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Rudy Quin

Probably shouldn't be an A-3. In fact, why is he in the Agency at all?

0 · 881 views · located in Present Day

a character in “The Other Kind of Roommate”, as played by Ten

Description

Name: Rudolph Quin
Age: 26
Gender: male
Bio: The Lead Agent on Osono's case, he has a real knack for catching up with her and avoiding death while in pursuit of her. Annoying and a bit of a loser, he has a habit of manipulating and lying to others for his own personal gain.

So begins...

Rudy Quin's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Ten
There it was again. That thing he was always doing whenever she treated him this way - he was ignoring her. Well, her naughty behavior, anyway; he was still answering her questions in the dutiful way that her rank demanded of him. But the ass grope, the kiss, even all the shit she'd put his leg through on the car ride here, was going unchallenged. And they were completely alone in this moment. THAT was very significant to her. He could have railed at her and said anything he wanted - so long as he kept it in here and his words out of earshot of anyone else, she would have let him have his say...and then she would have threatened and taunted him some more. But he wasn't even taking the VERY clear opening he had to confront her!

Stephanie found herself stunned again, even as she listened to him finish a more detailed report of what had happened, she blinked at him and felt her heart racing, the beat thundering in her ears like a galloping horse. God...why did he have to be so tempting...so strong-willed and vulnerable...? Why couldn't she just let it go and focus on what was important? Even as she had that thought, her pursuit of his breaking point firmed even more solidly in her mind and she vowed not to give up until she had him begging at her feet.

He could have discounted the first bit of stroking against his leg as something else, but this had long ago gone past something either of them could just shove under the rug. That's why she saw his refusal to react as an admission that he was playing her game. Silly boy. Men much more resolute and firm of mind and spirit had bent at knee and back before her. How dare he think to challenge her. And Stephanie vowed, right then and there, that before she was ready for the body transfer, she would hear that delightful, pleading note come from his tongue.

Thinking that brought her back into focus on the case and she was once again strictly paying attention to what he was telling her - although she did take a moment to smirk at the distant and withdrawn tone he'd adopted. Nathan had given him orders? Was he kidding? At his suggestion for her to ask Eric about it she agreed, that was a good idea. What was going on here? Did it have something to do with that special secret project he'd been on about when presenting the boy to them downstairs?

Then she felt herself distracted once again as he slipped his goggles over his face, for the first time since he'd gotten them back no doubt. Her breath caught in her throat as she watched sorrow and pure grief ripple through his features and his entire body before everything tensed up and it disappeared. Oh, sweet mother of... Goodness, that was yummy. How badly she wanted to push him further right then, just to see if she could get him to actually cry - she had no doubt she could find the right buttons to push - but then there was an anger she was all too familiar with, coming off him in waves. He was playing the statue game again, but Stephanie had spent enough time studying emotions and how they were displayed to be able to see it in his steps as he turned away from her. Afterall, his mask wasn't flawless like hers was, and even as much as she wanted to play with him some more, their time was up.

So, she allowed him to break protocol and take his leave without waiting for her permission - making a note to come up with a punishment later - following behind him out into the bright glow of late afternoon. Eric and Benoit were already waiting for them in the car, Benoit sitting in the back and almost pouting from getting kicked out of his usual place in the front passenger seat, and Eric smiling easily as Jason approached the driver's side with an almost obvious eagerness in his steps. Of course, anything to get away from sitting next to her for the next two days. Luckily, the seat behind the driver's was left open for her, so she'd still have access to him. Quickly, they both settled in and Jason got the car running and was driving back down the hill down to the main road and they were heading on their way.

As the scenery passed by the car in a blur and silence dominated the air once again, Stephanie began to feel strangely stifled. It could have been the fact that the past 32 hours she'd spent more time in the car than she was used to or maybe it was the added pressure put on her shoulders from watching Eric switch bodies and having her "toy" moved out of comfortable reach. For whatever reason, her designer suit was starting to itch on her skin and she found herself suffocating and burning up. For several moments, she tried adjusting her position, first leaning a little towards Benoit and then switching to lean more towards her door, folding and then refolding her legs - but every which way just seemed more uncomfortable than the last and she was growing frustrated by the restrictions of space.

The air in the car was growing tight in her lungs and her skin slightly flushed as her fingers idly began to undo the ebony buttons on her scarlet suit jacket. Opening it up seemed to help considerably, but it still wasn't enough and there was barely a pause as she began to take it off all the way. Cleanly ironed fabric slowly slipped from creamy, bare shoulders, the natural, healthy golden cast of her skin emphasized by the setting of the orange sun, and she gently set the article of clothing on the seat between her and Benoit. What was left after it's removal was a slimming black tank top with inch thick straps and a neckline that dipped low enough to show the top mound of each breast, her ample busom accented by the form-fitting top. Her dress pants were of the same shade of black and all together, her slender body and natural curves led the eye along in smooth, uninterrupted lines from top to bottom.

Even with the heavy and restricting suit removed, Stephanie still did not seem satisfied and started to roll her window all the way down. Leaning slightly towards it, she closed her eyes for a few moments and took in slow deep breaths, trying to clear her head and cool down. Hair that was normally pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of her neck, started to release small strands of flaxen silk to whip around her face wildly in the wind from the window. The fresh breeze helped, but the rest of her body suffered in the cocoon of the car and she shifted restlessly in place.

Turning towards Benoit, she did not look at him but grabbed the top of the seat separating them and reached across him with her other hand to roll down his window as well. No contact was made between them, but she was definitely invading his personal space and didn't seem to either care or realize it. The slender and graceful slope of her neck and collar bone was right at level with his face, hovering about 6 inches from him, and from the way she was turned towards him, he would get a perfect view down the middle of her shirt - if he happened to be looking, that is.

Once his window was down, she sat back in her seat once more, "It's hot in here..." her only explanation, murmured as if she couldn't be bothered to offer more. Still, she did not feel like it was enough, as if she were stuck inside a slow moving shell with the sun beating down on them. Reaching forward quickly, she smacked Jason lightly on the back of the head and demanded, "Roll down your window." Waiting for him to comply, she sat back again and laid her head against the headrest and closed her eyes briefly, letting the air flow across her between the two windows and filling the backseat. She considered asking Eric to roll his window down as well, but since the current air flow seemed to be working to ease the heat that had been filling her, she decided to let it go.

It wasn't really clear what was wrong with her and she didn't even know or consciously realize that she was acting strangely. It seemed perfectly reasonable that after hours of being stuck in a car with men, that her body would resist being shoved into the same situation again. Now she felt much more at ease however, having freed herself from the confining garment she wore almost all the time - except when she was sleeping - and it did not occur to her that the way she'd gone about it and the way she was dressed now, was somewhat inappropriate and a bit unprofessional.

Sitting upright again with her eyes reopened, she started to smooth the loose strands of hair back into place, but they'd already gotten free from her hair band and would need to be reinserted to become apart of the whole again. Slipping the band off of pale, golden strands that dipped just below her shoulders, she was starting to pull it all back again before she realized how good it felt to have it all out for once - her hair being tied back also a constant part of her attire. So, instead, using her fingers like a comb, she ran her hand through her hair and let it spill fully over her shoulders in a straight, golden waterfall and tossed the hair band onto her red jacket, instantly forgetting about it the moment it was gone from her grasp.

With the cooler wind blowing through the car now, there came a dryness and she only realized it when she attempted to rub her lips together and they seemed to scrape and drag at each other. Reaching into the pocket of her jacket, she pulled out a small hand mirror and her lipstick and began to reapply it - Jason had taken some of the color with him when she'd attempted to eat his face - and she found herself studying her own features for the first time in what felt like forever. Stephanie knew she was an attractive woman, but every time she looked at herself and caught that blank stare looking back at her, she cringed internally. Heaven knew she'd given up a lot for this case - willingly, one might add - but she'd been unhappy with more than just her looks for a long time even before she'd known who Gwen Stewart was. But the original self-loathing was always exaggerated every time she looked herself in the mirror now, and after watching Eric take over Jean's body, she felt a new surge of excitement to remove herself from her own skin.

Snapping the mirror shut, she looked to the front passenger seat with a piercing eye and began to scoot forward in her seat so she perched between the front seats. As a result, her waist and thigh slid up against Benoit's and instead of removing herself and giving him space, she allowed the physical contact to remain, preferring to ignore it. When she spoke, her usual emotionless facade was shaken loose to hint at emotions just under the surface. "Tell me about the body transfer process. Everything that you know about it," she said to Eric in a barely deferential tone. "How was the idea originally thought up? What was it like the first time you did it? What is it like to switch bodies? What does it feel like to be Jean?"

Anyone listening to her could almost detect an almost aroused tone to her voice, but it was so mixed with her usual deadpan, it could be shrugged away as something on the wind. It did not occur to her to consider Benoit's feelings about the subject of conversation, but even so, her knee lightly swayed against his in a surreptitious stroking gesture.

"I want to know about your personal experiences with the process, mostly," she added some of the emptiness returning to her voice.

***

Only when Alex mentioned him, did Gwen really remember Nathan. She'd been so fuzzy after they'd left the facility - and the circumstances around their leaving had been so strange - she'd forgotten her earlier concerns for the people inside the kid's head. The first thing she thought of was that poor woman lost inside and then that jerk David constantly torturing her and pushing her around. So, when Alex turned to her and told her that he planned to eventually help them out, a smile of admiration spread across her lips and she found herself sighing softly, content all over again to have him back and running the show. If it had still been Xander, not only would his concern for coffee have been the overriding detail occupying all of his attention, but he probably would have never looked back or ever thought of the kid again.

Even before Alex knew there was something wrong, Gwen detected it and her heart fell through the floor as the man behind the counter set the cups onto the counter. Oh, Dean, why couldn't he just have done it right? Why did he have to screw this order up? But as she was cringing, waiting for Xander's response to the problem after Alex expertly identified the order had been messed, she did a double take and ended up meeting Alex's eyes when he gave her a completely flabbergasted look. Hiding a smile, Gwen began to eat her cinnamon twist - it was not fresh, having been baked sometime earlier in the day - but it still wasn't too hard and crusty not to enjoy and managed to melt in her mouth with every bite.

Out on the street again, she lightly clung to Alex's thoughts, moving with his consciousness as she stayed beside him physically - her tongue eagerly licking at the pastry when her own mouth filled with that hard coffee taste - and she looked at him guiltily as he considered the other part of the plan she'd stupidly fallen for. She didn't know how to tell him how convincing Stephanie had been, or how she'd felt like a throw away nobody compared to what the Agency was purportedly offering. And of course, it hadn't been him who her suspicions had fallen on - Xander had been in control at the time and she hadn't known if she'd ever get a chance to see Alex in the flesh again before they got to Charlton.

Xander of course picked up on this easily and although she was glad she didn't have to fumble awkwardly to explain to Alex that she did trust him, she found herself getting mad at the other man's tone. The question Alex asked went ignored as she swallowed the bite of cinnamon pastry in her mouth and turned on him with an angry look.

"Are you actually going to play that card?" she asked Xander, seeing through Alex to the man underneath, hiding and pouting in fatigue at the back of his mind. "Seriously? Oh, sure, you've saved my life a bunch of times, but you haven't done anything to inspire a feeling of safety when I'm around you. If I'm not being dragged this way and that by your crazy whims that constantly put us at risk, then I'm dragging you around and trying to figure out what I should be doing not to get us all fucking killed. Even when you were conscious, I felt like I was alone! If it hadn't been for Alex, I would have left! You treat me just like you treat Alex and everybody else - we're all afterthoughts when it comes to whatever you feel like doing. And don't try to deny that the thing you liked most about me was that I'm a convenient pair of eyes to add to your little quest."

She shook her head angrily and looked away but she wasn't done. "So, go ahead and pretend you're a misunderstood victim and we're all just ungrateful bastards. 'Cause there's just absolutely noooOOOoooo frigging reason why we'd all be walking on eggshells around you, after you've bent over backwards to make us feel like you're dependable or at least half-way SANE!"

When her eyes were turned back onto him, they were a bright sapphire shining in the light of the early evening descending upon them and she said, "And how about a little gratitude yourself!? You always assume you're so frigging important and act as if we should be fawning over you! Well, if anything that David jerk had to say was even remotely true, then YOU'RE the one who has to worry about fading away! So this whole walking into a trap at Charlton thing is us doing you a fucking favor!"

Pausing for breath, she felt the heat of anger still burning at her tongue and she quickly rushed ahead with it. "If there wasn't that sliver of doubt that you'd end up taking Alex with you when you decided to die, then I wouldn't think twice about letting whatever's gonna happen to you, happen."

That wasn't true and immediately after the words left her mouth, she was sorry she'd said them. She was extremely grateful for everything he'd done for them - for HER - but most of the things she'd said about how he'd made her feel was true. She was just an object to him, a nifty toy to help him out when he fell over and lost control in public. Even so, there was more to this current plan then just the necessity to get rid of the threat he presented to her friend, it was to help him too because he had been very instrumental to keeping not only her alive, but Alex as well - for years. But she couldn't bring herself to take any of it back or let him know that wasn't really why she was doing this. Instead, she turned her head away from him with a sigh and said, "Let's just go."

Looking further down the street, back the way they'd come, she reached out to the area to make sure they weren't being followed. No doubt they were, but at least not the way they'd left the facility. Probing the surrounding area and the bus station, she found a bus that would take them at least halfway there - reading the mind of the driver was particularly pleasant and simple, especially with the detailed map he provided - and she nodded in that direction. "Let's take a bus out of the city. And I'll be fine as far as traveling goes." Taking another bite of her pastry - feeling bitter in her mouth now and grown cold during her rant - she tugged lightly on Alex's sleeve and led the way, seemingly unbothered by her flash of anger.

Approaching the line of idling vehicles, the air became thick with exhaust fumes and she almost tossed away her meal for the taste it put in her mouth. As they boarded the appropriate bus, Gwen searched the rows for a seat and noticed immediately near the back, the woman from the coffee shop. Of course, she had to be on this bus. There were still some empty seats near the back and she led the way to a row not too far from the rebellious woman. There were three seats in the row that they chose, all nicely cushioned but definitely displaying the wear and tear of public transportation, and Gwen allowed Alex to take the inner most seat next to the window. Glancing back between the rows, Osono had not even noticed them and was busy listening to some heavy metal music with barely intelligible lyrics. Turning back to Alex, she finished her meal and settled in her seat, hoping that the stops the bus had to make wouldn't put too much of a delay on the trip itself. She just wanted all of this to be over as soon as possible.

Osono was busily bobbing her head to the beat blaring through her skull when her small dark eyes trailed to look out the window and she tensed. "Shit...!" she muttered under her breath and turned off the music, tugging her headphones off and tucking them away again. Frantically, she searched the bus for something and found it a few seats away, quickly rising from her seat and plopping down in the empty spot right next to Gwen. For a moment, she sat there and continued to look around warily, her mind working a mile a minute to come up with a plan - at the moment, opportunity was being a cold bitch.

"Hey," she finally said turning to nod at first Gwen and then Alex, not recognizing either of them from their brief encounter earlier. "I don't mean to impose upon you guys, but I'm gonna adopt you for a while." She lifted herself up a little in her seat and looked around to try and see the front of the bus and quickly plopped back down as if she'd caught sight of something she'd rather not have seen. Turning to give them a chagrined look, she said, "Someone's...following me..."

Gwen's eyes popped open at that and the first thing she thought of was Agents, but quickly discarded the thought. No, that was absurd. Not everybody was involved with the Agency like they were. And she abandoned the suspicion completely as a man approached them with a relaxed smile on his face, slipping into the empty row in front of them. Leaning over the backs of the chairs, he didn't even seem to notice the people sitting next to her as he said, "Ozzie! I finally caught up with you! Who're your friends?" The slender man was particularly short, with a handsome, youthful face, and short light brown hair, but other than seemingly kind of a dork, Gwen couldn't sense anything about him. Not even a direct age. It wasn't like he was an Agent, but rather more like Xander - she could sense things about his body and occasionally snippets of information made it through to her reach, but anything conclusive was still evading her grasp.

From the way that Osono reacted however, she was surprised at the degree of hate the woman had for him. Apparently he'd been following her for a long time... At his question, she turned to Gwen with a semi-pleading look in her eyes, so much so that she felt moved enough to help her out a little. "Uh, I'm Stacy and this is my boyfriend...Ben." That didn't sound too much like it had been made up on the spot, did it?

"Ah, cool, cool," he said nodding with that ingratiating grin again, finally turning to eyeball first her and then Alex. "I'm Quin. Nice to meet you both. Ozzie, do you mind...?" He made a gesture with his neck and patted the seat next to himself as if he wished for her to leave them and join him privately instead - it almost had the hint of a relationship to it and if it hadn't been for "Ozzie's" extreme loathing flaring up when he asked, Gwen might have assumed from his behavior alone that the two were involved.

"I'm with people, Rudy. Just go choke and die, alright?" Even with her completely acerbic tone, Quin or Rudy or whatever, seemed more amused by her response than a normal person should have been.

"I would, but see I'm kinda hesitant to turn my back on you. I almost lost you in that explosion at the gas station back in South Beach - I lost my Chevy, by the way, and I'm now suffering litigation for a discarded cigarette butt that wasn't mine..." even though he wasn't looking at them anymore, mostly focusing on the woman sitting next to her, Gwen got the feeling the guy was saying all of this for their benefit. He was surreptitiously trying to make Ozzie look dangerous. It proved to be unnecessary however... "I was scared that you might have gotten hurt in all of that."

"Oh? Well, personally, I'm upset that you weren't," was her response, thrown back flippantly.

"Ha! Oh, you!" he said as if she were joking - but she wasn't. Turning to Gwen and Alex he said, "Don't you just love that about her? So feisty! Mm!" His light voice uttering drooling praise was cut short as a harsh buzzing hum started and he jerked upright slightly with a small surprised look. Even before he said anything, Gwen could feel the vibration in his pocket.

"Oop! ♫ Someone is texting me! ♪" he said in an almost flamboyant, sing-song tone of voice. Turning back to Osono, he held up a finger as he dug into his pocket with the other hand. "Just a second, now you stay put! Don't go getting lost!"

"I recommend that you do..." she murmured as he disappeared on the other side of the barrier of seats. A hand drifted to her forehead and she rubbed her temples in a soothing manner before whispering in their direction, "Do either of you have any aspirin on you? Or possibly a gun to put me out of my misery?" The implication was for her to shoot herself in the head, but from probing into the other woman's mind, she realized it was much more likely for Osono to use the weapon on the man who'd followed her onto the bus.

Glancing at Alex, Gwen gave him a small questioning look and pulsed,

What do you think?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Ten
Stephanie felt herself instantly tense when Benoit addressed her, not only because of his tone but also with what he said. What the--? What the fuck was that jerk-off talking about? She wasn't anywhere near the big crybaby and his bubble of personal... Looking down at her leg, she blinked blankly for a moment or two, staring at the nonexistent space between them as they sat knee-to-knee. Not only that but before she'd cast her eyes downward, she could have sworn she'd also been moving her leg...against his...

There was an almost perceptible frown on her face as she kept her eyes from meeting his and gently yet quickly moved her leg away from him. She hadn't even realized she'd been touching him at all - not really, although thinking back she did recall the movement that had placed her leg there and the very conscious decision to leave it touching him, and even the idle stroking that had gone on - but mostly, it had completely slipped her notice. How very strange... How long--? But then she blushed internally as Eric cracked a few jokes about it - how embarrassing! She didn't know whether to be angry at Benoit for making her faux pas so blatantly obvious to everyone in the car or to be mortified that she'd done that to him in the first place, let alone the fact that the A-1 Agent now knew about it.

But more than anything she found it troubling that she hadn't even been aware she'd been doing it. Under normal circumstances she would have bitten anyone's limbs off if they'd even considered entering her personal space, let alone touching her, period. Ever since she'd started playing with Jason it seemed she couldn't keep her hands - or body parts - to herself and it was a most unnerving development. Something she'd have to work harder to keep an eye on. No, not just an eye, she needed to get a grip on herself! Otherwise, she'd make herself look incompetent in front of not only another Lead but her superior as well. If she still wanted to be considered when it came time for the body transfer, she had to make sure they knew she could handle it. She was still a professional.

Instead of acting embarrassed, once her gaze had left Benoit's leg and returned to the face of the man in the front passenger seat, she held firmly to a blank expression and did not look away from him. She was not going to even allude to the fact that the contact Benoit spoke of meant anything to her. It was a simple mistake and she'd gotten too close. It was over now. So, she waited patiently for Eric to eventually start answering her questions, her focus keeping her firmly in her own place perched between the two front seats, and hanging on his every word.

During his speech, she learned several things that had slipped by her before, one of which was the history behind the power he now possessed and another was the fact that Eric had motivations that did not fit in with the textbook goals the Agency put forth as the main focus behind body transfer. It made her glance at Benoit for a moment, knowing that he felt the opposite way, and in truth, she'd thought she was a minority in the way she felt about Gwen. The powers were a nice plus and she liked to tell herself that she was doing all of this to fulfill the Agency's agenda, but really, she hadn't felt that way ever since she was first made a Lead on Gwen's case.

The rest of what Eric said was like listening to a really juicy, dirty erotic tale and she found herself feeling that mixed burst of excitement and jealousy pulse through her internal layers as he spoke about his personal experiences - not only with the body transfer process itself, but the use of his original target's power which was essentially a very similar exchange, in her mind. It was all deliciously morbid as well and she found herself looking over Jean's form as he mentioned something about delayed decomposition. How very interesting. Even the description of the supposed pain of her mind being sucked out of her body had her restraining a heavy panting gasp in her throat.

Then she was left blinking blankly as he turned to her and addressed her with his own series of questions. The first couple were fairly simple and Benoit got it mostly right in responding to him, but she felt she had a bit more to add, especially with the new situation revolving around Jean's death. Sitting back smoothly in her seat, she leaned a hand on the window and felt the icy chill of the night air cover her skin and fill her bones.

"Well, Benoit is correct to a degree," she said in a deadpan voice, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder and out of her face as the wind danced with it. "The most we'll have to worry about from Gwen is the power of suggestion she will eventually develop. It will be the last degree of intensity that her powers will reach, being able to see every thought, emotion and memory and every nerve in the bodies and minds of those around her and manipulating them with a coaxing word, or implanting a thought in their heads. There is no A-3 level Agent that will fall to it - and anyone higher doesn't even enter into the equation of possibility.

"However, if she is able to focus all of her mental and psychical energy upon the task, she could turn any one of us into a puppet for however long the suggestion lasts for. The downside - for her - is that it will require an extreme amount of focus and effort. Even if she's practiced using the ability and has a firm handle on it, if she is not completely focused on the task, there is a mental recoil that could stun or even injure her. Not only that but it will drain her energy completely to "take over" someone of an A-3 rank and will leave her completely helpless and useless for a while afterward."

She sighed in a bored fashion and let her hand trail out the window idly, feeling the freezing wind prick her fingers and palm in a satisfyingly painful manner. "But as Benoit mentioned, she is not a real threat. Gwen is used to order and routine, of having a clearly defined space that is hers. She is weak in this chaos of constantly being hunted and easily malleable as a result. To top it all off, she is emotionally fragile at the moment and I severely doubt she would have any time to practice her abilities let alone the power and focus it would require to achieve any of the things I've mentioned in such a short time. It's simply not possible."

She fell silent for a few moments as she considered his last questions, her mind wandering through memory, briefly reliving the moment when she'd been handed the case file. "Richard Graninger, my training manager," she started, looking out her window, lost in thought. "My superior officer, Lotte Schwartz, received a call from him suggesting the particular case for me to work on. I was stuck working on Nathan's case at the time and since it was mostly in the lab at that point, Graninger thought I would be better utilized working in the field." It made her internally smile to think of how even though they'd been separated for two years, Graninger had still been keeping tabs on her and influencing her career from afar. She'd easily put a stop to that as soon as she'd signed onto the Stewart case, however.

"The case file landed on my desk but they left it up to me to take it or decline. She's an author, so I took the time to pick up what she'd written - two books published at the time - as well as digging up all I could on her current history. It was a lot and I was surprised since they hadn't had a file on her for very long - her newly established fame with her romance series made surveillance and information gathering pretty easy in the beginning. One thing I remember focusing on was her dating history, especially when I really got into her books. She wrote a romance story in a fantasy setting with a very upbeat yet realistic look at life and love. At times it seemed her writing could get a little dark, but there was this overabundance of optimism that bordered on naivete.

"In the past four years since she'd graduated high-school, she'd gone through 37 "steady" relationships of varying degrees of seriousness. 37. How could someone go through that many failed romances and still write like that? I remember asking myself," she looked around the car, realizing that she'd been talking for a while and stopped for a moment. They probably didn't understand the magic that Gwen possessed, the depth and soul that was clear in her writing, the longing for passionate connection and the blissful hope that out there somewhere there was someone for everyone. For the first time in a long time, Stephanie felt like a woman rather than just an Agent. Disgusted, she crushed the feeling and buried it and looked back out the window.

"Anyway, I was interested in what made her tick as a person and found a desire to get inside her head. At the time I had been working on a technique to shield myself from distractions and broaden my sphere of focus - the Emotion Desensitization Program - and it just happened to fit perfectly with what little they knew about her powers. So, I decided to take the case. As I developed and honed the technique I'd created for myself, it instantly got me a promotion once my superiors saw how it could be utilized against Stewart. When they found the flexibility with which I could maintain the EDP and how hard it was for other Agents on the team to develop it for themselves, I beat them all in the audition for body transfer as well."

Letting out a breath she looked out the front window and watched the road move by in the beams of the headlights. A sudden urge, from unknown origins, came over her then and she leaned forward to perch between the front seats again. Except this time, her attention was on Jason instead of the A-1 Agent. The fingers of her right hand slipped forward soundlessly and latched upon his earlobe, stroking the soft flesh in an enticing gesture.

"Pull over. I want to drive," she practically purred in what was clearly a sultry tone of voice. Of course, her being a Lead, he could not question her demand and as he slowed down and made his way to an idled stop on the shoulder of the road, her forefinger and middle fingers gently caressed his neck and played with the short curls around his ear. Even as seductive and light as the caress was, there was an ever present threat in how close her manicured fingernails were to the sensitive flesh of his throat.

As soon as the car came to a stop, she instantly moved from her seat and opened her door, stepping out into the cold night air. There was nothing but countryside bordering the highway and the buzzing sound of crickets could be heard in the sea of black that had descended around them. The headlights still shining upon the graveled edge of the pavement looked alien and menacing with the silhouette of black trees against the dark blue horizon. Swiftly, she switched places with Jason, fitting snugly into the front seat and moving her buttocks back and forth slightly, enjoying the warmth he'd left behind, if only for the fact that it was a small piece of him. It reminded her vaguely of what she imagined sitting in his lap would be like.

Adjusting the rearview mirror slightly she said in a monotone voice, "I must be honest with you, gentlemen - it's probably been about 4-5 years since I've driven a car." With both hands firmly on the wheel, she turned to look Eric straight in the eyes with only the light of the glowing dashboard to illuminate her stony face and said, "And I have to say, I'm a little excited." She couldn't sound less excited if she tried, despite the turbulent emotions running through her now. Without waiting for a response, the wheels screeched slightly as they began spinning upon the asphalt and she barreled back onto the main road, almost running into other cars as she seamlessly blended back into traffic.

Stephanie did not just play with the speed limit - she frigging abused the gas pedal as if pressing on it harder and harder was something she had no control over. But as always, the smooth expressionless tone of her features did not change and she swerved perilously between other cars on the highway, going much faster than anyone else and waiting until the last moment before avoiding a collision with any of them.

"So, Eric, I have to ask you," she said still in her unwavering deadpan, the wind tossing her golden locks about her bare shoulders. "And I mean no disrespect, sir or to imply anything. You must know that I idolize you and have the utmost respect for you and your genius - if I had the ability to do so, I would be drooling over myself just from sharing the same car with you." The car jerked haphazardly to the right as she quickly changed lanes and changed back around someone going the actual speed limit. There wasn't even a blip on her radar and she barely twitched her leg to relieve the pressure on the gas pedal for the movement.

"There's something that's been bugging me about the targets escaping from the facility and it regards the account my partner gave me when I questioned him more in depth about it. I understand that there are certain things about your position that give you leverage over the rest of us here. But I'm not fond of secrets. My partner informed me that he was ordered to let the targets escape by none other than Nathan - the pet project you're so excited about." She swerved again cutting off someone trying to change lanes ahead of her. With the windows down the blaring of the horns from two other cars she flew past could be heard very clearly but she didn't seem to notice.

"Now, my partner is not a stupid man and he doesn't bend to authority very easily - has a habit of talking back, if you hadn't noticed. And I'm wondering what exactly happened to move him to obey someone that is clearly not an Agent let alone a superior one. I'm not asking you to part with sensitive information, and in fact letting the targets escape was indeed part of the larger plan anyway. But it's bothering me, sir, and I was wondering if you might shed some light on the situation that might set my mind at ease." The car sped past a large semi-truck, the breath of it's large frame gusting into the windows for the few seconds before they passed it completely and still Stephanie continued to zig-zag through traffic oblivious of nearly hitting everyone she passed.

"It's not a big deal," she said blandly, with a small shifting of her shoulders that could have been a less defined shrug. "I'm just curious is all."

***

Gwen was having headache problems of her own. Three people around her - one which she was trying to communicate with telepathically and trying to keep track of his thoughts on the current situation, another appeared to have memories of a long relationship with a "friendly stalker" and the last kept her busy trying to catch any thoughts that happened to flutter out of his walled up psyche. It was hard enough when she couldn't control the flow of what came into her head, but splitting her focus three ways seemed impossible. It seemed like every time she stopped to examine Ozzie's memories, Alex or Rudy would have a thought drawing her attention once more - with Rudy, if she wasn't there focusing on him when it happened, the thought or memory was like a shark fin appearing and then disappearing above the surface of deep, murky water.

Not to mention it was frustrating as hell that people still wanted to talk while all of this was going on. With Alex, it was alright, half of it was him articulating thoughts directly to her. But when Ozzie started speaking, it divided Gwen's already split attention and she found herself wishing for the woman to just shut up and think to herself quietly for a while.

"Yeah, great," Ozzie said with a roll of her eyes as Alex settled back in his chair and began closing his eyes. Looking to the seats just in front of them where Rudy had disappeared, she said, "I didn't mean to saddle you guys with this, but I really can't be alone with this guy. He's a fucking nutjob. I appreciate you guys for putting up with us." There was no offer to leave if they wanted her to - probing her memories, Gwen realized this was a bit of a habit for Ozzie to use other people as a distraction to get away from the man.

"Why don't you just tell the police?" Gwen asked as if it were an obvious solution, casting a sneering glare towards the backs of the seats in front of them. She knew what it was like to have to deal with someone's unwanted attention and she didn't like the kind of person who would try to own someone's life like that. "Sometimes, their involvement is all it takes to deter a stalker."

For a moment her attention was diverted back to Alex as he started to question and search for a response from Xander. She waited for a few seconds, focusing on him and waiting for a response but when he got none, she felt a pang of guilt run through her. He was probably still mad at her about her exploding on him earlier. She still didn't know how she was going to apologize or explain to him that she was grateful for all that he'd done, and Gwen began to worry that he'd be giving them the silent treatment for the rest of the trip and possibly not lend a hand to help them when they broke into the facility at Charlton. Even as Alex began to think through some sort of plan, Gwen knew as he did that they probably wouldn't make it in, let alone back out again, without Xander's help. Crap, why did she have to get mad at him now? Hopefully he'd get over it by the time they got there.

A slight tugging on her consciousness brought her to "peeping" over Rudy's shoulder as he typed busily at the tiny keyboard of his phone, with the speed of one who barely thought about the act of moving his finger over the keys. She wasn't able to directly read Rudy's mind, but she could see clearly what he was typing and the responses from the person he was messaging.

come on baby you know i luv ya . don't be like that .

I'm serious, Quin! Quit fooling around!

relx got it all under control . im not messing up this time .

"I can't. The cops already don't like me," Ozzie said, responding to her suggestion, pulling Gwen's attention from Rudy's conversation. "And I doubt that even if I was a perfect angel, they'd lend a hand. You just don't know this guy..." She trailed off as she got lost in thought and Gwen followed her along a trail of memories that told a very clear story.

