st_aurafina: Shaw's face, the lower half. Text = indigo five alpha (POI: Indigo five alpha)
[personal profile] st_aurafina
Title: Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Chapter Five
Rating Teen
Notes: Show level violence in this chapter: John and Kara torture a man, John kills him rather than letting Kara torture him to death.


2006
John and Kara moved through the shadows of the world like two wolves with ears pricked and tongues lolling, chasing down prey with implacable stamina. It wasn't what John had expected, but there was an exhilaration to be found in asking his body to do the remarkable and feeling it respond.

Mark was always there, ready at the end of the mission to diffuse the sensory impact of what they'd seen and done. He ran the missions, directed his two Sentinels where he wanted them to go, then let them off the leash. It was less oversight than John was used to, but Cascade meant that missions had a different approach. They had to be able to adapt and use their abilities differently each time.

The first mission had been a little rocky. On the flight over, Mark had warned him about the territoriality issue.

"Problem is they haven't figured out what makes us Guides," he said, one leg crossed over the other in the wide first class seat. "So, we gotta run two or three of you guys with only one of us." He reached out and tipped up John's chin. "You okay? Keeping it together?" He'd had them bumped to first, since it was John's first commercial flight since activation.

John felt Mark press at the edge of his mind; it was getting familiar now, though it still felt a little like someone barging into the bathroom while you were in the middle of something private. He had expected Mark's presence in his mind to be like that dry, quiet voice he'd heard while he was out of his mind in the hospital, but it wasn't; communicating with him mentally was little different from a conversation face to face.

He took a breath and let down his barriers the way Mark had been teaching him. The plane was not easy: there was a general reek of anxiety hanging about the place under the chemical haze of sanitising shampoo, and the ambient noise even after take-off was constant. He frowned, bracing himself as Mark pushed down on those senses, dulling olfactory and audio perception as if he was sliding switches on a graphic equaliser.

"That'll be a bit easier for you," Mark said, and settled into his seat. He gave the flight attendant a quick nod and she hurried back with drinks.

John blinked as he adjusted to the muted sensation, and took the proffered glass. "What do I expect when I meet her?"

Mark laughed, and took a swig of scotch. "You won't be going in armed, that's for sure."

As it happened, John tried to rip out Kara's throat. The moment he caught sight of her in the hotel, he literally leapt for her with his teeth bared, his gut writhing with incoherent rage. She laughed, stepped easily to one side and put her foot into his ribs as he fell. He lay there on his back for a moment, his head spinning, trying to understand how a woman half his weight had dropped him so easily. He tried to get to his feet, but he was stricken with vertigo, wild and swooping, bad enough that he couldn't move his arms and legs with any accuracy. There was a familiar heavy sensation in his head.

"Mark," he managed to gasp, as nausea churned in his guts, replacing rage. Mark had fucked up his balance, made him miss his target, made him vulnerable.

He could see the toes of Mark's shoes off to one side of him. "Don't panic, John. I just need you to lie still until you get over that killer instinct."

Kara straddled his body, her grin wide and feral. "So nice to meet you, partner," she said, and pushed her finger into his throat. Her nails were sharp and very, very clean. All John could sense from her was a faint fragrance of soap. He croaked at her, still trying to move his arms, still trying to stop her, despite Mark's interference.

"Rein it in, Stanton," Mark said. He flopped onto the sofa and put his feet on the coffee table. "You can join him on the floor any time this goes overboard." He tapped his temple. "All I gotta do is twitch."

Kara snarled in Mark's direction, but she eased back the pressure on John's throat. She ground down on his torso, palms resting behind her on his thighs. "You fucking him yet, Mark? When do I get a cut of the action?" She put one hand in her hair, holding onto an imaginary cowboy hat.

John felt a quaver of guilt and uncertainty from Mark and, improvising, shoved hard with his mind at the tiny fracture in his control. To his surprise, Mark gagged and the vertigo eased. John took the opportunity to flip Kara onto her back, knees on either side of her body. With forefinger and thumb on opposite sides, his fingers spanned the width of her throat easily. She thrashed once, then held very still with her eyes wide. John's mouth was open, tasting fascination and fear drifting upwards from her. His upper lip curled in an involuntary snarl, and he took a deep breath. He wasn't sure what he'd done to Mark, but he'd be damned if he would let Kara Stanton realise that. He fixed an implacable expression on his face and thought about how good it would feel to rip out her belly.

