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[[OOC: Continued from Going Deeper]]

It was the next day before Jay was released from the Facility. He didn’t mind the poking and prodding, especially since it came with a shower and a clean kit. The doctors were pretty concerned with the scars from Placaso’s electrocutions, but once they figured out they had nothing to do with the undercity’s vermin, nobody cared. He debriefed the events of the mission factually. His weapons were confiscated for video-recorded verification, but Jay had little to turn over in that regard. The weapon he’d used the most was himself, and he was exhausted.

The car rolled to a stop and the driver raised his voice.
“Oy, mate we’re here,” he said loudly. With a start, Jay jerked awake, rubbing his eyes and practically climbed out of the car. He recognized the entrance to the skyscraper where he’d stayed before the mission began. The building was in downtown Moscow, a much more modern scene than the old world around the Kremlin. He didn’t so much as have a bag to carry so as soon as he was deposited onto the sidewalk, the car rolled away. The only thing on him was a wallet - still powered off as he hadn’t had the energy to bother checking messages yet.

He stood out as he crossed the hotel lobby. He wasn’t in uniform, which  would have been the more preferable reason to draw attention. Instead, he wore plain slacks, a plain button down shirt tucked haphazardly in at the waist, and a plain black belt. It was like a prisoner being released to the streets with nothing but donated clothes. Not that he cared. He’d walk the lobby buck naked if it wouldn’t get him arrested, but he didn’t have the energy to put up with the barrage of questions.

He was stopped before he was half way to the elevator. You’d think an American in a hotel wouldn’t be an anomaly, but the Russians probably assumed he was a terrorist or some bullshit. They didn’t believe he was one of the Ascendancy’s Rods of Dominion, nor that he was came from the Kremlin itself. He was about to resort to powering on the Wallet and proving his identity when he thought to name-drop the guy he was supposedly here to train.

One mention of Adrian Kane and he was not only allowed entrance to his own suite, but an apologetic tray of food and drink was delivered shortly after. Normally, he’d jump head first into the giant serving of Osso Bucco, but instead, he passed out on the bed and didn’t intend to wake up for at least a week.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Seven found himself busier in Moscow than he anticipated although the pace was a pleasant surprise. He’d already made dozens of new contacts and no less than a few friends. Seven shone at his best when business mixed with pleasure, but from time to time, he buckled down and focused on the details of his profession.

He tipped his head as he passed the doorman. The hotel lobby was busy as he paused to orient himself toward the bar. A quick question saw him redirected, and a few moments later, he was being offered the last remaining table. It was a round booth in the corner, cast in a shimmer of diamond-like reflections from the overhead lamps.

He normally agreed to meet potential clients wherever they preferred. Sometimes they were in professional offices. Regularly he made house-calls. A dinner wasn’t uncalled for either. But of all the options, when given the choice, Seven enjoyed the pulse of a glamorous bar. The noise of music and conversation was an intersection of human life. Not knowing who was going to be there, who you would meet, and what would happen was a special kind of thrill.

Meanwhile, Seven waited for the client he arranged to meet. He was dressed stylishly, but professionally. The suit he wore was a charcoal color and paired with a plum shirt waistcoat. A slim square accented the breast pocket impeccably. He was admittedly a few minutes early as he wanted to gauge the tone of the bar.
Seven ✧ Freyr ✧ Daryen
A roll to the side found the time later than he expected. Although it wasn’t that bad. He figured he’d lose more time than an afternoon to passing out. Being dead to the world wasn’t so bad, he thought with a stretch. The sheets were the only thing left on the bed. He’d always been one to sleep hot and kicking off blankets wasn’t a new thing. His head was light, and he assumed it was just thirst as he wandered to the bathroom. The sink was good enough for him as he cupped water to his mouth and drank greedily. It was hunger, not hangover, that drove him to shower off. Just before ducking into the steam, he caught a glance of himself in the mirror. His facial hair was thicker than he expected. Not expecting to need to shave so much after a nap, he frowned in confusion. That was when he checked his Wallet.

It’d been three days.

Three fucking days since he’d crashed in the room. That explained the abandoned trays of food, which came into focus. There was a musk to the air that spoke to depravity and depression. He rubbed his eyes and ducked quickly into the shower. An hour later, Jay wandered into the hotel’s main bar. He had to get out of the coffin of a suite - no matter how big it was - and see someone besides ghosts in the mirror. Anyone.

