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Taking out the Trash
Hood stepped away from the counter at Kofe Khauz, and sat down at a table next to a window, a simple newspaper in his hands and flipped up before his face. Of course, he wasn't reading the paper; it was all the usual drivel city papers wrote about. Lots of bold headlines about the situation in DV. The 'CCD special operations' team that had attacked that fucking Muslim holy man. Something about an African merc company saving a reporter; that barely registered. It was a two paragraph side note, a 'glimmer of good' in a dark situation, just weird enough to warrant paper space.

None of that mattered though. He didn't give two flying fucks about DV or the CCD at the end of the day. He lived comfortably in the CCD; the system was just corrupt enough that he could make it by without much effort on his part, but it's the politics were of little interest to him. Really, everything he did to protect himself was overkill, mostly just to keep himself sharp and occupied.

Hence why he sat at a shitty chain coffee shop open far later then a cafe needed to be (it was already 0100hrs), staring at a newspaper. Bloody archaic things for 2045, but he had some sentimentality about him; spies had been using newspapers to hide in plain sight for over a hundred years.

One thing that had changed about being a spy was the toys you got to play with. Gone were the days of sitting in a car scoping a place out, or having to get yourself a room across the road to watch through the windows. And found were the days of drones, and thermal imagery that could see through concrete walls, unique isotope tracking, and so much more. Of course he didn't have access to all the toys he used to, but the black market was a bustling thing even in Moscow (or especially in Moscow), and he had enough disposable income to have assembled a very satisfying toy collection.

As for the why he was sitting in a cafe drinking mediocre overly expensive sludge so late at night...Hood very much liked having a clean back yard. Folks causing trouble in his yard caused trouble for him. And, much like any alpha predator, he had a very large yard. Most organized crime was smart enough to not cause any real trouble. Most of what he dealt with was the small time stuff; street gangs and trouble causing punks.

Hood's Landwarriors displayed images from a half dozen hidden cameras; they were cheap, store-bought toys mounted with far from cheap cameras and transmitters, which had been seeded around one of many run-down Soviet-era apartment blocks that dotted the area. It had taken a full day to get those cameras into place; the cheap toys were far better then what he had grown up with in the '20s, but still nothing compared to what he had used in the military.

A far more expensive toy drone circled the building. He'd planted signal-rebroadcasters in the area so they could reach him inside the cafe. Being as it was night, the larger toy drone went unnoticed. Which was good, because he had no interest in letting some gangster punk putting a bullet through the very expensive thermal imager that was mounted to it. It gave him an interesting view of the building's interior.

He lowered the paper long enough to accept a slice of Prague cake from the very Goth-inspired woman working the counter. A barista, he believed they were called. Cute, but far too young for him to bother with.

Within the building, there were dozens of heat signatures. Most were in bed at so late an hour. Some willingly, but most hadn't that luxury. On the third floor of the long, ugly concrete apartment building, twenty five bodies, some disturbingly small, were in a prone stance, as if in beds. More likely, they were tied to a spike hammered into the concrete floor.

Six other heat signatures, adults and likely men, were the only other ones on the same floor as the twenty five. Some were in the same rooms, laying with their prisoners, or hovering over them and touching. The rest sat in a room near the stairwell (there were no elevators), in a circle. Probably around a table, talking or eating.

Occasionally, they had visitors; customers, paying on the cheap to help break in the new product. Other times, it was more of the gangster shits, delivering food, water, and drugs to keep the prisoners high. They took their turns with the prisoners too.

It was just one of the many things that happened in Moscow unnoticed by those around them. The other people in that building; they lived there went about their days, and ignored what was happening on the third floor. They went to work, they went out with friends, and they ignored the sounds. Because that was just the safest thing to do. Why stick your neck out for someone else?

And why stick your neck out for people that didn't exist? The twenty five were, he was fairly certain, all children of illegal immigrants. There were thousands of them in the city; tens of thousands if not more, really. He had no idea; no one did. They were the ultimate prey for the sex trade. Untraceable, uncounted, and missed only by those who could not seek the help of police.

Hood had no intentions of sticking his own neck out. He didn't seek to save those prisoners. Not for free. He simply couldn't risk it; he was sitting on an Atharim safehouse. He was, technically, an illegal immigrant himself, but with the connections and skill to craft a new identity and go unnoticed. He worked for a very successful private security company. He had plenty of reasons not to get involved. And reasons to make sure these shitheads left his lawn.

If they slipped up and brought in the police, it was the sort of thing that could lead to some very unwanted interest in the Zamoskvorechye district. So he had to make sure they moved. And in a way that didn't draw their interest to himself.

So he would watch them, learn their patterns, then bump a few of them off here and there. All over the city. And leave some hints that maybe they should get out of the sex-trade. Or at least out of Zamoskvorechye. They'd think it was a rival organization, and if he had the desired effect, they would move. And he could go back to spending his nights having a beer.

The building in question was large; seven stories, although those above the third had no electricity. It had no water. It's sister building across the parking lot was a pile of neatly dozed rubble with grass and trees growing out of it. It had been knocked down twenty years ago and nothing had ever followed.

Six men resided on the third floor with their twenty five abducted kids and teenagers, and they were armed to the teeth...not that it mattered, if they weren't holding their weapons. They had no expectations of trouble, and had been in place for a few weeks already without any problems.

