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Adam didn’t utter a word. The blonde put a hand to his lips, running over his stubble. Almost anxiously, undoubtedly deeper in thought than he had ever been in the past couple of weeks. He needed to shave. But, more importantly, Jake was right. The fact of the matter was hard to believe, and even harder to swallow. Like flightless birds – whose wings had been clipped. A dilemma, but not an impossible situation.
“I can fix this.” But, first, they needed to leave the open street. Get back to their room. Adam gracefully barged his way back into Ironside’s office like a bull in a china shop. Demanding that anyone on the 5th floor promptly escort Isabella into the witness protection unit.
“We haven’t finished interrogating her!” Ava angrily shot back. But she was stopped in her rebuttal by Finn, who has shaking his head.
“Adam is… Adam has a point.” Aha, he had almost said it. Almost admitted that the reckless Cordova might be right. No way he wanted to be in the way of the flames when that ego was fanned. “We’ve been chasing a ghost, what are the odds that a high society prostitute will give us anything if she isn’t awarded her compensation, first? We ought to keep her in lockdown for now. Maybe she’ll talk after some time spent living with the peasants.”
It was all Adam needed to hear. “Let’s go, Jake.” And a brisk walk to the elevator later, they had disappeared. Ava and Ironside glanced at each other, unsure of what to make of Adam’s forcefulness. Nevertheless, the deed had been done once they retreated back to the confines of their room, all the while bouncing Jake’s words around in his head. With the distraction of Isabella out of their hair, Adam took a seat on the plush fabric of his bed and thought to himself. A moment passed as he stared into Jake’s eyes.
“We may be on homeland duty, but that doesn’t mean we’re up shit creek. Suspension just puts us back to good old beat work. Feet on the street.” No use of government provided electronics, monitoring equipment, access to files for which they did not have clearance. A suspension was merely sentence of inconvenience. Interviewing witnesses or persons of interest and accessing public information was entirely fair game. As trained operatives of a global network of special agents, they were more than capable of handling themselves when it came to accessing restricted areas. Adam and Jake – they were the best. Rarely seen, rarely caught, few qualms of silencing others to preserve the integrity of their mission.
Suddenly, Adam’s expression turned uncharacteristically serious. “There’s been trouble in the city, too. Those hollowed out stores, the bodies. All fronts for this ghost that we’re chasing. We know it’s where he gets his money. How much would you bet they’re connected to those guys in Italy?” He said. “In the time that we were stationed in Italy, there must have been incidents similar to those.”
It had started long before the Avant-Garde had become aware of it, and six months since they had officially begun to gather details that would hopefully lead them to this elusive mastermind.
A local daycare. A convenience store. The lumber mill, whose parent corporation had revealed itself to be phony. A quick search of the local news turned up three new locations – and two names. A car dealership, a laundromat, and a distribution warehouse. All burned, each victim shot execution style. Cold blood.
Adam turned to Jake, a devilish smile on his face. A confident smile, with lofty goals and dreaming of the accolades sure to come their way. “We follow the trail, and we find what the police, the AVG, the news – we find but one iota of information, Jake.” It was stupid. Reckless. But it was about the only thing they could do. It was all they could hope might put them back into the agencies good graces. Was it so wrong for a man to dream?
All great detectives – fictional and real – made their mark through their fearless, incorruptible endeavors in their tireless search for justice. An ambition now marred by the crushing realities of being a part of a bureaucracy that dictated how you spent your time, how you interviewed people, and when and where you were slated to be. Suffocating, at best. Suspension brought some modicum of peace to the agent named Cordova. The kind of peace that followed when one knew they had been abandoned. When they knew they were on their own.
“Don’t give me your applause all at one.” Adam eyed his partner intently, waiting for the inevitable response. The putdown, the admonishments, the disturbing ambivalence, the acceptance, the refusal – any and everything. “Do you want to do this? Or, not?”
[font "Sitka Small" Everyone in Ironside's office was uncomfortable, anxious, and just a bit pissed off for more than one reason. It was cold and uncomfortable sitting in the office waiting to be punished, waiting to be scolded for someone else's wrongdoings. Agent Finn and Chief Ironside were nervous to be around Jake, he could tell. He didn't understand why considering her space was lined with power-blockers so Jake couldn't read anyone's mind even if he wanted to. The only positive thing about his obnoxious partner was that it was a distraction for everyone else to focus on. Adam might be a smug asshat, but his charismatic personality drew attention away from Jake's dark presence.]
[font "Sitka Small" However, the Chief was growing even more impatient and yelling at Agent Finn to call Adam [i again] to come down for the meeting. The man had to point out the loud obscene noises coming from the apartment. Jake rolled his eyes and placed his forehead in his hand. Why did he have to say something? Jake was beginning to scrub those noises out of his memory. ]
[font "Sitka Small" And just like an unannounced fart in small quarters, Adam Cordova arrived looking freshly fucked and a smirk to prove it. There was a collective sigh of irritation from everyone in the room as the blonde hoodlum took his seat in front of the Chief's desk. Jake's green eyes glared at him the entire time. As Adam parked his rear in the chair, folding his arms, Jake parroted his movement. He slumped in his chair with crossed arms and a pouted lip. It had the appearance of two children sitting in the principal's office.]
[font "Sitka Small" "So," Chief Ironside announced to the class, "who’d like to begin? And where would you like to begin?” She looked over at Jake as though she expected him to retell the events accurately. Of course, she expected as much from him. He's nothing more than a talking bloodhound to her. A loyal spy to seek and report back. Unfortunately, he never got a chance to proclaim his account of what happened in Italy because Adam had to speak his mind first.]
[font "Sitka Small" The room grew heated very quickly as it often did with two of the world's most stubborn people in the same room together. Upon the mention of Adam's father, there was...a pause. Even Ironside seemed to regret her mention of this man that Jake had never heard about before. Was Adam's father a member of the Avant-Garde too? If so, where was he now and why hadn't anyone mentioned him before? Jake sat up as the two practically screamed at each other. Adam's face grew hard and cold, which was a rare sight indeed. Jake had never seen him so serious and angry before. The sight was a shock that Jake almost didn't hear his suspension.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 "What?"]] He shouted as he stood up. Why was he being punished? She meant homeland bound meaning no field missions, no foreign travel, no freedom, no fun, no nothing. Just boredom and paperwork.]
