself over, Beth found her current crack of amusement relaxing onto her lips. She enjoyed it.

“Let’s just say I’ll drive,” she said. The paintings in her hands tut-tutted. Dammit – yes, Terry, she hadn’t forgotten about him. “I just have to send my buddy a text when we’re downstairs. He told me to be early, but since it is me, he probably hasn’t even bothered waking up yet.”

“You’re a night owl?”

“Ah…” She imagined her ideal day. Four AM, no work the next morning, not sober but texting everybody. “Sure.”

Alex seemed okay with this, in a way that vaguely suggested he was on her wavelength.


“Okay.” He adjusted the canvases. “I’m ready.”

Pink Beauty awaited its maiden voyage. Beth shooed Alex out and locked the room behind her. She got a feeling the counter-napkin of Cop Cliff Notes blew off from the breeze of door swinging shut.

She doubted she needed it.

“Special, special, special.”

“Agent Aird. Rank: A-6. Acting Lead. Suit Status: Special. Age…” Xander walked off with the ID. “Doesn’t say.” He flicked the plastic at the ground and got back to walking with his ‘cereal’. “I bet you’re old enough to know about Goldilocks.” He made another pass by the Agent. Then another. And another. The light from the wall-hole teemed with expectant shadows. “Or there’s Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Pinocchio… Really any fable where some bitch kids start their shit at a private residence.” Around and around, cutting a deep path through the rubble. “I think you can guess what happened next.”

“It’s been a while,” the Agent rasped. Xander’d dropped it on a mountain kicked together from broken chair legs. Since then, it had to balance while straining against the chains that bear-hugged its ribs. “If my memory serves…” Puff. “… they each had…” Pant. “… happy endings.”

“Why? ‘Cause they lived? Oh, suit.” Xander sucked back more spoonfuls of Corn Flakes soaking in orange juice. Alex didn’t even know they had juice. “Nine times out of ten, you walk into a house made of candy, you better hope your parents abandoned you. That way, when they have to lie about how you died, you’ll get a better epitaph than ‘was retarded’.” He sipped his juice-flakes. “I’m sorry – ‘special’. Can’t believe you put that on a card.”

“The titles,” it wheezed, “are assigned to us.”

“Which explains why it’s so modest.” Around and around, like the Agent had dripped blood in the water. Xander lingered at its blind spots when he wasn’t carving sharp circles by its face, not giving it a chance to focus before he strolled past. “Special, special, special. That’s new. So what did they title the other suits? Bullet sponges?”

“… Deployable…”

“Seriously? Shit, that’s meaner.” His cow-ish chewing was the only sound covering their footsteps and its ragged choking. “Alright. Screw those masked jerks. Sure, they have the same bulletproof, shockproof, fireproof, wizard-proof, camouflage tights and do the same amount of nothing, but they don’t wear goggles and don’t kiss nearly as much ass.” Xander tapped its head with his spoon like a fairy godmother. “You are gonna need tongue to smooth this one over, though. I’d pity you if I wasn’t already sure you’ll enjoy it. Fuckin’ suits.”

Alex had no idea what started them again. After forty dead and two years as a no show, he’d figured they got the message: so long as he had Xander, the suits’ little camouflage trick – the ‘fading’ – wouldn’t work, to the point that he switched back to sleeping with his eyes closed. He’d recycled the headspace into self-soothing techniques. Happy thoughts netted more mileage than nervous stretches of insomnia whenever ‘Xander has control’ and ‘Agents’ turned up in the same breath.

This wasn’t his show. Alex watched carefully, trying to take notes on what it said before its neck got snapped, but he couldn’t say anything. His body wasn’t his right now. He was better for it. Agents occasionally had good information, and the chances of Alex wringing it out of them compared to Xander’s were…

“I don’t enjoy –”

“I’m sorry, did a fucking A-6 start talking back to me? Did an A-6 try to tell me what he does or doesn’t enjoy?”

“… No.”

Yeah. So Alex stayed out of it, letting Xander handle this like he’d handled all the other ones. Today’s happy thought was that he owned plenty of bleach and garbage bags. They also had the community Purell can downstairs. The thing was two-thirds acid, good for burning fingerprints.