It was evening. The bar was nearly full. Jay noticed that this time nobody stopped him like they had when he entered the lobby the first time. A bullshit game, but a game he knew enough of the rules to play his main ace in the hand.
“Do you have a reservation?” The host asked.
Jay waited for the man to look up from the pads occupying his station. Then he flashed a smile. “Come on, I’m sure there’s a spot for me somewhere,” he said.

The host looked over his shoulder to study the room once more. All the seats at the bar were taken. The tables were full. Except one corner. A round booth occupied by a single person. His drink was nearly expired. No food occupied the table. Jay’s stomach rumbled. He might have explored the street for an alternative meal, but wandering Moscow wasn’t appealing at the moment.

He clapped the host on the shoulder just as he was about to pass by. “No worry. I see a friend. I’ll join him.” If there was protest, Jay ignored it as he strolled onward.

He slipped into the booth and hailed a waiter.

“Hey,” he said with a grin. The man was clearly surprised by the interruption. Jay would have been himself had their places been exchanged. A weird foreigner just stuffing themselves into his table should be intriguing at best and jarring at worst. Still, he hoped that the guy didn’t mind too much. He was dressed well and had a sort of air about him that led Jay to guess that if he minded it would be a flimsy protest. At least, as Jay studied his face, he hoped it wouldn’t be too bad.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Seven patiently waited for the client to join him. He was nursing the ice in the bottom of his drink when he started to wonder if the client was even going to arrive. It wouldn’t be the first time he rescheduled last minute with a client. He was only slightly disappointed, but it was nothing that would ruin his night. He never expected to stay so long in Moscow anyway. A connection delayed was better than no contact at all.

He was toying with the idea of transferring his seat to the bar for better company when someone sauntered his direction. The man that slid into the booth promptly ordered a drink and made his welcome. He was of an average height, if taller than the usual European, and well-built. He had light-colored hair and lively blue eyes that seemed to dance around the room. He was handsome in a way that made others look him up and down as he passed by. Seven smiled quizzically. This man certainly did not match the description of the client he was here to meet. Was this a representative? An invitation to follow off-site? The notion was intriguing.

“Greetings,” Seven said in return.

“You are not Adrian Kane?” He asked with a smile that said he knew the answer to that question.

“I mean, I’m not offended,” he added, watching the stranger’s eyes as he went about placing his order.

A waitress stopped at their table. The technology was not so behind as to require it. All it would take is a message from any of the table’s integrated functions. But there was a personal flavor of a face asking what they wanted. She spoke with the stranger for a few moments, and Seven’s previous plan of abandoning his booth was forgotten. He added some food and a second drink for himself to the order.
Seven ✧ Freyr ✧ Daryen
Adrian Kane. Again. Was he king around here? Sent by Ascendancy to be the man’s tutor. He was connected in the highest of ways. Then deposited in a suite all to himself that may have well have been a condo more than a hotel. Then upon being denied entrance to that same suite, simply mentioning Adrian’s name opened the doors to the palace. Maybe Jay should have tried the same tactic to get a table. Then again, if he had, he’d be alone. As he watched the waitress depart, Jay had a feeling he may not have been alone for long. Instead, he found himself in interesting company. The man whose space Jay invaded spoke with a tilted accent that was decidedly northern European in origin. It was like someone out of a movie.

“Everyone around here seems to know of Adrian Kane, but nobody ever seems to know where he is. Does he even exist?” he responded. When their order was returned, Jay popped several bites greedily before he remembered himself.
“Did you want some?” Jay pushed at the plate in semblance of offering.

“Sorry about stealing a spot. If you’re expecting more company, I’ll be sure to make room,” he glanced at the open space between them. There was plenty of room for others if they got a little cozy. Not that he would mind.

“But the room was full and you can’t imagine how hungry I am,” he added.

“Call me Jay,” he said with a mouthful of savory morsels. The drink was a cocktail of some kind. Jay didn’t really pay attention when he ordered.

In that moment, a notification befell his wallet. His breath caught in his throat. He caught himself wondering if it was Cayli until he thought better of it.

He re-read the words, not understanding the first few times through. He just stared at the word promise. Then the memory of Nox’s voice begging him to recognize what Jay was too fucking selfish to understand replayed with fresh, awful understanding.

He immediately replied, but the message came back undeliverable.

Every muscle felt like it turned to water. He tried resend, but the outcome was the same.

God he was fucking stupid. He thought Nox understood. Thought that no matter what fuckery was going on, Nox would get it. He thought of Axel then. Dead also. Someone else who got it, also betrayed and gone. His arms fell limp, wallet abandoned on the table. Next thing he knew, Jay had finished the cocktail in one swallow and asked for a shot the next time around.He didn’t want to feel this feeling. Failure inevitably followed. Swift on the heels of rejection by the only person still alive he considered a friend.