Osono met Rudy 7 years ago when he'd first moved into her apartment building - the first in a long line of apartments that Ozzie had rented over the years - and he's introduced himself as a dorky kid possibly with a crush on her and trying to make friends. Despite his obvious failings of connecting with Osono on a social level - the two had very different interests in taste - he had an unassuming way about him that eventually had her tolerating him to the point where they were hanging out constantly. That's when the trouble started.

Inexplicably, people began to follow her, men in unmarked vehicles would appear out of nowhere and attempt to grab her and drag her off somewhere, men with mirrored sunglasses would corner her in alleys and any police she encountered seemed to want more than just what they appeared to want - a cop had pulled her over once for speeding and even though she'd been on her best behavior, he'd insisted on taking her down to the station as if she were suddenly a murder suspect. And it all happened whenever Rudy was around and despite the man's continued reactions of astonishment and incredulity in face of these situations, Ozzie had begun suspecting him right away.

Especially when she tried to run and he'd insisted on going with her to "help" her out. After being with him so much, it had been an afterthought and even though he didn't take the whole thing as literally as she did - he seemed to think he was in some geeky TV show about conspiracy theories or something - she was a little remiss to be alone. Now, she couldn't get rid of him except for short periods of time and only ever experienced trouble with these nameless people when Rudy showed up again.


Gwen's eyes opened wide a few inches to discover that and instantly latched back onto Rudy and his conversation, hoping to glean more from him and her heart jumped into her throat to read what was being typed.

target will be acquired this time . stuck on bus . sending schedule to you now .

Good. A squad will be waiting to pick her up at each, just in case she decides to disembark. Try not to alert her of anything this time.

wat? me? no way! have the bed sheets cleaned and redy 4 use . tomorrow will be coming in i guarentee it .

Alright, Casanova.


Instantly, her hand slipped into Alex's, their fingers molding together and she gave him a tense squeeze.

Trouble! she pulsed to him frantically. I didn't realize until now because he was just a little spotty and I couldn't get a firm handle on him - I didn't think anything of it at the time - but from what's in her memories and from his text conversation... I think he's an Agent and he's after her. It could cause problems if he figures out who we are, though.

"Ahhh, sorry about that," Rudy said with a sigh as he popped his head back over the seats, leaning over the backs to talk to them and tucking his phone into his pocket. "Friend of mine was wondering where I am - supposed to meet her for some hot sex later. Did I hear somebody say 'Xander' over here?" The abrupt switch in conversation itself was a bit disturbing, but the question itself got Gwen to tense up again and she squeezed Alex's hand once more. It didn't help that Rudy waited a few minutes before continuing on, seemingly not noticing or caring that Alex had his eyes closed.

"From Buffy, right? The Vampire Slayer? Great character and loved the show. Joss Whedon is a genius. Never really got into Angel though - seemed a bit too emo for my tastes what with the whole 'tortured soul' thing--"

Gwen had been distantly aware of Ozzie's anger when he switched onto the subject but it was still a bit of a surprise when the woman suddenly kicked the main seat that Rudy was leaning on. The hinge of its back was rather loose so it flopped forward easily and jolted him a bit. When he'd righted himself he looked at her levelly and with a mockingly serious tone of voice shook his finger at her and said, "That wasn't very nice. Now I know you're excited about the topic, but I was talking. You need to wait your turn. I'm sure we'd all love to hear your input on why Firefly shouldn't have been canceled."

"No, quit geeking up the bus or I'm gonna set your shorts on fire," Osono said in an irritated tone of voice. Gwen blinked when she got a flash of memories of Ozzie setting other things on fire and she realized that the woman didn't need matches to do so. She gave Alex another squeeze.

Rudy looked down at himself for a moment as if he were inspecting the current state of his undergarments and looked back up asking, "You mean they aren't already?" There was the slightest pause and then he smirked and licked a fingertip, placing it on his backside with a hiss.

While Ozzie was busy groaning at that, Gwen was pulsing to Alex,

He's contacted someone and they're going to have people waiting at all the stops - at least until she gets off. Do you think we should just wait or--

"So where are we headed?" Rudy asked Ozzie, seemingly having forgotten Gwen and Alex for the moment. "What stop are you getting off at?"

"What stop are you getting off at?"

"Hm, I asked you first."

"Yes, but my response is dependent on getting off at the stop after yours, hopefully with several miles separating us," was the terse response.

Rudy looked up at the ceiling and thought to himself for a few minutes before finally saying, "Yeah, I think we should get off at Hammondsport, then." It was the last stop on the bus's schedule. "We gotta stick together, Oz." Gwen promptly informed Alex about the bus schedule before thinking,

I think she will follow us until we get rid of him. Considering who he's working for, I think it'd be a good idea to do that as soon as possible anyway. Maybe we can get the bus to stop early...?

"How about I sing us a song?" Rudy said, taking out his phone again. "I've got They Might Be Giants and Weird Al in my music files--" he was jolted again as Ozzie gave another forceful kick to his seat, but he was more prepared for it this time and it barely unhinged him at all. "I know you're excited to hear my lovely voice, but your exuberance is making me feel bashful."

"Does that mean you'll shut up?"

There was a long pause as he continued to scroll through the music on his phone. "No," he said with an absent-minded smile.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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As Jason retold the report she'd been given, she listened closely to Eric's voice as he gave his answer, searching for any subtleties that weren't explicitly expressed in the words themselves. If there were, he was hiding it well, seemingly genuinely shocked about the circumstances of the targets escape. It was a bit of a let-down, but Stephanie still kept in reserve a bit of doubt. It seemed a constant now this feeling that someone was always keeping something from her or trying to deceive her in some way. Nobody could be trusted.

Her suspicious sniffing was brought to a halt however when Eric made the announcement about Jason's sudden demotion. Instantly, Stephanie's eyes skittered to the rear view mirror and she watched, while keeping a general eye on the road, as Jason's expression went from one of confusion, disbelief and then horror. Her heart began pounding wildly in her chest even as the car slowed to a more reasonable speed, and she was completely oblivious as all the people she'd almost crashed into before began passing her, throwing offensive gestures at her on their way by. She was completely wrapped up inside the car and operated the vehicle purely on auto-pilot.

When the stack of forms was passed into the backseat, she almost burst into a smile at the completely lost look on her partner's face, the expression instantly cut off at the A-1's offer to kill Jason instead. For a few seconds Stephanie's heart fluttered with excitement at the thought and possibility of Eric then transferring again - and into JASON no less! - but she grew sober at the idea of losing her toy. For the most part she returned to basking in Jason's misery as the first levels of what was happening to him were finally hitting home, each moment drenched in muscle twitches upon his face. She bit the inside of her lip to keep in a moan when she watched him realize he'd be losing his suit as well, the leather of the steering wheel creaking as her grip tightened to keep the emotions in as she beheld that barely hidden look of sorrow.

God, he was so fucking gorgeous right now. Empathy or pity was completely nonexistent inside her inner layers; there was nothing but pure unadulterated lust and desire. If only he were within reach! With a few well timed pinches and stabs with her fingernails, and a expertly aimed smack to the face, she could have gotten the tears to flow most definitely! The image of Jason blubbering helplessly or even screaming with rage excited her beyond belief and she had a bit of trouble focusing on the road as her vision began to swim. Good Lord! What was this man doing to her!?

There was a moment when her head cleared enough for her to feel a flash of protective anger when Eric bad-mouthed her partner, but upon rational consideration, she had to agree. She felt the same way. Jason had not turned out to be all that his rap sheet had played him up as and she realized she'd gotten to the point of not only expecting it but tolerating it. Which was why she hadn't thought to really punish him when he'd told her the reason he'd let the targets get away. She'd been...preoccupied anyway.

As the stack of papers was set beside her on the divider between the two seats, Stephanie's eyes couldn't help but leave the road, looking down at the still wet and sloppy signature. Even in the dim green lights she could see the shaky hand the letters were scrawled in, the absolute despair it articulated. It was a permanent scar upon his record and a statement of his submission to the authority of the higher ranked Agent. As forced as it had been, Jason had willingly put his name down on paper - like cutting off both of his arms and offering them up to the A-1 in a grand sacrifice to his will and dominance. It was a thing of beauty and something she wanted from Jason more than anything else he might be good for.

Even in the dashboard lights she could see the slight shine of moisture, her heart thundering in her ears and making everything else sound like it was coming to her through water. The hand on the inside of the car drifted from the steering wheel to lightly dab her slender middle finger upon the tail end of the last letter, coming away with a pinprick of dark liquid. Lifting it up, she looked at it and rubbed her thumb against it, smudging the wetness until it left a black stain upon her finger tip. Then she moved it to dip between her lips, her tongue touching upon the bitter stain to taste his glorious shame and humility.

"Mhn," she murmured in a soft, aroused grunt, before snapping to attention, her hand flying back to join the other on the wheel and righting it. Instantly, she stopped drifting into the left lane and was once again in her own, and she adjusted herself in her seat surreptitiously, realizing that she'd almost crashed them into somebody driving beside them. Clearing her throat, her voice wobbled just the tiniest bit before returning to her usual flat tone.

"J-jet? Well, we've just passed Mansfield a few minutes ago," realizing that she was going 10 under the speed limit, she started to reapply pressure on the gas pedal. "I hadn't planned on stopping until Hammondsport - it's 1/3 of the way there and seemed like good ground covered for the night. But I suppose we could fly if you want, sir..."

She trailed off into silence as she once again berated herself internally and desperately tried to reestablish the control she'd lost. What the fuck was going on inside her mind? It was becoming increasingly clear to her that whatever control she'd once had over every aspect of her personality, emotions and appearances was crumbling rapidly. But the worst part of this realization was that she was losing herself so deeply, she worried she wouldn't even be aware of it when she eventually lost her hold completely. Charlton. She just needed to hold out until Charlton. All of this wouldn't matter once she got inside Gwen's body. Then she would be free...

***


Hearing Alex mumble to her that they were getting off, she nodded slightly and felt a burst of comfort that he was handling things now. And even though Gwen was almost positive that Osono had Agents after her, Alex's thoughts about not letting her know that they were in the same boat seemed like a smart move. Although it did seem like a good idea to keep Ozzie with them - it always helped to have an extra set of powers under their belt especially if they were able to keep it a secret from the Agency. Just one more card up their sleeve. If Xander was planning on sitting this Charlton ride out, then they could use all the help they could get. No offense to Alex, but Xander really was like a superhero in berserker clothes.

And just like that, it was decided and none too soon either. Music started to play with heavy bass thumping through the speakers on Rudy's phone and his voice came out in a halphazard parody of singing.


"♫ They see me mowin' my front lawn, I know they're all thinking I'm so white n' nerday. Think I'm just too white n' nerday. Think I'm just too white n' nerday. Can't you see I'm white n' nerday. Look at me I'm white n' nerday! ♪ " Quin stopped and blinked as Alex rose from his seat and offered words of farewell, clicking at his phone to halt the music.

"Dude, you guys're leaving? Seriously, I can sing this just as fast as Al can! You're gonna miss a great performance by yours truly!"

When he saw that neither Gwen nor Alex was convinced to stay and they made their way into the aisle, he shrugged and said, "Hey, your loss. Have fun. Say goodbye, Oz." He was busily typing at his phone as Gwen, Alex and then Ozzie passed him heading to the front of the bus. "Oz? Oh? We're getting off now?" Stumbling out of his seat, he eagerly made to follow her.

"I am," she said in a dismissive tone and Gwen sensed that her following them without asking to tag along had something to do with her forcibly "adopting" them earlier. She'd done this countless times, never making any friends from it but riding on people's natural decency and generosity and sense of obligation to her once they'd met Rudy. It was either that or she set one of her new "friends" on fire and slipped away from Rudy during the chaos, which Gwen still didn't understand how she did that.

"Well, then I am too!" Rudy said tagging along behind her down the aisle. "I gotta watch your back! ...Usually because you're walking away from me. But we gotta stick together! I'm like the Goa'uld from Stargate SG-1--"

Quin flinched as Osono turned abruptly and made like she was going to punch him, but stayed her hand as she realized they were surrounded by people. "Quit it," she said simply and with a final glare at him, she turned and continued to follow Gwen and Alex off of the bus.

"So, did I hear you say something about food, Ben? I put my vote in for Mexican!" like a dork, as soon as they stepped off of the bus, Rudy raised his hand and waved it as if he were a kid in school, looking eagerly between the three of them. Upon closer inspection however, Gwen got the hint that he was doing it to draw attention to himself for anybody who could be waiting. Searching the crowd, she probed all the minds of those present and none of them had a hint of recognition to the young man. Still as they proceeded down the sidewalk in the dark, passing beneath the occasional streetlamp, the tension did not leave Gwen. It was especially not comforting when she noticed that Osono had looked through the crowd for the exact same thing and only when she'd satisfied herself did she start looking for something big and explosive to set on fire.

Although it was her usual method of escaping both her "borrowed" company and Rudy, Gwen was not eager to be in the middle of such destructive elements. Ozzie didn't usually leave behind anything good, literally a trail of blood and tears. "Er, Mexican sounds good! How about you...Ozzie? Where do you want to eat?"

"Don't care," was the response, and Ozzie did not look away from her perusal of the area to address Gwen, much to her dismay. Luckily, she was distracted a moment later as she noticed Rudy texting on his phone again and she began to get angry again.

"♫ First in my class here at M.I.T.- Got skills, I'm a Champion of DND- MC Escher that's my favorite MC...♪" he murmured to himself in song. "So, we're getting enchiladas? My treat, by the way. If they got 'em, does anybody else wanna try those habaneros with me? I totally dare you guys."

Gwen could feel his fingers moving to type their location and asking where his "team" was and she grew frantic wanting to stop him but not knowing how. Suddenly she sensed that Osono wanted to just knock the damn thing out of his hands - apparently she knew that he wasn't talking to some clandestine girlfriend on the gadget.

You should. Gwen pulsed inside the woman's head without thinking about it first, a sort of fuzzy feeling coming over her. Realizing what she'd done, she almost felt worried that she'd be discovered but then keeping the connection with the other woman, she blinked in surprise as Ozzie took the thought as if it were her own and proceeded to act on it.

Stepping toward Rudy forcefully, she slapped his hand and said, "Enough sexting! You're not fooling anyone into thinking you actually have friends!"

Her hand slammed into his and his loosely held phone sprung into the air from between his fingers, spun once before plummeting to the pavement. At the same time as Osono stepped forward however, she nudged into Gwen roughly and caused her to trip. By the time the phone clattered to the sidewalk a foot from Rudy's shoes, gravity was tugging Gwen down, her knee smashing into the screen and keypad with all her weight resting on it. There was a soft plastic crinkling as she gained a semblance of balance and started to move off of it.

A feeling of pathological hatred came from Rudy, but by the time Gwen looked up at him, it was gone and he was just left staring down at her in mortification. "I'm sorry, Rudy," she said pathetically, playing up the sorrowful tone in her voice. She looked down at the crushed and cracked phone beneath her and shook her head weakly. "I'm so so sorry..."

You don't know what sorry is, heifer...but you will.

Gwen instantly looked back up at him at that thought that passed through his consciousness, but as she did, a tight-lipped smile came to his lips. "It's fine, Stacy. Don't worry about it. Shit happens." Allowing him to help her to her feet, she could feel Osono smirking to herself pleased with how that had turned out - she'd been planning to stomp on the thing anyways - and Gwen dusted herself off. As she approached Alex's side again, she watched as Rudy bent to pick the phone up gingerly and looked at it as if he'd actually lost someone inside it. After a few moments, his expression cleared and he was following them again, but he was no longer as chipper as he was before.

Turning to Alex, Gwen pulsed,

Heh, I think I made a friend. Nobodies here looking for her yet, and he's currently really sad that nobody knows where he is right now - I got it before he sent his message - so that should buy us a bit more time.

"You know, it's been a long day for us, so I think I just want to get something quick, like take-out. Sound good to everyone? I'm not in a sit-down kind of mood." Rudy remained quiet with his hands in his pockets and Osono smiled at that, feeling a lot more at ease with being around them.

"I'm game for any kind of meaty something. Burgers?" Ozzie put in and looked first at Gwen then to Alex for approval.

Despite the pressure still being on with three people around, Gwen was feeling a lot better as they made their way further and further from the bus station.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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She didn't really know what to feel when he spoke up again, but any excitement or relief that might have been caused by Xander's reemergence was completely obliterated as she followed his pointing finger to the big fancy place at the end of the two blocks. There was no mistaking what establishment he meant and Gwen's shoulders slumped in dismay as she cast him an irritated look. See!? This was the kind of crap she'd been talking about! It would be so much easier, and quieter and even less risky if they just got a meal to go, found a secluded place to eat or even found a new vehicle and ate on the way out of here. These risks he kept taking put their lives in danger and it was completely unnecessary! She remembered a time when she'd thought he was doing it on purpose to leave a trail behind for those who were after them. She no longer felt that way, but still, he was trying her patience.

Right in the middle of sending him a pulse - Alex might not be able to convince him to eat somewhere more reasonable, but maybe if she got on her pretty little knees... - Gwen's thought was stopped short as he fell back beside the still moping and quiet Quin. The man had been poking gingerly at his cracked and dead phone trying to restore it to some semblance of life, and he blinked up at Xander distractedly. Looking down the block where they were headed, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Uh, sure thing, Ben. Whatever everybody wants. I insist on buying, so...go ahead and pig out."

There was a significant difference to Rudy's demeanor now, not only distracted but even a bit numb. There was no longer any melancholy like there had been before right after the phone had been broken, but he was definitely not focusing on what was happening right now. Busy planning perhaps? The phone was gone, but he might be able to get it working again - she was still unsure of what he was capable of and now, the wall around his thoughts was even more impenetrable than before.

Turning to Alex, she was just about to try and convince Xander to eat somewhere else - hell, even Mexican if she could sway him - but she was halted once again by the tone of his internal voice. So, he was still pissed at her. God, and what an asshole! It was like he'd only listened to half of what she'd said and filled in the rest of the story to make himself out to be the victim! Alright, she fully admitted that she'd been a bit harsh and she had failed to mention that she was indeed grateful, but with the way he was acting now, there was no way he'd get an apology.

"Shit! Come on!" a murmured whisper said behind her and she glanced back to see Rudy slapping his phone against his hand in frustration, while trailing far behind the rest of them. Also glancing back, a smile appeared on Osono's face and she leaned towards Gwen as they walked, holding her hand palm upward to her. Gwen knew what she wanted instantly, but still hesitated before lightly tapping her hand with her own in a small "five".

"I gotta hand it to you, Stacy, that team work back there was genius," she said, a cigarette appearing between her lips as she chuckled in a raspy voice. "I've never seen the kid so sad or so QUIET."

For a moment, Gwen was worried that somehow Ozzie had figured out that she'd talked in her head, but there was no hint of it in the woman's mind. "It was an accident," she said with a sheepish smile and a shrug. "I didn't mean to fall on his phone."

"Sure, sure," Ozzie said nodding and dipping the tip of her cigarette into her cupped palms. A light flickered from between the cage of her fingers, and Gwen held back a gasp when she sensed that the woman wasn't holding anything that could have created it. But it was gone in a split second and Ozzie was inhaling from her freshly lit cig and blowing out a thin cloud of smoke as she continued on, as if nothing had happened. Normally people didn't notice. Normally people didn't last long enough around her to even get a chance to notice.

"But I woulda curb stomped it anyhow and then he woulda been pissy at me and bitching in my ear until he gets a new one," she said with a roll of her eyes. "With you and your little "accident" he can't be mad." Um, that was doubtful, especially when she felt her shoulder blades itch from the murderous glare he cast in her direction.

So, fire. Now she knew why the Agents were after Osono and she thought about sharing the knowledge with Alex and Xander, especially since they were currently discussing the benefits of keeping her around. But she caught the tail end of Xander being a bastard again and she instantly shut up. Fine. He didn't need to know - he was so smart, he could figure it out on his own! As far as their group was concerned, she'd already made the decision for him. And she decided Osono was coming with them. Now, she'd just figure out how to convince her to stay with them before he got a chance to and the deal between the ex-Agent and Alex would be off, right?

Looking at the rebellious woman, she was definitely more relaxed now, her shoulders held at ease and sucking on her cigarette in a pleasant way. If there was a better time to get the woman to open up a bit more, then she wasn't going to wait for it. "Why did you want to destroy his phone?" Gwen asked curiously. "Seems like a mean thing to do. I mean, I know he's annoying - and that singing was awful - but it seemed a bit cruel."

"Trust me, babe. NOTHING is too cruel for that little twerp," she said casting her dark eyes at Gwen and for a few seconds their gazes met and she could sympathize with that. Probing the woman's mind, she realized Osono knew that there was a connection between the phone and the faceless men and women who occasionally showed up when Quin was around. She wasn't exactly positive that he called them on the phone or what exactly - there were memories where the phone wasn't involved at all in some instances; these people just suddenly knew where she'd be and were waiting - but she knew that it was used as a signal of some kind at least half of the time.

She'd often contemplated destroying it, but when Rudy was unhappy, he was aggressively whiny and hitting him or threatening him did not shut him up. So, she was left weighing the benefits of getting rid of the phone and having to deal with the big baby. Lucky for her, Gwen's little "push" had basically made her think "Screw it!" and bought her some much needed relief. She was always on edge and needed a little break from running and destroying things and now she had at least a little time to relax.

Ozzie thought about sharing this information with Gwen and she wavered for a few moments, sucking deeply on the cigarette as she thought it through.
Gwen was a little disheartened when she decided not to but didn't have time to let the emotion register as Ozzie's hand went around her waist so they were hip to hip in a small hug. The gesture was a lot like the squeeze Xander had given to Rudy when they'd had a "pal" talk.

"Just know that you did me a really big favor, alright? I know it was an accident, but seriously, I owe you one," she said, shaking Gwen's body just a little before releasing her.

That made Gwen smirk a little. "Hey, no problem. I'm a pretty clumsy person; If it means getting him to be quiet, then I'll fall for you, anytime," it was meant to hint that their time together would be longer than Ozzie's normal encounters, but the wordplay made Gwen blush and Ozzie laughed.

"By the way, Stacy, I gotta ask...what is the deal with your boyfriend? Is he a tweaker or what?" She was currently referring to Alex's speedy walk added with the fact that he was clearly murmuring to himself.

"Uh...He has antisocial personality disorder..." Gwen said uncertainly. Osono had no idea what that meant but nodded her head slightly anyways, looking at his back. She at least knew what "antisocial" meant but all of it together just sounded like psychobabble to her.

"And schizophrenia," Gwen added. That was immediately understood and even though she was using the word incorrectly, Ozzie had been taught by pop culture to think the word meant "split-personality".

She sucked on her cigarette thoughtfully and breathed out a sigh of smoke. "Intense shit," she said, nodding slowly, almost as if in approval. She didn't really understand why, but Gwen was even more fond of the woman for that. Normally, hearing that someone had any sort of mental disorders like the ones she'd rattled off for Alex, they would have instantly been wary of being around the person - especially when it was obvious that he was unmedicated - and probably would have tried to put as much distance between themselves and the "crazy" person as possible. The fact that Osono was unaffected by the news and even seemed somewhat morbidly interested in the man, made Gwen feel better about how she'd gotten caught up with Alex in the first place. She wasn't alone in her fearlessness around the "mentally unbalanced".

As they came to a stop in front of the restaurant, near a high vaulting fountain with multiple tiers, Gwen decided to try once more to appeal to Xander's sense of sanity. "Please, can we go somewhere else? I'm really not in the mood for a sit down place. It's also not fair to make Rudy pay for all of us to eat here. And they probably won't even let us in anyways - these types of places usually have a dress code."

Not to mention the fact that these places are like Agent magnets, she pulsed at Xander. Are you naturally this absent-minded about your habits or are you doing it on purpose now just to spite me? Because I totally GET it - you're NOT trying to get us killed by engaging in this immature bullshit. Boy, you sure know how to prove me wrong.

"Please, can we just go somewhere quieter with less...pomp and pizazz?" she was practically begging him and the desperation could be heard clearly in her voice. Just once! Let him be reasonable when he wasn't too tired to put up a fight. Just. Once.

Gwen's complaining got Osono to think that her new friend was upset though. Smoothly, Ozzie slipped up to Gwen, a slender finger with a few hard silver rings upon it nestled beneath her chin tilting her head up as Ozzie's lips pecked her lightly on the mouth. The impulse was so sudden and immediate, Gwen didn't have time to sense what she was going to do before she did it. She blinked and blushed beet red, but as Osono drew away, she sensed from the other woman that the "smooch" was merely intended to unsettle her as well as showing a hint of friendly affection.

"Cheer up, Stace. Me and Rudy will take care of everything. Besides, I know schizo's got his heart set on this place. Right?" she winked at Alex and looked for Rudy, who instantly tucked his phone away and hurried to follow both women into the establishment. As she passed him, Ozzie gave a small friendly punch to Alex's shoulder and Rudy murmured an embarrassed "Heh." before the three of them disappeared through the spotless front doors. Gwen cast a glance back towards Alex, even as reluctant as she was being dragged along by her new friend.

Inside, the ceiling went all the way up to the second floor, vaulted with intricate moldings in the arches and painted an creamy white with light green accents, cut in half by a second floor that covered only half of the restaurant and around the sides. Two large chandeliers, ornate and unbelievably complex, hung from the ceiling, one lower than the other to accommodate the ground floor. And right before the doors was a marble desk, cream colored with dark green veins running through the stone and gleaming. A grand stair case stood a few feet behind it and went up about midway between the first and second floors before branching off to the right and left. The bottom floor before the stair was littered with tables and there were more clustered in groups along the walls beneath the overhanging walkway. Behind the stairs was the kitchen and above it, was the main hall of the upper floor littered with the priciest tables. Music was being played from somewhere above, from an indoor instrument.

As Rudy approached the counter, he handed the maître d’ a card pulled from his pocket just in time for the man to look up and regard their rag-tag group. "A table for 4, please," he said adopting a smooth, haughty tone of voice.

"Sir, I'm terribly sorry," the man behind the counter said, eying them each - but especially Osono - with distaste. "But you'll have to leave. We cannot serve you here."

"No, I believe you'll be more than remiss if you refuse my business," Rudy said in a low voice, giving the man an easygoing smile as he passed an I.D. across the counter as well. The manager cocked an eyebrow and sighed but took the card and looked it over. After a moment of staring he blinked and his tone changed. Probing his mind, Gwen sensed that he recognized the name as a prestigious family that Rudy was the youngest son of.

"My mistake, Mr. Quin," the man said in a deferential tone, a dutiful smile coming to his lips as he handed back the I.D. "Would you prefer a table on the top or bottom floor this evening, sir?"

"Top. And could we get the singular table in the center of the room, please?" He cast a look back at the three of them and said, "I'd like to treat my friends well."

"I'm very sorry, sir, but there are 4 reservations for that table the rest of the evening," the maitre d' was definitely sorry that he couldn't fulfill that request and praying that Rudy wouldn't be angry with him.

But Rudy was not bothered or hindered by such an admission. "They can sit somewhere else. I'll pay extra for those seats - more than any of those reserving it will, I'm sure - just scan the card."

"Yes, of course," the man, bowed his head with another tight smile and slid the bank card through the small machine, instantly getting a beep of approval. "Enjoy your meal at La Madeleine and if there is anything else you need, do not hesitate to ask, sir." Handing the card back to Rudy, another man, shorter and in a plain tuxedo, approached them. Several menus were tucked under his arm and he waited for them to follow him.

"Thank you," Rudy said with a smile and put the cards away before leading the way trailing the new waiter to their table.

On the ground floor, they passed a large fountain in the middle of the room as they walked in a line down the thick aisle between the opulent tables. Several people who were already seated were dressed in lush evening gowns and finely tailored suits and many of them paused to stare as they passed by. Gwen had grown somewhat used to this from her first time eating someplace big with Xander, and Rudy didn't seem to care either way. Osono was also used to turning heads, but she made a point of sneering and glaring at people, surreptitiously making lewd gestures as they passed, causing the innocent bystanders to instantly avert their gazes nervously.

On the second floor, the space spread out on all sides, but most notable was the large ceiling to floor windows against the far wall, overlooking the gardens and fountains surrounding the property. A grand piano was being played nearby. The waiter led them to a table that was right in the middle of the room, with both a clear view from the doors below and from anyone outside in the street below. The table itself was covered in a richly woven white table cloth, with their napkins folded into the shapes of doves and several different forks and knives at each place setting. The chairs were all cushioned and carved with intricate designs and all one piece, heavy as the servers pulled them out for each of them to be seated .

The waiter hastily plucked the "reserved" sign from the tabletop with a white gloved hand and began reciting specials as he handed out the menus to everybody. "Tonight, the specials are the Veal Tenderloin and crab cake served on a crispy potato galette with truffle and lobster sauces, the Fricassee of Snails and wild mushrooms with green asparagus, served in a puff pastry shell and the French onion soup gratinéed with swiss emmenthal. Can I start everyone off with some drinks?"

Rudy looked over the menu with an eager eye and when he spoke, he'd adopted his usual dorky tone. "Do you guys have any soda pop?"

The waiter paused and said, "We have fountain drinks, yes. Basic Pepsi products, sir."

"Hm, that's a 'No' for orange soda, then? Alright, just give me a regular cola."

The waiter took the rest of their drink orders and promptly left them alone, and finally Rudy turned to Alex who sat on his right side at the table. "My family owns a few hospitals, all big time doctors and whatnot. Except me, heh. But anyways, I get a big allowance every month just to disappear and keep quiet, and it allows me to do pretty much whatever I please. So, there's no price limit. Get as much as you guys want." It was more than clear that Rudy was enjoying the moment and being able to splurge on new friends, but there was the slightest hint of something else. Almost smugness. Whatever it was, it made Gwen nervous to be here in the middle of everything where everyone could see them.

"I use to take Ozzie to places like this all the time back in Grissom. But...well, she couldn't stop getting into trouble - she's like a magnet for chaos. So, I kinda just stopped trying, heh." He shrugged at the glare she gave him and laughed sheepishly. "Well, what's the point of setting up a luxurious and expensive meal, if something always happens to upturn the table?"

Conspiratorially, he whispered at Alex, "Hopefully nothing will go wrong, but I apologize before hand, Ben ole buddy, if anything happens that I can't control. The girl is like a frigging tornado." There was nothing but affection in the comment but still, Ozzie took a sip of her water and spat it at him. "Or some other natural disaster."

***


Focus. Focus. Focus. she intoned in her head, the blank mask once more in place over her features, smoothing them out to stonily regard the road. Stephanie kept an ear out with the current conversation but mostly her attention was on driving, trying to focus on something other than her partner for once. She had to reestablish control. There was no excuse for this behavior and how she kept on slipping. Looking back on all that had happened, she began to grow frantic as she realized it was getting worse. What had happened? It was easy enough to blame Jason, but that hadn't been the start of it, it had merely been a symptom. Even back in the apartment, she'd made the foolish impulsive decision to stay behind rather than follow Benoit's plan. With that in mind, it almost made the progression of events feel inevitable.

No! I'm in control. I'm in control! I'm in CONTROL!! It wasn't too late to fix this and correct her current errors. Obviously, something was wrong and her training with the Emotion Desensitization Program was unraveling. Maybe she'd grown soft with it after keeping it employed constantly for such a long period of time? If that were the case, then she needed to return to the basics. That made her remember the moment of it's birth in her mind all those years ago.

It had been the night Richard had left on reassignment. The Agency had recently become official and she had just completed her training as an A-6 level Agent. During her training in the previous three years, Stephanie had been a bit unruly and known within the tighter circles for being especially kinky. It was a novel and taboo subject in her hometown area and she was used to being sought out in secret or seducing her fellow Agents in training. Very rarely did anything last very long, as those looking to be dominated by a woman broke easily and those who weren't didn't measure up enough for her to willingly submit. Either way, her partners had been many and brief. It kept her from growing bored.

Her proclivities were so exciting to the Agents stationed in her hometown, that she was surprised to find someone else familiar with the lifestyle. So, Richard was unique, like her and they both stood out in the crowd of vanilla lovers. As her training manager, he'd been in a position of authority over her and nothing, not even the private lives of his trainees, went unnoticed by Graninger. Her propensity for eating men for breakfast, lunch and dinner, was a hot topic and her personality intrigued him.

