Cleaning the apartment took his mind off the girl for ten minutes before he called it quits. Well, ‘cleaning’. He’d merged that pile of trash with that other pile. Not exactly Martha Stewart Living, but Alex had a lot on his mind.
He just didn’t understand why she came here, and he had his usual stress-rash from thinking about it. That red splotch doubled up on yesterday’s, which never fully healed ‘cause he wouldn’t stop rubbing at it long enough. The last time his guard slipped, Xander had to save him by smashing a rock through their ex-friend’s face. It’d been five years since then, and Alex learned a strict fact of life: people were traps. The itchy bicep, nausea, hand tremors and restlessness were welcome to stay if it meant nobody got the drop on him. The problem now was that he had his rash but not the rest of the symptoms. It felt like a misfired signal – or a sign he’d caught on to the Agents’ new tricks. It’d been six years since his escape. The ‘girl’ might be what they learned –
Alex dragged himself to the pizza they eventually agreed on. He’d thought about cooking, but freezer-burned bacon, soggy almonds, old ketchup and eggs that Xander liked the look of but wouldn’t eat could not a good meal make. Considering he sure as hell wasn’t running to buy groceries until the Agent swarms left or been dealt with, delivery became his world again. That put half-Hawaiian, half-barbecue-pepper-onion crust on tonight’s menu. Alex hated cooked fruit so this floated a compromise. He also hated barbecue sauce, peppers, onions and pizza, but Xander liked it and mostly stayed quiet when he got what he yelled for. The system worked. He ate one bite.
So back to being paranoid, he –
Alright, more. He took another bite and went back to –
Relax, Xander snapped. She’s not a damn Agent.
“Rih-ree,” he chewed. “Hoh do you knoh?”
‘Cause if she is, I’ll break her neck.
It was that simple for him. It must be nice.
“Got proof for someone who cares?” Alex wasn’t a Coke fan either, but the too-sweet gulp washed his food down like any drink. “They’re planning stuff.”
“I meant worse stuff.”
Alternatively, Xander said, she’s not an Agent, and you’re crying over some chick you’ll never see again while I starve to death.
Maybe. But he couldn’t risk ignoring this.
Xander made a pissed off noise and went to grab the food himself. Alright. Alex found another slice and numbly ate that, too. It kept the guy away from controlling him.
This girl had access to his building – lived here, let in, didn’t matter. At the most basic level of shenanigans, she could coat his door with plastic explosives or gas them from the vents during the night. Part of him was shocked they hadn’t already. The Frenchman though, the whole three times they’d met face-to-face, promised he wanted Alex alive at first. The Agents seemed convinced Alex’s powers would vanish if he died, and great, they thought his seizure rays sounded cool. It didn’t justify that Xander had killed damn near everybody on the Frenchman’s team. The signs pointed to the Agents judging whether their Alex hunt was still worth it. Building assassins from scratch felt unlikely, but…
“You really think we won’t see her again?”
Put the food in your fucking face –
“Okay.” He hated pizza. “Thanff fuh thuh thupport.”
Live in the now, kid, his worse half drawled. She’s not here, she’s not your problem. Quit bitchin’ to me about it.
“You’d care if there was ten of her.”
Which could be true.
Is there ten?
Xander sounded excited. His perfect day spelled fighting strangers, sprinting into ambushes and generally not giving a metric shit that it technically wasn’t his body. Xander loved traps. He looked at them like nifty obstacle courses, so Alex pulled some assurance from the guy’s indifference towards the girl, since it meant she wasn’t fun enough to win his attention.
By that logic, it also meant the girl had non-Agently checked on him.
“You think she’ll come back?”
“That’s not in a bad way,” he said quickly. “I just…” She’d been worried. The girl asked about his face. “I…”
Are you this out of touch with basic human interaction that the first person who doesn’t openly berate you becomes your love interest? Xander crammed pizza down his throat. I’ll brace for the obvious: ‘I hate her, Xander’, ‘now I like her’, ‘oh no, she’s stabbing me in the face with a pen’.
Stress flared through his nerves, and Alex immediately started coughing on an onion. His hand whomped itself against his chest.
“Thanks,” he wheezed. “… So is she?”
Eh. I can name eight worse places to stick a dick. You’re caught up on your shots, right?
“I’m not asking so I can have sex with her.”
Good. Agency women are nuts. I regret fucking the last one. What last one? Delaney. Irish bitch. Big ears. Scratched the hell out’f my back. Your back, whatever.
“She was an Agent?!”
Yeah, dude. Why d’you think I kicked her out after?
“She wanted my skin!” Alex felt sick. “She brought a knife.”
A pen-knife! See? We’re both right. And she didn’t want it all, just a strip off your shoulder. About those shots…
“Stop.” His shoulder throbbed remembering that psycho. He’d burned a lot of effort repressing the night. Good to know it was still in there as vividly as ever. “You need to tell me when you notice this stuff.”
Why? So I can solve a minor inconvenience to the soundtrack of your crying? Fuck that noise.
“I’m in the dark about everything,” he spat. “Everything about my life.”
Honestly, you seem happier that way. And before Alex wholeheartedly called him an asshole, Xander drilled in, You don’t like it? Solve your own problems. But you won’t, ‘cause you can’t, so quit whining. You’ve got it good, all things considered.
“What things considered?”
