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Stephanie March

The cold-hearted Agent on Gwen's case.

0 · 387 views · located in Present Day

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

Description

Name: Stephanie March
Age: 27
Gender: Female
Bio: The Agent working on Gwen's case. She has been trained in the use of Gwen's powers and plans to eventually become the one transferred into Gwen's body. A bit obsessive and emotionally unstable.

So begins...

Stephanie March's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Stephanie March

0.00 INK

#, as written by Ten
Stephanie was a walking mask; a contradiction of sorts. Everything about her from the physical to the emotional existed in painstakingly crafted layers and the outermost thickest shell was purely artificial in design, the deeper more complex parts of her personality hinted at and never seen. Standing tall at almost 6 feet in her high heeled pumps, her posture was straight as a Marine's, every line and curve of her lithe, willowy form was severe and with an edge to it. The business suits and pants she wore helped disguise her graceful figure bringing a more masculine grace to her feminine physique, broadening her shoulders and dulling her curves. But the clothing did not hide the athletic body underneath them, her every step graceful and measured with violent threat.

Her skin and hair melded together with light golden color, her shoulder-length, straight blonde hair tied back in a conservative ponytail at the nape of her neck, and pulled tight to keep stray hairs out of her sharply angled face. Although her skin was fair and her makeup kept light, there was something dark and morbid about her appearance, splashed with a bronze shadow that mimicked the sun's rays and made her disappear from sight most of the time. And emotion did not exist on her deathly beautiful features in any degree, despite the anger that boiled deep within her now.

Walking up the stairs of the apartment building, she idly touched the walls, her skeletal fingers and long nails lightly scratching at the stucco. She knew this place like the back of her hand but had never been here. Finally entering was like walking into a dream. The mood was only dampened by the fact that her reason for being here, for even knowing this place so well, was no longer here and would not likely be coming back. That firey intensity pulsed through her veins and made her internally grit her teeth to think of what she'd lost, but there wasn't a flicker of change on her serene face, her eyes clear and her dark colored lips set in an expression that hinted at a smile but was more neutral than anything. It was a severely practiced expression and the tight reign she kept on her emotions had one purpose. Gwendolyn Stewart. Stephanie's case.

For years she'd been following the woman but they'd never met or seen each other face to face. Even so, Stephanie felt like she knew the woman almost as well as she knew herself and even though they were inactive, she knew about Gwen's powers. In that time she'd prepared herself vigorously for an occasion such as this although she'd never believed it would happen and despite the slight thrill attached to the chase, she was more than disappointed that things hadn't gone as planned. Someone had fucked up and it had been the man on her team. It should have been an easy assignment to grab someone so powerless still and return her to base for the transfer; it was almost laughable at how pathetic this failure was. Needless to say, Stephanie was not laughing and wouldn't be even if the time and mood were right.

Arriving at the right floor, she breathed in deeply, the sound of air filling her lungs almost as imperceptible as the movement of her chest rising and falling to perform the action. This was her floor. There was her room. But what caught her attention first was the man standing outside the neighboring apartment, waiting. Someone much like herself. Recognition was a quick flicker in her dark green eyes and nothing more as she walked placidly forward, surveying her surroundings methodically and without error. Everything was exactly as she expected it to be...except for the missing woman of course.

Arriving to stand in front of the other, she regarded him coldly, with the same examination of a robot scanning him over. "Where is he?" she asked in a bland monotone. Even her voice was devoid of any emotion almost as if she were bored or uninterested in the response. Despite this, there was an undercurrent in it that hinted at the rage filling her and the violence brimming beneath the surface. The absolute absence of any emotion on her own face was not mirrored in his and the procerus and levator muscles in his face twitched towards the door behind him, telling her all she needed to know.

Striding past him without another word she entered the room with a stolid grace, an aura of death clinging to her every movement. Coming upon Jason in his chair, still bound tightly, her green eyes grew grey as she looked him over. "I'm very upset," she said in the exact same tone that she'd used with the giant man at the door. Still, there was no doubt at all that it was true. Stephanie controlled emotion like it could be cataloged and stored. She had studied everything about her own face and postures, manipulating them in such a way as to present a plastic and pristine mask that revealed nothing. And it was the same with everything she did, dealing with those under her with a cold apathy that was merciless and calculated. Like a robot, she'd lost a great measure of her humanity. When she said she was angry, it was for the benefit of those who could not discern how she was feeling as a warning to precede action.

"I want you to explain to me why I shouldn't kill you," she intoned dully, her green eyes regarding Jason without even a minuscule hint of what she was thinking. "That means details and the truth. I want to hear it from you. This mission was simple and there were very few ways for you to screw it up. And yet you happened to find one and we are left in a shit hole without a shovel." She stood, statuesque and calm, both rigid and at ease, filling the room with golden light from her soft yellow suit jacket. Turning her head towards the other in the room, she blinked plainly and said, "I'll be with you a moment. We need to share notes if what I've heard is correct." The boogieman case, she thought as she looked him over briefly before turning back to her colleague.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Stephanie March

0.00 INK

#, as written by Ten
The fear that rippled through her colleague's features was both satisfying to see and disgusting to her. Of course, she felt that way about all emotion, considering it an inner beast that humanity had no control of. Which was why she made a job of controlling it for them. The tension of Jason's eyebrows and the worry in his eyes momentarily changed and she could tell as he began speaking that she was getting the lightened version of his report. And as he spoke, she couldn't help the fire raging within her innermost layer at the excuses that came spilling from his mouth.

Faulty intel? It made sense but her disdain was focused in on Jason for the moment and she had to agree with Benoit. Failure was failure and he was in the middle of it; the blame laid upon him. Although he did make a good point about not being prepared for the other - she'd known about the other case living in this apartment, but she had not been given much information about who it was; she'd assumed the other could be side-stepped cleanly and efficiently without disturbance - it was still inexcusable for him to end up like this. Gwen was gone and they'd lost track of her and it was all his fault.

As he further explained the information he had now, Stephanie felt a new burst of rage fill her. Things couldn't go any more haywire. Not only was the target missing but in addition to that, she was with another target, one renowned for eluding capture. Gwen was naturally perceptive due to her slumbering abilities. If she sensed the power in the other it was very likely her own powers would be awakened as a result and thus make it harder for her to capture. The lack of emotion those on her team were trained to perfect, including herself, would help to block Gwen's ability to read their thoughts, but then they would stick out like sore thumbs among the crowd. Not only did Jason's failure make it difficult to find her now, it would make it almost impossible to catch up with her without detection. More than ever, her whole body screamed for his blood and she had to struggle internally with the desire not to rend him open with her bare hands. As always, none of the emotion showed on her features as she continued to look down upon him placidly.

At Benoit's interruption, she was further able to stay the sanguine urges and breathed in deeply before finally speaking in her level, unwavering monotone. "You have no idea what you have cost me," she said, her voice almost soft at first. "Instead of giving me any good reasons not to kill you, everything you've said has compounded upon the facts I already know that have made it necessary to spill your blood here and now." She paused for a moment, in her mind imagining crushing his skull between her skeletal hands and feeling a pulse of delight run through her at the imagery before she continued.

"But I'm going to give you another chance to redeem yourself and fix this mess. Sometimes people make mistakes and sometimes it is not always completely their fault. This opportunity will allow us to determine if you are even worthy of your position and your life." Stepping forward, she reached out with a slender knife that appeared from out of nowhere, the blade shining black in the light from the windows, and cut the rope that bound him. Surreptitiously as the ropes fell away and Jason's posture relaxed from their hold, she gathered up a length of it and swiftly wrapped it around his neck, pulling both ends tight in a scissored pose in one fluid motion.

It was tight enough to cut off his carotid artery and to stop blood flow to his brain momentarily as she leaned forward and whispered in his ear, "You will not fail me again. I do not believe I need to further illustrate why, but just in case it's not clear, because I want no misunderstandings between us: the next mistake you make will be made a moment's breath before I tear the life from you. There is no more room for explanation and excuses now."

Finally, her death grip on the rope loosened and she released him, stepping back as well. "From this point forward, we will proceed under the assumption that her powers have been awakened. Traveling with another with abilities will have the effect of triggering her own eventually as she will be able to sense everything about him. Because of this, we will need to proceed with more caution than before and hide in plain sight. Anything abnormal will be detected within a mile's breadth. Even if it turns out they haven't awakened at all, it will still be better to operate with caution. For now, you will stay with me and we will work on this together. I'll not have you running in there and alerting her of our presence. She will need to feel safe with this other for what I have planned to work."

Turning towards Benoit she said in bored tones, "I would like to inspect her room for any clues to her current state of mind before I give you an updated profile. A lot has changed since she came into contact with your target. I need to figure out why she would go with him in the first place. She is not the adventuring type."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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#, as written by Ten
The continued moping of her associate in light of her mercy was not lost on Stephanie even as she pretended to ignore him for the moment. Looking around the apartment, the possible reasons for Gwen going with the other target, the practically legendary Alexander, littered the floor in a crumbling pile of broken furniture. That explained a meeting of sorts because the noise of such a wreck being created would drive Gwen nuts if she'd been home to hear it. But she could not understand why Gwen would go anywhere with him, especially not in such a short amount of time. Not that the woman wasn't looking for men to date, but technically she wasn't. Not since that scare a year ago with that fanatic who decided to follow her around and thought they'd been in some sort of relationship despite her repeated protests. She wasn't traumatized or anything, but Stephanie knew she'd decided to lay off of the romance except in her books where she controlled the outcome and the pressure.

The mutual animosity between the two men in the room with her was palpable and she groaned inwardly at the unnecessary tension. At Jason's offer, she turned to him and dully said, "Fine, you do that. You will report to me if you find anything worth noting, even the smallest clue about why she'd leave with Alexander and where they might have gone. We will confer about our next move after you're done." Stepping forward, her slender, angular curves swayed beneath the suit she wore as she came to stand in front of him, her hand coming up to touch his cheek. There was nothing in her eyes but a deep emptiness but her inch-long fingernails lightly tapped on his flesh threateningly. "I trust you'll be thorough," she said in her affectless voice.

And then she turned to Benoit, having dismissed Jason from her presence and mind for the time being, expecting nothing but the best. She knew she didn't need to threaten him a second time, but she was still upset about his first failure. "I need you to tell me everything you can about your target," she said addressing the other leader. "All I'm looking for is a biography of his character that will help me further illuminate my revised profile. The more information you give me, the more I will be able to interpret her actions and thus the more information I will be able to give you. After that, I do not see us needing to join forces for either of their capture, although I'd ask that you keep me in the loop in regard to your movements so we don't end up ruining operations for each other."

Looking around the apartment again she said, "I know if he made a lot of noise or threw a lot of fits it would annoy her greatly." She indicated the debris with a minuscule movement. "That is probably how they met. She'd be able to sense his powers while he's using them, but it has been my understanding that they are of a more...lethal nature, correct? So, it's not something he uses constantly, I'm assuming. Could it be the stolen property he possesses that could have attracted her attention? Or would the man himself garner interest?" Her deadpan tone revealed nothing but her eyes observed him with rapt attention as if she were studying a strange animal of some kind.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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#, as written by Ten
The response to her questions came as a surprise - although no one would be able to tell outwardly the difference between surprise or any other emotion she felt - especially the almost threatening tone he took with her. It wasn't as if Stephanie were an idiot; she'd already looked him over and assessed his arrogance in the way he spoke and carried himself. However the way she chose to see their current situation, especially in light of Benoit's continued failure to capture his own target, was that it was an opportunity to help each other. From the little she knew about Alexander's case, he seemed to be a loner and it was the same with Gwen. But for some reason the two had met and were now off somewhere together and it was unforeseen as of yet if they would part company. That meant some kind of connection had been made and for people in Gwen and Alexander's positions, emotion was a weakness that the Agency could manipulate to their advantage. Why wouldn't Benoit want to take this chance staring him in the face to help each other out?

Even as his refusal to share information suggested that she would somehow compromise his mission by possessing such knowledge, she did not get offended. There was the shock at first and then the disgust at his possessive paranoia, but she did not consider it an insult. It was true, she could do this just as easily without him, but in the end it was he who would suffer, not Stephanie. There was no doubt in her mind now that she was working in the field, she would find and capture Gwen efficiently. Stephanie had been willing to part with a bit of information herself, but as she watched Benoit crush his cigarette on the carpet and utter his last words, she surmised to give him just as little information about Gwen as possible. Afterall, what did he need her for anyway? It wasn't like they were "working together" or anything special like that. She inwardly smirked at the thought as she watched him go, placidly.

After Benoit left, for a moment she felt a bit of comradeship stir within her at Jason's words, but quickly shook it away for the cold ruthlessness that she preferred. "That'll be all, thank you," she said blandly, cutting off anymore conversation about a superior Agent. As much as she'd love to sit here and badmouth the scum-bag, she didn't have time for that. Every second that ticked by Gwen was traveling farther out of her reach.

Thankfully, the prompt was unneeded and Jason instantly brought out his equipment and got to work. Stephanie stood by watching him and listening to everything he said adjusting her view of the man who was more than a man as she analyzed possible reasons why Gwen would join him in flight. "Alexander is the stolen property?" she asked in tones that did not reflect her shock. Her eyes grew distant as she listened, the closest thing she displayed that could pass for a thoughtful expression but her vision cleared and she looked at him levelly at the nickname he'd given to the French Agent even though inwardly she agreed with the sentiment. The nickname suggested a disdain for the man and that the obnoxious accent was in some way fake. But it really wasn't her place to judge the masks other people wore. Everyone hid themselves in different ways.

He continued his report however and she grew more and more pleased with the information he shared, especially the last bit about there being two people in the same body. "No, I did not know that," she said almost absently. "Very interesting." Her voice suggested the exact opposite. "That is probably the key. If it were just Alexander, I cannot see her being interested and possibly even put off by him. But if there's another inside, she would be able to sense the inner dynamic. Good work, Jason." The approval was in the words themselves even though it was a genuine emotion it could not be heard. "As for more research on his powers, since we're not going to be getting any help from our friend, then I think it's best we find out as much as we can on our own. As soon as we're done here, I'd like you to look into that."

During his report, Stephanie noticed him pale and his facial muscles tense with an inner fatigue. Approaching him near the door, she reached into her pocket and pulled out of her suit jacket pocket an energy bar in a foil plastic wrapper, Agency issue fruit flavored granola with protein and pumped full of vitamins. She'd been saving it for herself for later when she'd need a boost so she wouldn't have to stop for lunch. But she figured he needed it more than she did at the moment and she handed it to him with as much empathy as one might have while pumping a machine full of gasoline to keep it working properly. She did not say anything as she offered it to him not wanting to draw attention to it but went on as if nothing had occurred.

"If you're done here, then I'd like to move on to Gwen's apartment," she said. "She must have left something behind." Despite the hollow lifelessness of her voice, there was a certain energy about her, what could be described as eagerness. Gwen's apartment. Stephanie had photos of it, floorplans and had even arranged her own private rooms to mimic Gwen's decor and the actual apartment was right next door free to be explored. It was something she'd waited a long time to see and had hoped to be seeing it from Gwen's eyes when she'd eventually be implanted into her body. But still, the opportunity to see it in the flesh now was one she did not want to miss.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Stephanie March

0.00 INK

#, as written by Ten
Stephanie watched as the suspicion flickered over his features a moment before he took the offered food and she grinned inwardly at it. Her only motivation in giving the energy bar to him had been so that the fool wouldn't pass out on her. Although it would be nice to consider that another failure and to take advantage of the opportunity, she needed him to be awake and professional right now. And she did not feel the need to explain herself to him at all, preferring that he be somewhat unsettled by what might be considered a kind gesture in the midst of her still tender rage.

Nodding patiently at the brief detail of his plan, she stepped back and allowed him to proceed ahead of her, waiting as he unlocked the door to the apartment next door with a hum of excitement coursing through her and trembling behind the mask she wore. As soon as the door was opened, she smoothly took a deep breath, her green eyes growing brighter was the only sign that anything had changed in her demeanor. Following behind Jason, stepping past the threshold was like walking through a mirror into her own private rooms back at the Agency headquarters. Except the space was surreal in the fact that someone else lived here and she could feel it. Gwen.

As Jason was busy looking over everything, her own eyes were wandering, marveling inwardly as if she were sight-seeing at a celebrity's house. The natural wood colors paired with the dark reds that accented the place was perfect for Gwen's humble and introverted personality, nothing too bright or loud to overwhelm the space but enough color to bring life to the room. The placement of the furniture suggested efficiency and comfort, leaving optimal space for movement and yet keeping everything close and intimate. And the neatness was typical of Gwen as well, her environment controlled to a degree that suggested obsessiveness but was a bit more relaxed than that, Stephanie knew. The young woman just preferred to live in a tidy space; it helped clear her mind of clutter.

The Agent Leader's attention was drawn back to Jason as he gave the all-clear and for a moment she felt an irrational burst of anger that he was even here, forgetting momentarily his purpose for being with her. Stifling the jealousy at having to share this moment of discovery with someone else she closed the door and spoke in monotone, "Right. I want to retrace her steps from the last 36 hours if we can. Anything she might have been working on recently, possibly something she's eaten, and anything else she might have done in here before she left. And if there is any way for you to tell if Alexander has been here, that would be a huge help. If I can determine what her state of mind was before she left, then I will be able to predict with better accuracy what she will do next and most importantly, where she is going."

Turning to her right, the area closest to her, she walked into the kitchen which was a tight, yet cozy space. The linoleum tile floor and the old weathered countertops, electric stove and faded metal sink all hinted at the general state of the apartment building itself. But everything was wiped spotless, there was barely any clutter and the refrigerator in the corner was newer than the rest of the appliances. Opening it she looked inside and smiled inwardly at the food on the shelves. The top most shelf had three large plastic containers of various sizes and shapes - one for milk, skim, one with a fat bottle-neck that was half filled with orange juice, and a fatter, more cylindrical jug that was filled with cranberry juice. There was a shelf for lunch meats, a shelf for leftovers, other assorted items for things Gwen liked to cook, and two crisper drawers in the bottom with fruits and vegetables.

But what caught Stephanie's attention at the moment was the leftovers. Picking up the Tupperware container, she opened it and sniffed it gingerly. The fried rice was made recently, probably last night if she had to guess. Then the plastic Ziploc bag caught her eye and after putting the rice away she pulled the bagged pizza from the fridge. "Pineapple," she said blandly. "This is not hers. It's not something she would order for herself normally. Possibly a neighborly gift?" Closing the fridge she walked out of the kitchen area and into the main living room straight towards the desk where Gwen's laptop sat.

Flipping it open, the screen flashed but remained gray and lifeless when she tried to turn it on. "Her laptop," she said. "What's wrong with it? See if you can get it to turn on. If you can't fix it here, we'll take it with us." Turning away she looked into the living room, her eyes searching for something. She had to turn the other direction before she finally found it - the beige loveseat. It sat with it's back against the wall and mildly she said, "That's not where that usually goes. Why would she move it there?" In her mind a picture of events was forming, like puzzle pieces slowly coming together to illuminate the passage of events that was not yet completely clear.

Walking over to the chair, her eyes instantly latched onto a corner of white half-seen underneath the furniture. Bending over, she pulled it out with a long nailed hand and looked it over. A notepad. There was a page torn out but also a couple were folded over the back. Flipping them over she began to read, skimming quickly a light coming on in her head. It was a lot darker than was the usual for Gwen but she also knew about the young writer's desire to leave behind the dramatic adventure and romance of her last successful book series. Stephanie had the whole set on a shelf back at headquarters and had read them all several times to the point where she not only knew the story printed upon the pages but also the thought processes that had birthed every word of it.

After she finished reading it became very clear to her who this was about, despite the slightly fanciful twist with the mad occult doctor. "She was writing a book about Alexander," her voice intoned despite the awakened sense within her that allowed her to understand Gwen's every move. "That's why she followed him. She was studying him for her story."

Tossing the notepad to Jason as she passed she walked without a word to him down the narrow hallway to the left of the door. Opening the door at the end, she sighed silently. Her bedroom. The queen sized bed dominated the space and split the room in half. Moving past it, she went to Gwen's closet and inspected the state it was in. Still, the hangers were pushed to the sides to isolate a certain section of clothes and Stephanie pulled out an outfit or two from that section to look them over. A flirty but nice shirt and skirt. Some clean cargo pants and a v-neck blouse. It was a classy yet casual section for a date that wasn't a date.

Smirking inwardly, she left the room, her slender fingers brushing the bedspread as she passed it on her way out. Back in the main room, she glanced at Jason briefly before letting her eyes once again wander over the space. "The target left here in clothes that would suggest a flirtatious outing," she said. "Possibly the pretext which she went with him on."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Stephanie March

0.00 INK

#, as written by Ten
After re-entering the room, she took a breather to allow Jason to do the work she'd set before him rather than continuing to do it for him - honestly, she couldn't help how jealously she hogged this case; it came with the territory. Still, she continued to look around herself, entering the bathroom to inspect Gwen's things. The shower and bathtub were still slightly damp from her shower this morning and the smell of Gwen's herbal shampoo floated in the air like a vague memory. On the counter by the sink was her makeup kit, powders and creams kept clean of their buildup and all crammed together in a clear zippered bag - possibly the only unorganized thing in this apartment. Idly she touched a container of clear lip gloss that had been left on the sink and thought of how Gwen must have looked putting it on. Looking stonily up at her reflection and her own barely there makeup style - all except for her darkened lips - she imagined briefly what Gwen must have been thinking when she'd put on her makeup this morning for her "date".

