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A Thick Line
Humans are not inherently logical beings. That was abundantly clear to Nicholas as he sat nursing a glass of whiskey in the near-darkness, the room's sole source of light emanating from his wallet's screen. The faces of the dead floated through the air, and Nicholas recognized one of them. With a wave of his hand, the image filled the air in front of him. Same bald head and beard, same vaguely mean expression. The man who tried to kill him. The man he killed. Some Arabic text at the bottom was likely his name. He couldn't decide if that made it better or worse.

Nicholas didn't know why he felt so guilty. He wasn't a murderer; the man had been trying to burn Reed and her friendly band of mercenaries to a crisp. Nicholas only intervened to protect, and it wasn't until the man tried to kill him that he fought back. Still, the paired crack and thud of skull and body that Nicholas couldn't possibly have heard over the distance and the crowd kept replaying in his head. Strange that he hadn't been so bothered with lying to himself, at the time.

He had seen death before, of course. It'd been part of his job to document it. But there was a thick line between passive observer and active participant, and in crossing it he felt quite the same as he had a decade ago when Brazilian guerrillas tried and failed to attack the São Paulo naval base in their own failed version of the Tet offensive. There was just something about that transition between living being and inanimate object that he found more than unsettling. Even if he'd gotten over watching it happen, he didn't think he could ever be comfortable with doing it himself. Did that make him a coward? He sighed, and took a sip from his glass.

Reed appeared in the doorway then, likely preoccupied with commands from one or the other of her icily warring masters. She'd probably want to know about what happened, though. Best to get to it.

"I had to kill someone today, Reed."
He paused. That was a bit more... blunt, than he had planned. "At the riot. He was shooting fireballs at you and the Legion."
He flipped around the wallet. "This one. Know him? I'd like to find out he's a violent terrorist or something so I can stop feeling like I'm the bad guy."
Reed paused in the doorway. Just looking at the man and she could tell Trano was sulking. The scent of an open whiskey bottle permeated the air, as did sweat and shame. Sure enough, the light from the wallet screen reflected on the dark lowball in one hand, but Reed wasn't going to comment. If anyone had good reason to be a drunk, it was Trano.

He practically invited her in, which given how much she knew he was fond of her, it was a momentous step. She came as bidden and folded herself into a chair opposite him. Unlike Trano, she hadn't had the time to reflect on the events of the day. She did, however, have time to take a shower and clean up. She was free in crossing her legs, but the shadows of their dark room hid anything indecent. Of course, Reed was not known for her decency.

With the toe of one heel, she pivoted the screen her way long enough to glance at the face of Trano's victim. "No idea who he is. Probably another asshole thinking he's serving some higher power bullshit when in fact the only people who will care he's dead are the widow and orphaned kids back home,"
Reed said, spitting disdain.

Trano was not taking it well. In the history of humanity, world leaders were always bad guys. They had to set aside hippie ideals like love and peace. To guide the herd, they had to build strong walls, especially around themselves.

she said, voice softening ever so slightly. "I've killed a lot of people, Nicholas, and I'm not a soldier for that reason. It's good you're going through this. It will make you think twice when someday you're in a position to make a call about going to war. Those assholes in Washington have no concept of what war is like, and they push their buttons and sign their declarations, and they sleep great at night, while people like you do their dirty-work."

"It's better to kill a two-hundred specific bad guys than twenty-thousand lemmings like that one,"
she pointed at the screen, "who are only doing what they think is right."

She let that sink in. There was a victory here. Trano was showing her a new side of himself, and that was the side she wanted to make sure he remembered when the day came. "But I am glad to know that you'd damn your own soul to save my hide. You regret it yet?"
In the white-blue light from his screen, Reed smirked.
"Honestly? A little."
He set the glass down, and turned to her. "But I think that's just me feeling sorry for myself right now."
Taking control of the power was getting easier and easier as time went on. He seized it, and the vague film of inebriation lifted with it. The darkness receded too. It wasn't that the room got brighter, but rather that the details hidden in shadows became more pronounced. He raised a hand, and a small ball of flame winked into existence. "Killing him was the right thing to do. Only rabid dogs and psychopaths try to burn people to death in the middle of a street. But nothing scares me more than the thought of being comfortable with it."