It was their third group, not that they shipped finished product out in regular batches; more a matter of when a few were ready, and a few new ones would be brought in. Some of the teens had been there two weeks already. Some died; it was normal and expected, and they hadn't had any trouble disposing of the bodies yet.

Beyond the six men though, was a van parked a few blocks away. Four more had the unfortunate job of sitting in that van in twelve hour shifts. They were the back-up should the safehouse be bumped, although they spent most of their time bitching about the cold and sleeping when they could manage it. Beneath their van sat another cheap RC toy, a truck, to which Hood had attached a listening device. He had no interest in watching them, but it would help to know what they were talking about; they had direct comms with the men in the safehouse, giving him an idea of what they were talking about.

So far, it had mostly been about owed debts and which of the kids was the best fuck. Should the opportunity present itself, a few of these men would die very terrible deaths. It would help insinuate that maybe the rest of them should find new lines of work. Hood cut off a slice of his Prague cake and gave it a try.

A long moment to savour the taste, then he nodded approvingly and gave an appreciative gesture towards the barista; she had suggested it, after all.
Ayden had left Connor to met her contact. The man who had hired her. She called him Mr. Black. It was something she called nearly all her contacts. They never gave their names, sometimes they were far more careless, but Ayden never remembered their names. She put a mental block on those things, it was far easier to deny something you don't know. And Ayden was not in to getting caught.

Natalia was ready, she had been practicing her Americanized Russian for some time. It really wasn't hard, but Ayden knew how to act, she could have done many other things in life, but right now in this moment, it was about not getting caught in her lies.

They were meeting in some shit hole of a bar, Ayden grabbed the power of her gift and held it close, at the ready, but more for the enhanced senses. Sight, sounds were near crystal clear, the only downside was the smells, this place was horrid.

Natalia opened the door and every eye turned to look at her. She was mostly unarmed, a small pistol in her bag was there if necessary, but she had a more powerful weapon at the ready. The man she had talked told her to meet him in the corner of the bar, he'd be waiting.

And in all honesty of a bad man, a man sat in the corner booth surrounded by three other thugs. Ayden wished at that very moment she had brought more than that small pistol, or that she'd even gotten out of bed in the first place. Thoughts of Connor drifted into her mind. He would definitely not like this. What the hell was she gonna do about that? As troubling as the thought was Ayden pushed the thought back, put on a classy smile and walked, no swayed towards the men. Even a business suit could be made to make a man's eyes see what she wanted them too. But if they touched, that would be a far different story.

Natalia sat down across the table from the man, she knew there was a gun pointed at her stomach. She wove a wall of air, hoping to the high heaves it would be enough should this turn bad. "I didn't expect the Phoenix to be a woman."

Natalia smiled sweetly at the man. "And I expected you to be alone."

He laughed a large jolly laugh, one you expected from a right fat jolly Santa Clause and he waved his men away and put his hand under the table.

He slide her a file folder. "Him, dead, now. No waiting, as soon as possible, everything you need is here."

Ayden filliped open the folder and the images were clear. A name at the top with an amount listed. She looked up at him and nodded. It was very clear that he wanted him dead, so much so he sang a 6 figure tune. Not something Ayden could pass up. He must really be a thorn in his side. "Half now, half when done. I have expenses that need taking care of."

"Of course." He tapped a few things on his wallet and handed it to Ayden to see the numbers. Then he clicked the transfer button. "Done.

Ayden nodded, and slowly got up from the table. "He'll be dead in less than a week."
Ayden got up from the table and left the disgusting bar. She held the power until she was back on the metro. There was no point being under cautious when dealing with thugs like that man. She took a deep breathe and headed home. She hoped Connor wasn't around, she didn't want to explain anything, not right now.
Jensen walked out of the gas station on the corner of Vishna and Pyatnitskaya Streets. The station was a two-pump service stuck down the crevice of an ally and wedged between two stalinesque buildings looming on either side. The ally itself, a one-way, was barely large enough for a car.

Jensen shifted the helmet from one arm to the other in order to put a hand to his stomach. The cool fabric of his bike jacket did little to settle the heat washing acid up his throat. Luckily, there was nobody in line for the pump, because he promptly pursed his lips together and sprinted to a trash can.

And vomited.

His head was swimming when he wiped his forehead of sweat, but there was no relief. After thirty seconds of inquiry, the attendant in this tiny station at a random pump in Zamoskvoreche district knew exactly how to find what he called, "product." The word lurched new white across his vision.

He paid for sexual acts once. Although he put the cash in the man's hand, it didn't feel like prostitution. Maybe that was the way it was for everyone; when breaching horrors one tiny increment at a time, they never felt wrong. Tonight, merely feigning interest and Jensen was dazzled at how fast he found unspeakable options.

He returned to the bike, newly gassed up, and took off down the ally. Speed brought cool air creeping around the rim of his helmet washed his face with relief. With relief came determination.

The further south he drove, the more the district deteriorated. He recognized massive concrete buildings that made him think of the haunted city of Prypiat. All built from pre-fabbed slabs during the Soviet-era, they hovered like dingy fog carving its way between ghastly trees. What was still worse was the pockets of light glowing from those symmetrical squares. As a church bell rung in the distance, Jensen had to wonder what the daily lives of the people living there encompassed.