[font "Sitka Small" Adam tried to argue, but a group of agents bursts into the office with weapons raised, silencing any retaliation. Jake furrowed his eyebrows as he glanced back at Ironside. His eyes trailed down to her right arm, a hand slyly partially under the desk where he could imagine a finger rested on a small button. So, she was nervous this whole time. Adam was disappointed in Ironside for getting other agents involved with this meeting. Eva glared at Adam with annoyance as everyone holstered their weapons. She gave Jake a small glance, clearly wishing he wasn't part of this. Adam stormed out followed by the quiet brunet. The meeting had finally closed.]
[font "Sitka Small" Once they were out in the fresh air and given space to clear their heads, Jake could hear Adam's thought whisper its way into his consciousness. [i "Sorry for the trouble, partner."]]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 "Oh yeah? Well, you should be sorry."]] Jake sneered as he clenched his fists. [b [#008800 "Do you have any idea what they could do to me if I fuck up too many times? Do you have any clue?"]] He didn't bother waiting for a response. [b [#008800 "No! No, you don't! You don't think past your dick!"]] Jake shouted at the blond man. He turned away as his fingers ran through his mud-brown hair. There were some AVG employees staring at these two men arguing right outside the main building. Jake glanced at the people staring and quickly covered his eyes with his sunglasses. He felt a bit exposed out here with all eyes on him so he lowered his voice before continuing. [b [#008800 "For Christ's sake, Adam. Now we're grounded and nowhere to go. We're not getting any closer to whoever is behind all of this shit."]]]
Adam spun on his heels, ready to continue where they’d left off in the privacy of the elevator, only to be met with an open palm smack to his cheek. A beat of silence passed, and he could only chuckle wryly in response.
What left Isabella’s mouth for the next twenty-odd minutes were a barrage of ‘how could you’ and raunchy, unrepeatable insults in Italian that left any native speakers in uncontrollable fits of laughter in any room directly above, below, or beside them.
“Letting him talk to me that way! Letting him make me cry! And where were you!?” Isabella grabbed the nearest object to her, a lamp, and reared it towards Adam’s head. “You’re not a man! You’re a dog!”
C R A S H Adam had managed to dodge that one, but only by an inch. Using the opportunity whilst her hands were free of projectiles, he stepped over to her swiftly and grabbed her by the wrists, restraining her. “Devi calmarti , Isabella!”
“No!” The petite girl struggled with all her might, kicking her heels off in the process, and causing the straps of her red, lacy bra to begin to slide off her shoulders. Not wishing to expose herself, she turned to Adam with an icy cold gaze, and whispered, “Only dogs lie down the way you did in that room. You let them humiliate me. I’ll never forgive you.” Adam’s grip tightened, pulling Isabella’s arms so taut that he was able to lean to her ear and whisper in return.
“Non posso lasciarti andare ...” Hoping she wouldn’t retaliate, he quickly moved his hands and roughly gripped her by the hips, turning her to meet his gaze. Her response was swift, passionate, Jesus Christ, did it turn him on. The feeling of her lips, the sight of her in that lingerie. He tossed her onto the bed, hastily removing his shirt while she composed herself.
“Do you want me?” Isabella brushed her fingertips against the straps of her bra.
Adam didn’t respond with his words.
Tap. Tap. Tap. “I told Cordova to be in here an hour ago.” The Chief’s index finger typed in Finnigan’s desk extension, as she’d done 1,000 times, and she asked him whether he’d seen Adam or their suspect at any point within the past couple of hours.
“… I’m surprised you can’t hear them from your office.” Ironside’s face turned a shade of red that should only be possible in cartoons at Finn’s response. “They fought for a good 20 minutes and have been pounding away in the sack ever since. You want me to page him for you?”
“No, Finnigan, I want you to invite him to my office for fucking tea.”
The devil swung open Ironside’s office door, wearing sunglasses and drinking from a martini glass, filled to the brim with what smelled like sugar and alcoholism. “Oh, how nice of you to join us, Agent Cordova.”
“You know me, Chief. Always on time. Always taking the job seriously.” Adam downed the remainder of his glass, and set it gingerly on Ironside’s desk, folding his arms across his chest and crossing his legs in his seat directly beside Jake, whose direction he didn’t even want to look in right now.
The stares of imminent murder from everyone else on his way downstairs had been more than enough for him.
Heavily irritated by this point, Ironside turned to Jake, “So. Who’d like to begin? And where would you like to begin?” She leaned slowly over her desk, clasping her hands together, already thoroughly amused by what was to come. "Do you want to start with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage estimates billed to us by the Italian branch of the Avant-Garde, or with an explanation as to why your presence was noticed and the entire mission jeopardized? Because we gave you very specific instructions. Observe, report, extract the target, remain unseen."
Adam began to shake his head about one word into Ironside’s diatribe—irritating her greatly. “Isabella had her phone on. Had we known that, they’d have likely never noticed us leaving the scene.” A lie. Adam was so focused on Isabella’s face that he never thought to check her for objects or devices that could have been bugged. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Why didn’t you confiscate it? Tell her to leave it at home?”
“Why didn’t you destroy the phone?”
“I did, eventually. When I caught the mistake, I rectified it, as quickly as possible.”
Slumping back in her chair, Ironside pinched the bridge of her nose, sighing heavily. “You are… unlike your father, in so many ways…” Adam stood, just as the Chief caught her mistake. “A—”
“I’m sorry?” The silence that followed was deafening. The glare on his face could kill. “I didn’t put in my application, so you could compare me to that—” Adam breathed heavily, brow furrowed as he tried to calm himself, formulating a… respectful response. “I. Am. not. my father. My name is Adam Cordova, Agent number 609246, with a passing preliminary score of—need I remind you, Chief Ironside—one of the highest physical, tactical, practical scores of—”
Ironside stood to meet Adam’s gaze, her fire growing as their voices grew louder, raising over each other. “Enough, Agent!” Silence fell over the room. “Like it or not, given that this is your first official out-of-country mission, that was pending because of your general incompatibility or inability to otherwise get along with the other agents in our employment, you are on homeland duty until further notice. And considering your insubordination, you—and your partner—are suspended until further notice. That’s all.”
“No, we’re not—” Ironside’s door swung into the side of the wall. Startled, Adam drew his weapon, facing only Eva and several other agents to come to the Chief’s rescue. “I cannot believe you’d hit the panic button on me. Of all people.”