She had been wild and untamed, and he was dominant and merciless. Upon some of their first conversations, she'd hated the way he directed her conversation and had tried to rebel in small ways whenever she could. It did not slip by him however, and he pushed his authority upon her and forced her to submit when giving him reports of her training exercises. Always demanding so much of her, to the point where she felt helpless to resist and assert her own identity. It got to the point where she'd willingly given him everything he wanted, and his praise was like the light of the sun upon her making her bloom.

With everyone else, she was a cold-hearted bitch, but Graninger could get her to go through all of her combat exercises 20 times over in an hour if he so desired it. Needless to say, the two were connected, a perfect match, and when they became lovers, Stephanie grew and blossomed beyond what she would have been capable of under her own steam. So, naturally, when he made plans to leave to an assignment up north, she felt as if he were abandoning her. He wished for her to stay in that small city where she'd grown up among a bunch of amateur nobodies. Where her new promotion to A-5 would mean something and she'd be able to make a difference. Put simply, he'd grown bored of her. And she'd learned all she could from him. Love or anything like it could not keep them together any longer.

There had been a lot of pain and anger after he left and as she was assigned to first one case and then another, the stress of her emotions and pining for her ungrateful lover became too much. It was either 'get rid of them' or 'lose her status as a rising star in the Agency'. Driving the car now, zooming past other drivers and her hair blowing in the cold night wind, she remembered that pain. Crying at night alone in the bed she'd shared with Richard, aching as if her heart were being torn in half all over again, months after his departure. And then the hatred of him, the absolute loathing for the mess he'd left her in, forcing her to be strong without him after he'd demanded her complete dependency for years. How cruel! It all seemed distant now, like a small light flickering far away and barely noticeable except when she concentrated on it.

As the Nathan case had come to a head and Maggie was inserted into the kid's brain, she'd began to worry about her future cases and others she might be working with. Her emotions were slowing her down and she couldn't bear to replace the love she'd lost - it would have all been phony anyways; no one could ever compare to that man. Those emotions needed to be gotten rid of and shut off somehow. She needed to stop feeling.

A lot of the first steps in the EDP that she developed had to do with meditation, and clearing her mind. Studying cognitive psychology, she was able to add a more scientific and mental approach to systematicall separating her psyche from itself and constructing internal walls. And finally, to help grease the wheels and broaden her focus, she'd utilized entheogens - psychoactive drugs to affect her chemistry and help the process along.

Now thinking back on it, she'd had the most success in constructing the different layers while using Atropytamine. She needed to go back to the basics to reestablish the crumbling layers and that would be done most efficiently if she had the drug in her system. But she hadn't needed to take any since the first year of becoming the Lead Agent on Gwen's case and thus didn't have any back at her base and most certainly none on her at this moment.

Her attention was drawn back into the car once she heard Jason asking questions about the transfer process. Something about the questions themselves made her look at him in the rearview, just in time to catch him shrugging at Eric. 'Just innocently curious' my ass, she thought, giving him a penetrating look. What are you thinking of, my little pet? What plots are brewing in that beautiful, curly head of yours?

Whatever. All she knew was that if the bastard got between her and her goals, he wouldn't be alive long enough to mourn the loss of his suit. As soon as they got a moment alone, she'd make sure he knew that - and she'd let him know WITHOUT losing her focus! She couldn't afford to lose any more ground or to play any of these silly games. The less...intimate contact she had with Jason, the better, and she was certain he'd gone on failing long enough. He'd just been demoted to A-6 but she'd make him feel it with a crushing stiletto heel.

As they entered the airport, she swerved around back, the wheels gliding over the smooth runway to where the smaller, private business jets were kept. The car skidded sideways for several meters as she came to a rushing stop beside the line of jets and she left her seat barely blinking an eye at the smell of burned rubber. Turning to Benoit, she wondered if she might ask him about the drug but there was really no reason for him to be carrying it. Besides that, she got the feeling that ever since Jean's death, he had a shorter fuse in regards to her and her partner - he had to make up for the lack of glaring dislike being expressed for them, afterall. Then she glanced at Eric and began wondering about his seemingly bottomless pockets. Would it be untoward for her to ask him about it? Probably. But she really didn't have a choice. She was losing her mind and she didn't trust herself to survive the plane ride without slipping even further.

Coming around the car to his side, she touched his arm as he began to approach the planes, and stopped him. When she spoke, her voice was low so as not to be overheard by the other two men and in a firm monotone. "I'm sorry to bother you, and I know this is probably unprofessional of me," God, she was such an idiot! Focus. "But I was wondering if there was a slight chance you might have any Atropytamine or any other psychotropics on you, that I might be able to borrow." Please, don't ask me to explain why. PLEASE. Don't ask me to explain why.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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As the small carton was handed over to her, Stephanie smiled in her internal layers, her fingertips burning and tingling as she grasped the box laying between her and the one thing that would ensure her continued success. Nodding her head dutifully at his instructions, she took the sheet of paper from him and waited with bated breath for him to inquire about it's use. He didn't. And she wouldn't tell him. No doubt he didn't care either way actually. None of them needed to know how badly things had gotten for her. In another 48 hours, it wouldn't matter.

This was her ticket to finishing this case without a hitch. If she took these drugs it would help her re-establish the control that was eagerly slipping from her fingers with every passing moment and it would help her remain firmly rooted to her goals. No more mistakes. No more impulsive behavior. No more emotions. That truly was the best part of this whole thing, was the erasure of the weakness within her heart.

She was busily looking over the papers Eric had given her - just a simple form, already filled out with an empty line at the bottom waiting for her signature - when Jason was there interrupting her thoughts and invading upon her privacy. All at once, she found herself getting angry with his questions and especially his tone. Who the hell did he think he was? She knew what she was doing and she didn't need him to look over her shoulder and make sure she was doing the things she was suppose to. If the A-1 didn't give a shit then Jason certainly had no right to pry and worry about her.

Besides, he just didn't understand. How could he even begin to comprehend what it was like for her the constant pressure and struggle that brewed within her- especially when her first impulse after he told her to do what she wanted was to choke his stupid ass until he passed out. It wasn't easy and she hated him for even assuming he was in any position to give her a fucking lecture. She knew what was at stake and she knew what she needed to get the job done.

Thankfully, he left her after that and she let out a small breath, turning the case over in her hand nervously until she consciously forced herself to stop. She didn't have a choice anyways. Everything was falling apart around and within her and she needed to do something. If Eric or even Benoit knew or found out how bad things were getting... Suddenly nausea overcame her at the prospect of being taken off of her case and a second after that she felt the urge to scream when thinking of someone else being assigned to capture Gwen. Her Gwen. Is that what Jason wanted? For her just to break down and be removed from duty? No, he couldn't possibly understand.

Watching him and Eric standing on the steps of the plane, she couldn't hear their conversation but found herself growing annoyed when she noticed Jason looking back towards her a few times. The little prick! What was he saying? No doubt Eric and Benoit had noticed something wrong with her behavior, but most certainly Jason knew something was wrong with her. He was an A-6 now, she really shouldn't be worried... He wouldn't dare to complain about her now would he? Oh, God and what if he was telling Eric about the things she'd done to him!? Was he filing an official complaint!?

No... No, he couldn't. He wouldn't dare. It seemed fairly plausible however, especially with how he'd finally gotten out of her reach long enough to say something to someone. But even as she sweated about it and fiddled with the case in her hands, she realized how absurd it was. No, he wouldn't. He just wouldn't. Calming down somewhat, she looked at the case in her hand and realized, from the panic in her frantically beating heart, that she needed these now more than ever. She could not wait a moment longer. Tucking the sheet of paperwork she'd been given away in her pants pocket, she ran a hand through her hair and let out a harsh breath before opening the case.

It opened like a small book with three small vials tucked in little straps on one side and four hypodermic needles about as long as her middle finger and half as thick on the other side. The backing of the case was a black material, something akin to velvet. Gently she ran her fingers over the vials, turning each of them slowly around so she could see their labels and she hissed through her teeth when a small tremor ran through her wrist. This insanity would stop now. Roughly, she took out the vial labeled Atropytamine and one of the syringes, closing the case and tucking it under her arm as she uncapped the needle.

Her hands were steady as she appropriated the right amount of liquid into the needle, even moreso when she realized how little privacy she currently had and the fact that she didn't even care. Just a few seconds and it would all go away. Just a few more seconds and she would no longer need to worry about forcing herself to stay under control.

One dosage - 10 ml - and she set the vial aside with the case as she looked for a vein. She glanced up for just a moment to see if Eric and Jason were still speaking - her partner appeared to have angered the A-1 from what she could decipher from body language - and she tapped at the inside of her elbow. She didn't have time to mess around with a tourniquet, but luckily she didn't have to as her aim got her precisely what she wanted on the first try. Without a hint of hesitation, she pushed the pump down and watched the clear, slightly purple/gray liquid fill her arm.

After it was done, she recapped the needle and started to tuck it away before a small hum began to grow within her body. A breath she felt the need to release was cut off as a sharp tingling began first in her skin and then her eyes. She remembered this feeling very clearly now and she would have smiled in satisfaction if she was capable of it. The effects of the drug made her feel both numb and hyper sensitive. When she looked around, it seemed nothing escaped her attention - immediately knowing how many jets were lined together on the runway, distances between them and the spatial relation between herself, the jet they were boarding and the car, her hair loosely blowing about her shoulder in the cool night air, even right down to some debris and sand that had not been cleared away from the smooth asphalt - all the information taken in at once and filed away in the appropriate slot in her mind.

Her body was suddenly standing more rigidly as if she was a collection of steel girders inside instead of bone and flesh, and her pupils were dilated leaving nothing but a sliver of grey-green iris around them. And inside she was a hollow shell. The worry and paranoia, the anger and shame, even the lust that had been haunting her inner layers - all of it was silent and dead. There was nothing but a thick cloud of nothingness where her heart should be. Perfect, she thought in a bored fashion as she put the vial back into the case and tucked it away in her back pocket.

As Jason called to her, she walked with a quick and sure step back towards the car, opening the door and reaching in for the paperwork she still needed to sign about Jason's demotion. Stephanie glanced in the backseat and saw her suit coat and hair tie, but left them both there as she slammed the door shut and approached the plane. Climbing the steps, she said in a hollow voice, completely drained of humanity, "Do not assume you know anything about me. Ever. And mind your place lest I stick you in a grave."

She felt nothing stir within as she slid past him making sure not to touch him as if doing so would infect her somehow. Her eyes swept over him, taking in every detail within a matter of seconds - the curl and texture of his hair, the worn and weary look on his face, the fibers of the suit he was wearing - before she'd fully passed him and entered the plane.

Within, there was a large amount of space between the seats, the aisle big enough to stand two people side-by-side and each seat as large as a comfortable leather loveseat with leg room to spare. Stephanie passed the galley as she walked into the main seating area and her eyes swept over everything in a bored fashion, internally hyper and making note of everything from the temperature of the air circulating through the space, to the wood grain of the panels on the walls. The rows of seats themselves faced each other, the first seats with their backs facing the front of the plane and the other two, occupied by Benoit and Eric, facing forward. Moving almost robotically, Stephanie took her seat to the right of the entrance and settled in as much as the drug in her system would allow.

When Jason was seated, she listened ambivalently to the sounds of the door closing and the jet starting to move on the runway finally picking up into the air. A small table was flush against the wall on it's side and hinged to her seat, and Stephanie pulled it out to set the paperwork down on it. Clicking the smiley pen once, she found where she needed to sign - not even a ripple going through her at the sight of Jason's wobbly signature - and she quickly laid down her name in a severe yet beautiful scrawl. She took out the other sheet Eric had given her for the medication and repeated the gesture, every line of her name in exactly the same spot as if she'd printed it out from the tip of the pen.

She was in the middle of clicking the pen back into place when there was a gentle hand on her shoulder. Through the fog that now consumed her, Stephanie felt a ripple of irritation as her sensitive skin took in every detail of the light touch - the weight of the hand, how many fingers were touching her, the texture of the other person's skin. Along with the contact came a feeling of warmth and along with that a surge of panic that she was feeling anything at all. It needed to stop.

"Ma'am, would you like a drink--Aaaahh!!!" the stewardess's calm and friendly voice cut off sharply in a cry of pain as Stephanie's hand whipped out lightning fast to grasp the other woman's fingers.

As a reflex, her own touch was not pleasant in the least as she held the woman's first three fingers and bent them back violently. Slowly, as if she was just now becoming aware of what she was doing, Stephanie turned to look at the hand she held, her eyes darkly tracing over every muscle and bone in the awkwardly arching fingers. She could feel the woman's muscles spasm in pain, the bones of her fingers creaking together threatening to snap with more pressure applied, and the woman stood beside her in the aisle whimpering and swaying in agony, begging in a soft plaintive voice for Stephanie to release her.

There was the tickle of something deep within, but Stephanie was so numb she could not decipher what it was - pleasure or discomfort, it was hard to tell which one. There was a moment when the stewardess's voice moaned sharply as Stephanie began to bend her fingers even more, seemingly effortlessly trying to break her hand, but it stopped as Stephanie suddenly let go.

The woman nursed her wounded fingers and Stephanie stared up at her with cold eyes and said in a completely dead monotone, her voice inhuman with it's lack of any hint of emotion, "Do not touch me. I'm not fond of physical contact."

The woman got a horrified look on her face and cradling her hand, rushed off towards the galley behind Stephanie's seat. Ignoring the muffled weeping she heard just behind her head, Stephanie moved the table back into it's spot against the wall and held out the papers to Eric, the sheet for the chemicals on top of the other paperwork. After he took them back, she sat back in her seat, her spine straight as an iron pole and every muscle tense and ready for action. Turning to the window, she looked out as the city lights grew smaller below them, nestled in a sea of black like the night sky reflected above, feeling nothing but bored and restless in response to the sight.

Eventually, the stewardess came back out of the galley, her hand neatly wrapped in bandages and she inquired about beverages or snacks for the occupants of the jet - and it was more than obvious when she made an effort not to touch Stephanie, her manner even more meek and tremulous when asking her questions, seemingly loathe to engage the female Agent at all. Pitiful and unprofessional, were Stephanie's thoughts as she ordered nothing but water from the woman casting her out of mind as if she were nothing but an insect. In her current state, it did not occur to her to be alarmed that she'd had the impulse to hurt the woman in the first place.

***


"Well," Rudy said smiling suggestively towards Osono at Alex's question - he received another glare in return as the woman began to play with her knife on the table. "It's a bit complicated but I used to live in a loft in the Financial District in Grissom but I wasn't making a lot of friends with the people my parents and brothers knew and kept pissing people off for some strange reason." He rolled his eyes and shrugged as if he just couldn't fathom why as if even the thought of someone not liking him was an absurd idea.

"Anyways, so, I decided to slum it for a while and moved into the same apartment building Ozzie was in. She was the first person I met and we instantly hit it off." From Osono's memories, Gwen sensed that wasn't in the least bit true. Rudy seemed at least somewhat perceptive in mentioning that people didn't like him, but from his first encounters with Osono, he acted like he couldn't tell when someone didn't want him around. Under normal circumstances, not knowing what he was, his persistence in following the young woman around could have been disregarded as him being an oblivious moron. But Gwen knew that it was all an act and Ozzie knew it to some degree as well.

It was like a game the two played, to not let each other know what they really knew about each other. From what she gleaned of Osono's personality, Gwen couldn't grasp why she'd put up with him like that for so long - she obviously knew he was involved with Agents somehow and even Rudy's demeanor wasn't a very good act and would likely fall apart if he was confronted. It seemed that at least half of the time, Osono fell for the "geeky little brother" act he played with her and the other half, she was thinking of ways to escape the chaos he always brought down upon her.

"Ever since then, we've been tight," Rudy said, casting a fond smile at Ozzie. Osono said nothing back, but Gwen got a very clear image in her head of Rudy being shoved into traffic and getting run over by a semi-truck.

As Gwen eavesdropped on Rudy and Osono's thoughts during his tale, she also listened idly to Alex and Xander's conversation behind the menu curtain he'd put up. She found herself blushing occasionally at the things they said but was especially wondering about Xander's current plan. What did he mean? What was he thinking? She blinked at Alex in relief when he stood and started to excuse himself - asking for her assistance - and Gwen tried to ignore Ozzie nudging her with her elbow.

"I can help you, Ben," Rudy said, hopping up from his seat before Gwen could even move. "I need to take a leak anyway. Ozzie, can you get me the Shrimp Crepe Florentine?"

"Eat shit, loser."

"That's great. Thank you," he said with a smile as if she'd said something more pleasant, again seemingly oblivious to the hate the woman had for him.He heard what he wanted to hear.

Gwen looked at Alex helplessly and pulsed to him,

I would join you, but I don't know how to convince Rudy not to go. He says he's gotta pee and he really does. It would be odd for me to come with you guys. I'll stay here and keep an eye on things, okay? We'll talk about this in a little bit.

Already, Rudy was ushering Alex away from the table, saying, "Come on, let's take a look at that foot, buddy. What did you say was wrong with it? Quite a limp ya got there. Heh, you're walking like that dude in District 9. Are you changing into an alien species perhaps? If so, I probably can't help you..." And on and on he chattered, citing this TV show and that, talking Alex's ear off as he lead the way to the restrooms.

Turning to Osono, Gwen blinked as she leaned towards her and said in her raspy voice, "I was about to tell you two to get a room with the googly eyes you both were trading back and forth. So, he's a kinky fella, huh? And sorry about Quin - he has difficulty understanding social cues, in case you didn't already notice."

"Oh, no, I mean, well," Gwen said uncertainly. "Well, I mean, yes, I noticed."

***


"And it was hinted in the final episode of season 3 that the Face of Bo was actually Jack Harkness," Rudy's energetic voice went on as they entered through the bathroom door together. "Can you comprehend the implications of that? It's absolutely mind-blowing!" There were three other men in the room with them, one at a urinal and another washing his hands and the bathroom attendant sitting on a stool by the sink. The sink continued the cream and green veined marble of the front desk and the accents of the larger rooms of the restaurant were repeated here in miniature.

As he stood at a urinal, Rudy went on, either unaware of whether or not Alex was interested or ignoring the fact that he wasn't. "And the Waters of Mars has got to be the scariest shit I've ever seen in my life, just short of a Xenomorph and a child zombie. Near the end, I think the moral complications about what the Doctor did to save those people from the base and changing history was extremely profound." As he finished and zipped back up, he gave Alex a raised eyebrow look and said with absolute sincerity, "Doctor Who is the best show out there, hands down."

The last man left the room as he approached the sink, whistling the Doctor Who theme song as he washed his hands and took the towel to dry them from the bathroom attendant. "So, Ben, what exactly happened to your foot, if I might ask?" There was something flippant and distracted about his voice as he spoke, almost as if he were just speaking to say something. Walking to the door, he nonchalantly turned the lock with a harsh click.

"Sir, please, don't do that. Other customers will need to..." the elderly bathroom attendant said in mild protest. As Rudy turned around, he reached into his pocket and pulled out what could have been a cross between a beeper and a lighter. As his hand smoothly and quickly raised to point it at the man, a small mechanical clicking resounded and the thing grew with intricate parts and pieces to envelop his hand. In the seconds it took to have his arm up and aiming at the old man, the gun had fully formed around his hand with his finger on the trigger. A small whine started a second before an orange flash left the vertically oblong muzzle and the light left the gun to disappear into the old man's body.

"Grk!" was what came from the attendant's mouth in a brutal cry as he seized up and fell off his stool, falling to the ground in a heap. Without missing a beat, Rudy turned from the door to point the gun at Alex, a severity entering his features that was not there before.

"Sorry, Ben, but this is the way it's gotta be," he said with a flash of that same geeky smile. He was clearly not sorry in the least. "It's Stacy, man! If she'd just kept her fat, clumsy, cow ass away from my phone! Everything I had was on that thing and she had the nerve to fucking sit on it! I mean, you should know - no one should ever come between a man and his gadgets. Luckily, I will be able to transfer any data from it to the new one I get, but it's unforgivable. Your girlfriend is gonna die, brah. And because I can't stand when people get all sentimental and shit and come after me for revenge or whatever, I'm just gonna clean up the whole mess this time and kill you too."

He smiled happily again, cool and steady as ever. "Any last words?" his finger inched over the trigger and the high-pitched whining started as the weapon charged to fire again.

***

Gwen was sipping at her water, following Alex's thoughts as he disappeared into the bathroom with Rudy and contemplating how to ask Osono to join them. How should she play it? If she came out with the whole truth outright, it might scare her off and she'd be suspicious. But if she fibbed or kept from her where they were really going and what they were getting into, it would be a betrayal of her trust when she finally found out and it didn't seem fair to ask her along when she had no clue what was really going on.It was a tricky situation and if she didn't handle it properly, they could lose her.

A waiter came up to the table with a basket of breadsticks and set them down before asking, "Does everyone know what they want? Or should I wait for the gentlemen to return?"

"No, we're good, and all set," Osono said with a rough smile. Pointing at Rudy's seat she said, "For that turd right there, if you guys have any stray animals running around out back, or some manure for the gardens lying around..."

An odd feeling came over Gwen then as she looked past the waiter. At first, she hadn't noticed anybody and there was barely a signature coming from that area, but as she stared and listened to Osono paint a fowl picture for Rudy's order, Gwen saw somebody standing there. Blinking, she reached out and probed the area roughly until she realized there really was someone there and her eyes widened as she noticed he was holding a weapon and pointing it at the table. Gwen ducked under the table with a small yelp as she felt the man in the suit start to pull the trigger, but at the same time, Ozzie rose from her seat and hurled her stake knife like a dagger. Catching the guy in the chest, he toppled over and Gwen raised herself up in her seat to look around.

Further downstairs, Gwen started noticing more of them and her panic levels rose as she counted at least 15 different Agents hiding in plain sight among the tables down below. 5 of them stayed behind to block the door and the other ten made their way to the stairs and started heading straight for them. What was even more disconcerting in this moment was that Ozzie saw them too.

ALEX!!! AGENTS!!! she pulsed frantically, not taking the time to notice that Rudy currently had him hostage as she sensed at least 20 more Agents guarding the back of the restaurant.

How did they know where they were? How did they find them? "Osono, we need to get out of here now!" she said to the other woman, but before she could protest, Ozzie had walked over to the railing above the stairs and was vaulting over it. Gwen ran to the edge of it to look over even as she sensed the other woman fighting with them, in full brawl-mode. She only moved when she sensed some of those guarding the door aim several high-tech guns at the upper floor and flattened herself to the floor as a boom reverberated through the space, glass shattering from impact and their table upturned violently.

XANDER HELP ME, PLEASE!!! she screamed in absolute terror.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Noel Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Ten
Osono's army jacket flew up about her arms as she fell, landing heavily on her feet in the middle of the stairs where the newest batch of people after her were gathered. When she'd thrown the knife and killed the first guy, a few women sitting nearby upstairs had screamed and rushed from their tables. The people down on the ground floor however, had not yet become aware of anything wrong. That is until the explosion hit and shook the place down to it's foundation. As shattering glass deafened those inside the restaurant, a few more screams pierced the air and people were running from their tables en mass, abandoning their pricey meals for the safety of the exits.

There were three men currently on the stairs with her and Ozzie's fists lashed out with pounding strikes. She'd grown up in a rough neighborhood, starring in more than her fair share of bar fights and as a result, her fighting was a lot less graceful than Xander's. The first guy charged with his fists up and ready, blocking her first few hits. She didn't expend too much energy on those, but when she found an opening, all of her might went into it to knock the wind from his lungs and bruise his internal organs. When he fell, she stepped lightly over him to meet the other two. The second guy's face turned into hamburger under her fist in a matter of seconds and when the third tried to grab her from behind, she grabbed his balls and yanked and twisted them sharply. All it took after that was an upper cut to his nose and he crumpled to the uneven ground of the steps.

Glancing up to the second floor where the large explosion had landed, she tried to see from where she was if Stacy was alright. She was the first person she'd met in years that she could consider at least the beginnings of being friends - she didn't want anything bad to have happened to her because of Ozzie's problems. She relaxed and smiled when she saw the other woman poke her head through the large hole in the railing, her blue eyes watching the goings on with a restrained amount of terror.

Smiling to herself in relief, Osono turned back to the others who were quickly approaching her and she left the stairs. Looking around, she noticed that not all of the people had left the restaurant and some were huddling in the corners, using their tables as shields. She didn't want to start setting fires with innocents around, but sometimes she just had to make sacrifices. Her eyes drifted over the rest of the area and found Ben fighting several men near the doors and she smiled more to herself. Heh, go Ben! Whoo!

As she stepped onto the ground floor, she decided the safest way to protect Stacy from getting any more battered than she probably was, was to block off the stairs. She didn't want to take the chance of someone slipping past her and although they usually only focused on her, those guns hadn't been aimed at Ozzie. If they were targeting the people whom they found in her company, she couldn't risk depending on the fact she was usually in the spotlight.

The air around her tingled with heated current and her already short, blonde and spiked hair bristled even more than it already was. She slipped her army jacket off of her shoulders and held her arms out a little from her sides, her fingers splayed loosely. Inside her mind she imagined a match striking alight and the air near the stairs sparked with flame. The lacquered railings and steps caught fire, the flames moving upward to engulf the whole stairwell and nothing but the stairs, the flames reaching an invisible barrier when they got to the edge of the steps. The two still living men who'd fallen to her beating, caught fire along with the steps, lurching and screaming amidst the flames like souls being tortured by demons in hell. She could feel the swaying fire hungrily consuming the oiled lacquer and wood underneath, crackling and hissing happily in her ears and filling her whole body with a blazing warmth like the sun itself was shining within her breast.

With her back to the heat and light, Osono's hair seemed like it was made of fire as well and her dark eyes and sneering smile made her the perfect image of a devil. The men who were now merely a foot or two from her, hesitated at the sight of her - most of the others she'd engaged hundreds of times before were dead and gone now, so these guys were new. Even though they'd been briefed on what to expect from this case, other than the fire-retardant suits they wore, they had no other specialized training when it came to dealing with her.

"Come on, fellas," she said in her smoke-weathered voice, her dark eyes gleaming in the new dancing orange and blue lights. "Let's play."

That broke whatever spell they'd been under and three men charged her at once, with two others on their heels. Even after the energy she expelled to create the fire on the stairs, Osono was given a boost from the living flames themselves. Her arms and muscles surged with electric energy and strength was dragged from deep within her and propelled through every limb. Fists lashed out to pound into the rib cage of the first man, bones breaking and piercing internal organs. The second had her hand grabbing him by the neck and squeezing as her combat boot smashed down on his shin at a perpendicular angle, splitting the bone in half with a loud crunch. It wasn't much of a deterrent for the last 3 who came diving at her.

______


As the flames lit up, Gwen squinted and shielded her eyes as she leaned back from the railing overlooking the stairs and let out an amazed breath. Watching first Xander and then Osono fight, she silently cheered them on from where she was, looking around for any way she might help. It seemed they had everything under control, and the best thing she could do was stay put and out of the way. Her attention was drawn from the fight when a burst of hate came from behind her and she quickly turned to meet a seething and enraged Rudy.

Blood obscured one side of his face, dripping liberally from a wound in his temple, and he stumbled once or twice as he made his way through the debris of the old table towards her. His features were contorted with rage and she could feel it coming off of him in waves as he came to stand over her, aiming what could only be a high-tech gun right at her head.

"You both have been more trouble than Osono ever was. I'll be doing the world a big favor, taking you out," he said in a broken, angered voice.

The high-pitched whining of the gun charging made Gwen shrink back with fear and she held up her hand to fruitlessly ward off the blast. He couldn't do this! He was an Agent! If he killed her, no doubt he'd get in serious trouble from the Agency for eliminating her right? She couldn't imagine Stephanie letting him live after killing her precious target. She could still get out of this.

"Wait! You don't want to kill me!" she said suddenly before he could pull the trigger. Her voice reverberated thickly and filled the space with a slight echo. Her eyes almost seemed to glow an incandescent blue. "You need me alive."

For several minutes he blinked in astonishment and at first as his finger drew off of the trigger, she thought it had worked and he was listening. "Whoa... that's some Jean Gray/X-Men shit for a stupid little whore like you to be wielding," he said, seeing her clearly for the first time. Whatever effect her new "voice" had on Alex and Osono, it bounced right off of him without a trace. Except he was clearly aware of the attempt she'd made and realized she wasn't just a normal person anymore.

"Much too powerful to have slipped the Agency's notice. I bet you're someone's lost puppy, aren't you? You're right!" he laughed suddenly. "I don't want to kill you! That's like a beggar setting fire to a pile of cash!"

No, she did not want to be used as this guy's currency. At least he wasn't going to shoot her now, but she needed to find some way to get away from him. As she surreptitiously searched the debris around the railing for something to disable him, she pulsed to Xander,

I'm in a little bit of trouble. The Comic Con reject knows I have powers now. And I don't think those stars in his eyes mean he wants to let me go.

There was a length of wood from a chair leg just a foot away from her and she eyed it hungrily while watching him warily. If she made a dive for it, he would most certainly shoot her. But he no doubt was already thinking of contacting the Agent on her case - there was no way she'd go into Stephanie's hands without a fight. Without giving herself another moment to contemplate the repercussions of it, Gwen bolted from her spot by the edge of the railing, her hand grasping frantically for the carved, wooden stick. Rudy was there, wrestling her for it and even as she grasped it and thrust the jagged edge at him, he held it off before effortlessly knocking it from her hand.

"Sorry, Buffy," he said smugly, his one hand grabbing her by the arm and pulling her to her feet, while the other pointed the gun under her chin. "Maybe I should have said, 'I don't want to have to kill you.' But I will if you make this too hard for me. No skin off my nose and I've got a nice get out of jail free card." Glancing over the railing he could see that Xander had killed all of the men who'd been ordered to guard the door and Osono was just about done with the rest. It was definitely time to go.

"Say goodbye to Ben, Stacy," he said with a small smile as he began dragging her to the back near the restrooms. Nearby they turned a corner into a niche with a sign above it that glared a baleful red and said "EXIT". Rudy made it down the stairs with her quickly, only because everytime he got the chance he jerked her this way and that and the concrete steps lurched beneath her as gravity threatened to pull her down to kiss them. Out the back door into the fresh night air, there was a black car waiting and at least 20 more Agents approaching the building together. There were tables outside amidst bright and shining lamps, gardens and fountains decorating the scenery. The white and green tables were topped with hastily discarded meals from patrons who'd run away. No one was around to help her.

Xander! He's got a car! He's got a fucking black car! Please don't let him take me away! her internal voice had grown frantic as she saw in her mind's eye the contraption that Nathan had been put into that had been the vehicle for the banshee being inserted into his head.

She couldn't do that! She didn't want that! The muzzle of the gun against her throat was hot from being charged and she knew he was just as likely to shoot her on accident as he was to do so on purpose if she struggled.

Please, I can't...! I can't...! I'm sorry for everything I said! I didn't mean it! Please, just help me! Don't let her inside my head! practically weeping now in desperation, even openly as Rudy approached the men waiting by the car.

One of them had a syringe and he blinked in obvious confusion at the sight of Gwen, even moreso at the blood dribbling all over Rudy's face and clothes. "Gimme that!" Rudy said, quickly shoving the gun into the Agent's hands and grabbing the syringe from him.

As soon as she felt the gun leave her, Gwen started to flail violently, her arms scratching at his neck and face and her elbow whipping out to catch him in the gut. The guy was made of air and none of her blows hit, dodging her as if she were a simple child. Slipping past her defenses, there was a sudden prick in her neck and she choked as he stabbed her with the needle in the side of the throat, pushing whatever was in it into her body.

"This was meant for Ozzie, but I doubt she'll mind if I give it to you instead. Extraneous circumstances and all that," he whispered in her ear. She continued to struggle against his now crushing hold on her but all of her limbs grew weak and in a matter of seconds, she was limp in his arms.

Alex... I can't move... I can't...move...

As she passed out in Rudy's arms, he quickly shoved her through the open car door into the backseat. Looking at the man who'd had the syringe he held out his hand and demanded, "Give me your phone!" Roughly, he swiped the small slender cell that the other man offered and gave one final look at the building he'd left in chaos. "We're not to be followed under any circumstances."