She'd been trying to seduce him. Knowing Gwen it would have been a formal and calculated process. Ever since the stalker last year, she'd stopped going out as much and definitely cast a cold shoulder to anyone who might have expressed interest. But despite this she knew that Gwen longed to have love and connection in her life even as much as the thought of so many unknowns scared her. So she might have started this "date" with the distance of one trying to manipulate someone for information, but if she'd gotten Alexander to break down at all and respond to her, she knew Gwen would not be able to hold true to the original secret agenda. She would be forced to remember what it was like to play and flirt with a man and to build a relationship from the first conversations onwards.

Not that Gwen would throw herself at him and fall head over heels, but if he allowed her to, Gwen would follow him, especially when her powers were awakened. She would be able to put it together that her abilities had been somehow triggered by him and her pursuit of knowledge about what was happening to her would blend with the need to be with someone. It had been a long time since Gwen had been close to anyone or had any friends and her weekly call with her mother and then her editor wasn't fulfilling that need.

Stepping from the bathroom, she continued to browse in the living room, thinking to herself and piecing together Gwen's next moves as Jason spoke and hooked up his suit to the computer. His terminology got a look but she said nothing about it. "Yes, I would like to see what's on it as soon as possible," she said, nodding coldly for him to do what he needed to do. She was eager to get moving from here but it would not be prudent to rush; the more information she gathered when she could, the better equipped she would be to progress from this point.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Stephanie March

0.00 INK

#, as written by Ten
Stephanie was pleased with Jason. She was still mad as hell that her target was missing because of him and she was blaming Gwen's newly awakened abilities on him as well - why the hell not? - and she hated how every emotion was plainly written on his face like a teleprompter detailing his thoughts to her. But she was content with the effort he put into the projection that scrolled through the documents on Gwen's laptop for her viewing. Then she hated his stupid ass again when the flow was interrupted. Staring down at him, she gave him a hollowed eyed look as he set up the projector again and left her to go deal with whatever. She didn't care - just go the fuck away now and let me look over these documents!

And she turned away from him coldly, her eyes scanning the words that scrolled upon the wall as quick as they appeared. There was a new document that was unfinished, six pages scrolling by her eyes mechanically - a new story it seemed and a totally different one than the idea written on the notepad. Gwen's voice clearly shined through with each paragraph and it had a more modern setting than the one presented in Nightshade, her last series. It was last edited at 2:30 PM yesterday. Then there was an email from Gwen's editor, the tone chipper and pressuring her lightly for some recent work. Gwen had not sent a response yet and the email had been sent the day before yesterday. A few more documents passed by her eyes, notes Gwen had taken possibly for that other project she'd been working on before the Alexander-esque plot, but her inspection was cut short as the voice of the French Agent came to her ears.

Turning to look at him, she felt the urge to punch him with his abrupt entry and self-important tone. But as always, she regarded him with a lack of interest that could be considered an insult if those around her were unaware of her tendency to block everything off. At his words however, she slipped just the tiniest bit, her eyebrow raising microscopically at his words. Alexander was coming here? Gwen was coming here. She knew instantly that whether or not Alexander was present, she would be able to swoop Gwen up with little to no trouble. However, it became apparent that Benoit had his own plans of how things were going to be run.

She was willing to bet everything she owned that Benoit's attempt to recapture Alexander this time would be nothing but a repeat of his previous attempts, fully exasperated by Gwen's awakened abilities. And no doubt, the pair would flee again as a result. But this time, Stephanie would be here and she and Jason would be right on their tail while Benoit continued to run around with his own between his legs. Besides, it would be easier to capture Gwen when they could distract Alexander in some way. She didn't need Benoit's help; if his track record was to be believed, he'd be nothing but an idle plaything Alexander could juggle with his eyes closed.

"Shut up, Jason," she ordered dully. "Fine." she said addressing Benoit. "Do whatever you think is necessary. We will be watching and waiting, ready to pick up the pieces of what's left. Good luck." Even with a lack of emotion, the way she phrased the last bit made it clear she knew they would need it. "As far as her powers go, there isn't much to it that you don't already know. Everything else is unnecessary." Feeling smug, she waltzed past him rigidly, her version of skipping and humming delightedly to herself.

"Let's go," she said to Jason, leaving no further room for arguments as she passed him and left the room.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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#, as written by Ten
Stephanie sighed inwardly as Jason began to tear down the other lead Agent again once they were alone in the hallway - although that probably wasn't a factor in his decision, since he had little to no trouble voicing his concerns and objections while the French man was present. "Jason, don't make me-" and then she was interrupted by his abrupt stop and the glorious news that came from his lips. Apparently luck had not been on Benoit's side after all since he'd only had enough time to tell them the targets were headed in this direction before they were already breathing down their necks. Gwen.

Turning to Jason, she exhaled a breathe and said, "Alright, it's an opportunity. We'll take it. And maybe we can depend on our friends afterall. When Benoit engages his target, we'll snatch up Gwen. Hopefully the combination of our efforts will get Alexander to slip his defenses while we get away with Gwen. Everybody wins." Although still in deadpan her voice came out quickly in a lower tone and her eyes scanned the hallway for someplace to hide while still watching for Gwen and the other to show up. Inside, her heart hammered in her chest but outwardly, she was as calm as ever in the face of this unpredictable situation.

****************


Mrs. Lambriola on the first floor apartment 2A, was sitting in her recliner with her curlers in while watching the Price is Right, glaring at the man who'd taken Bob Barker's place. 'Poser' she thought to herself and sneered at her television set even as she said aloud what the prices of things should be, totally involved in the game show as much as she hated the host. Nicole Payne has a broken radiator on the second floor and was busy giving Mr. Crags a blowjob in exchange for him fixing it. On an outer level, she hated the man and how disgusting he was, but on an inner deeper level that she wouldn't even admit to herself, the experience thrilled her; that was why pretending to enjoy it was easy for her. Mr. Crags licked his lips lasciviously as he watched her nubile form kneeling down before him, pert breasts peeking up at him from her cleavage. It wasn't against his moral code to make her do something like this for him to do his job and he hoped to eventually push her further at some point when something else would go wrong. In the apartment next door to them, David Rhodes was hunting, his clothes wilted on his body as he drenched them in sweat, his eyes wide and alert as he stalked in his apartment slowly. A fly swatter was held aloft in his hand and he inched his way quietly towards the window where all of his prey congregated, high pitched buzzings making him twitch, his mind reduced to focusing on this one task...

Gwen swayed on her feet as they entered the building, feeling wave after wave of thought and emotion fill her own body simultaneously as if they were her own. A heavy exhalation left her as she suddenly felt suffocated and tried to drown everyone out except the person she wanted to hear and feel. The alley had acted as a natural funnel, the tall brick walls blocking everything out except what drifted through the openings at either end. She'd been able to focus then. But following Alex out onto the street, it was like someone had turned up the volume in her head and it only got worse when they'd entered the apartment building.

As a result, she had trouble keeping up with him, having to stop occasionally to close her eyes and breathe. She'd almost completely forgotten about Alex and Xander even though she could feel them amidst the wave of others, arguing internally and she knew before she caught up with them that they were waiting for her. "I'm sorry," she said a little breathlessly, trying to smile at him weakly but her eyes glazing as another person's thought filled her mind. "It's...very loud in here." Audibly she was aware that there was barely any noise around them, most of the sounds that could be heard at all, muffled slightly through the walls.

She offered him another smile that was meant to be reassuring but abruptly turned away from him to hunch over the railing, a harsh gag rippling through her as Joy Hahn on the first floor, ate some crackers with bad cottage cheese on them, her own reflex triggered by the woman who was actually eating the stuff. For several moments, Gwen sat hunched over the railing, finally wiping the bit of drool that had drizzled down her lips when she'd thought she was going to throw up, before turning back to Alex. "I'm okay," she said slightly panting, her face flushed heatedly and nodding her head to try to convince him. "I'll be fine."

There was an argument in the apartment right beside the stairs, Amy Goodman and her husband Henry raging at each other through their living room. He was being accused and rightly so, Amy's voice shrill and attacking him viciously, hurling every insult she could think of when suddenly she was shut up by a smack to the face. Gwen could feel it, Henry's hand flying through the air like a wrecking ball, slamming into flesh and bone with destructive force and sending his wife careening across the room to fall upon a coffee table, breaking it instantly. Gwen on the other hand, as much as she could feel the blow blazing through her face, merely trembled against the stair railing, her nose bleeding again from the other nostril this time. Holding her fingers to her face, she gasped at Alex with a silent plea in her baby blue eyes. She could feel herself slipping with the current of thought and emotion, the rush of sensations threatening to pull her under and it terrified her.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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The silence that wasn't silence deepened between them as Alex continued to stand there looking at her with obvious shock mixed with pleasure on his face. Gwen pressed her lips together in an embarrassed smile and adjusted her shirt sleeves briefly before finally smirking at him. "Oh, don't look so surprised, Mr. Charm--" her voice cut off as his hand drifted out and caught her neck, his fingers cradling the back of her throat gently as he pulled her close again. Looking up at him, her face was instantly serious and her body filled with warmth as she saw the familiar look of Xander gazing down at her. The one she'd been looking for. The one she'd addressed the kiss for. She realized she hadn't waited for him to resurface before she'd gone through with it and had kissed Alex instead.

Her heart pounded a rapid drum solo in her chest and her breathing came deeply as her eyes searched his, knowing they were both in there. Ever since he'd exploded in rage at her on the sidewalk this morning, Gwen had been a bit scared of Xander. He was a wild card with a darker sense of humor, darker demeanor and overall more dangerous personality than Alex. Mixed with that was a juvenile unpredictability that had a bit of charm as much as it possessed the unknown factor that set her heart to thumping as it was right now. Being held by him like this seemed a contradiction to his nature but she did not struggle or pull away as his lips softly pressed against hers. Needless to say, it was not what she expected.

If she'd had to imagine a scene such as this between her character and the one she'd made up to represent Xander in her story - "Mordeth" the demon - she would have made it a brutal, violently passionate moment. The female character would have never experienced such animal lust as she felt from his lips and would have hated him for taking the moment to violate her, raping her mouth with his own. And all the while she would be fighting against the weakness in her knees and the desire to be consumed by the beast that he was, melting in his arms.

As it actually played out however, Gwen was left with only the pleasanter emotions that his warm lips provided, moving against hers with an expert grace, leaving her slightly gasping with a swoon as they broke apart. And he remained close to whisper against her pulsating skin, her eyes closed and listening even as a blush filled her cheeks a ruby red. Her only response was a dazed, "Mm..." her gaze fluttering open to fixate on him as he turned and left her to jog up the stairs.

Left by herself in the hallway she mused silently, only spending half the time berating herself for her wild emotions running away with her. The rest of the time she spent tonguing her sensitive lips and trying to decide which kiss she liked better. She came to the conclusion that she'd have to give Alex a chance to redeem himself at some point and then sighed in irritation, blushing again at the fact that she'd even make up such a silly contest.
***************


There was very little time left for discussion and luckily it was not necessary to urge Jason to get to work as he left her side to hide by the door to the stairwell. Internally, Stephanie marked another point for him to weigh against the billions of points that represented her anger and dislike for him at the moment. Striding forth, she hid in the alcove next to the elevator as she saw the light above it rising to this floor, her back pressed against the wall, hiding her from view of anyone who was inside the car. She noted however that it stopped at the floor beneath theirs and stayed there for several minutes before rising again and opening on their floor. Shock did not register on her features, even on the inside, as the doors opened to emit no one.

Looking at Jason in a blank manner, she watched as his form faded and the door to the stairs opened. Quickly, she ducked into the elevator car just before the doors were closing again, causing them to stay open. Hiding against the inner wall, she was able to stay hidden from sight, whereas before she would have been plainly seen from the stairwell. Stephanie's eyes narrowed as she watched a man she'd never seen before enter the hallway and walk down towards his room. Even just seeing him from behind, she knew it was Alexander returned home.

If he turned he would be able to plainly see her, so she relaxed in the elevator as if she were actually using it, ignoring him like a normal person would. It didn't matter because the doors closed before he could look in her direction. Smoothly, she moved forward to push the button for the next floor below where the elevator had stopped. Gwen was not with him, but she knew the target was in the building. Which meant he'd dropped her off somewhere. In all honesty, she felt nothing towards Benoit's target or Benoit himself for that matter. All she cared about was Gwen. As the elevator began to lower, she patted her pocket lightly to feel the outline of the electronic pen she possessed. One of it's many features was to act as a tazer and one shock from it would render a person helpless. This was it. She could feel victory coursing through her veins already. Screw Benoit and his precious Alexander. She wouldn't wait for Jason to catch up to her.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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As Alex disappeared up the stairs, Gwen could still hear Xander's inner voice babbling on, the blushing smirk only leaving her face when he mentioned Agents upstairs. Was that the terrible feeling that she got from the upper floor? Did all Agents produce that black hole emptiness? Were they waiting for Alex in his apartment? Had they been in hers? "Please, be careful..." she murmured to herself as she felt him enter their hallway. But as he made his way to his room, it was like he held a lantern aloft in a darkened tunnel, illuminating the space and clearing it of that deep emptiness that had filled it a moment before. Except unlike a shadow/light relationship, as he and Xander passed through the hallway, the emptiness fled and stayed gone, dissipating like mist before him.

In it's place, she could feel the man in the apartment next to Alex's, sitting at his table and obsessively putting together a collage of words and letters he'd cut out of his magazines. Gerald Tomas was a paranoid schizophrenic and was busily looking for government implanted messages in the words he'd cut out of the latest Vanity Fair paired together with snippets from a Guns and Ammo ad. What was the Smoking man trying to tell him? As before, the thoughts and emotions of those who were in the building right now crowded in on her, but still she struggled to hang on to Alex and Xander, listening to their conversation. She would have sensed the other men in the room with him if she'd been given a moment or two longer, but just then the doors to the elevator opened...

************


Immediately, Stephanie's eyes latched onto the young woman standing alone in the hallway, her head whipping to look at the elevator as the doors opened to reveal the Agent standing inside. Her heart flipped delightedly to see those familiar features, the face she had a million pictures of and had studied extensively. The face she wanted to own. A bit of satisfaction filled her to see the way Gwen was dressed, the gaping open white blouse and black skirt instantly proving her theories correct. You little minx. Thought you could get some information if you dazzled him with a smile and some flesh, eh? Bet you got more than you bargained for.

All of this registered in a split second before the elevator doors had fully opened. Once they were in place, Stephanie's mask began to shift and change dramatically. "Ugh! Unbelievable!" standing tensely in the elevator, she groaned aloud in frustration, actual emotion filling her voice for once. With a sigh of exasperation, she stalked from the car into the hallway, starting to pull a ring of keys from her pocket, not seeming to pay too much attention to Gwen as she approached. When she came up to the other woman, her eyes came up as well and she stopped right before her.

"Hey, do you know the guy in 1F?" she asked, her voice holding a hint of annoyance but mostly filled with camaraderie as she addressed Gwen. She waited for the other woman to shake her head "No" before rolling her eyes and shaking her head with a sigh. "What a creep! For some reason, the mailman keeps switching the stuff in our boxes. Well, he did it again and I go up there to trade mail with that guy and he gives me this bit about 'Are you one of them? Why did you put those packages in my box if they weren't for me?' And the whole time he does nothing but stare at my chest."

Again she let out a harsh groan of frustration, knowing that if Gwen's powers had awakened she would be able to at least partly confirm her story. In addition to having researched Gwen extensively, Stephanie had files on everyone else in the building. She knew very well about Gerald Tomas's condition. "At least he didn't take anything except a few magazines and possibly junk mail. Hope he enjoys those sexy girly mags, the little perv." She ended with a small amused laugh and a shrug, finally regaining some good spirit it seemed.

There was something wrong here. Gwen could feel it. As soon as the woman stepped from the elevator, she'd expected to hear something from her internally, especially after the dramatic display she'd made. But it was like there was a cloud of static around her. Not emptiness like the Agent she'd encountered before, but a buzzing blankness that gave her a headache to focus on. At first it put Gwen on alert, as the internal emotions of her fellow tenants filled her head, but as the woman drew near, the static seemed to obliterate everything else. It was almost as if when she stopped to talk to Gwen, the cloud that surrounded her enveloped Gwen as well. It would have been soothing if the white noise itself did not feel like a Brillo pad being raked across the inside of her skull.

Listening to the woman who was beautiful and stately, she tried to stretch out her senses to see if her story held up, suspicion filling her with Alex gone. But there was nothing beyond the static except more static. Blinking a little harshly, Gwen stepped back from her to try and assuage the effect, but concern instantly registered on the woman's features and she stepped forward to offer her assistance. "Are you alright?" she asked, her hand lightly touching Gwen's elbow causing her to jerk at the contact. "I'm sorry..." She seemed a bit hurt and unsure of how to help her.

"No, you're fine," Gwen said, trying to smile at her reassuringly. "I'm just feeling a little light-headed...and queasy."

Like magic, the static seemed to subside somewhat and Gwen could hear a bit of the woman's thoughts. All she heard however was an echo as the woman spoke. Do you live on this floor? "Do you live on this floor?" she asked, glancing down the hallway. I could help you to your apartment. "I could help you to your apartment."

"No, I live up a floor," Gwen said with a shake of her head, looking at the woman with a narrowed eye. This wasn't right. People didn't think like that. And the emotion coming off her was the same; if her face looked concerned, Gwen felt a sympathetic worry from her; if her face took a thoughtful expression, her inner emotions translated a systematic concentration. But it all felt very shallow, every emotion and thought like a script she was reading from and only went about face deep. Just beyond these thoughts Gwen could hear the low hum of that awful static. What is that?

Well, my apartment is just over there, you can come inside for a moment and gather yourself. "Well," Stephanie said glancing back at Gwen from her perusal of the hallway and the closed doors that faced them. "My apartment is just over there, you can come inside for a moment and gather yourself."

God, this is really annoying, she thought as she rubbed her hand on her forehead trying to stay the echo. While Gwen was distracted doing that, Stephanie made a a small, surreptitious gesture towards where she knew Jason could see, signaling for him to wait. I've got this, she thought to herself with an internal smirk and Gwen was none the wiser for the static that kept her from seeing or hearing anything Stephanie really thought and felt.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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With the static mostly gone right now, Gwen took the moment to see if she could reach Gerald's mind again. Reaching out mentally, her mind was filled with the man's rambling thoughts - Must find the secret code. Stupid woman! Stupid woman! Thinks she owns the messages in my head! Nice try! You cannot have them! Where is it? Aha! "75 Sexy Tips-On How To Clean Your Weapon" That means something!!! - and she retracted as much as she could after she'd gotten the gist of his thoughts.

The woman he referred to was real, she sensed, not someone in the magazines he was reading, but wading through the irrational flow of thought, she could not determine who exactly he was talking about. She assumed he meant the woman standing before her and instantly relaxed her guard, despite that puzzling white noise and the annoying echo of thought. What she didn't know however, was that Gerald Tomas had gotten a phone call from his mother this morning to remind him to take his meds. Not having taken them the day before, he'd hung up on her prematurely, thinking that she was a spy.

"No, thank you, but I think I'll be alright," Gwen said, giving the woman another polite smile, now assuming she was just a friendly person offering assistance. Reaching out mentally she tried to see if Alex was coming back yet and heard Xander's familiar voice talking both inside and out...to someone with a foreign accent in his room. Trembling, she felt a chill run through her as she heard the men's conversation and felt the emotion coming off of the smoking man's body.

"Look at you, you're shaking like a leaf," Stephanie said in a crooning voice, touching Gwen's arm again and pleased when the young woman did not flinch away this time. She knew Gwen would have trouble being convinced, so she was just waiting for an opportunity now that she was close enough to do something. Reaching into her pocket where the pen was, she jangled the keys lightly to make it seem like that was what she was reaching for.

"I can't," Gwen said, shaking her head, and trying to smile politely again. Something had happened upstairs; Had Xander hurt someone? She did not feel the familiar rush of power, so she assumed he'd done something more physical. With the static buzzing lightly in her ear and the woman parroting everything she was thinking in her own head, it was a bit difficult to concentrate on anything else. "I'm waiting for someone." She turned to look at the stairwell, an urgency in her bones, hoping he'd arrive soon, if nothing else but to assure her he was alright. She could not shake this unsettling feeling. He needs me-Now!

From behind her, a sliver of thought drifted in her mind, an image of something small, slender and metal surging through the air towards her, a split second before the thing actually came, Gwen's hand flying up as she turned to knock it from the golden woman's fingers. "What the hell?" Gwen asked as the pen clattered to the floor by the wall. Now that she was facing her again, Gwen was met with the emotionless mask and the deep and all-consuming void in the woman's head. Her eyes opened wide and she felt her insides turn to ice. "You're..." She could not find the voice to complete the thought suddenly, but she knew what that emptiness meant. An Agent!

Stephanie internally smiled as the realization bloomed on Gwen's features, pleased to see the tension rippling back into place through every muscle of her body. Her charade had been effective. But now it was over and the time for games was passed. Her arm, like a lightning flash, whipped out with deadly force towards Gwen's stomach aiming for under her rib cage, the move intended to hit her and stun her.

Stephanie's echo was still on though and Gwen felt the woman's fist moving through the air a few seconds before it actually reached her, causing her to jump back reflexively, the blow hitting her stomach with less force than was intended. With the air that left Gwen's lungs in a quick burst anyways, that was saying a lot. Shock rippled through the lead Agent's internal layers and quickly she corrected her error, the control she had over her emotions slipping firmly into place.

Gwen stumbled back hunched over and coughing, trying to get away without turning her back on the woman who steadily approached her, that faceless mask making her look like a robot as she descended upon her again with violent force. Remembering her self-defense classes, Gwen tried her best to block the attacks, but the woman was quick, faster than should be possible for a human body. And the blows glided past her defenses knocking her back until she was up against the wall in the corner by the stairs. As much as her hands flew out to counter the attacks that the Agent rained down upon her, it didn't seem to have an effect. The woman wasn't even breaking a sweat it seemed. So, in desperation, Gwen tried something desperate, her left fist flying out low to catch Stephanie in the gut. The Agent saw it however and reacted, her arm slicing down to chop against Gwen's, leaving herself vulnerable to the other fist that came flying up to her face.

