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A Fine Line
((Continued from Taking out the trash))

Natalia came in to her apartment building late. The men at the door paid no mind. Ayden was dead tired. But worry and guilt weighed her down even more.

She made her way to her room. The wig and contacts and the remaining equipment, Ayden looked down at the case she carried, somewhere along the line she'd put her sniper rifle back in. She didn't remember doing it. The night played out over and over in her head, but she didn't remember putting it away.

The exhaustion weighed on Ayden. As she returned to the comforts of her self, the same pajama's she'd met Connor in and a blanket on her couch. She waited, patiently for any notion that Connor was home.

Exhaustion overrode worry and guilt, Ayden closed her eyes for only a second. Sleep took her away quickly...

Edited by Ayden, Jun 6 2014, 04:53 AM.
Sleep swept Ayden away from her worry and guilt. At first dreams did not come, exhaustion had yielded nothing. It was a first. But the night wore on and Ayden's body rested, her fatigue from before washing away. The dreams came again, as they usually did.

The nights events played out in her head. The shot always played first, always watching the bullet make that deep plunge into the target, always the splash of gore. Red marred her vision. Shifting always was disorienting. The sacrifices made. If Ayden could remember the dreams when she woke, she'd know they weren't the same. Fear, worry, plagued as a second scene played through in dramatic slow motion. The bullet ripped through the heart of her lover, friend. She couldn't remember his name. Pain. Ayden looked down at her chest. Her own heart beat in her hands.

Ayden started awake. Her body shook with the adrenaline that ran through her body. She remembered the last scene, it was etched into her memory. Connor! Where was he? She couldn't think straight, barely able to remember what had happened.

Ayden got up and paced, she wasn't going to be able to sleep again. She wondered if she should call the hospital. What would she say? She did't even know his last name... What relation? They'd ask, oh we met two days ago. I think he was shot. WTF!

There was no good way around this. Ayden wasn't a praying person but she prayed it had all worked out, that she'd healed him enough so he could get help. Ayden felt like pulling her hair out. Why was this so hard? Why did she have to care? This was going to be the end of her career.

But did it matter? She really liked Connor. Ayden plopped down on her couch frustrated, it gave the quick release of air from the cushion. There was so much to think about. Connor...
Continued from Taking Out the Trash

Connor walked up the metro-stairs to the street level. It was maybe 4 in the morning and very cold. He was still buzzed from his drink. Head felt packed with cotton or something. Maybe it was the drink. Some of it. But it felt like everything that had happened tonight had all merged together into some hazy dream, bits and pieces he could snatch at, but who's whole story was elusive. Pounding on the man's face. Laughing at the bar. Walking up the stairs to the terrible 3rd floor. Floating away from life and then falling, mind slamming against the ground. Ayden sitting in his lap, head against his chest, steadily breathing. Warmth. Safe. He ached for that this moment, he needed something to hold on to, against the strange memories that kept flowing over him.

The ding of the elevator door made him focus. He hadn't realized he was standing in the elevator on his floor. He'd didn't remember walking to his building or going in or pressing the floor button. The door started to close and he put his hand out to catch it. He saw the blood there. But there was no pain. That man's skull had been hard. A flash of memory. A dull ache in his knuckles and forearms getting sharper. It washed away in the haze. The door dinged again and tried to close. He focused and walked out, down the hall. After being outside, it was stiflingly hot in the lobby, the distant sound and feel of fans pumping warm are muffling the sound. His ears seemed to close up, as if he were submerged in water.

He stopped at Ayden's door. Would she be there? Would she be in his room still? He listened through the cotton in his head. He couldn't hear anything. He took a deep breath. He felt tired- tired in his soul. He'd killed a man tonight. He still felt it was justified, but....a man was a alive. And now he was dead. He had ended a human life, in rage. He didn't feel guilty. He didn't feel anything. That should have concerned him. He should feel something for having crossed a moral line like that. But he felt numb.

He walked to his door and quietly let himself in, in case Ayden was still asleep. He saw the blanket lying on the couch. He let the door close on its own and went to the bed. No sign of her. Her clothes were gone too. She must have been asleep in her apartment. He wanted her. But not like this.