Eva cocked her weapon, her gaze never wavering. “Out, Adam.” Her gaze only turned sympathetic when she glanced at Jake. No matter how subtle she would have liked to be… Adam noticed.
Weapon holstered, and ego bruised, Adam pushed past his fellow…perhaps, former…agents and exited the building without much fuss, and without an escort. Once alone, he offered Jake as simple an apology as he could muster.
Sorry for the trouble, partner.
[font "Sitka Small" So, Isabella and Jake squared off in only mere glares, but Adam quickly put a stop to that. Jake shrugged off Adam’s hand. If this idiot wasn’t so blind by artificial looks, he would take this task more seriously. Undermining Jake’s tactics left a bitterness like vinegar in his mouth. He did not like being toyed with and he did not like being restrained. Nevertheless, Jake did what he was told, like always, and let Adam handle the situation. “Quite frankly, I’m sick of playing ‘Good Cop/ Bad Cop’.” Jake merely rolled his eyes. Adam stepped in between Jake and Isabella; however, both were throwing glares past Adam’s shoulder.]
[font "Sitka Small" "You take me from home. You tell me I am wanted dead. Why do I trust you? How I know you are not like... Like--"]
[font "Sitka Small" [i Like who? Who are you so afraid of?] Jake wondered. His mind reached across the physical plane and latched onto Isabella’s mind for just a moment. A sear second of the information was all he needed. Who was this mysterious hand dangling all the puppets? Within that one second of peering into Isabella’s mind, Jake saw the Puppet Master, or what he thought was the leader to this organization. He saw the man through Isabella’s eyes. He was a short man, perhaps 175 cm, wearing some form of a formal suit. He wore small round glasses that gave his face a mousey look to it. A strong mustache decorated his upper lip and was paired with a sharp blond goatee on the chin. Most of the features were blurred from the brief moment Jake connected to Isabella’s memory.]
[font "Sitka Small" It was hard to get a clear description of him, but Jake could sense what Isabella was feeling. She was afraid of the blurred face. Something about this man shook even this crazy woman to the core. The intercom ceased any further progress f the mission as Ironside called them for a debriefing later. Jake wiped his face with one hand as the stress was beginning to wear on him. He was jet-lagged and worn out from the adrenaline. As she left the interrogation with Adam, Jake and Isabella stared down each other like old rivals. He was not surprised that Adam, lust-struck and irrational, lead her out of the interrogation room, probably back to their apartment room. [i Well I won’t go back there any time soon.] Jake thought as he joined Eva outside the room.]
[font "Sitka Small" “I don’t like her.” The shorter woman huffed while crossing her arms.]
[font "Sitka Small" [#006400 [b “Me neither.]] Jake muttered as he watched Adam and Isabella enter the elevator together. [#006400 [b "She’s hiding something. I can feel it. But I can’t do my thing without getting reprimanded for it."]] He grumbled as he put his sunglasses back on to hide his eyes. He mulled over the image he caught from Isabella’s memories. Who was the man she recalled? Why did he scare her so much? Was that Vetrov? He walked over to the elevator and pressed the call button.]
[font "Sitka Small" “Where are you going?” Eva called out to him.]
[font "Sitka Small" As the elevator doors opened, Jake stepped inside. [b [#006400 “I’m going to let off some steam.”]] He replied before the doors shut on him. Maybe some time training would clear his mind.]
[font "Sitka Small" Ironside monitored the arena behind thick bulletproof glass. Her arms were folded to match the frown on her face . The Observation Deck oversaw the entire holographic arena from an overhanging room filled with windows. Ironside stood by the large wall window as technicians and on-staff workers sat at the simulation desks trying to keep the superhuman project busy with whatever they could throw at him.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake was upset. It was clear in his fighting style. His movement was all over the place. His hits were not direct. He was just using his abilities to smash through everything. He threw a car without his hands touching it. He caught an RPG in mid-air, turned it around, and sent it right back to its origin without so much as a paper cut. His abilities were getting stronger and wilder. Yet, Ironside only saw Jake as a child holding a missile launcher.]
[font "Sitka Small" The woman standing at the window, watching a seventeen-million-dollar liability throw a hologram tank against an impenetrable wall. Her security badge hung from the torso pocket of her suit above her folded arms. Black hair pulled back into a low ponytail as dark, almost black, eyes watched Jake’s movements with extreme scrutiny. She was the one that suggested that he did fieldwork. And now, every time he goes out there, she wonders if he’ll be the cause of her termination.]
[font "Sitka Small" Having enough of this tantrum, Ironside pushed down on the intercom button and spoke, “That’s enough, Jake. I need you in for debriefing.” Jake simply turned, out of breath, and waved confirmation to her. He looked annoyed, but he would do as he was told, just as he had always done.]
Adam stood, making his way around the table and gingerly patting Jake's shoulder. "Enough~" His voice was uncharacteristically heavy and exhausted, though some enthusiasm peaked through as he could sense appreciation from across the table. Glancing over to Isabella, his eyes were overcome filled with guilt and concern.
They'd been here for hours. Grilling her. Yelling at her. "Quite frankly, I'm sick of playing Good Cop/Bad Cop." And Isabella looked like she absolutely agreed with his sentiment. The mascara that had once run freshly down her cheeks had dried and began to flake badly. At one point, Eva taunted her, telling her to wipe off her foundation and take off her fake lashes, hoping to break her down and make her drop the bribe nonsense she was spewing. Isabella did as she was told without flinching, the dirty rag as proof on the table in front of her. And she was still as stunning as the day was wide.
Wait...what did that even mean...? "I think we could all use a break, and I need a fucking nap."
For several moments, Isabella froze, her animosity heightening the longer Jake occupied her personal space. And she didn't dare back down from his icy gaze.
A barrage of tears rolled down her cheeks, juxtaposed by the stubborn half smile on her lips. It was… a confusing moment for everybody involved.
"You take me from home. You tell me I am wanted dead. Why do I trust you? How I know you are not like... Like--"
The buzz of the intercom interrupted her, and immediately drawing Adam's attention. "Getting quite late, gentleman." A light flickered, illuminating the cold metal room behind the two-way mirror, with the Chief hunched sternly behind the microphone. "I'll expect you in my office in an hour for a debriefing." Adam could just about hear his own eyes rolling to the back of his skull. What she really meant was "disciplinary counseling." As one might have guessed, Agent Cordova was certainly no stranger to it. At least this time it was Jake's fault, and not because Adam had grabbed the receptionist's ass , this time.