He wasn’t stupid. He knew what Xander did, and recognized that a few ‘ohm’s weren’t going to cleanse Alex’s soul, but they needed this. He used to bet his life on a one-size-fit-all solution: run, which – fine, was morally better, but where did it get him? Caught. No matter what, the Agents were always right behind. Xander’s method skipped that forever. Less Agents. Fuller intel. A life where he fought back.

There’d been nightmares at first, at the sight of… everything. His insomnia got worse. Xander had to talk him through the logic: if he wasn’t controlling his body, then it wasn’t technically Alex hurting anyone. The exact words were more like, ‘Blow me. You didn’t do dick’, but it still let him sleep at night if he didn’t pick at it.

Practice made perfect.

“Relax, suit,” Xander ordered. “I’m not gonna kill you.”

He was lying. Its eyes swivelled to follow him as he walked by again. It didn’t get a good look, which was the point of moving around, because it would have seen Alex’s cheeks raised in a blatantly bullshitting grin. Instead it croaked, “Will you –” Cough. “Will you be… documenting this?”

“Right. That.” He shrugged, scraping the bowl. “Well, if you wanna take the coward’s way out, I guess I could just kill you. But that’s a lot of paperwork, and it’d be funnier to hear that my boss washed all your precious work climbing to A-6 right into the shitter. And then you’ll probably kill yourself anyway.”

The Agent waited for something. Across its face was a web of pieces slowly fitting together, and when the one it needed didn’t show up to finish the thought, it prodded with a tight, “Unless?”

Xander snorted.

“‘Unless’. You think I’m negotiating? You think I’d – what, cover my eyes and ignore my duty to report you by blaming some A-8 instead? That if you start talking real goddamn fast and explain why the fuck you intruded on a DTD site, I might hear enough to consider deceiving the very hierarchy we’re conditioned to show debilitating obedience, all so they don’t rip those magical leotards off your tiny, soon-to-be-demoted limbs?”

“Or…” Its lips were almost blue from the lack of airflow. “… I go back… without my goggles… and say you… threw them –” Cough. “– as a punishment. I don’t care… if you’re… an A-5 –” Cough, cough. “Good luck –” Cough. “– explaining that –” Cough, hack. “– to my A-4 –” Cough-cough-hack-cough-hack-cough-cough.

A-5, huh? I’ve been called worse. Out loud, after chucking their last bowl somewhere in the room’s debris, Xander said, “Touché. Pick your scapegoat.”

“Can you untie –”


The new look on its face told them it hadn’t expected any better. Shifting awkwardly on Mt. Chair Leg, it drank in the fist-sized holes and bits of wood still decorating their walls, then murmured, “This… is a DTD site?”

“Welcome to a real case, suit. That aroma of cat piss and old farts is the smell of the big leagues. Maybe you’ll get to go on one someday.” He never stopped circling. Even in the passenger seat, Alex felt dizzy. “Talk. Why’re you here?”

The Agent’s mouth pursed, but eventually said, “I’m on an investigation.”


“No. With –” It puffed. “With one other. We… separated.”

“You ran your mouth off,” Xander translated. “Fuckin’ suits. What’s the investigation?”

“It’s –” Cough. “It’s classified.”

“Unclassify it.”

“It’s… above…” The Agent stopped to suck down as much of a breath as it could manage hogtied. “It’s above an… A-5’s authority. What I can tell you… is that our main team… noted disturbances… in the area.” Three guesses who that could be. “They’re affecting our case… and the main can’t afford… to be sidetracked. The case lead… had to call in another group to handle it. All of them… have the information I have… that you don’t.”

The Agent was really trying to hype this.

He has to. If I’m ‘not convinced’, I’m gonna turn him in and he’s gonna lose his suit.

Not even loud enough to call it whispering, Alex asked, “Is that bad?”

The only thing worse is a goggle suit losing their goggles. They go fuckin’ insane, Xander chirped. It’s too cute. But yeah, they’ll kill themselves. You’ve seen it.


Right, right – I’ve seen it, back at my ‘birth’. When Alex went crazy, blacked out for a month and woke up with a sociopathic voice in his head. My version’s shorter. Anyway, shut up. “Alright, suit. I’ll bite, since I apparently have to ask: what information?”