Gwen's right hook smashed against Stephanie's cheek causing her to stumble backwards, shaking her head as her face filled with a burning numbness and her head swam a little. Taking the opportunity, Gwen dived forward to ram her knee into the other woman's stomach, her hands going around her to press her body into the blow. Stephanie recovered quickly however and the blow missed it's target as she side-stepped. Reaching out, she grabbed a fistful of Gwen's hair and yanked it harshly, and aimed her fingers, straight out and together like a knife, for Gwen's throat. She definitely was breathing harder now.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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#, as written by Ten
Stephanie was idly aware of the other fight going on in the hallway with them but did not break her focus as her arm drew back and started moving swiftly through the air, aiming for Gwen's neck. She was too busy relishing this moment of assured victory, enough force in the blow to stun the target, so she did not notice Xander until he was already there sandwiched between them. The Agent had only a moment for her eyes to widen before she felt the searing pulse fill her skull from the fixated stare he gave her. Rooted in place, she stared dazed as if left standing in a coma.

Gwen was almost certain she was going to die before Xander appeared and a gasp of relief left her. The familiar warmth of his power rippled through her own mind as he looked into the woman's eyes and she felt the Agent's mind fade like a phone's busy signal. His arm wrapped around her then and he was pulling her away but not before the wretched woman's fingers tugged violently on her scalp with the motion. A sharp yelp escaped her throat before finally her hair pulled free of the Agent's claw-like grasp and Xander was running while practically carrying her towards the stairs. Listening to their conversation, she didn't realize anything was different about him at first until she heard Alex's voice inside like she would have Xander's.

Despite the beating she'd received, she struggled out of his hold and ran on her own as they entered the stairwell, adrenaline pumping through her and the promise of escape giving her feet wings. "What the hell happened?" she couldn't help asking as they fled down the stairs 3 steps at a time. "What happens in 10 minutes?" her voice came out breathlessly and she couldn't help casting a quick glance behind them to see if anyone was following. The stairs appeared empty.

It had been hard during her fight with Stephanie - at the appearance of Xander, some of the woman's defenses had fallen and she now knew the Agent's name - to sense anything other than what was happening right in front of her, so she didn't understand why Xander was so exhausted now or if it was something that normally happened when he took over for too long. Knowing his plan, she felt a little more at ease, flying down the stairs and shadowing him closely. The internal voices of those who were in the building right now swam through her mind but did not crowd her like before, her heart thundering in her ears and drowning them all out.

Within minutes they'd reached the lobby and her face brightened considerably to see the front doors, afternoon light shining through the windows like a beacon of salvation. No sounds of pursuit came from the stairs behind them. They were going to get away!

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Salvatore Robinson

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Despite their escape from threat, fear gripped Gwen's heart in a vice as Xander responded to her questions, with a little prodding from Alex on the inside. It was so strange to hear Alex speaking internally and she worried that she might not see him again with the way their discussion was going. One consolation was that she could still feel his emotions even though he'd essentially switched seats with Xander. But other than emotions, she could not detect any of Xander's thoughts and she supposed it had something to do with them sharing a head, although she wasn't sure why that would be.

Fatigue came off of Xander in waves and it only made Gwen feel more on edge knowing that it meant they had a time limit, her eyes searching for a taxi as soon as they left the building. Looking around however, she noticed the empty street and a shiver ran through her. Distantly, she was aware of the commotion still going on further down in front of the coffee shop and knew that several people had gathered on the edge of a police barricade to gawk at the dead bodies. A news crew had arrived as well as several police cars and Roasters had been shut down temporarily as the police dealt with the crises right on it's doorstep. They did not know yet what had happened, despite eyewitnesses and she let out a breath of relief.

Turning back to Xander, she caught up quickly on their conversation and continued to follow them silently as they approached the taxi together. Escape was almost assured now, if only she understood what was going to happen. Would it be like before when Xander would take over whenever he felt like? Could Alex do that? Now that Xander was the main one, and he got tired so easily, what did that mean for Alex? Would she be left alone while he was asleep or whatever? Thinking of that only brought up more fears if in the future at some point she encountered Agents while Xander was recharging or whatever the hell he did. If they were anything like Ms. Black Hole, Gwen would get them all killed trying to protect him.

Xander's discussion of going into a coma did not inspire any confidence in her, but she felt a small burst of warmth at the protective tone of his voice as he promised to watch over her. As the taxi stopped and their conversation continued, Gwen was made aware of not only how her relationship to them had changed but how internally they'd changed as well. The dynamic had been fully switched it seemed, and whereas Gwen felt doubt and then acceptance flowing through Alex as he reasoned things out, Xander said nothing about it. A second later he made it clear why he hadn't, although at first, Gwen had thought that it was the exhaustion making him not care enough to comment on everything like he had before.

When they were at the cab, Xander opened the door for her and pressed a bunch of bills into her hand, giving her instructions on what to do with the money. Looking into his eyes, that fear she felt gripped her again at the prospect of having to leave him behind if Agents came upon them again. She didn't know if she'd be able to do that, but nodded her head in stalwart agreement. At his last comments, she regained a bit of her good spirits and said, "Watching you humiliate a coffee shop employee repeatedly until there's nothing even resembling human dignity left, then having you perform lobotomies in the middle of an intersection while I'm suddenly transported inside everybody's heads and almost getting killed by a walking black hole; I'm having the time of my life. You definitely know how to show a girl a good time. Can't wait for the second date."

Entering the cab she immediately encountered the thoughts of Salvatore Robinson, who was a stocky man of Italian ethnicity, with a head of curly black hair, wiry ringlets sticking out from under his cap, and grizzly mutton chops on his round cheeks. He was having a pretty decent day compared to most, encountering only a little traffic so far this morning and afternoon, and the fares he'd been transporting had gone far distances and paid him lots of money. He'd watched as the bills had passed between their hands through the car's windows and he was already crossing his fingers that he'd be able to make a large percentage of that wad his.

Gwen smiled a little bit until a new thought entered her mind, the expression frozen on her face and her whole body growing tense. Even from outside the building, she could feel that emptiness inside Stephanie stir, and when it started to move, her eyes went wide and a gasp was ripped from her throat. She was still sitting in the first seat of the cab when she turned to Xander standing in the doorway, waiting for her to move over, and she grabbed a fistful of his shirt tugging on him frantically. "Get in! Get in!" she urged in a panicked tone, her bottom scooting over to occupy the other seat in the back of the taxi as Xander followed her in and closed the door.

Turning to the cab driver, she reached through the little window between the front and back seats, her hand grabbing onto Salvatore's shoulder and jerking him forward and backward, practically hopping in her seat. "Drive, Sal! Drive!" Shock and confusion filled the man but he did as he was told with minimal sputtered protest, peeling away from the curb with a small screech of tires.

*************


Blinking several times and breathing in deeply, Stephanie became aware of her surroundings again, the mask she wore instantly moved back into place as she regarded the empty hallway. A little ways away she noticed Jason still lying upon the ground passed out and anger filled her to realize Gwen had gotten away again. Running over to the window at the end of the hallway, she peered out onto the street just in time to see the taxi disappear around the corner and out of sight.

That stupid Frenchman! Of course he failed to capture his target again and not only that, he'd failed to occupy Alexander's attention long enough for her and Jason to capture their own target. Red filled her vision, the immovable blank features of her face remaining stoic as she stared down at Jason's body. This had been exactly what she'd predicted would happen! But no! The son of a bitch had insisted they take the opportunity to try and capture Gwen now! The idiot!

Placidly, she walked over to where Gwen had knocked her electric pen by the wall of the hallway and bent to pick it up. An electric buzzing started up as she turned it on and the tip danced with blue bolts of energy, like wiry strands of hair, branching out and disappearing in a constant ripple. Walking over to Jason's body, she turned him over onto his back and brought the pen near. She would hurt him with it! She would hurt him so bad, whatever Alexander did to him would seem like fucking Christmas morning! Her chest rose and fell and internally she grit her teeth before the rage exploded inside of her and she clicked another button on the pen, switching out the taser for a knife. It would be much more merciful if she just made sure the imbecile did not EVER wake up again.

She had the blade against his throat and was about to apply pressure when she stopped herself. No. This was as much her failure as it was his. She'd taken the opportunity because she'd wanted to and although it had been his idea - it would feel so good right now to plunge this into his flesh and watch the blood gush out - she could not blame him solely. SHE was the one in charge and in the end, she'd been the one to make the decision. And she'd been wrong.

Clicking the buttons on the pen, the knife retracted and it was a regular pen again. Tucking it away into her pocket, she slapped him full force across the face. "Get up," she said without anger or inflection. "We need to go have a talk with Benoit and I'm not going to wait for your lazy ass to wake up."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Salvatore Robinson

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#, as written by Ten
The tension did not leave her as they sped away from that hollow woman and Gwen stayed perched on the edge of her seat until they'd gone for a mile and she could no longer sense their apartment building. With a small sigh, she slowly sat back in her seat, the cushion underneath her and behind her back feeling odd after running and being so tense for the last hour or so. Being stationary had become an alien feeling. At Xander's words, she turned to smile at him, resting her head back against the headrest and said, "Beaches anywhere will do. I know you just want to see me in my bikini." She looked away when the thought of him without a shirt on flashed in her mind.

With the urgency he'd been made to leave the street he'd picked them up on, Sal felt a little like he was in an action movie or something. It was an exhilarating feeling. If black cars started chasing them and people started shooting at them however, he would not hesitate to stop the taxi and run as fast as he could away from these fares. Sal was about to ask where he was suppose to be taking them, but listening to their conversation, he blanched a little when Xander said "10 cities away". He could do that, but it would take him way out of the way. He was heading south right now and so far, neither the man nor the woman had said anything, so he kept heading in this direction, letting the meter run.

"Just keep heading south," Gwen said, sitting forward in her seat to speak through the window. "I'll tell you when we wish to stop."

She knew she'd startled him by suddenly addressing him with what he'd been thinking, but he smiled and nodded his head. "Will do, Miss." As long as they were willing to pay the full amount once they arrived, it was not a problem.

By the time Gwen had sat back in her seat and turned to Xander again, he had his eyes closed and she could feel him sleeping. In slumber, his face relaxed and his eye shut, giving him such a peaceful and almost vulnerable appearance. It stirred a bit of sympathy within her to realize, today had been one of the scariest, most exciting day of her life. Both he and Alex dealt with this stuff on a regular basis and rolled with the punches as they came and she knew it was hard on them. But now they had her and she wasn't sure if it was a good thing to share the burden with someone or if she'd become a burden for them herself.

Looking him over, her hand drifted out to lightly caress the side of his face, feeling his warm skin beneath her fingertips and then the stubble of his cheek and chin as her hand moved lower to his jawline. When Alex's voice sounded in her head, she lowered her arm and blinked at him before turning back to the front of the cab and closing the little window between the seats.

Turning back to him, she softly said, "I can hear you. You're not alone." Trying to comfort him in some way she took the sleeping Xander's hand in her own and interlaced their fingers. She wasn't sure if he could feel it, but just in case he couldn't, she'd keep her touches to a minimum, lest she wake Xander up.

Still, she couldn't help drawing closer to him as the taxi rumbled around them, eating stretches of road in gulps until they'd made it out of town and onto the highway. "You know, it's funny when I think of how all of this started," she said with a small, amused quirk of her lips. "I was fine before I met you. Just a normal person, like everybody else. Nothing special about me." Biting her lip around an ironic smile and blush she said, "I was planning on writing a book about you. You and Xander. I thought you had a split personality or something - it's strange. Even then I could somewhat sense when he was talking to you. In just a few hours, my attempt to study you has not only been made to seem foolish but completely irrelevant when faced with reality."

For a moment she paused as she felt Sal cock an eyebrow at her in the rearview mirror. Who was she talking to? The guy was asleep wasn't he? But she ignored him, not embarrassed in the least that he thought she was talking to herself. "That's all over now, isn't it?" she asked finally. "My writing. I can't go back to that now. I mean, I'm like you, right? I won't be able to ever stop running will I?" She looked at him then, giving him a sad smile even though he probably couldn't see it right now.

***************


Of course, the first thing on her colleague's mind was his precious suit. Not that their target was missing. No, it would be too much to ask for him to consider that worthy of worrying about. His tone of voice made her reconsider stabbing him in the throat. He redeemed himself quickly, however, when he mentioned the goggles would be traceable. They hadn't lost her this time. As long as she stayed with Alexander - and she would; she depended too much upon him for survival - they would be able to find her again.

At the sound of Benoit's voice, she turned to regard him blankly. At first, she felt the urge to explode on him for ruining her plan, but stopped herself when she realized that was her fault too. Not only had she not gone the smarter way and waited to track the pair when they'd make their escape from Benoit, but she'd changed the plan without telling him. There hadn't been enough time, but what she'd done had been completely reckless and uncoordinated. Like a child eager for a treat, she'd been too excited about the prospect of getting what she wanted without properly thinking everything through. And her incompetence in the face of this other lead Agent stung harshly. Especially with his mocking words.

"I take full responsibility for this failure to capture my target," she said resolutely, her back straight as a rod of iron. "I admit, I became too eager to get my hands on her when I learned that she'd entered the building." She paused, casting a glance at Jason before addressing the French Agents. "I will not make the same mistake again."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Salvatore Robinson

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Alex's internal words echoing in her head made her relax even more, soothing the worry she'd felt. "Maybe I could help you with that," she said with a smile. "I think I'll be able to recognize the female Agent's signature if she comes after us. Maybe even the one in your apartment, although I didn't hear too much from him at the time. I was distracted. I may still be able to sense them coming before they reach us and it could help us get away without even encountering them again."

Sal strained to hear the conversation in the back of the cab as he continued to propel them further away from those who sought them, but Gwen did not worry too much about it. The plastic pane of the window between them muffled everything to such a degree, he wasn't able to make sense of any of it. For now, she allowed him to be curious as long as it did not affect them.

At Alex's question, Gwen sat up a little, her blue eyes looking Xander's body - Alex's actually - up and down. With the car continuously moving, the thoughts of those outside its metal frame came in short bursts, one immediately after the other, like someone taking a piece from a dozen different puzzles and tossing them at her. Needless to say, she did not feel overwhelmed at the moment.

Gingerly, she concentrated on him with all of her will, slowing her breathing and shoving the thoughts of the nosy cab driver out of her mind. She could feel her hand touching his from his own senses, her fingers cool and soft in his stronger hold. His arms, limp for now, were filled with threatening energy, and lightly muscled, blood flowing through his veins warmly. She could feel the small slivers of glass still embedded in the side of his hand - what happened? - and the broken toe and she wondered how he'd gotten them. The wounds themselves did not tell her anything about what had occurred but she could sense, even though he was asleep, that it was painful - although, admittedly, it was more like an annoyance to Xander. His chest rose and fell slowly, lungs expanding with new air, her chest rising and falling with his, as if they were her lungs. His heart was the same, it's beat slow and steady now, pulsating through her body like a large bell ringing. Even though she confirmed he was breathing and well, she took the moment to explore further, her senses moving deeper into his mind.

His thoughts were hidden from her but she could feel his emotions rising up to meet her like waves against a beach. There was the exhaustion of course, eased by the sleep that was light - even in repose unwilling or unable to let his guard down. There was a slight concern for her and a bit of worry about his current condition, but they were not strong emotions. She couldn't tell if it was because he was asleep right now or if he really did not consider these things all that important. Or maybe she was missing pieces? Pushing even further, a smile touched her lips as she felt Alex's presence deep inside the recesses of his mind. He was definitely worried about her and his new position placed on the inside looking out and he was waiting for her answer still.

With a sigh, she sat back and said, "He's breathing fine and he's still there, rarin' to go at a moments notice. I still can't hear his thoughts though. I can feel some of his emotions since the change, but I can't make out anything like I do with other people." She got a mischievous look on her face as she smirked at him. "You on the other hand, are transparent as ever. I saw what came to mind when I made that bikini comment. Slow-motion running? Really?" She giggled happily and shook her head in an amused fashion causing Sal to look into the mirror again at the sound. When the hilarity passed, she said, "But I think we need to do something about your toe. Maybe we could stop by a hospital before we settle for the night. Or maybe I could just play nurse for you."

*************


The professional understanding in Benoit's voice helped her relax a bit more, although outwardly there was no change. He also seemed to extend a bit of that same businesslike sympathy towards Jason, and she did not look at him again when his trouble with the suit was mentioned. She admitted that she was only partially aware of what his equipment was capable of, and she'd been completely unaware of it's effects on her colleague. Now she understood his first concern being the goggles, but it didn't make her feel anything but slightly less annoyed.

What Benoit said next really shocked her and she schooled her features viciously to not let any of her surprise show or the sudden paranoia that came with it. He was definitely extending the olive branch farther than she would have expected, and although she'd been going to ask him again if they could join forces, the fact that he brought it up first made her narrow her gaze at him. Stephanie had expected to need to fight him about it but here he was, willing to team up. His offering up information made her even more suspicious and it only grew when he asked about Gwen's profile again, even after he assured her he was not trying to double cross her.

This failure only reinforced her original desire to join forces with him, knowing that if they did not at least coordinate their efforts, it would allow Gwen and Alexander to slip through their fingers again and again. But she wasn't sure she altogether trusted him yet, not after the way he'd treated them before. This sharing and offering of help and even the sympathy seemed out of character and she feared it was an act and he'd take what he wanted and dump her and Jason to fend for themselves again. As it stood, she and Jason would get nowhere if they continued to walk blindly into Alexander over and over, so she needed to trust him just enough to get what she wanted and assure that he kept his bargain.

'Alright," she finally said in her usual monotone. "I accept your offer, only on the basis that we have a better chance of success by coordinating our efforts. I hope you're not offended if I ask for information on Alexander before I give you a clearer idea on my target's abilities. It's purely personal. I hope you understand. In return, I will give you most, if not everything I have on her. And the equipment necessary to guard against his powers is a must and brings me to my first question: What is it he can do? Whatever he did to both my Agent and I, it was temporary. I'm assuming it was not full power, yes? I would also like to know more about the stolen property he possesses or rather IS. He was an Agency project?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Salvatore Robinson

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The empty expression on her face did not shift or change as he spoke and she took the information in. It was always interesting to hear about the abilities of different cases when they offered that information at all. Two cases that she'd worked on before being assigned to Gwen had been with a boy who could teleport and a young woman who could control fire. So, Alexander "fried people's minds"? It was intriguing to say the least but her interest only went far enough to realize that protective eyewear would be absolutely necessary if they were going to encounter him again.

At the mention of the rest of her team, she realized immediately to whom he was referring. All of them had been working undercover and were her main source of information on Gwen, and they'd been ordered to await Jason's command to move in and assist him in bringing the target in. When he'd been disabled the night before, they must have known something was wrong and taken action. She already knew most of them were dead now and that Alexander was the cause.

Listening to the story he told, it illuminated things even further for her about the nature of the man Gwen was keeping company with. The split mind thing she kind of already knew about from reading Gwen's story and talking with Jason, but Benoit's history lesson offered her more background on how it had happened and the degree of what they were dealing with. Jason's input was also interesting and she looked at him for a second to hear the slight worried tone in his voice - he hid it well, but she caught it anyway and she wondered if she'd need to kill him if he screwed up again. The torture of waiting for something inevitable to happen and watching the ticking clock might be better punishment. Ignoring the juvenile squabbling between the two men, she looked Benoit over with new eyes.

Again, she had fully expected to meet resistance to her inquiries, as he'd reacted towards them before, but he was being surprisingly cooperative. He still might not be sincere about this whole teamwork thing, but he was making a good show of it at least. Her dull green eyes traveled over his features, searching for those telltale weaknesses that would confirm her suspicions. His long angular face was lightly aged and he had a large nose, but it fit his face well as did his ears, which were a bit big on each side of his head. The cigarette he held dipped between his full and smoothly curved lips that always held a haughty smirk under the surface and now blew out a thin cloud of cancer with a small pucker of the plush flesh. The eyes were the most telling feature of the face and his were no different, small but expressive, topped by slender eyebrows that curved and moved with sophisticated emotion. But the expression he held was not telling her anything, that he was lying or genuine, so she took the ambiguity of his features for what it was and did not let her guard down. Even so, having finished her inspection in the span of 2-3 seconds, she decided he was a man she could possibly grow to like if they ended up benefiting from this together. Maybe.

"Thank you, Benoit" she said with a hinted nod of her head. "This information will help us be more prepared when we encounter them again. I do not have any other questions about him at this time other than about the necessary equipment, of course. But other than that, I think we're brought up to speed. As for Gwen, there's not much to tell about her. She can hear and sense everything you think and feel as if they were her own thoughts and emotions. She may eventually be able to manipulate people's thoughts and even their memories, but as of right now, I do not think it's something we'll need to worry about. Everything is still pretty new and from my encounter with her, it is clear that she has very little control over the flow."

She paused then, her eyes growing a bit distant as she thought back over their fight and felt an electric thrill course through her internal layers. It had been such a rush to perform for her target, to see her in the flesh and talk with her face to face. Many nights she'd stayed up late imagining what it would be like to meet her and the reality had been everything she'd dreamed of and more. She was so innocent, so raw and unpolished. Stephanie's blocking ability should have been an even match for Gwen with her abilities at full power, but as it was, she'd been shoved around like a rag-doll and manipulated by the Agent. Still, there were several times she'd broken through Stephanie's defenses and it filled her with a sense of pride and euphoria to see the young woman get the upper hand occasionally. If Alexander had not interfered, she would have had her and it would not have felt that it had been too easy. That in itself was satisfying, but she could not wait for the rematch. Next time, Gwen would not be so lucky.