"We good?" he said, barely moving his lips. "Do I have to take this further?"

Kara's pupils were dilated, and she ran her fingers down the muscles on his arms. He felt her nails, but she didn't dig them in.

"Oh, we're better than good," she said. "We might even be amazing."

The first mission was Budapest: a traitor and his clueless partner. John could smell the lies dripping off the first, and the terror off the second. Kara shot them both. That night in bed Mark wrapped his arms around John's chest, and wiped the lingering smell of blood and fresh dirt from his memory, then sent him out ready for another bout.

Next mission, in Cairo, Kara paused, leaving their subject dangling headfirst in a bucket of water. She ignored his thrashing, and turned towards John.

"Hey, lover, you wanna tell me how you do that thing with Mark?"

John kept count of the man's heartbeat; when he was about to blow a fuse, it was time to give him a little air. "Well, Kara, when two agents love each other very much…"

Kara snorted, and gave the man a little push, so he rotated gently, his head still under the surface. "Please tell me you're not harbouring any thoughts that you two guys are in love. Mark sleeps with all the newbies. Me included."

"Hard to believe you were ever a newbie," said John. The man's heartbeat was a slowly decelerating thump beneath the ribs. He checked his watch. "He's down to 50 bpm."

"So what?" said Kara. "He's not ready to talk. And yeah, I got the same treatment that you did, only I didn't spent a year in the loony bin drooling and counting cracks in the wall."

John rolled up his sleeves; they'd be taking the man out of the water soon, dead or alive. "Why didn't you? How did you adjust to the sensory overload so quickly?"

"Tell me how you made Mark stop messing with your head, and I'll give you all the secrets of surviving Cascade." Kara leaned on the man, putting her weight on the ropes. He jerked, regaining a little energy to thrash around again.

"I told you, I don't know," John said. "Explain to me how you skate backwards – it's like that. Your body can do it or it can't." That was near enough to the truth; he didn't understand why he could hurt Mark that way. He felt certain that Kara couldn't, because if there was a way for her to cause pain, she'd have done it already. He knew she'd tried. He'd heard what Mark did to her when it failed.

The man's body went limp, though John could still hear his heart clenching in a slow hiccup. Kara crouched down to better observe him. John watched her take in the man's suffering, consuming it with all of her senses. She wasn't ready to end this, not the way she smelled: dripping fascination and arousal. John drew his gun, and when he heard the man's brain begin to bleed and die, he put a bullet into it.

As they wrapped up the body, he made a vow to tell her nothing. She was a fire. She would burn through his secrets like oxygen, and when he had nothing left, she would leave him for dead.



2013

The fact that it was Wilson behind the team sent to kill them was enough of a shock that Shaw missed her shot, and in return got clipped by one of Wilson's.

It only occurred to her once she was clear and breaking into a car, that if Cole had made a real bond with her before he died, it would have to break eventually. She wasn't even sure why she still felt the benefit of that bond, but she wasn't questioning it, not while it kept her moving through the night with senses balanced, able to process data without overloading. If this was what a full bond was like, what the hell were Control's people thinking, keeping all of their Cascade operatives separated?

Shaw had made four bonds since joining the ISA, not counting Hersh, and the one with Cole had been the strongest, even before this fuck-up of a mission. Breaking those bonds had been unpleasant, but not deadly. Hersh showed all of his trainees how to back down from a bond with the fewest consequences.

Thinking about that now, while she was still reeling from Cole's death, brought back the smell of the classroom in the training centre, the dust from the chalkboard hanging in the air, Hersh's uncomplicated and familiar scent.

"Push me away," he said, the first time he broke their training bond. "Imagine me getting smaller and smaller through your scope."

Shaw twitched and gave one of the desks a kick. She wouldn't have said she was fond of Hersh; he was a good teacher with a surprisingly droll sense of humour, but that wasn't enough to endear him to Shaw. Yet, now, faced with the fact that she was about to lose their bond, she was suddenly and perplexingly terrified of the loneliness that was sure to follow. It was a horrible, emotional sensation, and totally alien to her. Shaw didn't feel fear, not in this heart-thumping, dry-mouthed way. Not ever.