"I do believe I'm on strike 94." Adam chuckled, although not even he himself could decide if he was amused or annoyed by the tide of the atmosphere.
"Come," He held out his hand to the feisty blonde beside him. Although she could certainly have stayed seated as she was, eye level with his hips--just the way he liked his beautiful women. Adam cupped Isabella's face and used only his fingertips to force her to look at him once she was in his grasp. Her eyes watered in response. "We must dry your tears and get you out of those heels. You're too beautiful, my porcelain doll, to be crying in this stuffy metal room--"
"You asshole...!" Isabella whined, pathetically beating at Adam's chest, "Don't touch me, I hate you...!"
"No, if I had it my way, you'd be in the penthouse, drinking champagne, I would treat you like the princess you are~ My 'bella, you are worth nothing less than perfection." In an instant the tears stopped. The Chief very quickly leaned off of the intercom, cutting off Eva's audible heaving from Adam's words, even behind the thick glass separating their rooms.
Hey, don't hate the player, Eva, hate the game...
Without missing a beat, Isabella turned a pointed, dagger-laden glare in Jake's direction. Her words were stern and shook the room with pure conviction, "Chain up your dog, and then we will talk, mí amour." A chill ran down Adam's spine as she pulled a finger down the length of his chest. Half out of arousal, half of sheer fear of what the next indeterminate amount of months with Isabella would bring.
Two neon signs lit up in his mind: Chaos, destruction, and Isabella was the goddess Eris in the middle of it all, with Adam at her beck and call. A nervous smile crossed his lips.
"Talk we will, 'bella. Talk we will." He tossed a halfway apologetic glance to Jake before snaking his hands around Isabella's waist, "I'll see the lady to her chambers, my good man. I'll see you in purgatory."
The door to the interrogation room creaked open, and within seconds, Adam was gone, chattering on sweet nothings, in Italian of course, to Isabella as they made their way to the elevator, with the intention of carrying on a conversation in Adam’s room. An intern, mesmerized by Isabella, received a knowing wink from Adam as the door to the elevator closed.
They probably weren’t going to make it to the room. The intern, flustered, turned to all those who had stopped to watch the couple disappear, and was only met with exasperated glances in response.
Standing five foot eight to nine inches in heels, the Chief watched from the open doorway of the observatory, shaking her head with her arms tight against her chest. "How much do you want to bet his hand is already on her ass?"
Eva nearly spat out her water, "No, no, no. I've lost a lot of money to you by giving him the benefit of the doubt." This earned a hearty laugh from the greying woman towering over her.
"Can you blame me? You support my coffee habit." The Chief, which was coincidentally her affectionate nickname by the majority of the Avant-Garde, pushed a lock of her short, suburban bubble behind her left ear. Eva frowned as she gave her boss a subtle once over. Had she lost more of her blonde recently…? “Especially nowadays. Agent Cordova is—”
“Driving you up the wall? Ruining your life?” Finn chimed in, paperwork in one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other, as he passed by the door. “You’re preaching to the choir.” The room fell silent as his footsteps faded into the chatter amongst the rest of the busy office floor.
“Took the words right out of my mouth. Speaking of words, I must go have a few with our heroes. If not Agent Cordova,” And the women’s eyes rolled in tandem, “Then, at the very least, with Jakob… ‘Jacob’ with a ‘c’? Jasper?”
“Just ‘Jake’, ma’am.” Eva sighed. Although that’s not what the paperwork said.
“Hm… Are you sure? That’s not what his paperwork says.”
By the time Adam and Isabella had boarded the elevator, his hands had roamed from her waist, to the tops of her thigh, and traced back up the length of her dress. He was nestled into her neck, whispering in Italian, kissing her gingerly with every sweet word he spoke. She laughed receptively, responding where necessary, returning the favor when Adam would pull away to see if she would chase him. Even if it was only the intent glistening in her eyes—that was enough for him. “You’re beautiful.”
“And you, are a man. So what do you want?” Isa batted her eyelashes, smiling through a narrowed and sexy glance. Again, Adam could feel a shiver crawl up his spine. Her gaze was absolutely chilling.
“Just a man…?” The elevator opened up on the 24th floor, and Adam stepped off, with his companion close behind. Word had already spread to the agents in the upper floors, that a beautiful woman was on their way up with, no surprise to anyone, Agent Cordova, and plenty of eyes had peeked from their rooms to catch a glance of the blonde making her entrance in the lion’s den that was the Avant-Garde.
Jealous murmurs followed them, and rightly so. Adam grasped Isabella’s hand, just in case anyone might want to test the boundaries of his territory. The gaze of the other men from the floor, and the sheer animosity from the women, made Adam feel as though he were a stray dog, protecting his meal from the rival pack of coyotes. The women were Isabella’s problem. Wouldn’t want to burn any bridges, now, would we? The men, on the other hand…
Not a moment too soon did they arrive at room #504, and Adam, feeling the stares burrowing into his back, quickly unlocked the door, showing Isabella inside. The chaos he thought would once rule his life, was now but a distant memory, wasn’t it? Now they could be tucked away from the world, share a private moment, and then talk to the Chief once he’d acquired a… taste of paradise from the woman in his room. Everything was just as it should be.
Until he shut the door.
[font "Sitka Small" After being kept in the cage for so long, it felt odd being outside. The “cage” did have home-cooked meals and internet access, but Jake mostly spent his eighteen hours of wakefulness working or thinking about work. Currently, it was his opportunity to stretch out the muscles in his legs and back. Of course, for someone like him, being outside had its disadvantages. Wherever he went, a disguise was company policy. He needed a hat to hide the unusually pointy ears, sunglasses for the diamond irises, and long sleeves ans pants for the grotesque scars on his body. For the most part, Jake looked like a normal civilian. Except, it was evening, and hotter than Hades outside. If anyone on the streets started to question this wardrobe choice, then Jake would pretend to be a visually handicapped person and use Adam as a guide. It was an ironic situation considering Jake had the ability to see in the dark while Adam did not.]