"Understood, sir," the man said dutifully as Rudy ducked into the car and slammed the door shut. There wasn't even a breath of a second as the car peeled out and drove off into the night. Dialing on the new phone he'd acquired, Rudy shoved Gwen's body over carelessly to give himself more space in the backseat. Waiting for someone to answer, he touched the wound on his head gingerly and played with the now gummy and congealing blood decorating his fingertips.

"Hello? This is a private line - who is this?" Noel asked in an irritated voice.

"Yeah, hey, it's me, sweetcheeks," Rudy said, returning to his pleasant, dorky tone of voice.

"Quin! Goddammit! Where the hell have you been!? I've been sending you text messages nonstop but your phone was disconnected. Then I got your signal at La Madeleine's and sent the team there - I hope that's what you wanted."

"Yeah, that was perfect, babe," he said with a smile into the phone. He could always count on her to know exactly what he wanted without him having to say it. After years of working side-by-side and sharing more than just case files between them, she better have adopted some relational intuition. "Noticed some flashier guys mixed in with the usual muscleheads - somebody upstairs suddenly fond of us or what?"

"I specially requested those men," she said with a bit of reservation. She'd been putting all her money in the pot with this particular run-in. "Why? Did they do well?"

"Heh, well, they're dead. Just like everybody else," he smirked as she let out a resigned sigh. He glanced at the young, unconscious woman who occupied the backseat with him, her body shoved awkwardly against the door. "At least I didn't come away empty handed."

There was a long silence and he smiled again. "....You-You HAVE HER IN CUSTODY!!??" He pulled the phone from his ear as the speakers screeched with Noel yelling into the receiver. He giggled slightly to imagine her reaction sitting at her desk, practically hyperventilating at the idea of him finally capturing the target. It was almost a shame to let her down yet again.

"Not HER her. Encountered somebody else's targets I think. I need you to find out if there are any cases currently on the run - a guy and a girl. The guy moves like fucking Batman and has a crazy temper over stupid shit. And the girl has mind control powers or something."

This was their usual pattern. Most of the time, Noel was the one in charge and took over directing him and punishing him, but every once in a while, she allowed Rudy to take this tone of voice with her. "Get the girl's Lead on the phone. I've got a present to deliver and I need to know where to send it."

***

Stephanie tensed even more than the Atropytamine made her at the mention of Gwen at a restaurant, her eyes hollow and fixated on Eric's phone. The numb cloud within her shifted and swayed when he said she'd been shot and as panic threatened to rear it's ugly head, Eric amended the statement to say she'd just been shot at. She was sitting on the edge of her leather seat as she waited for more news on Gwen - annoyance fluttering to a small degree as Benoit inquired about his own case - but a few minutes later all hope of more information was cut off as he reported all the men dead. Of course. Alexander. Gwen's hero coming to the rescue.

It was a small comfort knowing he was there to protect her from stupid Agents acting trigger-happy but at this point, she didn't even know if Gwen was dead or alive. She wanted to feel angry about it or at the very least distraught or worried, but other than those first small ripples through her internal layers, there was nothing. No comfort in emotions to fall back on to release the pressure her agonized thoughts put her through. Inside her head, there was nothing going on except taking in and analyzing information. The rest was emptiness. It was like drifting in the middle of nothingness, blackness surrounding her. It's alright, she thought dully, even her internal voice lacking any emotion. This is exactly what I asked for. It's a good thing. Less chance for mistakes to be made based on emotionally charged action. It's a good thing. It's a good thing.

Even as she was trying to convince herself of that, she knew she couldn't just sit there and not find out what happened.

"Sir," she said respectfully to Eric. "If I might borrow your phone? I need to know how it went and if Stewart is dead or wounded," she tried not to listen to the dead tone in her own voice, tried not to be scared by it, especially when it regarded the possible death of her target. The more professional I am, the less they have to worry about me not being capable. It won't do to get panicky now if it turns out nothing is wrong.

As accommodating as ever, Eric handed over his cell phone and she automatically began putting in the phone number for her base. Her hand ran through her straight blonde hair, pushing it away from her ear as the phone was fit snugly against it.

"Hello, this is Stephanie March - is there any information currently coming in for the Stewart case--" she paused as the person on the other line interrupted her, spouting off new information.

"Yes, there is an Agent Quin trying to contact you. We've been calling your phone for the last 15 minutes."

Stephanie got an image of her suit jacket back in the backseat of the car, her phone chirping merrily from her pocket. How had she missed that? It would have been useful.

"Oh? Well, I'm here now. Put him through." The man assented respectfully and the line went silent for several minutes while Stephanie sat staring blankly ahead. When she heard the man come onto the line, she immediately jumped into the conversation. "Agent Quin? This is March on the Gwen Stewart case. You have some information for me?"

"Heeey! Stephanie! The little hotty from training camp, yeah? Remember me? I had a habit of wearing Star Wars T-shirts to training practice and you let me cheat off of you on a test once. We had a fling once or twice. Remember?" Rudy said on the other line. He still had the same voice, and even if it weren't for the memories he listed off, she would have remembered him from that alone.

"Yes, Rudy, I remember. You cheated off of me? When?" She did not remember that and she would have been annoyed if it were possible. A nervous laugh came from the other line and she decided to drop it. He was such a manipulative little prick - two could play at that game. If he wanted to reminisce, well, she could do that. "And if by 'fling' you mean tying you down and making you squeal like a pig when I used my stilettos to crush your--"

"Anyways," he interjected uncomfortably, clearing his throat to cover his now unsettled tone, moving beyond the current topic smoothly. "Long time no see. Always knew you'd make it big. You had the drive for it. While I was chasing down my own target, I got beaned in the face by another and thought she probably belonged to somebody. Are you missing someone special?"

Stephanie expected to feel something then - relief, hope, surprise, ecstasy - anything at the hint in his voice, but the emptiness stared blankly right back at her. "Yes," she said in a deadpan voice. "You found Stewart? Is she alive? Is she wounded?" There wasn't any concern either inside or out - she was merely gathering necessary information.

"The girl who tried to play a Jedi-frigging mind trick on me? Yeah, she's peachy. Grabbed her out of convenience. She's currently wrapped up in chemical restraints and I need to know where you want her deposited."

Stephanie hesitated. Grabbed her out of convenience? Instead of his own target? Rudy had always been a second-rate Agent even back in training but she doubted this was for free. "What are you asking for?"

"Heh, I'm that transparent, eh? Might as well be as blunt as possible then. I'm going to be in a bit of trouble real soon - broke somebody else's toys, somebody important and blahblahblah - so I may need you to use your influence to get me off the hook." Before she could respond to that he added, "We'll talk prices when I meet you where ever, 'kay? Now where do you want her - under the Christmas tree or beside the menorah?"

She would have laughed if there was any way she could connect with happiness right now. He thought she had influence? Was he high? Knowing him, it was probable. So, he'd been the one to order the A-1's elite Agents to that restaurant. By Eric's own mouth, that person was going to die anyways, so she didn't see the dilemma of Rudy's deal. She wasn't attached to his or anyone's memory enough to hesitate when killing them to get what she wanted. Basically, she was getting this for free, regardless of what Rudy imagined was going to happen.

"I'm on my way to Charlton right now," she said, glancing at Benoit. "Is Alexander following you?"

"Who? Oh, you mean her psychotic boyfriend? No, I've got men blocking the way. He might have wrestled with 5 no problem, but there's no way he's gettin' past 20. He's a fuckin' dead man."

Either Rudy had not heard of Alexander or he was just too stupidly arrogant. The mere fact that he gave the man the title he did let her know that Alexander would indeed dog his trail the whole way just to get Gwen back safe and sound. Fine, she wouldn't have to go out of her way to help Benoit. Besides, there were transfer facilities in Charlton and it was the most convenient course of action. "Bring her to Charlton. I'll be there waiting for you."

"Yep, yep. And remember our little deal, Steph," he said with a gleeful smugness. How could she forget? She might get the chance to carry out his execution order. If the drugs wore off by then, she might even get the chance to enjoy it. With that, she hung up on him and handed the phone back to Eric calmly.

"Thank you. That was definitely...informative," she said in monotone as she settled back into her seat. "I didn't realize Rudolph Quin was promoted to Lead. Whoever signed the paperwork for that decision needs to be shot in the face. I only knew him in training and he was always a lazy, narcissistic, fuckup but it doesn't sound like he's changed one bit. He should have never made it above A-6 rank if allowed into the Agency at all."

She sighed without inflection and leaned upon her armrest. "Anyways, apparently, he's captured Stewart - while leaving his own case behind for whatever imbecilic reason - and he's going to meet us in Charlton with her. Since he's under the delusion that his regular A-5 and A-6 Agents can hold Alexander off, no doubt he's following close behind as well. Just a minor alteration of the original plan but it's still all going as we originally set up. And at least she's still alive."

Again, there was no relief or excitement or happiness in response to that thought, not even inside behind the walls she'd put up. It caused her to glance blankly at Jason, but only for a moment as she continued. "Aside from trying to use her as leverage - even if I wanted to try to convince you not to punish him for having your men killed, I don't understand why he thinks I would be successful; he obviously doesn't know who he's dealing with - his own target, Osono, might be involved now too. Not sure. From what I remember of that particular case back when I was part of the team gathering intel on her, she didn't make social attachments very well. Now that Rudy's out of the way, and fully distracted, she might take the chance to disappear again."

She ran her hand through her hair before taking another sip from her water. "Still, it might be best to prepare for her. Lest we get burned."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Having been in emotional states like this before, Ozzie knew the thoughts to stay away from - the ones that would absolutely trigger the reaction she was trying to hold off. Mostly it was words like, "ignition" "kindle" "combustion" "spark" and images of fires bursting to life. As she stood high-wired with the gun pointing at his face and listening to him speak, she could feel the warmth in the room reach an apex and a match appeared in her mind's eye. Frantically trying to calm herself down, she imagined it being dunked into a glass of water. It helped.

Not surprisingly, the things "Ben" said did help calm her down as well, but there were still so many things that he did that made her think he was jerking her around. First, even as she was threatening his life and about ready to obviously pop, he still found the frame of mind to mutter to himself. The calming breaths she was taking didn't do jack shit when paranoia creeped up her shoulder blades again. Who did he keep talking to? The voice in his head or the little microphone he was hiding somewhere!? The fact that he couldn't make it any more obvious was like an ineffectual murmur in the back of her head as panic ran with the idea that he was getting pointers on how to "negotiate" with her from someone.

Secondly, he had this way of speaking as if he were searching through a pile of stuff he wasn't supposed to tell her. On the one hand, she understood that with a gun to his head and explosion imminent he'd have to choose his words carefully. But on the other, all it made her think was that he was trying to think of something other than the truth to shut her up and calm her down. That wasn't the kind of response she needed right now, especially not when she was seconds away from doing something that would reveal her hand. Once she'd regained her energy back, she would have no problem setting the whole room ablaze. If she let herself panic now while she was weak, he'd know her setting the draperies on fire was the best she had right now and might take advantage of that weakness.

Other than that, the things he was actually saying got her to start breathing again and thinking somewhat rationally. He was right. He could have taken her down at any time if that had been his intention and at the time, if he was an "Agent", he'd had enough men at his disposal to help him take her into custody or whatever. But instead, he'd left her alone and fought and killed them all single-handedly. She could have left at any time and she hadn't been able to convince him to take her with him - he'd been more than ready to just leave her before making that last minute decision at the car.

All of a sudden, all her suspicions seemed more than wildly crazy, they appeared to be downright idiotic. But in her defense, he HAD been acting strangely all evening without a better explanation given except the one Gwen had offered. And after dealing with Rudy and his stupid little games all these years, an elaborate ruse just to gain her trust seemed highly plausible. What was she suppose to think?

More than his offer that she could leave at any time - and the almost weary acceptance of the fact that she might actually go - what finally got her to lower her gun was his revelations about Gwen. So, her suspicions in that regard had indeed been correct! Gwen was able to talk to people with her mind? Seemed severely limited compared to what Osono herself was able to do, but it wasn't a contest. Suddenly, Ozzie didn't feel so much alone anymore and felt an even stronger connection to the woman she'd just met this evening. Someone else like her. Ben had mentioned there were others before, but now having someone she knew possessing powers like she did, helped solidify the fact for her.

And Ben had stayed with her. From the way he spoke about Them, it seemed like he'd been dealing with these people for a long time. How long had he been running with Gwen? She had to admit, him not being a target did present something almost romantic about his dedication to his girlfriend and protecting her. Again, Osono was assaulted by guilt to realize she'd really screwed things up for the both of them.

As the gun was finally lowered and her shoulders relaxed, she let the heat in the room fade back down to normal temperatures. Not really sure what to say to him and not wanting to apologize for a second time tonight, she turned away from him and headed towards one of the balcony windows. Sliding the glass door open, she rested against the metal frame and let the cool night air flow into the room to help return some of the natural moisture to the room as well.

Looking over at him, she folded her arms, still holding the gun loosely in one hand and sneered a little at him. "You're really weird, you know that?"

It was the closest she would get to an explanation for her behavior or even remotely close to something resembling an apology for threatening him. She wasn't really sure how to talk to him other than that. The truth was, despite feeling considerably more at ease with the current situation, she honestly didn't like Ben. She didn't want to know his real name or anything about him. She didn't want to help him with his foot - whatever the hell was wrong with it - and she didn't really care if he suddenly fell apart because of it.

If she could find Gwen on her own, she would have taken his offer and left him behind. But she couldn't - she didn't even know where to begin and as far as information went, Ben outmatched her by at least 10 miles. As much as she knew about these people, he didn't need her. Hopefully she'd be able to make up for it and be able to contribute in other ways and help fix the situation she'd created.

Looking out the window, she could see La Madeleine's - mostly because of the distant flashing lights of police cars and fire trucks, so she was really guessing that it was the restaurant and not some other fire. There were probably Agents swarming the place because of the fire she'd caused - and no doubt the manager hadn't kept his mouth shut - and they were most likely searching for her trail now. She could now finally agree that possibly Ben was right about that. Setting fires in public wasn't the smartest thing to do. That was when something else he'd said occurred to her.

"Rudy threatened you?" she asked, looking back into the room at him.

In all her time spent with him, Rudy had never indicated that he even knew how to fire a gun let alone the fact that he'd never possess one. There had been times when the little weenie wouldn't shut up about this science fiction show or that freaking comic book and she'd been forced to get physical. She'd done everything from breaking a few of his fingers to pulling his hair and the shrimp had never even raised his voice in anger in response. To hear about him actually having the balls to pull a gun on someone...and kidnap someone... it didn't feel like they could be talking about the same person.

Even though she disliked Ben, she was past not trusting him anymore - at least for now - and she didn't doubt that what he'd said about Quin was true. So, it was out in the open and official now. It was real. Rudy was and had been with Them all along. She wasn't surprised though. Deep down, she'd always known.

"You asked me before why I didn't kill Rudy when I had the chance," she started, lost in thought at first and then looking directly at him. "I guess I could ask you the same thing."

That's as far as that went. She still didn't have an explanation for the way Rudy worked - especially when it had been made more than obvious to her that he'd been involved for years - but she knew it was something akin to pity with a bit of mutual play-acting that always stayed her hand. It was stupid and she was fully responsible for letting Rudy into her life over and over again, so she really wasn't in any place to accuse Ben for not doing what she'd failed to do for almost 6 years.

The room had returned to normal as far as temperature went and with the fading heat also went the rest of her energy, drained from her muscles and bones with the chill of the night air. She'd be lucky if she could create anything right now, and along with the loss of energy came the natural fatigue her body was suffering. Nonchalantly, she reclosed the balcony door, not bothering with the gossamer curtains that got stuck outside.

"Alright, schizo," Ozzie said, tucking the gun back into her pants as she approached where he was sitting on the couch, stopping just a foot away. "If you're going to sleep, can you drag yourself over to bed on your own or do you need me to help you?"

She didn't really want to - in fact the less she had to personally deal with him right now, the better she'd feel - but she was still feeling responsible for everything, even freaking out a moment before and it was the best she could offer by way of amends. Still, she hoped he said "no" and she could leave him to find her own corner of the room - preferably as far from him as possible - to settle down in.

***


"Come on! The way they ended the series was complete genius and should have satisfied all the fans!" a familiar voice said.

She felt stiff and her shoulders ached. Slowly, Gwen found herself sluggishly rising from consciousness and the first thing she became aware of besides the voices in the room, was the aches and pains in her neck and back. She was sitting up in a straight backed wooden chair, the cushions on it barely helping with the way her neck cradled her head against her chest, her hair creating a curtain around her face.

"Nuh-uh, boss," a second voice she'd never heard before said around a mouthful of food. "The whole 'we were dead the whole time' reveal was a total cop-out and the creators need to be euthanized for taking such a lame and unsatisfying direction for the conclusion."

Gwen tried to move slowly, her shoulders and neck screaming in agony, before she realized that her hands were bound together behind the chair with her arms looped through the armrests and her ankles were bound as well. Tugging lightly, and twisting her wrists within the circlets around her forearms, she came to the conclusion that they were cuffs of some kind. Each wrist was encircled by a thin, cable bracelet, but they hooked together in the middle and all her shifting around could not move them. They did not cut into her wrists either but they molded to her skin closely so no matter how she flexed or twisted her arms, the pressure did not shift or move with her but stayed constant. Moving her feet resulted in the same.

"Just-- shut up, Hoskins!" the first voice, which she now identified as Rudy, sputtered in irritation. "You obviously didn't listen to anything Jack's father said in the church and you don't really understand what happened in the Epilogue! Lost was an epic series and as soon as I file the paperwork I'm demoting you for your lack of taste!" He let out a frustrated sigh before continuing. "Look, she's finally waking up."

Blinking and squinting at the light in the room, Gwen opened her eyes and slowly looked around, memory flooding back to her in a rush. Even as she looked around and took in the lavish hotel room - a very modern design, all black, red, grey and white with smooth surfaces and sharply sloping angles with very little design and details - she was frantically reaching out for Alex and Xander. Nothing. They weren't anywhere nearby. Reaching out even further, extending her powers as far as they would go, she still came up with nothing. She did learn however, from eavesdropping on a few others within the mile radius that they were in Hammondsport - how had they gotten here so fast? How long had she been out? And where was Alex?

"Hey, sleepy head," Rudy said in a chipper voice, leaning his elbows on the table to leer at her from his seat. As she looked back at him, she noticed that the blood was gone and he had small adhesive bandages keeping the split in his scalp together. Other than that and the slightly perceptible bruising along one side of his face, centralized around his forehead and cheekbone, he looked no worse for wear. "Surprisingly, I guess you weigh less than Osono, since that pharmaceutical sample I gave you should have knocked you out for much longer." He returned to the lobster on his plate and used it to gesture with as he shrugged. "My own fault really. I totally misconstrued the content of that globular mass on the back of your hips."

Gwen blinked slowly at him. Was....was he calling her fat? Probing his mind she was met once again by that silent wall he'd had up since they'd been on the bus together. But the other man sitting at the table with him - and enjoying a very succulent steak - was an open book. Vince Hoskins was a 25 year old low level Agent, newly recruited to Ozzie's case as an in-field assistant to Rudy. He wasn't exactly sure what had happened to the team that had the case before him since the reports were extremely vague on the matter, but he wasn't exactly the questioning type. So far, Rudy hadn't made a very good impression, besides his friendly tendency to talk a lot, but Vince just wanted to keep his head down and finish this assignment without any trouble. He didn't have a perfect record, but it was all the more reason to not screw anything up if he could help it. Despite Rudy's constant promises to demote those on his team for arguing with him, so far, they seemed superficial threats at best.

"Anyways, since we made such good time on this delivery so far and your ass-face boyfriend seems to have abandoned you as a lost cause," Rudy continued, airily breaking open the bright orangish red claw in his hand. "I decided to stop for the night and have a big meal and a nice warm bed. The car was nice and all, but your phone-crushing ass was hogging the backseat."

Along with the jab about Alex, clarity came to her at that last comment. Okay, so, he was still pissed about her accidentally falling on his cell phone. Jesus, the guy was a bigger baby than Xander. At that thought it made her wonder worriedly if he really had given up on her. Would Alex let him? They didn't have much time left to get Xander into his body. Would he waste time to chase after her? Again, she found herself reaching out for him and felt herself start to choke up a bit to realize she was completely alone with this psycho who had a grudge. And delivery...?

"You hungry, tubby?" he asked while digging out the meat from the shell, pausing in between swallows to address her as if they were friends. "I'm sorry to say you missed the fajitas earlier, but we still have a few more options for you - the room service is excellent here. Since stone-cold Steph is an old friend of mine, I feel obligated to keep you in somewhat nice condition for when I finally hand you over, so it seems only fair after ruining your dinner earlier, that I offer an alternative."

Gwen had been looking around the room and probing the floor they were on for anyone outside who might be of assistance - the most she learned was that they were on the top floor, alone, and they were staying in a modern hotel called the "Quartieri" - but she instantly looked at him with wide eyes when he mentioned Stephanie.

A small smirk appeared on his face as he watched her reaction and he said, "So you know your Agent's name, huh? No surprise there, with what you can supposedly do. I looked into it. She doesn't keep any detailed Agency files on you, but I had a friend of mine hack her personal computer and we found a shit-ton of information." He dipped a long, slender piece of meat into a small bowl of melted butter and slurped it into his mouth. "I knew some of these transfer Agents got obsessed, but Steph takes the cake. File after file of audio of just you breathing. It's some really sick and fucked up shit." He rolled his eyes and then paused as if he thought of something else. "Course, then again, it IS Stephanie. I wouldn't be surprised if she also collected your old clothes and wore them in her private time."

Gwen was barely listening or paying much attention to him anymore as fear started to grip her by the throat. Stephanie. He was taking her to Stephanie! Alex wasn't here to protect her and there was nothing stopping the woman from inserting herself into Gwen's body if she wanted to! She couldn't let that happen! At least not without a fight. Frantically, she started to think of a plan while keeping herself as outwardly calm as she could.

Rudy suddenly snapped his fingers at Vince and pointed to the myriad of covered dishes arrayed on the black shining tabletop. "Feed her," he said to Hoskins, instantly turning back to his own meal and fully expecting his order to be obeyed. For a moment, Vince's face fell and his thin shoulders slumped, but he got up without complaint, only glancing at Gwen once. Looking over the different dishes and uncovering a few, he selected a pasta dish with bow tie noodles and a heavy, meaty sauce.

In the middle of chewing, Rudy shook his head and waved his hand in a canceling gesture. "Dude, that is full of carbs. Give her the chicken. The cow could use something lean in her gut for once." Again, Vince made no complaint as he reached for the lemon garlic chicken, but internally he berated his boss for the choice. Apparently, the chicken had been Hoskins next choice for a meal selection and he was sore for being made to give it to her.

Begrudgingly, Hoskins came around to her side of the table and set the plate down in front of her. Unfurling one of the black, silk napkins, he tucked it into the front of her shirt politely, and began to cut the thick chicken breast into medium bite-sized pieces. Realizing that she was still very hungry, Gwen opened her mouth willingly when he offered the first bite on the end of a fork, seemingly not wanting to get too close to her.

Having finished his lobster, Rudy started to pull Vince's plate over to himself as he asked, "Hey, you done with this? Looks delicious. I'll finish it up for you."

Startled, Hoskins turned to watch as his boss began to systematically finish the steak he'd been savoring, his mouth opening to protest but nothing coming out before it closed again. Angrily, Vince turned back to Gwen and forcefully stabbed the next bite and shoved it in her face. Fuck! And he calls the girl fat! If he weren't an A-3, I'd shoot a hole through his bottomless gut!

Swallowing the piece he'd given her, Gwen jumped on the opportunity and whispered in a low voice that echoed, " You should."

Slowly, Hoskins looked at her, blinking sluggishly as he lowered the fork with the next bite on it and stood from his seat. He was just angry enough that he was following her thought, but when he turned with his weapon pointed at Rudy, he stopped.

Rudy's chewing slowed as his eyes met the barrel of the gun in his face and he quickly looked Hoskins over and then glanced at Gwen. "Dude, relax. I'll get you another one, if you're really that pissy about it."

Hoskins arm trembled a little and sweat started to bead on his forehead. "B-boss..." he murmured anxiously, filled with doubt. Gwen didn't have time to let him change his mind; she needed to get out of here and getting rid of Rudy was the quickest way.

" Do it!" she said loudly, panic filling her even as she mentally shoved him.

It worked to get Hoskins' finger on the trigger and the gun clicked loudly as it loaded, even as Vince nervously gulped. Instantly, Rudy set aside his silverware and held his hands up a little, staring Hoskins straight in the eye.

"I want you to think about what you're doing right now. This isn't something you would normally do, is it? Think about your career and what will happen next after you pull that trigger. Do you honestly think that will be the end of it?" Vince was trembling even more now but he did not lower the weapon, keeping it aimed at Rudy's forehead from a foot away. "Just put it down. It's not your fault, buddy, alright? She's messing with your head right now and you need to regain control of yourself. You're not going to get in trouble for this - I promise - but you need to put it down right now."

Gwen could feel Rudy's empathetic tone starting to click inside Vince's head as he took big gasping lungfuls of air. " Shoot him!" she yelled in desperation, shaking her cuffs, her voice reverberating against the walls before fading. But it was no use, he was already lowering his gun, letting it fall from limp fingers. Helplessly, Gwen whimpered as she saw the charged light on the top of the gun slowly fade.

Standing fluidly, Rudy came up to Hoskins and put his hand on the man's shoulder as he profusely began to stutter an apology. "Boss...I'm so sorry... I don't know what happened... I swear, I would never...!"

Then the air crackled and burned with energy as a discharge was emitted from the gun Rudy had used before and Vince fell in a lifeless heap on the ground by the table. "Yeah, yeah, yeah-pffft!" he said, sticking out his tongue and making a small noise at the corpse.

Gwen was busy staring at the body of the fallen man - the man she'd basically gotten killed - so she wasn't paying attention to Rudy until he was standing right in front of her, carelessly kicking the body out of his way. When she looked up though, her vision exploded in black and white stars and her head whipped violently to the side when his fist slammed into her face. Her head reeled for several moments as pain filled her cheek, but she was gasping in fright a moment later as Rudy surged forward and grabbed her face, turning her to look at him.

"I want to explain something to you, since it might not be clear to your simple mind. I assume following logic is not in your skill set, so I know it's hard but let's do it together - that's what she said," he smiled cheerfully but from the tension in his body and filling the fingers that dug into her cheeks, it was more than obvious he was ready to snap her neck. "I hate you. The only reason you're alive right now, is because I need to use you to help clean up a little mess I made with some of my Agency friends. Believe me when I say, I didn't plan for you and I certainly don't have a plan for being without you. But as you can see, I have no trouble scrapping ideas that just don't seem to work at any given moment. I'm kinda a bit ADD like that."

He got closer to her and she shrunk back defensively, flinching at the cold look in his eyes. "Do not think for a minute that you're not disposable. Despite the attention the Agency has given you up to this point, you are NOT somebody special. You are NOT somebody important. You're nothing but a potential guinea pig - a plaything for people with the means and desire to manipulate the flesh and lives of others. Your death will be as much a loss as if one were to melt a plastic toy soldier in a kit of thousands. No one is going to save you. No one is going to help you - as you can see, I'm not afraid to destroy the lives of innocents that get in my way or pose a threat. If you want to live to see Stephanie, then I suggest you do the smart thing and mimic an actual mail package. Anything less than that, and I'll fill you with bullets and walk away to find something new to do."

With a harsh jerk, he released her and stood back up, seeming to regain his earlier demeanor within a few seconds. Glancing at Hoskins' body he looked back at her and said, "I also hope you know that this," he indicated the corpse. "Means you won't be eating for the rest of the trip, since I can't be arsed to hand-feed you." He looked her up and down tied as she was to her chair before continuing. "But from the looks of it, you could stand to lose a few pounds, eh, Jabba?"

After that, he returned to his seat and continued to eat while Gwen fought the urge to cry. God, where the hell was Alex? She couldn't do this on her own...

***


Stephanie moved over to her seat as she let Jason handle the explanations, keeping her newly acquired ice pack on her knuckles and occasionally checking the swelling. She would have said something in addition to Jason's words, especially with the small quips Benoit kept making, but decided the smartest thing to do was to keep her mouth shut. It would look too much like she was being defensive if she decided to add anything. So, even as Benoit drunkenly murmured about "love" being between her and Jason, she kept her stony expression and ignored him.

Besides, she had enough problems already without adding to the suspicions the two other men already had. For one thing, even with just one dose of the Atropytamine, she could feel the familiar withdrawal gnawing at her. She'd dealt with this before, so she knew what to expect - mostly, it would just feel like gravity had added 100 pounds to her body for a couple of hours and she might end up becoming a bit emotional - but it didn't make the rest of the plane ride any more fun. Mostly, she was willing to suffer through it, because the withdrawal itself made her realize that Jason had been right. She remembered what the drugs were like and what they could do and it was not smart to tie herself down with them, no matter how much it would help to erase her emotions that way. Especially not when the only drugs she had left right now were of a much higher strength than she'd ever tried before. She'd just have to let herself ween off the Atropytamine and by the time they landed in Charlton, she'd be free of it. Hopefully.

And for another thing, she was worried about how Jason was reacting to what had happened. He didn't say much and she wasn't sure if he was putting on an act looking all pouty to throw off suspicion, but it made her nervous nonetheless. She'd basically admitted everything to him - bore her soul in not so many words. Did he feel rejected because she wasn't willing to ruin her carrier just to become involved with him? Or possibly it was what she'd said afterward that had made him feel like she was caging him in? Stephanie didn't understand it and everything was too complicated for her to work through it without speaking to him again.

When Eric offered her a drink, she shook her head slowly, still lost in thought. No, that was definitely something she didn't need right now, not when her impulses were already so loose. She needed to focus on the case on getting Gwen and fulfilling her destiny. When the stewardess walked by, Stephanie stopped her and softly inquired about anything sweet she might have to snack on. When the woman brought her some thin, shortbread cookies, Stephanie opened the bag on her lap and began to lightly chew on one.

Even with her firm belief in this case and love of the Agency and what it stood for, at this particular moment, she was just emotionally fragile enough to let her mind wander. Maybe she'd been mistaken about Jason's responses to her in the bathroom. It had been years since she'd been with anyone and she was a little rusty on what the different reactions meant. It was strange, especially since at one point, she'd been so well-versed in seduction and manipulation.

Thinking about Jason made her remember why she'd taken the Gwen Stewart case and why she'd applied for body transfer in the first place: her life sucked. Not only was she a horrible person who could do nothing but get enjoyment out of hurting others, but she was incapable of connecting with others. Gwen not only wrote about the hope that love could bring and the healing itr caused between two souls, but she lived it everyday of her life. Even after the incident with the stalker, Gwen still finished her last book in the Nightshade series and it was the perfect happily ever after anyone could ask for.

Stephanie wanted that. Not just the fluffy romantic love in the words that Gwen wrote, but the unshakable optimism that lived in the other woman's heart. Gwen had no trouble finding others who were willing to love her, and she never held back her own emotions from them. Something Stephanie had thought she'd been capable of at one point... and recently had tricked herself into thinking once again...

Glancing at Jason, she thought back over what had happened in the restroom and how he was acting now and she knew that even if things were okay..they could never be together. He'd never want her. Nobody would.

Suddenly, without warning, a sorrowful gasp left her throat and tears began to stream down her face. Setting her cookies aside, she held a hand up to her mouth as she started to weep openly, turning her face away from the others on the plane towards the window. For several moments, her shoulders continued to shake as she silently cried, and the flight attendant, concerned, tapped her shoulder briefly, offering her a small plastic wrapped stack of tissues.

Defensively angry, Stephanie jerked them out of the other woman's hands and glared at her through her tears. "Beat it, wench!" she said through an emotional voice. The flight attendant took a moment to flinch before scurrying away, and Stephanie began to unwrap the tissues, sniffling as she dabbed them at her eyes and cleaned her face off. This couldn't get any worse, and she couldn't look any more pathetic.