You’re alive? You’re welcome, prick.
Alex scowled at that.
“Don’t act like it’s charity when you do it to pass time.” Alex felt a thrill of giddy agreement from that spot in his head. Asshole. “This is why I’m out of touch. Everybody around me is either insane or too mentally stable to survive. The first thought when a girl walks to my door shouldn’t be, ‘Do I crack her nose or aim for her kneecaps?’ It isn’t healthy.” Especially when Xander’d ruled her out as a danger. “I should have been thinking…”
What did normal people think about?
“Sure. Sort of.” He sighed. “I don’t know.”
Hers weren’t great.
“Shut up, Xander.”
His heart wasn’t in it. He flopped on his bed instead, landing with a whack on the rock-filled mattress and slowly sinking into the lumpy springs. Rest would be smart. His legs could use a break from twitchy wandering.
But what if?
Dammit. A secret third chunk of his mind spun up. There went sleep, because suddenly the scene with her replayed on a loop. After one minute of sifting through piles of too-bright features carved into memory – memory he was supposed to be using to track to people who came uncomfortably close too often – the big decision he came to, based on its hyper analysis, decreed the girl looked… okay.
She’d been wide-eyed when they met, so he did kind of recall two green circles gawking at him. Her chin was normal. Sharp, maybe. Her left nostril had a mark that might be an old piercing or acne. He guessed if he brushed down the rest and softened the freckles on her cheeks, she mostly fit ‘cute’. So… okay, then he wasn’t far off from her. Others said Alex mostly fit ‘cute’, too. Being in shape helped. His shirt had its own freckles out of various blood types, but his jeans smelled clean and that counted.
This is sad or impressively sad. I can’t decide.
“I’m gonna go change my shirt,” he muttered.
And he was still wearing yesterday’s clothes. He had a gray shirt somewhere, actually washed. After a struggle from the bed and a walk to his dead dresser, he found it in the bottom drawer.
“Laundry tomorrow.” No rips, no blood, at least not under the window’s moonlight. From his onceover, he low-balled being able to wear this three times, too. “If I say I’m a hipster, can I pretend this is style?” A few beats ticked by. “Xander?”
Alex lowered the shirt. He felt a sting of hairs rising at the back of his neck. The rash itched.
You still want that chair?
“What ch– what the hell, Xander,” he roared. Glass and wood burst from the room. Alex’s last intact piece of furniture, his single remaining seat, had just been ejected through a gaping hole – a hole he called until two seconds ago ‘his rotted window frame’. The crash of shrapnel when it hit the ground four storeys later hinted at how well it landed. “Why? Why?”
I’m cleaning. It was clogging the place.
“We were done cleaning!” Alex stuck his head outside and looked. Yeah, he figured. The final semi-nice thing he owned – meanwhile, the wall-crater blended right the fuck in. “Where am I supposed to sit now?”
I dunno, the bed? I’m bored. Let’s go do shit.
Their deposit was gone. Just – completely, ‘cause before, there’d been a shot at scamming part of last month’s rent back. Now – the shock cracked off and his first spark of anger ignited – they were gonna stick him with the full cost of… this. This shitty apartment and spongy floor and perma-stains from a leaky ceiling.
“Tell me,” Alex said, very calm, trying to give some magic benefit of the doubt, “you know carpentry.”
It’s fine. Go outside, you hermit. Get air.
“What, and miss the fix-it gnomes you’ve got headed here to handle this?” Crap – the noise! The neighbours already knew who to blame it on. “The girl’ll come back.” Fuck every minute of his life. “If she’s an Agent, she’s got her excuse to visit twice. No one’ll blame her, and she can cover by saying I died long before she knocked.”
Then go to her first.
“That’s the worst plan!”
He lost. His body disappeared from under him. Xander had taken control. As his first act after charging their limbs through the door, the guy switched their shredded white shirt for the gray and left the freckled remains in the hall. They were headed for the stairs.
“You are not finding her,” Alex ordered. His mouth didn’t react. “You don’t even know where she lives!”
That’s a good point. Xander stopped at the pain-in-his-ass stairwell and blasted the entrance open with his foot. Glue or syrup had stuck to it once and forevermore, the bar that should’ve answered to a gentle push needed a savage beating to let anyone leave. It was that or use the elevator. Xander did not enjoy the elevator. I figured if she heard us and doesn’t live up here, the room under ours would be a good start. He led them to the fifth floor. I guess I’ll have to roam the halls and shout until she answers, though.
Xander’s words in Alex’s voice, and he rang down the corridor.
Silence echoed. The fifth floor was empty.
I guess we’re knocking. Xander picked up his stroll again. That’s the one.
It looked like the room. Not her room – she could’ve been anywhere – but this was underneath theirs. Morbid curiosity didn’t mix well with Alex’s survival instinct. He saw flashes of her tongue being ripped out, and it wouldn’t take much for that to happen. Xander hadn’t attacked a wrong person before. If he picked up the scent of an Agent…
“Are you sure about this?”
Oh yeah. Trust me. Despite himself, Alex had to. Big smile for me! Deep breath for you.
He felt a little steadier inhaling air, enough to say, “Don’t make a mess if she’s… you know.”
It’s half the fun, so yes, I will.
“Alright, but don’t –”
Shhhhhh. Shut the fuck up, Xander soothed.
And he knocked.