"You'll be all right, Shaw," Hersh said. "I've done this a dozen times, and I'm just fine. Now, can you feel the bond between us?"

Shaw nodded, unwillingly. She'd gotten used to that feeling, of knowing when Hersh was near, of letting him take the load when a training exercise flooded her mind with data. She would never have admitted it to anyone, but the bond was like holding someone's hand, someone you knew you could trust.

"Good. Push on it, push me away." Hersh had his hands in his pockets; it was reassuring that he really was okay with this, because false neurological signals were telling Shaw that she was about to kill him, that this act was life threatening.

When the bond went, it hurt like a broken finger: sharp and blinding for a moment, then a dull ache. Hersh was right: it wasn't pleasant, but it was nothing she couldn't take.

Hersh nodded, apparently unaffected. "Good work. Now, put it back together, and we'll break it again. Every time, it hurts less."

Wake up. Imminent threat.

At those words, cool and quiet in her mind, Shaw reached out to punch Cole for being so weirdly procedural, then she remembered what had happened. She snapped out of the reverie and found herself leaning on the wheel of the stolen car, gasping with the pain in her gut. Cole was dead; what the hell was she going to do the next time she zoned like that? How long was this bond going to last? And what would it feel like when it broke? A properly formed bond? That was going to be rough.

There was movement at the edge of her peripheral vision and she had her gun swinging towards the target, but it was just a corner boy watching her. It reminded her of the suppressant tablets, and for the first time, she itched to take a couple to blank this weirdness and let her think. There was no chance of that, though: they were back in the van, and Wilson would be all over that by now. She gave the corner boy a nod and wound down her window while he strolled over to her.

A plan was coming together to help her prepare for the familiar edginess building under the high that was Cole's bond. She grabbed the corner boy through the window, hauled him into the car, and drove off. The corner boy led her to an apartment, which Shaw easily secured. Then she threw the laser focus of Cole's bond into fishing bullet fragments from her side. When she had the dressing taped on, and there was nothing else to do, she let herself slide into unconsciousness.

When she woke, she breathed in the taste of blood and pain – neither of them hers this time – and she jerked alert in her chair. A new wave of dealers had arrived, and they were beating the crap out of Louis, the corner boy. Shaw shifted in her seat, and knew that Cole's bond had already peaked. It left her thrumming with misplaced adrenaline, and she channelled that into dealing with this new threat. Her mouth stung with the tang of hot gunmetal and sulphur, and for the first time ever she craved a couple of red pills to tone it all down.

She stood alone in the room, now empty and quiet, and tried to settle her thoughts. There were narcotics everywhere, piled in dime bags on the table, caked into the carpet, and while a hit of smack would bring things under control, Shaw could tell this stuff was cut with all kinds of crap. There was cold beer in a cooler, though, so she popped one and flopped onto the filthy sofa beside a dead guy.

Feeling Cole's bond fade was somehow crueller than watching him die; this was somehow the last thing of him that Shaw would ever have, and there was no way to keep or preserve it. She liked to tell herself that she didn't feel things strongly, nothing more than anger and maybe lust, but right now, she knew there was something squirming back there, something more than rage at the pointlessness of Cole's death or the way that Control's people decided to wipe out their best team for no apparent reason.

The anxiety built, volcano-like, as Cole's bond went cold and slipped away. Shaw's heart sat somewhere in her throat, beating and beating like it was about to burst. Her breath, still laden with the taste of blood and powdered narcotics, came too fast and too shallow for her to think straight, and her forehead was beaded with perspiration. After an hour, Shaw was so certain that this was going to kill her that the thugs' stash had become appetising in comparison to the way her body was behaving. Then it occurred to her that maybe Cole kept a back up supply of suppressants in his gear bag. She leaned over to rummage through it, touched smooth plastic, and pulled out Cole's thumb drive. Was this what got him killed? What the hell happened with the Aquino case that made him want to dig through classified data?

She plugged the drive into the thugs' laptop, and found Cole's paper trail, from emails to account statements, all forwarded to a contact in the CIA, Veronica Sinclair. Nothing settled anxiety better for Shaw than having a mission, so she patted down a dead man for his phone, and called the number.

"Veronica Sinclair? We need to talk."