“That this address,” it said, “is listed on our files… as our address. Our target… is supposed to live here. For… whatever reason… that’s wrong.” It took another break, shaking its head like it was fighting sleep. “Now… I… could tell my lead… and be praised for… for correcting the mistake. That’ll save some time for us but… for a DTD site, with – uh… delicate operations in place… this is another hundred and twenty Agents… who could wander in after me. Think of the trouble you’d save… your lead if you…”

Xander slowed down, and Alex saw his eyebrows drop. He must’ve been frowning now. Sure enough, he heard his other self say, “The fuck?”

“You would save… your lead… plenty of trouble –”

“Not that, dipshit. The number. You’re saying there’s a hundred twenty people here?”

“Two teams… of sixty,” the Agent replied. “One for the main team. One for the… response force… to the external threat.”

Wait. What external threat?

Xander had a different question.

“Since how long?”

“Since,” it puffed, “July.”

Three months. That was when the swarms started.

Seriously, what external threat?

“Your mountain rights have been revoked,” Xander said. With a kick, he knocked half the rubble away. The Agent dropped off and smacked its shoulder on the floor, beating the sound of its skull thudding off the linoleum by a decibel. A blast of air choked out of its throat. “The one fucking job you suits have is keeping facts in order. This is the second time you fucked it up.”

What,” it gagged, wheezing even harder on the ground. “What –”

“Don’t shit in my sock and call it a hamster, Aird. There’s not a hundred twenty guys here. I counted fifty-eight. You know what’s not fifty-eight? A hundred twenty.” Xander casually buried the Agent under the rest of the chair leg pile. “Hey. It’s okay. Not everybody’s meant to have a suit.”

Th–“ Hack-hack-hack-cough-hack-cough-cough. “There were two teams of sixty sent –”

“There weren’t.”

Outraged, it barked, “The external threat… could have impacted their numbers –”

I’d be the first to take credit but I didn’t off that many. To the Agent, Xander spelled out, “Other than a DTD, there are no targets worth a team of sixty. Maybe for your fuckin’ external threat, but not your actual target. That’s an army.” A small army. Which would be dead if you let me go outside, Alex. “Aw – I ruined my trench! Now I can’t keep walking. Fuck you for that too, suit.”

“I didn’t make a mistake,” it swore. “She might not be a DTD, but it should mean something… when I say… my work… is… being sanctioned… by the NCA…”

“Ran out at the end, huh?”

“You could untie me,” it snapped at him.

Alex focused very hard on thinking, ‘What’s the ‘NCA’?’ He did it on a loop, hoping Xander noticed one of them.

National Cell Archive.

Which was…?

Shh. “Considering those valuable NCA’s lab rats are best known for licking Cheetos dust off of their keyboards, no, it doesn’t mean anything.”

“The project.” The Agent had flopped back onto its stomach and took a second to look proud of itself. Then it shook off some of the rubble by wiggling its shoulders and waited for some noise of recognition over what it’d said. There wasn’t one. “The commissioned project.” Alex and Xander both stared until it added, “The A-1 commissioned project. My target’s a part of it.”

“Some of our jobs involve work, suit,” Xander said. “I can’t be on a first name basis with every shenanigan.”

It screwed its face up.

“I can’t divulge those details. They’re classified. Even for an A-5.”

“Okay.” Xander cleared a space to sit. With his full attention on their captive, he politely said, “You have two options. The first is where, now that I realize our case will be seen as intruding on an A-1’s territory, even though we were fuckin’ here first and were actually intruded on, I leave you for my DTD to find but blame it on your external threat.”

“It’s classified for me, too,” the Agent blurted, not waiting around for option two. “I’m from the NCA and the most I know is that the project exists and that my target belongs to it – but I assumed you heard of it.”

“Ohhhhh! So when you told me, ‘It should mean something that the NCA is watching my target’, you were bluffing. Well, Aird,” Xander detailed, “I’m bluffing that I’m not going to punch you in the face.”

“I wasn’t –”

The Agent took its hit better than Alex usually did.

Don’t feel bad. Suits get punched all the time, and you have the fists of a prepubescent girl.


“I wasn’t bluffing,” the Agent spat. “My target’s powers haven’t manifested, but her latent ability warrants the size of the main team. It comes down to belonging to the A-1 project.”

“Fascinating. I’m gonna punch you again, this time for taking so long to get to that.”

Wait. ‘Her’?