A shower. He went into his room and pulled off his jacket and shoes, his shirt and pants. He just stood their in his room naked, feeling the air's stillness. He looked at himself in the mirror. 46 years old, he thought. He saw the tired lines on his face, the charred markings on his skin. The rough hewn body that he spent time making sure aged as well as it could. And now? What are you? he wondered. His mind was just numb, unfeeling. He stood there. Work tomorrow. No. I'm calling in. He went to the bathroom and turned on the shower, let the bathroom begin to fog up, felt he warm damp air permeate the room, covering him with a sheen of microscopic dew that made the slightest air movement cool.

He walked back into the bedroom to get a towel when he heard a knock at the door. He walked to the door and looked out the peephole. Ayden. Something inside him breathed and he unlocked the door.

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 20 2014, 08:35 AM.
Ayden's thoughts stopped twisting and turning, they all led to one place. Always the same place. What she did for a living was not what Connor would want. He was a good man, she knew that the moment she'd met him. There was no place in his world for her. Somewhere in the course of her guilt and worry Ayden came to one conclusion, the only one that would matter. In the end it could be bad, but she knew in her heart it was the only way to not hurt Connor again.

A noise outside her door caught her attention. She slowly peeked out the peephole and saw Connor walking to his own apartment. Ayden breathed a sigh of relief, he was walking with out assistance. Ayden leaned her head against the door and cried soft tears. He was okay. It mattered more to her that he was okay then what happened next.

There was a box under her bed that carried her life. It was locked with a key only she could undo. If it wasn't done correctly the entire contents would go up in smoke. It safe-guarded her life, from the outer world. It was a clean life, the one she'd need if she ever had to make a run for it and hide. Ayden Hayes, age 30... unknown until the moment she set things in motion. The man who had created the files was a renowned hacker. One of the best in the entire world. And he was worth every cent she paid.

Ayden opened the box and took everything from it. The one manila envelope was everything she need to make her ghost self real. There were no doubts, no regrets. Ayden opened the envelope and pulled the small dongle. It had one button and it would transmit everything to the appropriate systems and Ayden Hayes would become real in every sense of the word.

Ayden pressed the button with out second thought. She grabbed the paperwork and the key ring. She'd pack the rest later.

It was now or never. Ayden walked to Connor's door and knocked. She hoped he hadn't passed out. If she had to wait she wasn't sure she could do this.

He opened the door oblivious to his lack of attire. She smiled but the overwhelming need to hug Connor was taken. Ayden ran a hands over his chest, knowing fully well that last time she'd seen him he had a gaping hole, there wasn't even a scar. Her hands went around his neck and she hugged him tightly and whispered. "You're all right."

Ayden pulled away from him. And hit him in the chest. She knew the words would insight problems, but they were the words she needed to say. "What were you doing in THAT neighborhood. In THAT place."

She hit his chest another time for good measure. "You were almost killed."

Ayden's life was about to change. And whether or not it was with Connor or not would soon be found out. It didn't matter the course it took, she was doing this regardless.
Connor opened the door, not really thinking of the fact that he was naked, holding a towel. Seeing Ayden there, looking up at him with concern in her eyes- Why was she concerned? melted his heart. Suddenly emotion flooded into him. She ran her hands over his chest, right where the hole had been- Is her magic telling her this? and then she put her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly, whispering "You're all right". He felt a shaking in his chest, but wrapped his arms around her and squeezed. She felt so good against him. She was real, his anchor. His home.

And then she pulled away from him and hit him in the chest."What were you doing in THAT neighborhood. In THAT place."
He felt as if she had hit him upside the head. His mind reeled. She hit him again. "You were almost killed."
He struggled to understand. Looking out into the hallway, he closed the door. Suddenly he felt very exposed. Looking down he quickly wrapped the towel around his waist. It felt like very thin armor.

His mind struggled to come up with answers, questions, anything. He felt guilty for the worry she clearly had been feeling. It fogged his mind. He cast his mind about, trying to figure out what to say. "My friend needed help. We needed to help, to save some kids."
He shook his head confused. He looked at her. The worry and anger on her face struck him and he felt terrible. "How did you know? Did you follow me?"
"My friend needed help. We needed to help, to save some kids. How did you know? Did you follow me?"
Connor looked pained and confused. Ayden couldn't look up at him anymore. She walked around him and sat down at the table putting the envelop and keys in front of her with both hands on top, like she was holding on for dear life. And in a way she was.