Coming to a canal, he paused at the crest of the bridge. The water sat dark and black below him, reflecting street lights lining the waterway in both directions. He was still not used to driving and working the map component lining the interior visor. Like the rest of the helmet, the face shield was blackened, and served his general purpose for anonymity, but the finger commands on the bike's hand grips were very different than what he was used to operating back in the States. He had to stop and orient his way.

The roll of heavy tires caused him to look sharply over his shoulder. The twin beams of a fast-approaching car blasted his face. The man behind the wheel was flipping him off and waving that he get out of the way.

Jensen picked up his feet and darted ten feet forward before the man could even honk.

At the bottom of the bridge, he expertly hit the bump and tilted into the turn with a casual wave goodbye. He knew exactly where he was going.

Several minutes later, he rolled to a stop in front of a dilapidated coffee shop. The parking lot was empty but for one car in the back that likely belonged to a worker. Big windows revealed a young woman behind the counter reading a book, Jensen guessed. A man with sunglasses sat at a table with a newspaper. The sunglasses made him smile nervously. Probably a vampire, Jensen chuckled. Given recent events, not only could the quiet joke be true, but it did little to alleviate his anxiety.

Thankfully, the helmet hid his emotions along with his identity.

Whoever he was suppose to meet would find him, he supposed. Wasn't that the way things like this were suppose to work? So he sat in the parking lot straddled on the bike and remained ready to dart away if necessary.

That's when he cleared his mind and took hold of the Gift. At least nobody would sneak up on him.

Ayden's mark was holed up in a two story crap motel. He thought he was hiding well, but he used credit cards in his own name, but checked in under an alias. It was hardly an issue to get into his room and place a tracker on his phone. She'd know where he went and wen, it'd be a good start to finding the right place.

But it was not her mark that worried her, getting back into the building with out Connor seeing her, that was going to be a challenge, hopefully he was busy. She'd been gone for a while, she hoped he wasn't there. She'd have to find a place to change into Ayden again if this became a problem. But that was not something Ayden really wanted to do, to be outside out of disguise. It was very hard for her to think about.

Her concerns were for nothing, she slipped in with little problem. Even the door man hadn't given her a second thought. But then you typically don't interrupt someone who looks like they belong. The door man would probably give Ayden a problem long before Natalia.

That night Ayden dreamt of Connor, Ayden woke feeling better than she had in ages. Her night had not been plagued with the usual dreams, she was thankful for that particular aspect, but she missed him.

Ayden didn't have plans, she hoped Connor was still home, she dressed for him. She put on a white blouse with lace sleeves with a layered navy blue skirt. Make up, her fire colored contact lenses, and a pair of black flats were the final touch, with her hair pulled up away from her neck. She slipped the ribbon with her key on it around her neck, grabbed the disposable phone and a bottle of wine from the cooler. It was probably to early to drink much, but she had to have an excuse.

Ayden locked her door and walked two doors down and knocked on Connor's door. He didn't answer right away. Ayden started to get worried he wasn't there. The door opened, he hid partially behind the door, he was not wearing a shirt and his hair was a mess atop his head. Ayden smiled brightly up at Connor, who was still bleary eyed from sleep, she couldn't resist the urge to kiss him fully on the lips and lean into him and weaseled her way through the door. She looked up at him, "Mind if I come in?

"Uh, yeah...of course. Come on in." He looked around and then down sheepishly. "Sorry, I was still sleeping. Have a seat and I'll go put some clothes on."

Ayden smiled, he didn't have to change for her, he was cute as is, but she let him go. She put the bottle of wine on the counter, it was merely pretense, they could drink it later, she sat down on the couch and waited for him to return. TV was not her thing, but it sat in front of her. The remote was just sitting there, she poked at it until she got the thing on. She rarely used any technology, was too easily tracked. And she didn't want that.

An old black and white was on, she didn't really care what it was, but she sat back and waited with the noise of the television to keep her company. The door to his room open and Connor walked out with a shirt and shorts on, his hair was sightly more combed than before. Ayden glanced over her shoulder and smiled at him as he sat down next to her. "I missed you."
Ayden moved closer and put her legs over has and nuzzled under his arm to put her head on his shoulder. She was content just to sit there and do nothing.

(Connor modded with permission)
Continued from Little Boxes

Connor slept hard. He was deep under the water of sleep, so much so that when the sound of the knocking on the door finally penetrated, he was still only half awake when he got up. The thought of putting something on over his boxers didn't really occur to him. He shuffled to the door, trying to cut through the fog, and fumbled with the door. He held it open just enough to see who was outside, keeping he waist behind the door.

He blinked away his tiredness and his heart skipped at beat at Ayden. My God, but she was gorgeous. Hair in a pony tail, the coolest fiery colored contacts. She tip-toed up and kissed him on the lips, all the while maneuvering her way through the door. She was fast. He had already started opening it before she was already in, all the while saying "Mind if I come in?,"
with an impish look.

"Uh, yeah...of course. Come on in."
He looked down and saw his boxers and felt a bit under-dressed. "Sorry, I was still sleeping. Have a seat and I'll go put some clothes on."
He padded back t his room. He was up now. Most definitely up. He threw on some shorts and a t-shirt, tried to at least make his hair look a little better, and then came out.

She was sitting on the couch watching something on the TV. What it was, he didn't know or care. She looked incredible, as she turned to look at him with a smile. "I missed you,"
she said and he felt a tug in his heart. He made his way to the couch and saw that she had on a sweet looking blouse and a short layered blue skirt that only went mid-thigh, her beautiful legs bare on his couch.