After the tears finally stopped, she began to feel restless and gently kicked off her high heels, letting her bare feet rub against the smooth carpeting. Grabbing up her bag of cookies, she left her seat to sit Indian style on the floor in front of Benoit. She didn't say anything about her little emotional outburst and tried not to look at Jason as she offered Benoit some of her cookies before taking another for herself.

"When Quin finally delivers Gwen, I hope you'll understand if I leave you to do whatever with Alexander," she said, returning to her usual monotone. "I want to start setting her up for the body transfer as soon as possible." She did look at Jason then, but quickly discarded him from thought a moment later. It did not help anything to dwell on the things she could not have. She needed to focus on the future already laid out for her, lest she lose everything.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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Naturally, considering the current prickly status of their relationship, Osono expected Ben to be somewhat upset from being woken up in the particular way she'd chosen to do so. And she was prepared with a proud smirk on her face and a laugh as he sputtered angrily and gave her the most offended look she ever did see. What she did not expect, however, was for the dude to freaking smack himself in the face, twice. And despite how utterly bizarre it was to see the surprised/annoyed expression doubled each time it happened, she couldn't help the snickers that erupted from her chest in response. God, Ben was such a freak! But at least he was entertaining as hell.

The night had erased most of the bad feelings and tension that had built between them, but all of it had returned when she'd entered this room again. Watching him kick his own ass and get upset about it was just the thing she needed to erase that tension again and it worked wonders. She still hated him, but she was no longer loathe to be around him. What a great way to start the day!

Then he was hurrying off to the bathroom and she stayed put as instructed. But not without finding something with which to entertain herself while he was gone. The first thing she looked at was a hotel notepad he left behind on the couch, but she quickly lost interest in it when she saw nothing but dots. Nice doodle, freaking psycho, she thought to herself as she tossed it back where she'd found it.

She shook her head at her own thoughts, when something caught her eye. The other bag he'd been carrying, shoved against the foot of the couch discreetly. Checking to see if he was coming back yet, she crouched down next to it and started to gingerly go through it. There were a few women's clothes inside, but also what appeared to be Gwen's purse and she immediately picked it up and unzipped it.

Other than a conservative amount of junk she might need when going out, there wasn't much by way of personal effects. There was a wallet that had what she'd expect to see - no cash money, but a few membership cards for a clothing store or two and a bookstore, and identification cards which told her Gwen's last name - and a key ring with 4 different keys on it, and a small golden key chain of the word "LOVE" as decoration. Also amidst everything else, small things that gave her a little more insight into who Gwen was, there was a crumpled piece of paper as well.

She only had time to pick it up before she could hear Alex's footsteps shuffling in his odd limp back towards the room. Roughly, she shoved the purse back in the bag and stood while stuffing her hand into her pocket and attempting to stand where she'd been when he'd left. Her cigarette had been left unattended, stuck between her lips this whole time and a half an inch of ash had collected on the end of it. Carelessly, she flicked it onto the carpet and gave Ben an innocent look when he re-entered the room.

He came back over to the couch and started to inspect the little notepad he'd left in his spot and she started to relax again when he didn't seem to notice that she'd left Gwen's bag open. Even when he started to hum and murmur to himself again, she found she was starting to get used to it and waited for him to finish doing whatever - he appeared to be going back over his notes or something. As she watched him however, her eyes zeroed in on the odd little drawing on his neck and she was smirking quietly to herself again as smoke drifted from between her lips. She didn't understand his mental illness, but she was growing more and more fond of it by the minute - whatever made him do the shit that he kept doing to himself, it was keeping her in light spirits to say the least.

For the time being, she waited patiently and had her smoke, letting the nicotine fill her with it's bitter warmth, heating her lungs with every inhalation, but she let out a small sigh and stamped her foot in irritation as he once again left the room. Didn't he say they were leaving early or something?

"Why don't we ring up the room service and charge a few pay-per-view's, while we're at it?"

She was trying really hard not to be paranoid about him seemingly dragging his feet and she trying to be understanding, but there was an urgency in her bones that she could not explain. Mostly, she figured it had to do with a general ignorance of what they were even dealing with. All these years, Ozzie had only ever really dealt with these people on the outside and in public situations - usually in the form of a confrontation ending with several dead and her free as a bird. But...what happened when they caught someone? What were they doing to Gwen? Ben hadn't really explained what exactly the goals there Agent folks had except that they were after people with powers.

By the time he came back into the room, she'd finished her cigarette and had Gwen's bag slung over her shoulder. Ben could carry his own shit - she couldn't believe he'd made her do it last night! She would have been angrier at the time and tossed it back in his face if she hadn't suspected him of being a traitor. She didn't really know why, but holding Gwen's stuff made her feel better. These were things that were important to Gwen, stuff that even while running for her life, she'd hung onto. She would want them back when they found her and Ozzie was going to make sure she got it.

At the almost friendly tone Ben addressed her with, Ozzie quirked an eyebrow at him, but her eyes widened when he mentioned blowing stuff up. "Hell yeah!" she said with a sudden smile, her hand of it's own accord moving to make the sign of the horns as she grew excited at the prospect. "That's what I'm talkin' about! And Starbucks - it figures you'd have a few redeeming qualities, I suppose, but I wouldn't take you for one with good taste."

She was happy that he finally seemed ready to leave, but his mention of blowing things up made her pause. He meant her, didn't he? It wasn't something she could just do with a snap of her fingers and she didn't want to get there and be expected to perform the act and possibly screw things up because she couldn't. It was no longer hard admitting what her weaknesses, because she did trust him, but it wasn't something she normally talked about.

So, she waited until they'd proceeded to the elevator before she decided to speak up, playing idly with the strap of Gwen's bag. "One thing, before we go running into this. I...can't really blow things up. I mean I can, but the right stuff has to be present - I'm just a spark." She wasn't going to apologize for misleading him last night - at the time, she'd been fully entitled to bluff since he had been "the enemy", and besides, she thought it was kind of funny now.

She glanced at him as she stood beside him in the small space, and fiddled with the bag strap some more, her raspy voice slightly mumbled and forced when it came. "Sometimes...I'm attracted to chemicals and materials that are flammable and I can feel it when something is fire-resistant - like the suits worn by the guys who always come after me. Like...I love silk but I hate nylon and wool... I can smell things like lacquer, turpentine and phosphorous a mile away - not really a mile, but I kinda know when they're around... I can blow things up and have done so before - like, most recently, a gas station a few cities south of here - but I can't do it unless there's the right combustibles present. Mostly...I can just make and control fire..."

Ozzie shrugged. It was a bit uncomfortable having to explain it aloud to someone. She'd never told Rudy any of this and certainly none of the other random strangers she'd picked up along the way of running from place to place and the rest of the time...she was always alone. It was like telling him her bra size or something weird like that.

They were a few floors away from the ground level and she found herself once again wondering about whether or not Gwen was safe and when she spoke up again, her tone had become somber. "Are they going to hurt her? I mean...what do they do once they've caught someone...? What do they really want with people like her and I?" Her hand tightly grasped the strap of the bag on her shoulder, almost clinging to it as she waited for him to respond.

***

She hadn't slept for the whole rest of the plane ride. Not a wink. Mostly, she'd spent her time thinking about Gwen and trying to imagine what it would be like to finally get her hands on her - what would she say to her target after this long-distance and emotional dance they'd both endured? She almost wanted to congratulate her on keeping ahead for this long and making a problem where there hadn't previously been one, but that felt a little misplaced with Alexander's involvement.

Stephanie just knew she was going to cry when it finally happened, when she finally strapped her down. She would try her best to remain professional, but there was so much invested in this case, she knew she was going to get emotional about their reunion. Hopefully, things would be at a point where everyone would understand and forgive her for her sentimentality.

She also spent a bit of time thinking about Jason, even watched him sleep for a little while, secretly adoring the way he held his wine bottle loose in one hand and almost let it tip over and over, his wrist jerking it upright subconsciously when he felt the weight of it pulling down. But without him conscious, it was like a light had gone out and the feelings she'd been grappling with for most of the plane ride seemed to subside with his "absence".

When Eric stopped at the airport, as soon as she ascertained that they weren't in Charlton, she'd settled back in her seat and continued to quietly brood. Normally, she would have gotten mad and a bit impatient, maybe even put up a fuss about the stop, but it was tempered by the fact that Rudy would most likely not be in Charlton yet, and also she'd have to wait even more for the trip to Elmira. So, even though she abhorred doing so, since there wasn't a point in getting upset about it, she let it slide by without comment or protest.

Finally, when everyone was waking up in the cabin, Stephanie felt herself get wired again by the resurgence of consciousness that took over the atmosphere. But what really did it was Eric's sudden praise for her "private" talk with Jason. All at once, she felt herself bolstered anew by the A-1's attention. Especially when he mentioned "love". She supposed in a way that the way she felt about Gwen and the case itself could be classified as love, but in her mind, she'd assumed she was no longer capable of the emotion. All it took was to see a situation from someone else's perspective.

"I won't let the Agency down," she said duly before he was once again opening up his phone and talking away. Again a feeling of well-being and confidence filled her to hear what he said and she almost smiled a little bit to hear that Eric was so invested in Rudy's fate. Despite what she'd told Jason, a part of her had been worried about what the little twerp was planning - whatever it was, likely wouldn't turn out the way he wanted or even in a way that would benefit him, but it could still screw things up for her. She didn't have a lot of things to hide and she wasn't scared of her past coming to light, but mostly, she was worried that Rudy would do something stupid like bargain with her target's life in exchange for a free pass. The fact that Eric was stepping forward to personally deal with the guy, made her feel protected in a way.

An odd sound made her turn towards Jason before she realized it was the sound of him laughing - it was low and restrained but still it caught her attention and she stared openly for several long minutes waiting to see if he'd do it again. It had been a brief, yet beautiful sound and she was almost remorseful that she hadn't seen the smile that had probably gone along with it before it had disappeared from his face. Why did he have to torment her so?

Forget it. Focus. Gwen, remember Gwen. Just a little while longer. She was busy saying such over and over in her head when suddenly nausea hit her like someone grabbing her guts and wrenching them violently within her body. Quickly, without a word, she hurried to the restroom and shut the door behind her, barely making it to double over the appropriate receptacle before emptying the contents of her stomach. There wasn't much inside her except the short-bread cookies and the wine, and as the illness faded, she immediately blamed the alcohol for causing the reaction.

Standing at the sink and rinsing out her mouth, she tried not to look at the mirror which still buckled in the upper right hand corner from when Jason had been thrown against it. It was fine. She was fine. Splashing water over her face and dabbing it dry with a paper towel, she eventually let her eyes trail up to her reflection and surmised that she definitely looked worse than before. But she knew everything that was the cause - the obvious dark circles under eyes were a result of not sleeping, as was the slightly wearied look to her cheeks, and the new paleness was because she'd just violently lost her snack from a few hours ago. Even having an explanation for everything didn't make her feel better about the way she looked.

It was alright. She'd find the time to take a shower in Charlton and she'd just stay away from drinking from now on - no matter what Benoit or anybody else put in her hand. Having regained her composure and cleaned up, she proceeded back out and walked up to the galley where she knew the stewardess was hiding. Quietly, she demanded gum of some kind, and when she was handed a packet, she once again took her seat. She stoically chewed a few pieces of her newly acquired cinnamon flavored gum, the spicy sweetness burning her tongue and erasing the awful taste of bile.

***

On the road again and behind the wheel, Rudy whistled lightly to himself the dungeon songs from Super Mario World and tapped out the bass beat on the steering wheel with his hands. A new red and swelling bruise adorned his left cheek and after a few moments, he pulled out a small stopper made of tissue from his left nostril, sniffling experimentally to make sure the bleeding had stopped before tossing it away.

Gwen laid on her stomach in the backseat, practically hog-tied with her restraints and with a few new bruises and blood stains of her own. Duct tape was pulled over her mouth, almost wrapped all the way around to the back of her neck, and she rested her sore cheek against the leather seats, trying not to think about where they were going.

"That was completely unfair getting that biker involved," Rudy said in a disappointed tone of voice, sitting up in his seat to look at her in the rearview mirror. "Not that I was scared of him or anything. Also, I hope you realize that you totally got those guys killed trying to get them to help you. Not my fault. I explained all this to you last night - I have no problem with killing innocent people. If you put them in my way, you KNOW without a doubt now what will happen."

The scowl that had appeared on her face when he'd started speaking again, faded somewhat as she remembered what had happened at the hotel before they'd left. She'd tried to escape again. Rudy had drugged her while he'd slept for a few hours, but had allowed her to wake up this morning when the breakfast he'd ordered had arrived. Seeming to grow soft, he'd fed her a few things that he had been willing to share and even helped her drink orange juice when she got thirsty. And all the while, she'd frantically tried to think of a way to escape.

The idea hadn't come to her until he was busy lugging her forcibly down to the car, waiting until there was no one around before moving her through the lobby - which was more a section of hallways all converging at the front desk. In the parking garage, Gwen had been panicking trying to reach out to anyone who might help and lucky for her, there had been some rough looking guys who'd noticed Rudy toting her around like a sack of potatoes. At first, it seemed like none of them knew what to do until she called out to them with her special voice and spurred them into action. A struggle had resulted, and it seemed at first like the burly men had the upper hand, but it ended quickly with Rudy standing alone and holding the electric gun he was fond of using.

Even as disoriented as he was, they were still alone at that point so Rudy took a moment to "reprimand" her before taping her mouth shut and driving off. She'd lost her "speaking privileges" he'd said, as if he'd allowed her to speak at all before. Still, she felt incredibly guilty about getting those people killed. But she didn't know what else to do and desperation had taken over. Every moment she had to think about it, she remembered the visions in Nathan's head and she felt that deep, all-consuming hunger that had been inside Stephanie. She didn't want to die and she knew she was going to if she didn't do something.

"And after I gave you muffins," he said with a shake of his head and slapping the steering wheel.

Gwen was slumping into the leather once more not bothering to even reach out when she felt the phone in his pocket ring a few seconds before she heard the tone.

"Y'ello?" he said in his normal, cheerful, dorky tone as he opened the cell and put it up to his ear. "Oh? ...I bet he does. Yeah, yeah." Even without hearing the other side of the conversation, Gwen knew he'd hung up on the other person before they'd finished speaking. Keeping an eye on the road, Rudy dialed a number and put it up to his ear again and this time Gwen roused herself enough to listen in.

As soon as someone picked up, Rudy immediately started speaking, his voice running quick without losing his coherence and keeping his laid-back cool demeanor. "Hey, this is Quin. Now, I should have contacted you sooner than this about the recent turn of events, and it's probably not helping my case any, but believe me that I'm serious when I say, I've been a bit preoccupied lately. I know, I know, I've probably got an axe over my head right now, but just hear me out.

"It was an accident. I was in pursuit of my target and everything was fine - I was in the process of springing a trap on her, which under normal circumstances should have worked with how many men my partner tossed my way. But like she tends to do, Ozzie attached herself to some people and I had no freaking clue who they were. One minute, we were having dinner with this loser and his fat girlfriend and the next, they both start whipping out powers, like, 'Holy shit!'

"Have you read issue #234 of Teen Titans? When Terra becomes a part of the team and everything's cool until they find out she's working for Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke and it's like 'Oh, my God! No way!'? Anyways, it was kinda like that. And the dude freaking pulled a 'Batman' on me while I was trying to take a pee. I'm fairly discomfited about the homosexual overtones of the experience and I may or may not need counseling.

"And now I've been babysitting Bettsy, the empathic whale, and she tries to kill me every chance she gets - you'd think she doesn't want to be Agency property or something. It's weird. My assistant is fish food, I've got a freaking fractured skull, and I can't find my Magic cards anywhere - I was so sure they were in the glove box, but Hoskins probably moved them, the cheeky bastard, God rest his soul..."

Finally, Rudy took a breath to laugh and shrugged helplessly before saying in humored tones, "I gotta tell you, Sir. It's been a shitty fucking week."

Despite the defensive content of his conversation, Rudy was the perfect picture of calm, almost confident to the point of arrogance. Gwen still couldn't read any of his thoughts but when she reached through the phone to read who he was talking to, her body stiffened in alarm. Whoever was on the other line had as much of a mental "signature" as Vince Hoskins did this morning and his mind was a hole so much deeper than Stephanie had ever been able to conjure up.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Ten
Rudy didn't get easily rattled. It just wasn't something that came naturally to him and he had a wide, emotional buffer zone that kept him from even acknowledging such when it did happen. But as the man on the other line finally began to speak, Quin lost the cool grace that he normally had and felt himself swallow thickly as his breakfast threatened to make the trip back up his throat.

The original plan for this phone call was to exude confidence and familiarity and hope that the unexpected conduct would earn him some points with whoever he'd upset - he hadn't even been paying attention really when everybody kept saying he'd fucked up, so he'd kinda walked into a dark room with his eyes closed as far as knowing who he was talking to. He assumed whoever was in charge would understand the mistake and appreciate his honesty and that they'd be laughing together about it after a few minutes. Well, he was definitely paying attention now and scrambling frantically to come up with "plan B". And nobody was laughing.

A-1! A fucking A-1! Jesus! And oh, fucking God! Had he used a TT reference to describe the unexpected incident at the restaurant?? He was somewhat surprised that he hadn't been killed through the phone yet and prayed it was by the grace of whatever omnipotent being had his back enough to allow him a second chance to correct himself and not an elaborate ruse to draw out his torment.

His maddening pursuit of figuring out what to say next was abruptly halted as he felt an unfamiliar pressure within his skull, like a soft tugging on his brain. It was like someone watching and leering at him, making him paranoid except inside his head and immediately he stamped on the brakes, Gwen's body lunging forward and rolling off the seats to the floor in the back. As she landed with a hollow "umf!", whatever had been in his head instantly disappeared and he glared at her in the rearview mirror as he continued driving, reasserting the mental control he knew had kept her out until a second ago.

The phone was still up to his ear and he was startled as Eric prodded him for a response. "My bad--I mean..." he started hoarsely, pausing and shaking his head to clear it and taking a deep breath before continuing in a slower and much more wary tone, walking on eggshells as he frantically tried to think of a way to turn these events to his benefit. Or at least lead things to a conclusion that didn't end with him dead.

"Hello, Mr. Patten," he started again, almost saying the words as if he were asking a question - the questioning tone itself was more in the vein of searching for approval than anything else; was that right? Did he say it the way he was suppose to? - and the rest of the words that followed were hinted at with the same stops and starts as if waiting for some signal from Eric to show he liked what he was hearing before Rudy would move on to the next thing.

He figured it was safest to stay away from anything that hinted at familiarity - despite the tone of the superior Agent's questions - and he also decided to be as thorough as possible but keep it brief. "I caught up with my target in Elmira after following a trail of leads, where she was found boarding a bus to leave the city. By the time I came up to her, however, she was already with Gwen and Alexander, although at the time, I was not aware of who they were and they did not know I was an Agent - they used different names and there was no reason for me to believe that they possessed powers or were involved with the Agency in any way...

"Osono stayed with them, even when they got off the bus at Terreston, and seemed to make enough of a connection with them to accept an invitation to dinner. I tagged along of course, still undercover, but I lost contact with my partner almost as soon as we got off the bus. Luckily, I was able to send a signal to her when we reached the restaurant - a fancy French place that Alexander selected, called La Madeliene. Noel appropriated a small team of your men, without my prior knowledge, in hopes that the added levels of expertise would bolster the chances of success...

"It is not usual for Osono to make friends and she seemed to be warming up to both targets. I was worried that they might make trouble, so I sought to control the problem before it began and confronted Alexander in private with the plan to eliminate him. Right around that time, Noel's team of Agents arrived and began to engage Osono and Gwen back at the table. Also, not being prepared for it and not even realizing who Alexander was at the time - I've since been informed as much as I can be by Noel's personal knowledge of Agency lore - so I'm sorry to say I was overpowered and left for dead...

"Alexander joined the fray and along with Ozzie--I mean, Osono, they whittled down the numbers fairly quickly. There was a fire blocking them off and when I emerged from the washroom, Gwen was the only one I had access to. I became aware of her powers and decided to try and salvage what I could from the situation and took her with me when I left... "

Finally, the report came to a stop and Rudy waited nervously, briefly peering into the back to make sure Gwen was still alive - despite landing unceremoniously and swallowing her heart when she'd fallen, she was fine - and flip-flopped with hoping that he hadn't drawn out the report too long and worrying that he hadn't been thorough enough with the details of what had happened. Licking his lips rapidly, and realizing that the blackmail plot he'd had in store for Stephanie was no longer going to work - there wasn't going to be any jerking this guy around and casting any blame on anyone else right now would probably fall into the category of "words that would make a tear fall from his mother’s eye" - Rudy decided it wouldn't hurt to grovel and beg a little bit.

"I...had no clue at the time that I was even responsible for any Agents other than my own, even when Alexander's powers became apparent to me... It was just a mistake... I'm... I'm sorry, Mr. Patten... If I had known they were your men I would have taken the right precautions to make sure that nothing went wrong... As it is... it was a loss of communication and bad luck to encounter Alexander that was responsible for what occurred... it could have happened to anyone..." He paused. "Please...sir...Mr. Patten...have mercy..."

As she listened to the back and forth from her new position on the floor, Gwen blinked at the soft, pleading tone that had entered Rudy's voice near the end. The dynamic between the different ranks in the Agency was intriguing to watch - and "A-1"? What was that? Like, "President" or something? - and she didn't know whether to enjoy watching Rudy squirm or to worry herself about the man who was not a man on the other line. Even just hearing his voice, she didn't need to delve any deeper to know that Rudy asking for "mercy" was a lost cause. But she also knew that if she were in his place, she'd probably do and say anything to better her chances, especially if Eric Patten had the authority to make good on all his threats.

Even though the Agency car Rudy was driving was classier than most, the floor was still uncomfortable and the carpeting was not only stiff, with tightly packed fibers, but thin as well. Adjusting her position slightly, she contemplated reaching out for help with the other drivers on the road - even though her mouth was taped, she knew from her encounter with Osono that she didn't need to use her voice to put a suggestion in someone's head. But as soon as the thought occurred to her, she tossed it away with a sad wince, the images of the men from the hotel dying, flashing before her eyes. She'd forced her will upon innocent strangers to get them to blindly dive into a situation where they were severely impaired even compared with Rudy and she'd gotten them killed. It made her double guess the merits of even using it again. Without Alex and Xander here, though...it made her extremely vulnerable to just sit and wait...

***

Back in her seat, busily chewing away to distract herself from the emptiness and residual sickness that swayed in her stomach, Stephanie barely looked up when Eric's phone rang yet again. She did however glance in Jason's direction when he spoke up, obviously about to inquire after her well-being. She wasn't really sure how to feel about that... There was nothing particularly concerned about him asking her and normally, she would be irritated about him thinking her weak enough that he even needed to ask. And maybe it was because of their time together on this flight that was affecting the way she was feeling but...she read more into the almost asked question than was probably there.

Stephanie would have taken the moment to berate herself for her foolish flights of fancy, but luckily, Benoit cut the whole situation short and drew attention to Eric who still hadn't answered his phone. Remembering what he'd said about demoting Rudy a rank for every minute he didn't get in touch with him, she assumed he was doing it on purpose to get the guy to sweat a little. Or maybe he was just looking for an excuse to demote him? That seemed unlikely, considering his own rank; he didn't need more of a reason than what he already had to punish Rudy. So it was probably the former reason of getting Quin frantic before finally answering the phone.

Silence reigned for the next few minutes after that and she found herself internally rolling her eyes. Oh, yes...she remembered that about him. Rudy really liked to hear himself talk, often ranting and prating on about the most nonsensical crap, taking forever to get to the point. She'd been lucky in her conversation with him that he hadn't gone on forever, but despite herself, she sat tensely watching what Eric would say in response. For normal situations with those on his level, Rudy could get away with being an idiot who didn't know when to shut up. But as the silence wore on longer, she couldn't believe he'd be so foolish to do so with Eric.

As the A-1 Agent introduced himself in those low tones that made her strain to grasp onto, she knew right away that Rudy had indeed screwed up. The idiot probably hadn't even known who he'd been speaking to. The rest of Eric's conversation had her perched politely on the edge of her seat to even hear, but from what she could generally glean from the whole thing was that he was probably the most fantastic and utterly beautiful person she'd ever met.

Not beautiful in the traditional sense, but she wasn't even the object of his scorn or the threats he dealt with cold ease and it sent a shiver down her spine. That familiarity with violence and the power rippling off of him in waves was very magnetic and she enjoyed very much watching him work tearing someone down before smoothly shifting modes to a more relaxed state. The fact that Rudy was the target was just an added bonus that made her feel giddy and threatened to make her swoon in admiration.

Still...a small frown appeared on her lips to wonder what Rudy might have said to Eric and what he would say or do in what was probably now desperation. She worried about Gwen first and foremost. Would he hurt her? Had he hurt her already? Ever since her own phone conversation with Rudy and his mention of drugging Gwen, she'd imagined her target lying in a constant state of unconsciousness all the way to Charlton. It would be the most convenient plan of action to keep the target in such a state while transporting her. But Rudy wasn't a smart person...

Buckling her seatbelt, she prepared for their landing while still focusing intently on the conversation and anything that might be said about Gwen. Although another reason to physically hurt Rudy when he arrived in Charlton would be nice, the fact that Gwen was already so much a part of her made her anxious that he'd mistreated her in some way.

***

Was he fucking serious? Seriously? Just because she had powers didn't mean she was fucking invincible! And just because she felt obligated to share with him that she wasn't a bomb-factory didn't mean in any way that she had doubts about her involvement or that she didn't want to help! Well, screw him if she ever told him anything about herself ever again! You know what? Fine! She'd fucking deal with the problem - he didn't have to be burdened any further about what she did or didn't need!

Ozzie had to resist the urge to heat the room again, clenching her fist and grinding her teeth as he finished gathering his stuff, and helped the warmth threatening to overtake her subside by counting to ten. Do not burn Ben. Do not burn Ben. Do not consume Ben in a blaze of firey death... She could not comprehend what Gwen saw in this guy if he couldn't get over himself for even a few seconds.

She didn't really have anything to say to him - and if she did talk, she knew she was just going to start swearing and getting angrier and angrier until he ended up with his hair on fire - so she was silently following him into the hallway right on his heels and unperturbed that he didn't seem to want to wait for her. Adjusting Gwen's bag on her shoulder helped her stop imagining different ways to barbecue him though.

Ignoring his incomprehensible murmuring to himself kept getting harder and whatever conversation he was having was growing more intense by the minute. No longer did she find this cute or funny, so she tensed defensively when he finally addressed her enough to answer her question. She'd practically forgotten she'd even asked about that, with how mad he kept making her. They were like Body Snatchers then? ...She tried not to get unsettled when she realized the reason she even knew of that movie was because Rudy had told her about it - hmmm, maybe he'd been trying to hint at something...?

And Ben's quick little explanation for his bad behavior made her sneer at him. She'd fucking offered the bed to him and he'd said 'no' and now she was suppose to be understanding when he took it out on her? And "Do not expect him to apologize"??? Do. Not. Burn. Ben...

By the time they were on the elevator, she'd fully euthanized her murderous urges and had retreated back into a surly silence. Like she'd said before, they didn't need to be friends to do this - but damn it all if they couldn't be civil! It wouldn't bother her so much if she didn't own most of the guilt, so instead of letting his bad attitude roll off her back, she felt defensive with the way he kept treating her.

As he spoke up and explained further about these Agent people, she felt herself grow cold and a different tension enter her body. Not out of fear for herself, but for Gwen. So they were like Body Snatchers! Why wasn't he more worried? These people had Gwen and that meant they were probably putting someone in her head right now! Maybe he was worried... maybe that was why he was being such an asshole. It wasn't the bed or his foot that had him talking down to her every time he said something or kept him murmuring agitatedly to himself. It was because he was scared.

All at once, as they made it to the ground floor, even with her own worries about Gwen being in current danger, she found enough strength in her new realizations to not want to brutally kill Gwen's boyfriend anymore. Of course, he was stressed about whether they would even find her let alone make it in time to save her, and Ozzie was a convenient target to take it out on. Although she understood and it did make her feel better about things, she still thought he was being a super, big fat baby for dealing with his feelings in that way. Then again...considering how she'd been dealing with her own guilt by lashing back out at him, she wasn't much better in that regard.

Following him to the check-out counter, she waited nearby, watching as he first selected a car - an Audi! Sweet baby Jesus! - and passed his credit card across the counter without blinking an eye about the price. When he turned to her wearily with that offer of information, she smirked slightly.

"Me? Get mad you? Now you're really just making up stories, Penis-Neck," and despite herself, she actually laughed about that again. That new nickname was definitely a keeper. She could get through the rest of this without a problem and all she had to do was call him that and remind herself of the irreverent doodle he'd put on himself.

When she'd finally calmed down enough to speak clearly again, she clapped him heavily on the back in a rough gesture of camaraderie. "I don't know... If there's anything more indepth I need to know about Them that will help us deal with Them then fine, but the rest, I don't really wanna hear about it. Mostly, I just want to know where we're going and what the plan is for getting her out before a Body Snatcher takes her over."

She wasn't going to bring up the doubts she had about making it in time. No. They were going to get her back and she would be Gwen, the real Gwen. That was all there was to it. "Other than that... I guess I'd like to know your name. When I keep calling you 'Ben' it makes me feel like a dumbass." Not that she was likely to call him by it as much, when there were so many much more entertaining things to address him by.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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To say that Rudy felt some of the threat and overall malevolence from the man connected ear to ear with him, would be an understatement. It practically oozed through the phone dripping into his skull and had Quin sitting on pins and needles even while he tried to concentrate on the road he was still driving on. So, when Eric finally responded back to Rudy's long spiel and soul venting, the chipper tone in the other man's voice and abrupt disconnection felt like he'd crashed into a brick wall at 80 mph. Thoughts were swarming through his mind surrounding the man's last words to him and he couldn't believe the conversation was over. It was as much a relief as it was not.

"A-5? Waitaminute--Sir? Sir?" his voice was bordering on disrespectful as he shouted into the echo of the dial-tone. "FUCK!" And then the phone was no longer against his ear but flung out to clatter violently against the windshield where it stayed nestled on the dashboard quietly. "I fucking called you as soon as I could! It wasn't my fault! It was stupid, fucking Alexander!!!"

There was no question who Eric had been referring to when talking about an "adorable A-5" and what the implications were. The pompous ass! There hadn't been more than a minute between when he'd gotten the call from some "Lyddie" chick warning him about his time limit and when he'd phoned the guy. Although Eric had taken forever to answer, at the time, Rudy had let it roll off his back with the confidence that his conversation skills would smooth any and all threats over.

For almost 4 or 5 years, Rudy had been the Lead on Osono's case and an A-3 level Agent. And with how troublesome the pyromaniac metalhead was, it hadn't been easy to keep his position, let alone what it had taken to actually secure the spot for himself in the first place. Whereas others moved up the ranks in the Agency through hard-work and ingenuity, Rudy had done so by seducing the previous Lead on the case. His relationship with Noel went as far back as his first assignment as a lowly A-6 on her team, and ever since then, she'd done everything from covering his constant mistakes to pumping up his stats to justify an overly speedy promotion.

The most effort Rudy had ever put into keeping his position was allowing Noel to play "top" whenever she wanted to and whipping out the sexual contexts of their relationship whenever she was angry or stressed about his latest failure. Other than that, it had all been her doing. Never having filed a report for the case, Rudy was still the only living member of the team who had any idea what really happened on all the missions he'd led to take Osono down. And Noel was so dedicated to keeping her little boy toy, she willingly made up stories to fill in the blanks on records that would otherwise be damning and illuminate Quin as the incompetent fool that he was.

Even though there hadn't been a lot of effort involved, his position in the Agency had allowed him a certain amount of freedom, resources and power that he had grown well-accustomed to. Getting Osono was a side-option to be completed at the last minute, but the rest of the time, he enjoyed himself while still putting forth as little or as much effort to make it look like he was doing his job. He knew about Ozzie's hate-filled crush on him and that it would continue to keep her from killing him so long as he played the fool, so it was a win-win as far as staying on top went - and Noel had never questioned why Rudy remained the only constant, in fact growing jealous when she heard about Osono's deep-rooted feelings.