"Not exactly."
Ayden took a deep breath. "I was hired to kill a man. When you left, I followed him. He lead me a building, he sat outside and was watching. The building didn't matter until after I had taken out my mark.

I looked up and I saw you and the man chasing you. He was about to shoot you. I reloaded as quickly as I could. I took aim and fired.

You moved. I watched as the bullet pierced your back and land in the man who had been behind you. He saw me and fired in my direction.

I watched you fall as I loaded again. I killed him.

I went to you. I tried to help, but I didn't remember how I did it before. I couldn't fix you. I tried. But the power welled up inside me. It burnt, it fed on the anger and guilt.

I brought the building down, in fire. I couldn't stay. I left in fear. I didn't want you to see me. I didn't want your friends to find me. Hiding is.... no was my life."

Ayden took a deep breath and looked up at Connor.

"I watched from a distance, your friend, did what I couldn't."
She wanted to cry, but she held back the tears. But there was nothing more she could say. Ayden worried what he'd say. What he'd do. But it didn't really matter. It was done, she had more to say, much more. But that had to sink in. Ayden prayed he'd listen to the rest.
Connor stared at Ayden. His brain had broken, trying to process what she said. He just looked at her, mouth agape. Every time he tried to think of something to say, her words would replay in his head. He twitched his head sharply, trying to clear his thoughts. The alcohol had worn off. While he might have liked a drink right then and there, he knew he needed his whits.

The fog had returned and he found it difficult to focus, his mind skittering away from what she said like water on a hot griddle. He became aware of the sound of the shower and suddenly he felt chill. Numbly, he said "I need to turn the water off. Be right back,"

Slowly he got up and walked to his room, to the bathroom, shut the water off, and then sat down on the bed. He put his head in his hands, trying to squeeze what she said out of it. His heart was beating. He looked at the door. He had to go back out there...he had to. But he didn't want to. He couldn't face her right now. Get dressed he thought. Mechanically, he put his clothes on.

As he dressed, little snippets of what she said kept coming back to him.

"... I had taken out my mark."
"I was hired to kill a man."
"I took aim and fired. You moved. I watched as the bullet pierced your back."
"I was hired to kill a man."
"I tried to help you."
"I was hired to kill a man."
"I brought the building down."
"I was hired to kill a man."

Something in his gut twisted, like someone had ripped something away from him. The pain of it was excruciating. He had something. Hope. Maybe a future. And it was gone. Who was this woman? She killed people for a living.

A little voice in the back of his mind chimed up. So did that man at the bar. You didn't have a problem with him. But that was different. The men that he killed deserved it. His eyes fell on his boots, rust coloring the brown material. It stopped him dead. I killed a man tonight. With my bare hands. I pounded his face. Stomped his groin until it was all one bloody mess. Shame finally came. The magnitude hit him. He looked at his hands and saw dried blood embedded in the creases and folds of his knuckles. I have blood on my hands. It wasn't just an expression.

He looked at the door. She was still out there. He felt so many emotions. What he had was right. Really? He rejected the question. It was right. He needed it to be right. But the man at the table. He worked for people, he'd said. Killing was natural to him. Just because the men he killed that time deserved it didn't mean they all did. And yet they'd drank together, Connor not caring at all. What is wrong with me? Who were these people that could do that kind of thing? Just snuff out a life without a second thought?

He realized he was avoiding the real problem. That tear in his heart seemed wider every time he thought of it, so he'd been hiding from it. Ayden. She killed people for a living. He shook his head. He wanted to cry. He'd thought they might have had a future.

He looked at the door again.

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 17 2014, 04:51 PM.
Ayden watched as Connor left the room. She heard the water stop but he never came back out. Ayden clung to the papers in front of her. She let her self cry. At least for a little while. Everything worth doing was hard.