He sat down next to her and put his legs up on the table while she moved closer to him, so that she could put her bare legs up on his. His arm around her now, feeling her comfortably nestled next to him, he looked her in the eyes and said, "I missed you too."
He thought about yesterday. "I can't believe what happened yesterday. It of the best days of my entire life. It meant more than you could know."
He thought about waking up and her being gone. But he also thought about that note, now stored safely with his precious things, something he would cherish. He smiled. "But the fact that you are here now? Well...."
He shrugged. He couldn't think of how to finish, so he kissed her.

In between kisses she said, "Best day of my life."
His heart soared, completely content. He was genuinely happy. He settled down into the couch, her held close to him, completely comfortable. "So what are we doing today?"

she said, with a sly smile. His smile became a big grin. "Sounds good to me.

The rest of the day was spent talking and laughing and watching movies, making meals, and just enjoying each other and each other's company. It was a perfect day.

[[Ayden modded with permission]]

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 20 2014, 08:32 AM.
Jensen was doubting whether the guy would show up or not when a four door mini pulled into the parking lot. The back seat was empty, as far as Jensen could tell, and the driver was otherwise alone. Of course. Its not as though they're going to bring a child with them. A wave of sickness threatened to unhinge his balance, but thankfully, not so much as a flicker could be seen behind the helmet's eyeshield. His brow sweat, though, despite the winter temperatures.

He kicked down the stand and dismounted while the contact emerged from the car. To the general witness, the circumstances of such a parking lot meeting was questionable, uncertainly. Although Jensen hoped that nobody in their right mind would imagine the proposed object of exchange.

Jensen paid for the gas with cash, and kept his visor down while he did, so the man at the station would be unable to forward credit card identity on to the illicit individual coming toward him. The man was smaller than Jensen thought he would be, but he had a head on his shoulders that seemed awkwardly large. Dark hair jut out from under the sides of a winter hat pulled tight around his ears. He was warmly dressed in a long, downy coat and wore old gloves. A gutteral voice reminiscent of northern DIII greeted him.

"Svane sent you?"
He struck out a hand in greeting. Jensen recognized the name from the tag on the gas attendant's shirt. He didn't reply but to nod his head yes and cross his arms. Jensen had no desire to shake this man's hand.

The man looked Jensen up and down and snorted a laugh. "You certainly are not cop.
" His accent undulated with mock harshness. Jensen shook his head no, and again, did not speak. His heart pounded warning in his chest, though.

"Then come. We go shopping. You buy something else to ride!"
His laughter barked as he turned, pointed a small device at the car and locked it up. Jensen looked side to side, and started to return to the bike.

The man interrupted, waving his gloved hands for Jensen to follow. "We walk."

It was a short, yet somehow eternal distance they walked in awkward silence. Jensen, with his white helmet striped by black and yellow barely acknowledged the man that had gone on to introduce himself as Baronej. Means to pay had to be proven, to which Jensen responded by flashing a folded over chunk of Custody dollars without fear he would be mugged for it. Unlike in the deal that bought him the motorcycle, he recalled with hidden grimace.

The building was closer than expected. It reminded him of the sort of place he lived before Doulou provided him with the loft; the kind of place young Katya still lived with that beast in the basement. The thought's resultant swelling of guilt was soon replaced with horror when he was led into the third floor.

He submitted himself to a big man with football-sized arms for a weapons' pat-down, which of course they found none, and nobody cared that he left his helmet on his head. The man in a white and yellow bike jacket and matching helmet was nothing to them but another customer. Like Baronej guessed, Jensen was definitely not a cop.

What was once the third floor apartments were now a series of endless interconnected rooms. A group of men playing cards did not look up as he passed by. The next room had a woman sitting behind a computer, diligently working on something. The next was a well-stocked kitchen, and a man with long blonde hair that kind of reminded him of Tony was making a sandwich.

Then there was the corridor itself. A man with a thick beard and burrowing eyes was seated at the entrance. A military-style semi-automatic rifle lay across his lap. Jensen picked up the pace and followed Baronej. Behind the anonymity of his helmet's chin bar, he licked his lips. The lack of air circulation beaded sweat down his neck.

The doors likely led to former apartments, all shut now like university dormitories, yet still bearing their original address numbers nailed in the wall alongside. Jensen shuttered to think how organized these people were. Of course Baronej was asking him questions. What did he want: boy? girl? young? pubescent? dark? white? Asian? They had every product under the sun, and if they didn't, it could be acquired in a matter of days. Baronej's flippant use of 'it' or 'product' shuddered Jensen's soul a mournful ache, but he couldn't save them all.

Baronej took his silence with a frown, and drummed his hands on his sides like a used-car salesman getting no where with a stubborn customer. "Fine,"
he finally broke the silence and waved Jensen to one of the doors. This one was numbered 3J.

In place of the peep hole was a flap that opened from outside, which after opening, Baronej peered in like a jailer checking on his prisoners. He waved Jensen closer, and pointed that he examine what was inside.

Somehow, Jensen felt his own feet carry him forward. He wanted no more to look through than to gaze through the portal into hell.

Jensen's fists curled up into balls at his sides. His bike gloves creaked under the strain, but he managed to not turn and slam Baronej into the wall despite how much he wanted to hurt the man for pushed product like cheap drugs.