He got his entire family brutally killed. Nox was done with him. Blamed him for something that Jay didn’t even understand. What was wrong with their being friends?

His gaze, hot and empty, eventually settled on the nearby individual whose life he was also encroaching upon.
“Sorry to bother you. I’ll leave you alone,” he said quietly. As soon as the shot was placed on his table, he downed it in a single swallow. Of course, he quickly finished off the remaining food because despite being torn apart, he was still hungry, left something in the form of payment and hurried from the room.

Only as soon as he found himself in a lobby full of people, the faces may have well been empty shells. The people walking skeletons. He didn't even know where to go. 

There was nobody left. Nobody except the cadre of soldiers devoted to the Ascendancy’s missions, but they were less like brothers and more like tolerated coworkers. The power was all he had. This bloody-forsaken fucking curse of power. He summoned it like an old companion, let the numbness of it roll inside. The room exploded into life then, and he heard footsteps behind him. He turned carefully, catching a glimpse of blonde hair. If it was Natalie coming to tell him to fuck off also... 

Well, at least he knew where to go to find a good fight and finish things off proper.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Jay was so overtly American, it made Seven want to laugh. The man had invited himself to a table, joked about it, then assumed that he would stay for as long as he pleased. Seven didn’t mind of course, enjoying the opportunity to meet new people, and Jay was the second American in a handful of days that he encountered. It was stereotyping to compare him to Z, but they were alike in a lot of ways. Although Z was a quieter personality compared to Jay’s exuberant one, they shared that same infallible energy and confidence that Seven found so interesting.

When offered the food from his own table, Seven smiled and partook, naturally joining in with the revelry like comrades of old sharing the spoils of shared battle.
“Pleasure to meet you, Jay,” was his response. “It seems that Adrian is known by many around here. That is the exact person I am here to meet. Maybe he is a ghost?” he added playfully.

He was going to elaborate, and share his own name in return, when Jay became distracted by the Wallet notification. Seven watched, but patience slowly turned to concern as what was clearly bad news was received. When Jay left as suddenly as he arrived, Seven found himself somewhat in a bit of shock.

What happened to spurn such a departure? Instinct told him it was none of Seven’s business, but there was something about the aura left in Jay’s wake that tugged at his concern. He made sure that the table’s affairs were wrapped up and decided to follow.

The lobby was dappled with the movement of people passing through, but one figure was still amid the churning of bodies around him. Seven’s touch on the shoulder was cautious, and the look on his face was one of warmth. He thought about inquiring about the bad news that gave such a volatile response, but Seven believed in privacy more than most. He would listen if Jay volunteered the story, but he was not going to pry.

“I hope that I didn’t give an unwelcoming impression,” he said as he came around.
“I am hungry as well, and it seems my appointment will be rescheduled, and thus my evening is freed up. Would you do me the favor of joining me? I hate to eat alone,” he said with a smile.

“I do know another place down the street that we can go without having to wait, much more filling than bar food,” he added.
Seven ✧ Freyr ✧ Daryen
Not Natalie. He shoved down the disappointment. Though if it were, he wasn’t sure how he would have reacted.  He probably should make a point to call her. He promised he wouldn’t disappear again. Who knew how long before the Ascendancy had another mission for him. He thought he’d be back in Africa by then but for the delay to the underground. Just thinking of it knotted a fresh twist of guilt over Nox. He gave up after the third undelivered message. He didn’t even know where to find him and talk this out. There was the mansion they’d gone to after the concert, but no way Jay would ever find it again. Nor did he remember the name of the people who lived there. Then there was the small matter that Nox had basically told him to fuck off and never see him again. Generally Jay preferred to honor those kinds of fuck off requests.

Not Natalie then. It was the European guy from the table. They both knew he was bullshitting Jay. But he appreciated the effort anyway.
“Alright. As long as they have burgers. I’m dying for a cheeseburger and fries. So. Yeah I can do that,” he said and gestured that he lead the way to this famously delicious place with instantly available food that was apparently right around the corner. Jay almost laughed to himself. He didn't care if the bait was exaggerated. He was content to let himself be hooked. At least it was a welcome distraction.

“I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name?” He said and offered a handshake. More civil than the last greeting. Just as they ducked from the building.

The street was busy with nightlife. It was a strange mix of people escaping their offices for the day and those escaping to their various vices for the night. Suits and heels. Jay definitely fit with neither group. His new friend seemed to fit right in.
Only darkness shows you the light.