[font "Sitka Small" “Blind people can’t drive” was the excuse Adam used on Jake multiple times so that he could sit in the driver’s seat. It was some sort of masculine power status that Jake did not understand. Adam never let him drive anywhere because it would injure the fragile state of his manhood, according to Jake’s observational conclusions. It was irritating, but it gave Jake the opportunity to do other things, like give directions or shoot at bad guys.]
[font "Sitka Small" “Don’t’ go past page 97.” Adam warned with a stern expression on his stupid face. Jake raised his upper lip in disgust as he looked down at the black book as though it were moldy bread. [i Just don’t ask.] He thought as he began reading off directions.]
[font "Sitka Small" The car ride was, like most moments with Agent Cordova, was not quiet. Ever since the plane ride to this country, Adam has not ceased to bring up nostalgic feelings of Italy. Also talking about his past and how he had these adventures almost Jake jealous. Well, maybe more jealous than he cared to admit. He listened only because he didn’t have a choice. Fortunately for him, the drive was short. The apartment building was across the street and the two needed a plan before barraging in. “If we go in from the back first, then we won’t get seen,” Jake suggested as he stepped out of the car. He took off his sunglasses to peer up at Isabella’s floor. It was several stories up so scaling it on the outside wasn’t an option this time. Before entering the building, Jake replaced his glasses on his face. His pupils didn’t look normal under the light.]
[font "Sitka Small" Even from two stories below, Jake could hear the thumping of the horrendous music being played. If he had to go in that loud ass apartment with that god-awful music playing, then he would prefer to wait outside. If there was one thing the hybrid hated loud music. Jake’s perception told him that he would severely dislike everything about this Isabella person.]
[font "Sitka Small" Adam’s order for Jake to stay silent during this encounter angered the hybrid incredibly, but he didn’t have a chance to argue when the door opened. The whole appearance of this woman was completely off-putting to Jake. He could already tell that Adam was no longer thinking objectively to this situation. Underneath those dark lenses, Jake rolled his emerald eyes in irritation. Thankfully, Adam moved straight to the point of why these two men were at Isabella’s door. The worried look Adam gave did not bode well, though. The asset demanded a substantial amount of money for information. It took a great deal of willpower to not burst out into a fit of laughter. Who was she trying to fool? They were saving her life! That should count for something! She was in no position to negotiate considering her assailants were close by, ready to pull the trigger.]
[font "Sitka Small" The bell of the elevator saved the situation by making the tension worse. The ears hidden under the hat perked up. Jake cursed under his breath. [i They’re here already?] He thought. He turned to Adam with an expression of slight panic. It seemed like the stairs were the only option left. Groaning in agitation, Jake held the door open for Adam and “the other one” to escape through the stairwell. The two hitmen shouted and waved their guns around as soon as they saw the short Italian woman kicking and screaming over Adam’s shoulder. They drew up their aim, but Jake thrust his palms forward sending a force of energy to knock them off their feet. That would buy them a few seconds to head down the stairs. Bullets pinged by their heads as the trio darted down the many flights of stairs.]
[font "Sitka Small" Somehow, by a grand miracle, they made it to the car safely with the target harmed in the backseat. Screeching off into the nighttime streets, Jake breathed just a little easier. It didn’t take long for the goons’ back up to show up. Jake braced himself on the dashboard and the handlebar on the car’s roof while the momentum of the sudden stop forced him forward in his seat. [b [#006400 “Jesus, Autumn.”]] Jake hissed before looking up to spot a prowling car. [b [#006400 “How did they catch up so fast?”]] He pondered. Adam took the initiative and drove into crowded streets. Honestly, it was like riding with someone wearing lead shoes. Jake ducked in his seat as the back window shattered causing Ms. Biglips to scream, further damaging Jake’s hearing. [b [#006400 “Stop screaming!”]] he yelled at her as he glanced back at the people shooting at them. This night was a big mess and turning out the way Jake hoped it would.]
[font "Sitka Small" The bullets and the car chase continued while Jake cursed in his seat. He couldn’t really do anything to help. He couldn’t fire back and chance hitting a civilian. He couldn’t use his powers on a public and busy street for the same reason. The exposure would get him in trouble with the chief as well. The high speeds left a gut-wrenching feeling in his stomach as Adam raced to the embassy’s airstrip. Isabella was panicking in the back seat, on her phone. Adam yelling at her in Italian There was a lot of yelling and crying and Jake’s poor ears were on the verge of bleeding through his hat. All he wanted to be was for this car ride to be over.]
[font "Sitka Small" He soon got his wish as the three panic-stricken passengers arrived in the Embassy’s territory. Now it was just a plane trip back home where the madness would be over. At least, Jake had hoped it would be over.]
[font "Sitka Small" “Good Christ, she has the mouth of a fucking machine gun, no wonder he wants her dead!” Adam spoke as the two agents stood watching the interview of Ms. Isabella happen for the fifth time today. Jake was beyond peeved at this woman. She had done nothing but cause them trouble since they first met. Now, she was refusing the Garde’s help and making unreasonable demands of cash. Jake’s forehead pressed against the one-way window as an expression of complete weariness claimed his features.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#006400 “Should have left her in Italy.”]] He mumbled as he turned lean on the glass with his back. Agent Eva stood next to Jake in the private room looking very exhausted and fed up with the woman on the other side of the mirror. She had already tried to take a crack at a round of questions, but it didn’t end very well. She seemed to be in full agreement with Jake’s statement.]
[font "Sitka Small" Another demand for money was the last straw Jake could take. [b [#006400 “You little harlot. I’ll tell you where your money is-“]]
[font "Sitka Small" Eva grasped Jake’s shoulder before he could leave the room. “Jake don’t! If you use your abilities on this woman, then the Chief will get pissed.” She begged the man to stay put, but Jake wouldn’t hear any of it. He had been shot at, cursed at, endured loud screams, and horrible music. He had enough of this Isabella woman.]
[font "Sitka Small" He jerked his shoulder out of Eva’s grasp and burst through the interview room. Adam wanted to protest, but Jake held up a hand to silence him. [b [#006400 “Don’t.”]] He stated. [b [#006400 “We need this information.”]] He said with stern eyes peering through the sunglasses at his partner. Whatever the cost, she [i will] tell them what they needed to know.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake approached the woman, force her seat to the side so that her face was inches away from his. [b [#006400 “I know you can understand English, so you better listen. I am tired of your games. You either answer our questions, or I will personally deliver you to those goons myself. You are in no position to make demands. Your life is not our priority.”]] Jake removed his glasses and hat so reveal the monster underneath. Isabella gasped at the horrid sight before her. [b [#006400 “Tell him what we need to know, or I will extract every memory from your brain until you’re a drooling vegetable.”]] His voice was metallic and dark. He shook the chair causing her to screech out of fear. [b [#006400 “Tell him!”]]]