By the time she got to the Suffolk Hotel to meet Veronica Sinclair, Shaw's senses were on fire, and her hands shaking. Cole was gone, really gone, and she could barely keep a lid on the rage she felt at the loss of him. She knocked on the door, then stuffed her clenched fists in her pockets to hide the shaking.

Inside, she heard Veronica walk across the carpet, close the bathroom door, and look through the peephole. Shaw thought for a moment there was someone else in the room, someone frightened and breathing shallowly, and her shoulders tensed up, ready for an ambush. When Veronica opened the door, though, all the extra sensory data fell away. Veronica's face pulled Shaw's attention, and forced her to focus, and it was such a damn relief that she nearly grabbed the woman.

"Come in," was all Veronica said, so, stunned, Shaw followed her instruction and walked into the room.

There was a huge pot of orchids on the table, wafting sickly sweet perfume through the room, wiping out traces of anyone else. Even Shaw, who smelled mostly of crack house and blood, couldn't smell herself above that floral onslaught. When she turned to Veronica, though, she somehow caught a trace of the woman's perfume, like a melody breaking through heavy traffic: rose, and the taste of sea spray on skin. Shaw frowned; she shouldn't be able to pick that out of the room, not without a Guide to help her filter, and Cole's bond was completely gone now.

She watched Veronica more closely, and suddenly it all made sense, why this woman was Cole's contact, why they'd been so keen to share details, why the smell of her hair and the texture of her skin was so fascinating to Shaw.

"You're a Guide," she said. "I don't know you, when were you recruited?"

Veronica frowned for a moment, eyes narrow, then shook her head. "That's not why you called me, Shaw. What happened to Mike?"

You don't know what I'm talking about, thought Shaw. And you don't want me to realise. "Cole got killed," she said, finally. "On a mission."

"Oh, God, I'm so sorry. Are you okay?" Veronica reached out and touched Shaw's elbow. "You're really pale."

She probably wasn't doing it on purpose, but Shaw's senses pulled in hard at the physical contact, until all she could see and hear was Veronica's voice, Veronica's face. What the hell was going on here? Veronica was scary good at getting a Sentinel's focus.

"I'm fine," she said, shortly. She took off her coat, sat down, angled away from the massive flower arrangement. "What is it you do, Veronica?" How can you do what Cole did, and not know the program? Cole had told her a bit about how he'd been recruited for Project Cascade: he'd enlisted with the Marines, they'd assessed his skillset and his psych report, and sent him off for a set of MRIs. Once they'd seen the right brainwave patterns, and tried him next to an unbonded Sentinel, he'd been put into the project.

"It was kinda nice, you know?" he'd said once, in a bar in Tunis. "You grow up wanting to be a superhero, and then suddenly someone taps you on the shoulder, tells you that you've got this special ability."

It had been a cool night, after a day spent under the direct sun, and even Shaw's skin was tight over her shoulder blades. "You had no idea?" she said, and threw back her tequila.

Cole's face would peel the next day, even though he'd slathered it with pasty white sunscreen this morning. "Nope. No clue I was any different. It's not like you guys, where they have to give your brain a little jolt to activate it. In me, it could have just sat there all my life and I'd never have known the possibilities of working with you." He threw back his drink, and Shaw settled back in her chair, enjoying the second-hand burn of it.

"Shaw? Hey, are you okay?" Veronica touched Shaw on the cheek, and Shaw was back from the past, rage bubbling up hard at the renewed loss of Cole, and the intrusion of Veronica's presence, the smell of her, the sound of her clothes moving against her body. Now she knew Veronica wasn't a trained Guide: nobody who knew a Sentinel would touch them in the middle of a zone-out. She slapped at Veronica's hand with a snarl.

"Don't touch me!" she said. "Not ever when I'm in one of those." She drew her gun and showed it to her. "I could have killed you, and not even known."

"Okay," said Veronica, mildly. "La Boeuf Sur Le Toit," she said, suddenly. "Wait, what does that even mean? The beef on the roof? Why would I say that?"

Jesus, she got the name and everything? That was some latent ability, right there. "It's a club in Tunis," said Shaw. "I went there with Cole. I was just thinking about it."

Veronica frowned. "How could you be thinking about it, and I said it?"