Before the disasters, American presidents had taken to personally ordering the deaths of innocent civilians so long as one or two persons of interest died with them. Nicholas wasn't so arrogant as to believe he couldn't go down the same road. Wouldn't that be a great punchline? Ten years down the line and there's a second Custody with me at its head?
He closed his fist, and the ball of flame died. Something about that was relaxing; like a stress ball.


Reed wasn't offended. If she wanted to be BFF's with Trano, they'd be in their jammies and braiding one another's hair. She was here for one reason, and that was to show him how the world worked. So far, she was doing her job. He was finally waking up a little. "Killing him was the right thing to do,"
she echoed his words back to him.

There was something sickly satisfying with the phrase. A sentence like that didn't belong in the conversations of normal, civilized individuals. "Keep telling yourself that. Soon you'll stop thinking about it and only react. Build those walls, Nicholas."

Since he discarded the glass, Reed brought it to her nose. Whiskey. Straight up. How many had he had? She was getting good at guessing with him, but the melancholia was throwing off her guess. She gestured with the glass, "This is a good way to start."

One smooth motion and she downed the remainder of his drink in one swallow. Helpful lady she was, Reed refilled it for him, and poured one for herself, but rather than return to her seat, she joined Nicholas on his, and offered a toast. "To walls."


Any other time he'd have been more interested in the woman herself than the drink in her hands, even if she was a rose with razor wire for thorns. As it stood, he was inclined to agree with her. How could he do what would be needed when he couldn't even stop a murderer without locking himself in a room to sulk? "To walls."
He downed the glass, and winced a little. The power amplified all five senses.

Something about what he'd just said didn't sit right with him. Silence stretched for a while, before Nicholas spoke again. "How do you live like that? Seems like the more you live behind those walls, the harder it must be to leave."


They toasted, and a smile ghosted her mouth as she took the mandatory sip. Reed was in less of a hurry to chug straight whiskey. Vodka, perhaps, but whiskey was an acquired taste. So she rested the glass against her chest and leaned back, legs crossed, finger lightly tapping the edge of the crystal while Trano soaked up her wisdom.

Any other time, she might have explained that walls were for people too weak to do the job before them. "Leaving makes you vulnerable, again."
She leaned toward him, the whites of her eyes cast in the alien glow of the Wallet screen, and spoke quietly as though sharing some dark secret. "That makes the job for people like me very easy to exploit."
She crooked a cold smile. "Unless you want to be exploited by people like me?"


He cocked his head at her answer. Some logical part of his mind said that her job was to manipulate him, and that everything she said and did around him was carefully coordinated to elicit a very particular response. The other ninety-five percent of him was more pleased at the prospect of a few hours spent not thinking about complex issues of morality.

"I doubt I could keep you from... exploiting me no matter what walls I built." She was easily the most attractive woman he'd ever met, and even if she would never make a good wife - he'd spent way too much time with her already to think a relationship would last - sharing a night together would do them both good. He went for the kiss.


He was right about one thing. People like her could exploit whatever they wanted from the ignorant bastards of the world. Trano was slowly seeping out of that category, but he had a long ways to go before he was shaken from his own illusions. A very specific look crossed his face. Reed curled the glass around her collar in reaction, an almost girlish sort of habit in contrast to the harsh advice and caustic liquor, and set it aside as though reading his mind.

She didn't jump or shove a piece of broken glass into his throat when his lips pressed to hers. Surprisingly, she found herself returning the gesture. His face flushed warm and his tongue tingled hers with whiskey, but his sweetness irked her. He'd killed men. He had the power to topple buildings. And here on this couch, with a woman that proved time again her desire to save him from himself, he was nervous.