Working quickly, Adam tabbed through his little black book behind the wheel, passing it over to Jake so that he could read him directions to Isabella’s flat, in the high-energy, bustling metro of the downtown streets. While they had been confined to their desks unless they were conducting beat work on foot and had never been allowed to directly pursue their targets, with careful notation of their movements, it was little more than simple deduction to pinpoint Isabella’s location. Adam tossed Jake a pointed glance as he put the car into drive, “Don’t go past page 97 in there.”
Seeing the scenic countryside begin to disappear out of view was…bittersweet. The blonde sighed thoughtfully, leaning back in his seat a bit, taking it all in. Jake probably wanted nothing more than to drive in silence, but Adam opened his mouth anyway, “Ahh, I’m going to miss home, mi ricorderò di te…,” and he wondered if Italy would remember him, too.
“Knowing those two, they’ll grab a couple of cheeseburgers before they think about heading over to cap Isabella,” Adam sighed, reclining the seat a bit to ponder their game plan, “How anyone can eat before they cut off a pretty woman’s hands and head, and toss her into the ocean and call it a fuckin’ day… If I ever get that deranged, just shoot me.” And knowing Jake, he probably would gladly take the chance. Nonetheless, it gave them some time. After three months of moonlighting in Italy, following two overweight bastards, it was clear these two had their priorities a little out of order.
But that was just fine in the eyes of the Avant-Garde.
Getting to Isabella’s penthouse-esque apartment in record time wasn’t the hard part. Putting his ear to the door, Adam could hear the soft beat of pop music juxtaposed to Isabella’s whiny drawl. Already, he could feel Jake’s disdain, radiating from his body. Before the science experiment had a chance to voice his thoughts, Adam turned and gave him a look out of the corner of his eyes, as if to say, ‘Don’t overreact. Don’t screw this up. Don’t. Say. Anything.’
“Just, leave it to me.” A rough, single tap was enough to stop the music. ‘Who the fuck is that?’ Footsteps quickly approached the door, and the girl that peeked her head out from behind it was enough of a sight to make Adam’s jaw hit the floor.
5’5” out of heels, impeccably straight, blonde hair to her waist, big brown eyes and an Instagram model body. Just the way he liked it. Adam cleared his throat and gave the most dashing, persuasive Cordova smile that he could muster as he eyed who he surmised to be his future wife.
“Si…” A coy smile tugs at the side of her lips as she eyes Adam and opens the door, exposing her short, slinky black dress. Adam’s, er… “heart” …leaped. Good. Goddess. “You are…Italian?” She asked, albeit in a thick accent.
“Ah, si, si..” Adam assured her, approaching her confidently from beyond the threshold of the door in front of him, half tempted to shut the door in Jake’s face. Quickly, though, with the imminent threat of Hector’s men on their way, he moved straight to the point: your pimp wants you dead. We want to keep you safe. But we need to know what you know in order to do that.
Isabella smiled darkly, gently reaching her hand to meet Adam’s waist. “I go with you? I go anywhere.” Good. She was compliant. But there was just. One. More. Problem. She leaned in for a whisper, and Adam lurched backwards, throwing a worried look at Jake. “She wants $100,000!!!”
The telltale ‘ding’ of the elevator down the hallway was jarring enough that it brought Adam enough sense to quickly throw the petite escort over his shoulder. Through her yelling, and his ears ringing as a result, he managed to get a word in to Jake, “Stairs. Now.” It took everything in Adam’s power not to shed a tear or five. They were on the 23rd floor…
By some miracle of fate, they had slipped into the stairwell just as the two thugs rounded the corner. With Isabella yelling all the way, Adam slammed his hand over her mouth and nose, “Shhhh!!!” Thundering footsteps stopped abruptly. Adam could hear one of the thugs outside curse loudly. Surmising that they had seen the open door, and a woman inside who was decidedly not Isabella, he took the opportunity to scurry downstairs. Girl in the backseat. Car started. Engine revved. Like a shot, they were gone, into the night, breaking just about every traffic law in existence.
Finally. Adam leaned into the headrest of the car, and sighed. Halfway relieved and halfway preparing himself for the lack of silence that was going to rule his life for the next two days. Not wanting to wear Isabella out before she was boxed in and questioned for days on end, he chose to refrain from engaging with her, watching his rearview mirror for any signs of cars that hadn’t split from their path.
Sure as shit.
“That didn’t take long at all.” The blonde furrowed his brow. How? No time to think about their methods. His only concern was losing them entirely. Shifting into a lower gear, he gave the gas a generous push, boosting them down the crowded streets and intersections. It wasn’t an issue until the back window shattered, and Isabella unleashed a piercing scream. “… Great.”
At the next opportunity, Adam hooked a sharp left, onto the ramp of the freeway, pushing the car to at least 120mph. Again, they were behind him, shooting. Adam weaved in and out of traffic, causing the stray bullets meant for his head to fly into the cars of unsuspecting citizens. The ensuing chaos was a blessing, and a curse. The pileup that resulted bought them enough time to make considerable progress towards the embassy airstrip. But, not enough to warrant any semblance of relief.
“What the—” Adam slammed on the breaks, causing the car to slide at an angle to a halt. In the distance, was a car driving slowly, searching for them. It stopped directly in front of them, four blocks down, and looked poised to come straight for them. In sudden realization, he glanced to Isabella, who was…oh. On her fucking phone.
Despite her cries, Adam snatched the device away and threw it out the window, shattering it against nearby brick wall in his anger. “Figlio di puttana!!!” His screams echoed as the opposing car faded out of sight.
With the sort of vigor only an angry Hispanic man could have, Adam pulled up to the embassy airstrip in the battered company car, and roughly pulled Isabella by her wrist towards the plane, passing Jake on the way, who he could tell was judging his late arrival. “Don’t. Ask.”
“Good Christ, she has the mouth of a fucking machinegun, no wonder he wants her dead!” Adam winced as the interview door slammed behind him. Loudly.