Time passed. Ayden didn't know how long, but neither of them had left their respective rooms. She didn't want to bother him. She could just leave, and let him come to her. But this wasn't his problem, it was hers. She had to finish what she came here to do. She couldn't stop because his feelings were hurt. There was so much more to say.

Ayden pushed the chair back. The sound of it scraping against the floor made Ayden jump, the still silence had been broken.

Ayden went to his room and stood in the door way. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and took a deep breath. "I was born Anne Lowe. Anne died in a covert operation. In order to keep my family safe, I worked for the enemy that had shot down the chopper I had been in. I became a different person to protect them. Chastity White died in a fire on a mission. I took up the name Ayden Hayes. But Ayden was never real. Not until you. Each city, each kill was a different persona. Never the same person twice. You may hate me for this, but I did not regret my job, not until you. You, seeing what my life could do to you, it changed everything."

Ayden took a deep breath and fought back the tears she knew would fall again. It was not sympathy she wanted. "Today. Today everything changes."
Ayden tossed the bundle of keys next to Connor on the bed. "Those are the keys to every single cache of weapons and gear I have stowed across the world, including everything here in Moscow. When I'm done here. Everything will go under lock and key. The key's you now have. I don't want them back. Not ever. You can do with it all what you like."

"Today Ayden Hayes is real. Because of you. I'd like you to be part of it all, but I've laid everything out. You need to choose. But for what it's worth, I want to be the person you could love. And it'll be my goal in life to reach that pinnacle."

A single tear slid down Ayden's cheek and she turned and walked away. She stopped and looked back through the doorway "If you want to ask more, know more. I won't lie to you. You know where I live. I'm not going anywhere."
Ayden left. She cried as she shut the door to Connor's apartment probably for the last time.

Her apartment was empty. It felt cold and un-lived in. Ayden set to packing her gear. At least it was something to do.
A noise made Connor look up. Ayden had walked into the room. She had been crying. For a moment, his heart softened. He ached for her, for what they had. It was short, but for the first time in years, he had opened himself up fully. And this was what he got. A woman who killed people for a living. He just.....he couldn't wrap his mind around it. He didn't understand. He had spent time with her. She was funny and sweet and tender and compassionate. How? How can a person just turn off their humanity and kill so cold-bloodedly without thought? Bereave a mother or father, brother or sister, son or daughter, of their loved one, all for the sake of money. That what she did never bothered her at all. The thought disgusted him.

She wiped her cheeks and started talking. His mind reeled from another blow. Not Ayden. Her name is Anne. It wasn't enough that his hope by taken from him. It had to be crushed, mutilated beyond compare. It was all a lie. She wasn't who she said she was. He put his head down in his hands, listened to her go on.

A part of him took it all in, the part that cared, that was always on the lookout to believe in people, that part of him heard her words, saw her gesture, the tears and the openness. That part wanted, desperately, so very desperately wanted to believe her. That somehow, he had made a difference in her life, that he had...saved her. A jangling noise on the bed next to him jolted him from that thought.

Keys. Keys to stashes of guns and whatever else. He tasted bitterness in his mouth. That fucking box, he thought bitterly, his memory tarnished. He'd helped her carry her weapons into her apartment, the very thing that had brought them together. They had joked and flirted while standing over the weapons she used to kill people. When they first made love on the couch, that box was in her line of sight the whole time. His heart felt pierced through.

"Today Ayden Hayes is real. Because of you. I'd like you to be part of it all, but I've laid everything out. You need to choose. But for what it's worth, I want to be the person you could love. And it'll be my goal in life to reach that pinnacle."
He heard her words, but...he just didn't know anything anymore. That part wanted to believe it. God in heaven he so wanted to believe her, that she really wanted to be someone he could love. At any other time in his life, those words would have sent his heart soaring, utterly enraptured. It was what he craved, the pure love of a woman who viewed him as an answer to her prayers, the very way he would have viewed her. But, he just didn't know. Wanting to believe didn't make it true. He had guarded his heart so carefully....and now, this. It was shredded and in tatters, as if she had ripped it from his chest and was holding it in her palms.

No. She just shot me in the chest. Then the voice. And healed you too. And had told him too. He wasn't a fool. Well, maybe he was a fool. Definitely he was. But he could see that she believed what she was saying. She didn't have to have said anything to him. He wanted that to mean she was telling the truth, that she wanted to have a life with him.