Baronej winked, proud, then around Jensen for the doorknob and ushered him inside. Baronej would leave him in there, alone, but not before a word of warning: "You break, you buy."
Like a true car-salesman offering a test-drive.

Jensen swallowed, and turned in a slow circle. Technically, he was far from alone. The second Baronej sealed him inside, he drew the Wallet from one zippered pocket and sent a message to someone he prayed would help.

Are you busy? he asked of Connor. Because I really need your help.

While he waited for the reply, he crossed to one of the cots shoved against the wall. A small boy had sat up when Baronej's talking likely woke him. His feet dangled from the side, though they did not touch the ground.

"You want to play a game?"
he asked, tone sad and expectant. Jensen shook his head 'no' and went to kneel by the lad. He cupped the boy's head in his palms, and the glory that filled Jensen's soul crossed the divide into the child's. For a terrible, wondrous moment, all the boy's wounds, tears, and aches were his. Jensen's soul wept with sorrow; for the child and for humanity. The lad gasped, and immediately his eyes widened. Joy split his mouth into a smile. He was too young to understand, surely, what had happened, but he lept into Jensen's arms and hugged him as tight as those twig-like limbs could hug.

That little body broke his heart, and Jensen hugged him back as though he were comforting his own sons. Finally, he set the child back on his cot and spoke for the first time since arriving. "Are there others?"
he asked quietly, attempting to muffle his accent as he did. The child nodded emphatically and pointed at what Jensen thought was a closet door.

"Thank you,"
he said, and gestured that the lad get his things together, if he had any, and try to remain quiet.

Just before pushing open the door, a ding came from Jensen's wallet. Connor had written him back, but it was the boy's second question that gave Jensen pause: "Are you a super hero?"

Jensen thought for a moment, and finally shook his head yes.
Connor lounged on the couch, flipping channels. Nothing was on. Ayden lay in his lap, head resting gently against his chest, one of his arms curled protectively around her. She slept, so he kept the TV down. He looked at her curled up next to him. She seemed so peaceful, her sweet face in blissful repose. She was wearing one of his shirts now, her blouse and dress long since gone, with a blanket on her legs. His heart was full at this moment. He kissed her forehead and she stirred. "Shhhh....No. It's ok. Go back to sleep."

She nestled into him and sighed contentedly. He smiled and went back to flipping channels. He'd had a lot of sleep this weekend and wasn't remotely tired. His wallet chimed a message and he looked at Ayden to see if it had disturbed her. Satisfied, he picked his phone up and saw a message from Jensen James. It surprised him. He hadn't expected to hear from him again, after that night. For a moment, his mind took him back. Most powerful in his mind was his memory of speaking to them about his son, receiving that gift from Aria, Jensen and Giovanni, the truth about Hayden, and finally peace. He smiled at the memory, feeling appreciation in his heart for all of them, especially Aria for having had compassion on his pain- rejecting her Atharim rules. "You are a good woman. And I owe you. All of you." He'd meant it too. He owed Jensen.

Are you busy? Because I really need your help.

Connor looked at Ayden for a moment and then back at his wallet. It's good man. What do you need?

As Jensen responded Connor's stomach dropped and his mouth turned in disgust, lip curling. He breathed through his nose, feeling his anger at people who would take scared children and abuse them like that. An image flashed through his mind. A little girl of about 6 trying to get away as a man pawed at her, the tears coming down her face, mouth turned down and crying for her mommy, for her daddy, her screams. And to her, what must be a big man, the leer and look of lust on his face, able to completely ignore the terrified child. No, he thought. He gets off on the fear and the power. His heart pounded and the sound filled his head. He was shaking. He looked at Ayden, afraid it would wake her. She stirred.

He thought quickly. Do I do this? Do I just go charging in again? This was not a lone guy on a subway platform. This was probably armed guys. He should call the police. But Jensen had said not to. His texts indicated he had an idea, but just needed help. He remembered Jensen could use magic and nodded to himself. This might work. It might. Still, he'd never done anything like that before.

But he owed Jensen. He grit his teeth. How was he going to explain this to Ayden? He kissed her on the forehead again gently. Softly he said, "Ayden. Ayden. I need to get up."

She shifted and said, "Hmmm?"

"I need to get up,"
he said again softly. Carefully, he extricated himself from her. For a moment the feel of her body held him. Why am I doing this? And then the image of the little girl came to him and he steeled himself. Finally free, he got a pillow and gently put it near her head, when she lifted it and placed it on the pillow- she was only half asleep at this point. He kneeled down and tucked her in with the blanket and whispered. "Be right back,"
kissing her again.

He went into his room and changed into jeans, heavy work boots, t-shirt, flannel shirt, and heavy jacket. He also shoved his knife in his pocket. He came out and went back to her on the couch. Whispering, he said, "Listen, a friend called and needs my help. I have to go. Hopefully, I'll be back by morning."
She was still mostly asleep.

He wasn’t sure she even knew what he said. “Mmmm-kay”
was all she murmured smiling. She looked so sweet laying there that he felt torn. Am I really going to leave her like this? He breathed heavily, the decision weighing on him. But Jensen needed him. And those children. Gah!....I’ll be careful, he thought. He gave her one last kiss lightly on the lips and then walked to the door. One last look at her- God this was so hard!!- and he opened the door and walked out into the hallway.