Shaw sighed; whatever this was, she didn't have time to talk a newbie through Guide etiquette and safety, not when she'd never see Veronica again after this. "What did you do for Cole, exactly?"

Veronica's gaze was narrow-eyed, and Shaw was certain she'd want to talk more about the sensory transfer. Great.

"I'm an analyst," Veronica said. "Mike asked me to track wire transfers to a nuclear engineer called Daniel Aquino, to trace them to their source. He didn't say what it was about. He never mentioned any sort of project. What did you call it, again?"

"And what did you find?" The orchids were overpowering, especially now that her senses were amped up. And there were those sounds again: the terrified, stifled gasping, the heightened pulse. Shaw had to check it wasn't her own heartbeat she could hear, racing and skipping along. She swiped a hand across her forehead; it came away clammy. Maybe that bullet wound was already septic.

Veronica, of course, was oblivious to the undercurrents in the room. "The records were spoofed. Cole said he'd been told Aquino was being paid by Hezbollah, but when I dug into the metadata, all the transactions were from inside the US."

"If Aquino wasn't working for Hezbollah, what the hell was he into that got him killed?" Shaw had a rotten feeling inside, one of those feelings that mean she should have listened to Cole, should have trusted his skills and his integrity. Not that it would have made a difference. God, those flowers, they were going to make her gag.

Veronica crossed her legs. "I was hoping you'd have some idea," she said. "How do you know that Aquino was killed?"

Shaw couldn't help it; the memory unspooled as easily as if Veronica had pressed the play button on a VCR. She breathed in the hot plastic smell of a car in an outdoor parking lot, the feeling of satisfaction as she crouched, muscles ready, in the back seat of Aquino's mundane little sedan. There was the pop of the door opening, the comfortingly familiar sensation of her finger on the trigger, and Aquino's realisation that he was about to die. It all played in slow motion, so clear and crisp that when Shaw stood, she was surprised to feel carpet under her feet instead of the crunch-slide of gravel.

"So, they sent you to kill him." Veronica learned fast, and had kept her hands neatly folded over her knee. "What are you? Isn't it dangerous to do that – broadcast all that information for anyone to hear?"

Shaw leaned against the arm of the sofa. She had a bad urge to pace and that didn't give the impression of stoicism that she thought would be best for this meeting. "It's not a broadcast," she said. "Cole and I were partners; we were on the same frequency. I have no idea why you're picking up on it. Okay, let's work this from the start: who paid Aquino? Did you trace anything to a project called Cascade?"

"The money came from within the government," said Veronica. "I don't know anything about a Project Cascade, but the funding came from the ISA – it's based out of the Pentagon." Veronica watched Shaw absorb the news. "You know who they are, don't you?"

Shaw nodded. "Until yesterday, I worked for them." It felt like the city was leaning in on her through the window: traffic, footsteps, voice, rattling pipes and that endless panicked breathing sound.

"Their budget goes back five years," said Veronica, "Huge amounts coded to a project called Northern Lights."

Shaw had never heard of it; was it a secondary Sentinel project? Is that why she and Cole were targeted, because Control was clearing the way for a new generation? If only she could concentrate. This was Cole's thing, the strategizing, the analysis. She was the point and shoot girl. And if those pipes didn't stop clattering, she was ready to point and shoot them, damn it.

"Shaw," said Veronica. "Shaw, I want you to listen to me, this is important."

As easily as she had the first time she met Cole, Shaw rode the sound of that voice back to a state of calm. "Yeah," she said. "What do you want?" The quiet in her mind was like a cool breeze on her skin.

"Mike told me Daniel Aquino spoke to you before you eliminated him," she said, as if covert political assassinations were routine to her. "He said Aquino told you the name of his contact. Do you remember who it was? Aquino. You remember Aquino, Shaw." Veronica watched her intently as she said Aquino's name over and over. Shaw wasn't certain, but she thought Veronica was fishing in Shaw's sense memory, scrabbling for details that popped up whenever the name was mentioned.

Well, two could play at that game. Shaw pulled herself together, locked down her thoughts the way she'd been trained to do in the event that she met a hostile Guide.

Veronica made a noise of protest and pressed fingers to her temple. "Where did it go? How did you do that?"