“I’m happy to have been of help,” the Agent answered, spinning each word as ‘go fuck yourself’. “Let me up.”

“Tell me where your target is,” Xander said instead.

It mentioned a ‘she’ before too, didn’t it?

No. Alex was hearing things.


“‘Cause if she’s still in the area –” Xander said ‘she’. Xander had also just said ‘she’. A thousand red flags shot up in Alex’s head. “– then she’s still my problem. Where’s your target, and then I’ll let you leave.”

They needed to talk. Right now – him and Xander had to talk, because who the hell was ‘she’?

“It’s…” The Agent frowned. “It’s classified.”

Oh, for God’s sake. “You don’t have to give me every detail, suit. Hell – if it saves you from crapping your pants, I don’t even need to have an exact location. Mostly ‘cause sixty bucks says you’re wrong. Again.” Xander had enough eye contact to end this conversation permanently. He didn’t take it. “You just put an A-1 project on my boss’ list of shit to dance around. Active avoidance of your target’s hotspots, along with you people updating your fucking addresses, is my fastest mitigation strategy.”

Who was ‘she’, who was ‘she’, who was ‘she’ – Xander couldn’t ignore him forever, so who was ‘she’?

The Agent bit its lip, silent for what felt like hours.

“I can’t guarantee this is accurate,” it finally replied. “I’m on a separate investigation –”

Xander punched it in the head for a third time. The Agent didn’t like that nearly as much as the first two, and it didn’t like the first two. It worked up a storm, turning purple.

And you, settle down in there. It’s not your turn.

At Alex’s first thought of the word ‘But’, he felt a massive mental pinch. He decided to settle down.

“Coffee shops. Art stores. Cliffs overlooking a sunset. Soup kitchens,” the Agent listed at last, now that it’d quit yelling about its treatment. “Anywhere an artist’s stereotype would go. Are you satisfied?”

It is nice knowing she’s too poor for Pequods. And to the Agent, Xander asked, “Am I gonna get a tip-off from visible patrols?”

“Plainclothes patrols. Small clusters. She isn’t aware we’re here, which is why we have to manage our distance.” It shifted uncomfortably. “And latent or not, her powers are triggered by physical contact.”

“Was that so hard?” The Agent looked ready to explode. Ignoring it, Xander got on his feet and… actually started unlocking the chains. “When you’re out, go to the window and show me how you climbed up.”

“I could describe –”

“I did not say ‘describe’. Get off your ass, move your twiggy legs and show me.” Xander yanked the restraints, giving it a last rattle before setting it free. “Fuckin’ suits. God forbid your day involve effort.”

As the chains fell off and the Agent was distracted by taking real breaths, Alex reached out to quietly check, “You’re not really…” Letting it live. “Are you?”

I’m making him stand beside the wall-hole.

That was a ‘no’, right?

Since Xander’s only response was shaking his head, it didn’t matter that the Agent got the next word. It tripped clambering to stand, awkwardly balancing on chunks from the table, then nodded at the chains and muttered, “You’re good with those. Disturbingly.”

“Takes a lot of idiots with no survival instinct. You should see what I can do with handcuffs.”

It didn’t look like it wanted to know and Xander didn’t elaborate. Instead, he shoved the Agent towards the window and had it kick a vague path through the mess. Bits from the old TV stand crumpled under their heels as they came to edge of the wall – and the hole that’d been smashed through.

Alex didn’t relax until the Agent leaned outside, not positive on what to do and even telling them as much.

“There’s not much to show. I climbed up and in.” Its back was angled away from them. Xander stepped ever so slightly behind. “This was due to faulty intel. Our files said room #616. This is room #616.”

“How’d you climb the brick?”

It scoffed and turned back to flex its hands at them.

“The way any suit would. Gloves. Special suits are assigned the type to attract magnetic fields in steel girders, which is why the holes from the claws that deployable suits still use aren’t there. The forces pull through the wall.”

Somebody rented Mission Impossible.

“Bullshit those things support your weight. If you found a key to this place, I will eat your family.” Xander paused. “Within the confines of protocol, obviously. I write really mean letters.”

The Agent had had enough of being picked on.