Reed wasn't nervous. In fact, she was a fortress of pent up emotion that fell into motions very quickly. She was instantly breathing hard, and fumbled between breaths to rip an already loosened tie from his neck, and neither of them moved fast enough for her satisfaction.


He was almost surprised she responded in kind. He'd half expected to get a judo chop to the throat. But after a single tender moment, she set to work stripping him of his clothes. The shirt was quickly ruined, but he was a bit too preoccupied to notice. The power he held amplified everything: her breath on his skin, the silky dark hair running through his fingers, and her hands which were steadily working their way towards their goal.

She was in a hurry, but that was no excuse not to make things interesting. Carefully - or, at least, as carefully as could be given the situation - he used strands of the power to strip away her clothes. With a few clean swipes, her shirt fell away, exposing her pale, perfectly unblemished skin. She practically glowed in the room's faint light. Underneath the smooth exterior he could feel the firmness of well toned muscles, and after a few healthy moments' exploration his hands found their way to the strap of her bra.

So far Reed was winning the race, but with a press and a pull he had the bra off. He didn't feel comfortable cutting anything that close to skin. That didn't stop him from removing the skirt in the same fashion.


Air rushed across pebbled skin swifter than it should. Reed paused her own furious de-clothing long enough to examine herself. The results of his experimentation made her glare. "That was a nice outfit, but its good to see you show some initiative."
She'd exact retribution at some point in the near future, and left him to imagine what terrible price he would pay.

High cut lace, black, wove its away across hips that pushed to stand, dangerous and tall, yet still in heels, she leaned over him. A predatory grin beckoned him to follow, and when she turned, the slender case of a combat neck knife showed itself against the small of her back.

Together, they wound their way to the next room. It was just as dark in there but for what light streamed through the center part in the curtains. The blanket of the city lights glowed far below and cast enough residual light to see the shadow of his face, the stubble of a beard, and the cut of his chest. She was likely as appealing a silhouette, but Reed stepped away from him long enough to pull that knife from her back. She waved it at him teasingly, chucked it on the bedside table, and stepped out of her shoes. She was all the shorter than him now, an irritating reminder, but it didn't mean she couldn't kick his ass and cut a vital artery in three steps or less.

Gripping his wrists, she pulled him on top of her, and wanted to scream at him for being such a frustrating pain in her ass! Of all the marks she'd handled over the years, she'd fucked a number of them, but Trano was the most irritating score of her life. She had to assume it was the American in him, but she could forgive him that. Maybe it was the salt and pepper hair, or the glasses that she pulled from his face, but there was something distinctly European about him. He was a reporter, she told herself, a widely traveled American, that was all.

She was slightly surprised he was sober enough to know what he was doing. Although, as he pulled the lace down her thighs, she reconsidered. This was actually probably the drunkest she'd ever seen him. She smiled sinisterly in the dark, and welcomed him to it.

Reed stroked the fine threads of Trano's hair. He laid his face against her shoulder, eyes closed, breathing steady, and had otherwise settled against her. She knew what she was to him, a drunken mistake for a security blanket. Such was fine with her. He needed it, and she was there to shape and protect him. She was just glad he wasn't an ugly motherfucker.

She sighed, another annoying task with the weight of a bowling ball crushing one side of her chest. She couldn't fucking breathe without being annoyed by him, yet she continued to stroke his hair. The thumb of her other hand stroked his arm where it laid across her waist. He must trust her to fall asleep in her arms. There would never be an easier time to end his life. Luckily for him, he had no reason to fear for it - not tonight anyway.

She made herself glance at the time. It was approaching midnight, which meant her time was growing short. But damn if she wasn't ever-so-slightly comfortable. The light from the city cast half of Nicholas' face in shadow, but she smirked at what she could discern anyway. She'd never admit to enjoying the way he cuddled up next to her, although she'd thoroughly enjoy elaborating on his fondness for spooning.

So this was the face of the future? He looked like a teddy bear, not one of little girl Ninacska's teddy bears, which were filled with voodoo doll rage for stuffing, but like someone's childhood momentos.