Her eyes refocused on Benoit and she picked up where she left off in her profile, barely missing a beat. "After many tried methods, the most successful way I've found to counter her abilities is the Emotion Desensitization Training that the Agents on her case go through. It deals with separating the emotions and dividing consciousness by building layers within the mind and putting up internal walls to block her sight." She sighed boredly before asking, "Anything else you'd like to know, or are we done trading information now?" There was a barely detectable energy about her, an eagerness for the Round two she so dearly deserved.
**************


Laughter bubbled up inside of Gwen at the nervous denials Alex put forth, the image of herself, body lightly tanned and stomach exposed to the sun, running across sand, a tiny, tropical floral print triangle of cloth tied over each slowly bouncing breast. She squirmed in her seat beside him as the laughter grew so deep she was gasping silently, when the image turned into a sexy nurse outfit set in the same scene. A lot of her joy came from how flattering his thoughts of her were - even though they were a bit pervy, she didn't mind - but also from how flustered he got when she mentioned she knew about it. Even locked inside as he was, he was the same as he'd been before, and it delighted her to tease him this way.

"Um, Ma'am?" Sal asked a bit nervously, his voice barely coming through the window. "Are you alright?" This whole thing seemed interesting and exciting at first, but as soon as the guy had gone to sleep, things just kept getting weirder. He was starting to doubt the woman was right in the head.

"Yes, I'm fine," Gwen said, still slightly gasping and giggling, but catching her breath. "Just ignore me. I'm okay." Letting out a loud sigh finally regaining her composure, she turned back to Xander as Alex brought up going to a hospital. No, she supposed it wouldn't be a safe time to go to somewhere so public. Reaching out mentally, she touched his foot again and realized it wasn't too bad, but any more running on it would probably not be a good idea. At his mention of the bag, she reached over and set it on the other side of her before lifting up Xander's leg onto her lap. They would have at least an hour before they got far enough away to feel safe, so she thought she might as well check it out now.

When he inquired about her condition, she smiled warmly in his direction, faced with Xander's closed eyes still. Due to her defense classes, Gwen had been able to counter at least some of Stephanie's attacks, but a few blows had hit their mark. Her stomach and sides were littered with bruises and her arms were sore from where the female Agent had been blocked, but she didn't think anything was broken. Touching the top of her head gingerly, she hissed a little as her scalp throbbed with the contact. Her hand came away without any blood, but it felt like the woman had torn a piece of her skull off.

"I'll live," she said with a shrug, starting to maneuver his shoe off the offending foot. "A few scrapes and bruises, but nothing to cry about. The bitch really did a number on my hair follicles though. And there is the slight headache from having my head filled with several hundred people today." She had his shoe off and had removed his sock before the guilt filling him even registered to her, but by that time, she was too distracted by the sight that met her to concern herself with that right now.

"Holy shit!" she said in shock, her eyes wide with concern as she gazed down at the darkly purple and blue toe on his left foot. The toe itself was swollen and crookedly arched and she hissed a little under her breath as she began to search the bag for the gauze he'd spoken of. In her search, she found the picture of his parents and paused to look at it for a moment, a warm feeling filling her to see such a sentimental item in his possession. Tucking it back into the bag, she finally pulled out the roll of loosely woven fabric and set about wrapping his foot as best she could, while Sal continued to watch with nosy interest from his rearview mirror.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Salvatore Robinson

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Well, things were going well. He might be sincere about this afterall, but really only time would tell. Her facial expression stayed frozen as she accepted the eyewear Benoit's Agent gave her and she opened them to look them over with almost perceptible interest. She only looked up again when Benoit began explaining how they worked against his target, her eyes meeting his again with a dull stare. The continued animosity shared between the larger man and Jason was purposefully ignored by her but it did not go unnoticed and she was starting to lose patience with her colleague.

His offering for her to do research on whatever screw-up Alexander did to test out the specialized equipment against himself did not interest her in the least. "I do not find things funny," she said in a monotone voice that left no doubt that what she said was true. She folded up the sunglasses and tucked them away inside her golden yellow suit jacket, revealing a modest and plain white, silk shirt underneath it. At his suggestion for getting lunch before pursuing the pair, irritation filled her but did not show. Now she was beginning to understand why Alexander had slipped from his grasp so many times all these years. She did admit she was hungry, the afternoon growing long and her energy bar having been eaten. But with the way Benoit spoke, she doubted they'd be stopping somewhere quick on the road while chasing after the targets.

The internal clock ticked at her urgently and she could feel Gwen getting further and further away with every passing second. Not that she doubted the other Agent's word on how the lenses worked, she was just incredibly impatient. Upon realizing this, she stopped and took in a deep breath letting it out slowly through her nose. This eagerness had been what had let Gwen get away in the first place. She needed to calm down and take a lesson from the more experienced Agent. Of course, the man did not like losing his target over and over again. He would have learned by now the most efficient way to pursue Alexander and would not willfully attempt to sabotage himself, because if he was anything like her, he was a perfectionist and obsessed with his case and he would seek to improve himself at every opportunity.

Going slower like this and taking the time to plan was no doubt a better solution than rashly barreling ahead and coming up with a plan on the spot. She needed to be patient. After seeing Gwen and being able to touch her, it was difficult to accept that answer. She'd been right within reach and if they moved now she would be within Stephanie's grasp again. Her training kicked in to stifle the urge to leave Benoit and his Agent and pursue Gwen by herself, but still it rumbled deep within her in a cloud of malcontent. "That sounds wonderful," she finally responded with as much excitement as the average person would have about the prospect of watching paint dry to pass the time. Glancing at Jason for probably only the third or fourth time since this conversation began, she noticed the pallor of his cheeks and the weary look on his face. Stephanie assumed it had something to do with the goggles he'd lost - if what Benoit said about the suit was true - but she felt little to no sympathy. He was her partner on this case but her feelings were divided about his performance and she still felt the urge to blame him for nearly everything that had happened so far.

************


"Welllll..." Gwen said with a sigh as she started to straighten the toe out and tape it with the small roll of medical tape that came with the gauze. "There's no bones protruding from the skin or anything. And I can probably set it with something when we get to the hotel - this tape and gauze wrapping isn't gonna do the trick. But if I do that, I'm not sure if your shoe will fit again afterward. And it looks really ugly too." She shook her head with a small breathy laugh at that, and tapped the top of his foot lightly after she'd finished taping it up, satisfied with the result. As a temporary solution, it would do.

Her hands unrolling the gauze around his foot slowed and stopped when he mentioned her old job and sending in her two weeks notice. For the past few months, she'd been living off of her savings compiled from the money she'd made with the success of her book series. Since she hardly went anywhere and ate cheaply made home cooked meals, the modest mass of money had barely chipped away. She hadn't really thought too much about money yet, not having the time to worry about it and being constantly distracted, but it was a shame that she wouldn't be able to access the amount she still had saved up.

With a sigh of resignation, she finished taping up Xander's foot, the gauze wrapped tightly around his toes and the arch of his foot and held in place with tape, turning to him with a snort at the man's hotel preference. "Oh, please," she said in an amused tone. "What a spoiled brat. He's on the run from people who want to kill him and he stops to demand luxury?" She paused and thought for a moment, gently setting his foot back down on the floor of the cab. "Well...there is the Starbucks fixation." She should have expected it.

After about an hour and thirty minutes of driving, Gwen was starting to get tired of sitting in the only position offered her in the small seat in the back of the taxi. Looking at the meter she saw that they'd traveled over 60 miles and she thought that should be good enough distance for now, especially since they were entering a city. Opening the small window between the seats she said to the driver, "I think I'd like to stop soon." His thoughts had flittered through her mind during the drive and she knew that the place they were at now was a city called Vestal. From the look of things outside the windows, it was a pretty big city with lots of large businesses and shops and a sprawling residential area. "Could you find us a nice hotel to stay in?"

"Sure thing, Ma'am," Sal said with a nod. Internally, he had a sketchy map of the city in his head since he'd been here before a few times and knew the basic layout of where everything was. Gwen was pleased by the way the details of his mental map grew clearer as they drove down the streets, even before they reached the next ones in the direction he was taking them. She leaned over Xander's sleeping form to peer out the window as the taxi came to a stop in front of a tall and grandly built hotel. A gold and royal blue engraved stone slab sat out front in a flower bed, proclaiming in flowing letters that this was the Vestal Suites.

"Sal, I'm gonna need your help," she said, looking at the shining glass doors of the hotel. When she felt him grow expectant and confused - and a bit trepidatious; What did the psycho lady want now? - she continued on in a reassuring tone. "I need you to help me carry him inside. I'll pay you extra!" The last was added when she felt him start to decline and the effect was instant.

"Well...what's wrong with him?" he asked, turning his large girth in his seat to look over at the sleeping man. "Does he need like... a hospital or something? I saw you patchin' up his leg..."

"No, he's fine," she said nodding her head. "He got drunk and sprained his foot by acting retarded. He just needs to sleep it off." Still, Sal hesitated, turning over her excuse in his head. It didn't feel right; when he picked them up the guy hadn't seemed drunk... "Please, Sal," she begged. "I can't do it without you."

There were a few moments more that he continued to flip-flop on the decision, but finally he agreed. "Yeah, alright," and he started to open his door before her voice stopped him.

"No, not yet," she said, putting the money Xander had given her into her purse and adjusting the strap on her shoulder. "I need to get a room first." Taking a hair tie out of her bag, she tied her hair back into a neat bun and started to adjust and straighten her clothes. She was about to turn to Alex and ask for his opinion - she didn't want to look like she'd just been in a catfight or running for her life when she went into this wealthy place - but she remembered that Xander's eyes were closed. So, instead, she turned to Sal.

"How do I look?" she asked and waited for him to turn around again to look her over. His eyes instantly went to her cleavage and stayed there for the longest time, but eventually his gaze wandered over the rest of her and what he could see through the plastic barrier.

"Hot," he said with a small approving nod. Rolling her eyes, she began to button up her shirt. "No, don't. Leave it. You look fine." She could tell from the waves coming off of him that his response was genuine and that despite her distracting bust, he thought she looked like a lady. She looks like she belongs in a place like this, he thought. A smile and a blush appeared on her face and for a moment she wanted to kiss him on the cheek, even though he was once again busy admiring her bosom.

Turning to Xander's sleeping form lounging in the right hand corner of the cab, she said softly into his ear, hoping to not be heard by the driver but by Alex alone, "I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere."

Leaving the cab through the door on her side, she walked up onto the sidewalk before stopping to look back. Through the cab window she could see Xander leaning against the door, totally lost to the world and defenseless. It did not sit well with her leaving him like this, but she really didn't have a choice. I'll only be gone a few minutes, she thought to herself before turning and entering the large swinging doors.

Getting a room was pretty easy once she was inside, although she did struggle a bit to separate the things people thought and what was actually said with how many people occupied the lobby, but she managed it. The only problem she faced was getting two rooms or at least a room with two beds. Before she'd put the money away in her purse, she'd counted it out and subtracted how much she'd have to pay Salvatore and set it aside. The rest was enough to pay for one room with a king sized bed, but there wasn't enough left over after that to pay for the extra bed. So, she took what she could get and briskly walked out with the pair of room keycards.

Her breath came out in a relieved rush when she exited the doors and still saw Xander in the backseat, unmoved and unchanged. Sal stood outside the car, leaning with an arm over the roof on the driver's side and was smoking a cigarette. As he thought to wonder What room? as he saw her approach, she said, "We're over on that side," and pointed in the direction he'd have to drive them before getting back in on her side of the car. She did not duck her head inside without casting a wary glance around at the darkening lot first. The front entry way and paved roadway around the sides of the hotel were surrounded by luxurious lamps that illuminated most of the spaces where anyone would be hiding, and helped her see clearly that no one was approaching them. Reaching out mentally, she felt the vibrations of people passing by on the street beside the hotel, but the emptiness that signaled Agents nearby, was not there.

Tossing the smoke away to land with a few small sparks on the pavement, Sal got back into the car and drove around the building to the right wing entrance. Driving in this direction took them to the parking garage underneath the building and after they parked, they both got out, Gwen carrying her purse and Alex's bag and Sal carrying Xander tossed over his shoulder. She checked the area as they headed to the elevators, but the place was empty right now, eerily quiet, the cars of other guests watching them pass with silent menace. And then she checked on Sal to make sure he was doing alright with his burden. Despite his initial reluctance, his wide frame did not have too much trouble toting the passed out man like a sack of potatoes, but he was feeling even more cautious than she was. He really didn't know what was going on and he still wasn't sure if he believed her story about Xander being drunk, and he really didn't want to get in trouble. She felt a small burst of sympathy for him, realizing that her behavior did seem rather odd this whole time, but she eased the guilt knowing that his involvement would be over soon.

The elevators took them up to the fourth floor and she led him down a lushly decorated hallway to the room she'd ordered. The little light on the lock blinked green and beeped in approval as she pushed in the keycard and the double doors opened up into a small entryway. Her eyes widened almost as big as Sal's did as she went through the rooms looking for the bedroom, turning on the lights as she went, Sal trailing behind with an unconscious Xander. "Whoa..." was his only comment as his eyes traveled over the furnishings of first the living room and then the bedroom feeling slightly out of place in this overly comfortable hotel room.

Gwen indicated the bed and set her things down in a chair in the corner. "Just lay him on the bed," she said, rubbing her forehead lightly, feeling exhaustion start to set into her bones and limbs. Sal obediently set Xander down with his head on the pillow on the right side of the bed and stood back with a sigh, his eyes once again wandering over the room. Stepping forward, Gwen reached for his hand, startling him a little bit before he felt the familiar touch of money placed within his palm. It was the full amount and a little extra, just like she'd promised.

"Thanks," he said with a nod. "I almost wish I had enough to stay in this place with you guys." He laughed a little and she smiled.

"Yeah, it is pretty ritzy," she cast a glance around at the space herself, noticing down a little hallway there were two doors opening into darkness but from the looks of it, both bathrooms. "Thank you for your help. I would have never gotten him up here by myself and I would have hated to try and explain his condition to the hotel employees."

"Hey, no problem," he said with a relaxed shrug. "You coulda just told 'em he's drunk and that he banged his toe up from being retarded. I'm sure they woulda bought it." She laughed and for a moment he relaxed, thinking that maybe she wasn't crazy afterall. And he took a moment to admire her cleavage one last time. "Well, I'll see myself out. You take care and good luck with...whatever." She nodded gratefully and watched him go, waiting to hear the door close and going to see that it was before she turned back to the sleeping man.

"We're here, finally," she said, with a sigh, speaking loud enough for Alex to hear her.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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#, as written by Ten
She hadn't expected him to take them from her, but she offered no complaints when he came over and slipped them off of her head, instantly putting them on himself. Watching worriedly, she listened to him try and order them breakfast, while attempting to still see the conversation he was having with the anonymous texter by probing his eyes. Meanwhile, locked with his senses as she was, she could hear the person he was speaking to on the phone. Standing there, barely a foot apart from him, she didn't even really see or sense anything in front of her own face anymore due to the amount of multitasking he was putting her senses through.

Even feeling a little dispirited about the lack of pancakes - she should have thought to order something last night for them! - she was mostly focused on the conversation he was now typing out to the other Agent through the goggles, which continued to fascinate her. This gadget was like something out of a spy movie and it seemed too cool to be real, but here it was in front of her, being used. The language used by the other person, this "Gary", was not something she'd expect from an Agent, but rather a boy much the same age as their friend Nathan over there, and she felt her preconceptions about the people running this show alter quite a bit.

And apparently they were old pals. Her reaction to Xander's knowing the guy was much the same as Alex's and she couldn't help feeling a little unsettled by his familiar tone while discussing this "Gary" person. Gwen wanted to trust him but it was moments like these that made it hard for her to do so and she understood Alex's paranoia. Maybe it was seeing how easily he could turn his moods around this morning, suddenly hating her over one little thing - which would be understandable to just about anyone else who wasn't a conceited baby - that made her realize his loyalties could be just as flimsy. But then again, he'd forgiven her pretty quickly as well, and that meant something didn't it?

Even though she felt it was being smarter than she had been before to be more wary of him and his motives, she couldn't help also feeling like she was jumping over simple shadows and making a bigger deal out of things than they really were. In her current situation it was a double edged sword: if he was going to turn on them, she was still very attached to the guy, a bit like Alex, as if she didn't have a choice between walking away and getting captured. But if he wasn't, then she was being suspicious for nothing and he really was betraying those he'd worked with this whole time and had been sticking his neck out for her when he really would have been better off throwing her under the bus to get away himself. It was a hard situation and all she could do was stay with him and watch and wait for now. If she eventually collected enough knowledge she might be able to leave him and try to hide from Agents on her own...

When the man on the phone told Xander he'd need to come down to the restaurant in order to get breakfast, she of course was willing to be reasonable. But predictably, Xander wasn't. Folding her arms, she disengaged from him long enough to give him a disapproving look at his sob story about a "son" who'd just gotten out of the hospital and was terminally ill. For pancakes. It wasn't the fact that he was lying to a stranger - no, she understood that it was necessary for their survival to break the truth when talking to people they didn't know - but this hardly fit into that category. The man was an unbelievably spoiled brat, always demanding his own way over the smallest things and making up a story that was excessively dramatic.

When he hung up, she merely shook her head and reconnected with him as he finished up the second conversation he'd been having with the less than impressive Agent. She didn't really understand what he was talking about when he said 'resetting the system', but her eyes widened a bit when he mentioned Stephanie. Relaxing when he explained it, she looked at the goggles in his hands with a bit more soberness than when he'd first handed them to her. In the midst of her excitement, she'd forgotten why he'd given them to her in the first place. Now she felt a bit foolish for playing with them as she had.

And just when she thought the situation wasn't already filled with tension, he decided to inform her about the side-effects of the goggles. As they were placed upon her head, she gave him a level look and said, "Thanks. Fun toy."

Although, Gwen had to admit, she didn't feel any different than before she'd put them on. The pain he described sounded awful and she kept expecting something to start hurting but nothing happened and she'd actually been wearing them even while he'd had them on. She considered telling him she was alright, but then she thought of Alex and what he'd have to go through when the headache finally hit him, and decided to let him search for aspirin for her. Maybe when he found some, she could convince him to take some for Alex too. With his complaint about the man's whining, she knew exactly what she was going to say to convince him.

Turning back to the goggles that still sat upon the crown of her head, and now realizing what he'd meant about them being "reset", she slipped them down over her eyes with more determination than she had before. Enough playing, time to get serious. Well...at least until she'd found out the necessary information. Taking a deep breath she waited for a link to Stephanie to appear and opened it.

Apparently, the woman was wearing goggles or something just like she was and she could see through them. Technically, it wasn't through her eyes but it basically was the same thing. She was sitting in the backseat of a car, and instead of orange, everything had a slight oily green tinge to it. Not overly so, like the goggles, but a bit like looking through a tinted glass. Sunglasses?

The car was nice and roomy, with smooth shiny leather seats and in the driver's seat was a very large man she did not recognize. But she instantly froze when she saw the Frenchman from Alex's memory sitting in the front passenger seat. They were together! The woman who was after her was with the man pursuing Alex and Xander! Of course, they'd found each other and were working together! She was more disheartened by the fact than surprised, as she'd been secretly hoping - based on what Xander had told her about the Agency - that it was some complex bureaucracy where nobody talked to each other and fumbled to complete assignments. Her hope that they'd each be left chasing their tails before picking up her and Xander's trail was completely crushed. Now it was only a matter of time.

Stretches of highway passed by windows that were also tinted but there didn't appear to be any cars with them, almost as if they were on a special, secluded road of some kind. The signs that they passed however were the same and Gwen was able to identify where they were. They'd just passed Afton so they were about 20 minutes out of the city where she and Alex had lived. That gave them an hour and 45 minutes - probably less if there wasn't a speed limit and other cars on the road. She was about to break off the link when she saw the woman turn to the other occupant of the back seat, bringing him into view for the first time. A young man, in his early 20s sat huddled uncomfortably in the seat next to her. His skin was gray and glistening with a sheen of sweat, his hair matted down by it and his eyes were glazed with a terrible haunted look. He looked like he was in pain and extremely ill.

Had they...captured someone? It only took her a minute to realize that he was one of them by the suit he was wearing - there was an identifiable pattern on his left shoulder that mimicked the one on the side of the goggles - and she further assumed that he was the previous owner of the pair she was wearing. Remembering how Xander had stolen them off of a guy in the hallway where she'd fought Stephanie, she swallowed thickly to compare the image of her memory to the sickly thing she saw now. Curious, she started to reach forward through the goggles and see if she couldn't hear some of what was going on.

Sitting slowly on the edge of the bed, her lips curled up in a small smile as she connected with the woman who had been able to block her before. It was an exciting feeling, not only because she'd broken through somehow, but also because she fancied herself sneaky at not being detected. She blamed this on the distance between them and even that was an amazing feat to have accomplished.

Voices came through and now she was no longer looking through the goggles but actually seeing through Stephanie's eyes and glasses which she saw now were of the same kind of technology as the goggles. The woman had turned to the young man sitting next to her and spoke in a completely deadpan voice that came in a hollow and echoed way to Gwen's ears. "We couldn't have taken an Agency aircraft?" she asked, no emotion entering her voice whatsoever. Deeper inside, Gwen could feel a glimmer of annoyance from the woman however and she felt a wave of triumph run through her own mind that there was absolutely no static at all. She got the sense that Stephanie was blaming her partner for something but the connection was so faint, she couldn't detect what it was.