The night was quiet as he made his way outside the building. Once he got onto the street he started walking to the metro-station. He had to consult the map to figure out how to get to the Zamoskvorechye district of the city. Once on the train, Connor’s thoughts kept turning. This was not an impulse, seeing an assault or some people trying to stop something, and jumping in. He had time to think about this and his stomach churned. This could be bad, really bad. More than a little fear had time to feed on his worries and doubts and grow in his stomach.

But despite that, he stayed on the train, took the correct stops, and then was walking toward where his wallet said the destination was. The image of that little girl stayed in his mind, her crying out, the look on her face, the fear, the head turning, looking for their mommy, scared to death. But it had changed. Somehow, the little girl was Ayden. His feet kept moving, through the fear.

The neighborhood was bad, but the freezing cold kept the streets quiet. His feet crunched through the icy snow covered ground, breath misting around his face. There it was. The building looked brown in the dingy snow reflected light, skeletons of trees scattered sparsely around it. Most of the windows were dark, with only a few with lights on, mostly on the 3rd floor. Connor walked to one of the entrances near the west corner and cautiously opened the door. The foyer was small and unlit, but he could make out the stairs from the cast light of one of the landings above. Carefully, he walked up the stairs. Jensen had said 3rd floor, that there were 4 guys hanging out in a room next to the landing.

As he walked up the steps his heart began to pound in his chest. This was really happening. He was really going to do this. Fear clenched his throat, but he pushed on. Jensen needed him. So did little Ayden, and all the others. God, I can’t believe I’m doing this. He paused at the door, hand ready to knock. He took a deep breath. Here goes.

He knocked and he heard the sound of chairs scraping and men’s voices. The door opened a crack. An ugly man with a scar on his cheek looked out. “What do you want?”
He hoped Jensen had set things up.

“My friend messaged me.”
His stomach turned at what he said next. “He said you had some good…product.”
He took a breath. “And that I should join him. He said to ask for Baronej.”
There, it was done. He tried to look nervous but also…anticipatory, he guessed was the right word. The thought made him sick to his stomach.

The door opened wider so he could see a man with a large chest and head. The man looked suspiciously at him. In a guttural voice he said, “Who said you could come here?”
There were 4 other men in the room, all holding guns at the ready.

“Wait, wait!,”
he said anxiously raising his hands. “Hold on! My friend is in there now. Said that that I had to try the…product you had.”
He mentally winced but then went on with his lie. “We, uhh, we do that sometime…you know. Together.”
He looked away, throat burning. He was going to be sick.

The men looked at each other and chuckled. The man that he assumed was Baronej looked at him a moment more. “Let’s go see your friend then. We’ll talk about his sending messages. And payment. If you are not telling the truth,…”
The man didn’t have to finish his words as he patted his gun. What did I just get myself into.

The walked through the building passing a few rooms until they came to a corridor where a man with a thick beard and a rifle sat. Connor’s heart was in his throat as they passed through the doors. The walked the hall until they came to a door.

The man put his hand on the door handle….

Edited by Connor Kent, Jun 4 2014, 11:33 AM.
The door he thought was a closet was locked. There was muffled talking on the other side, but between the doorway and his helmet, the sound was far too distorted to make any of it out. It didn't sound heated, whatever it was.

He tried the handle again and the speaking stopped. He glanced back over his shoulder and found the boy urging him on.

Jensen sighed and licked his lips again. Hurling his shoulder against it would make too much noise. The Gift could be hurled, somehow, he assumed, but without knowing how to reign in the magnitude of the blow, the very door itself could break from its hinges and hurt someone behind.

He reached for the handle again, praying that perhaps he'd been wrong about the lock just as a click sounded from the other side and a face peeked through the opening.

It was a girl, maybe fourteen years old, with matted brunette hair and full cheeks. From what Jensen could tell she was in an oversized t-shirt and tennis shoes and clearly not expecting to meet the fiberglass face before her.

Jensen spoke before she could slam the door in his face, "Its okay! I'm here to help."
He urged and raised his hands innocently.

The little boy somehow managed to squeeze by the doorframe. He clearly knew the teenager. "He's a superhero!"

Jensen smiled, warmed by the child's faith, despite the seriousness of the situation. The teenager looked between the child she seemed to trust and the stranger with the strange appearance.

He wanted to put her at ease, "I'm going to get you all out of here, tonight. I have a friend coming to help, too."

The girl's eye went wide, "Pulisa?!"
she clutched a hand to her chest and hurried back into the room. The boy, meanwhile, pulled open the door, grabbed Jensen's hand and made him follow.

The teenager wasn't alone. There were two pairs of bunk beds, but otherwise the room was identical in layout to its neighbor. She'd gone to the lower bed of the nearest bunk, where she huddled next to a similarly appearing girl, dark brown hair and full cheeks, but below tilted green eyes. They must have been the two he could hear whispering through the door. They spoke hushed and hurried now in a language he guessed was Hindi. Perhaps?

The boy climbed the rungs of the bunk ladder sprite as a bunny. The girls didn't seem to mind, like perhaps he did as much often.

A third girl sat up from the top bed of the other bunk. She, like the other two, was in her young teenage years, and similar in appearance. They cattle them by product? Jensen thought, horridly, to himself. She wiped sleep from her eyes and watched him with a terribly flat expression that ran Jensen's blood cold.