After the initial shock of his demotion passed, Rudy finally calmed down and let out a long, deep breath as he gripped the steering wheel. It was alright. It was going to be alright, he was still alive and could work his way back up again. At least that was the worst of his troubles now. Afterall, Mr. Patten had forgiven him for the mistake. Thinking positively once again, the usual haughty and geeky smile spread across his features and he laughed quietly to himself thinking that he'd gotten away pretty much Scott free once again. Well, almost...but he'd seriously thought the A-1 was going to kill him for a few seconds, so it was like he'd dodged a bullet "Matrix-style" in his opinion.

He glanced at the discarded phone and contemplated calling Noel for several minutes, but he suspected that she'd known all along who had his neck in a noose and had not told him - he'd fucking asked the bitch who she'd gotten the men from. And for that reason, he'd already thrown her away. It wouldn't be too hard to continue to manipulate her until he'd regained some semblance of control and then throw her under the bus later. He'd come up with something nice and crippling, just for her, and then take her position as the supervisor on Osono's case. When he was in charge, nobody could say "boo" to him. Ha!

Oh... that reminded him of the other thing Mr. Patten had said. He was suppose to "keep Gwen safe". Hm, maybe the little psychotic psychic was important to somebody afterall. Sitting up in his seat, Rudy peered into the rearview but couldn't see her. He had to glance back several times to get a good look at where she lay on the floor of the backseat.

"Hey, Porky," he said over his shoulder, while watching the road. "Did I shake ya up good? Funny little mind trick you tried to pull while I was talking to the bossman. Don't ever do it again."

This whole time, Gwen had been lying on the carpet trying to think while keeping an ear out for Rudy's reactions to the phone call he'd gotten. The other Agent's last words had not been what she'd expected from somebody like him - was "cupcakes and sugar" codeword for something or was Eric Patten just the gayest guy in the Agency, in addition to being a leader of some kind? - and she had no idea what A-5 or A-1 even meant. Alex might know. Xander would most definitely have an idea. At the thought of him, she once again stretched out as far as she could, straining her focus to find his mental signature, looking for that familiar pulse. It was like sitting in a boat out in the water and trying to see crabs walking on the seabed several hundred feet below. There were hints of things moving about but the actual ocean floor and the things on it were not even visible. He was too far away... She couldn't do it...

When Rudy addressed her, making another unnecessary jab at her weight - how long would he keep that up? Until he ran out of fat related names? - she turned slightly, on her side, to peer between the front seats to look in his general direction. He glanced back at her and saw fully for the first time what he'd done to her face and felt a sudden trickle of sweat coat the middle of his back through his shirt. He hadn't really thought about his abuse too hard when it had just been Stephanie he'd been delivering Gwen to - hell, he'd kinda let loose a little bit the two times Gwen had pissed him off, just to see the look on the woman's face when he finally dropped off her precious target. But now...the A-1 Agent was involved and he'd specifically asked for Rudy to keep her safe. Trying to predict Mr. Patten's reactions, he assumed he also meant keeping her safe from himself and he knew he couldn't deliver her looking like she was a hostage kept in somebody's basement for 3 days. That would be highly unprofessional and not fit into the 'working hard' criteria.

"Hey...how about we clean you up, huh?" he said, keeping an eye on the road but speaking loud enough so she knew he was addressing her. "If you promise not to make any other innocent people beat the shit out of me, forcing me to kill them, maybe we'll stop somewhere nice for lunch and get you in some new clothes or something."

Gwen blinked at that and shifted her lips under the duct tape that was starting to itch on her face. Was...was he being nice? She didn't know his reasons and she didn't want to know - although she suspected it had something to do with that phone call from his superior - but it was another opportunity. She knew that Rudy was currently going speeds that was bringing them closer to Charlton and that they'd probably make it there by late afternoon. Knowing what was waiting for her there, she had this one last chance to escape from his clutches. So far, her escape plans had been fueled by panic and desperation and they'd both failed. This time, she needed to be smart about it and ensure that if she was going to make another suggestion and enlist someone's help, that the risk to their life was smaller than the chance of success. But she also could not afford to wait until the opportunity passed her by. There was a fine line and she had to be sure the moment and the persons were right, otherwise, they'd be like flies on a windshield and more blood on her hands.

When he glanced back at her for an answer, she nodded and mumbled in agreement. Yes, she would be a good girl...

***

Taking the small piece of gum from her mouth, Stephanie very daintily placed the chewed chunk of rubber in it's wrapper and rolled it up neatly. The flavor had gotten bland and the tastelessness of it had been bothering her. But at least the taste it had been intended to cover up was completely gone now and every trace of her previous momentary illness was gone by the time Eric finally hung up on Rudy. At his statements, she almost snorted. Rudy? Cute and admirable? Only Eric, who saw everyone from such a high, cold perch could use terms like that and have it apply to the person he was talking about. Even when she'd sort of liked Rudy back in training, she still wouldn't have called him cute.

Airily, she listened to the current flow of conversation, making note of Benoit actually standing up to the A-1 for once, but her attention was fixated firmly in place at Jason's question. She had to hold back a long drawn out "aww" that threatened to escape her lips at not only the question itself but also her partner's reactions to Eric's response. Now THAT was cute! So innocent! Stephanie had never been the type of person to fawn or cuddle, but the urge to snatch him up and squeeze him tight was very real. He brought out the strangest emotions within her...

Truthfully, Stephanie did not consider things in such strict terms. In her personal opinion, Eric wasn't "evil", no matter what he said, but rather a man who saw what he wanted and had nothing holding him back from getting it. She had to admit, that as far as morals and decency went, there were very few things that Stephanie flinched at anymore and she'd tried just about everything. But there were still some things that tickled the emotional fiber within her and kept her restrained from action. These ideas and feelings held her back, whereas Eric had achieved true freedom from everything that would turn even the most hardcore Agent's stomachs. For that reason, she truly admired him, not only as a Leader and authority figure but also as a person. He was everything she'd, at one time in her life, hoped to be. Now she sought to achieve freedom in other ways...

As the plane shifted around her, she felt a burst of excitement fill her and a small smile came unbidden to her lips. It had less to do with the adrenaline of the plane's descent and more to do with their arrival in Charlton, what had become like a "Promised Land" for her. Even with needing to wait until Elmira to do her transfer and even with what Benoit was now saying they'd need to wait even longer while he got his shit together dealing with Alexander - none of it mattered. Charlton was where Gwen and her paths would converge and their destinies would twine inseparably together. Nothing could ruin her good mood barring Rudy showing up with nothing in hand.

As the plane touched down, she let out a conservative "Whoo!" and giggled a little, bouncing in her seat while watching the jet rush along the runway, progressively slowing down before coming to a complete stop. The Charlton airport was a tremendous relief to finally see and she cast a bright smile around to the others with her while unbuckling her seat belt.

"I'll be waiting eagerly for your signal, Benoit," she said, calmly but with an undercurrent of zealous energy. "You've been nothing but cooperative with my team on this case and I thank you greatly for everything. I also trust your judgment and agree, it would be best to wait until Alexander is no longer a threat before starting the transfer. The Devil knows, I don't want it to screw up either. And I'm almost certain, with Eric's help, you'll finally succeed in neutralizing your target."

She waited patiently, humming lightly to herself for first Eric and then Benoit to rise and proceed to the door of the plane before getting up as well and following them out, with Jason behind her. Standing at the top of the stairs that were pushed in front of the doorway, she breathed in deeply and let out a long sigh as a gentle morning breeze tossed a few strands of her light, golden hair about her face.

Turning back to look at Jason, she gave him a smile, her green eyes shining an emerald hue in the light of day and said excitedly, "She's almost here! I cannot wait!"

Near the bottom of the steps a limousine waited for them and a stony faced chauffeur dressed in black waited beside the rear door. At the bottom of the mobile stairwell, while Benoit and Eric proceeded to the car, Stephanie stopped suddenly and turned to Jason once again, her joy now dampened by a concerned look. Blocking his way down, she seemed to have forgotten the car and Gwen for the moment, fixated on this new worry. Seeing the car made her remember the promises and threats that had been made in the other vehicle.

Touching his arm gently, she looked over the suit he was wearing - sexy and slimming, she was just now realizing - and asked, "Are you going to be alright? The suit..."

This wasn't the time nor the place, she suddenly realized, once again becoming aware of the other two who were with them entering the car. Giving Jason one last, piercing green look, she turned and followed after the others, bending at the waist to slide into the stretched vehicle. There were two large seats in the back that faced forward, and a long three or four person seat along the one side, all covered in plush black leather, the car filled with the overpowering smell of it. Taking one of the seats along the side, Stephanie turned to Eric, suddenly intent.

"Are you still planning to kill Rudolph Quin?" she asked. "I do not mean to seem morbid or as if I'm overstepping personal boundaries, Sir, but... If you are, I would very much appreciate being there for it - if not an active participant in his leaving this world, then at least present to watch. If it's alright with you, Master."

Almost as soon as the word left her mouth, she knew it was wrong and a sharp blush filled her cheeks as she looked away. Oh fuck! Why would she call him that!? She hadn't called anyone that in years! Why now!? Gently, she smoothed a hand over her lap and cleared her throat, willing the heat to leave her face and trying to think of something to say in place of that to cover up her blunder - maybe he wouldn't notice? She could only hope that he wouldn't bring it up. God! She was such a moron!

"I'm sorry, if I seem a little scatter-brained at the moment..." she said hiding in her safe and secure monotone, keeping her eyes trained on the floor and then on her hands in her lap and then the windows. "I've been chasing Gwen for three days when I had originally expected to have her in my clutches within 5 hours of ordering her capture. When Rudy brings her... This will be the first time I've had real, face-to-face contact with her without needing to subdue her. I'm just a little excited..."

There, that was an explanation... sort of.

***

Osono didn't really expect him to take this long answering the questions she'd asked, but she supposed it might have to do with him not having all the chinks in the plan figured out yet. That was fine, she was willing to wait for his mind to work through it. Meanwhile, however, she had to think of herself. With only a few dollars left in her wallet, she needed to figure out a way to provide for herself so she wasn't stuck leeching off of the schizo. He may have had a cushy wallet, but she didn't want to add to the reasons why she wasn't an asset.

So, as they left the counter and proceeded towards the garage, Ozzie was busy looking over the few people they passed while still in the lobby, searching for a good mark. She found him when they entered the first hallways, a portly man in a business suit with a long overcoat with hems that dangled just over the ground. He glanced at Alex as he passed him first, but did not even seem to see Ozzie until she bumped heavily into the right side of his chest.

"Oh! sorry, dude! Ya alright?" she asked as he shook himself slightly and carried on as he'd been going, barely nodding in answer to her question and eager to leave her presence.

She watched him for a few seconds more before hurrying after Alex, just in time to hear him start detailing what the plan was. Find an Agent, huh? Seemed simple enough and she knew he'd wanted to find one before, but now she knew why. Of course, these guys were high-tech and classified enough to keep their "head quarters" locked up tight. Rubbing her hands together, she became eager to get started, now that she knew what they were suppose to be doing and that they had a definite place where they were supposed to be going.

As he elaborated even more, she started to search her memory for anything she knew about Charlton. Nope. Didn't ring any bells and she didn't think she'd ever been there before. Which was probably better for them, going someplace where she hadn't left behind a trail. Agents weren't likely to be the only ones to remember her in the cities she'd passed through.

When he warned her not to touch him or punch him anymore, she smiled and took her pack of cigarettes from her pocket. "Sure, thing, pussy," she said with a cig between her lips, quickly casting a glance around before starting an ember on the end of it just as they passed through the doors to the rental lot. Following him to the car when he found it, she blinked happily at the vehicle and ran a hand over the door before opening it and sliding in.

"Freaking Metal," she murmured around her cigarette as she petted the dashboard and felt at the seats before closing the door behind herself. The divider between the seats was complex and interesting and she spent a few moments opening it up and looking around in the small, empty compartments. Satisfied with her inspection, she turned and rolled down the window with a push of a button and flicked the ash off her cigarette outside before returning it to her mouth.

Ozzie waited until they'd left the lot behind before she dug into the wide sleeve of her army jacket and pulled out a tan leather pocket book. The wallet itself was long and rectangular, with a golden clasp on the front which she flipped open carelessly. Inside the long pocket for cash, she murmured appreciatively to find several high-marked bills. Quickly, she removed them and counted it out to be about $800, stacking them together straight in her hand before folding them and tucking them away in her pants pocket. Then she proceeded to look over the rest of the wallet, taking a moment to show Alex the photo of the guy fishing and muttering, "What a square. Nice shorts though, eh?"

The cards that lined the inner pocket were useless to her - a few bankcards that she didn't have the PINs for and several club and exclusive membership credit cards that they would never send the average Joe in the mail. When she grew bored with it, she tossed it flippantly out the window and blew a stream of smoke after it.

"So, 'Alex', huh?" she said with a smirk and crinkling her nose at him. "You couldn't come up with something more girly? Fine, whatever. If that's what you wanna be called. So long as you answer to it. As much as I'd like to scream 'dipshit' from across a room to get yer attention, I kinda have that reserved for generally everybody." She flicked her cigarette again and smiled meanly at him. "But 'Penis-Neck' is just special for you, I promise."

With that out of the way, she was now paying attention to the commands he'd been giving to the GPS and asked, "So, these places we're going to... What are they? Like...office buildings...headquarters? What? And sure, creating scenes. I got ya covered in that area." She could just start a really big fire and let it run loose and it was bound to grab somebody's attention. "Oh! But, I'll try not to melt anybody, since I know it hurts your feelings." She laughed lightly at that and turned on the radio, instantly searching out a heavy metal station and turning the volume up on a particularly brutal song.

"These speakers are the shit!" she yelled to him through the noise, bobbing her head lightly.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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When Eric spoke, Stephanie's eyes unwillingly drifted back up to focus upon him. It seemed disrespectful to look away from him while he was addressing her, as if she weren't giving him her full attention, and there was suddenly a very strong urge to give him every measure of reverence and obedience she could muster that hadn't been present when they'd been on the jet. She didn't understand it and the feeling was familiar, but at this particular moment, she was beyond the point of introspection and allowed her green eyes to latch back onto his face, giving him the appropriate amount of eye contact while he beamed gloriously at her.

There was a note of understanding in his voice that immediately set her at ease, melting away the mortification she'd suffered mere seconds before, but what really had her filled with comforting butterflies was his praise. She hadn't realized until that moment that his approval was something she had been looking for, but she definitely noticed it now. Again, the feeling was familiar, but she did not examine it closely, preferring to let it wash over her and striving to hear more praise for her coming from his lips. She wanted to be included in everything he thought was important.

Her eyes were shining so much at the prospect of being promoted and rewarded for achieving her long sought after goals, that she neither noticed the look that crossed Benoit's face, nor even considered the very real potential for her target to escape again once she had her hands on her. In her mind, right now, all that was running through the realm of possibilities was that this was it, the final leg of her arduous journey coming to a close with a new door waiting for her and ready to open at the end of the tunnel.

Stephanie wasn't too heavily invested in watching Rudy die, although it was something she knew without a doubt would bring her a great deal of pleasure. But mostly it was the combination of the identity of the victim and the fact that Eric would be the executioner that had her eager to witness it. The man was like a God when it came to dealing in death and the dreamy look in her green eyes deepened as he once again elaborated on his constant escape from the Fate that held the rest of them chained down to this Earth. And also, a small blush dusted her cheeks appreciatively when he mentioned "bending the rules" to allow her to be present to watch him deal Quin his last breath.

"Nothing will ever stop you..." her voice held just the tiniest bit of awe and it was reflected heavily in her expression as she looked at him. The moment passed quickly and with a blink her face closed again, but the look remained in a much more restrained form as she continued on. "I thank you for granting the opportunity to watch you work; just one more thing to look forward to today. As for...'Xander', is it? I must admit that I've been consumed and fixated on my own target through this to the exclusion of almost everything else." Almost. "With all the talk about him when I'd only heard rumors before entering the field, I am intrigued about the man who stole my little Gwendolyn's heart."

It was somewhat the truth. With everything else that had been occupying her attention through this pursuit of Stewart, a certain curiosity about Alexander had developed, especially with how fondly Eric and even Benoit seemed to talk about him. But even from the first moment she'd heard Gwen had left with him, she'd wanted to know why.

"I can reason it out and analyze her actions because of my personal knowledge about her - it makes the most sense that the trauma of her situation would push her closer to him, especially with his obvious familiarity in dealing with what she's going through. But from everything that has been said and has happened, I cannot help coming to the conclusion that there is something very specific and special about him in particular."

A soft smile came to her lips and she glanced at Benoit. "I am especially eager for the moment when you give me the call in Elmira. Not just for the obvious reason of allowing me to proceed to the next phase of this case, but also for the opportunity the event itself presents. The complete and utter collapse of the hope he is coming to save her, will be both heartbreaking and satisfying to watch as it finally descends upon her. Like the cherry on the top of a sundae, it will be a delicious start to the entire process."

Taking a break from fawning over Eric, she relaxed back in her seat then and glanced in Jason's direction. With the open nature of the inside of the car, there wasn't a lot she could get away with as far as physical contact. But her eyes wandered over him unabashedly, the green orbs filled with a sense of hunger and her lashes fluttering as she undressed him with a sweeping gaze, practically licking her lips as she did so. For several minutes, she silently entertained a fantasy of what it would be like to take him down in the luxurious vehicle, but eventually her vision cleared and she turned back to Eric.

Frowning briefly at Benoit, she looked fixedly at the superior Agent and said, "I agree. I'm very eager to get started. There's no need for further delays." The slight defensive and almost eager tone in her voice was like a rapidly moving undercurrent to the words themselves. Benoit was not going to win the award for being the most industrious, and although it sounded, with the offer he'd made, as if Eric wanted to stop for food, the positive connotations of the other option - them being a 'straight to work' crowd - was more emphasized with the way he'd said it.

The wine hadn't been very nice to her on the plane and her stomach seemed to still be in a temperamental mood, but logically, she knew stopping to get something to eat even when she didn't feel like doing so, was the smartest decision to keep herself working at optimal levels. However, the thought that Benoit, even growling disrespectfully as he had, would seem better and even more efficient than her made it impossible for her to back down. At this particular moment, impressing Eric was the most important thing in the world, and she'd cut off her own hand if it would put her in his favor.

***

Ozzie had of course, expected the music to go almost as soon as she'd started playing with the radio. She'd merely been pushing buttons and checking things out, enjoying the car in her own experimental way anyways. So, she didn't protest when Alex turned it off, and instead turned to open the glove compartment which was empty, as expected. She was somewhat distracted continuing to inspect what the other buttons did - she didn't touch the GPS for obvious reasons - but her attention zoomed back onto him when he mentioned turning her in.

That hadn't been something she'd thought about. The threat from Alex was no big deal and she didn't care what he'd try to do to exact control over her - she was much stronger than him in every way, especially with his gimpy foot - except when it regarded actually staying with him. She'd do the bare minimum to keep him happy and obey his "rules" just so she could continue to use his help in rescuing Gwen. She'd done just fine keeping ahead of Them and everyone else all these years, to the point where she considered the menacing group to be a bunch of idiots - in her mind, They'd gotten "lucky" stealing Gwen away just because there hadn't been anyone there to protect the other woman - and in his current condition, Alex would need her help as well. So, she wasn't too scared about him suddenly turning the tables on her. She'd deal with the problem just like she did every other thing - set them all on fucking fire.

Nodding at his instruction to keep an eye out for Agents, she nodded silently and exited the car, taking several deep sucking puffs on her dwindling cigarette, before regretfully tossing it to the pavement and crushing it underfoot. However, by the time they were in the queue from Hell, she'd forgotten all about that in place of focusing on the snot-faced demon-spawn that stood between them and coffee.

Osono didn't endorse conformity, and the past several years living out of motels and gas stations, taking what she needed from others, was certainly proof of that. But Starbucks was different, she reasoned. On a whim a few years ago, back when she'd been a normal member of society with an apartment and a job, she'd tried the place out, after going through a phase of active rebellion against it. Ever since then, she'd fallen in love with the place, and it was the only time she willingly followed the enmass zombified crowd that lurched into line every day without feeling like a sell-out.

A deep sneer curled her lip as she watched the little hellions run around, particularly focused on a pair that wrestled at her feet, and her fist tightened on the strap of Gwen's bag still slung over her shoulder. The only thing keeping her from heating the place up or starting any fires was the fact that it would be a violation of the heavenly place to fill it with the smell of burning flesh. She just couldn't allow that, so instead suffered in silence, glaring at the wild bunch of little psychos while alternatively casting murderous glances at the woman in charge of them.

She was only distracted from them when Alex turned to her with his questions and she glanced at him before thinking it over. "Goal? What do you want me to say? That in the back of my head, there was a distant hope that he'd turn out to be alright one day and that it'd be over, I'd be free and we could settled down, possibly start a goofy folk band together?" She shook her head and gave him a crooked grin that wasn't happy.

"I don't know. There wasn't a goal. Everytime he left, I swore, the next time I saw him, I'd just be done with it and cut off his head - and yes, alright? I knew he was connected with them constantly showing up, but I wasn't sure if he preceded them or if he called them to me and I didn't want to risk losing him as a possible 'alarm system'."

That wasn't much of an excuse and with the possibility of him actually being responsible for all of the attacks on her, it would have been much easier to just kill him, just in case. "I can't kill him." Ozzie didn't look at him while she said it, preferring to return to glaring at the still fighting brats on the floor. It was a hard thing to admit and she didn't know how to explain it - this was her life they were talking about and she'd basically shot herself in the foot over and over with this one, unexplainable weakness.

"I just can't. There hasn't been anyone but me to look after in years and other than the occasional company Rudy provided, I've been basically alone. No, there wasn't a plan or a 'goal' and there still isn't. After we save Gwen, I'll leave you guys to live happily ever after or what-the-fuck-ever and go back to what was happening before. Being on my own and worrying only about me."

While she'd been speaking, she seemed to grow more and more agitated, but it wasn't the conversation that was doing it to her. Suddenly, she turned her dark eyes to him and whispered in a harsh voice, "I'm sorry, I just can't fucking take this bullshit anymore. These little bastards are ruining my Starbucks experience!"

Turning from Alex, she stepped forward and turned the woman ahead of them around forcibly by the shoulder. "Hey, lady! If you don't wake the hell up and control your brood, I'm going to do it for you!"

"Excuse me?" the woman asked in obvious defensive irritation.

"You're not excused! You need to round these little shit heads up and quiet them down or get the hell out of here. I doubt the fuckers NEED anything they have on the menu here, at least not anymore than what you've already given them."

The woman snorted and rolled her eyes, already discarding Osono from thought. "You need to mind your own business, alright?"

As she started to turn away from her, Osono gritted her teeth and grabbed her by the shirt, turning her back to face her. "And you need to fucking listen to me before I get fucking serious. I'm not playing around."

"Are you threatening me?"

Ozzie wanted to slap the woman but she held back and gave her a restrained response. "Does the term 'deep fried kidlet' mean anything to you?"

***

When Rudy had said they'd stop at someplace "nice" for lunch, Gwen hadn't thought of the truck stop diner that he ended up pulling into. This particular side of the highway they'd been on was filled with large semis hauling their wares across the country, and they were the majority of the vehicles situated in the parking lot. Since it was around noonish, the truck stop was particularly busy and Rudy had needed to get aggressive while driving to secure them a spot near the side of the establishment. As a result, he hadn't made any friends with his fellow drivers, but just as he'd seemed oblivious to Osono's hatred of him, he whistled happily to himself and ignored the enraged gestures and horns blared in his direction.

Parking near the bathrooms along the side of the long building - which was both a diner and a gas station mini mart combo - he forcibly dragged Gwen into the unisex bathroom, locking the door from the outside before leaving her. Lying helplessly tied and gagged on the dirty floor, Gwen only had to wait a few minutes before he returned with a new shirt he'd bought from the mart. The red one she was wearing and had gotten while with Alex was torn and stained with droplets of blood from a nice little nosebleed Rudy had given her earlier that morning.

At first, Gwen was scared that he was going to dress her - and as a result, touch her while she would be half-naked - but, he took off the bracelets locking her arms around her back and tossed the shirt at her. "Change," he said simply, standing back and keeping an eye on her as she did so. Despite being somewhat shy under his eyes, he seemed completely incapable of seeing her as a sexual object and watched her with the minimal amount of interest and wariness that he'd probably give a man.

Several minutes later, Gwen sat across from him in a booth in the diner, wearing a cotton candy pink shirt that barely fit, with "Flirt" scrawled in glittered lettering across her breasts. Her face was cleaned up and her hair was brushed as much as could be expected, but even without the duct tape on her mouth anymore, there were still vague red lines from where it had been stuck to her face. The bruises on her left eye and right cheek bone were growing black and blue but she no longer drew attention, rather exacting the opposite reaction. It was obvious from the marks that she and Rudy both wore that they were in some sort of trouble and nobody around here wanted to get involved in any way. It would make escaping this time particularly difficult if she couldn't find anyone already willing to engage Rudy.

"So what do you want?" Rudy asked, scrutinizing the menu and idly playing with the salt shaker. "The home fries sound good as a side, and this 'biscuits and bits' thing sounds yummy. I always have such trouble deciding with these things and usually end up getting everything on the menu..." He definitely sounded like he was having a hard time of it and Gwen rolled her eyes at him.

Beyond him, at the front doors within her sights, Gwen watched as some truckers entered and approached the bar that bordered the one side of the room. There were a group of three of them and although one of them was skinnier than the other two, he was particularly tall with broad shoulders, making them all look like a heavy set group. The one that settled on the stool nearest them had the name "Earl" etched into his gold belt buckle that barely kept in his overhanging gut, and a baseball cap for some oil company adorned his head. Glancing in their direction, recognition blossomed in his face as he looked at Rudy, and he tapped the guy sitting next to him to motion at the Agent. Probing his thoughts, Gwen realized, Earl had been one of those that Rudy had cut off while driving into the truck stop, causing Earl and a few other truckers to be locked together in the parking lot for at least 10 minutes straight before anyone could move forward.

"Don't," even with the absent-minded tone in his voice, Gwen jumped when Rudy spoke. He wasn't done looking over the menu, but he glanced up at her warningly. "You promised, remember?" Yeah. Sure. She'd "promised". Was he seriously expecting her to keep her word about anything when he was basically threatening her life?

They stared at each other silently for several minutes before he sighed and set the menu down on the table, lifting his left hand to show it to her. Around his palm was a thin band of technology made of smooth grey metal and even as she looked at it and then him, she silently sent a pulse to the still angered truckers. "You remember my little friend, right? All it takes is one minor movement of my wrist and I'll have it out and firing in half a second. So don't you dare try any--"

As the large, bear-like fist closed around the hand he still held up, obscuring both the band and most of Rudy's hand, his voice cut off and he looked at the thick sausage-like fingers in confusion. He barely had enough time to drag his eyes upward to look at the face owning the fingers before a heavy fist slammed into his nose, breaking it. The next few seconds went by like a blur as Earl hauled Rudy out of his seat and threw him against a table, letting him fall to the ground amidst the napkin divider and condiments.

Blinking anxiously, Quin frantically looked around, blood gushing in a flowing stream down over his lips and searched for Gwen. Her spot in the booth was empty and he cursed under his breath while grinding his teeth, swallowing his heart and yelping as Earl grabbed him again and dragged him up from the floor. In the spot where he'd landed, the phone he'd returned to his pocket was left behind and forgotten as the men took their new punching bag outside to finish 'teaching him a lesson'.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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When Eric once again pressed about food, Stephanie cursed herself for making the wrong decision. So he was hungry! Stupid Frenchman! Still, she didn't dedicate too much thought to berating the other Lead for derailing her intent to warm up to the boss - even though she was hungry too and it would have been lovely to share a meal with him as a pre-celebration to everything they were going to accomplish within the next 24-48 hours - at least now, Eric thought that she was dedicated above and beyond bodily needs to Agency work. She left the thought behind with plans to find or make him something once they got to the lab - she could always use the pretext that she'd been hungry herself and that it hadn't been too much trouble to make enough for two... She only worried briefly about whether she would find anything and if it would end up being something he liked. And for some odd reason, that made her glance at Jason - was he hungry too?

When Eric went on to praise the current form he was in, Stephanie was suddenly struck by the humorous description he tacked onto it and laughter bubbled up from her throat as if the joke were funnier than it actually was. But there was nothing put on about the soft rush of giggles, articulating a genuine hilarity at the statements he made. This was the second time on this case that she'd broken into laughter and whereas the first had been a bout of cruel and haughty chuckles resulting from the realization that her target had reached yet another level of development; this was lighter and actually expressing joy for once. Her voice, fluttering up and over the rise and dips of laughter was rich and beautiful and her face lit up for the few seconds that the moment lasted before being chased away by a very un-embarrassed blush.

As Benoit went on to further explain about Xander, ending with the implication that Gwen should have fallen for his original target, she smiled at Eric's energetic cheer for her to have chosen the ex-Agent. "No, that sounds about right," she said nodding her head and thinking for a moment. "I've already explained her daddy issues and how badly most of her adult relationships have gone. Xander may not be the most romantic in an ideal sense, but in this particular situation it's more than just him taking her out to dinner or the movies. It's hard always being forced to be the strong one, especially with desires like hers to share the burden of control in a relationship." Her eyes moved to quickly glance at Jason then, when it occurred to her that the statement also applied to herself.

"But in this unfamiliar and frightening situation, she's looking for guidance and something upon which to ground herself. All he'd have to do is save her life once and the attachment would be formed with him fitting into a "protector" and "daddy" role. Then after that, a little flirting, a few small nice gestures, would indicate a level of 'returned interest' solidifying him as a prospective sexual partner. Not to say she's easy in any way, but the circumstances of being on the run and dealing with new, frightening powers, tends to exaggerate everything to these simplified interactions.

"In fact, I think I know the moment it probably started. In the apartment building, when I fought her, he interrupted and whisked her away, starting this whole crazy thing. She was worn out then and didn't know how to cope with the EDP - I would have had her if he hadn't interfered. Which, by the way, those are some very interesting powers he possesses. Benoit, you basically gave me nothing by which to prepare myself for such an encounter, so I was very surprised when he not only blocked my final blow, but hit me with that mind numbing stare."

Of it's own accord, her hand slithered off her lap to quietly insert itself within Jason's, squeezing him gently in a comforting gesture. "It's not a fun thing to be on the receiving end of," she said with an unperturbed smile, her eyes turning onto her partner. "Right, Jason?"

There wasn't anything hidden within her words - mostly, she was just making idle conversation to keep herself from excited giggling fits while thinking about arriving at the Charlton base - and as she looked at him, her eyes stayed longer than they should have, her gaze drifting down to look at his lips. The hunger drifted back into the emerald glow again, and her smile faded just the tiniest bit to a more thoughtful expression, her gaze fixated on his mouth - she thought she could still detect a small discoloration from when she'd bitten him in Elmira. Stephanie's gaze grew clouded with fantasy, suddenly alone in the car with him, and he with his suit opened down to mid-chest, leaning in close with those gorgeous lips and assaulting her bare neck. With half-hearted and cooed protest, she imagined being pulled close to him and allowing him to lay her down on these plush seats...

Blinking, the vision dissolved and she took in a deep breath through her nose as her eyes cleared and she refocused on him with a blush. God, he was being so sexy right now... even though he wasn't doing anything... Maybe it was the thick smell of leather that was causing her to feel amorous? It did bring back a lot of memories from her training days... Whatever it was did not endure any more indepth scrutiny before she turned back to Eric, her attention focused back on reality with barely a ripple within her psyche.

"So, Master, I have a question about something you said last night," she started, leaving her fingers curled within Jason's on the seat between them and seeming to have forgotten all about it. This time when the odd title passed her lips, she did not notice it, having let it slip out as if it were his name and not realizing she hadn't said "Eric". "I'm not sure if I understood correctly about your abilities - and forgive me, Sir, if I'm being too nosey; you're just a very interesting person." That last was said with a bit of humble concern and then followed up by a coquettish smile.

"But when you... transfer into the corpse of someone with abilities and then they die or you leave them for whatever reason, do you keep their powers? I'm not sure why but I got the impression from the way you described it that you seemed to 'collect' powers? Or am I mistaken?"