But she was still the person who killed people for no reason but financial gain and felt no qualms about it. What does that say about her? About the person she is? What kind of fucked up life made a person a sociopath like that. And then he remembered how tender she was with him when talking about Hayden, when she found him crying. She wasn't faking it. And that final time they'd made love, the pure connection and intimacy. That was as real as he could have imagine.

Around and around, it went in his mind. There was no way out of this maze. Maybe she meant it. Maybe he believed her. But wanting to believe her couldn't change how his heart felt, how it felt to find out what he had hoped was a future was based on a lie.

She turned to leave, then stopped. "If you want to ask more, know more. I won't lie to you. You know where I live. I'm not going anywhere."
She walked out. He wanted to call to her. To tell her he believed her, that they could fix this somehow. He opened his mouth...and closed it. He just couldn't do it. He heard the door open and when it closed, his heart broke. He lay back in his bed, and just let the wave of emotions sweep over him, tossing him around every which way. He was drowning and couldn't find air, couldn't find footing. There was no way out.

And the waves continued to crash until finally, mercifully, he fell asleep.

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 18 2014, 12:00 AM.
Ayden busied herself with packing things up. She kept the newly purchased wardrobe. Clothes were clothes. She'd have to figure out things she liked, and not things to create a persona, but everything else, other than stash of CCD dollars went into the box. Her placed looked un-lived in before, now it was a dead zone. It looked exactly how she felt. Dead inside.

She knew it wouldn't have worked out the moment the idea had come to her, but the hope that he'd come around, someday, was the only thing that kept Ayden from crying.

Ayden packed everything with meticulous care. Each piece fit just so in the box. She'd done it so many times before, just thinking it was the last time made it all the more real. Tears streamed down her cheeks, they blurred her vision, but Ayden kept at it. Everything had to be in the box by morning. Everything!

The remaining few hours of the wee hours of the morning flew by in a flurry of packing things. It was easy to unpack, but packing always took so much time.

7am came and went and the box was finally full. Ayden checked under the bed, moved every piece of furniture. She didn't want any scrap of metal or piece to reminder or temptation left in her apartment.

There were no regrets as Ayden closed the box for the last time. The pad lock was the last piece, the final closure on everything. If she forgot anything once it was locked it was too late. Ayden checked the apartment again to make sure everything had made it in. A deep breathe, a click of the hatch and everything was ready to go.

Well almost ready. Ayden took the disposable phone and made one last call from it. The storage unit she held, she called the operator, told him to expect a delivery and to put it in with the rest of her things. He confirmed the action and they exchanged the appropriate funds.

She had almost forgotten to call the movers. She quickly dialed. They'd be there in in a few hours. They said 9am, but that probably meant much later than that. It seemed she was stuck in this barren apartment for a good share of the day.

Every time Ayden tried to close her eyes to rest, she saw her own heart in her hands. She'd relive the moment that the bullet pierced Connor's back. Everything in such vivid detail. She couldn't sleep. She had to keep moving, keep herself from dropping into desperation.

Ayden saw the final piece on the table, the disposable phone was her last contact to the world she knew. To everything she knew how to do, it was all going with the box. What did she do now?

She didn't even know what Anne would have wanted to do if she'd not gone into the military. The memories were so far away. It was two lifetimes ago. This one though, she'd do right, in Connor's name, even if he wasn't a part of it.

Ayden embraced her gift and wrapped weaves of fire and air around the disposable phone. She watched it melt. The smell was god awful, but it made Ayden smile. There was not much she couldn't do. She knew it. She wielded a power that was unthinkable, surely she could live a normal life.

It'd be hard. She knew that. Ayden thought of her future, a future with a family of her own. Ayden laid down on the couch and cried for things that could be. She forced herself to think only of the future, of Connor.

Ayden drifted off to sleep, the dreams did not come. Sleep was peaceful.

A knock woke Ayden from what little sleep she had gotten. She had no way of knowing what time it was. The only clock she'd owned had been on that disposable phone. Ayden hoped it was the movers, she wanted that thing gone before night fell again.

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