The woman turned away from him in disgust of his current condition and watched the road that passed outside her window. Then the Agent began to think about Gwen, a sense of victory filling her even as impatience battled within.
All of a sudden, Gwen was taken aback by the surge of emotion coming from the woman and all directed at her. There was an obsessive quality to it, an eagerness bordering on hysteria, and something akin to...hunger in her thoughts of Gwen. Sitting on the bed in the hotel room, Gwen felt her heart drop through her feet and her whole body grow cold, swallowing thickly at the woman's insane desire to consume her. It had the same texture as someone might feel towards idolizing a celebrity and wanting to be them and live like they did, but taken to such an extreme level, she couldn't help but feel deeply disturbed by it all.

And towering over all these thoughts was an overbearing confidence of reaching her intended goal. There was not a sliver of doubt in Stephanie's mind whether she would eventually own Gwen's mind and body. Following the train of thought, she realized it came from the information she possessed; they'd already pinpointed the direction they needed to go. There had been reports of an unexplained incident in a woman's clothing store in the city of Vestal. The type of incident that was Alexander's trademark. And they were heading in a beeline straight for them.


Gwen glared at nothing in particular as she realized that it was all Xander's fault. Instead of just helping her pay for the clothes she'd gotten, he'd zapped the woman in Sally's Boutique for no reason. If he wasn't secretly working for the Agency, then he was doing a piss poor job of proving otherwise by constantly leaving behind a trail! He would most definitely get a stern talking to after she was done here.

As thoughts of Gwen faded from Stephanie's mind, she caught her thinking of her idiot partner and even worrying about him a little bit. There was a general and deeply hidden, amount of dislike for the man working with her, but underneath it, even deeper, she sensed there was a bit of fondness as well. Probing just a bit further as Stephanie thought about how she could help the man without seeming to help him, Gwen came upon a few thoughts that hinted at a crush on her partner. Uncontrollably, a smile appeared on her face again and she said aloud in a sing-song voice, "♫ Somebody's got a boyfriend! ♪" That was just the kind of thing Stephanie needed! A healthy distraction and a normal relationship to get her mind off of this twisted obsession.

Gwen gripped the bed for balance as her vision changed a little bit with Stephanie jerking upright in her seat and looking wildly around the car. "Something's wrong..." the woman murmured in a monotone that Gwen was beginning to find annoying.

For a few minutes, Gwen sat tense upon the edge of the bed, not moving or making a sound, waiting for the woman to calm down. Finally Stephanie sat back in her seat waving off the look from the Frenchman - whom she now knew was named Benoit, thanks to Stephanie's thoughts of him - her body still rigid and on alert, her mind racing and trying to figure out what had just happened. She'd...felt something. No! She'd heard something inside her head.

Without thinking, Gwen mumbled in an amazed tone, "She heard me...?" wondering what the implications of that were. Could she make herself be heard in other people's heads? Or did the goggles allow this to happen for some reason?

The reaction in Stephanie was immediate, having already been on alert when Gwen had spoken the first time. With a clawed hand, she grabbed at the glasses on her face and tossed them up towards the front seats of the car, letting them hit the front windshield with a small "Tonk!" sound. Anger of an unbelievable degree filled the woman and Gwen recoiled physically with her mouth gaping open in horror at the amount of rage that was spilling forth from the woman's body.

She'd at first thought it had been the glasses that was the cause and now knew that whatever had invaded her consciousness was still inside her independent of the gadget. And it pissed her off. With a growl of frustration totally out of character for her, she screamed "What the fuck!??" her body trembling with rage. Gwen started to tremble too, but for different reasons, rooted in place and struggling to disengage herself but unsure of how to do so at this distance. And she could feel parts of Stephanie's mind closing down with heavy reverberating slams that grew louder as they neared where she was in the woman's consciousness.

Reaching with a clawed hand, her face contorted with rage, she grabbed a fistful of Jean's shirt and stared with insane eyes. "STOP THE FUCKING CAR!!!"

Only when he complied - after looking to the Frenchman for an uneasy nod of approval first - did she let go of him, her breathing coming in labored gasps as she jerked the car door open and stepped out onto the empty stretch of road.
Gwen was locked in this one part of consciousness in Stephanie's mind, unable to move from it or hide anywhere else and she was starting to emit panicked gasps, her hands clutching the sheets of the bed underneath her. Pacing on the asphalt in her black highheels, the static returned and Gwen felt her nose start to gush blood as it filled her head with a higher pitch than she'd ever experienced before.

Panting and coming to a stop, Stephanie grabbed her own head in her hands and began to scream as loud as she could. Back in the hotel, Gwen's own scream of pain came in unison as she was shoved violently out of the woman's head.

Stephanie stood for a few moments, her shoulders shaking as she slowly let go of her head and began to laugh loudly. Not having laughed at all in years, it was an alien sound to her ears, but it bubbled up from her throat as naturally as if she'd done it yesterday. When it died down, she turned to the three men, who were all waiting and watching her, and with a breathless smile proudly said, "She's reached the next stage in her development, gentlemen. And they now know, we're on our way." Placidly, she smoothed the mask back into place and re-entered the car.
***********************


As soon as she was let go, Gwen fell off of the bed and began to curl up in a fetal position on the floor, her whole body shuddering uncontrollably. A headache blasted through her skull, like an echo of the static, pulsing behind her eyelids and ringing in her ears and she rolled from side to side on the ground in an attempt to get away from it, to assuage it somehow. In the process, she pushed the goggles up off of her face and sat up enough to gag and drool and bleed on the carpet, her eyes tearing from the dry heave that had wracked her body as the sound in her head made her feel sick. With a soft moan, she lay like that for a while, her face pressed into the floor and trying to collect the pieces of her brain that had been splattered across the wall.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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#, as written by Ten
She drifted in darkness, suspended. Neither warm nor cold, content and comfortable in the lack of sensory input and aware of a vague sense of pain somewhere behind her. Like lying nestled in front of a fireplace, she could feel the heat and light of it on her back but she felt no desire to return to it. A low buzzing could be heard from that direction and she shivered and curled more into herself to erase thoughts of the menacing sound, letting the soothing emptiness fill her and turn her into nothing.

Gwen lay there for what felt like hours and days unconnected from her body in one of the deeper recesses of her mind, time seeming to stretch around her and yet speeding by with every half-breath. After what seemed like forever, she began to wonder idly to herself where she was, a feeling of discontent seeping into her consciousness. As nice as it was to be so separated and cocooned, she knew that this was not where she belonged. How did I get here? Like a fire roaring to life suddenly, the pain she'd noticed earlier flared against her back at the question and she snuggled away from it, letting her mind slip once again into the void.

Eventually, her thoughts were wandering again and the questions came more forcefully than before and she did not shudder away from the buzzing and the pain that seemed to grow the more she thought of these things. Something had happened. She'd been hurt. Alex. All other thoughts had left her wandering lost, slowly edging towards the light and blazing heat, but this one memory of the man she knew brought her surging up into consciousness. Along with it came flooding back the memory of their situation: he was running from someone. Her? No. They'd been running together. They'd left their apartment behind where they'd lived as neighbors. The taxi. The hotel. The goggles. Stephanie.

Blinking rapidly at the light filling her vision, she squinted as a loud and piercing hum consumed her head, throbbing painfully through her skull. Distantly, as if through a fog, she heard a voice and it was saying her name, asking her something. Turning her face a little bit she looked up and immediately recognized Alex, a feeling of indescribable joy filling her to see him. He'd regained control of his body! Finally, he was no longer trapped! But then as the voice became clearer and her vision as well, she realized it wasn't him but the man he shared a mind and body with. Xander. That's right... Xander was in the body right now, because of whatever had happened in the apartment.

Xander! That's right!
The goggles! Remembering what had happened while she'd had them on, she realized she needed to tell him about it. They didn't have much time. The static that had filled Stephanie's mind and severed her from their connection was all she could feel inside her own head right now and for some reason, as consciousness and awareness flooded back to her, control of her body came slower, the waves of static making it difficult to communicate with her limbs.

For several more minutes, she attempted to speak, moving her lips in a parody of speech with no noise coming forth, making her feel frustrated and helpless. The discordant noise subsided a few notches before she was finally able to form words and even then it felt like a tremendous effort and expense.

"They're coming..." he needed to know, he had to understand what she'd seen. "They know..." Her voice dwindled down to a breathless gasp and she winced painfully, an urgency coursing through her and yet pain keeping her immobile.

Weakly she reached out a hand to touch him, to hold onto him and raise herself up, but the first pass it made against him, her fingers slid uselessly over his shirt, not even having the power to grab on. She waited for several more minutes, feeling every second tick by, pounded into her skull by the static that just didn't seem to want to fade, before trying again with more confidence. Grasping his arm and shoulder, she sat up on the floor only letting go of him when she was sure she could support her own weight.

"We need to go now... They're on their way here and they know where we are... Benoit...the French guy Alex told me about was with her and they're working together..." Speech returned to her fluidly, leaving her just barely gasping between sentences. The static had been reduced to a low hum in her head that caused her discomfort but was somewhat tolerable. "I...don't know what happened... I got stuck inside her head and she did something... She pushed me out but it was more... Now there's nothing but white-noise everywhere and it hurts like a son of a bitch."

Gwen lightly touched a hand to her forehead when she realized she couldn't hear Alex. Trying to reach out to him, the buzzing grew in volume and lanced through her head with a vicious pain, causing her to retreat immediately. She wasn't sure if that was a result of something Stephanie had done or if she did it to herself by connecting with the woman long distance. Either way, she decided not to try to force it right now, lest she be left a mindless, pain-filled mess.

Struggling to rise, she had a bit of difficulty and held her hand out to Xander for some assistance. "We need to get out of here now." A bitterness filled her tongue and her stomach growled fitfully as she realized once again that if the pancakes weren't here yet, then they'd need to grab something else while getting away. They couldn't abandon meals forever - if the Agents didn't catch up to them by catching them off guard, they eventually would when the both of them collapsed from lack of nutrients. At the moment, despite knowing why the Agents knew where they were, she decided not to bring it up. Now was not the time to argue about who's fault it was; they just needed to get away.

The incessant murmuring of their new companion caught her attention as well and she glanced in his direction, slightly worried about what they were going to do with him. Nathan still struggled against his bounds, spouting nonsense as he did before and she made even less sense of it all now without the benefit of knowing what he was thinking.

"Running-running-time to run again-stuck in a corner-always catch up-need to keep running-pancakes-" Needless to say, it was not the most comforting train of conversation.

**********************


Slipping back into the her seat again, Stephanie let out a bored sigh, her mask once more firmly in place. What a fantastic experience that had been! Even as angry as it had made her to be violated in such a manner, what she learned from it was absolutely priceless and filled her with even more pride for her target. So much so, she felt excited to share the new information with her companions.

"Oh, I doubt he'll leave her behind. I don't know much about Alexander as far as character goes, but if he's keeping her around mainly for the usefulness of her powers, then he most definitely will stay with her now," as usual, her voice had returned to the placid monotone, her face staring blankly ahead out the front windshield. "Before today, her newly awakened powers gave her the ability to hear the thoughts of others and to feel their emotions as if they were her own. She connected with me somehow - through those glasses, I know, possibly using a form of similar technology... such as the goggles they stole from my partner..."

She glanced at Jason apathetically, wondering what that news would mean to him, not having much information on his connection with the suit in the first place, but understanding it's absence was having a detrimental effect upon him. She only hoped that his own skills and strengths would not decline as time went on, because she did not want to have to part with him. He was the most informed on their current project and although not trained to resist Gwen's abilities, he was her biggest asset and...she enjoyed working with him. Thinking of that made her remember Gwen's comment drifting through her head and she internally smirked at the teasing tone the other woman had used. No, it was not meant to be. Ever. Not in their line of work and it was definitely pointless to engage in such frivolous relations when after capturing Gwen, a relationship wouldn't even be possible. It didn't mean she stopped caring about the man's health and sanity, as much as she seemed to show otherwise. It was best not to encourage the appearance of feelings towards him.

"She can span a wider range through long distance connections now," she continued, turning back to the front seats of the car without another glance at Jason. "Telephones, and direct links like live television feeds and possibly even computers. That means she's already passed the second step which is access to memory. The next and final stage is the ability to manipulate not only thought, memory and emotion, but even action." A hint of her fervor entered into her dull tone, but she corrected herself as she went on.

"Not to worry though. At this point, her abilities are still so new, she's like a toddler trying to fly a jet plane. She's pushing buttons and making things happen, but her control is weak and she has no real understanding of what she's doing or how. We...were hooked together for a while. Even after she realized I was aware of her presence, she did not let go and I think it was because she didn't know how. Even a full connection over the distance between us should be a breeze to break away from on her own and yet she struggled until I forcibly severed the link. As a result, she should be sore for a while and unable to use her powers, but it's a temporary stun and she'll recover them quickly."

Pausing then, Stephanie glanced around the car and out the windows for a moment and spoke again. "I'm sorry to say that I wasn't paying too close attention and I do not know how long we were connected before I became aware of it," even in an apology she did not let emotion enter her voice. "I was looking out the windows for a while, so she's probably seen where we are by the road signs and maybe even has a bit of information...that I'd rather she not have, but it's not important. And now that I know where she is in her development, I will not let my guard down again..." Alright, that was enough, she was done apologizing now. "We might be able to make it there with her still disabled and catch them while they're on their way out. No doubt, they will try to escape now that they know we're nearing their destination."

There was a slight prod in her words, hoping to spur Benoit into action. Earlier, back at the apartment, she'd decided to wait, watch and learn from him, but so far it had been torture. The eagerness for capture had not left her and had festered like a spoiled wound in the past 14 hours. She'd tried to remain civil and tried to stay firm in keeping patient, knowing that it was necessary to think things through in order to succeed, but she could not help getting the feeling there were plans that were not being shared. So a lot of the time they were left lounging around as if they had all the time in the world. With how fast Gwen was developing, she knew that was not the case and it frustrated her beyond belief.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

0.00 INK

#, as written by Ten
So, this was why they had been going so slow. Understanding blossomed within the deeper layers of her mind, as the two Agents in the front seat explained Alexander's habitual movements and how they caught up with him. With comprehension of their plan came a calmness that settled in and eased her impatience but not by much. They still had a limited time before Gwen would become too powerful to deal with face-to-face, and although she still had a lot of control to develop, the clock was ticking. She was confident in her ability to deal with Gwen, even at full power, but with her powers at full maturity it would make things unnecessarily difficult. If only they'd gotten her the night before last, they wouldn't even be dealing with all these problems now.

Stephanie was jolted from her thoughts by the sudden attention drawn to Jason and his explosion at the man driving made her cringe inside, as did the resulting jerk of the vehicle to a stop in the road. Sighing hollowly as the two men argued and stared each other down, she internally twisted and turned, giving Jason the blackest look she could muster through her mask. She'd started this case full of arrogance and obsession and had learned to get along with others calling the shots and even sharing information that she'd never given anyone before. Things that were almost like a diary for her, secret things she'd become more invested in than her own personal intimacies and guarded as if her life depended on it.

And yet her partner seemed to be reacting in the opposite way. She had no idea what set the two men at odds - in their current situation as professional adults, it hardly seemed necessary for them to both act this way - but she was growing tired of it. Jason, as a part of her team, represented her and her goals and he insisted on making her look bad by squabbling with the other Agent like a child. When Benoit or anyone looked at Jason they would automatically see her as well and judge their team accordingly; afterall, she did the same thing when she turned to look at the man driving needing to be reprimanded in front of her. She felt it reflected poorly on Benoit even as she worried about how Jason's behavior looked to the other two men. She felt like a rookie when working with them. There was no need to assure them of that fact by her colleague acting like an idiot.

But then he surprised her with the offer of an apology, explaining his behavior as a result of his having lost the goggles that went with his suit and she suddenly felt guilty since she'd been the one to tell him Gwen had been using them to spy on her. Stephanie had been more than aware of his current condition - a lot like a junkie going through withdrawal - and still she'd callously offered up information that could prove even more disastrous to him. His current irritability was partly her fault. However, she did not let the sympathy or the guilt show, preferring to ignore him completely as if his predicament and even his return to civility in the midst of it were of no consequence to her. While inwardly she worried about what she could possibly do to help him. What would happen if the goggles were not eventually retrieved? Was this something he could recover from?

Her internal musings were brought to a halt as Benoit addressed her again, smooth as ever moving onto a new topic of discussion while graciously accepting Jason's apology. She thought for several moments, estimating quickly in her head how fast the young woman's abilities would reach their final conclusion. This part was key, for it decided their exact time-line and how much of it they had left before Gwen became more of a problem.

"There are limits to what she'll eventually be able to accomplish and it is all related to her core empathic abilities. She experiences everything as if other people's emotions, thoughts and their lives were her own and were happening to and being thought by her. When she reaches the final stage she really will, in a broad sense, own all these experiences and thoughts as if they were hers in origin. Since they are not and she stands apart from it all, outside looking in, it gives her the power to change them, manipulating them with suggestion. So, intrinsically, it is basically an intensifying of already existing powers and circumstances."

"As for how long," she sighed through her nose before continuing. "She has possessed her abilities and been working with them actively for less than 24 hours and has already reached the third stage of development. This goes way beyond the charts and predictions I've made based on my study of her life and I think it has accelerated due to being around Alexander when his own powers are released. Her ability to sense both ends of such intense exchanges probably has the effect of stretching and exercising her abilities, like 10 days of practice capitalized within a few seconds."

"However, the final stages - extending her range over longer distances, controlling her psychic presence, and mastering manipulation to a degree where it will become harmful to us - will definitely take time and effort. She cannot just learn these things overnight, not to the point where she can wield them as they were meant to be. So, taking into account Alexander's usage of his mind 'overload' powers and the regular effort it would take her to master the last stages, I estimate that we have about a week. Maybe a few days more if Alexander restricts himself to using his powers only once a day."

Throughout her analysis, Stephanie had maintained a hollow and guarded tone and when she ended, she blinked levelly at her companions, hoping that the information she'd provided would be sufficient for their purposes. She very rarely got the chance to talk about Gwen in all her years of being on the woman's case and was finding despite the paranoia that Benoit would somehow steal the glory of her case and double cross her, she rather enjoyed talking about her. Gwen afterall, was her favorite subject.

*********


It was nice to see him almost completely unaffected by what she'd told him. Actually, no it wasn't. They were still going to wait for pancakes? Was he crazy? She was starting to feel anxious as he once again decided - despite Alex's protests which she still couldn't hear but were obvious from the one sided conversation - that they were going to take their time as if nothing had changed. Hanging onto him weakly as he lifted her and placed her on the bed, she wanted to try and convince him, but couldn't get a word in edge-wise as he left her side to go use the phone. Gwen was pleased at least that he was planning ahead, although she would have preferred they leave now to get the greatest head start they could achieve.

Just about to put in her own two cents about the necessity of such a plan, her mouth instantly shut when Xander started addressing his other half in an angered tone. It made her apprehensive about trying to get him to change plans, since whatever Alex was saying was getting him to dig in his heels about his current goals even to the point where they were arguing about who had them into and out of more trouble in the past. Of course, Xander would win out for both sides, but still despite his assertion that he did everything for a reason, she couldn't help feeling that familiar paranoia that he wasn't completely sincere.

Sitting upon the bed now, her mind numb and buzzing, she sighed in frustration being forced to wait, especially since encountering Stephanie again made her extremely anxious about a rematch face-to-face and knowing the woman was on her way. Her worried musings about how the next fight would go if use of her powers didn't return by that point were interrupted as Xander spoke to her again. There was something in his manner that made her blush briefly, a sense of concern that she very rarely got from him and she took the bottle of aspirin he'd tossed to her, not really sure what to say.

"Thank you," was all she managed before he was leaving her side to enter the unused bathroom and shutting the door. Immediately, she reached out to sense what the conversation was about but the static flared like a bunch of fireworks exploding in her brain and made her lie back on the bed with a moan of pain. Gasping lightly, she tried to shake the headache off while uncapping the bottle in her hands but it did not fade until several minutes after she'd popped two pills into her mouth.

By this time, control of her limbs and body had completely returned and when she sat up again, she scooted to the edge of the bed and let her feet rest on the ground. Looking down at the carpet, she saw a few red droplets marring the clean beige next to the abandoned goggles which had completely slipped off her head while Xander had been with her. Touching her face for a moment, she did remember getting the nose bleed and assumed that Xander had helped it stop. It made her feel foolish for her suspicions. No, he was trying to help her and he was right, just as he'd told Alex; so far he hadn't gotten them caught and had plenty of opportunities since she'd been with him to turn the both of them in. It was okay. Everything was going to be okay. She just needed to trust him.

Standing up from the bed, she reached down and picked up the goggles, looking down at them as she turned them over in her hands and was about to put them back on, when Nathan caught her attention. He was pulling on the curtain ropes that she'd tied around his hands and almost had one of his wrists free. "Hey! Stop that!" she said in as authoritative a voice as she could muster as she approached him.

"You may be the one they want - YOU may be - but not me - they won't take me back - !" his tongue flapped quick as ever and just as insane as before and he jerked his arm violently against his binding, almost easing it out from between the ropes by the time she came to stand before him. "Finishing it - they still need me - but they want you - I can get away - I can get away-!"

Gwen wasn't sure what to do exactly. At first, she'd set the goggles aside and started to fight him to pull his ropes tighter, but then stopped. What was the point? Were they even keeping him for anything? For several minutes, she contemplated letting him go and whatever happened would happen, but then shook her head. Xander might get upset with her if he still had plans for this kid - although she still wasn't sure how they were going to check out of the hotel and run with the teenager tied to the chair. It seemed like a plan that would more than likely hinder them.