Try as they may to understand her barrage of Italian obscenities when she spoke about her boss, Adam had to ask several times for clarification. Trying to keep track of all the different people affectionately named “Asshole 1-5” and “Dickhead 2-17” was amusing, but made for horrible story telling. More importantly, it wasn’t getting them any gainful information. But she just couldn’t seem to grasp the definition of the word, “succinct”. It had driven a good six to twenty agents—expertly trained in interrogations—to leave the interview room in absolute frustration. Some gems included:
“What the fuck is her problem!?” and “If punching her in the face wouldn’t ruin her profession, I’d Ronda Rousey that bitch.” from Finn. Adam shook his head, glancing tiredly through the two-way mirror in the room with sympathy in his eyes for Isabella’s latest victim. Poor Eva…
“Isabella,” Adam’s accent was coming out more thick, the longer he argued with her, “Chi ti vuole morto!?” He stressed every word with her. Who. Wants. You. Dead!?
“Asshole!! Where is my money!?”
[font "Sitka Small" [right [i One Mississippi…]]]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake’s feet pounded on the hard floor as he tried to chase after Adam, that stupid idiot. He was going to get himself killed. It would be Jake’s fault. All his fault. He was responsible for the dolt. After these many long months of sleepless nights and early mornings, Adam was going straight into the lion’s den without a care in the world. And no matter how much power Jake possessed, he was unable to stop him. Adam’s priorities were clear, take down Mikhail Vetrov no matter the cost. That fowl excuse for a human would pay for the crimes he committed. Crimes performed against law and nature. The fucked-up things he did to science, to human life, was unforgivable by any deity. The long scar that permanently parted the hair on the back of Jake’s head was proof enough for that.]
[font "Sitka Small" [center [i Two Mississippi…]]]
[font "Sitka Small" Adam and Jake locked eyes from the opposite sides of the hallway. Three large men stood menacingly between them, backs against Adam. Their attention was fully locked on the smaller man, which he could only assume was by order of the lunatic upstairs. Adam wasn’t as much of a threat to Vetrov’s escape as Jake. Frankenstein was fully aware of his monster’s capabilities. Jake’s eyes shouted at Adam to wait, to not rush off in his heroic escapades as usual. He could handle Vetrov by himself. Jake knew it; Adam knew it. And yet, he couldn’t argue with the chopping screech of the helicopter several floors above them. He could hear it even through the layers of concrete between him and it. Adam was about to make a rash decision.]
[font "Sitka Small" [i Three…]]
[font "Sitka Small" The next several moments meant life or death. The more Jake and Adam stood arguing wordlessly to each other, the more Vetrov, the bane of Jake’s existence while also being the cause of it, was getting further and further out of their grasp. And so, Adam made a dash for the stairs and the minions attacked all at once. Jake cursed through his sharp canines as he started forward. The emerald eyes saw everything happen a few frames per second. A fist abnormally huge ticked its way toward Jake’s face. His eyes went wide as he effortlessly ducked out of the way and rolled to avoid a grapple from minion number two. Sweat beat down his brow with his heart racing in his chest. Jake had been in battle before and never felt anxious previously. This time felt like the whole world rested on his and Adam’s shoulders. [b [#006400 “Adam!”]] Jake shouted before stabbing minion three in the throat with a dagger. For some reason, Jake couldn’t shake this feeling that something bad was about to happen. Adam was in danger from something, but he didn’t know what. The nightmares that have plaguing Jake’s dreams for weeks were starting to give him a Déjà vu moment. He had witnessed this before, but he could never remember what happened next.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake dashed off ignoring the injured henchmen writhing on the ground. They did not matter right now. Jake got the feeling that finishing them off would be pointless soon. [b [#006400 “Adam Wait!”]] Jake yelled desperately. His partner was in trouble and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. For once in his life, Jake felt powerless.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake was halfway up a flight of stairs when an eruption shook him to the core and launched him against the building wall. Fire exploded throughout the top floor. The small man didn’t remember anything following the explosion. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious before hearing a panicked voice over the earpiece. Coughing to wakefulness, Jake groaned as he saw his body was sheltered by crossed beams that deflected most of the debris. His whole body was in pain and even some charred marks on his clothes and face. [b [#006400 “Control, do you copy?”]] Jake’s voice was scratched and barely recognizable over the weak signal. No response the first time as Jake struggled to get up. [b [#006400 “Anyone? Can anyone hear me?”]] It took less time for a voice to reply back to him with relief in the tone.]
[font "Sitka Small" “Jake? Oh, thank God. Are you alright?” It sounded female at first, but the voice quickly changed over to a male. “Report in Jake! What in the hell happened out there?”]
[font "Sitka Small" The rustle of dark brown hair was coated with white debris and peppered with bits of drywall. His face scratched with black smudges all over it. His field clothes were torn and burnt. Jake was certain that he was missing a shoe. He crawled forward so that he could stand up, although the action took a great effort. He had bruised ribs, a broken right arm, and a minor concussion he assumed. The question was repeated to him as he tried to gather himself. What happened? Jake looked around at the mess that was littered around him. A giant hole opened up to the city and smoke billowing out of the glassless windows. Sirens were blaring in his sensitive ears and the lights almost blinded him. [b [#006400 “Adam…”]] His voice finally broke out as he felt tears blurring his vision. [b [#006400 “Adam is dead.”]]]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake banged his head on his folded arms that rested on the desk in front of him. Adam had whined to Jake for the past hour about getting the Chief on the phone to complain about the boring leg work they’ve both had to do for this current mission. While Jake was used to the menial duties of reconnaissance, Adam was a “doer” in every sense of the word. He had to be “doing” something whether it was women or other hands-on tasks in fieldwork. Jake had honestly never seen one man bring home that many women back to their apartment before. Jake couldn’t understand it at all. This blond guy was just so annoying. He didn’t understand how he did it. He was like a child, complained a lot, and constantly finding himself into trouble.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake on the other hand was a silent observer that was comfortable in the shadows. He had grown up the outsider around everyone else at AVG. As much as he would like to do more fieldwork, the head officials didn’t think it was a good idea. They always kept him under strict surveillance and locked away secrets about his birth. At least in Italy, Jake could be more himself away from headquarters… which was still a standoffish nonchalant person with a very annoying partner.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#006400 “Adam, I’m trying to listen to the-“]]]
[font "Sitka Small" “Ah!” Adam interrupted as he leaned forward at full attention to the voices in the headset.]