He was relieved when Jay’s demeanor softened. Not that he was soft by any means, but what walls went up cracked just enough to let a little light through. Seven bowed his head in gratitude for the company.
“I don’t know if I have ever had a cheeseburger,” Seven pondered. “I was pescatarian for most of my youth, but not for any particular reason other than I just never was brought up on red meat. My mother was very health conscious,” he gestured absently. Just thinking of her bid a slim smile to his lips. He was still close to her, and it was to her and her place in the Network that he owed his present life.

“Are you close to your parents?” he asked casually. Jay seemed quiet even after they departed the hotel, but that was fine. Seven was content to fill the space between them with stories.

He led them down the street. It was going to be a mile or so walk, although he thought that some may consider than farther than right down the street. Seven was accustomed to walking to destinations. Judging by Jay’s stride, he seemed up for the task.

He asked for a name, which Seven likewise had forgotten to offer. Jay’s handshake was firm to crushing. A confident grip that was also oh so American. It made Seven smile and matched the forcefulness.
“Seven,” he said.

Jay’s expression said what his lips hadn’t had yet to process. “Like the number,” Seven added.
Seven ✧ Freyr ✧ Daryen
Piss-a-what? Jay laughed. It rattled something loose and he looked at the guy all the differently. He’d heard of it. Eating only fruit or something. Words that ended in -erian were like curses where he was from. “I think growing up the only thing I ate was meat,” he smirked. “Well. Meat and pie,” talking about food was making him hungrier. “I’ll show you a good cheeseburger one of these days, friend. It’s about time!” he chuckled and kept listening despite the hole gnawing at his gut. He’d almost forgotten the reason they were walking in the first place when he asked his next question.

“Are you close to your parents?”

The humor of the moment thinned. Fake. Like he deserved the punch to the gut for having the gall to laugh. Suppose there was only one thing left to do. Laugh and play to the fake.
“Not really,” he brought himself to say. Wasn’t a lie. Even growing up he wasn’t close to his folks. By the time he was 18, he was ready to get as far away from them as possible.

He was close to his sister. He remembered rocking her to sleep when she woke up middle of the night as a baby. Tiny. Like a football. But he couldn’t say it.

Luckily, the guy moved the conversation along. Like nothing was happening inside the head of his company. He probably wouldn’t be so casual if he knew he strolled side by side with a murderer. A failure. Could say the same of most people.

“Seven. Like the number,” he introduced himself.

Jay paused. Touched him on the arm and looked him up and down. That foreign accent sounded so proper.
“Your folks named you after a number? And you’re still close to them?” he laughed.

“Sorry mate. Is good. I won’t ask if you have a middle name though,” he added with a grin. All in good jest.

“My folks named me after my great-grandpa. Jason. He started the farm that our family had,” he nodded. Not sure why he said as much. Guess since they were on the topic. There were old home movie videos of Jason that Jay used to watch as a kid. He’d died before Jay was born, but he always thought his great-grandpa looked cool. Drove a kickass muscle car back in his day, too.

It was about that time that he noticed the windows of the buildings they walked past had changed from glass skyscrapers to framed storefronts. The business district was being left behind.

”Where we going anyway?”
Only darkness shows you the light.

The air between them grew heavy in a way that had nothing to do with the weather. As soon as he asked about parents, the silence that followed might as well have dragged them both down by the ankles. He hadn’t meant to trigger anything, and Seven quietly chastised himself for bringing it up. He didn’t ask a follow up question since Jay seemed eager to move the subject along, but Seven wouldn’t forget the moment anytime. He would be more careful with his conversation in the future.

”That’s exactly right. I’m named after a number,” Seven chuckled. When he adopted the moniker in place of Einar, he hadn’t intended to do so to make people laugh. Yet it seemed to inspire mirth more than anything. While the real reason was out of a dark lesson, he was glad for that small comfort.

“Jason sounds like a wonderful man. So you were raised on a farm, is that right? What a wonderful experience that must have been. I was raised in Stockholm. No farm life for us, but I did have a horse when I was younger. A pleasant mount named Glaðr,” he smiled thinking of the blonde mare all these years later. “It means glad or bright,” he explained.

“But as for our destination, it is not a glad or bright place my friend. But it is rather different, and I am not lying when I say the food is tasty. They might actually have cheeseburgers. I can’t say as I remember exactly. It’s not far now,” he said as they crossed a street. The buildings had grown short by then and the streets narrower. People remained abundant, but they were dressed to go out for the night more than coming home from work.

“It’s an entertainment club of sorts,” he said with a wink.
Seven ✧ Freyr ✧ Daryen

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