So then she worried about how to convince Nate to stay. Before, they'd used the promise of food but if she untied him there was nothing stopping him from teleporting away from the room and leaving their sights probably forever. And suddenly he was grimacing at her, almost seeming to bite towards her arm as she pulled the ropes tighter and more firmly around his wrists. Needless to say, such action totally erased any thoughts she might have had of releasing him.

"They do still want you," she said as she finished with the ropes, tugging the knots so he'd have more difficulty loosening them again. "Just think about it, Nathan. If we stick together we can protect each other. Don't you see? We can stay ahead of them and stay away from them a lot easier with more people watching our backs." It was still uncertain whether they could trust him or even depend on him and he didn't seem convinced by her reasoning. She knew he still had to be hungry so she sighed and said, "What about pancakes? You still have time to eat. If you leave now, you can't come back and I'll eat your stack so you don't get any."

He glanced at her as if she were retarded, his face taking on a skeptical and even condescending cast. But when she folded her arms and raised her eyebrows a little in a gesture articulating a firm stance, the smile faded from his lips and he began to look worried again but for a different reason this time. Satisfied, Gwen left his side to go sit on the couch next to his chair and slipped the goggles on over her head, letting them rest on her neck for the moment, just enjoying the feel of them on her skin for right now. And she didn't bother testing whether she could hear his thoughts or not, the static still ever-present in her mind and making her feel empty and alone. She hoped her powers would return soon, because as it was, she was walking around blindly without them.

Roused from her idle reverie when there came a knock at the door, she rose from her seat just as Xander emerged from the bathroom. Immediately upon the announcement of the voice beyond the door, Nathan had started to sway eagerly in his chair, bobbing his head like a parrot, his voice insisting upon what the room service clerk offered. "Pancakes-pancakes-pancakes-gotta get out of here-eat and run-eat and run-pancakes-"

Seeing Xander fresh from the shower with dark, uneven hair, wetly spiked on one side and wearing clean clothes, she felt that familiar flutter in her gut that she occasionally got when looking at him. And it only intensified when as he passed through the living room into the entry hall, he gave her a grin that melted her insides. God, why did he always do that? she thought with a slight irritation, even as a voice deep inside hoped that he never stopped. Before Xander had reached the door, Nathan was starting to grow more incessant with his yammering and she stood beside him and gave him a swift, light smack on the back of the head. It wasn't a hard blow by any means but he immediately shut up and glared at her, much to her amusement.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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Just when she felt like she had something of importance to contribute to their new team and had grown comfortable with working with them, Stephanie was made to feel like she'd barely given them anything they couldn't have figured out by themselves. A lot of it had to do with a lack of knowledge on her part; there were things about Alexander she still didn't know. His record as far as using his powers and what his personality was like were still a puzzle waiting for large chunks of pieces to be filled in. So she assumed and guessed a lot.

Sure, she'd known about the members on her team who had been killed and she also knew about the incident they were following here in Vestal, but most of these situations could be explained away as necessary for his survival and attempts to get himself and Gwen out of trouble. How was she suppose to know the man used it flippantly unless she was told? And Benoit had asked before he'd offered anything by way of a personality analysis that would suggest otherwise.

And then there was Benoit's whole demeanor, the smug arrogance that both expected these things to be obvious to her and yet rubbing it in her face that he knew things she did not. But, annoying character flaws aside, at least he was being forthcoming and that definitely was something. Her expectations of this teamwork they were currently doing was not for the long term. She hoped to acquire Gwen with his help but it was mostly for him to handle the Alexander part of the equation that was the reason they'd joined forces at all. So any information he provided was useful so long as the two remained together. If Benoit eventually decided to abandon her and Jason when he got what he wanted, she would not feel like she'd lost out in the alliance they'd made. The whole point was to separate the pair to make getting Gwendolyn easier.

As Benoit went on, explaining the relationship Alexander had to other Agents who'd been on his case, she started to fit the pieces together from what he'd previously told them. So, Alexander, the guest, had been in the running with these other Agents and had been selected for transfer before it had been disrupted and he'd escaped with the Agency's property. The internal squabbles between Agents did not concern her, so long as they didn't get in her way - and ironically enough, Benoit turned to her with that self-satisfied little smirk on his face and asked her exactly that.

Her face remained blank as she answered coldly, "I would have been cooperative and moved on. It's just a job."

It was a bald faced lie and even just the thought of hypothetically losing the rights to Gwen made her internally grit her teeth. Gwen was hers, and her life. Nobody else's. End. Of. Story. However, it wouldn't do to seem unprofessional, now would it? From what she could tell of Jean's behavior towards both her and her partner, he couldn't wait until they didn't need each other anymore - the feeling was mutual but she didn't mind their help - and she feared that if she continued to look incompetent and unstable to the other two, that they may abandon her without waiting for either of them to capture their targets. As long as Alexander was with her, Gwen would be practically untouchable and they'd continue to repeat scenarios like in the apartment building without a collaborative effort with the other two Agents.

Stephanie turned away after that, allowing Jason to pick up the conversation for a few moments and she gazed out the window watching as the city grew denser around their car, small residential houses and shops passing by on either side of the street they were on and slowly growing into larger, more closely knit houses and bigger businesses. Her attention was drawn once again when Jean addressed her and she internally rolled her eyes at his sneering jab. Yes, she knew all about Alexander's average use of power, didn't she? Oh, wait, no she didn't! Shut up, Sasquatch. Next time you ask for a fucking estimate, make sure you lay down all the facts that could possibly be relevant. Maybe THEN you'll be able to judge me.

Suddenly she blinked at the hostility bristling within her and glanced in Jason's direction, realizing what must have been his problem with the other two this whole time. They were annoying, arrogant jerk-offs - she got it now. Buuuut...she did not find it any harder to blame Jason for his tendency to argue with them. However that was how she felt about all emotional displays. Sometimes, she forgot that she'd had years of training to control her own emotions to the point where she could turn them on and off like pressing buttons and keep them hidden. So, she found other people's constantly letting them run loose to be a sign of weakness and vulgar display, often wondering what was wrong with them to allow themselves to become so out of control.

The explanation about the lenses he was wearing was another surprise she had not known about and felt both a tug of confidence in their ability to reach their goals by working with these two men and another cloud of resentment forming. What had she had when she'd entered the field? What special contraptions did she have in order to help her capture Gwen? She had nothing up her sleeve except the specialized equipment that Jason had offered - but was now missing - and her years of training to counteract and diffuse the target's abilities.

Of course, then again, Gwen was not suppose to have been trouble to apprehend. At the most, Stephanie had expected that if she needed to enter the field with Gwen on the run, that she'd be simple enough to track - not understanding what was going on or who was following her, even with the chance of developing her powers early without encountering Alexander - and able to capture her with barely any difficulty. Alexander had completely thrown a wrench into everything she'd been working on these past 5 years and she wanted to say it wasn't her fault, but as an Agent, she felt it just added to the list of reasons why she was not as prepared as she should be.

Again, she was being asked for information on Gwen and to make predictions based on what she'd been told. Benoit's analysis of his target and how he would possibly react to traveling with Gwen and how it would benefit them was rather astute and revealing and mirrored well with her own predictions about Gwen. She was still formulating her answer when Jason interrupted and Benoit offered up new information about Alexander's state of being. Making a slight alteration of her internal dissection, Stephanie let out a bored sigh and spoke.

"Physical training. Several months ago after an incident, Gwen took a series of women's self-defense classes and even moved up to their advanced courses at the local community center in her old neighborhood. In fact, she used such against me when I engaged her physically yesterday, seeking to subdue her. She has a routine she practices almost every day and it automatically kicked in when we fought."

She did not mention her own short comings in that fight and how her internal walls had not been properly fortified but did go on to explain, "In conjunction with her abilities, she could prove to be formidable in hand-to-hand combat. What she lacks in strength, she will make up for in speed and being able to predict another's actions with absolute accuracy 2-5 seconds before it is set into motion. As a result of her health conscious diet and regular exercise, she is not frail or easy to break and can bounce back pretty easily from a physical onslaught such as being chased for long stretches or being beaten. Even with the crippling and unfamiliar pain of the mental and psychic stress she has and will be going through, I think she will prove to be rather resilient and not easily kept in a vulnerable state."

Glancing out the windows, Stephanie paused and thought over what else Benoit had said about Alexander. "This might prove to be irrelevant, but since you mentioned Alexander's weakness of heart due to Gwen's presence, I feel inclined to inform you of my own understandings of Gwen's behavior in regards to their new...relationship. The information I have on Gwen spans over most of her adult life ever since the Agency first became aware of her. This includes a bit of history from her childhood and her...dating and occupational record."

She stopped for a moment and remembered how many times she'd reviewed Gwendolyn's secret files and a dissection of her younger years. Her father had abandoned both her and her mother to live his life with another woman and family running a lucrative business in the city. Occasionally he would return to pay support for Gwen and would shower the young girl with gifts. This caused some turmoil to brew between mother and father and Gwen, who had grown to idolize the man who had sired her, not knowing the full story behind her parents' relationship, began to resent and blame her mother for his constant absence. Every relationship she'd had with men from that point on was a reflection of this parental connection.

"This past year or so she's had difficulty letting anyone in and has been nursing wounds that have left her guarded and untrusting. But she desperately seeks that companionship and connection again and I think that the arduous conditions and traumatic experiences she is going through right now will draw her closer to Alexander. Normally, she is not a blind follower and in most of her relationships, she has taken the lead and made the necessary decisions. She doesn't like not being aware of what is going on and being helpless. But from what you've told me, and from what I've observed so far, I think she will more than likely bend to whatever Alexander wants."

"She's a hopeless romantic looking for a hero to save her in this time of crises where things she doesn't understand are happening all around her at a fast pace. A man worthy enough to submit to, whom she feels safe to give control. Again, I'm not sure exactly how noble or charming this "prince" is, but if he saves her life enough times, she will follow him wherever he leads her and most likely risk her own life if she thinks it'll help him."

She fell silent for a few minutes as the businesses outside the windows grew into more retail based enterprises. "Like I mentioned before, I don't know how useful this information will be to YOU, but it will help in predicting her behavior just in case wounding Alexander's heart and soul doesn't work out. There's always another angle and weakness to exploit."

****


Gwen sighed in exasperation as the cart was pushed into the room, staring in dismay at the trays laid out upon it. They would most certainly need the whole hour Xander had set up for the taxi to be called to finish this whole meal. She would probably eat half a stack at the most, so she really hoped he didn't expect to finish everything. Ignoring Nathan's annoying insistence, she took the tray Xander offered her with an uneasy smile and sat down at the living room table before removing the lid. The stack of pancakes had been made uniformly and neatly into the shape of hearts. No cutting was involved and they were all almost perfectly shaped. She smiled softly before picking up her fork and knife and started to cut into them.

She kept up an easy pace, opting to put strawberries and the red sauce they were mixed with on her stack, trying not to rush herself but not dilly-dallying either and keeping an idle eye on what else was going on and attempting to interpret the one-sided conversation Xander was having with the still blocked Alex. It was hard to follow what the questions were that these answers went to and she found herself wincing in pain when she tried to touch Alex again only to be blasted with a sharp wave of static. It was just a small push against the barrier and she stopped as soon as the pain came, so it didn't last very long, but she was stuck for several seconds not chewing the current mouthful and waiting for it to stop hurting her. This had to stop soon. She hated being in the dark.

She was about halfway done with the top two pancakes on the stack when Xander drew her attention again as if Alex was telling him something about the kid. Looking at him, she wasn't sure what they were on about until he indicated one of the pitchers of syrup and inquired about what Nathan wanted with them.

She stopped and murmured, "Oh no... Don't..." in disgust when he made it clear he planned to allow the kid to drink straight from the pitcher. There was no way that was healthy and although she didn't understand why he wanted the syrup, she wasn't fond of the kid being made sick by consuming it straight like that. Especially not this rich, thick mixture made specially by the hotel.

Having stopped eating while she watched, she saw it before he did when the kid was done and said his name, "Xander..." before he finally removed the pitcher from the boy's mouth. The whole front of his lips and chin and neck were drenched in the stuff and she sneered a little bit, knowing how sticky he was going to be now. And of course, Xander was naturally amused.

Then her fork and knife dropped from limp fingers to clatter against her plate when the boy spoke in a clear and articulate sentence. Not that running and garbled nonsensical way he'd spoken in ever since he'd started talking, but actual sentences with the appropriate number of nouns, verbs and adjectives for each, clear endings and beginnings and fully understandable meanings. What the hell had just happened? Gwen sat staring with her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide for several moments as Xander became fully introduced to their suddenly normal companion.

Physically, she recoiled as if he'd lashed out at her when he looked in her direction and said her name, again articulating what he had before that he was happy she was alive because apparently she was suppose to be dead. And a chill filled her bones the more he went on about what was currently going on with him. She'd seen some of what had been done to him and knew that what he was currently talking about was Agency business...and now he was thinking and talking coherently. That meant he couldn't be trusted. Standing up from her seat at the table she neared where the other two were and looked at the kid with a piercing and suspicious gaze.

"Why do you keep on saying that? What has given you the impression that I was dead? And why is this a good thing for YOU? Why do you even care?" then she stopped and shook her head throwing up her hands to stave off any answers he might give. "No, you know what? I don't care. Anything you say will probably be a lie anyway."

Moving closer to Xander, she turned towards him without letting Nathan - or whoever he was now - out of her sight and spoke in low, urgent tones to Xander. "Do your thing - zap him and let's get out of here, please!" she begged, the fear she felt starting to creep into her voice and she cast a worried look at the young man tied to the chair. "He's got people in his head and you have to know what that means, especially with him being listed as a 'successful transfer'. This is like with that Peter guy and I just know it'll end badly. We should just leave him..."

She looked away from Nathan long enough to search Xander's face and eyes anxiously, hoping he'd see reason. At this moment, the static clouded her thoughts and made it very difficult to read people and she felt incredibly paranoid about not being able to sense anything from the bound teenager. She didn't know how he could possibly convince her that he was on their side but at the moment she wasn't looking forward to it. They didn't need him and whatever trouble he was caught up in.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

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#, as written by Ten
Just when she thought she was merely tolerating the man, he always seemed to renew the reasons why she was fond of and respected him. Ever the smooth business man, Benoit presented her with options that gave her enough freedom and control within their temporary partnership to do as she pleased with her case, while still focusing congruently on his own. Both he and his right hand, Jean, could be haughty and conceited at times, but they did not allow it to get in the way of their ability to cooperate. She was internally grateful for that and it made her let her guard down even more around them, especially when he complimented her input.

It was not his approval she sought, technically, but rather she wanted to keep herself useful to him - that last shred of paranoia would not go away no matter how much he seemed to "enjoy" having her and her partner around. Maybe it had something to do with his manner, or maybe it was the fact that if their places were reversed, she would not hesitate to drop him at her earliest convenience, but either way, when he stopped thinking she had important information regarding her target, she assumed the partnership would dissolve. He didn't need her to capture Alexander.

Despite all this, she did not mind going slow, understanding that for now, she needed to run at their pace. When they were ready to pursue Alexander, that would be her opportunity to engage Gwen again. Blankly, as close as she would get to a smile, she said, "Breakfast sounds lovely - as long as they serve a good omelet, I don't really care where."

Turning away from Benoit her eyes fell of their own accord onto Jason and suddenly she didn't feel so sure anymore. She needed to do something for him and she couldn't help feeling like there was an almost visible clock ticking over his head as well. A thought to take him aside and inquire about his condition flittered across her mind - he had been trained to use the suit and no doubt knew what he needed to correct whatever had been done to him, wouldn't he? - but she shoved it away. No, she could not let him know that she cared about him. That left her only one option, the only thing she knew might help him. They needed to get back what he'd lost, to make the suit whole again.

Thinking it over, she realized that they had a rare opportunity at this moment that she could possibly take advantage of, but it was a very slim chance. "I do have a few ideas I would like to share with you and get your input," Stephanie said to Benoit in an empty voice. "There are a few things, first: I think our chances of capturing the targets increases significantly if they are separated. Despite her abilities, and until they reach full power, Gwen will be somewhat easy to manipulate but not with Alexander there with her. Second, there is a window of opportunity open right now that I may not get a second time. Gwen is stunned and will stay that way for at least a little while - as soon as Alexander uses his powers, it will jump start her focus and she may get them back. But if he is wearing down, as you say, and ready to collapse soon, a time when they are both vulnerable may overlap. I would like to try and capture her before they run off again.

"If Alexander can be distracted for long enough, he may collapse before he has a chance to play the hero like he did before. And we'd have both of them basically handed to us on a silver platter." And Jason's goggles as well. Sitting back smoothly in her seat, she adjusted the front of her red suit jacket so the lower hem laid unwrinkled across her lap.

"If you do not want to move in that fast, then there is an alternative method for getting them separated that will work just as well. If your man cannot stop himself using his powers within the time it takes us to reach them, then we can go a more subtle route. When I am within range of her, my mental signature will be detected by her. No doubt when she connected to me through the glasses, she thought she was being a clever little sleuth. I have no doubt she will try to spy on us again."

Her lips shifted a little and she held her head high. "However, I am now on constant alert for her presence, which I am now able to detect as well as she can me. I propose that if you wish to wait until Xander feels safe enough to let his guard down for you to strike, that we take the opportunity when it comes up to implant a bit of misinformation and seeds of doubt. If she does not know we are aware and waiting - which the illusion is very easy to achieve - she will take anything thought or said to be the truth. If we were to give her a reason not to trust Alexander, I could get her to leave him on her own - which even just a little suspicion right now could shatter her idolization of him. Then it's only a matter of snatching her up and using her as bait for him. That is, if you think he'll fall for it."

There. Both of these plans could be executed within the week - the first had a deadline today of course, but the other had at least until Gwen had gained complete control of her abilities, which Stephanie still estimated about 5-7 days before that would happen. She still didn't know how long Jason had before he became completely unable to work anymore, but it was all she could - and would - do to help him. She would not bring herself to care anymore than that and she would not disrupt the appearance that she only wanted to achieve her own goals, while simultaneously helping him with his. Glancing in his direction again, she gave him a cold, stony look that articulated pure, violent hate through her unshakable facade and turned away as if he had fallen off the edge of the world with the direction of her gaze.

****

Gwen didn't like being ignored. Especially not now when she was already feeling completely helpless. She wanted to smack his face when he called her crazy - She? She was the crazy one??? - and she wanted to hit him over the head with something and drag him off somewhere away from this accented freak. But she also wanted to trust him, no, she needed to. So, glaring at him, she physically jerked her arms in a small tantrum, just after he'd called her twitchy, and she stood off to the side to alternate between glaring uneasily at Xander and the stranger while they "chatted". And all the while, static continued to keep her from hearing anything except exactly what was said and that meant any input from Alex was missing. She was alone.

But in reality she wasn't and since they weren't leaving, she was drawn back into the conversation against her will as the not so young man started to answer her questions. As much as she narrowed her eyes at what he said, suspicious of every word because she could not detect if it was truth or not, she hung on his voice with interest, unable to stave off her own curiosity. Every time he said her name however, she felt a chill run through her and her defenses instantly lock up around her. Never before in her life had she been this jumpy and paranoid, but the one thing other than Xander that had kept her alive these past 15 hours had been her ability to see into other people's heads. And now she was completely blind without it. She was even having difficulty trusting Xander without being able to comfort herself with Alex's presence.

The story "David" told about the lab sounded familiar with what she'd caught a glimpse of from the kid's - or whoever's - mind when they'd tried interrogating him before, but Xander brought up the exact thing that made her suspicious about it. From the sound of it, he'd probably worked at the facility and was trying to play it off as this "pause-while-escaping" bull. As he went on however, she grew more and more uncertain about whether or not he was lying and for several minutes she struggled with the desire to believe him and the fear that she would be wrong if she did so. And Xander was no help at all, unreadable as always, seeming aloof and as if everything in the world were a funny game to be played. She couldn't tell if it was an act or not and instead of making her feel confident that he had everything in control, it made her feel even more alone and anxious, like she was the only one concerned about whether this guy was looking to kill them or not.

Gwen stood just a little apart from them both and was listening intently again as the guy started to go into his relationship with the other people all stuffed into this body together. Strawberries and syrup? Her body went cold when he described the situation they were now in with Xander and she looked at him with a bit of concern lighting her eyes. Was that what was happening to him? She glanced back at David when he asked which of them had another person in their head and she clamped her mouth shut tightly, the paranoia instantly putting her back on the defensive. Then she gave Xander a distraught look when he pointed at her, saying she was the one with someone in her head. Instantly she realized he had a reason for keeping it from the guy so adjusted her expression to a more neutral one so as not to break the ruse he was setting up. But David's warning still made her shiver a little bit, and from his questions, she knew Xander was concerned about it as well, despite his light tone.

When suddenly control was handed over to her, she struggled not to give Xander the same bug-eyed glare she'd given him before and kept her face placid as she looked at the tied young man. Okay, questions, questions. Even after everything he'd said, she both wanted to believe it was true and wanted to tell herself he was lying... but if it was true, then the information was more than useful, it was necessary. But with his attention on her again she felt the paranoia kick in at full drive and she glared at him as if she wanted to kill him. That's right. Xander couldn't switch out with Alex and his exhaustion spells would only be getting worse as time went on and he would die. Did that mean Alex would die with him or would he get his body back? And how long would coffee or whatever help?

She felt like she wanted to cry and like she was losing control. Not for herself of course, but for Xander and Alex and what had been done to them and was going to happen to them. Not only was she helpless right now because of this stupid static in her head, but now she couldn't even help the men who'd protected her. "If you don't even know of a cure," she said suddenly angry at the talky kid. "Then what fucking good are you?"