***

Ozzie hadn't really had a plan when she'd stepped forward to confront the woman. She just knew she couldn't take it anymore and sought to end it before she started rationalizing more drastic and violent measures to cure the problem - if everyone in line was suddenly ash, then that meant they couldn't order coffee, didn't it? Problem solved.

So, she certainly hadn't possessed enough foresight to predict that touching the "mother" would only exasperate the problem. But it was not like Osono to regret a decision once it'd been made on gut instinct like this had and she glared around at the bright and now very loud faces gathered in a small crowd around her and "Mrs. Janet". At first, a headache started to pulse within her skull and for a few seconds, instead of seeing children she saw a bunch of human sized matches standing around her. Then it hit her as she glared at one of the closer ones, seeing a small light within his eyes that she recognized.

It was not fear but excitement and a desire to play and it reminded her of a time long long ago when she'd had people to look after...

Releasing the women from her grasp, Ozzie turned to face the kids and inserted her fingers between her lips and blew, a sharp and high pitched whistle piercing the air. It cut through the cries and a few of them even cringed and cupped their hands over their ears, before it fell silent and they were left gaping at her.

"You all are a bunch of no good, dirty rotten scoundrels!" she yelled, her raspy voice deepening a few tonal notches and gaining a bit of gruff weight. "Line up against the wall, you filthy bilgerats! NOW, before I fuckin' keelhaul the lot of ya!"

There was no mistaking the threat in her voice and posture but there was also an undercurrent of something playful that they seemed to pick up on and reacted to. Eagerly, as if she were promising a game of some kind, they scrabbled to the nearest wall shoving and pushing one another as they squirmed to line up with their backs against it, a few dancing excitedly in place as she approached with her hands clasped behind her back like a general.

Walking up and down the line of them, turning on her heel, she looked them over once and said in the same tone of voice, "My name is Captain Ozzie van der Wallace, but if any of you turds call me anything other than 'Cap'n', I'll slit your throats from ear to ear and then make you swab the decks in motherfuckin' Hell!" It seemed an exciting prospect to a few of them - or rather her cursing had them giggling for whatever reason. Ozzie stood with a straight back and seemed to flow into the role she'd appropriated for herself, filled with an energy that hadn't been present before but was blended into her with a practiced familiarity. Even the nickname she'd given herself seemed like one she'd used before and was used to saying.

"You have got to be the most sorry-ass excuse for a pirate crew I have ever seen! Hardly deserving of the title 'pirates' at all! Well, lucky for you, I showed up just in time to fuckin' whip your sniveling carcasses into shape before you end up putting a stain on our good name. And I just happen to be in a good mood," she sneered in a very ugly manner at each of them, "that I'd be willing to take time out of my rape and pillaging schedule to learn you guys a few fuckin' manners.

"But first things first, I need to see if you guys even HAVE what it takes to be pirates. When you first board a vessel of potential hostages, do you know what the most important thing is? Intimidation. If normal people aren't scared of you, then you're not fuckin' doin' it right! So every pirate needs a good scowl and a growl to send fear trembling through his enemies and make all the little sissy Navy wimps piss their fuckin' pants when they see us comin'! Come on and give it to me! I wanna hear you scalawags say 'ARGH!'"

Her speech had done the trick to rile them up in her fantasy so when she asked for it, they gave it to her, all of them yelling as one a very loud "Arrrrrrrrrrgggh!"

"Oh, geez..." she complained mockingly. "What are ya trying to do? Ask me to marry ya?" There was a unanimous 'NO' and she winked. "Scare the shit out of me!"

As they tried again, "Mrs. Janet" had inched closer to where Alex was, seeming to recognize that he'd been with Ozzie before all of this started. "I didn't realize she worked with children... Do you know what camp she works for?" She had out a pad of paper and pen ready to take down anything Alex said.

"Very nice!" Osono said with a sandy laugh, obviously pleased with the results they'd given her. "Keep up the good work and practice it! Remember: If you don't see a shit stain down their backsides then--"

"You're not fuckin' doin' it right!" was the echoed response and she laughed again.

Turning to where Alex was, the animation in her face disappeared returning her features to normal before she said, "Are you done? Can we get out of here, please?" Even though she tried to make it seem like she was eager to leave, she couldn't hide the fact that she'd been having just as much fun as the kids had

***

.Landing on the asphalt face first opened the split in Rudy's scalp - that Xander had so lovingly given to him - so when he rolled over to meet his attackers, blood actively drizzled down the side of his face again, coating the impromptu tape he'd used to "stitch" the wound closed. I'm going to fucking kill that cow, he thought just before Earl's booted foot came swinging to catch him under the ribs. Even now, out in the parking lot, curled on his side, he still could not bring himself to admit that taking her restraints off and bringing her to a public place had been a bad idea, rather going for the 'easier' route and blaming the whole incident on Gwen instead.

After everything I've done trying to be a nice guy in this very un-nice situation! Unappreciative skank! And she'd promised! Now I know never to believe her about anything! Oof!

As soon as the first blow had landed in Rudy's face, Gwen had slipped from the booth and ran. Panic fed her limbs as she rushed out the front doors, blindly racing out into the lot and almost getting hit by a car pulling in. She had no clue where she was - it was just an exit outside of a sleepy rural town called Montrose; a place she'd never even heard of - and she had no idea what she was going to do, but just knew that she had to get away. She wasn't going to Charlton with Rudy - she couldn't! And even though she felt bad about getting more people involved in her defense - Earl had a wife and two little girls at home, Jessica and Sarah; all three of them were his 'Ladies' he always said - she knew they were strong enough and angry enough to keep Rudy busy long enough for her to get away. Also, she was somewhat hoping that Rudy wouldn't want to make too much of a scene and kill people in public and broad daylight.

Entering the maze of trucks, casting towering shadows in the morning light, Gwen frantically thought up a plan to hide from Rudy until he gave up or she could find an easy way out of here. Running through the rows, she made it to a spot where she felt far enough and safe enough that she stopped and sat crouched down beside the door of one of the semi-trucks. Panting heavily, she looked in both directions anxiously and tried to catch her breath while trying to find Rudy's foggy signature and making sure he wasn't near her.

"Get back! Stay the fuck away from me!" Rudy shouted, his voice cracking like a pubescent teenager as he wildly swayed on his feet, aiming the Aurora gun at the truckers who'd been assaulting him. Immediately, Earl and the other two took several steps back warily, instantly understanding that the contraption of complex technology knotting around Rudy's hand was a weapon of some kind. There was a wild, enraged look in Rudy's eyes as he pointed the gun at each of the men in turn, trying to keep them all in sight. "What the fuck, man!? What the hell is wrong with you!?"

Earl paused and seemed to think hard for a few brief moments before lamely shrugging and responding. "You...you cut me off..."

In truth, he didn't know why he'd decided to hit the guy over it, even though it had really pissed him off that the rich little snob had acted like he owned the road and could have caused a serious accident. And Rudy could see it in the guy's eyes. Gwen. That bitch. Even after skimming the indepth files Stephanie had hidden away about her and understanding how her powers worked, it still had Rudy cursing silently and biting the inside of his lip in irritation. He should have been able to predict this, but Stephanie's files had also said something about the girl being "nice". Yeah. Right. Nice like a trip to the emergency room.

It was clear that whatever had possessed the truckers to attack him was gone now so he lowered his gun with an exhausted slump of his arm and let out a worn out sigh. A few other patrons stood by the doors to the diner just a few feet away and watched silently, Quin finally noticing them as he was gingerly wiping his nose with the back of his hand. "What the fuck are you looking at?" Quin screamed defensively, causing a few of the more skittish in the crowd to flinch. "Fucking vultures..." There was a very significant nasally tone to his voice now and he glared hatefully at Earl as he grabbed his nose and twisted it back into place with a pained groan.

His beautiful, charming face... He was going to kill her. There was no doubt about it. The psychic had no problem with making attempts on his life, so he would return the favor, zealously and bless the whole fucking world with her absence. Turning to survey his surroundings, he watched for a few moments as cars came and went in and out of the off ramp. Nothing was out there except highway and he could see from here that she wasn't out there walking by the road. She couldn't have gotten a ride from someone this quickly, could she? Finally he decided no, that she probably hadn't, and turned to look at the area behind the rest stop - nothing back there except a rocky ravine that went below the ground level of the property.

By this time, he was alone again, Earl and the other truckers having drifted away back to the restaurant to puzzle over the experience, and Rudy turned with his back to the front of the establishment again. If she were running from there, she'd most likely stay facing this direction rather than risk running into him coming out by turning around. Off to the left was the gas pumps, lined up neatly together and on the right was...the parking lot. At least several dozen semis sat sleeping together in neat rows, fenders, grills and bumpers shining chrome in the sunlight. Smiling to himself through rivers of gore from his nose and thinking about his proficiency for cheating in hide-and-seek in younger years, Rudy proceeded in that direction, holding the Aurora up and ready.

Gwen sensed when everyone drifted back inside but Rudy's thoughts were still hidden from her. She'd felt his pain when he'd gotten up and a burst of satisfaction had filled her then - served him right! She'd also been very relieved when she realized the men she'd made suggestions to were still living enough to go back into the diner, but panic took over as Rudy the shark disappeared under the murky water of thought again, obviously still hunting her. Where was he? Her brunette curls whipped this way and that as she turned her head quickly to peer down both sides of the row she was in, but she couldn't see him. The urge to run filled her bones and she struggled with it for several moments because she didn't want to risk running straight into him. But as the minutes wore on, she became more and more frantic, to the point where she began to silently cry in fear at his eventual approach.

Occasionally, Rudy's pain showed up like a flickering light and she clung to it as much as she could whenever it showed. But it always disappeared without a trace after a few seconds, popping up again several feet away from where it had last shown up. Gwen started to relax a little bit as she followed his trail and it seemed he'd gotten lost and turned around somehow - or maybe he'd given up? - because he was heading in the opposite direction. It was for this reason that she wasn't particularly worried when he disappeared altogether, thinking to herself that he'd probably keep going in that direction and limp away to collect himself in his failure - possibly to crawl back to Mr. A-1 with his tail between his legs to get himself sweetly chewed out again.

However, this did not appear to be the case when he suddenly showed up at one end of the row she was in, his eyes brightening as they laid upon her. The gun was up and he was pointing it at her, and with a small cry, Gwen shot out from her spot down the other end as the beam of light left the nozzle of the gun to disappear into the door of the truck that she'd been crouched against. The metal of the vehicle reacted strangely to the beam and buckled with a screeching moan on impact, blue electric veins crawling along the length of the vehicle to disappear into the nose and the back where the trailer was hitched. Gwen didn't need to be a genius to figure out that if she touched the metal while the beam was still being absorbed, that it would affect her as if she'd been hit by it directly, the metal humming with an almost physical static as she ran alongside the truck.

Shying away from the buzzing metal of the semi, Gwen hunched low and fled around the corner down another row, Rudy following after her from his end, between the vehicles. In the next aisle, Rudy shot at her when she was halfway between the two ends and she flattened herself down to crawl underneath one of them. Apparently, either Rudy didn't know about the way the gun's beam reacted to metal or he was deliberately ignoring the fact for whatever reason, because he rushed after her, flattening himself to shoot under the truck, hitting the wheel instead as she emerged out the other side.

There was nothing going through Gwen's mind except the desire to escape, her heart pounding in her ears and her breathing coming in quick, harsh gasps. Thoughts and plans were abandoned in favor of the primal urge of fight or flight, and right now it was undeniably latched onto the "flight" response.

Rudy appeared again a few aisles down and Gwen once more flattened herself to the ground to crawl under the trailer of the next semi. However Rudy was closer this time, so by the time she was squirming on her stomach under the truck, Rudy had reached her and was reaching under to grab her by the hair and pulling her back out. She let out a loud scream, her fingers clawing at the cracked asphalt and her heart slamming into her ribs with terror.

ALEX!!! she internally wailed, reaching out in feverish panic for his distant signature and making contact that lasted for the few seconds it took for Rudy to pull her completely out and haul her to her feet.

All other cries for help, both verbal and psychic were instantly cut off by Rudy pressing the gun against the underside of her chin, the familiar warmth warning her that it was charged and ready to fire. The both of them were exhausted, panting as they stood, he restraining her and she standing stiffly in his hold, but when his voice came back he smiled hatefully, adopting a biting and sardonic tone.

"That was a lot of fun! No, really, I had a fucking blast through all of that and got a nice workout as well!" he shook his head and laughed weakly. "The Agency is having the semi-annual triathlon in two months; maybe you could help me train!? Oh, waitasecond! You can't because you're gonna DIE TODAY!"

Roughly, he threw her to the ground where she scraped her elbows on the blacktop, looking up at him fearfully as the gun was pointed straight at her. "Please...you can't blame me! You know what she's going to do me!"

"I can't blame you!? Like hell! Look what you did to my FACE!"

While the nozzle of the gun grew brighter, Gwen shielded herself as much as she could with her arms and whimpered. "Rudy...Please..."

At the sound of his name, his eyes widened suddenly and memory came rushing back to him. In his head, he heard the way Eric had said his name, drawing each syllable and letter out painfully, like a tiger purring and batting at a mouse it planned to make it's meal. Shit! What was he doing!? He couldn't kill her - for surely it was his own death sentence if he did. The gun stopped charging but he kept it pointed at her as reality descended once more upon him.

"Fuckit..." he said lamely and rolled his eyes. "Let's just get back to the car."

At the end of the row of semis they were in a man appeared and called out, "Hey, what's going on here? Everything alright?"

Rudy did not say anything but shot the man where he stood causing Gwen to flinch defensively. When he turned back to her, he gave her an impatient look and motioned with the gun for her to get up. "Come on!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Stephanie blinked as the small box was tossed beside her on the seat, looking at it as if she didn't know what it was for a few minutes. She heard what Master said about the drugs and on a certain level which required her to be logical and professional about this - it seemed like such a distant feeling now - she understood and knew he was right. But she could not help but feel reluctant to even consider it an option. Not only had it been Jason's expressed wish to not use them, but...she wondered what they would end up doing to him.

Stephanie had done her own experimentation with Agency drugs before and even her most recent use of them allowed her some knowledge of the different things the Agency had their hands on as far as chemicals went. And she hadn't done her research on Jason's suit, merely awed by the efficiency of his record so she hadn't known about the drugs until Benoit and Jean had brought it up.

Even before Benoit left, telling her where to meet them, she knew she'd already decided that she wasn't going to be giving Jason anything. She wanted him back to normal, but without any knowledge of what she was working with...and the fact that the drugs themselves would force him to go through a measure of withdrawal... it didn't seem like it made sense to substitute one addiction for another.

She was gravely rethinking this point, however when Jason began to rouse and his body trembled painfully across her lap. What had she done? Maybe it would be better for him to take the drugs? If it would stop his suffering now, then she was all for it. She didn't like seeing him this way, weak as a kitten, and he still had the suit on - which she didn't want to think about what it'd be like for him after he was forced to finally take it off. It made her feel even more guilty, running her hand through sweaty and clumped dark hair and she just wanted to take whatever he was feeling and make it go away.

Then he was talking and she almost laughed at the obvious statement, some of her relief coming back that he was alright enough to speak. And then he was apologizing to her - what for? She'd done this to him and everything had been her fault from the beginning. She'd been very selfish as far as guarding the secrets of her case and if she'd taken the time to be more personal with her team, information wouldn't have gotten lost and there wouldn't have been all this confusion. Maybe she was taking more than her fair share of the burden - maybe her sympathy for Jason was the cause of her feeling overly guilty - but her lapse of judgment that had allowed this to happen to him made her question and doubt everything else that had happened, all the decisions she'd been making.

And then he was asking about that. Glancing at the small box beside her, she picked it up and held it in her lap, looking it over thoughtfully. It would probably be best to answer the easy stuff first. "Benoit and Master are inside waiting for us. They haven't been gone for too long. And there's no need for you to apologize for anything, Jason. I didn't understand what happened with Nathan back in Elmira - I still don't - but I believe that you wouldn't just let them go without a reason... So, really, this whole thing is my fault."

She ran a gentle fingertip along one edge of the box silently for a moment, just looking the small carton over. "All I ever do is hurt you. If you understood... if you knew how beautiful your pain was, you wouldn't blame me... But now I see that it wasn't really what I wanted."

Finally she looked up at him, her green eyes regarding him calmly, but the color vibrant as ever. Holding up the box in two fingers in front of herself she said, "Master gave this to me to help you, but since I haven't been making the safest decisions when it comes to your well-being, I want to leave the choice up to you. Whatever you need me to do... However I can help you through this so that you don't fall apart on me before this is done...I'll do it. If you want to take them or feel you need them, I'll give them to you... but I can't bring myself to force you if it's something you don't want."

All through this, she'd been wearing her mask, flimsy as it was, emotion coming through her monotone and slipping through the cracks in her features. Suddenly, as she fell silent and held the small box out for him to take it, she was suddenly overwhelmed by it all and her face broke enough for her to pout sorrowfully at him. "I didn't sign the resignation because I wanted you to be there...with me when I finish this... Just tell me what you want me to do..."

She didn't know why she was crying again, but she hated feeling this way. Stephanie was on the verge of getting everything she wanted and she was not happy...

***

Alright, she was fine with him continuing to mutter to himself - so long as he eventually answered her, and she fully expected him to, it didn't matter what he did. And she was more than fine to start driving to where ever the hell they were going first. She really didn't want to stay in the Starbucks parking lot any longer than she had to, especially not if anyone had been watching what she'd been watching - which was unlikely because of her being the center of attention at the time.

But what Ozzie was not okay with was the bullshit he pulled a few minutes later: he changed the subject. And no, she didn't fucking remember seeing his crazy ass in Elmira. Already driving away from Starbucks, Ozzie abruptly stamped on the breaks coming to a halt in the middle of the street and glared at him, not caring about the cars that she forced to stop behind her.

"HEY! I'm fucking talking to you, asshole!" she yelled at him angrily, ignoring the honking horns behind them for now. "And I would appreciate you not treating me like a fucking two-year old when I ask you a fucking question! Just be straight with me, Alex: do you have powers or not? It's a really simple question and it's not a big deal - I just don't want you to freaking jerk me around as if I didn't just see you electrocute two people while stealing coffee from them - what? Did you run out of money? Were they Agents or something? I don't give a fuck why, I just wanted to know what happened. It's not something you need to talk over with your imaginary friend about.

"And who the fuck do you keep talking to by yourself? Is it Gwen? Has she been in contact with you this whole time? Is that how you know where to go to find her?" The guy behind her leaned on his horn heavily and finally Ozzie dropped out of her feverish rant long enough to flip him off so he could see it out the back window. Then she took several breaths to calm down and started driving again, shaking her head and silently steaming.

"And yes, I wanted fucking coffee, jerkwad!" she finally said, smacking the steering wheel. "Otherwise I wouldn't have been standing in the freaking line with you, now would I? No! Actually, I just wanted to smell roasting beans and babysit a bunch of snot-nosed bastards because I've got all the time in the world to just piss away!"

***

He wasn't going to stop for anything. No matter what, he was not going to pull this car over for anything. He was just going to haul ass straight to Charlton and drop this crazy broad off and wash his hands of this whole horrible nightmare. Rudy's stomach blurbed angrily at him, hollow from his missed lunch and knowing that to avoid any other mishaps, he wasn't going to stop for dinner. Already, he'd been delayed enough that he wasn't going to make it to Charlton until nightfall and he cursed himself for the mistakes he'd made.

Well, the only mistake he'd made, in his eyes was trusting the bitch; the rest of it was HER fault and he was just an innocent victim. At that thought, he cringed and sniffled at the pain in his face, the sticky blood repainting the left side now drying, in addition to the bitterness that still seeped from his broken nose. God, he fucking hated her and he'd been so close to killing her back there. The thought made him excited to stick the gun in her face again and finish the job, while at the same time nausea hit him to think of Mr. Patten's reaction when he showed up with a corpse. Rudy might as well take the gun to his own head right after if he decided to do that.

Snorting long and heavily, Rudy abruptly turned his head out the window to hock and spit a congealed mass of gunk that had been forming a knot in his throat and wiped his chin on the back of his hand before turning to glare at her. Gwen sat in the front passenger seat, bound hand and foot but ungagged, worn and torn but better than she had been before they'd stopped. She felt him look at her but she didn't return it, staring ahead and trying once again to reach out to Alex. She'd felt something back there... She'd touched him, she knew she did. She wasn't exactly sure the reason yet because he had not shown up on her radar as being anywhere close, so she was assuming for now that contact had been made under duress. Now...she just had to concentrate and recreate it without the panic.

On a side note, she felt absolutely no remorse for what had happened to Rudy, but was now even more hesitant than before to use her powers anymore on this trip. She was definitely starting to get the hang of it and understood that the suggestions she put into people's heads were not her controlling them but digging out already present wishes and hopes from deep inside them. That was why it generally worked better when she latched onto people who were already willing to hurt Rudy. And the actual mechanics of it were easy enough, inserting herself deep enough inside that they didn't recognize her implanted thoughts as not their own.

But there was an even bigger price to her enlisting the help of random people, other than the fact that it put their lives at risk. The effect the constant abuse was having on Rudy was making him even less stable than he'd been to begin with and it was no joke: he really did hate her. The only thing that kept him from killing her was some blind attachment to his job and a tenuous fear of his boss. Compared to the very real and growing rage he had for Gwen, it was becoming an even flimsier thread than it had started out as. She wasn't sure how much more abuse he could take from her without finally cracking and deciding in the spur of the moment that it would be better to suffer the A-1's wrath rather than to continue to deal with her.

Which was why she was trying to contact Alex again. Running from Rudy had completely worn her out physically and now she was back in the restraints which made her physically incapable of going anywhere. Instead of hoping that he'd be stupid enough to take them off a second time, the best she could hope for now was that Alex was still going to Charlton and that he'd meet her there and hopefully...be able to do something before it was too late.

So far, however, the more she sat trying to reach out to him, the more helpless and hopeless she began to feel. At first, she tried to concentrate on him, thinking deeply of his mental signature and trying to feel it. But she was soon frustrated by this when she couldn't focus on a location for him. Then she tried latching onto the feeling of the connection she'd had but that too seemed a wasted effort. Like when she'd first tried to talk to Alex psychically, it didn't matter how focused she was, her voice just echoed back at her inside her own head, making her feel even more alone.

"Shit..." Rudy murmured under his breath, causing Gwen to shake loose from the trance she'd been in. Looking up she saw that Rudy was being followed by a police cruiser and was forced to slow down on the side of the road.

Reaching out curiously, Gwen was able to discover that the man who'd owned the diner back there near Montrose had called the police. The cop currently pulling them over had not been specifically called but was a Trooper watching for speeders on the side of the road and had heard the call and description on his radio.

Rudy's hand whipped out to grab her by the hair at her neck and pulled her close to whisper hatefully in her ear. "Haven't learned your lesson? Making another attempt? I swear to fucking God, if you don't stop this shit right now--!"

"It wasn't me!" Gwen gasped hoarsely, her heart beating fast in her throat. "Y-your car fits the profile of the guy who was seen waving a gun around back at the diner!" The police officer hadn't left his car yet but was busy calling it in and waiting for orders on how to proceed. "And...I think some people might have seen you put me in the car..."

"...Oh." He glanced into the rearview but did not let go of her. "Make him go away or I'll kill him." It was obvious from the threat itself that Rudy didn't want to do that for some reason, probably because of the attention and obvious trail of bodies he was leaving.

Gwen didn't want the police officer to die either and her thoughts kept running through how to best proceed. From the way Rudy was cirrently holding onto her however, she knew that "snapping thread" was a very real possibility if she didn't try and dissolve the situation. Probing into the officer's mind, she saw that he was a good man albeit a little arrogant with a tendency to push his weight around on the highway - when he wasn't busy taking naps, that is. But as soon as he'd gotten the call about the "black Lincoln" and a beat up guy who was seen with a weapon at the truckers stop, and then seen the vehicle pass by a few seconds later, he instantly hopped onto this opportunity to be a hero.

Taking a calming breath, Gwen tried to nudge into his head and force the thought 'Let them go. You have the wrong car.' but other than a minor moment of doubt, he shook her off and finished up his radio call. She was about to try again when Rudy suddenly shook her.

"Well!? He's still getting out of his car! What did you say to him!?"

"Nothing! He's too strong! He won't listen to me!" not only was she worried about Rudy would do, but she knew he probably wouldn't believe her, even though it was true.

"Bullshit! You could get my own assistant to fucking shoot at me and you can't get some pansy cop to drive away?"

"I couldn't get him to pull the trigger, remember?" she cringed and waited while he mulled that over and watched as the officer approached the car.

"Good point. I'll deal with it," he finally said, letting her go and turning to give the cop his brightest smile as he walked up to Rudy's window. "What can I do for you, officer?"

Despite the pleasant tone to Rudy's voice, the cop took one look at Rudy's beaten and torn face, his eyes sweeping over to Gwen with her hands in the circlet cuffs in her lap and pulled his gun out. "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to please step out of your vehicle, nice and slow, with your hands where I can see them."

"Fuck me..." Rudy groaned in a low voice, staring at the barrel of the gun in dismay.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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What was wrong with today? Why did everything seem like it was going from bad to worse the closer he got to his destination? Even with as troublesome and violent as Osono had been, he'd never gone through this much Hell while pursuing her. Then again, there was that little crush she had on him that kept her from hurting him too much, and there had always been a wide buffer of bodies between him and her that allowed her to take out her violent tendencies without coming close to touching him. And of course, Ozzie still didn't know he was an Agent.

Maybe that was it. He was operating out in the open now not hiding who he was and it suddenly made him a target for every bad thing that could ever happen to a person. Thinking back, there really hadn't been a moment for him to switch gears and suddenly become "Not-Agent" and it was certainly too late to play that card now. But fuck, if he just wanted some peace... There was no sense crying about it now, especially with a gun in his face. Alright, the best way to deal with this was like everything else: make the guy think he was a harmless idiot and then stab him when his back was turned. Well, shoot him, anyways.

"You know...this vaguely reminds me of that one Stephen King movie," Rudy started, glancing from Gwen and back to the cop, but not making a move to leave the car. "You know, the one miniseries where the cop is pulling over people on that highway and takes them to that town to kill them. And you kind of look a little like Ron Perlman--"

"Sir, do not make me ask again. Get out of your car now."

Gwen looked from the cop to Rudy and back again, and having an internal look inside the officer's head, she realized that whatever game Rudy was playing was not going to work on this guy. Again, she tried to nudge the thought that he should let them go, but it was past that point now. Even if Rudy wasn't the guy the report was about, there was enough probable cause for the officer to be suspicious that something was going on and he'd already seen Gwen in restraints.

"Look, I know it may seem weird, but we're into a little sadomasochism and bondage," Rudy said, trying again, holding up his hand a little to try and calm the cop down. "See, she just got done givin' it to me good and now we've switched places and it's her turn--"

"Get out of the car now," Officer Frewer was no longer waiting for Rudy to listen to him, but reaching forward and opening Rudy's door, the gun still fixed on the Agent.

"Alright...alright..." Rudy said in defeat, slowly stepping from the open door with his hands raised. Outwardly, he was fearful and seemed eager to please the man with the gun trained on him, but inwardly, he was cool and collected as ever, waiting for the right opportunity. Forced to his knees and then face-down on the pavement, Rudy did as he was told and laid there as the police officer stepped forward to address Gwen.

"Miss, are you alright? Are you injured?" Officer Frewer asked her through the still open driver's side door, giving her a quick glance but keeping his eyes and gun fixated on Rudy. When she didn't answer him, he looked at her and realized she'd been shaking her head "no" that she wasn't hurt. Probably in too much shock to answer him verbally.

And truthfully, Gwen was in shock. Was this it? Was it over? Had Rudy finally been defeated? Was she free? It was hard to tell because she couldn't feel anything from Rudy except his physical senses - which was mainly a lot of bruising and sharp pain in his face - so he was still probably willing to fight...but she didn't see how this could go wrong. She knew Rudy had put the gun he carried back into his pocket before they'd left the diner, but with him splayed out on the ground, if he made one move for it, the cop would not stop to ask what he was doing before shooting him. It was okay, although she was a little worried that the officer wasn't searching Rudy or cuffing him, she reasoned that he probably didn't want to get too close while he was still alone. And she knew he'd already called for backup.

"It's alright, miss. Everything's going to be okay now. Help is on the way. Can you get out of the car?" It was somewhat a relief to be around someone from the real-world again, a cop asking her normal questions and seeking after her well-being. It felt a bit odd that someone who had no clue about the Agents or people with abilities was trying to calm her down. It was even stranger that the worst was practically stopped in it's tracks by this untrained nobody.

But a little too late she started to get nervous about him continuing to look at her. He was just doing his job and she supposed she should have answered him, instead of gaping like a fish, because now he was trying to make eye contact to reassure her and make her feel safe. She could feel Rudy reaching into his pocket in the seconds while Frewer was addressing her and her eyes went wide sending him a sharp signal inside his head.

He has a GUN!

Officer Frewer did not wait for the thought to set in, his heart already jumping back up to rapid speeds as he turned to look back at Rudy. Quin was just rolling over onto his side, a technological mass of metal bits and pieces enveloping his hand and pointing up at the officer before Frewer pulled the trigger, automatically aiming for the chest area. Because of the angle that Rudy was lying on the ground, the bullet went straight through his right shoulder causing him to grunt harshly at the impact. Then in the seconds waiting for the impact to tremble through his shoulder and arm, Rudy pulled his own trigger.

Gwen cried out in surprise as Officer Frewer flew back against the car door violently in a flash of light that was becoming all too familiar to her, his body slamming into the metal like a limp rag doll. Then he slumped against it, eyes blank and arm with pistol still attached to his wrist hanging at an odd angle inside the car, the smell of gunpowder hanging crisp in the air.

For the longest time, Gwen sat frozen watching the opening between the car door and Officer Frewer's corpse, unable to move and unable to look away. Even though he was only a few feet from her, Rudy had gone off of her radar again and she couldn't tell if it was because he was dead or if he was just hiding like he'd done before. It was several minutes later when she heard the distant sound of sirens, that she was able to finally shake herself out of it and started to try and move in her seat.

A second later a sharp scream left her lips as Rudy's bloodied hand and body appeared in the doorway, dragging himself up to a kneeling position beside Officer Frewer's body. Pulling at the corpse until it fell over, Rudy shoved it away in irritation before pulling himself back up into his seat, cringing and hissing in pain as his right arm moved to help his ascent weakly. Probing his body, she could feel that the gun wound went all the way through his shoulder, but it didn't seem like it had hit anything major. Still, it was bleeding a lot and she wondered if it would be safe for him to drive like that. But he seemed to ignore the wound in favor of looking out the back window to see how close the cop's "backup" was before turning to close his door and start the engine back up.

As they peeled away from the shoulder of the road, still no sign of the cop's friends but hearing their distant wails, Rudy kept an eye on the rearview and let out a labored sigh. "Well, that went a lot better than I hoped," he said somewhat pleasantly. When Gwen gave him an incredulous look, he glanced at her and said defensively, "No, I mean, in that movie, that cop killed a lot of people before the main guys could get away. We got off pretty easy with what I was worried about. Which reminds me; you don't feel 'possessed' do you?" When she gave him an annoyed look, he grinned before looking into the rearview again. "Just checking."

***

Ozzie was sitting tensely waiting for a response from him, still ignoring the chaos she was creating in the street around her. She wasn't going to move a foot further until he'd given her some sort of explanation. Rudy liked to play that stupid "change the subject" game and although she'd dealt with it differently then, now that she knew what was going on with Quin, she really wasn't in the mood to let anybody else jerk her around like that. Least of all Alex whom she still didn't like very much.

When he opened his mouth she found herself caught off guard briefly when he went off on a brief tangent about how she'd been with the kids. It made her blush a little to remember how it'd felt to be in charge of those brats - kids she didn't even know, but it felt the same as it always had. And what he said about having a daycare center reminded her even more of a conversation she'd had with someone long ago about that very thing. So, for a few moments instead of jumping on his case about changing the subject again, she sat trying to collect herself enough to still be angry about it. By the time she was ready to explode on his stupid ass again, he was talking and the words coming out of his mouth were exactly what she wanted to hear.