The final bed was occupied by a lump of blankets that had yet to stir. Already on edge, he feared what he would find beneath them, but was soon kneeling alongside nonetheless. The girl above hopped to the floor, but moved away to get a drink of water rather than hover protectively over someone she likely didn't know. Or perhaps was too fearful to be seen associating with.

She was curled in the fetal position, but when Jensen pushed down the blanket from her chin, he found a wide-awake little girl about thirteen or fourteen. The same dark hair was splayed around a thin pillow. Her jaw was clenched tight, and upon realizing the strange shape hovering over, jerked the blanket back up. The cringe of pain was clear.

Jensen said nothing, simply laid a hand on her forehead and another on the lump of her body, and bowed his head. The Gift sang to him a joyful, powerful song and as he had that child's next door, he fleetingly knew each and every one of her injuries. They were deep and aching, like bruises widespread around her body. There was worse, but a few minutes of concentrate washed them clean as freshly fallen snow. Like the boy, she gasped in disbelief, and soon came to sat up after it was all over. Jensen pulled both hands away to give her room, but also because he was a little worried how she might react.

She rubbed her hands over her stomach and found tenderness washed away. She touched the back of her head, and no wince darkened her expression. "Who are you?"
She asked, surprisingly in English.

The little boy jumped by him before he could respond, "He's a superhero!"
he bellowed with a laugh and pointed at his own belly. "He did me too!"
There were quiet gasps from across the room.

Jensen put a hand on his shoulder to quiet him down, but he spoke to the girls, "I'm here to get you all out of here and taken somewhere safe. There's a church that will help."

He grasped the little girl's hands in his own, "Can you tell me how many others there are? And if anyone else is hurt?"
He spoke softly, muffling his accent as best he could.

The girl pursed her lips together as though too afraid to answer. Jensen was about to urge her on, when the little boy practically dragged him out of there.

"What's wrong?!"
He asked, but soon realized voices in the hall.

The boy closed the door to the adjoining room and Jensen fumbled for his Wallet. Connor was there already! Steps outside.

The boy returned to sitting on his cot, and Jensen was standing center in the room, hands on his hips, and for all regular purposes, seemingly annoyed at the interruption.

Baronej was the first through the door, but Connor's shape was familiar behind him.

The salesman looked between the two occupants. That sickly grin sliced his mouth into a smile that while the Gift burned through his veins, Jensen nearly unleashed upon the man. But a very quiet verse in the back of his mind held him from striking: retribution was the Lord's. He would pay, someday, for his sins. We all will.

Baronej's facade soon faded in Jensen's silence.
"You can no invite others. You not Svane. You are-"
but Jensen cut him off by flashing that wad of cash again. Smoothly, despite the desperation in his chest screaming at him to flee as fast as he could.

Hunger quieted Baronej's protests, but he turned to Connor, "I tell you as I tell him. You break, you buy. And that one,"
he pointed at the little boy, "breaks easy."
He pushed by the second shopper and slammed the door behind him on the way out.

Silence struck the tense air for a long moment, until the little boy came and stood behind him, pressed into the back of his knees and peeked around like leering from behind a treetrunk.

Jensen cupped the back of his head, wary of his fear, "Its alright. Remember the friend I said was going to help?"

Before he had another chance to introduce Connor, the side-door opened once more and this time four girlish faces peeked out. Additional voices fluttered delicate like butterflies in the room beyond, English, Hindi and .. Chinese, perhaps, all mixed together.

The girl that had been injured padded her way out first. She was in an old band t-shirt and leggings with holes in the knees. Her eyes were bright despite chewing on her lower lip. How long had she been a slave? Did she know any other way to live?

Torn between going to the children and greeting Connor, he merely said thank-you with a stretch of the hand and a few quiet words. "Thank you for coming. I can't do this on my own."
He dared not lift his visor shield, just in case, but he hoped Connor would recognize the sound of his voice anyway.

Ayden slept rather well in Connor's lap, her head against his shoulder, she barely noticed he'd left until the door shut behind him. Her disposable blinked furiously at her when she picked it up. Her mark was on the move. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and grabbed her things. No point in changing twice! She'd return his shirt later, more excuses to see Connor was a good thing.

Ayden locked Connor's door and went back to her room. She quickly donned Natalia's guise as minimally as possible in all black, however the fashion was not there it was all clearly functional. It was meant to hide in he shadows, it was probably more Ayden than anything else in her closet.

The black sniper rifle case was stored in her closet with the rest of the gear she'd brought with her, the large empty crate sat in the same spot that she and Connor had left it in. Everything else was properly take care of and put away. It wouldn't do if Connor saw any of it.

She headed the direction her mark was going, when he stopped, Ayden would grab a taxi. For now she walked. It wasn't long before his little blip stopped moving, in some crap neighbor hood from the likes of it. At least the sound of a gun going off would be usual, even if it were muffled by the best silencer out there.

Ayden hailed a taxi and gave them the coordinates a few blocks away. She'd walk the rest and do her job from a distance.

The neighborhood as she suspected, rather a dump. Dilapidated buildings everywhere, the building that use to be across directly from the mark's final destination was a pile of rubble with plants ranging it, it had been down for many years. It would do for cover for the most part.