Needing to get away from him she stalked into the entry hall where his bag still sat. He probably thought she wouldn't look inside because of the mess that was filling it and leaking onto the floor. For that exact reason, she grabbed it up by the strap and dragged it back to her seat. Sitting on the edge of the couch, she merely glanced at David before pulling from the moistened bottom of the thing and upending it in the middle of the carpet.

Noodles of pasta, little chunks of seafood and meat and crumbly chunks of soggy dessert all slathered in an oily, thick saucy mixture spilled out in a small mountain on the floor. Without blinking or recoiling from it, she tucked her hair behind her ears and began to sift through it looking for the "pictures" he'd supposedly tossed in there while attempting to leave the lab he'd been stuck in. She could not go diving within his brain, but she could look through this other shit to find at least some smidgen of physical truth. Amidst the food there were several sheets of soaked paper in there and bringing them out from the pile with dirtied hands, she shook them free of sauce and started to look through them. Like he'd said, a lot of them appeared to be pictures, but a few were files, their pages stained by sauce and food squashed into the paper they were written on.

"So, we know you're not a complete liar," she said without looking at him, her voice dripping with vitriol, staring at a photograph of a man she didn't recognize. "But it all seems like such a likely story that you carry these with you. Wouldn't it make more sense if these were your cases and you were working with them all along?" She angrily smacked the files down upon the nearby coffee table with a wet slap and stood up, coming to stand over him with a penetrating gaze.

"And you seem awfully knowledgeable about all of this, knowing about stuff that suggests to me more than a cursory look over some files or a few eavesdropped conversations between doctors - REALLY? You were, what? Like a little kid pretending to sleep while mommy comes to check in on you and they just happen to discuss important information at your bedside? How fucking retarded do we look?"

Inside, Gwen was terrified while outwardly she was seething. She didn't understand what was coming over her and didn't even think to stop it as she grabbed up his shirt and pointed at him threateningly, her voice growing louder and out of control. "Why did they send you after us? Were you to wait until he dies and recover the body or was it something they couldn't wait for and sent you to FUCKING FINISH THE JOB!?"

The adrenaline was really pumping now and there was no going back, her restraint and any sense she had left gone out the window, replaced by anger and fear. The static burned behind her temple seemingly growing louder inside her head and only making her madder. Speaking in a lower voice she said, "I got news for you, stupid fucker. That trick ain't gonna work a second time!" It was like Peter and Stephanie - they all wanted to play pretend and get one over on them. They all wanted control.

Without thinking about it first, she bent her elbow and snapped it forward quickly, aiming for his face, not even with a clear goal in mind but just wanting to hurt him. Hurt him for all the lies she could not see and for the life that was no longer hers.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March

0.00 INK

#, as written by Ten
Stephanie waited patiently for Benoit to go over the plans she'd proposed. His input was important to her, especially when it concerned Alexander. If he thought it was more important to wait and take their time then she would take it slow and wait for the right opportunities instead of forcing herself to plan for situations she could not foresee yet. If the chance came up however, and there was an opening, she'd take it whether Alexander was a present threat or not. She had to.

In the silence of the car her attention was drawn to Jason as he murmured his plans to skip another meal and in her deeper mental layers she felt a burst of concern. He hadn't eaten anything except the nutrition bar she'd given him yesterday either. This was not good. She could tell from the way he said it that he was probably having difficulty connecting with anything other than the desire to have his goggles returned, but the threat it posed if he continued to deny himself the basic necessities worried her. The other men on their team already thought it was useless to bring him along - and under normal circumstances, she'd agree - so if he continued to make himself a weakness, there was no doubt it would reflect badly on her to keep him around. Even though she liked him, she was not going to let Jason make her look like a weak link in the Agency.

Seated comfortably in the cozy restaurant the other two men had chosen, Stephanie began to look through the menu when Benoit finally spoke, drawing her attention instantly. Alright, so that was good news. She figured that her first plan was a long shot with how they described Alexander's current habitual use of his powers, but she'd had a slim hope that it would have worked - she so desperately wanted to try and get Gwen within her clutches again, even just to make the attempt - which was why she'd suggested the second idea she'd had.

The conversation was momentarily disrupted as a waiter approached the table to advise Benoit about the cigarette he still had between his lips. Stephanie blinked apathetically as Jean proceeded to punch and then threaten the man before being corrected by his lead. For once, she felt a boost of pride that even as conceited and arrogant as Jean played himself out to be, he was still just unsophisticated muscle and the opportunities where it showed were pleasing to watch. He didn't seem too unraveled by the situation and that was the only sobering thing about it - he did not realize how foolish he made himself seem to her and her 'lowly' companion.

Setting the menu aside as she listened to what else Benoit had to say, she was inwardly satisfied that he approved. Even the concerns he brought up about whether or not Alexander would even be drawn to Gwen as bait were reasonable and despite the urgency she felt - and the lack of need for her to risk her target for their case - she felt drawn to help them out. After all these years of constantly chasing after Alexander and failed attempts to recapture the man, Gwen presented a very real weakness that could end up being the success for both of them. Why not share the wealth and help them out? Afterall, they were all on a team right now, working together.

"I do not mind waiting," she said plainly, not even looking in Jason's direction as she spoke. "It's been about 24 hours and right now the connection is still fresh and new and pumped full of adrenaline. I'll give her a bit more time to solidify something on his end and then we'll move forward. It might take her a while to gather up enough courage and confidence to make a second attempt at spying, anyways."

Picking up her own menu, she began to look through it more thoroughly, picking out the things she wanted. When the newly appointed waiter came by, an uneasy, yet polite smile coming to his face, she instantly chimed in with her orders. "I will get the stuffed French toast with a few sausage links on the side. And he," she nodded lightly in Jason's direction. "Will have the breakfast sampler, please." Without another look at their server, she folded up her menu and pushed it to the edge of the table. While Benoit and Jean went over their orders, she leaned in close to Jason and spoke low in his ear. There was very little chance that the two men across from them wouldn't eavesdrop even if she left with him for a moment, so she kept her conversation brief and without too much prejudice against their team-mates.

"I am growing impatient with you. You may think that your presence is necessary, but let me assure you, at this moment in time, that couldn't be further from the truth," her voice was barely above a whisper but even so it held no inflection, her tone flat and dead. "Currently, you're being tolerated with the hope of eventually reconnecting you with what you have lost - if it is at all still useful to you - so that you may finish your job and do what you have been assigned to do. And make no mistake, Jason, right now your purpose is to serve me and aid ME in capturing the target. I don't pretend to know what you're going through right now but you have not stopped possessing the potential for what I need."

"You are the only one on my team left who knows almost as much about Gwen as I do - besides our current company - and I trust you, above all others. I need you by my side and I need you in the best shape you can be in to help me with this. In return, I will do my best to help you with whatever you're going through, but if all you're going to be is something for me to trip over while I pursue her, then I will end your misery right here and now, myself. So," she sat back just a little bit, still speaking in those low tones. "You will choke down the breakfast I have ordered for you the best that you can and keep your energy and strength up. Do you understand?"

She was and always had been a terrible babysitter.

----------------

The feeling of her elbow smashing into his face sent her heart racing even faster than before, a rush spilling over the static buzzing in her brain as anger flushed her cheeks and made her pull her arm back for a second go against his cheek. There wasn't enough time for her to stop the blow when she saw the kid's face transform into a bestial grimace, teeth bared and gnashing out towards the limb quickly approaching his jaw. Like magic, she felt Xander there, a calming presence as his arms slid into place around her, one hand on her waist and the other on the arm not raised and ready to strike, sweeping her smoothly and effortlessly to the side and out of harms way.

Blinking in surprise and still hyper-sensitive from the adrenaline pumping through her, Gwen tried to make sense of what Xander was now talking about - not to her, of course, he was still ignoring her because she was fucking useless, but to Alex whom was still lost in the fuzzy crinkling that would not fade from her internal ears. However from the tone he took with some of his responses, he was only half-listening to Alex either and she found herself frustrated with him, even as she was frustrated with herself. She couldn't take this anymore. Was he concerned about what was going on or not? Did he care that Agents were on their way? Did he care that this fool had so many holes in his story they could wear it to a polka dot ball and be the height of fashion?

But when he stepped forward and sent a frying pulse into the kid's brain again, Gwen didn't have a moment to continue feeling worried, a tiny gasp leaving her as she felt the mental poke searing through the teenager's skull filling her own along with it. Things didn't immediately rush back to her, slowly fading in like an old television set being turned on, the picture becoming more solid and clear after a few minutes of warming up. Occasionally she was aware of being addressed by David but she was barely acknowledging either of them anymore as visions of what he was thinking and remembering flashed before her eyes, growing more frequent as her powers gained back their lost strength.

Xander pressed the questions she'd asked in her fit of paranoia and a soft picture formed in her mind of the facility David had been in - sterile floors and white sheeted beds, with smooth, shining metallic surfaces and glass sealed walls. Most of the time the images were fuzzy, as if half-seen through closed eyelids, an occasional drowsy flutter of eyelashes that left everything blurry. But at one point, she did see the room he was in more clearly and she assumed that was when he was finally making his escape. Before that however, he was strapped to a bed, the body restrained - it didn't matter, he couldn't move his limbs anyways. He was stuck so deep inside, it was like he was a part of the body and not, sensations felt through a thick fog and control nonexistent.

The memory jumped over spans of moments and days and through the haze she heard voices echoing into his consciousness - doctors, she immediately thought, but something more, almost military. Their shiny black shoes clacked heavily over the tiled floors as they walked in a group towards the bedside, approving smiles and interrogative paranoia in their voices - depending on who was speaking. It was like they were talking about a top secret weapon being developed half the time and the other half it was like they were discussing an alien autopsy - their voices matter-of-fact and distant but with a measure of curiosity that hinted at fear and a desire to control.

Everything she saw up to this point confirmed the words that came out of his mouth and she almost jumped for joy in the middle of the room with the burst of excitement that coursed through her. He was telling the truth! And she knew it! God, it had been so scary to feel so alone and empty, Agents breathing down their necks, feeling like this was a repeat of the situations Alex and Xander had described to her before, everyone a possible enemy and everyone looking to victimize her. And now she knew - she KNEW what was real and what was not! That, more than the fact that he was telling the truth made her extremely happy.

With a sigh of relief escaping her lips, she listened alertly to the rest of their conversation, allowing more visions to fill her head as he spoke - Gwen's smile faltered as she got a look at the section of the facility where the bodies were kept, every bone inside her clattering with a sudden chill. Rows and rows of sleeping bodies in liquid filled tanks standing in the room in endless lines, like packed sardines, each one glowing with an unearthly yellow green and the room filled with a threaded hum like a giant beast's lungs filling and emptying all around her.

How many people was that? In the room she occupied in the memory, the containers nearby on the one end of the room she was standing said #H07-0585-LPK and #H07-0584-LIP etc. and the rows spread out before her by the thousands. Somehow, intuitively, she knew this wasn't the only room they had like this and it made her feel ill to think of how many were failures and how many were successes. How were they allowed to do this without anyone knowing or even suspecting? How could they even get away with it? Who were these people?

Gwen was shaken from the memory with Xander's new announcement that their companion was now joining their group and for once she was only slightly dismayed by his decision. She found herself more distracted by the direction he gave her about the goggles she still had on around her neck than she was concerned about the kid anymore. Find out where they were keeping the tanks of people - that she could most certainly do, and she was excited to try now that she was feeling useful again. But she stopped once more, distracted by the new points that Alex brought up. He was right. David's reaction to Xander's decision was not whole-heartedly with them - although there was a mixture of excitement that he'd be released, he was also trepidatious about accompanying them with what he thought Gwen could do. There was a threat there...as if he felt he needed to protect himself in some way and was planning to leave them when he got the chance, and she knew he'd fight them tooth and nail if they tried to stop him or posed any danger to him. He would not be caught like this again, not by them or anyone else.

Xander's response however sent a shiver up her spine with the deathly hollow tone he took while he said it, no remorse in his voice, just plain, terse, death-like promise. Life was merely an obstacle to him. Like a mirror, she could feel that same shiver run through both Alex and their new friend, although the teenager's thought processes jumped a lot more defensively than Alex's did. She knew what he was going to do before it happened and even though the trays and cart were a foot or two away, she stepped back reflexively as everything on it exploded with loud metal clangs and pops as tray covers and plates spontaneously combusted, food and heated strawberry sauce and syrup flying everywhere and splattering walls like carnage from a car bomb. She could feel the satisfaction coursing through David and she shrunk back a little bit at his threat, before another gasp left her when Xander sliced into the guy's head again with a quick, forceful jolt. Well, there was always that.

David slumped down in his chair instantly, no more thoughts or emotions coming from him or the other occupant of his mind, just dead emptiness emitting the slow hum of life. At Xander's direction, she stopped staring into space and instantly started to slip the goggles back onto her face.

"Let's hope that if anything does go wrong, you'll still have that option," she said in a sardonic tone, as her vision filled with orange light. It was right about then that she realized she was hearing Alex's internal voice speaking and in a burst of excitement she said,

Alex!

For a few moments, she just stood there, realizing she hadn't spoken aloud but felt like he'd still heard her. She didn't know how to recreate the effect, repeating in her mind a few times, Hello? Hello? Can you hear me now? before she realized it was not the same and gave up. Oh, well. Just another weird thing...

Looking around the room, the little blurbs of information popped up all over the place and with a quick mental swipe she stopped it from doing that while clearing them away. So, he wanted her to find the place David had been kept, the facility with the rows of bodies - no doubt to find his own and get back into it, like David had said - which was a plan she whole-heartedly agreed with. Enough of this double body and mind crap. People weren't meant to share forms like this, which was no doubt why Xander was spiraling out of control, and after everything he'd done for her, she wanted to help him out as well.

And also, she really wanted to help Alex. He was in her exact same place with people wanting to do things to him because of the powers he possessed, except he'd actually been taken already, always shoved aside and tossed around like a rag doll within his own body. He shouldn't have to share and what the Agency had done to him was unfair, especially when he was hanging onto the coattails of a dying man. She didn't understand why they were doing this - if they knew the risks and that people were dying because of the transfers, then why continue? She only saw it as the pursuit of knowledge and trying to kill off those they perceived as dangerous; Experimentation on people for the sake of it. Once they'd returned Alex and Xander to normal - if -, if there was an opportunity to stop them from continuing to do this, she wanted to take it.

Not really sure what she was looking for yet, Gwen opened up the main navigation screen in the goggles and started looking through the options for anything having to do with location or an incubation facility or even a lab. Every time she thought she'd found what she was looking for, a new screen popped up blocking her access by asking for a code of some kind. Something she did not have.

A groan of irritation left her lips as she made her way to the couch and sat down. "Just...hang on a minute... This is going to take a little while..." she bit her lips nervously as she thought over what she had to do - she needed the codes from somebody who knew them. Xander might know but he was currently busy and he was expecting her to come up with answers quickly. After her recent erratic behavior and his own trouble with connecting with the goggles - which still might have an averse affect on him and cause him to slow down even further - she couldn't ask him to put them on and try again. He was depending on her.

So, she worked with what she had. Only hesitating for a moment longer, she brought up the previous connection that had been made with the glasses Stephanie had been wearing. The breath she'd been holding came out in a rush as she realized the woman was no longer wearing them but although they were no longer on her face, they were in a semi-sleep mode and she could see through them still. Well, that plan was a bust, and she was just about to give up and ask Xander for help when it occurred to her, Stephanie hadn't been the only one wearing glasses in the car when Gwen had spied on her earlier. Both Benoit and the driver had been wearing them and also...the sickly man who'd been in the seat next to her. The previous owner of the goggles would have that information! What had been his name? It was a J something; John? James? Joseph? She couldn't remember.

Looking through Stephanie's glasses, there was a small option that led to another open connection with the name "Jean" above it. Yes! Jean! That had been it! Clicking on it, Gwen was taken away from the link with Stephanie's glasses and put in contact with someone else's. Looking through the guy's glasses, she instantly knew that it was the man who'd been looking ill in the backseat, as when he looked around the table he was sitting at, it visually accounted for the other people who'd been in the car with him. After being in this viewpoint with Stephanie, it was odd seeing the woman's face and body as she sat next to the hunched over young man. Biting her lips even harder, Gwen took in a deep breath and pressed forward into the guy's mind, making sure to keep silent and slithering through his consciousness like a wraith, a barely felt shadow.

The first thing that hit her was the realization that his name was not "Jean". It was "Jason". Of course! That was Stephanie's partner, the man who'd previously owned the goggles and whom the anonymous textspeaker "Gary" had mentioned as well. But why was he wearing Jean's glasses? From the man's thoughts and emotions, Gwen was able to identify the unnamed Frenchman, the companion to this Benoit character, as Jean and not just from deduction either. Amidst the illness and aching longing that filled Jason, she could feel a sense of contempt for both men on the other side of the table - something about a sort of rivalry and being treated as less than person. Apparently, the guy's on Alex and Xander's trail were jerks - according to Jason, anyways.

There were also thoughts of the goggles she was now wearing and once again, Gwen found herself taken aback by the feverish obsession that throbbed within him when he considered the missing part of his "suit". Just as there had been with Stephanie, there was an almost inhuman level to the grotesque need inside him, obliterating to a degree the parts of him that were even a man - he became this feeling of need and longing and yearning, every nerve in his body screaming to be reconnected with the technology they'd lost, making her rub her arms in reflex.

What was wrong with these people? Jesus... The emotions were brought somewhat back down to earth by the feelings of hate he had for whomever currently had the goggles and a lot of anxiety and worry about his fate if they were not returned to him. There was a sense of sympathy inside her towards his plight, but she did not let it go further than that. These were the people looking for her. They sought to turn her into whatever was currently happening to Xander. It was either her or them and anything she could do to cripple them and keep them a few more steps behind was worth not getting her brain smooshed with someone else's.

Back in the hotel room, she felt an electric tremor shoot up her spine and knew that the front desk had the taxi out front waiting for them. A second later, the phone in the room rang and looking in Xander's direction, she clicked her fingers and pointed at it, silently mouthing "Taxi", being sure not to say it aloud. She didn't know if Jason would be able to hear or not, but she didn't want him to know about her presence before she was ready for him to. It didn't matter because a moment later she came to the realization that without the goggles, there was very slim chance he was going to consciously think about the codes to open up the lab and facility files. That meant she'd have to go digging in memories he wasn't currently thinking about.

But of course, she didn't know she'd be detected by doing that before she actually made the attempt, leaving the sphere of his conscious focus and delving into the unoccupied parts of his mind. Following a trail of thought about the goggles, she came upon the section where his memory of using them was kept, her psychic presence shoving through the darkness and probing through the unimportant information. Some of it, she picked out and stowed away in her own mind, but she stopped doing that once she sensed he knew something was wrong. Then she was speeding through it all, going as fast as she could, not caring if he could feel her or knew what she was doing. Then...he began to do odd things...

It was nothing like it had been with Stephanie, although the guy did try to shut down a few layers of his mind, she did not feel them getting closer to her like she had in the female Agent's mind. It was more like he'd slam a few internal doors and then...slam them again, as if he were having trouble keeping them closed. The noise was unsettling but it did not bother her. What DID bother her was now his focus was situated right on top of her and the memories she was going through. Like a man trying to bury something or possibly shove her out, he sped ahead of her and began throwing memories out at her - some related to the goggles and some not - burrowing deeper in the pile she'd been digging in. Disoriented, she stayed where she was trying to hang on amidst all the cacophony going on in his mind and suddenly found one of the memories he'd tossed out at her was a bunch of his personal codes. And not just for operating the goggles either.

"Oh. Thank you," she said with a surprised smile and instantly cut off the connection. Lifting the goggles off of her face, she gave Xander a bright blue-eyed smile and said, "Okay. We can go now."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Tommy McConaugh

0.00 INK

#, as written by Ten
Stephanie's slender glass of sweetened milk jostled on the table just as she put another forkful of fluffy egg-soaked toast into her mouth. Looking at Jason levelly she tried to assess what was wrong with him - just more tremors from his withdrawal she supposed - internally rolling her eyes as he choked down more of the required breakfast she'd gotten for him. He could be such a baby. But so long as he was still obeying orders and keeping himself in enough shape to remain conscious and alert, she was happy. Well, as happy as she'd allow herself to be.

The mixed berries and whip cream swirling in her current mouthful, being savored on her tongue, were smoothed down her throat in a quick swallow as her partner spoke up. She drank from her glass of milk in an aloof fashion even as she listened intently, setting it down quickly and looking at the man sitting next to her with a hollowed gaze. He knew what? How? Stephanie's eyes fell on Benoit as his face bloomed with sudden euphoric comprehension. Within her deeper layers, she followed suit, understanding filling her with an urgent excitement as he went over the new plan.

"Brilliant," she said in monotone, keeping a firm lid on the electric energy now pulsing through her body. They had a plan and Alexander was headed for a specific location - somewhere they could prepare and wait for them to arrive. "I will be ready."

She knew exactly what she was going to think as well. Alexander the 'guest' had been an Agent - something she wasn't entirely sure Gwen knew yet, but no doubt she had some inkling - and it was only a matter of exaggerating the possibility that once he was returned to his original body, he would turn around and capture both targets and hand them over to the Agency. She wasn't sure if that was something he would do and after all he'd put the Agency through, it would take a lot more than just a show of good teamwork to get him returned to his previous position. After stealing from the Agency and killing his own people it was unlikely he would just be accepted back into the fold with open arms. Then again, because of his continued resilience there was a chance they'd value him just as much as they did their precious cases.

Nevermind. It didn't matter what he would do, just that the doubt she instilled was plausible enough for Gwen to fear him. If he was no longer safe, if he was no longer protecting her and it became clear he was only looking out for his own interests, she would not stay. Not only that but she'd be incredibly hurt by such revelations and doubts and most likely clam up again like she had this past year. Leaving her vulnerable and weak. A smile touched Stephanie's internal layers as her heart thundered in joy. Gwendolyn, you will be mine.