“Okay,” it said, clipping the word. It did something that a flicked a blue glow across the palm of the black fabric. “Watch.” And it leaned out so far, Alex couldn’t see its head. “As expressed, the magnetic fields allowed me to climb up.” It tugged for proof. “There’s no key.” Tugged again. “Only this.” Tugged once more. “Like I informed you.” Xander grabbed its legs. “Whoa – what are you doing –”

“A lot of idiots, no survival instinct.” He pitched its kicking legs out the window. “That’s three times you’ve fucked up fact-checking. You’re crazy bad at your job.”

Pull me up,” the Agent screeched, anchored to the wall by its right hand. Alex watched it tangle as Xander reached outside after it. “We had a deal – you were letting me go!”

“Yeeeah. I think I’m gonna go with the ‘leaving you for my DTD’ scenario. Hi, by the way.” With all its flailing, they managed to snatch – well, Xander did – its other arm. “I’ll borrow your gloves forever, though. You won’t mind for long. You…” He started picking at the flap on the left glove. “… are gonna be having too much fun cannonballing into the trash that I pushed right there for these laughably frequent encounters.”

“‘DTD’,” it shrieked back. “‘Trash’?”

And you didn’t wanna move the dumpster. ‘How many times could it happen, Xander?’ He went after the anchored glove, picking at the flap on that next. “Yes, suit. The trash. No mess, easy clean up every Thursday… You’re not my first rodeo.” The flap was coming undone. “But I’ve gotta say, I’ve never had a guy wander in on me by accident. You hit the jackpot on Murphy’s Law.”

We can talk about this!

Alex… felt a little sick. There were red marks being scratched in skinny trails across the wall, and it just occurred to him that with all their fighting these past months, no one was going to think twice about the yelling now.

He hoped.

He sincerely hoped.

Fuck, these are on tight. They better fit. They heard a snap. Got it.

“Fu–aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa –”

Five storeys left. Four storeys.

Before you talk, shut up and let me enjoy this. BLAM. Yes! Fuckin’ fuck yes – look’t that shit! Perfect goddamn landing. The dumpster lid slapped down and blew out a cloud of dirt over the nestled garbage bags. Except for the bang, no one would suspect a corpse. I love suits. You can’t get that anywhere else. Then he sighed. Alright, fine, go.

“‘She’, Xander,” Alex barked. Pain sparked through his jaw. “Were you grinding my teeth?”


“We talked about that!” Never mind. He wanted the truth first. “Who’s ‘her’? What’s going on?”

God, the whining… Xander fiddled with his new toys while dully answering, Logic dictates ‘her’ is the chick his team is after.

“It was supposed to be after us,” he hissed. “That’s why I’ve been hiding. The swarms, the ambushes?”

The hundred fuckin’ times I told you to go outside? Were you not watching me play Agent? Explain how that worked if the suit knew who you are.

He backed from the hole in the wall, trekking through rubble to find a pile flat enough to sit on without being stabbed.

“This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”


“Second worst, whatever. I just found out I wasted a month of my life for nothing.”

You wanted less Agents after you. Good news, these aren’t. That’s why this date is perfect. I get my latté, I can check if there’s still heat and if there isn’t, we disappear. Why aren’t these fitting your hands?

“We’re their external threat.” He didn’t want to be on their radar at all, but at least as a side focus, he was… something. “We can’t ‘disappear’ from another sixty – ow!”

God-fucking-dammit, we found the one suit with girlier fists than you. Xander whipped the black gloves at the ground. He said nothing about the chunk of flesh he’d shredded on Alex’s skin. And no, we’re not the external threat. These people have their own party going on without us for once. Assholes.

“We’re not their target or their side-quest?”

Yeah. It sucks. Not that I care or anything. ‘Cause I don’t.

“No – it’s not…” He gave up. He didn’t matter in this. If he’d never attacked, they would’ve never noticed him, so she, the girl downstairs, had legitimately… “Huh.” Alex sat straighter. “This is just a date.”

Oh my God, like I’ve been saying.

“But now I have a dead Agent under my exploded window. If somebody sees glass –”

My gloves don’t fit! I am having a bad day. I don’t need your shitty, non-problems, too. For once, enjoy the morning without anybody chasing you. He felt his teeth grind. Fucking suits.

‘Enjoy the morning’. He almost didn’t understand. This was like a vacation from… well – his life.

“I guess we’re doing this,” he said.

His rash didn’t itch quite as bad.