Ayden set up shop. She blinked three times and activated the sensors in her contacts. They were rudimentary at best, but heat signatures and distances showed up when Ayden focused on specific things. She'd know exactly how far away her mark was, and where he was at on the inside.

Ayden didn't like what she saw when she looked through the scope of the rifle. There were many small signatures, and several larger ones. She'd never know which of them was her mark, so she'd sit and wait until he came back outside.

Ayden embraced her gift and got the lay of the land while she waited. The metro was probably her best bet out of here. But first her mark needed to go down, much sooner than planned. But she'd spent the day with Connor and that she wasn't going to regret.

Edited by Ayden, May 30 2014, 08:34 AM.
The man opened the door and Connor’s first impression was sickening horror and disgust. A little boy, maybe nine, sat on a cot. His clothes were dirty and had tears in them. He was so young, baby fat still on his darkened cheeks. An image of Hayden flashed through his mind- dropping him off at school, Hayden with that big backpack walking to his class, turning around and smiling at him- and Connor felt rage burst into flame inside him. There was a man standing in the room- thankfully clothed- and wearing a biker’s helmet. The room stunk of sweat and dirt and feces and other things he recognized, the odors mingling into a concoction that swirled in his brain and made him breath harder, ready to fight.

Connor wanted to turn on the man, Baronej. Before he could, Baronej started berating the man in the helmet. “You can no invite others. You not Svane. You are-“
. He cut off as Helmet pulled out a wad of bills. This was Jensen? The man looked at the money for a moment, then back at Connor with a cruel leer. “I tell you as I tell him. You break, you buy. And that one,”
nodding to the little boy, “breaks easy.”
White flashed across his mind. Connor was about to slam the guy’s head into the doorframe- he wanted to hurt the man, to hurt someone so bad. His anger and loathing made him crave for it. But the man pushed past him and closed the door.

Connor looked at the man, stilling the rage in his heart. For some reason Jensen just stood there looking at him without taking the helmet off. It looked ridiculous, like he was wearing a tomato. And then the little boy got off the cot and came and stood behind Jensen, hiding behind his legs, fearful eyes peeking out, and Connor’s heart melted. Jensen tenderly cupped the back of the boys head and his gentle voice, muffled through the helmet, reassured him, "It’s alright. Remember the friend I said was going to help?"

The side door opened and four young girls peeked out, all early teens at best, bodies still more child than anything else. God, this place sickened him. These girls and the boy, appeared to be Indian, but then he heard other languages too in another room. How many were here?

Jensen stretched his hand out and Connor took it, shaking it weakly. They were standing in the middle of a nightmare, in the middle of hell. "Thank you for coming. I can't do this on my own."
Connor looked at him, decided to forego asking about the mask, and then looked around.

“Well, ok."
He took a breath. He couldn't believe this. "Then, if we’re going to do this, then let’s do it. Because it could get ugly really fast.”
He looked at the five kids. “Are these all of them?”
The kids, even the one behind Jensen’s leg, still looked scared. So he got down on one knee. “It’s ok buddy,”
he said quietly. God, I can’t believe people are doing this to kids. “It's ok. We’re here to help you get back to your mom and dad, okay?”
He smiled at him to reassure him and then looked at the girls each one in turn. “All of you. We want to take you back home.”
He looked at the girl who looked the oldest. “Is it just you five? Are there any more of you?”

The girl looked at Jensen and then back at him, then answered slowly, hesitantly. “I don’t know. There’s a lot of us. Different kids who speak different languages.”
She paused. “And sometimes they go away. And then there are new kids.”

Connor’s heart smoldered. If it was a coal, it would be smoking and glowing, ready to burst into flame. He stood up. “Ok, Jensen. What’s your plan?”
The man looked around for a moment at the kids in his charge, helmeted head moving slowly.

His muffled voice responded. “I didn’t really have a plan. I wasn’t sure how many there were.”
Connor thought for a moment. No plan. How were they going to get out of this? He went to the door and opened it quietly and peaked out. The corridor was clear, just an empty chair at the end opposite to the one he came in, a cup on the floor next to it.

He waved the oldest girl over and after a moment, she came and peeked out too. Quietly he whispered, “Is there a guard usually at that end of the corridor?”

“I think so. He’s the one with the pony-tail.”
She shivered. “He tells us to cry.”
The coal in Connor’s chest reddened. His heart was beating and he was breathing determinedly through his nostrils.

He closed the door. He looked at Jensen. “I’m going to see if I can take care of that guard. Then maybe we can sneak out that back way.”
He looked at the kids and then nodded at Jensen, as if to say, You got this, man. Then he slipped out the door and crept to the end of the hall.

His heart was pounding so loud he could feel it in his ears. But his blood was hot. He put his ear to the door on the left and heard girl’s voices. Maybe that was it. A slap and a whimper to his right caught his attention. Carefully he made his way to the door and listened. A man’s, harsh and cruel in a language he didn’t recognize. He heard crying and his heart clenched. That cry, Oh God, that cry. It was primal, to respond to that cry. He’s face screwed up into a snarl and his heart thundered in his chest, his skin flushed and hot. He could not ignore that cry. He put his hand on the door knob and tested it carefully. It turned slightly, and he smiled grimly, breathing harder. He looked back down the hallway and hoped Jensen was getting the other kids together. This was going to go fast.

He got himself ready and turned the handle...

(jensen modded with permission)
Edited by Connor Kent, May 30 2014, 12:07 PM.

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