As soon as Benoit made the connection with the labs and Alexander wanting to get his body back, Stephanie instantly knew what he was talking about. She'd seen those containment chambers and the transfer units and had worked closely with a few others who were being trained on different cases to eventually make the leap into a target's body. In her mind, the rooms full of storage tanks were beautiful and she envisioned her own form held in suspension within one of them, her body left an empty shell, sleeping peacefully in life that wasn't life. Leaving behind this old form to control the body and powers of another. She could not wait. There were of course cases where the targets did not mesh well with those who entered the body and both were lost, but she had every confidence in the program's validity. She wanted that body, no matter the sacrifices she might have to endure. She'd already given everything to this case and the Agency itself. There really was nothing left for her to lose.

Thinking of the labs made Stephanie glance at her partner, even as Benoit finished detailing to his right hand about what to tell the Agency and where to move the target's body. How did he come by this sudden knowledge about where the targets were heading? Surreptitiously, her eyes followed the movement as he removed his sunglasses and tucked them away and she narrowed her gaze a little. It was definitely his specialty to gather and analyze information but this new direction had a predictive element that they hadn't had before. Had she missed something in their conversation that would point to Alexander going to the labs? And why out of the blue would he try and return to his body now? What had changed?

As they all finished breakfast, Stephanie continued to turn it over in her mind, chewing on it even as she chewed the plump and meaty sausage links that she'd ordered. She tried to remain positive and to cultivate the official lies she would be mentally feeding Gwen, while also going over the process of body transfer as it had been taught to her - just in preparation; something she did when she was bored and not thinking fixedly about Gwendolyn - but the wondering thoughts about Jason would not leave her alone. It was only after they'd paid the check and settled back into the car that it finally clicked for her. Seated in the plush leather of the backseat she looked up front just as Benoit got into the car. The glasses he'd loaned her had fallen onto the floor where his feet were and as he got in he picked them up and looked them over to assess the damage. Since they were okay, he handed them back to her and she took them with a murmured "Thank you" looking them over herself before tucking them thoughtfully into an inner pocket of her red suit jacket.

Then of course she remembered the last time she'd put them on and why she felt a measure of dread to return them to her face. And then, she looked over at Jason, remembering how he'd taken his own off after that big reveal at breakfast. She'd contacted him, hadn't she? Of course! Alexander had most likely used his powers a few times by now and released Gwen from the block Stephanie had put on her. And for whatever reason, she must have tried to spy again. Finding Stephanie inaccessible at this distance without the glasses she'd been wearing, she'd jumped and made a connection with her partner instead. They still were not close enough for Gwen's maximum distance of 1 mile while using her powers - a gap which she could breech with help from a communication device linked directly to another human being - so it was very plausible that she'd invaded Jason's consciousness and gone digging for something. Depending on what she had been looking for and how well Jason was with hiding things mentally, he would be able to infer where they were headed.

The more Stephanie thought about it, the more sure of it she became. Satisfied with the conclusions she'd reached, she leaned in close to him to whisper conspiratorially in his ear. "When they first assigned you to this case, I originally scoffed that they would select someone without an ounce of mental training. You had no experience with the type of work the others on my team had done and you stood out because of it," her lips drew nearer to his ear and despite the emotionless tone she adopted as always, there was an underlying pleasantness, an almost musical quality to her whisper. "But your reputation preceded you, and I was told you were an expert in covert operations. And I'll admit, even having very little knowledge of what it was or what it did, I was impressed with your proficiency and record regarding use of the technology you wear. I thought, 'if anyone could get her without a hitch, including all possible scenarios that could go wrong, this guy is it.' She would have been plucked from her life in the cleanest most efficient way possible. So, I accepted the application with high hopes and absolute confidence that when I sent out the order for her collection, in a few hours I'd have completed my mission and gotten what I wanted."

She paused and licked her thin, darkly lipsticked lips to wet them, the slender, pink appendage moving awfully close to Jason's neck where her mouth currently hovered just below his ear. Her voice when it came, held a bit of smoky tone to it, tantalizingly lacking emotion but enough that there was something audibly there, flittering from between her lips. "And you have done nothing but disappoint me. Every chance you get, you shove in my face how foolish and utterly stupid my decision to accept you was. I will admit, there have been minor redemptions where I felt my faith in you bolstered by a display of knowledge and skill. But when it mattered, you failed, again and again." Her body was closer now, just barely touching his arm through his power suit, the warmth of her presence felt more than any real physical contact. If anyone looked into the backseat, she merely appeared to be sharing a private conversation with him and there was nothing untoward in the way she was currently positioned - from an outside party observing, that is.

"However, for once, Fate shines her grace upon you, as your most recent failure," yes, she was letting him know- She KNEW. "Has proven incredibly instrumental in what we are going to accomplish. For once, your ineptitude and lack of training has given us an advantage to plan ahead and catch her by surprise, and will be the deciding factor on whether we succeed." A minuscule twitch curled the edges of her lips upward in the hint of a smile and the energy she felt broke through for a moment as she shifted in her seat to draw closer to him, rubbing her bosom against him lightly before retreating just an inch. Her breath, sweet with the light tang of berries and powdered sugar could be felt upon his neck and her voice came out slower, pronouncing each word with delicate care so he understood. "For that, I am most grateful...to have made that final decision... Despite the fact that you have holes in your defenses and you are weaker than what I would have preferred you to be... I feel it was meant to be..."

And suddenly she was gone, having drawn back to her side of the car, smoothing down her jacket and her mask fitting firmly back into place, looking straight ahead without another glance at him. From the way she'd spoken to him and the overt hints in her posture and gestures, he would have to be a complete idiot to not know that she was at least very pleased with him - if he was even more observant, he would understand that she was not only fond of him but even attracted to him. The whole conversation and the way she'd spoken was incredibly inappropriate for a lead to speak to a subordinate in such a way, but she just couldn't help it. She was so very happy - ecstatic about the current plan of events - she didn't care what he thought of her anymore.

*******

The proud smile on her face was replaced by a more serious expression and she was up even as Xander turned and headed out the door, following quickly after him like a slender and petite shadow. He definitely was more on edge now, planning ahead and thinking aloud about the possible pitfalls that awaited to trip them up. Finally, it wasn't a completely cool veneer, but a detectable anxiety that she could sense from both his words and as an undercurrent of the emotions running through him right now. Instead of feeling satisfied that the "great Xander" actually worried about something, she felt even more apprehensive than she had when he was constantly cracking jokes and rolling the constant threat off of his back.

And of course, the way he described what they were going up against didn't boost her confidence either - blinking at him in dismay when he turned to her with that cryptic warning. What the hell? So, she didn't have the Agent 'skillz' that he had. As long as she kept a handle on her powers and didn't lose them again, she would provide enough of a compliment to his abilities to matter. She was sure of it. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mr. Perfect. Guess you'll be doing this dance alone then, right? And no doubt any help he DID get would not receive any gratitude because he was so awesome, he wouldn't need it.

Alex, as usual, was worried as well and he brought up a lot of the same concerns she had thought of but again, Xander brushed it off like he was barely listening - and he wasn't. There was a lot going on in his mind - all of it suggested at and hinted through a mental wall she still could not push through - and the current conversation, namely Alex's concerns, were not the first thing occupying the man's mind.

Her senses were open as they entered the ground floor and proceeded through the lobby, feeling the shock and nervous curiosity from not only other guests who occupied the main floor but also the staff as well. Nervously, she pushed the goggles down so they were resting on her neck again, offering uneasy smiles to anyone who met her gaze. It didn't help much and these people would remember them. So by the time they reached the taxi cab, she was more than relieved, an uneasy shiver running through her, about the same time as it did through Alex when Xander shoved the unconscious kid into the car first.

Again, she found herself standing beside a taxi, being handed money by Xander and given instructions about where to go. She knew even just from this that he was probably not going to be conscious in a few minutes and would need her to keep track of things and protect him. Although this was the part of their time together that she hated the most, being expected to know what to do in a situation where she pretty much knew only what was in front of her, she accepted it with a sigh and got into the car next to him. She could do this especially now since she in fact DID know where they were going and what they were doing. Sort of.

"Where to?" the cab driver asked in a heavy Brooklyn accent. The man had a thin, long face, short, salt and pepper hair, thick, dark eyebrows and small eyes and lips and from what she could tell by his mental landscape, this guy was a lot more different than Sal had been.

Drawn out of the current conversation between Xander and Alex, she leaned forward across the seat and asked him, "Have you heard of the city, Elmira?" It had been one of the nearest locations nestled deep in Jason's memories, and she wasn't entirely certain that Xander's body would be there, but it was worth a shot.

"Yeah, I her'd of it," Tommy McConaugh said with a shrug. In his mind a sketchy mental map appeared - even more rough and less detailed than the one for Vestal that Sal had thought of - and he estimated the distance between the two cities to be about 39 miles. If this broad thought they were going there, she could forget about it. Tommy wasn't going to go that out of the way unless there was promise of a job out there to take him back. It was just the way he was - although he liked money, he was extremely lazy and rarely if ever went for these long distance jobs.

"Well, I need you to take us near there. I will pay you double the owed amount when we get there," she said, knowing before she even offered that it would make up for the trip being so long.

But Tommy wasn't the sort to be easily placated and turned back around in his seat begrudgingly. "Yeah, a'right," he said with a sigh and pulled away from the curb in front of the hotel. The bitch better have the money, he thought to himself. At least she looked like she might be able to afford it, otherwise he woulda just said 'no' and kicked her out. And like most cabbies, he peered into his rearview mirror to look over the occupants of the back seat, finding both guys sitting with her to be asleep or something. Looked like, for a while at least, this would be a quiet drive.

With that dealt with, Gwen finally settled back in her seat, turning to Xander to find him leaning back with his eyes closed. For a moment, she felt that familiar fear from the last time she'd been in a taxi with him, but when she reached out, she realized it wasn't the same. He actually was sleeping this time. Looking over at the other body in the back seat, she wondered anxiously what she would do if David or the other one inside Nathan's body woke up. How would she convince him to not blow the car up?

Needing comfort, she reached out for Alex just as he turned to talk to her and she smiled a little that they'd thought of that at the same time. She didn't even glance at the taxi driver as she spoke in a low voice towards his ear. "The nearest facility is just outside of Elmira - and it will take us just under an hour to get there. I don't think we'll need to stop--"

"Excuse me?" Tommy's loud, accented voice interrupted, causing Gwen to look up at him. "Wazzat you say?" Looking at the guys in the backseat with her, neither had responded when either she or Tommy had spoken, so he naturally assumed she was saying something to him.

"I'm sorry," Gwen said with a nervous smile and tucking her hair behind her ear. "I guess...I was just sort of...talking to myself." An embarrassed laugh escaped her throat and she shrugged. "You know...how sometimes people do... Just to work through ideas or...comfort themselves when they're alone."

Tommy cocked a thick eyebrow at her in the rearview mirror and shook his head apathetically. "Actually, I don't know that. The only people I know about who talk to themselves are crazy folks. Are you a crazy person?" Even though his tone was light, there was something very antagonistic about what he was saying and the vibes she got from him were somewhat threatening and making her nervous.

"Um, well..." she stammered, but Tommy wasn't waiting for an answer and spoke over her.

"Because I don't rent my cab to no loonies. Ain't enough money in tha world to pay for that kinda pain in the ass." The way he was looking at her now through the rearview mirror made her swallow thickly. Even sensing that he was really just more scared of her and the possibility of insanity than any real threat to her, it was very uncomfortable to be within view of that penetrating gaze. All he wanted was for her to shut up and stop acting weird. He didn't like people who acted weird.

"I'm sorry," she finally said, nodding her head apologetically, hoping to placate him. "I just thought my friend was still awake, but he's not..." Immediately, his expression relaxed and he was no longer watching her as intensely as before, accepting that answer as an easy mistake to make. Turning to look at Xander, she was still lamenting over how she was going to communicate with Alex when Tommy invaded her thoughts again.

"Late night, huh?" he asked in a conversational tone. "Guys got tuckered out, yeah? What was ya doin'? Big party in the city? My girl and I like to party late too, so I know how these guys feel..."

Now that he was set at ease, Tommy was in a talkative mood and since it was going to be a long drive he was getting a head start on keeping himself occupied. "Yeah, listen, I've got a bit of a hangover from it - the party we were at - so if you don't mind..."

"Oh, yeah, sure! No problem. I know what that's like." Realizing his mistake, he waved at her nonchalantly with a small understanding laugh and turned back to the front seat to leave her alone. But she wasn't. Pressing her lips together, she started to lean towards Xander's body, thinking that if she could get close enough and whisper to him, that it would escape the cab driver's notice, but as soon as she started to lean, Tommy's eyes were up in the rearview, casting a smile in her direction. She gave him one back and sat back into her seat with a sigh.

Dammit! What was she going to do? With Tommy feeling uneasy about nutjobs as his fares, she wouldn't be able to get away with as much as she had with Sal, who'd been much more willing to accept that people were weird if it meant he got the money to make up for the trouble. But she needed to talk to him. It was then that she remembered the weird thing that had happened in the hotel - Alex hadn't reacted to it when it occurred, so maybe it had been nothing, but she'd felt like, for a split second at least, she'd made a connection with him mentally.

But she still didn't know how she did it. In the hotel, it had been a burst of excitement in realizing she could hear Alex again and the moment had been a slip where she'd spoken but hadn't spoken aloud. How was she suppose to recreate that here? Under Tommy's constant scrutiny and threat, she didn't really have a choice.

Watching Xander's form from the corner of her eyes she tried reaching out and thinking at the same time. Alex? Alex can you hear me? Nothing. That wasn't it. It sounded hollow like normal thoughts inside one's head normally were. Letting out a breath, and running a hand through her hair, she decided to try again, reaching out even deeper this time and practically clinging to Alex's consciousness. But apparently that wasn't it either. For 10-15 minutes, she sat there trying again and again, doing different things attempting to reconnect with him somehow, but every time she was left with her internal voice bouncing and echoing inside her own head.

Finally, at the 20 minute mark, with the car speeding out of the city and onto the highway, she focused on Alex but didn't put pressure between them, allowing his thoughts to flow into her and not fighting to pin them down. Since she'd just about given up, she wasn't really paying attention when her voice echoed inside his head,

Alex. Alex. Alex. Alex. Alex. Are you there? Can you hear me? I've been calling all day. Can you hear me?

She didn't even realize it but the next moment she was sighing and singing in both of their heads, the rest of the lyrics to the song she remembered. ♪ I'd wish they'd fix the wires cause my baby don't know, that I'm leaving in the morning and I'm ready to go. Can you hear me? Can you hear me at all? Gotta get the operator make a telephone call...♬

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Stewart Character Portrait: Stephanie March Character Portrait: Tommy McConaugh

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#, as written by Ten
Sitting with her hand supporting her head with her elbow caught in the window, she was going through the rest of the synthesized beat and melody in her head when she heard Alex's echoey voice overlap it. Slowly turning to face him with a cocked eyebrow, she got a curious expression on her face as she wondered if that was what she thought it was. The audible air in the cab was silent, all except for the small noises - the hum of the engine, the hushed whisper of the tires over the miles of road, the little creaks of the metal bracers that held the seats together, etc. There wasn't anything to hear...except what was still going on in her head right now.

It was finally confirmed when she felt a blossom of toe-tapping recognition from Xander's consciousness and his lips opened to emit his murmured voice. Oh my God! They both heard me! I made contact! Even as a sense of triumph filled her at having achieved what she was trying to do, embarrassment followed quickly after as Alex addressed her about the cab driver playing the radio. She couldn't believe she'd been playing that song in his head and he'd heard it! But thankfully, he didn't realize it had come from her and thought it was the radio playing, so as he argued with a practically sleep-talking Xander she took the opportunity to let the song in her head dwindle down in volume until it disappeared completely. Enough of that. At least Xander shared her tastes. Born in 1985, Gwen grew up listening to the music her mother liked and in her moment of hopelessness, the song about a bad telephone connection from her youth had popped into her head to comfort her.

And of course, with his eyes fixated on the road, Tommy didn't even notice that Xander had been speaking, the car jerking slightly to smash David's face against the other window as the cabbie swerved through the traffic. The blare of the horn followed the quick change of lanes, along with Tommy's angered voice, "Eh! Come on! Outta the way, fruitcake! Yeah!? Your mothah!" And every new exemplary phrase was followed by a very visual gesture in response to whatever else the other motorists were doing. Gwen only probed deep enough to know that Tommy was feeling impatient driving behind soccer mom vans and geriatric Volkswagens, so she left him to continue being diplomatic with their fellow drivers to lean toward Xander's slumbering ear.

"Yes, Alex, I can hear you," she said in a hushed whisper, wincing as Tommy put a bit of pressure on the breaks and glared into the rearview mirror.

"Don't you ride my ass!" he said, his eyes not even focused on the people sharing the taxi with him, but looking beyond out the back window as the soccer mom van inched closer to his bumper, trying to pressure him to move faster. Tommy of course responded by slowing down. "See what happens when you ride my ass? Yeah!? Shake it, ya crazy broad!" And then he was driving normal, the tragedy having been averted and he glanced down at Gwen in the rearview. "Sorry, Miss. The nutjobs is tryin' ta take ovar tha road today. I gotta tell ya, these batshit crazy Vestal drivers--ya know?"

She cast him a chagrined smile but he missed it completely as his attention was diverted elsewhere. Even so, from his mental map, she could tell they would be at their destination in about 10 or 15 minutes. With him properly distracted she leaned towards Xander again and spoke in a low voice.

"We're almost there. I really hope he has a better plan than just storming the place, Alex. I mean, with him, it'll either miraculously work out for no sane or plausible reason or everything will expectantly fall apart with us running away by the skin of our teeth. Again. And I know he'd argue that last time that wasn't his idea, but he did it at Roasters too. They were following us before that, but still Mr. Big Shot decided he needed his coffee."

The engine roared loudly as Tommy sped up a bit, looking aggressively out his right side window at someone trying to pass him. "What!? What!? Huh? You want to be first? I say, you wanna be first!? Tough titty said the kitty when the milk went dry! You wanted to go slow when I was behind ya! Now ya gonna stay at tha back a' tha line toots!"

Gwen drowned him out with a sigh and turned to look the sleeping body next to her over. As relaxed as his facial features were right now, she could almost imagine that when his eyes would pop open, it would be Alex filling that space. It had been too long since she'd seen his anxious eyes and uneasy, lopsided grin. It was becoming too normal to expect to see that cool gaze regarding her with the ready and sarcastically charming grin instead. Ignoring the further drama that Tommy was having with the other drivers and forgetting her earlier embarrassment, she relaxed and pulsed at him,

I really hope this works. Getting his body back, I mean.

She looked down at his hand resting limply on his leg and she wanted to hold it and have Alex feel her comforting touch, but she knew he wouldn't.

I really miss you...

It was hard being a babysitter constantly, especially when Xander did all sorts of ruinous things to her emotions.

"Criminy!" Tommy exclaimed as he turned off the main highway and the blare of another horn zoomed past the taxi as the other driver flew by. "What I tell ya? It'll be about 5 minutes to drive through Elmira, lady. Jus' lemme know where ya wanna stop."

She nodded silently and made a mark on her own mental map where she'd seen the facility in Jason's memories. They were so close.

****


After her little heart-to-heart with Jason, Stephanie had gone back to obsessively cultivating the lies she was going to feed Gwen but it all came to a halt as Jean spoke. In favor of Jason's propensity for asking the right questions, she was silent as the conversation unfolded and Benoit explained the new situation to them. Even as the plan was redirected successfully, she found herself locked within an internal struggle deep beneath the flawless mask she constantly wore. The plan made perfect sense and would most certainly ensure a greater chance of success - rushing things now would not only fail but backfire horribly on them.

But the obsession raged deep within her and she felt herself struggling with the extra time weight it put on them. Even just the few added minutes drove her insane. She was so close! So close she could almost feel what it was like to be GWEN! She needed it more than anything right now. After all the years of preparation of molding herself to be the best tool to use against the psychic, of letting her own personal life and relationships dwindle to ash, she was hungry for the final result to come to fruition. She was hungry for a new life and new body. For deeper human connection again. It was too late for her now in her own form without jeopardizing everything she'd worked for. The only way she would ever get the love that Gwen wrote about, that Gwen was capable of feeling was if Stephanie became her.

With a heavy sigh, she shoved these tumultuous emotions deeper inside and looked around the car in a bored fashion, her eyes falling upon her partner. Well, since they had some more time on their hands... Leaning close but not as close as before she spoke in a level monotone, her hand coming to rest on the seat between them and supporting her weight. "So, the goggles," she started, keeping an eye out the windows and not even really looking at him. "Without them, what happens? How long do you have - do you know? I only ask because I think it would be important for me to know if there was a certain time-line when I can expect you to become completely useless - or insane, or whatever - just so that I can act appropriately and remove you from duty at a time when it does not hinder me to keep you around. Unless, I can expect you to do so for yourself..."

Alright, so she was being a little bitchy to him now because she was feeling grumpy about her own issues. Even so, leaning in close to him like this felt almost like a magnetic pull that she could not deny or fight against. "She contacted me using the goggles... Does that hinder things? Will it help you if we re-unite them with the suit?" As she uttered the last word, her hand on the seat beside him moved slightly to brush a slender fingertip against his leg. It was a flirtatious gesture while still indicating the suit he wore in a gentle way. See? She could be...friendly...or whatever.

"Or now that she's used them, would it just be better to put a bullet in your head?" Okay. So, maybe she just enjoyed threatening him as well. Even so, her finger, with a long, well groomed fingernail, did not stop it's gentle caress. "I need to know these things, Jason. For the benefit of the mission."