"That's a toy I don't think you should be playing with just yet," said Shaw. She stilled her thoughts and let her senses settle. That was more difficult than it should have been; Veronica might be a wild talent, but she had power and resilience to spare.

Now that Shaw's focus was narrowed down, she could sort the sounds better: the rattling pipes and the panicked breathing were coming through the bathroom door. She stood, took her gun and moved towards the bathroom. "Stay here. And keep away from the windows."

Veronica watched her, unnaturally calm about this turn of events. Shaw cautiously pushed the door open, saw the woman cuffed in the tub and understood everything. It was still too slow: the woman who was not Veronica pushed the metal tines of a Taser against her neck, and Shaw had a millisecond to smell the voltage building, before her whole body fell rigid to the floor. She was smiling when she fell, though, because not-Veronica was about to discover what happened when you caused pain to a Sentinel who had made contact with you.

"Aaah!" A few seconds later, Not-Veronica staggered, and fell against the wardrobe, her own muscles twitching and spasming. She slid down the glossy wood panel, until she sat on the carpet, legs akimbo, like a puppet in a toy box.

Shaw couldn't move, not yet, but she could watch the tremors move down not-Veronica's arms and legs, and that was incredibly satisfying. Now it was a race to see who recovered first.

"That's amazing!" said not-Veronica after a minute. "How did you do it? We weren't in electrical contact, so how could you transfer the charge to me?"

Shaw didn't answer. Instead, she funnelled all her strength into getting her arms and legs to move. The rictus grin was a side effect of the Taser, but Shaw thought it delivered a good message.

Unfortunately, not-Veronica was fit and well-slept, and she hadn't been shot or subjected to emotional shock in the last twenty-four hours, so she recovered first. She hauled Shaw into a chair while Shaw was still shuddering, then got busy with zip ties.

"Well, that was fun," she said. "But I really need to get to work. Veronica has been less than useful on the topic of Northern Lights, but now I wish I'd known to ask her about Cascade. Is that right, Veronica?" She raised her voice and spoke over her shoulder to the woman in the bath. Shaw leaned forward trying to bite not-Veronica hard on the neck, maybe rip out a major blood vessel, but all that happened was that her lips met the woman's shoulder. Not-Veronica gasped, and so did Shaw, as her mind filled with images and impressions: a great, abstract concept of a thing, watching and listening, ever-present and monolithic.

"What the hell is that?" said Shaw, her head spinning from the vastness of it. "Is it a Sentinel? Is it here in New York?" It was disorienting to feel familiarity for a thing she'd never seen before. She wasn't sure if she was recognising it, or if it was, implausibly, recognising her.

"It's so interesting you say that." Not-Veronica leaned tiredly against the wardrobe, vulnerable for the first time since Shaw had entered the hotel room. "That's what Aquino was working on," she said. "It's called Northern Lights."
Shaw glared at her, as the muscle tremors settled. "I told you, I don't know anything about Northern Lights."
"Where did you think your Research gets its information from?" asked not-Veronica. She tested the zip ties, making sure that they were secure. "I don't know how, but I've seen inside your head, Shaw. You're too smart to just believe what you're told."
Shaw felt the woman's mind experimentally press against hers, but the move was clumsy and easy to rebuff. Natural talent doesn't get you everything, bitch, she wanted to say, but she wasn't sure her voice would be steady enough to give her words the gravitas they needed. Instead, she shoved back, hard enough that Cole would have retched, maybe blown a blood vessel in his eye. Not that she had to do that to Cole. Very often. God, the absence of him hurt, and the way he knew her like nobody else.

Not-Veronica absorbed the attack with a sharp inhalation, and a flush around her collarbones. When she stepped close to Shaw again, Shaw tasted a different kind of salt with the rose. Oh, woman, you are wired all wrong, she thought. It was something she knew from personal experience.

Not-Veronica traced a finger over her own lip, thoughtfully. "That was something, wasn't it? Now, where was I? Oh!" With that happy exclamation, as if she were unwrapping a birthday present, not-Veronica unbuttoned Shaw's shirt, and pushed it down her shoulders.

"We're going to have a little chat now, Shaw. I have a little knack for knowing when someone is keeping things from me, and it's really, really important that you tell me everything you know about Daniel Aquino."