[font "Sitka Small" Sighing, Jake gritted his teeth once more and turned away. [b [#006400 “Never mind.”]] He muttered as he turned up the volume. [i Definitely sounded like this woman was next to be bumped off the list it seems] Jake thought to himself as he wrote notes on the conversation. After weeks of listening, Adam and Jake finally had something to go on. [b [#006400 “Sounds like we got a lead now.”]] Jake stated.]
Adam’s eyes darted between his target, seemingly desperate to escape, and his partner, who was pulling the weight of at least six AVG agents, and keeping him free to pursue the son-of-a-bitch. It was a tough decision, but… Augh! Adam’s decision danced on his toes, but he took off in the opposite direction of the commotion, up the stairs, and quickly lost the sight of Hector around the corner to his left. His ear crackled with the grunts and groans of men in pain, and Jake’s fruitless cries to stop—one tap from his finger quickly put an end to that nonsense. There was no time for this. Jake could hear the obnoxious spinning blades of approaching helicopters just as well as he could. They had no idea if it was backup for them, or an aid in their certain death, were they to fail this mission.
There were too many people counting on them. Too many lives had been lost, here.
Adam’s eyes perked as he caught the sight of the edge of a door closing, and he bodied his way through, following the sound of footsteps with only what little light peeked from the stairwell while the door slowly closed shut.
In an instant, his legs halted, his body stunned. No. Now was not the fucking time. Slam. Now was really not the fucking time!!
“To think, that Nikolai would allow his son to grow up soft…”
Hector’s deep, gravel-toned chuckle rippled through Adam’s chest. The sound alone filled his heart with fire. Without warning, he drew his gun, only now realizing, he was in near complete silence, the only light now pouring into the room from the square window in the stairwell door. He turned wildly as a laugh reverberated around him, seemingly from all directions. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!
“You should know better than to feel such guilt for that which you could not control.”
“You shut your goddamn mouth, motherfucker!”
“The blood of all those innocent people, Adam,”
“Hector, I swear to fucking God!”
“Spilled for… nothing…”
Blip [3 ]. Blip [2 ]. Blip [1 ].
“… What the fuck!”
Finn briefly closed his eyes as he watched the footage before him fade in and out on the screen. He’d been in the same spot for hours, but not a peep had come through from neither Adam or Jake once they’d stepped foot inside the dilapidated building. A yawn escaped him, and he briefly adjusted his headset, so he could comfortably rest his head in the fold of his elbow… all he could do was—
“He…or, …swear to….God!”
Like lightning, Finn bolted to his feet, startling the other agents around him, who quickly asked him what was going on and crowded around him. Their cries, unheard, he quickly tried to get into contact with at least one of the two idiots obviously in some sort of trouble that they bothered to tell no one about! “Jake!? Autumn!? Can either of you—??”
One answer came in loud and clear,
“…What the fuck!”
Finn’s voice cracked with terror, “No…”
The building on the screen erupted on the left side, in a flurry of flames and smoldering concrete. Just outside the walls, civilians screamed, fearing for their lives. Nervously, the agents eyes each other, then stared slack jawed at the screen as another explosion erupted, before Finn angrily smashed his keyboard against the side of the wall.
“FUUUCK!” His foot made contact with the computer, cracking the case, and causing it to fizzle out slowly in response. “NO, you gotta be FUCKING kidding me!!” A struggle quickly ensued as the irate tech reached for his service pistol, hardly deterred by three of his teammates shouting for him to calm down.
“I am not about to let Hector get away with this shit again! Let me fucking go! I’ll end that fucker myself! I’ll--!!”
Ava, the only tech left at her computer, spoke up, her back to the commotion behind her, “He’s gone, Finn…” The room fell silent.
“…The fuck did you say?”
Ava turned, only slightly, her eyes downcast, “Hector… is gone. He got away… There’s nothing we can do but report back to—”
“Oh, fuck off, Ava! You have always been such a fucking pushover! The only words that ever come out of your mouth, are about what you can’t do, and what’s out of your control! What in the actual fuck is wrong with you!? Our friends just fucking died at the hands of a madman. Did you forget? He murdered your goddamn husband in the attack at HQ!”
“And you think it’s right to go tearing out of here like we weren’t screened and trained for years to handle situations like this?” Ava stood, finally, meeting Finnigan’s gaze as she ripped his gun out of a teammate’s hand, “You think we’re going to solve anything by trying to jump in and be heroes!? Jesus Christ, Finnigan! We’re not heroes! We’re just. Fucking. People!” She pressed the barrel to his chest and pulled the trigger… Click. Empty.
“We’re just regular fucking people and we can’t save anybody… Somebody get the fucking Chief on the phone. Now!.”
“Oooooh my Gaaaaahhhd, Jake. Get the Chief on the phone. Now!”
Adam swiveled playfully in his chair, spinning himself around the empty room, stopping on the opposite wall with his toe, and repeating, ad nauseum. Two months! Two months they had been in Italy, for surveillance, to watch the goonies of a man who had yet to be identified, sling drugs in the slums of an Eastern European country. Seriously? “I am so fucking bored.”
By now, of course, they had very much gotten to the point where they had acquired the names and information of a few high profile clients… but nothing that would destroy several governments, and crash multiple economies, as Adam had previously hoped. No one had told him life in the Avant-Garde would be wondrous, and exciting all of the time, but surely, a field agent was more suited for life outside of four walls and a roof!
Still, there was a chance this mission could redeem itself, if only… “Ah!” Adam’s eyes went wide, and he glanced at Jake, a smirk already stretching across his face, as he cupped a hand over his ear, listening eagerly to the conversation that played out.
Two gruff voices, seemingly incredulous at their awful luck, that their boss would want them to “take out” a pretty young woman that had waltzed her way into the shit show of the life of one of their clients, and was now blackmailing him with all she had learned while engrossed in his circle.
“An’ so he says he wants the girl gone, jus’ like that, can you believe it?”
“She don’ deserve to be taken out without, ah, one last round o’ fun, you know what I mean, ha!”
“Hahaha! You’s ain’t right, man, I like your style…”
Adam clapped his hands together, “Finally.”
I’ve been waiting for this for so long.
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