He could warp magic with his hands; hurl fire and explode walls by will alone. Her jaw tightened at the thought. People like Reed would always be the ones to pull the strings no matter who came into power. She curled forward enough to kiss the top of his hair and caress his cheek in her palm. Passed out as he was, he barely stirred.

Reed slipped out of his grasp. The floor was cool under her feet, and fresh air swept across her sweat-slicked body. She left the room for a few moments, only to return without so much as donning a robe while she was gone. Nicholas continued to sleep, face in the spot where she laid, an arm and leg kicked over to one side.

She pulled the sheet down until he was uncovered. He shifted in his sleep, likely in response to the rush of cool air against his wet back. He was in decent shape, for which Reed was also thankful, but in this case, his ass was the perfect shape to slap on a patch. It was about the size of a thumbnail, thin and transparent, like a band-aid, he'd likely not notice it until showering the next morning. Or, more accurately, given the drug to seep through his skin, early tomorrow afternoon. Not only could he thank her for the best night's sleep of his life, but also for the lack of hangover otherwise sure to plague him.

Reed stood up, crossed her arms and studied the man enjoying the luxury of sleep, Enjoy it, Trano. While you can, she thought and left.

Nicholas hated mornings. Getting out of bed was the worst part of the day. Still, after a few minutes spent delaying the inevitable, he clawed his way to wakefulness. The windows remained blessedly tinted, but he could faintly see the sun high in the sky. Smoke rose from a dozen fires, settling over the outlying buildings like a haze. He'd have to snap a picture later; the juxtaposition between war zone and luxury was thought provoking. A few more moments spent on idle thoughts, and he mustered the willpower to look over at the clock.

"2 o'clock?"
He muttered. How in the hell had he slept in that late? He slid over to the edge of the bed and sat up. It was about then that he realized what room he was in. And that he was naked. He didn't exactly need the hazy memories that were slowly flowing back to figure out what had happened. Putting two and two together was kind of his job.

Holmes-level detective skills notwithstanding, he was still a bit numb to what had happened last night. He wasn't exactly sure what it all meant for the two of them. Would Reed even acknowledge it? Even after all the time he'd spent with her, Nicholas had barely even scratched the facade. He could figure that out later. She probably wasn't even in the suite. He figured he might as well go take a shower; a day spent running around the desert and a night spent mashing meaty bits together wasn't exactly conducive to a clean scent.

After a short stumble on a still-slumbering foot, and a nice morning stretch, he was up.


Reed put a hand over her earpiece, muffling the sound coming from the other end of the line. "Wait, a second,"
she said, voice clipped, and focused on the other room. Soon enough, the sound of the curtain being opened on its tracks confirmed the suspicion. "He's awake. Check in later."

She pulled the device from where it looped around one ear and dropped it inside her handbag. A few moments later, she was enjoying a great view of a pasty white Nicholas, stretching in front of the window. She leaned on the door frame, smirking. "Feel better?"


Well, that was one question answered. She certainly was straightforward. Knowing her, she probably hoped to catch him off guard. He turned around and headed her off with a smile of his own. "No complaints, Reed. How about you?"


Reed was obvious that she was looking him up and down. He wasn't bashful, she'd give him that. Shocker, given how sweet and tender he was the night before. One would think drunk sex would have roughened him up a bit, but apparently Trano liked to do everything the exact opposite way his profile suggested.

"Looks like you've forgotten about the dead guy already."
She lifted her arms, waving up and down herself. "One night with me, you're welcome."


It was a bit strange standing naked in the middle of the room while she stood there completely clothed. Being mentally undressed was one thing; being already undressed was another. He'd have liked a bathrobe or something, but then again she'd probably just laugh at him. So he stayed put. Her comment did wipe the smile off his face, though.