She crouched in front of Shaw with her elbows resting on Shaw's thighs. Shaw's nerves were still jumping and twitching, but that didn't stop her noticing the different shades in not-Veronica's hair, or the fineness of her bones. Ugh, this was so wrong; a natural talent Guide hyping up her senses, and, yeah, her libido. Cole would laugh until he puked, if he saw her now. She could almost see him standing behind not-Veronica, shaking his head in that rueful way he had whenever Shaw got back from screwing someone's brains out. She raised her eyebrows at him, daring him to say something, when she remembered he was dead. Cold and blue and dead under her hands.

"Hey!" said not-Veronica, though she'd learned by now not to make contact with Shaw when she zoned out. Instead, she waved her fingers near Shaw's face. She'd had a French polish recently, Shaw thought, woozily. Then they made eye contact, and Shaw's focus contracted and sharpened.

"This is so strange and interesting," said not-Veronica. "But I really need to know: Aquino was hired to build a home for something very special, something I want to find. So we need to get to work." She smoothed her fingers along Shaw's collarbone, and Shaw's skin tingled, raising goose bumps all over her shoulders and arms. "This wonderful something needed a place, so that it could gather up intelligence for people like you. It soaks up information like a sponge and filters it all down to find a single grain of sand. Somewhere in there, you have to know something about it."

That did sound familiar, in a way, to the way that Sentinels and Guides worked, thought Shaw. There wasn't time to process this information, though, because Not-Veronica was reaching for the steam iron on the counter. She watched not-Veronica lift up the steam iron, and test the surface of it, hissing and shaking her fingers where she brushed it. Shaw felt the same hot sizzle on her fingertips.

This time, Shaw laughed out loud, even though the Taser had reduced her to a weak wheeze. She pressed mental fingers into the woman's mind, strengthening the connection between them so that they could share sensations. "If you thought the Taser felt good, you're going to love this," she said. "Have fun with the sensory backwash of a third degree burn."

Not-Veronica's expression of curiosity and apprehension was extremely heartening. She must have been desperate, though, because she lowered the iron towards Shaw's skin. Shaw watched her pupils dilate as she received data from Shaw: anticipation, fear, a little arousal because that's how Shaw was wired, and the warm halo of heat emanating from the iron. Then an alarm went off, and they both jumped.

"Oh, that's disappointing," said Not-Veronica. "But unfortunately, we're out of time. Wilson and his people started searching for Veronica a few hours ago, and they've finally made it to this floor. So I guess we'll have to catch up on this very interesting conversation later."

She touched her lips to the top of Shaw's head, and the two of them gasped as sensation flew from one to the other.

"Ooh," said Not-Veronica with a shiver. "I can't wait."

She slipped through the adjoining door into the next suite just as Wilson's men came in. They were so low in the pecking order that Shaw barely knew them. Just a shade above hired thugs, but they knew what to do when they found Shaw restrained. The boss, though, didn't know better than to holster his gun in his waistband. Shaw felt along the zip-tie with her fingertips until she found a weak point invisible to anyone without Sentinel abilities, then snapped it. She took great pleasure in grabbing the goon's gun and shooting him somewhere in the vicinity of his groin. She cleared the room, all except for this one guy in the corner – why was this a theme with her lately? – and, just like last night, he went down to a mystery shooter.

It was the guy from the corner yesterday morning and then in Mercer's apartment, the one in the good wool coat. Again, he held his gun loosely and not pointed at her. Still, Shaw wanted to leap out of the chair and choke him, which didn't make a whole lot of sense, even if she could get free from the chair. She bared her teeth at him and started to raise the gun again.

"Can you do me a favour?" the man said. "Can you not shoot me this time?"

There was a weird smell in the air, and she tilted her head, trying to track it down: chemical and sweet, like incense, with the visual memory cues of richly coloured manuscripts in reds and blues. Aconitine, monkshood poison: a standard tool in the ISA's assassination kit.

The man did the same thing – that flare of the nostrils, the angle of the head when you're following a scent trail.

"You're Cascade," she said. That would explain why she wanted to open his throat. Territoriality was why they had to do most of their training solo. Shaw had a bigger problem, though: the man's gaze sat just behind her, which meant the big goon had dropped the syringe out of her sight. Right now, with a trained Sentinel sharing her space, Shaw very much wanted to know where that aconitine had gone in the melee. She twisted from side to side, trying to catch a glimpse of it.