One thing she immediately zeroed in on was the whole change in Alex's demeanor, becoming almost melancholy and somber as he spoke, thoughtful and stepping over his words carefully. It no longer felt like he was trying to hide something from her though, but as if he were grappling with information that was painful to part with. That grabbed her attention immediately, more than the actual words themselves and she found her own anger dissolving on a cloud as he continued.

Osono quickly found her mental image of Gwen shifting and evolving as Alex spoke. Remembering that sweet young woman who'd almost been timid in response to Ozzie's teasing, but at the same time strong and passionate when talking with Alex. After Gwen had been taken, Ozzie had started to see her as a victim, as a sort of damsel in distress and had included herself as one of the metaphorical 'knights' on a quest to rescue her. But now...with what Alex was saying about Gwen's powers, although Gwen still seemed vulnerable, she'd raised herself up to an almost 'Jesus' and 'warrior' status herself.

Sacrificing herself, even when she knew she was in danger just so that Alex wouldn't get hurt. And apparently, she was still sacrificing her power to help keep him safe. The romance between these two would almost be vomit worthy if..it wasn't so real and passionate. Here he was, uninvolved in the big picture except with his association with his girlfriend. Nobody after him, nobody threatening him and he was risking everything to help get her free. And then there was Gwen, who probably knew, even now where ever she was, that he wouldn't give up and would keep putting himself in danger and she weakened herself deliberately to protect him, when she probably could use that power for herself more than he could. The situation was all sorts of fucked up but a beautiful romance, even she had to admit. And she normally hated this mushy bullshit.

And then he further explained about Gwen making a copy of herself and putting it in his head and Ozzie relaxed even more, even though that bit of it confused her just a little. It was extremely complicated but it seemed too out there to not be true. And she did make a mental note of him practically destroying his coffee cup all while talking about this and she took it along with his words to mean he was going through some sort of emotional turmoil discussing these things. And Ozzie had to admit, these were the first other people who knew about the Agency that she'd met, so she really didn't know what the rules were as far as who had powers and how they worked. But Alex's explanation of things seemed to work and she couldn't ignore that emotion. It was his version of Gwen's googly eyes and you just couldn't fake that.

When he ushered her to start driving again, she did so without a fuss, waiting for another car to make it's pass around her before being able to move forward. As she pulled out and continued down the street, with a small shake of her head she murmured, "You two are so freaking Metal, I swear."

Other than that, she didn't really know what to say. He was dealing with whatever in his own way and she didn't feel comfortable putting her hand on his shoulder and telling him 'everything's gonna be a'ight.' But she wasn't feeling like her normal self enough to just slap him and tell him 'suck it up, pussy!' So, she left it at 'Metal' and that's all she wanted to say about that. She'd gotten what she wanted and she was happy not to hate him so much anymore. Right now, at least.

Driving along, she tried to keep silent but really she couldn't help returning to the things he'd said. Especially when he'd basically told her she could leave if she wanted to, but that saving Gwen was something he had to do. "You love her a lot, huh?" she asked with a wry twist of her lips. "If it's NOT love with everything you've got to lose, not being involved or anything, it doesn't make sense for you to keep risking it all just to save her when you know they'll be crawling up your ass the day after it's done. You said so yourself, they won't stop throwing guys at you until something breaks.

"And thanks for your permission and all, and don't get me wrong, I'm sure your Gwen power-up is as awesome as it sounds - and if the woman at Starbucks is any indication of how badass it is. But I have my doubts about how far you'll get without me, Sir Limpsalot. No offense or nothing." She cast him a grin and looked down at his leg but said nothing about it as she continued driving.

"And I'm not just feeling guilty - I don't know if you noticed or anything but I don't form attachments to people very good. I hurt everybody Alex, and I burn everything I touch. Not only that but I like doing it. I'm not a very good person and most everybody I come into contact with can either sense it or they feel sick from Rudy when he comes trudging up with his 'lost puppy' thing. Gwen didn't. Or maybe she did but she saw something in me I don't normally show.

"But... this is gonna sound stupid, because I only just met her yesterday and we were only together for a little while and I know it sounds crazy... but she's my friend. I don't know... maybe she's affected me too, but I don't want to give up on her now. The one person who didn't immediately flinch when I put my arm around her and who in the midst of everything that was going wrong said my name like she wanted to save my life or something. That guy in the restaurant shot at us and as soon as he was dead, she thought of me. I don't have that with anybody else...and I haven't in a really...really long time. I'm gonna see this to the end and I'm not stopping until she's safe and back in your arms. I'll burn every-fucking-body if I have to."

Despite the serious tone of her conversation, Ozzie tried to brush it off and put on the tough-girl act. She figured, if he could take a moment to be all sentimental then she could do it too but she wasn't going to get mopey or emo about it. They were nearing the destination and she took out her pack of cigarette's before realizing it was empty, then crushing and tossing it out the window, letting out a harsh breath through her lips.

"So, this place, it's just an office building right? And you don't know if there's going to be Agents or anything? Do you...want me to drive around the block first or should I just pull right up front?" Her hands tapped lightly on the steering wheel and the car filled with a crisping heat as she got ready for battle. It was nowhere near as intense as it had been in the hotel room and she had more than enough control right now that it was not possible for any fire to be around without her expressed permission. But her excitement to start something could clearly be felt pulsing heavily in the air, even as her body tensed energetically.

***

The tears started to clear up the more he spoke, his voice deep and soothing to her, grounding her back into reality. She especially almost laughed when he called her "boss" again, reminding her once more who was suppose to be in charge here. But she thanked him for not rubbing her face in it or making her feel stupid for her momentary weaknesses and the fact that he was so strong right now only made her feel that attraction for him grow. Even when she could hear it in his voice and see it in his face as he struggled to sit upright with his feet planted on the floor of the limo, he was trying to be the levelheaded one and she was extremely grateful.

Stephanie felt like such a mess as she became more and more aware of the situation she'd placed herself in. He wasn't going to die and he wasn't going to leave her - she'd already made that decision for him on the plane - so really her crying about whether he should take the drugs or not seemed all of a sudden really pathetic. But she could not deny the way it had felt just then... the weight on her heart to hold him in her lap and wondering blindly what she was expected to do. The thought of continuing this mission without him - whether because he was going to leave or fall dead on her - scared her. And that had been mostly what she'd been crying about. If she forced the drugs on him, he might hate her for ruining everything he'd created in himself, but if she didn't...she didn't know what the suit would do to him in it's sudden absence.

She was done crying about it now though, since she knew that wasn't what he needed to help him. She needed to stay strong and levelheaded if not for him then at least for her case - which, she'd almost completely forgotten about yet again, with her focus completely turned onto him. From now on, she'd just make sure to make herself available to him, something she hadn't been before, in place of playing and pulling at him like a toy.

And she understood and respected him about his decision regarding the drugs. But she would decide when she felt he'd had enough. From the way he was looking now, and the toll withdrawal took on a body, she was not going to wait for him to lie writhing on the floor in a mess before she stepped in to help him. She couldn't and it would be a failing in her duty as his superior. Other Lead Agents were willing to throw away the men and women on their team as mere numbers when it came to their cases. Jason was all she had left and she couldn't just break herself off emotionally like that. Not from him.

The last things he said to her as he sat on the seat trying to gather himself really hit everything home for her and when their eyes met hers shined with a vibrant inner light. So forceful... there was a hint of that passion deep inside and she could see it there. He may have hesitated to make any physical contact with her but she needed to touch him then. She needed to feel that strength pulsing within him and to let herself know he was going to be alright.

Sidling close to him on the seat, her arm reached around his back to tuck into his waist, pulling him flush against her with their sides touching and laid her head on his shoulder, golden locks falling over his upper arm. "Unorthodox is a good way to describe it and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm glad I chose you and I know no matter what happens, I will not regret the decision I made in signing you on."

She tossed her hair out of the way to look up at him, nuzzling close to his still bared neck. "I only hope that I can be something you won't regret..." her voice took on the hint of a sultry tone as she brushed her lips against all the skin she could touch.

Finally, having had her fill, Stephanie drew back to look him over, and her hand drifted up to touch the marks on his neck, a smile of pride forming on her lips. "Those look really good on you," she said fondly. Feeling the sudden urge to do so, she leaned forward and licked up his neck to just under his chin, delighting in the small shiver it produced in him.

Then she was pulling away and standing, half-bent over to open the side door of the limo. "Benoit is probably having a fit right now, being alone with the Master for this long. Are you alright to go or do you want to sit for a little longer?" The obvious suggestion in her flirtatious glance over her shoulder was that she'd "keep him company" while he did.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Rudy Quin Character Portrait: Osono "Ozzie" Wallace Character Portrait: Brie Character Portrait:
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"Where the fuck is my phone!? Shit!" a distraught Rudy exclaimed, smashing his fist angrily at the dashboard as he cursed again.

Gwen flinched with the violent movement and tried to shy away from him just in case he decided to take his anger out on her, doing her best to become a part of her seat. It had been at least a half an hour since they'd encountered Officer Frewer and still, there was no sign of the reinforcements he'd called and the distant sirens had died back the way they'd come. In the meantime, Rudy had become more and more distressed, muttering openly to himself and cursing anxiously, his dialogue punctuated by these little bursts of anger that made everything, within reach in the car, a target for his frustration and rage.

"Dammit! Now I can't call in for a change of cars - and you KNOW that asshole wrote down my license plate number. I need to get rid of this car soon," he said, looking warily out at the other drivers sharing the road with him, before wiping the sweat off his forehead with his forearm.

That was another thing. In addition to the paranoid and almost frantic look in his eyes, Rudy had begun to sweat, even though she felt his body shivering occasionally. And Gwen knew it was his newly acquired wound that was the problem. The only thing he'd done so far to deal with the hole going through his shoulder, had been to stuff a bunch of napkins - handily kept in the glove box - inside his shirt. His seat and clothes were soaked in his blood and she was growing more and more worried about the very real possibility of him passing out.

"And oh fuck! What if Patten calls and I don't answer!? Another few thousand demotions, I just know it!" he ran a trembling hand through his hair and cast a wild look around that included another desperate glance in the rearview mirror. "Which sucks, because I just got done programming his ringtone as the Imperial March..." He glanced at Gwen and held her gaze for several moments before muttering, "Fucking epic, right?"

Gwen took that as his including her in a conversation and decided to voice her concerns. She didn't care if Rudy crashed and died, but with her tied defenseless in the car with him, it was another story - did this car even have a passenger seat air bag? "Rudy," she said hesitantly, pausing and licking her lips to wet them before continuing. "I think you need to stop. You're going into shock and you're losing a lot of blood--"

"OH! Thank you, Dr. Gwen, freaking medicine woman! When I want your diagnosis - which I don't and I won't - then you'll hear me...I don't know... I guess ask you or something..." He paused and thought it over. "Just shut the fuck up, alright!? God..." he moaned breathlessly as another sharp pain lanced through his tense body, leaning his head on the steering wheel and watching the road through the open sections on the leather wheel itself. "My whole fucking body hurts...heh..." As he leaned back up, a small uneven and breathy laugh left his lips and he glanced at her, his eyes sweeping over her with a thick glaze.

This was not good. She'd thought he'd been unstable before but this... What she'd hoped would be her moment of salvation had turned out to be the worst possible thing for her and was probably going to end up with them driving off the edge of the road into a hilltop ravine somewhere. Thinking that his weakened state would hopefully make him more susceptible to her powers, Gwen probed into his mind and nearly broke into a smile to realize he had let his guard down. As soon as she started to probe further into him however, she gasped as his hand whipped out to strike her quickly on the cheek, knocking her head back against her chair.

"Not right now!" he screamed at her, his voice cracking insanely. "NOT. RIGHT. NOW!!!"

She couldn't take this! She had to do something! But more and more, it was looking like all the room she had to move around in was just to get herself comfy in her seat and await her fate. Yet again, she tried to press the distance between her and Alex, pushed not by panic but desperation now, not really sure what she wanted to say to him but just wanting to make some sort of contact with him before her impending death in a car crash.

I...don't know if you can hear me... she said, her internal voice echoing with emotion as she began to cry softly. But where ever you are...

Gwen stopped and wept, uncertain if that foggy signature was really him or if she was just making it up inside her head to comfort herself before Rudy would decide to turn their car into a fast-moving weapon. She thought about all she'd been through with Alex and Xander both, and how she felt towards each of them and treated this as if it were her last conversation with them. She remembered her life before them, holed up in her apartment, distant yet friendly with everyone and not connecting with anyone. She'd been lonely but content, comforted by her routine and almost hermetic lifestyle, focusing on small things that she could control, like her books and the characters in her writing.

It had been that stalker who'd messed things up for her. John Tagman. A fan who'd shown up at a few of her book signings last year, gushing over her series, he'd been a bit awkward but enthusiastic, leading from a discussion of her character Elynsynos - one of the main male characters that he'd felt a connection to - into asking her on a date. She'd felt flattered by his almost boyish awkwardness, as if she were someone great and he was nervous about talking to, but had declined respectfully trying not to wound his feelings at the same time. He'd been fine with that, seemingly understanding of her decision, even playfully so and he'd left without getting weird or emotional. He'd just been a nice, quirky fella who liked her books - when the target audience was highschool girls and women, it was always a little funny to her to get the occasional man who liked her novels as well.

After that, she'd forgotten about Tagman and went on with her life. A few weeks later she received the first of what would be many packages, on her doorstep. It had been a simple rose with a love poem attached, the tone of which hinted at a personal relationship with her but the language used was of a general yearning. She hadn't thought anything of it but kept it nonetheless. A few more packages later, each getting more intimate than the last - the notes discussing things like lunch she'd had with her mother, her current relationship with an artist named Mickey and how the author of the note could tell he didn't love her and things weren't going to work out, discussing her favorite foods, favorite shows, wanting to curl up in bed with her at night, etc. - and the packages themselves had become more disturbing in nature. One of them had been a dead cat that looked like someone had tried to skin it with a lawnmower left in a box on her doorstep. Having read the note that said something to the effect of "When your boyfriend fucks you this is how I feel/what I feel like doing to you..." she'd fucking called the police.

It hadn't been hard for the cops to find him - apparently Tagman had a little bit of a record - and soon after that, they let her know that the situation had been handled and that she wouldn't be bothered again. And she hadn't been. The scar had been left however and the residue of that feeling of being intimately watched stayed with her until she didn't like going out in public anymore. She broke up with her boyfriend and spent the next year staying away from people, trying to move on with her life and finding consolation in writing the rest of her 5th and final novel in the Nightshade series. By the time Alex had come along, she'd begun to feel normal again, the trauma fading and she was even a bit lonely, her mundane life and the cage she'd locked herself in starting to feel less like home and more like a prison. He'd rescued her from more than just Agents.

I just want you to know... she started again, the tears clearing up and a calm descending upon her. That no matter what happens when I get to Charlton, I had the best time of my life being on this adventure with you and I don't regret a moment of it--

The flimsy contact she'd had was broken abruptly as she noticed Rudy turning off of the highway into another rural town. Gwen hadn't been paying attention to his ranting up until now, so she missed out on the cause of this detour, but was quickly filled in as he continued to murmur to himself. He was still looking to abandon the car and find a replacement. Maybe he would pass out while they were stationary afterall? It would definitely be better than while driving a moving car. So, even though she doubted the police were even close to finding them, she kept quiet as he drove through town, waiting and hoping that he'd fall asleep soon and she could get away from him.

At one point, they passed a large church with the parking lot filled and he slowed down beside it, looking at the cars. Probing inside the building, Gwen sensed that there was a wedding going on this beautiful Saturday morning. From the images in the different guests minds, she thought it was a very lovely event. Why was Rudy interested? Obviously the cars had something to do with it and she shook her head in disapproval.

"You're going to hijack a car from a wedding?"

"Are you sure it's not a funeral? I woulda liked to drive a hearse." He ignored or didn't see the abhorred look on her face. She had no doubt he wouldn't have any qualms about stealing such a vehicle, especially if it had the coffin and body inside it!

Driving past the church, he found a secluded lot on the other side of a small hardware store and parked in the shade of several ash trees. While he leaned across the seats to dig around in the back for something, Gwen reached out and probed the surrounding area for any allies. Maybe this was it. Another chance to escape. If she could just find someone willing to take an axe to Rudy's skull...

Then Quin had what he'd been digging for, a small folded fabric binder that she instantly recognized from her stay at the hotel.

"Rudy...please... please don't... I promise, I'll stop trying to hurt you! I promise I won't interfere!"

From out of the case he brought out a vial of clear liquid and a syringe and began to fill it with a very sizable dose. "Heh, yeah and we both know how good your word is, don't we? In fact, it's something I feel in my nose." Finally he turned to her, wielding the small needle in one hand and grabbing at her with the other as she whimpered in protest. She squirmed agitatedly as it stuck into the side of her neck, but she couldn't shake him loose before her movements became too sluggish and consciousness faded from her.

"There we go," he said pleasantly, tossing the syringe aside and casting a paranoid look out the car windows.

***

Through a haze of fire, Osono regarded the dimly lit space, the light of her body and sunlight coming through the front doors and windows illuminating everything to her shining eyes. The anger that swelled within her helped feed the core of the flames as the fire she now wore filled her with a sense of euphoria to be bonded with it so closely. As a result, she let herself forget for the time being why she was in here, mowing a path of destruction with every step, her heart pounding with the beat of chaos.

Fuel. She needed it in order to bask in the growth and life of the flames, and she searched the first rooms and entry hall for something to set on fire. Briefly, she waved her hand at the walls and a few potted plants setting them alight, but she didn't let the fires that burst into being stay. As much as setting the whole place on fire would give her that boost and strength she needed, it was dangerous to do so before she was ready to leave. Naturally, the fires that sprang up would never hurt her or touch her with more than a warm embrace, and with everything covered wall-to-wall in burning glory, she could walk out the front doors without a scratch. But in her experience, burning buildings tended to fall apart and with how eagerly the fires moved to consume everything with her around, she'd pose a danger to herself burning everything on her way in.

Other than a few accent plants, there was a large desk in front of the doors, but it was thick metal and would take more energy to burn; expelling large amounts of energy was not what she needed at the moment, but rather a big fire done quickly with little effort. An explosion would feel good right about now. Ozzie wasn't very well-versed in what an office building held - suits and desks were for squares - but it was a big enough place that she automatically assumed there would be a large and complex heating system involved to keep the building from freezing in the winter. Usually a room housing that equipment would either be on the ground floor or in the basement, so with that in mind, she made her way quickly, searching for it. She didn't have a map, but held onto the hope that her instincts would kick in when she sensed there was "food" nearby.

Even with her attention focused on finding something flammable, Ozzie let her rage build thinking back over the things Alex had said. He was such a jerk! He'd already mentioned it and she'd even said it herself - she didn't need to come along to help him as she was barely involved. Here he was limping along on a leg that was obviously damaged in a way that wasn't going to get better from running around on it and he was expecting to charge blindly into where ever they had stuffed his girlfriend away and not get himself killed. She'd seen him fight of course, and he could more than hold his own against these assholes who'd failed to even touch her with her "training" being nothing more than biker club hand-me down tips. And that boost Gwen had given him would definitely help to electrocute anybody who came too close with the intent to harm him.

But having her along would definitely even the odds if he were to be overwhelmed. It more than assured their victory in any fight and she was here on her own willing to help him, out of the kindness of her fucking heart because she knew he couldn't do it without her. So why he kept acting like she was just following him around for his damn company... And telling her not to kill anybody? Was he fucking mental? They were in a war with these people! And she knew They had a habit of mimicking regular people as well - that is, up until the moment they tried to jump you. So everybody was a possible threat and expendable. Not that she went around actively killing anyone who looked at her wrong, but if she needed to blow up a building or a gas station to get away and save herself from being overwhelmed, she wasn't going to wait and try and evacuate everybody before setting the "match." It was her or them and she was done looking out for the general public.

In her old life, having a "standard" hadn't helped her one bit and Ozzie was frustrated that Alex was trying to fit her into that restrictive mold again. And then there was Rudy... Clenching her fists tighter and grinding her teeth, the fires around her body flared up even brighter as rage pulsed through her again. She would show him. She would show all of those Agent fuckers. Next time she saw Rudy, she was going to bathe in his blood, no matter what Alex's conscience said. Redemption and moderation were not in her vocabulary.

She'd gone quite a ways within the maze of hallways, still looking for her new fuel source when Alex called out behind her. Turning, she sneered at him through the fire, feeling the heat of their argument blazing through her body all over again at the sight of him.

"What are you doing in here, scumbag?" Osono asked in her raspy voice, cutting through the air with her caustic tone. "Got a death wish? Or have you come to check up on me? I TOLD you I'm not gonna kill anybody, you pompous ass! I don't need you to babysit me! I'VE GOT IT UNDER CONTROL!" It did not occur to her the incongruity of screaming that statement.

God! Why didn't he just stay the fuck outside? Not only did having him around and hearing him speak remind her of how much she hated his guts, but the fact that he was here trying to prove something by reiterating exactly what she said she wasn't going to do! True, there was the whole explosion thing still calling to her, but she wasn't at a point where she could think rationally about this. He was trying to say that she was like a wildfire that couldn't be controlled, that he needed to be here to protect people from her! She hated him so fucking much!

As these thoughts bubbled up inside her, the flames on her hair and shoulders climbed higher until they licked at the ceiling, wraith-like tendrils of bright orange light snaking along the foam grid panels. A few sprinklers that had been sitting balefully quiet this whole time, eventually gave into the urge and heat of her and burst to liquid life, spitting rain frantically down upon them accompanied by a shrill alarm. The flames around Osono's body quickly went down as she was drenched until she was left looking down at her hands and blinking wetly at herself. Nothing had happened except now it would be harder for her to maintain a fire with the constant wetness soaking everything. She hadn't been thinking clearly but hadn't meant to get that upset.

Slowly, she looked up at Alex, obviously bereft from the absence of her fire and shrugged at him in the dim hallway. "Oops..." Then her eyes caught sight of something just a little ways from him, a short distance between them. There was a spot on the floor where the raining water didn't land like it did everywhere else. Alarmed, Osono pointed at it, "Alex! What is that?" Not having ever encountered an invisible person before, she honestly didn't know what to make of the weird spot on the ground - maybe there was something he could see from his end?

Not a second later after being revealed, the spot was suddenly moving and wet footsteps could be heard pounding towards her in a charge. Surprised by the sudden unseen attack being launched upon her, Osono stood there gaping with her fists half-raised before the imprint of a fist smashed into her face and knocked her off her feet. Landing with a grunt onto her side in the puddle that was forming on the floor tiles, she shook her head and grimaced before moving her legs in a swift sweep along the ground where the attack had originated. She wasn't quick enough to catch whoever it was and they'd moved before she had. What was worse, she was barely rising from the ground when a second hit took her in the gut, stunning her with the force of it.

What was this? Invisible Agents? Even with the movements of the "ghost" being half-discerned by the droplets they stopped from falling, she couldn't fixate on their body mass enough to land a blow and they moved too quickly for her to focus on them. On hands and knees and sensing that another blow was coming soon, she murmured, "Sorry, Alex," before she lit the match in her mind's eye and lashed out towards the moving target.

Flames burst instantly to life on the fabric of her foe's leg, despite the liquid covering everything in heavy layers, her will pushing the fire to consume more of him, letting it spread on his knee and calf, even as keeping it lit against the sprinklers ate away at her energy. Even so, the new fire filled her with strength and disoriented him enough to stay any other attacks, leaving an opening - and also identifying his location - for her to move forward and cram her fist into his stomach. One thing she became immediately aware of after that brief contact with the front of his body and the two mounds on his chest, was that her adversary was not a man but actually a woman and she was wearing some kind of slick, thin outfit.

The fire on the Agent's leg only gave her a brief advantage and the other woman didn't seem to care about it even when the smell of burning flesh filled the air, continuing to launch an invisible assault to subdue Ozzie. Luckily for her, the new fire eating away at her "friend" filled her limbs and muscles with a surge of power that ignored her fastly depleting energy stores, and the blows that were landed by the other hit their mark as if Osono were wearing armor herself. She'd definitely feel the blows later, though; this bitch could throw a punch!

***

So. He knew. It was the first thing that occurred to her as soon as Master began to speak again, the implication heavy even in those first words and then implied even more later on. Well, it was no great loss. If he'd known all this time and had failed to say anything until she'd brought it up, then it must not have been as important to him as she'd originally worried about. It was a bit of a relief, even as she was mortified with the realization of how she'd touched Jason while in the Master's presence. How foolish she'd been to think that his back being turned had meant anything!

When Master got down to the deal he wanted to make with her, Stephanie's heart flew for a few seconds before crashing back down to earth. Of course. Why would she even think that she'd get to have her cake and eat it too? Especially after basically revealing to her boss, the intricacies of her one weakness on this case. And the choice he presented was not one she wanted to make - she'd be losing something both ways. Then she chided herself for even thinking that. This was for Jason's benefit, to help him. It was why she'd even gotten enough courage to ask Master about it in the first place. And she even reasoned, that the warning he gave was a lot less serious than it felt. Mostly, she was interested in what her partner would get out of this rather than what she could possibly lose by keeping him around.

What would Jason want her to do? He'd wanted to leave before, to the point where he risked bodily harm to get it from her. But in the car, he'd said... But with the chance to get everything he'd lost - minus the suit - back, it changed things drastically. And everything Master said, made sense and hit home as things she'd considered and discarded because of her selfish desire to keep her plaything turned companion by her side. It made her realize that if she really did feel anything for him other than pleasure at his torment, she needed to stop putting him through this. Maybe Master was right. Everything was basically a done deal, and she'd be far enough away from Alexander to make the transfer go through without a hitch. She could do it on her own...

And then her body stiffened at the sound of Jason's voice suddenly filling the air and she blinked in surprise at the door as he stepped forward into the room. How...how long had he been there? Had Master known? Oh, God! How much had he heard? Everything? Even what she'd said? In place of worrying about that, however, she was suddenly more interested in what Jason was saying now about his goggles. A possible answer to the problem he'd faced in Elmira! She had to admit, she was very interested as well, hoping to find some sort of explanation for what had occurred with Nathan.

Watching the feed - well, more listening to it; so, Jason hadn't jumped to repair his equipment when he'd gotten them back - she tried to focus on what the "boy" had said before it suddenly went blank. It was like watching a suspenseful television show and having it cut out in the middle of the climax, and she felt the urge to shake the "T.V." Then it was back a moment later, as if nothing had happened and she heard the sounds of the Elmira elevator platform coming to a stop. As Jason lamented to Eric about the loss of the important part of the recording, Stephanie found her attention still fixed on what was happening in the recording.

She'd arrived and had demanded in her dead, monotone voice that he give her a detailed report on what had occurred in her absence. She remembered that and how she'd felt back then. There had been a burst of excitement inside her at the sight of Jason and the urge to physically hurt him had come over her. As they were left alone, she could hear it more clearly, the sound of her close to him, half-seen by the dangling goggles as he was grabbed by the hair and pulled violently towards her. She remembered the way that his hair had felt, the delight coursing through her fingers to feel the skin of his scalp shiver in a held-in, silent agony that she'd created.

When Jason turned it off, she blinked rapidly and took in a deep breath, blushing when she realized that had been a bit like watching porn for her. Looking at him, she wanted to hurt him like that again, her fingers itching with the desire to tug and pull at his hair--and it wasn't more than a second when she had that thought that she found her fingers smoothing through his curly locks, cradling the back of his neck gently as she latched onto his lips. Master and the whole discussion that'd been had, left her completely as her mouth melded with his, her senses suddenly overwhelmed by him.

For several moments, the room was filled with nothing but the small wet clicks and smacks of her lips moving passionately over his, before finally they stopped. She did not draw back right away however, keeping close enough to run her tongue along his upper lip, tracing it lightly, her fingers curling and recurling over his strands of hair. Finally, she seemed to remember personal space and moved back enough to talk to him.

"In that case, maybe it'd be better for you if I took his offer, then?" she asked in a slight whisper, responding to what he'd said in regards to something not wanting him to stay. Wrapping her arms around his shoulders, she nuzzled into his neck as if she could hide herself from the world just by being closer to him. "I don't know what I want anymore... There's Gwen... There's you... I...just want to stop hurting you so much. And it sounds crazy, I know, but I cannot help it and I cannot find the will to care what they'd think.

"I couldn't get him to give you your suit back... I don't know why I thought I could. Even now, Master's offer feels like he's playing games with me...testing me, trying to make me stronger... I don't want to give into it, but there's too much for you to gain - you could start over, wipe the slate clean. You could erase me and what I and this case have done to you. You could be perfect again..." She trembled slightly against him and took a deep breath through her nose, smelling him, calming herself.

"I know what you must think of me... that I'm some type of monster out to get you, and in the beginning, I did play that way. I just wanted you to look at me. I wanted to be your terror and your horror, to consume you like I do everything else and toss away your empty shell when I was done. But things are different...and I realize..I love you too much to destroy you completely..." She hugged him tighter then, her body molding with his for a few moments. Love? Did she mean that? It wasn't something she was aware she even knew how to say anymore. But it felt good to say it to him...

"I know the important thing is the transfer and the case. It always has been. But I just...couldn't help but feel like I wanted you there...by my side...to watch me become better than I am... I suppose it's silly to think it's a moment worth sharing..."

Letting him go, she stood back from him and ran a hand through her hair that had grown a bit stringy these past few days and she looked everywhere but at him. "I'll get the necessary paperwork and I'll fill them out - you won't need to worry about it. I haven't really given much thought about post-transfer, except to hope that I might become an A-2 and look after a base of my own or something. Maybe Master is right... Maybe after the transfer, it'd be better...for us."

There she went assuming things again. Formal. He liked things formal and here she was getting weepy over losing him and saying things that didn't matter in regards to her case. It couldn't be helped. Sure, she might not care what the higher-ups thought of her - so long as they got results, they didn't care as much about her sex life as she'd been led to believe. But it would not be good for him to continue to be dragged around on her leash just because she was lonely. Not when he could have everything back with the snap of an A-1's fingers. She had to make sacrifices somewhere and as long as it let her keep Gwen, she would do anything for him. Why did everything have to be so complicated?

Trying not to look into his face, she held out her hand stiffly as if she wanted him to shake it. This was a proper goodbye. Distanced. Generic. He would appreciate that, as opposed to the kisses she'd given him that he hadn't asked for and probably didn't want. Kisses she'd stolen from him. As she waited for his hand to join hers, she felt the sickness that had assaulted her on the plane start to rise up in her stomach. The weight that she'd originally associated with the Atropytamine withdrawal came as well, bearing down heavily on her shoulders as if gravity was intent on crushing her. A headache lanced through her skull as she internally chanted to herself that she could do this on her own, and she wondered if goodbye was supposed to always feel like dying...

***

Walking along the street, back the way he'd driven, Rudy whistled lightly to himself and glanced around warily while at the same time trying to appear as if he belonged here. A jacket covered up the wound in his shoulder but his right arm still hung limply by his side, swaying painfully as he walked back to the church. It wasn't too far and he'd hidden the car enough to escape a cursory notice, so he was more just worried about setting off anybody's red flags.

The pain in his nose had dulled to a dim ache that made the whole center of his face feel like a numb hole, so he'd forgotten about the broken nose. And he'd run out of things on which to wipe his blood to clean himself off, so he was pretty much stuck looking like this until he got to Charlton. Walking through the parking lot, he made his way through the aisles of cars, looking for one to use as his getaway. He didn't have his lock picking set with him, so he was really just praying someone would be stupid enough to leave the door open and even more, that they'd have left their keys behind.

Eventually, he neared the front of the church and noticed two guys standing around an idling car, almost as if they were waiting for someone. Rudy's eyes swept over the vehicle, not noticing the white drawings of smiley faces and hearts with signs like "Love" and "Forever" on the windows. He especially didn't notice the "Just Married" sign on the back window either. All he saw was an operational car and a quick and easy escape. As he approached, he glanced around to make sure there were no other witnesses at the moment and pleased with the empty street, he put on a smile and walked up to the two men in suits.

"Hey there," Rudy said pleasantly. "Special day, huh?"

The guy's stopped talking as soon as he came within ear shot and both stopped lounging on the car to look warily at him. "Man...are you okay? Do you need to be taken to a hospital or something?"

"Probably, heh," he said, nodding his head in an amused fashion before pulling his gun from his pocket. Both men fell in two flashes of light.