"I haven't exactly forgotten, no."
Although she was certainly a welcome distraction. "But I'm definitely not going to sit around feeling sorry for myself all the time."
He really was more than a little uncomfortable standing there. It was a weird power balance thing. Then again, he was a god damn wizard. That counted for something, right? He made sure he wasn't shy about looking at her, and brought back the smile. "But thank you. Forgive me for the skirt yet?"
Some ruined scraps of his own clothes lay in the corner.


Her gaze shifted to the skirt in question. Wizard scissors had their effect, and others. He could kill someone with a thought, so long as that thought was a weapon, but what about sheer force of will? Within those powers could he hide a latent instinct to wish someone dead and it suddenly was so? What about controlling their mind and action? Reed bit back a cringe. She was dancing a deadly line with him, which was quite the statement for a defected agent.

It would be so fucking easy. Reed had to sigh to herself, and did, as she crossed to join him. She didn't care about modesty, and after showering him off her legs, full frontal was hardly cause for averting one's gaze. "You should be much more careful in who you trust, Trano. Do you have any conception of how easily I could have killed you a dozen times last night?
" Her rhetoric flattened her own expression into poignant accusation.


That one didn't kill his amusement one bit. It actually made him laugh. "You could have killed me the first day we met, when you had a Custody agent at your side and I didn't know I could shoot lasers from my eyes, Reed. Actually, I distinctly remember you putting a gun to my chest a few weeks ago."
If she ended up killing him, well, it wasn't his fault she'd been so incompetent as to lull him into security beforehand. "If I spend my entire life distrusting everybody I meet, I'll probably live a very long time. And I'd be miserable."


Reed shook her head, agitated, but there was little else she could do. Stripping a man of his naivety was harder than it sounded. She stepped closer. With her heels she nearly matched him for height. The stubble of his beard looked as though it would burn like sandpaper beneath her palm, but his eyes were bright and awake. "Will you go back to Moscow now? Or have you had enough of the CCD?"
It didn't bother her a single iota that he was still naked as the day he was born, and likely just as white, for a conversation that was probably best after a shower. She had plans to arrange, and needed an answer.


"My schedule's clear for at least a few more weeks, Reed."
As to whether that was because of her, or his desire to see a little more of the evil empire before he had to stand against it, he wasn't sure. "Besides, I'd like to see more of Moscow. It's interesting that the richest city in the world has millions of homeless people living in its sewers, don't you think?"
She'd probably kill him if she caught him sneaking out to explore, but he was curious to see just how many people in the Custody could use the power. He'd gone his whole life without seeing one, and the second he crossed the Atlantic he'd found three.


"So now you're a humanitarian?"
Reed shook her head, but it was mocking. Homelessness and poverty would exist until the sun went supernova and the universe disintegrated. "But its good you're going back. I have plenty more work for us to do once we get there. For instance, you have yet to break me into the Kremlin like you promised."
She smiled.


He ignored her barb. But the other thing was a bit of a surprise. He didn't remember promising that... did he? And even if he did, at the time she was pretending to be a solely American agent. "Really? I figured that little miss Russian spy could just walk right in. Besides, that was a campaign promise."


For once, her smile grew proud. And looking down the front of him, he was proud of something too. She stepped closer still, ran her fingertips along his chest and pinched the back of his neck, and pulled his lips to hers. A Russian spy, just like in the movies. After having her way with his tongue, she shoved his cheek away and turned to go.

"Take a shower. You smell like cock. I'll make sure our flight is booked."
She threw open the curtains on her way out. The scene beyond seemed innocent, but trained eyes knew better. "It's shit out there, and only one of us is a CCD citizen. Foreigners are hitting roadblocks everywhere, and you missed the press corps flight this morning."


He blinked back the shock after she turned away. Reed - kissing him? She didn't seem the type to... he really needed to work on peeling back those layers. He almost missed what she said on her way out the door. Nicholas sniffed the air around him. He didn't smell that bad, did he? He sighed, and went through the door. He needed a shower, and a shave.

Edited by Nick Trano, Apr 22 2014, 08:18 PM.

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