"It's there," said the man, and pointed behind her. She chanced another quick flick of her eyes and saw the damn thing stuck in her shoulder blade. Damn.

The man took a step forward and she brought up the gun on instinct to ward him off.

"It's okay, Shaw," he said, backing off. "We can take this slow. You want me to get it? I think it would be better than risk giving yourself the whole dose. My name's John, by the way. I don't know if you remember from Mercer's place. You had a lot to deal with there."

The smell of the stuff was making her queasy, and worried that some of the dose had been delivered. She didn't have any atropine, and she doubted that the big lug on the floor bothered to bring some.

"How long were you with the program?" she said. "Are you still active?" Talking helped develop familiarity, and familiarity offset the instinctive territoriality of Sentinel behaviour. It was a pain, because Shaw didn't like people at the best of times and her social skills left a lot to be desired, but it was necessary to build enough trust for this guy John to help her out.

He lifted one foot in preparation to step forward, but stopped there, waiting for permission. Shaw gave him a tiny nod, and he stepped closer.

"I'm second gen," he said. "I've been out for a while." He took another small step forward, and waited with patience Shaw wasn't certain she would have.

Her shoulders were starting to ache with the unnatural posture she was holding. "I heard you guys all died," she said.

"Not all of us." John was less than a foot away from her now. "Though we mostly took an unexpected retirement." He holstered his piece, and let his arms fall to his sides.

"Ha!" Shaw said, bitterly. "I can believe that." He was close enough to touch her, but knew better than to do anything about that.

"How are you doing?" asked John. "Can I –" he gestured towards her.

Shaw swallowed and wished Cole was there, for selfish reasons this time, because her senses were jangling and she did not want someone's hands on her right now. But the syringe was like a line of fire in her trapezius muscle, and the smell of aconitine was so strong she could taste it now: resin and smoke and wine.

She nodded tersely. "But go slow." It was a warning: fast movement from another Sentinel in close proximity could set off a fight or flight response – Shaw always chose fight – and that would only end with the depressor of the syringe shooting liquid death into her body.

"Here we go," said John, nice and low, moving gently with his palms open. "Try not to move; I don't want to bump it."

Shaw braced herself. "You're not going to bump it," she said. "Cascade's too good for that."

His fingertips were warm. He kept his weapons well; she could smell the gun oil on him, only a night old. He had a dog, and he fed that dog from his breakfast plate. Shaw still wanted to kill him, but it was a weird, instinctive command, and she found it quieted when they had an actual conversation.

"You'll get a disease," she said.

He pressed down at the point where the needle sat in her skin. "From you? I don't think so." She glanced up at him, and saw the set of his jaw and his clammy skin. This was hard for him, too, but it was workable.

The needle was sliding out of the muscle. Shaw could feel it hit every muscle fibre and drag against her skin. "Not from me, bozo, from feeding the dog with your fingers."

He laughed, a sharp puff of air she felt on the back of her neck, then the sharp point of the needle was out and safe.

"I do occasionally wash my hands," he said. He reached for the cap for the syringe and slipped it back on. "I have a friend who wants to meet you."

There was an odd tone to his voice when he said that, and she glared at him, suspicious. "Why would I want to meet your friend?"

"Do you have anything else on for the day?" He tapped the zip tie on her other wrist, and showed her the hilt of his knife.

She shook her head. "No, my schedule is pretty clear." She pointed with her chin at the zip tie and he cut through it.

There was a second of hesitation once she was free: that moment before a dogfight bursts into action. Shaw felt the muscles in her back tense, but somehow John was able to keep his own responses in check, and it all came to nothing.

She pushed herself upright, and John backed right out of her space, which was childishly gratifying but Shaw took it. She'd had a worse day than him, even if she had tried to kill him.

As she followed him from the room, she stamped hard on the barrel of the syringe and it cracked open. The incense-wine-smoke of the aconitine completely obliterated not-Veronica's rose and sea-spray perfume.


Chapter Four /Chapter Five/ Chapter Six

Profile

st_aurafina: Rainbow DNA (Default)
st_aurafina

September 2017

S M T W T F S
      12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 24th, 2017 03:18 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios